Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter IV

Description of the natives—they make war upon the crew, and drive them off to the wreck.

All hands being now landed, our first care was to secure the provisions and water which we had so. far saved, knowing it was a barren, thirsty land; and we carried the provisions up fifty yards from the waters’ edge, where we placed them, and then formed a hind of a tent by means of our oars and two steering sails. I had fondly hoped we should not be discovered by any human beings on this inhospitable shore, but that we should be able to repair our boats, with the materials we might get from the wreck,and by taking advantage of a smooth time, (if we should be favoured with one) put to sea, where by the help of a compass and other instruments which we had saved, we might possibly find some friendly vessel to save our lives, or reach some of the European settlements down the coast, or the Cape de Verd Islands.

Being thus employed, we saw a human figure approach our stuff, such as clothing, which lay scattered along the beach for a mile westward of us. It was a man ! He began plundering our clothing. I went towards him with all the signs of peace and friendship I could make, but he was extremely shy, and made signs to me to keep my distance, while he all the time seemed intent on plunder. He was unarmed, and I continued to approach him until within ten yards.

He appeared to be about five feet seven or eight inches high, and of a complexion between that of an American Indian and negro. He had about him, to cover his nakedness, a piece of coarse woollen cloth, that reached from below his breast nearly to his knees; his hair was long and bushy, resembling a pitch mop , sticking out every way six or eight inches from his head; his face resembled that of an ou- rang-outang more than a human being ; his eyes were red and fiery; his mouth, which stretched nearly from ear to ear, was well lined with sound teeth; and a long curling beard, which depended from his upper lip and chin down upon his breast, gave him altogether a most horrid appearance, and I could not but imagine that those well set teeth were sharpened for the purpose of devouring human flesh!! particularly as I conceived I had before seen in different parts of the world, the human face and form in its most hideous and terrific shape. He appeared to be very old, yet fierce and vigorous; he was soon joined by two old women of similar appearance, whom I took to be his wives. These looked a little less frightful, though their two eye-teeth stuck out like hogs’ tusks, and their tanned skins hung in loose plaits on their faces and breasts; but their hair was long and braided. A girl of from eighteen to twenty, who was not ugly, and five or six children, of different ages and sexes, from six to sixteen years, were also in company. These were entirely naked. They brought with them a good English hammer, with a rope-laniard through a hole in its handle. It had no doubt belonged to some vessel wrecked on that coast. They had also a kind of axe with them, and some long knives slung on their right sides, in a sheath suspended by their necks. They now felt themselves strong, and commenced a bold and indiscriminate plundering of every thing they wanted. They brotyeopen trunks,chests,and boxes,and emptied them of their contents, carrying the clothing on their backs up on the sand hills, where they spread them oot to dry. They emptied the beds of their contents, wanting only the cloth, and were much amused with the flying of the feathers before the wind from my bed. It appeared as though they had never before seen such things.

