The Journeys of Benjamin Anderson:

Episode IV: Into Bokkasah


by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


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.


When we left the market and came directly into Bokkasah, we beheld an oval wall around the double town, part Boozie and part Mandingo.  It was at Bokkasah that we caught up with our Mandingo guide Beah. Beah quickly helped us to receive good lodging. Benjamin Anderson's relationship with Beah had become a sore point, because he felt that Beah had abandoned him in Boozie.


Bokkasah contained fifteen hundred houses with several thousand inhabitants. The market met every Saturday and had an audience of six or seven thousand persons. One thing not found in abundance at the market was the country cloth, which we later understood did not reach Boozie and Barline countries in large amounts, given the fact that the Boporo people made great profits by cutting the cloth and selling less of the article for higher prices.


The Mandingoes seem to make up for Beah’s weaknesses by showing us great hospitality.  On one occasion, a Mandingo lady invited Mr. Anderson to lodgings.  When the lady arrived with the explorer, she said to her mother, “Ma, ma!”  Then the lady, said, “The next words were in musical Mandingo, informing her mother that she had brought the Tibbabue (an American man) to see her. 


While I and the Congoes were supplied with food and drink in our huts, Mr. Anderson eventually found himself in their lodgings, seated with the lady and her mother in front of my meal which consisted of a large bowl of rice, with fried chicken, and palm wine.  Benjamin Anderson was later told that he could come again to the home every day while he dwelled in Bokkasah. The hospitality in Bokkasah had not been that different from what we experienced as strangers in other towns.  What Bokkasah afforded us was entrance into a native society that few foreigners ever experienced.  These customs, although rather strange, made me question the notion that Africans lacked a civilization.  The more I was able to peer into their world, the more I came to challenge this belief of an African as an obstacle to progress.


A curious institution that I discovered in Bokkasah, but it seemed to exist throughout the region. It was a kind of convent for women, in the mysteries of which every woman has to be instructed.   Because the mysteries were secret, I never discovered actually what they were.  I did however learn that the mysteries centered around a peculiar kind of circumcision and certain other practices necessary for health.  Our guide Beah tried to explain it to us.


"Sirs," he said to us, "Except for certain periods, these walled-up areas for the women’s mysteries system were forbidden to men. Men caught in these restricted areas, except during the holiday period, received death as their reward."


"What is the purpose of these mysteries?" I inquired.


Beah answered.


"Girls become women in these mysteries.  The mysteries have been practiced for so many rains, that no one knows when they started, but they are necessary for the health of our communities. Without them, we cease to be the people that our ancestors wish us to be."


"We have nothing like this where we come from," said Mr. Anderson.


Beah smiled at both me and Mr. Anderson.


"Sirs, you have the skin of the tribals, but the mind and hearts of the whites. You are the Merican men. White black men."


I looked into Mr. Anderson's eyes and noticed that he did not take what Beah said too kindly.


Beah ignored the anger growing on Mr. Anderson's face and indulged us with his own speculations.


"If we ever become as you, then we tribals learn your ways and abandon ours, we shall become Merican men. White black men."


"Do you not want to learn our ways?" I asked.


"Not I. I want to be a Mandingo.  I want to stay a tribal," said Beah.


Anger continued to mount on the body and person of Mr. Anderson as he balled his fist and tried to win what he must have considered a debate.


"But do you not desire to live in American lodgings and clothe you women's nudity? Do you not want to learn from American books and have your children become more than simple peasants."


Beah posed a question to Benjamin Anderson.


"If have those things will we be free to practice our customs?  Will the Merica ways stop our wars? Or will the white black men make us their slaves?"


Benjamin Anderson answered Beah as he shifted his face toward the ground.


"Listen to be Beah, you shall join with us and we will become one people. You will enjoy the benefits of our civilization.  You will be taught the way of Christ.  Your people will live better."


Beah posed another question.


"Tell me one thing, Merican man. Will we be allowed to revere our ancestors?"


Mr. Anderson looked up at the Mandingo who appeared to have a tear in the left corner of his right eye.




Beah held his head down in the palms of his hands. Light tears came from his eyes.


Later, we went back to our hut. When the sun melted over the horizon, we wandered in the land of dreams.


