Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter V

The natives seize the author by perfidy, and then get possession - of the money—the author’s critical situation on shore—he escapes to the wreck—Antonio Michel is massacred.

The sight of our deplorable situation seemed to excite pity in the breasts of the savages who had driven us from the shore. They came down to the water’s edge, bowed themselves to the ground, beckoning us, and particularly me, whom they knew to be the captain, to come on shore; making at the same time all the signs of peace and friendship they could. They carried all their arms up over the sand hills, and returned without them. Finding I would not come on shore, one of them ran and fetched a small goat or dog skin, which, by signs, they made me understand was filled with water, and all retiring to a considerable distance from the beach, except the old man who had it: he came into the water with it up to his armpits, beckoning me to come and fetch it and drink. He was nearly naked, and had no weapons about him. Being very thirsty, and finding we could not get at any water, and no hope remaining of our being able to get out through the surf to sea, I let myself down by the hawser, and went by means of it to the beach, where the old man met me and gave me the skin of water, which I carried off to the wreck, and the people hauled it up on board. This done, he made me understand that he wished to go on board, and me to remain on the beach until his return.

Seeing no possible chance of escaping or of preserving our lives in any other way but by their assistance, and that that was only to be obtained by conciliating them—telling my men my mind, I went again to the shore. The young men, women, and children, were now seated unarmed on the beach, near the water—the grown people nearly, and the children entirely naked. They made all the signs of peace they knew of, looking upwards, as if invoking heaven to witness their sincerity. The old man advancing, took me by the hand, and looking up to heaven, said, “ Allah K. Beer .” I knew that Allah was the Arabic name for the Supreme Being, and supposed K. Beer meant, “ our friend or father.” I let him pass to the wreck, and went and seated myself on the beach with the others, who seemed very friendly, lacing their fingers in with mine, putting my hat on one another’s heads, and returning it to me again, stroking down my trowsers, feeling my head and hands, examining my shoes, and feeling into my pockets, &c.

When the people had hauled the old man on board, I endeavoured to make them understand that they must keep him until I was released, but they did not comprehend my meaning, owing to the noise of the surf, and after he had satisfied his curiosity by looking attentively at every thing he could see, which was nothing more than the wreck of the contents of the hold floating in her, inquiring for baftas, for fire-arms, and for money, as I afterwards learnt, and finding none, he came on shore. When he was near the beach, and I about to rise to meet him, !■ was seized by both arms by the two stoutest of the young men, who had placed themselves on each side of me, for the purpose of safe-keeping. They grasped my arms like lions, and at that instant the women and children presented their daggers, knives and spears to my head and breast. To strive against them was instant death; I was therefore obliged to remain quiet, and determined to show .no concern for my life, or any signs of fear. The countenance of every one around me now assumed the most horrid and malignant expressions; they gnashed their teeth at me, and struck their daggers within an inch of every part of my head and body. The young men still held me fast, while the old one * -seizing a sharp scimitar, laid hold of my hair at the same instant, as if to cut my throat, or my head off. I concluded my last moments had come, and that my body was doomed to be devoured by these beings, whom I now considered to be none other than Cannibals that would soon glut their hungry stomachs with my flesh. I could only say, “Thy will be done,” mentally, and felt resigned to my fate, for I thought it could not be prevented. But this conduct on their part, it soon appeared, was only for the purpose of frightening me, and as I had not changed countenance, the old man, after drawing his scimitar lightly across the collar of my shirt, which he cut a little, released my head, bidding me by signs to order all the money we had on board to be brought directly on shore.

My mates and people then on the wreck, had witnessed this scene, and had agreed, as they afterwards informed me, that if I was massacred, which they did not doubt from appearances would soon be the case, to rush on shore in the boat, armed in the best manner they were able, and revenge my death by selling their lives as dearly as possible.

When the old man had quit his hold, and I hailed my people, their hopes began to revive, and one of them came on the hawser to know what they should do. I told him all the money which they had on board must be instantly brought on shore. He was in the water at some distance from me, and could not hear, on account of the noise occasioned by the surf, what I added, which was for them not to part with the money until I should be fairly released. He went on board, and all hands hoping to procure diy release, put their money which they still had about them, to the amount of about one thousand dollars, into a bucket, and slinging it on a hawser, Porter shoved it along before him near the beach, and was about to bring it up to the place where I sat. With considerable difficulty, however, I prevented him, as the surf made such a roaring, that he could not hear me, though he ^vas only a few yards distant; but he at last understood my signs, and staid in the water until one of the young men went and received it from him. The old man had taken his seat alongside of me, and held his scimitar pointed at my breast.

The bucket of dollars was brought and poured into one end of the old man’s blanket, when he bid me rise and go along with them,he and the young men urging me along by both arms, with their daggers drawn before, and the women and children behind with the spear, and their knives near my back. In this manner they made me go with them over the sand drifts to the distance of three or four hundred yards, where they seated themselves and me on the ground. The old man then proceeded to count and divide the money. He made three heaps of it, counting into each heap by tens, and so dividing it exactly, gave to the two young men one-third or heap—to his two wives one-third, and kept the other to himself. Each secured his and their own part, by wrapping and tying it up in some of our clothing; During this process, they had let go of my arms, though they were all around me. I thought my fate was now decided, if I could not by some means effect my escape. I knew they could outrun me, if I should leap from them, and would undoubtedly plunge their weapons to my heart if I attempted, and failed in the attempt. However I resolved to risk it, and made a slight movement with that view at a moment when I thought all eyes were turned from me; but one of the young men perceiving my manoeuvre, made a lounge at me with his scimitar. I eluded the force of his blow, by falling backwards on the ground; it however pierced my waistcoat. He was about to repeat it, when the old man bade him desist.