I had an adventure of silk laced veils and silk handkerchiefs, the former of which the man, women, and children tied round their heads in the form of turbans; the latter round their legs and arms, though only for a short time, when they took them off again, and stowed them away among the other clothing on the sand hills. They all seemed highly delighted with their good fortune, and even the old man’s features began to relax a little, as he met with no resistance. We had no fire or side arms, but we could easily have driven these creatures off with handspikes, had I not considered that we had no possible means of escaping either by land or water, and had no reason to doubt but they would call others to their assistance, and in revenge destroy us. I used all the arguments in my power to induce my men to endeavour to conciliate the friendship of these natives, but it was with the greatest difficulty I could restrain some of them from rushing on the savages and putting them to death, if they could have come up with them; but I found they could run like the wind, whilst we could with difficulty move in the deep sand. Such an act I conceived would cost us our lives as soon as we should be overpowered by numbers, and I therefore permitted them to take what pleased them best, without making any resistance; except our bread and provisions, which, as we could not subsist without them, I was determined to defend to the last extremity. On our first reaching the shore I allowed my mates and people to share among themselves one thousand Spanish dollars, for I had hauled my trunk on shore by a rope, with my money in it, which I was induced to do in the hope of its being useful to them in procuring a release from this country in case we should be separated, and in aiding them to reach their homes. We had rolled?up the casks of water and wine which had been thrown overboard and drifted ashore. I was now determined to mend the long-boat, as soon and as well as possible, in order, to have a retreat in my power, (or at least the hope of one) in case of the last necessity. The wind lulled a little in the afternoon, at low water, when William Porter succeeded in reaching the wreck and procured a few nails and a marline spike; with these he got safe back to the shore. I found the timbers of the boat in so crazy a state, and the nails which held them together, so eaten offby the rust, that she would not hold together, nor support her weight in turning her up in order to get at her bottom. I tacked her timbers together, however, as well as I could, which was very imperfectly, as I had bad tools to work with, and my crew, now unrestrained by. my authority, having, broached a cask of wine, and taken copious drafts of it, in order to dispel their sorrows, were most of them in such a state, that instead of assisting me, they tended to increase my embarrassment. We, however, at last, got the boat turned up, and found that one whole plank was out on each side, and very much split. I tacked the pieces in, assisted by Mr. Savage, Horace, and one or two more. We chinced a little oakum into the seams and splits, with our knives, as well as we could, and worked upon her until it was quite dark. I had kept sentinels walking with handspikes, to guard the tent and provisions during this time, but the Arabs had managed to rob us of one of our sails from the tent, and to carry it off,'and not content with this, they tried to get the other in the same way. This I would not permi t them to do. They then showed their hatchets and their arms, but finding it of no effect, they retired for the night, after promising, as near as I could understand them, that they would not molest us further till morning, when they would bring camels down with them. We had previously seen a great many camel tracks in the sand, and I of course believed there were some near. One of the children had furnished us with fire, which enabled us to roast a fowl that had been drowned, and driven on shore from the wreck, on which, with some salt pork,and a little bread and butter, we made a hearty meal, little thinking that this was to be the last of our provisions we should be permitted to enjoy. A watch was set of tvk> men, who were to walk guard at a distance from fhe tent, to give an alarm in case of the approach of the natives, and keep burning a guard fire. This we were enabled to ,do by cutting up some spars we found on the beach, and which must have belonged to some vessel wrecked there before us.

Night had now spread her sable mantle over the face of nature, the savages had retired, and all was still, except the restless and unwearied waves, which dashed against the deserted wreck, and tumbled among the broken rocks a little to the eastward of us, where the high perpendicular cliffs, jutting out into the sea, opposed a barrier'to their violence, and threatened, at the same time, inevitable and certain destruction to every ill fated vessel and her crew that should, unfortunately, approach too near their immoveable foundations : these we had escaped only by a few rods. From the time the vessel struck to this moment, I bad been so entirely engaged by the laborious exertions which our critical situation demanded, that I had no time for reflection; but it now rushed like a torrent over my mind, and banished from my eyes that sleep which my fatigued frame so much required. I knew I was on a barren and inhospitable coast; a tempestuous ocean lay before me, whose bosom was continually tossed and agitated by wild and furious winds, blowing directly on shore; no vessel or boat sufficient for our escape, as I thought it impossible for our shattered long-boat to live at sea, even if we should succeed in urging her through the tremendous surges that broke upon the shore, with such violence, as to make the whole coast tremble; behind us were savage beings, bearing the human form indeed, but in its most terrific appearance, whose object I knew, from what had already passed, would be to rob us of our last resource, our provisions; and I did not doubt, but they would be sufficiently strong in the morning, not only to accomplish what they meditated, but to take our lives also, or to seize upon our persons, and doom us to slavery, till death should rid us of our miseries.

This was the first time I had ever suffered shipwreck. I had left a wife and five young children behind me, on whom I doted, and who depended on me entirely, for their subsistence. My children would have no father’s, and perhaps no mother’s care, to direct them in the paths of virtue, to instruct their ripening years, or to watch over them, and administer the balm of comfort in time of sickness; no generous friend to relieve their distresses, and save them from indigence, degradation, and ruin. These reflections harrowed up my soul, nor could I cease to shudder at these imaginary evils, added to my real ones, until I was forced mentally to exclaim, “ Thy ways, great Father of the universe, are wise and just, and what am I! an atom of dust, that dares to murmur at thy dispensations.”