During one of the holidays, Benjamin Anderson and I along with many villagers visited the walled grounds of the female mysteries.  I saw the women initiates who sat on a mat in front of their small huts.  The women wore large turbans, while their bodies dressed in all the fineries that their friends in the town could afford.  The women held their heads down as the custom of their initiation had permitted. In the walled initiation area, I shook the hands of these moody sisters. 


We stayed many weeks in Beah’s town, taking in some of its customs and becoming a member of that people.  In the afternoon, Mr. Anderson and I would untie our shoes, unzip our pants, take off our shirt and frockcoat and dress up in a Mandingo toga, and journey barefoot into the eastern part of Bokkasah.  We would accompany people we called friends and have discussions.  I sometimes would belt out the song “Dixie.”


"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton, Old times there are not forgotten, Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. In Dixie Land, where I was born, early on one frosty mornin', Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray! In Dixie Land, I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixie. Away, away, away down south in Dixie. Away, away, away down south in Dixie."


The native Bokkasah would repeat the Fatiha; the first short verse from the Quran. He would say, "In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful. Praise be to Allah, the lord of the universe. The most gracious, the most merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone we worship, and [from] you alone we ask for help. Guide us [to] the straight path. The path of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, not of those who earned [your] wrath, nor of those who have gone astray."


Benjamin Anderson would recite the Lord’s Prayer from the Old Testament. "Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, Forever and ever. Amen."


When a young African lady wanted me to write the Lord’s Prayer so that she could wear it around her neck, Mr. Anderson did what the lady requested, but informed her that the prayer healed the soul and not the body. What the lady did remind me of was people of color in my native Columbia, South Carolina who called themselves Christians, but who would use the Lord's Prayer as a charm to ward off evil spirits.  Surely, I thought to myself, some of us who hail from the United States, England, and the Caribbean are not that different from our native brothers in some of their religious practices.


While in Bokkasah, king Dowilnyah, the king of the Wymar Boozies sent messengers to incite Mr. Anderson to come to his town.  I was rather struck by the tall black men with their tattooed faces and filed teeth who carried huge spears and very long bows and who came to serve as our escorts. Because there was a question of my safety, we delayed our departure from Bokkasah.


Boe, a Wymar Boozies town, was attacked by the Domar Boozies, which meant that the two African tribes were related; The Wymar Boozies and Domar Boozies. King Dowilnyah sent his champion to liberate the city from the Domar Boozies of Boe, which he did. When we eventually left Bokkasah and entered the Doe, Mr. Anderson ordered me and the Congoes to perform the task that he had been requested by our guides. We discharged our pieces, in order to inform the king of our arrival.


When our convoy entered the domain of the king we saw that he was dressed in a gaudy-figured country robe; on his head was a large blue and red cloth cap, stuck all over with the talons of large birds.  His chief counselor, a man by the name of Jebbue, was a rather large person.  Surrounding king Dowilnyah were people “dressed in white, blue, striped, and yellow country coats.”  Mr. Anderson and I sat in the presence of the king on a mat.  Then suddenly the sounds of iron horns and drums were heard as Boozie warriors performed all the evolutions of a savage and barbarous warfare.  The people gave much applause at the scenes until the King waved his right hand and then all creation stopped.


The king later drank about a quart of palm wine. Then he came forth with prodigious leaps; when king Dowilnyah finished his war dance, the ladies of Wymar finished, by engaging in their own dance. 


On Friday 6th of November, 1868, Mr. Anderson and I met with King Dowilnyah.


"And you are," said King Dowilnyah.


"I am Benjamin Anderson and this is Thomas C. Brown,"


The king leaned forward from his throne.


"Anderson, why have you Mericans come to our town?"


"To make ourselves, meaning Liberians, well acquainted with you and all your people."


Once hearing this, Mr. Anderson presented the king with another of items which included a piece of calico, which is a long plain-woven textile; one large brass kettle, a music box, two bottles of cologne, and a clasped knife."


The King looked sternly at both of us. Then he burst out in a hearty laugh.


"Come now Anderson, I desired to see something from you that is more dangerous than your sharp metal weapon."


One of our Congoes arrived at the king's residence with a box that he then placed in my hands. I opened the box and showed the king Anderson’s revolvers. The king picked up one of the revolvers and twirled it around.


