The Journeys of Benjamin Anderson:
Episode III: Wonders of the African World
by Terence L. Johnson
Former Professor, African and African American History
Former Field Archivist
Link for Citation Purposes: https://bwwsociety.org/journal/archive/ba/the-journeys-of-benjamin-anderson-3.htm
Author's Note: The following story is based on accounts of real events from various newspaper and journal articles. Some scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts. Whenever possible, every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they have been reported by Benjamin Anderson.
This Episode: Wonders of the African World
I was aware that many of the villagers in the In Totoquella, a town near Boporo, and even other African towns were eager to borrow from our civilization like they had borrowed from the civilizations associated with the Mohammadans. We were desirous to teach them our science and our arts.
"The people of Boporo went to the mosque for worship three times a day."
"Yes, Mr. Anderson, but I do not believe most of them can even read the Koran," I added.
"This would mean that they do not understand the book's doctrines. Thomas, I believe they simply recite it to memory. Only Mandingoes visit the mosque here who can read Arabic. They are only ones who follow the Koran.”
Kailfal, a faithful Mohamadan, overheard our conversation. He had a different opinion regarding the faith of the people of Boporo.
"We have had religion long before the Arab Africans and you white black men came to our shores."
"What do you call religion, worshiping trees and strange animals," I inquired.
You could see the anger grow in Kailfal's face.
"We do not worship trees and animals."
Mr. Anderson and I were silent for an entire minute. Then Mr. Anderson tried to explain how he viewed what the Africans in the interior were doing that he considered less faithful to the teachings in the Koran.
"I discovered that many of the Mandingoes in Boporo and the other tribes buy the amulets, necklaces, and belts containing transcripts from the Koran sewed up in them, to be worn around the neck, arms, or waist as preservatives from the casualties of war, sickness, or ill luck in trade or love. It seems to be a sort of animism."
Kailfal had a grimace on his face. His body shook lightly.
"Mr. Anderson, we are not pagans. We use the Koran but we have retained our traditional beliefs that proceeded Islam."
I interjected my comment.
"So you do not see a difference in the two faiths?"
Kailfal became even more hotty.
"Thomas C. Brown, there is no difference.”
I fought back.
"What about the graven images in the animistic beliefs?"
Kailfal pointed to the image of the cross that I had on a necklace around my neck.
"I can say the same about your white Jesus. You wear his graven image. Was not your Christ hung on that cross?"
"It is merely a symbol," I returned.
Kailfal laughed indicating how absurd and hypocritical my claim was. Then he introduced his own philosophy over the matter.
"God is God and God is everywhere," said Kailfal. "I find God in the Koran. I find God in your Christ and I find God in divination."
I thought about what Kailfal said. I remember when I lived in Columbia, learning how to read genesis in the original Hebrew from my Jewish friend; a man by the name Lemon. The first chapter of Genesis says, "Beginning gods created the heavens, earth." The passage went on to say, "Let us make man in our own images and in our own likeness." It was then that I realized that paganism had existed in the Christian and Jewish world and that men had made every effort to expunge that part of their past from the human record. I remained silent as to what I knew on this issue.
The conversation with Kailfal ended abruptly. Being in a foreign land with strange customs, both I and Benjamin Anderson decided to tread lightly when discussing what in America and in Europe was defined as paganism. But what I did not tell Mr. Anderson was the fact that I, Thomas C. Brown began to entertain the possibility that these natives did not worship animals or even trees but something beyond the physical world that animated all life. When I lived in Columbia, South Carolina I knew of Negroes who had practiced some type of voodoo. Even then I reasoned that those practices had originated in Africa. I had to remember that we were on a Christian mission as well as one of exploration. Our mission was not to convert to African custom but for them to convert to our ways; which was that of the Christian message as interpreted from the Bible.
One of those African paganisms that we found common in the Liberian interior was the practice of divination. This was a practice that we would later learn that the Christian and the Mohamadan would never displace.
Benjamin Anderson desired to survey the various tribes and geological features in the region and to gain an audience with the king in Musardu. But the King had many reservations about when we should leave Boporo and take that journey. One morning, King Momoru and an escort of for soldiers clutching spears arrived at our hut.
"My friend, you must visit the Sand Doctor," commanded the king.
Benjamin Anderson, still in his hammock, rolled over and onto the hardened red clay floor. He rubbed his eyes then stood up in front of the king. Then I, Thomas C. Brown and the carriers came to attention.
