Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sir Richard Burton in West Africa

Many thanks to a recent anonymous commentor for the links to the two volumes (pdf downloads) of Richard Burton's Wanderings in West Africa (published under the pseudonymous initials A FRGS in 1863), which apparently includes reference to "Nigeria" several decades before Flora Shaw came up with the name. However, I am yet to find the word "Nigeria" in the two volumes, although in a footnote on page 256 of Volume II Burton does refer to "Nigerian" - but apropos of regions close to the river Niger, not in terms of a name yet applied to a country. The attribution to Shaw may therefore still stand.

(As an aside, I didn't realise the Niger used to be called the Kwara, and that Mungo Park preferred the name "Joliba" - wherever that came from).

In Volume I, I notice he refers to both the Yoruba and the "Nufe" (Nupe) on page 177. I'm still in search of when the term "Yoruba" originally appears (originally a term the Fulani gave to the citizens of the city of Oyo - now nothing more than the fragments of ruins deep inside the Old Oyo National Park). Lower down, he writes,

"The ignoble race, or pure breed, the aboriginal and typical African, exceptionally degraded in Guinea, and improving as he descends southwards and blends with the true Kaffirs, who may be a people of mixed blood. In his lowest organisation he is prognathous, and dolicho-kephalic, with retreating forehead, more scalp than face; calfless, cucumber skinned, lark-heeled, with large broad and flat feet; his smell is rank, his hair crisp and curly, and his pile is like peppercorns. His intellect weak, morale deficient, amiability strong, temperament enduring, destructiveness highly developed, and sensibility to pain comparatively blunt."

In Volume II, "A Day in Lagos" begins on page 186. He describes the city on page 212 thus:

"The site of the town, four miles from the entrance, is detestable; unfortunately, there is no better within many a league... The first aspect of it is as if a hole had been hollowed out in the original mangrove forest that skirts the waters, where bush and dense jungle mingle, garnished with many a spreading tree, tall palms, and matted mass of fetid verdure rise in terrible profusion around..."

More description comes on page 222, including this magnificent put-down,

"Everything has the squalid, unclean look of an idle people, and what could be expected from men to whom Pomona has been so indecently kind, whose bread and butter, whose wine and oil, grow for them in the trees around?"

Before you reach for wikipedia, Pomona was the Roman Goddess of plenty.

He ends the chapter on Lagos thus,
"And finally, the natives should be taught, or rather forced, to learn something like purity in their habits."


CodLiverOil 5:20 pm  

Calfless? - Strange observation, I think. What is his background for him to make that remark, is he an artist of the human form?

Jeremy are you calfless? What were Mr Burtons calves like? Any pictures?

One has to smile at such a comment.

Anonymous,  10:16 pm  

typical whiteman drivel as he makes observations of a race othr than his own!

Anonymous,  10:18 pm  

not only his calves, but other more important parts... would be nice to know?

Anonymous,  11:30 pm  

Why do they always think that any negro who is not 'typical' by their estimation is mixed?

It was much the same way with lady nigeria (can't remember her name... was it Shaw or something else?) who observed that the Hausas where 'perfectly black' but most likely descendants from Asians because of their civilization.

Anonymous,  12:14 am  

ofcourse jeremy likes stuff like this.
typical idiot british commentary.

Anyaposh 5:05 am  

1700s logic, to perceive another race as morally deficient and ignoble. sigh.

Anonymous,  10:02 am  

FFS, broaden your horizons.
We all know that whoever wrote this had a narrow, colonial, 100 yr old plus mentality. But the fact that Jeremey posts it does not mean it can't be interesting to read, or that he thinks it's true!

Many Nigerians now cling on to Victorian British Christian attitudes that this man brought with him which mean that it is almost impossible for the country to move forward.

I love reading historical accounts of places I have an interest in. They offer an insight into where we have come from.

The saddest part of all is that you can transplant the food in the last paragraph with oil and it still rings true of our wonderful leaders today !!!

Anonymous,  1:34 pm  

why do Nigerians always blame the 'leaders' like they are a weird breed from Mars imposed on the people they serve? The Nigerian public is a MAJOR part of the problem. If we dont ALL change our mentality, we will never move forward.

Leaders are just easy to blame

Brother 8:03 pm  

Jeremy, you're welcome; the links were mine. I see you've also read my blog.