"Anderson," said the king, "This is what I need.  The tribes fear this power that you Mericans have."


"Then they are all of yours, your grace," said Mr. Anderson.


The native Africans had muskets that secured only one shot before loading. Anderson's revolver represented a new type of power that Africans did not possess. Our guns could not only fire in rapid succession but they were louder than the English-fused muskets that the Africans had. When I showed the king my astronomical instrument for taking various measurements, king Dowilnyah shrieked back and put his arms over his head and face.


"Anderson, what is that monstrous object."


The monstrous object was composed of glass and metal. It had a scope for one eye to see through and had gauges that allowed Mr. Anderson to take accurate measurements regarding the locations on this part of the earth.


"Quickly Anderson.  What is it?" questioned King Dowilnyah.


"You grace it is known as a sextant," returned Benjamin Anderson.


"What does it do?" asked the king.


"It locates your town and other towns."


"For what purpose? To invade us?"


"So that we can trade."


The king accepted Mr. Anderson's question but abruptly changed the subject.


"You may not know this about us Anderson but jealousy is rampant in all the towns. A King is always the target of those who may be next in line to take his place.  A king is loved by his people in times of prosperity, but loathed by his people during famine."


"Oh great leader, you do have your guards to protect you from harm?" questioned Mr. Anderson.


King Dowilnyah eyes seem to tear up.  His hands lightly shook.


"My people know that they cannot kill me with a spear or a gun. I am too protected. But, they have their ways. You see, my people excel in the use of herbs. Over the countless times of the rains, they have examined every leaf, root, and branch for saps and oils.  They have tested them on animals and determined their effects. 


"Surely if this is the case, you have people to taste your food," responded Mr. Anderson.


"Anderson, do you have special medicine to protect me against the act of being poisoned?


"I have no such medicine. But by exercising the proper precaution in eating and drinking, you might be able to escape the evil intention of your enemies.” 


The king again tried to explain why Mr. Anderson's line of reasoning would not work in his town.


"Our people have developed poisons that not only attack the flesh but also the soul. When used, they appear natural to the body.  One does not immediately become ill, but in a week, a month, and even a year, this poison bleeds into us, sapping our will to live." 


I reflected concerning what the king told us about the woman who was tried and convicted of Witchcraft in the Golah town of Gobby.  Perhaps she had found a way to poison her enemies.  I did not tell Mr. Anderson but I had heard what the king said before.  It was when I lived in Columbia, South Carolina.  In my neighborhood, it was believed that a woman by the name of Sarah wanted to keep her man from having relations with other women, so she decided, at a church luncheon to put something in the woman's tea.  The woman that Sarah poisoned came down with a fever.  Sores appeared all over her face. She was bedridden for a year experiencing constant agonizing pain in her legs. 


I wanted to tell Mr. Anderson that the king was describing what we in Columbia, South Carolina called being rooted.  Mr. Anderson, being a Negro from Maryland, was not party to such ideas and regarding such notions as the thing of fantasy and superstition as much. 


"I do not claim to understand your ways, but I do not have a cure for the type of poison that you speak," responded Benjamin Anderson to the king.


Ziggah Porrah Zue and other Undiscovered Countries


On the 10th of Tuesday, 1868, our convoy went with King Dowilnyah to his hometown of Ziggah Porrah Zue, the largest town of the Wymar Boozies. Ziggah Porrah Zue lay at eight degrees fourteen minutes, and forty-five latitude and nine degrees and one minute longitude.


The capital of the Waymar country elevates about 1650 feet above sea level. According to my readings, the barometer stood from 28.08 to 28.12. The thermometer ranged from sixty-seven degrees to ninety-two degrees from November 14th to November 30th.  This town, situated on St. Paul’s River, would put the Liberian explorer on a direct course toward Masurdu.  Entering the town, the king and his people donned their dress robes. Passing through the town required going through a gate and then another gate and through a wall into the middle of town. Then we passed another gate and wall into the central town. I saw women spinning cotton from looms.


"Many of the people have marked faces of blue-stain tattoos. Are these men Boozies or some other tribe?" Anderson asked Beah.


Our Mandingo guide provided us with an explanation.


"They are Wymar Boozies.  The Domar Bonsied do not stain their faces."