"Anderson, dangers may exist in the interior and therefore you need to visit the Sand Doctor," explained the king.
We heard strange the utterances of the diviner in the early evenings after the call the prayer ended.
The king and his guards escorted us on to a small thatch hut and discovered that a man put his right hand in a small pile of sand.
"This is pure superstition," whispered Mr. Anderson.
The diviner who heard the whisper turned and challenged Mr. Anderson’s claim.
"You Anderson are not a spiritual man. I will excuse you because of the ignorance of your customs.
The diviner then went on and continued to speak his spells while placing his hands in the sand.
"You must pay him to determine the fate of your journey," commanded King Momoru.
"What must I pay?" questioned Anderson.
"Give me three of your muskets and a bronze tea kettle," suggested the King.
"Once we paid the proper amount of silver dollars to the king, his powerful supporters, and the required fee to the Sand Doctor, we were able to get support to complete our journey. Later Mr. Anderson wrote in his journal, “even the sands became things of sense in my favor.”
It was on the fourteen of June 1868, when we left Boporo and then went back through Totoquella. By June sixteenth, we journeyed further in the African interior, with our party now composed of a different crew, but with our same interpreters. We had among our convoy Africans by the name of Jim, Alex, and Pickaniny—the three Congoes who toted our increasingly diminishing cargo. Along with them was Chancellor, a Golah, as our interpreter and Beah, the Mandingo, as our new guide. The remainder of the Congoes did not make the journey with us. Instead, the other Congoes went back to Monrovia and lied about events that occurred during our journey into the African interior.
What Mr. Anderson and I did not know for sure, but suspected, was that someone in our convey was given secret instructions to delay and if possible, stop our efforts to reach Musardu. Because of this treachery, we would spend six months making the journey to Musardu, instead of the one month that was actually needed if one started off from Boporo.
Our team wandered into the interior and encountered hills and large granite boulders in every direction. We came across small creeks that flowed over gravel and sand and drained into the St Paul’s river.
Over a six month period, the fewer and fewer Congoes came with us and our carried our boxes of gifts, as we ventured into undiscovered countries in the interior. Many towns and villages had houses made with clay as well a thatched conical covering. Some villages were, like the Pessy town of Barkomah occupied with three hundred dilapidated houses, half a dozen cows, some large Mandingo dogs, and about eight hundred inhabitants. The town of Pessy was also surrounded on all sides by impenetrable jungle. It was in those jungles that the villagers, because they did not possess a sewage system our outhouses, relieved themselves of bodily waste.
"Our Congo carriers are worn. Our cargo of boxes are heavy. They do not feel that they have the strength to continue the journey," said Mr. Anderson.
I said to him, "Mr. Anderson, I suggest you pay them with some of our cargo. This will entice them to continue the journey.”
Benjamin Anderson took my advice and the men agree to continue with us on the journey. The bigwigs in the town of Barkomah finally helped us to get more carries for our plunder. We left Barkomah and finally crossed over treacherous streams into the land of the Deh. In the Deh region, were a people whom I can only describe as having fiery eyes. As we passed through several of their villages, we were offered dog to eat, which me, Mr. Anderson, and our convey declining to partake the animals as food.
On a Thursday, the 2nd of July 1868, W passed through the Deh village of Dallazeah, we also beheld driver ants that left their nests beneath the surface of the ground and chased away and killed snakes, lizards, scorpions, and centipedes. Then we saw row after row of neatly ordered farms of rice, corn, cotton, and tobacco. I found it all pleasing to my eyes.
When the women who dwelled in Dallazeah, saw us, they began to tremble with fear until our native carriers and interpreters assured these native woman that we did not pose a danger to their well-being.
Mr. Anderson asked, "Was it because it is the way we are dressed? We are not dressed in robes or loin cloth that we have seen other men dressed."
Beah, the Mandingo guide said to us, "You do appear strange and these lands have known slavers who have taken many of their children away."
We and our convoy eventually wandered into the realm of War. We went into the realm of the Boozies. We wandered in village after village.
