Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

nails also are of an agate brown. The lips are fleshy, but not intumescent; the nose straight or slightly aquiline, as among many negroes of Southern and Western Africa.

An attempt has been made to separate the Fundi into a race apart from the negroes and to constitute them a Nubian race. A more unlucky name could hardly have been found, for the Nuba, or Nôbah, are the inhabitants of the mountain districts and the plains in Kordofan who resemble the Fundi in all the characters enumerated, except that, as dolichocephals with extremely crimped hair, they are of a still more negro type.18 But it is quite incomprehensible how they can be connected with the Fulbe of West Africa. The Berthâ negroes are directly allied to the Fundi in physical characters, language, and manners. 19

It may seem premature to examine whether the elevation and shape of Africa have exercised a good or evil influence on its inhabitants, for there are still vast regions in it of which we possess no information. The unknown portions of Africa have gradually been reduced into a nearly circular district, of which the equator forms the diameter, and containing an area which is variously reckoned at 1,485,000 and 1,260,000 square miles. Australia, with its adjacent islands, extends over a surface of 2,805,000 square miles, so that the terra incognita of Africa is not as much as half the size of Australia. Africa itself is estimated at 20,000,000 square miles, of which 25,000 must be deducted for its islands, and thus the unknown centre forms about one-ninth or one-tenth of the continent. This unknown region may contain many unexpected features; high table-lands, perhaps, or snow mountains, lakes as large as the Caspian Sea, or streams which constitute an entire river system. In addition to the African races already known, a new one may there be discovered, either having nothing in common with the others, or, as a detached fragment of the race, may show traces of a common origin, either with the North Africans or with the Hottentot family of the south. Nor is it impossible that in this unknown interior an African civilization may have been developed of a social value equal to

18 Hartmann, Nilländer, p. 291. E. Rüppell, Reisen in Nubien, p. 153. Frankfort, 1829.

19 Hartmann, as above, p. 283.

The Form of Africa.

that of the Toltecs in Central America, or of the Incas of Peru on the plateaux of the Andes. None of these supposed discoveries are however likely, with the exception of that of new lakes and larger river districts in the neighbourhood of the equator, for if there were no enclosed basins retaining a portion of the tropical rains, which cannot be wanting there, more abundant rivers would reach the coasts which are already known.

Difficulty of approach is the fundamental feature of the African continent. The outline of its surface is, unfortunately, not only entirely destitute of peninsulas but also of receding or projecting angles. The projection of the east coast at Jardafun, the promontory of spices as it was termed in ancient geography, is the only peninsula; the open bay of Guinea, the only representative of an oceanic gulf, and the gulfs of Sidra and Khrabs the only considerable indentation of the coast of Africa.

47I

In addition to the unfavourable outline of the sea-coast, there is also a lack of rivers, such as the Amazon, to open up the country. All the rivers of Africa, the Nile itself included, are but indifferent means of communication. The Niger runs through thickly populated districts, yet it is without any navigation worth mentioning. The Africans are inferior to all other people in nautical skill. The Kru negroes, on the Grain Coast, are the only blacks who are fit and willing to engage themselves as sailors on board European ships. In South Africa a river of the second magnitude is sufficient security against hostile oppressors. The tribes under the great conqueror, Mosilikatse, extend their incursions only as far as the right or southern bank of the Zambesi, for they do not dare to think of crossing such a river. As crocodiles frequent all the rivers of Africa, excepting in the north and the extreme south, it would be natural to suppose that ferry boats would have been found in all the more populous villages. This is, however, often not the case; but Africans frequently build bridges. There were probably no bridges, except those built by the Romans, in Germany during the times of Cæsar and Tacitus. In Africa they are common. It is not surprising that Livingstone repeatedly mentions them in his marches, as the territory through which he passed was that of somewhat gifted tribes, but even among the negro races on the western

affluents of the White Nile, and therefore in the lowest grade of African civilization, we find wooden bridges of "fabulous length.”2

The difficulty of approaching Africa by sea is more unfortunate on account of the impenetrable character of many of its vast inland regions. The line of deserts which extends obliquely from the Atlantic through the north of the country, and even across the Nile to the Arabian Gulf, divides the continent, as regards the history of civilization, into two quite separate parts; for while the northern border was influenced for good by the course of Mediterranean culture, the southern portion was more thrown back upon its own resources. During the period of Roman colonization, only one geographical expedition passed beyond the Sahara, and it is still doubtful whether it penetrated to the Soudan itself or only as far as one of the great oases.21 The difficulties of crossing the Sahara were far greater in old times, for it was only after the beginning of our era that camels were introduced into the Berber countries as a beast of burden-a remarkable innovation, and one which was as important to Africa as the beginning of the railway system to us. Even plants are far more effectually restricted in their migrations by deserts than by narrow arms of the sea, for while the floras of Northern Africa and of the Mediterranean shores of Europe agree most closely, on the other side of the Sahara a new vegetation makes its appearance, differing entirely from the flora of North Africa. These impediments and barriers also obstructed the march of civilization, under which head we include all advantages wrested from Nature by human ingenuity, the ennoblement of its gifts, the easy acquisition and the improvement of food in its various forms, inventions for the curtailment of labour, the organization of social life, and lastly, the highest blessings of mankind-self-knowledge, the striving after better things, after ideal prototypes, or, in a word, Religion. But, on the other hand, justice requires that, in estimating this obstructive power of deserts, many, although not