The money being now distributed and tied up, they made me rise with them, and w^ere all going together from the beach, holding me by the arms with naked daggers all around me. There appeared now no possible means of escape, when the thought suddenly suggested to me, to tempt their avarice. I then, by signs, made them understand that there was more money in the possession of the crew. This seemed to please them, and they instantly turned themselves and me about for the beach, sending the money off by one of the young men and a boy. When they approached to within one hundred yards of the beach, they made me seat myself on the sand between two of them, who held me by the arms, bidding me order the money on shore. I knew there was none on board the wreck, or in the boat, but I imagined if I could get Antonio Michel on shore, I should be able to make my escape. I hailed accordingly, and made signs to my people to have one of them come near the shore ; but as they saw, by every movement of the natives, that my situation was dreadfully critical, none of them were inclined to venture, and I waited more than an hour, was often threatened with death, and made to halloo with all my might, until I became so hoarse as scarcely to make myself heard by those around me. The pity of Mr. Savage at last overcame his fears. He ventured on the hawser, and reaching the beach in safety, was about to Come up to me, where he would have been certainly seized on as I was, when I endeavoured to make him understand, by signs, that he must stay in the water, and keep clear of the natives, if he valued his life; but not being able to hear me, my guards, who Supposed 1 ~was giving him orders to fetch the money, obliged me to get up and approach him a little, until I made him understand what I wanted: he then returned on board the wreck, and I was taken back to my former station.

Antonio came to the shore, as soon as he knew it was my wish, and made directly towards me. The natives expecting he would bring more money, flock* ed about him to receive it, but finding he had none, struck him with their fists and the handles of their daggers, and stripped off all his clothing: the children at the same time pricking him with their sharp knives, and all seemed determined to torment him with a slow and cruel death. He begged for his life upon his knees, but they paid no regard to his entreaties. In hopes of saving him from the fury of these wretches, I told him to let them know by signs that there were dollars and other things buried in the sand, near where our tent had stood, and to endeavour to find them by digging. A new spyglass, a handsaw, and several other things, had been buried there, and a bag containing about four hun- %gd dollars at a short distance from them. He soon‘ made them understand that something was buried, and they hurried him to the spot he had pointed out, and he began to dig. I had imagined that if this man would come on shore, I should be enabled to make my escape; yet I knew not how, nor had I formed any plan for effecting it.

I was seated on the sand, facing the sea, between the old man on my left, with his spear uplifted in his left hand, pointing to my breast, and the stoutest young man on my right, with a naked scimitar in his right hand, pointing to my head—both weapons were within six inches of me. and my guards within a foot on each side. I considered at this time, that so soon as any thing should be found by those who were digging, they would naturally speak and inform those who guarded me of it; (these had let go of my arms sometime before) and as I was pretty certain that both of them would look round as soon as the discovery of any treasure should be announced, I carefully drew up my legs under me, but without exciting suspicion, in order to be ready for a start. The place where they were digging, was partly behind us on our right, and upon their making a noise, both my guards turned their heads and eyes from me towards them, when I instantly sprang out from beneath their weapons, and flew to the beach. I was running for my life, and soon reached the water’s edge: knowing I was pursued, and nearly overtaken, I plunged into the sea, with all my force, head foremost, and swam under water as long as I could hold my breath; then rising to the surface, I looked round on my pursuers. The old man was within ten feet of me, up to his chin in water, and was in the act of darting his spear through my body, when a surf rolling over me, saved my life, and dashed him and his comrades on the beach. I was some distance westward of the wreck, but swimming as fast as possible towards her, whilst surf after surf broke in towering heights over me, until I was enabled by almost superhuman exertion to reach the lee of the wreck, when I was taken into the boat over the stern by the mates and people.

I was so far exhausted that I could not immediately witness what passed on shore, but was informed by those who did, that my pursuers stood motionless on the beach, at the edge of the water, until t was safe in the boat: that they then ran towards poor Antonio, and plunging a spear into his body near his left breast downwards, laid him dead at their feet. They then picked up what things remained, and made off altogether. I saw them dragging Antonio’s lifeless trunk across the sand hills, and felt an inexpressible pang, that bereft me for a moment of all sensation, occasioned by a suggestion that to me alone his massacre was imputable; but on my recovery,' when I reflected there were no other means whereby my own life could have been preserved, and under Providence, the lives of ten men, who had been committed to my charge, I concluded I had not done wrong, nor have I since had occasion to reproach myself for being the innocent cause of his destruction, nor did any of my surviving shipmates, though perfectly at liberty so to do, ever accuse me on this point; from which I think I have an undoubted right to infer, that their feelings perfectly coincided with mine on this melancholy occasion.


Return to the Sufferings In Africa Summary Return to the James Riley Library

© 2022