In my letter to my friend Lemon in Columbia, South Carolina, I describe such a tribe of Africans as well built, generally from five and a half to six feet in stature, with stoutly developed bodies, of sufficient muscular strength to hold a United States musket, bayonet fixed, at full arm’s length, in one hand. I considered them healthy and with very clean habits. For example, I noticed that they bathed regularly twice a day, night and morning, in warm water. Besides the intermediate warm-water baths they were sure to take a bath at whatever creek they happen to cross in their daily walking. This seemed very strange to us who came from America; who bathed only once every two weeks.
"Look at them. Crowds of people cleaning their teeth with some sort of brush."
I made my observation.
“Mr. Anderson, I was told by some of the natives that they also have a weed plant that they use to keep their teeth white and the inner mouth clean.”
A native asked me how we white black men keep our smiles and mouth freshness. I informed them that some of us simply loose our teeth and have false teeth made of ivory inserted in our mouths. I also told them how me and my family freshened our breathe with limewater and Peruvian bark. We also used our fingers or a branch from a tree to rub charcoal powder on our teeth and rinsed with water.
Beah, the Mandingo guide provided us with an explanation in regard to the oral hygiene of these tribes.
"The Boozies are cleaning their teeth with a brush made of the trailing vine known as ration. They also manicure their fingers and toe-nails excessively."
It seems that the Boozies had found a way to retain their teeth even in old age, much better than we Liberians who lose some of our teeth in our twenties. I remember something that I saw in a newspaper when I lived in Columbia, South Carolina about a brush for the tooth. I do not remember many people using it. But it seems that the Africans had arrived at this practice long before us civilized men.
Now there were more wonders that we would see in the African hinterland that certainly amazed us.
Benjamin Anderson seem to be enamored with the jet black skin women who roamed freely throughout the towns without escorts.
"The women are very pretty."
I interjected my opinion.
"The Boozie women remind me more of the Negro women in the United States and those who settle in Liberia."
"Thomas, what do you think about the Mandingoes?" Anderson queried.
I quickly answered his question.
"They have dark skin, but their aquiline features some royal in nature. The Boozies appear more humble than the Mandingoes. The Boozies are more like Negroes from America in their appearance."
Overall, our small convoy witnessed lands that were clean, orderly, and filled with industrious people who harbored hospitality and courtesy. Many of these towns and villages all had massive walls composed of clay and earth, because although there existed civility, they also existed the potential for human cruelties associated with war.
While resting near the foot of a mountain Beah, our guide gave us a few insights into these African conflicts.
"Five rains ago, the Barline had attacked the Bonzie villages of Powlazu, Unzugahzea, and Kaulibodah and captured women and slaves."
"What was the source of the war? Land?" Benjamin Anderson asked.
Beah explained the source of not only the wars in Africa but in any place in the world were men who desired wealthy and power.
"Mr. Anderson, in the interior, land is abundant. Kings and war chiefs need people. They need men to till the soil for crops. They need women to serve as concubines and wives. They need children, if they are barren to continue their names. They need men to train as soldiers for protection of any usurper who might arrive in the dead of night to plunder their village for their rice or their meat. The result of these wars is slavery. The result of these wars is chaos."
When Beah delivered his confession, I began to understand why the Americans, the British, and the republic of Liberia sought so hard to eliminate slavery and why this was such a difficulty.
"Slavery among us had not been a major occupation," said Beah. "But when the Arab Africans came to live among us and when the whites came to trade, they desired slaves more so than copper or gold. As far back as some of our earliest kings, the tribes have fought to capture people and increase their wealth."
Through our long discussions with Beah, Mr. Anderson and I learned that slavery was not a preoccupation of the Bonzie Country or most towns of villages that we explored. It existed, but it did not overtake every waking thought of the people. In the African interior, I discovered that the natives found a way to enjoy life to its fullest. In the African interior, I also discovered this gift. When we came to the Bonzie town of Zolu, we were heralded with twelve ivory horns, and six drums.
"We are famous men Thomas," said Mr. Anderson.
I frowned and came to associate the noise I heard with the advent of some type of hostility.
"But why are all this music and musket fire Mr. Anderson?"
In Zolu, we would later discover that we would be given so many hospitalities, that they became overbearing to both Benjamin Anderson and myself. After leaving the town of Zolu, we wondered into the Bonzie town of Zow-Zow and attended a market fifteen miles East by Northeast of Zolu that possessed five to six thousand people. At this market, I beheld African women wearing blue colored country cloths, while they each wore a three-cornered handkerchief around their heads. Blue beads and brass buttons graced their necks. Although the Africans lacked the cotton gin, women spun the cotton, while the men did the weaving. Cloth at Zow Zow was dyed with beautiful blue patterns by the women of the village.