In the market square in the central town, the king’s uncle gave a speech, which concluded with the sound of forty trumpets.  More speeches came and still, bands played music, one after another. Then came war dances from various chiefs, finally concluding with the war dances of King Dowilnyah. Like all the other villages, Mr. Andersons and I along with our carriers were given lodgings.  When we lay in our hammocks, I informed Benjamin Anderson of my revelation.


"There is one common theme in this town."


"What is it Thomas?" questioned Mr. Anderson.


"Festivity and enjoyment."


"I quite agree with you, Thomas.  Did you see the man with the false face?"


For a moment I was not aware of what Mr. Anderson referred to until Beah helped me recollect the events of our first day in Ziggah Porrah Zue.


"The man with a mask, standing on stilts amusing the audience with clownish tricks and sayings. That is the man to be the king’s fool.  His job is to amuse the king in every way possible."


"Thank you Beah, for clearing this point up.  The king's fool, reminds me of the role that jester had in the early days of the kings of Europe," said Anderson.


I interjected.


"I do not believe that jesters were as acrobatic as this king's fool."


"It is an honor to be the king's fool.  Nothing is denied him, including women," said Beah.          


In the afternoon, I noticed King Dowilnyah’s bodyguards performing military exercises. Three war drums were beaten for half an hour.  The bodyguards carried an English light musket and a native sabre.  I reasoned that in another age, these Boozies would have been a force to be reckoned with, but not today as the English, the French, and the Americans had improved the ability to kill the African and the Asian.  Still, King Dowilynyah’s reputation as a warrior was known far and wide in the interior.


In spite of my interest in the goings on among the Wymar Bonsie and their wars, from the king, our party received powerful protection that would allow me to finally arrive in Musardu. On the 30th of November, 1868, my convoy and I alone with King Dowilnyah left Ziggah Porrah Zue.  We passed through numerous towns, some of the tall grass and wild rice.  We passed another town with a Sassawood tree, a tree known for its use supplying drugs and poisons.  We wandered into hilly country and then passed trees and points where trees became scarce.  We journeyed over red clay and pebbles.  Then on the 1st of December, 1868, our convoy headed for Pellezarrah.


We walked for a quarter of an hour and wandered through a region that was a solid mass of iron ore.  Then I made a startling discovery.  I saw how reddish grass tried to grow into the iron ore on the earth’s floor.  Benjamin Anderson reasoned that the pure iron ground had been smoothed by the constant movement of past travelers.  For three hours we walked over the warm metal until coming to high grass and encountered a herd of elephants.


Then my convey with our detail of boxes, came to the Boozie town of Ballatah. The town lay at eight degrees seventeen minutes and fifty-one seconds latitude. It elevated about two thousand feet above sea level.  The barometer reading that I made stood at 27.1172. The people of this town killed a sheep and presented my men and me with the cooked meat along with rice. We were given palm oil, which served as a substitute for lard and butter.


I took out a bronze knife and fork to consume the tasty morsels.


"You eat the meat and the rice with your hands," said Beah.


"Why?" questioned Mr. Anderson.


"You do your host dishonor by showing them up with such instruments," returned Beah.


"Put the knives and forks back into our bags.  We do not want to make our hosts irate," said Mr. Anderson.


The town of Ballatah consisted of twenty-five hundred people and was protected by high hills on its western end. Although there was much that I thought was primitive about these natives, I was amazed as to what they had developed in terms of tools for farming, art, and warfare. 


When the people took my men and me to another nearby town, we saw men busy smelting iron. The iron furnaces were built of clay and sort of a conical shape, from five and a half to six feet high, having clay pipes or vents close at the bottom, arranged in groups of two and three, for the purpose of draught. I noted how the charcoal and iron ore were put on top of the furnace, while an opening at the bottom allowed the slag and other waste products to withdraw.


I found it sad that the ability of these natives produce tools and to tame a harsh land did not appear in any books.  I hoped that Benjamin Anderson's journal would be published so that the entire world would no longer think of these natives as being without civilization.


After witnessing the wonders of Ballatah, on Thursday, the third of December, 1868, me and my team of Congoes, a Gulah, and Beah; the Mandingo, left the town and headed in a Northeast direction toward the Vukkah hills which varied in size, but which could rise seven hundred to one thousand feet high.  