I next considered, that eleven of my fellow-sufferers, who had entrusted themselves to my care, were still alive and with me, and all but two of them (who were on the watch) lying on the ground, and wrapped in the most profound and apparently pleasing sleep; and as I surveyed them with tears of compassion, I felt it was a sacred duty assigned me by Providence, to protect and preserve their lives to my very utmost. The night passed slowly and tediously away; when daylight at length began to dawn in the eastern horizon, and chased darkness before it, not to usher to our view the cheering prospect of approaching relief, but to untold new scenes of suffering, wretchedness, and distress. So soon as it was fairly light, the old man came down, accompanied by his wives and two young men of the same family—he was armed with a spear of iron, having a handle made with two pieces of wood spliced together, and tied with cords: the handle was about twelve feet long. This he, held balanced in his right hand, above his head, making motions as if to throw it at us; he ordered us off to the wreck, pointing, at the same time, to a large drove of Camels that were descending the heights to the eastward of us, his women running off at the same time, whooping and yelling horribly, throwing up sand in the air, and beckoning to those who had charge of the camels to approach. I ran towards the beach, and seized a small spar that lay there, to parry off the old man’s lance, as a handspike was not long enough. He in the meantime came to the tent like a fury, where the people still were, and by slightly pricking one or two of them, and pointing at the same time towards the camels, he succeeded in frightening them, which was his object, as he did not wish to call help, lest he should be obliged to divide the spoil. The crew all made the best of their way to the small boat, while I parried off his spear with my spar, and kept him at a distance. He would doubtless have hurled it at me, but for the fear of losing it.

The small boat was dragged to the water, alongside our hawser, but the people huddling into her in a confused manner, she was filled by the first sea, and bilged. I now thought we had no resource, except trying to get eastward or westward. Abandoning, therefore, our boats, provisions, &c. we tried to retreat eastward, but were opposed by this formidable spear, and could not make much progress; for the old man was very active. He would fly from us like the wind, and return with the same speed. The camels were approaching very fast, and he made signs to inform us, that the people who were with them had fire arms, and would put us instantly to death; at the same time opposing us every way with his young men, with all their weapons, insisting on our going towards the wreck, and refusing to receive our submission, while the women and children still kept up their yelling. We then laid hold of the long-boat, turned her over, and got her into the water; and as I would suffer only one at a time to get on board, and that too over her stern, we succeeded at length, and all got off safe alongside the wreck, which made a tolerable lee for the boat, though she was by this time half filled with water.

All hands got on board the wreck except myself and another, we kept bailing the boat, and were able to keep her from entirely filling, having one bucket and a keg to work with. The moment we were out of the way, all the family ran together where our tent was ; here they were joined by the camels and two young men, which we had not before seen, apparently about the ages of twenty and twenty-six. They were armed with scimitars, and came running on foot from the eastward. The old man and women ran to meet them, hallooing to us, brandishing their naked weapons and bidding us defiance. They loaded the barrels of bread on their camels, which kneeled down to receive them; the beef and all the other provisions, with the sail that the tent was made «f, &c. &c. and sent them off with the children who drove them down. The old man next came to the beach; with his axe stove in all the heads of our water casks and casks of wines, emptying their contents into the sand. They then gathered up all the trunks, chests, sea instruments, books and charts, and consumed them by fire in one pile. Our provisions and water being gone, we saw no other alternative but to try to get to sea in our leaky boat, or stay and be washed off the wreck the next night, or to perish by the hands of these barbarians, who we expected would appear in great force, and bring fire arms with them, and they would besides soon be enabled to walk to the wreck on a sand bar that was fast forming inside of the vessel, and now nearly dry at low water. The tide seemed to ebb and flow about twelve feet. We had now made all the preparations in our power for our departure, which amounted to nothing more than getting from the wreck a few bottles of wine and a few pieces of salt pork. No water could be procured, and the bread was completely spoiled by being soaked in salt water. Our oars were all lost except two that were on shore in the power of the natives. We had split a couple of plank for oars, and attempted to shove off, but a surf striking the boat, came over her bow, and nearly filling her with water, drifted her again alongside the wreck. now made shift to get on board the wreck again, and bail out the boat; which when done, two hands were able to keep her free, while two others held her steady by ropes, so as to prevent her from dashing to pieces against the wreck.

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