In all the towns that we visited, I became aware of the fact that rice production was so abundant that it could never be a cash crop unless it could be transported “to some civilized settlement.” In that market, Benjamin Anderson collected ground-nuts, bananas, and rice-bread. We witnessed at the market at Zow Zow, six to eight pound potatoes.
Benjamin looked over to me while I admired the huge fruits and vegetables.
"Thomas do you follow my line of reckoning?"
"What would that be Mr. Anderson?"
I could see great excitement in his eyes.
"Look at the wealth in this market. If these Africans, with their vast cotton production could link their trade with Liberia, who possessed labor-saving machinery, we could create one of the greatest economic empires the world had ever known."
Again Beah, our Mandingo guide overheard our conversation.
"I can see that you do not agree with me," said Mr. Anderson to Beah.
Beah appeared hesitant to respond to Mr. Anderson challenge but started off with a four word sentence.
"Heavy rains stop productivity."
Beah's words did not mean much to Mr. Anderson and me until it happened.
On the first of August, on a Sunday morning in Zow Zow, without caution, heavy rains fell from the sky. When this happened, Benjamin Anderson and I were standing on a hill inspecting a grove of coffee trees. I saw rain and heard the roaring thunder in the distance from the town. When the rains came, hills and dales were swamped with water eight and ten feet deep. When I looked to the West, I saw torrents of rain water gushing down onto mountains with fields of brown, ripened rice. These weather conditions explained why new lands had to be cleared for rice and cotton-fields and why walls of towns were made of clay and earth instead of large stakes. Showers, clouds, vapor and the rapid growth of forest meant that the location of farm land had to be often relocated.
But Mr. Anderson and I had a problem. The rain was so fierce that I forced us to cower near the ground as we tried to run for cover. When I looked at my legs, I felt cold water and water that drew up to my knees.
"We have to descend down the mountain quickly!" Shouted Benjamin Anderson.
As we tried to walk down a path, Mr. Anderson fell and slid down the face of the mountain. As he slid, he fell on his back, narrowly colliding with a tree branch growing on the Mountain's side. I was able to descend down the path without losing my way and managed to track Mr. Anderson, who tumbled and fell into an overflowing stream.
"Give me your hand!" I cried out to a man who I now considered a friend.
He reached out with his arms and I caught hold of his right hand. Then he threw out his left arm, which enabled me to catch hold of his left wrist and pull out of the muddy stream water.
Then under lightening, thunder, and torrents of rain, we ran back to the Zow Zow and found safety in our hut.
As the rains plummeted down onto the African earth, I contemplated many things that I would have never considered had I not journeyed with Benjamin Anderson. Many explorers characterized Africa as a wasteland or even and place were men were too timid to conquer the soil. But my experiences taught me why West Africans did not build pyramids like the ancient Egyptians. A stone edifice found in those far off lands would have been attacked by the wet weather and the violence upon it that would eventually arrive from fierce winds.
But I began to reason that even if the interior of the regions that Benjamin Anderson and myself traveled was free of such an extreme climate, the native African mind in most of Africa would not have availed itself to the conditions that our Liberian school Edward Blyden found in his book entitled "The Negro in Ancient History" necessary for progress; literacy, large buildings, and the attainment of industrial level manufacturing along European and American lines. Instead, they developed along lines that I suspect we outsiders are unable to perceive and came up with advancements that others have taken credit for. I came to suspect this even more when Benjamin Anderson told me about a book he found in Monrovia's library.
"Before we left Monrovia, I read a paper written by a puritan by the name of Zabdiel Boylston"
"Does that concern our mission in Africa?" I asked.
"It will not help us in our mission, but it does present the possibility that these Africans are not all savages."
Mr. Anderson did not relinquish his belief in the African native as a savage, but learning about some of their practices, he did come to see them in a more positive light.
"It appears that in 1721 in Boston there was an outbreak of smallpox. Minister Cotton Mather believed that he had discovered a way of stopping the outbreak."
"You mean Cotton Mather, one the presiding elders of the Salem witch trials?" I asked.
"The same," said Mr. Anderson.
I found it strange that with the exception of the Liberian scholar Edward Blyden, few people commented on the fact that some of the more primitive ideas, still popular among native Africans that only after a hundred years was discounted by most Europeans.
