A Journey to Ashango-Land: And Further Penetration Into Equatorial Africa
By D. Appleton & Co.. With Maps and Illustrations. New York:
SOMEWHERE in the heart of the African continent, Mr. Du Chaillu, laying his head upon a rock, after a day of uncommon hardship, finds reason to lament the ungratefulness of the traveller’s fate, which brings him, through perilous adventure and great suffering, to the incredulity and coldness of a public unable to receive his story with perfect faith. It is such a meditation as ought to reproach very keenly the sceptics who doubted Mr. Du Chaillu’s first book; it certainly renews in the reader of the present work the satisfaction felt in the comparative reasonableness of the things narrated, and his consequent ability to put an unmurmuring trust in the author. Here, indeed, is very little of the gorilla whom we formerly knew : his ferocity is greatly abated ; he only once beats his breast and roars ; he does not twist gun-barrels ; his domestic habits are much simplified ; his appearance here is relatively as unimportant as Mr. Pendennis’s in the “ Newcomes ” ; he is a deposed hero ; and Mr. Du Chaillu pushes on to AshangoLand without him. Otherwise, moreover, the narrative is quite credible, and, so far, unattractive, though there is still enough of incident to hold the idle, and enough of information in the appendices concerning the characteristics of the African skulls collected by Du Chaillu, the geographical and astronomical observations made en route, and the linguistic peculiarities noted, to interest the scientific. The book is perhaps not a fortunate one for those who occupy a place between these classes of readers, and who are tempted to ask of Mr. Du Chaillu, Have you really four hundred and thirty-seven royal octavo pages of news to tell us of Equatorial Africa ?
Our traveller landed in West Africa in the autumn of 1863, and, after a short excursion in the coast country in search of the gorilla, he ascended the Fernand Vaz in a steamer seventy miles, to Goumbi, whence he proceeded by canoe to Qbindji. Here, provided with a retinue of one hundred men of the Commi nation, his overland journey began, and led him through the hilly country of the Bakalai southeastwardly to the village of Olenda. From this point, before continuing his route, he visited the falls of the Samba Nagoshi, some' fifty miles to the northward, and Adingo Village, twenty miles below Olenda. Starting anew after these excursions, he penetrated the continent, on a line deflecting a little south of east, as far as Mouaou Kombo, which is something more than two hundred miles from the sea.
In first landing from his ship, Mr. Du Chaillu lost his astronomical instruments, and was obliged to wait in the coast country until a new supply could be obtained from England. Midway on his journey to Mouaou Kombo, his photographic apparatus was stolen, and the chemicals were, as he supposes, swallowed by the robbers, to some of whom their dishonest experiments in photography proved fatal. The traveller’s means of usefulness were limited to observation of the general character of the country, some investigation of its vegetable and animal life, and study of the customs of its human inhabitants,— in none of which does he develop much variety or novelty.
Nearly the whole route lay through hilly or mountainous country, for the most part thickly wooded and sparsely peopled. There was a very notable absence of all the larger African animals, and those encountered seemed to be as peaceful in their characters as their neighbors, the tribes of wild men. The nations through which Du Chaillu passed after leaving the Commi were the Ashira, the Ishogo, the Apono, and the Ashango, and none appears to have differed greatly from the others except in name. In habits they are all extremely alike, uniting a primitive simplicity of costume and architecture to highly sophisticated traits of lying and stealing. They are not warlike, and not very cruel, except in cases of witchcraft, which are extremely dealt with,—as, indeed, they used to be in New England. Fetichism is the only religion of these tribes, and they seem to believe firmly in no superior powers but those of evil. They are docile, however, and susceptible of control. Du Chaillu had the misfortune to spread the small - pox among them from some infected members of his train ; and although all their superstitious fears were excited against him, the people were held in check by their principal men ; and Du Chaillu met with no serious molestation until he reached Mouaou Kombo. Here he found the inhabitants comparatively hostile and distrustful, and in firing off a salute, —with the double purpose of intimidating them and restoring them to confidence, — one of his retinue accidentally shot two of the villagers. All hopes of friendly intercourse and of further progress were now at an end, and Du Chaillu began a rapid retreat, his men casting away in their flight his photographs, journals, and note-books, and hopelessly impairing the value of the possible narrative which he might survive to write.
Such narrative as he has actually written, we have briefly sketched. Its fault is want of condensation and of graphic power, so that, although you must follow the traveller through his difficulties and dangers, it is quite as much by effort of sympathy as by reason of interest that you do so. For the paucity of result from all the labor and hardship undergone, the author—considering the losses of material he sustained — cannot be justly criticised; but certainly the bulk of his volume makes its meagre substance somewhat too apparent.