"I am amazed at the long grasses and dwarf-like trees with small leaves and with trunks, eight feet wide dominated the sides of the plains and hills," said Mr. Anderson.


I, Thomas C. Brown, voiced my wonderment as I walked behind Benjamin Anderson and behind me, our convoy following.


"Mr. Anderson, there is a vast wealth of the hills, with their large veins of granite, iron ore, and a reddish clay."


"I judge the soil, even though it was covered with tall grass to be easily tilled and also very fertile,” I said to the explorer.


“You reckon this possible Mr. Anderson,”


He explained,


“When the sun parched the grass or when a native farmer hoed into the soil, the grasses served as manure.  I reasoned that within a short time, the natives could grow rice, cotton, and millet.”


Then as we continued our movement to their destination, Mr. Anderson and we were told by our guides that the hills not only contained unmined wealth but hiding places where men and their families might dwell in the event of war.  The war was of course between and involved neighboring tribes.


"It seems that war is a constant in Africa," said I.


Beah laughed.


"Mr. Thomas, I have seen something of the wars that the white skins wage to secure slaves. Do they not also fight wars for land, for gold, for ivory, for palm oil."


I also began to laugh and then everyone in our convoy, including Benjamin Anderson laughed as well.


"I think that Beah makes a good point Thomas. These natives, though they lack our understanding of Christ and have less development than we, fight as we fight."


I challenged Mr. Anderson's observations.


"Then we too remain savage as a meat axe."


"I am afraid that in spite of our guns, ships, and machines, we remain only a little above the savage," responded Mr. Anderson.


I was not convinced by Benjamin Anderson's comments that violence in America or  Europe could be compared to what was transpiring in the interior of Liberia.  In America, the white men had developed a society that, for the most part, was not in a state of crisis.  I would come to call into question Mr. Anderson's statement, even more, in the coming weeks of our journey.


On Friday, the 4th of December, 1868 our team of native African men rested at the foot of a hill in the town of Vukkah.  This area lay between the boundary of the Boozie and the Mandingo territories.  What I saw in Vakkah was unlike anything that I had seen in more prosperous towns. 


“These houses are worn and untidy.  This town of the Boozies seems dangerous,” exclaimed Mr. Anderson.


I turned to our leader.


“Mr. Anderson, I believe that we are safe because we were under the protection of King Dowilnyah that kept us from any harm.”


Mr. Anderson gave a sigh of relief.


“You are correct, Brown.  These natives will not attack us or rob us because they have been given word through their drums that the two white black men shall not be harassed.”


On Saturday the 5th of December, 1868, my convoy and I crossed over the Vukkah hills and into Mandingo country.  Once finding our way into Nu-Somadu or Mahommadu, a town surrounded by very thin walls, we were housed in a small conical clay hut shaped with a conical long grass roof.  We shared the hut with a saddle, stirrups, a bridle, with leather leggings, and a tremendous tower of guns. Before we left the town, the chief had a heifer killed and cooked the meat with onions for our convoy.


I personally enjoyed the cooked meat that was given to me on a large plate-sized leaf along with a king’s ransom of brown rice. One item that was correct about so-called darkest Africa was the fact that everywhere we went, they fed us.


After giving the chief a few watches, a frock coat, and a one double barreled pistol, we left and wandered into another village.


I came to believe that the study of history as it appears in most school books promoted politics, wars, and great conquering empires, but should ignore the fact that men in Europe, Asia, America, and even in Africa, spent most of their efforts in taming the land. What I learned in my journeys with Benjamin Anderson was that native Africa had some empires, but most Africans lived on small to modest sized farms.  In those towns, these natives mostly farmed, and employed themselves as traders, or animal husbandry. I hoped that when the history of these native peoples is finally revealed to the world, it will concern less regarding empires and more about the humble farmers and traders.  I remember mentioning to Mr. Anderson these matters before we continued our journey to the village of Naalah.


"Since we have been on this trip, we have not seen the grandeur of stone edifices and, underground tombs that we expect to see if we visited Egypt," said Mr. Anderson.


"I expect not, but I do not see why the people here who have such beauty in their mountains, streams, lakes, and forests would need to design a pyramid for their royalty," I shot back to him.


Benjamin Anderson smiled.


"Your observation has some merit, my friend."




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