"Thomas, what is surprising was that a bomb was thrown in Cotton Mather's window."
"Why?" I inquired.
"When the outbreak began, Onesimus, one of Mather's Negro slaves, offered a cure to the Puritan minister.
"The whites did not trust medical cures that came from the lips of a Negro slaves."
"What happened next?" I asked.
"Mather convinced a doctor, Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, to use the method that Onesimus described to rid the city people stricken by the small pox. Dr. Boylston complied by rubbing pus from an infected person and on to an unaffected person thereby inoculating the latter person from the disease."
"What was the result?" I inquired.
"What Mather learned from Onesimus saved the people of Boston and spread the practice we call inoculation across the United States," said Mr. Anderson.
"So some of them have knowledge of medicine in some ways more advanced than doctors in the United States," said I.
Mr. Anderson looked up at the African sky, then put his hand out of the door of our hut. The rain had subsided.
"James, it appears that God even gives savages knowledge to protect themselves against dreaded diseases."
As I travelled among the natives, I became aware that they had many medicines that they use to cure illnesses that some of which we in the civilized world cannot cure. I also thought about those conjure doctors on the plantations around Columbia, South Carolina that even white masters respected. These Negro men and women were known to cure diseases that even white doctors could not cure.
I remained quiet, I did not embarrass myself and inform Mr. Anderson that I believed African savages to have talents associated with civilized men.
After the rains, Mr. Anderson and I had plenty of time to admire the beauty of the Bonzie towns, because our chief guide, the Mandingo Beah decided to go to his lodgings in a town known as Bokkasah. We also had time to survey Bonzie lands because the people of the land made us stay by overloading me with presents and asking us to remain in their company. When Beah did not return from Bokkasah after two weeks delay, our company of Congoes, Golah, Mr. Anderson and myself got back on our journey across the African countryside and eventually found our way in to Bokkasah, Beah’s home town.
In Bokkasah, we beheld plains with long fields of grass, ferns, and tall palms. I beheld a
Tamarind tree. The Tamarind is a large, spreading tree, having very small, deep-green fern
like leaves. The fruit grows in elongated pods, similar to the butter-bean. I climbed into that
tree grabbed a few of the pods in my hand. I leaped out of the tree and opened up the pods
and crunched them in my mouth.
"What is its taste," asked Mr. Anderson who refused to take one from my hand.
I searched for an answer.
"It’s a bitter and sweet nut. Not like a lime or lemon. It does not have the taste of a butter-bean but it is delectable."
In the Western part of the town, we saw dense forests on hills of granite that elevated
one forest region above the other. In that forest region we saw many varieties of Lizards which
include the Guano or manure, the wasps, the sloth, and the beautiful and ever-changing Chameleon.
We learned that the town of Bokkasah was abundant in vegetables of all sorts; rice, beans, potatoes, plantains, bananas and groundnuts.
On one road to the town I passed young women with baskets selling already shelled ground-nuts. One extended her hands out to us.
"Misters, I can see that you are strangers here in Bokkasah. Here, take some.
We quickly filled my coat pockets with these divine tasting morsels that we grabbed from her two hands.
One of our Congo carriers, said, "It is customary to provide her with a sum."
Heeding the wisdom of the carrier, both Mr. Anderson and I did as we were instructed.
We gave out buttons of brass as payments as compliments as our company babbled in the languages of Bassa, Boozie, English, and Mandingo. Company of carriers and I munched on the nuts as the African women snapped their fingers as I made friends with the people, while Mr. Anderson spouted bad words about Beah’s destiny.
"The man has even less honor than Kailfa. I hope Beah brakes a leg, the son of a dog. Both of these heathens had tried to stop me for reaching Masurdu."
"What shall we do Mr. Anderson? Abandon our mission. Return at a better time."
He snapped back at me.
"Thomas C. Brown, I hope that you do not make me question Loyalty. Loyalty is a resource that I cannot afford to lose."
I snapped back sternly at the leader of our expedition.
"I am indeed loyal to your cause, but I am most loyal to my friend, our governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts."
Benjamin Anderson turned away from me as if he had just be embarrassed for doubting my honor.
Publisher's Note: By special arrangement with the Author, all reader-remitted Membership Fees resulting from the story above, less processing expenses if any, will be forwarded to the Author as means of remuneration. -JP
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