20 Petherick, Central Africa, vol. i. p. 236.

21 Vivian de Saint Martin, Le Nord d'Afrique. Ptolemy, however, mentions the rhinoceros, and the country must therefore have been in the Soudan (Geogr. lib. i. cap. 8).

Asiatic and European Influence.

invariably advantageous, social and moral phenomena mentioned by recent travellers in the Soudan as special inventions of the Africans of those parts must be taken into consideration, and we are thus enabled to form a more just appreciation of the capacity of development possessed by negro races, as has already been done by Gerhard Rohlfs.

473

The advantages of a continent as the scene of human civilization do not depend solely on its own physical features, but also on the proximity or remoteness of its situation in regard to other especially favoured regions. From this point of view Africa is a peninsula of the eastern hemisphere. Supposing that the Isthmus of Suez were a strait, and that the whole of Africa lay some ten degrees further south and west, so as to form an insular continent deprived of its connection with the Old World, its condition would be far less propitious than at present, and much more like that of Australia at the time of its discovery. Its land connection with Asia Minor, and its vicinity to Arabia and to Southern Europe, enable Africa to enjoy advantages which were impossible to the American race. Its northern and eastern shores, at least, allowed of the favourable influence of Asiatic civilization.

One of the effects of the advantageous geographical position of Africa was doubtless the fact that the art of smelting iron ore, and of its manufacture into implements and weapons, was spread throughout the entire continent. Wherever travellers have penetrated into the interior they have found the Africans in the midst of the so-called iron age. All the tribes, in whose territory iron ore is found know how to raise the glow of coals by a current of air to a heat equal to the flame of the blow-pipe. The African bellows consists of a pair of hollow wooden cylinders closed at the top with leather pouches, and terminating below in an earthenware tube, from which the air is expelled by alternately raising and depressing the pouches. The metal smelted in the charcoal fire is of particularly good quality, so that many negroes justly prefer their own excellent iron utensils to the English importation of impure metal.

Where nature aided the early maturity of human society, the inost ancient forms of culture sprang up. The Old World had

If

a centre of this description in the happily situated district between the sister rivers of Mesopotamia and the Nile. Africa had been more distant from this centre its condition would have been proportionately lower. The facts actually observed greatly confirm this hypothesis; for the highest refinements existed in the oldest times on the Nile, and extended as far as the first natural obstacle, while the southern point of the continent was occupied by the lowest grades of human society.

Before increased powers of navigation had overcome the obstacle offered by the oceans, which may be said to have been fully accomplished only in the last few centuries, the old inhabitants of the Atlantic shores of Africa lived at the end of the world without neighbours beyond them, or, at least, on the boundaries of the impassable. It is generally the case that the conditions of the interior of Africa are far more propitious than those of the Atlantic coast. It is only within the last two centuries that the stronger and more intelligent inland tribes have made their way to the sea. Throughout Guinea the Portuguese found only very barbarous tribes, while towards the interior, great states had already fallen into decay on the Niger, and others had in turn flourished on their ruins. Even now it may be roughly said with reference to the western side of Africa, that the African of the interior is superior to the African of the coast. As regards the Soudan, we need only recall Rohlf's vivid descriptions; but in the south the same phenomenon is repeated. The negro monarchies of the Makololo, Lunda, Mosilikatse, and Cazembe, all lie far inland, and, according to Speke and Grant, the negro states of Karagwe and Uganda also appear much more orderly and prosperous than any that were seen either on the way thither or on the return journey. Travellers when they ascend the Nile, and leave Khartoum behind them, pass in their boat only through naked and barbarous tribes on either shore. It might be supposed that on penetrating further south-west, that is to say, more inland, the same conditions would be met with; but there is some reason to suppose that the contrary is the case. The Niam-Niam, for instance, the most westerly people with whom we are acquainted, are far superior to such tribes on the White Nile, as the Shillook, Dinka, Nuehr, Kitsh, in clothing, skilful ironworks, buildings, and social organization.

« ÎnapoiContinuă »