A few people might not fully understand the issues I've raised at, but if you are inclined to educate, you've establised quite the platform.

I'm soon to start 'Wanderings' but in 'Abeokuta' his use of the term is enough. Even the one or two mentions you acknowledge show the fact that Flora Shaw did not create the term. She may have suggested it for the official title of the new creation, but that's hardly a herculean feat is it? If in 1861 the word Nigeria was already in use, how much more by the 1890s.

The point is Flora Shaw and the mythmaker were being very ingenious and being very very smart.

The fact is that the ongoing exercise was the conquering and domination of another people, another race. Pacification by another name. The lessons of history were not forgotten and applied. A new history, language, thinking - a new everything would be formed for the subject peoples.

It's a similar story today - we have the official and unofficial 9/11 stories...

A hundred years later and the threads are beginning to unravel. Let's try not to defend the indefensible eh?

I also note with a smile the passages you pick from Burton. If that's your thing, you'll find more like that in Abeokuta. Or follow him thru Warri.

Burton however is no gospel and a very contradictory chap. He is very much a man of his day - i.e. hypocrisy and bigotry form a strong part of his make up. On the one hand, he describes the Africans of his day as unintelligent, yet elsewhere compares the religious belief systems of Yoruba and Benin with those of ancient Greece and Rome for intricacy and complexity. I wonder what he would think if he were initiated into the Mysteries, or even understood as much as he believed he did. Fifty years later, Lugard says the people have developed no creed and that is taken as gospel truth.

On another level, he records that he overheard people mock him with the words 'oibo akiti agba' - 'the whiteman is a great ape' and he bravely notes the phrase stating that just as the African is inferior in European eyes, the reverse is equally true.

However, going back to the point, allow me to say what you might not be bold to. I will develop the theme on my blog soon inshAllah.
Whether we like it not, our ancestors were conquered and dominated by more advanced races. Bows and arrows vs the Maxim gun is a walkover. And so on. This is true today. However, the very fact that we are having this debate witnesses something. The tides of history are long and slow, but they do ebb and flow.

Once upon a time the world power was concentrated in Egypt, and I do not mean the modern conceptions we have. I mean the true and ancient Egypt, upper and lower, egypt and ancient sudan - another blog maybe. ANother time, we heard it was in Asia. Over the last two thousand years, the power has undoubtedly been European. The Senate and its Eagle have moved from Rome to DC, Latin has mutated to english - and so on.

But the times are a changing. You know it, I know it and the european age is in decline. This debate is testimony.

That the African, the European, the Asian are different is no news. We are blessed with differences in flesh with much hint at differences in mind and spirit. Which is not to say that the one is generally superior to the other. The onion is neither superior to pepper or to tomato, but all play their role and are essential to good suya. SO it is with mankind. The sooner we start to explore our differences in light of what we bring to the table, and not what the other lacks, the better we shall begin to be.

Jeremy 8:16 pm  

Thanks again for alerting me to the separate two volume set. What a prolific and contradictory writer!

I'm sure you recognise that the act of citation does not imply agreement. One may cite for any number of reasons, only one of which might be to say "look what this person says that I agree with."

Brother 8:19 pm  

Also, if you havent, read the diaries of Mungo Park - project gutenberg. He is about a hundred years earlier, so it's definitely not Burton's Africa - In the 1700s, the maxim gun had not been invented so the whiteman in africa was a different prospect. I think MP even served time as a slave. This is for the benefit of those who accept social studies as gospel truth.

The Niger has as many names and as many tongues live around it. Joliba was, I think, the Mandinka name. They gave old Mungo Park directions who then went on to discover it. The Yoruba called it Quorra, or Kwara whatever tickles most. The Nupe called it Ede. Still do.

I've also been inquiring on the name Yoruba. The myth again is that the Fulani named this people. Not so. See my points of the psychology of naming. SIdebar, I see in the Koran that when Allah wants to show why Adam should be bowed to, he is asked to name things. The angels or jinn can't... Anyway, what history records, is that Clapperton learned from the Fulani emir that the people to the south were called Yoruba. How we get from there to the myth that the Fulani christened the people Yoruba is anyones guess.

Personally, I blame, this week, at number one, Lady Lugard and the MythMakers.

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