The Journeys of Benjamin Anderson:

Episode V: The Way to Masurdu


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.


The village was Naalah, we arrived late in the afternoon.  Escorted by a squadron of Mandingos and our Congo carriers and Beah, our interpreter, Benjamin Anderson and I finally made it to the territory that would eventually lead us to the center of the Mandingo Empire.

I heard the huffing sound of animals galloping onward. Then, I saw native men riding horses at a terrific speed. I became aware that two horses dominated the region.


“I have seen them before, Brown, one large-sized horse only served as show in parades, but the smaller horse was used in warfare.”


Then one of the natives went on to explain.


“The smaller animals were capable of kicking and biting an enemy. That is the reason for their usefulness in battle.”


"In Boozie country much of the landscape was obstructed by dense vegetation.  But I notice that the countryside here is for many miles, visible," said Mr. Anderson. 


I looked back at our Congo carriers who carried boxes on their head and soldiers, our Mandingo guards, and Beah, our interpreter. The men were as tuckered out as I was.  Then I looked back at our leader.


"Mr. Anderson, you speak the truth," I said as I pointed east. "Do you see in the distance, towns and villages on the plains?”


We walked for about a period of thirty minutes, until we saw the movement of people and the trappings of civilization.


"Look there, that is the large town of Du quirlelah on your right, below small hills," said Beah.


Our convoy walked a little further and came across what appeared to be a white border, but soon realized it to be the top of the wall of Musardu’s southwestern barrier.


"Do you not see people riding horses?" questioned Benjamin Anderson with great glee.


"I see," said I.


The town of Musardu was not very clean due to the fact that waste of the horse littered up the land. As one stepped, one became soiled and the place had the stench of the four-legged critters. This was not unique to Musardu, because some of the towns in America out West suffered from the same conditions.


At Musardu, the capital of the Western Mandingoes, Mr. Anderson had the pleasure of using his scientific equipment to determine that the town lay on a latitude of eight degrees, twenty-seven minutes, and eleven seconds.  The longitude lay at eight degrees, twenty-four minutes, and thirty seconds. The town elevated two thousand feet above sea level.  For reasons that Mr. Anderson could not fully understand, his watches did not run well at Monrovia, but we believe that because the atmosphere of Musardu is very dry….We reached Musardu, every one of them began to tick away in a clear and ringing manner. 


Surrounding the town were a series of hills and slopes. Though the town had seven to eight thousand people, thousands more lived in surrounding villages. The town like many of the other Mandingo villages were dominated by Mohammadans.  Benjamin Anderson looked around and said to me, “They have a natural reverence for learning and mental superiority, and they never fail to respect it, whether it accords with their belief or not.”


"Do you reckon that they respect the religions of the pagans?" I asked.


"I do not believe that pagans deserve respect because they are not rational beliefs," said Mr. Anderson.


Benjamin went on to add, "Thomas, do you remember when our Baptist Congo carriers began to loudly recite a Christian prayer? When the Muslim Mandingoes heard it, they did not comment with any bad feelings about the matter even when they knew that it had not come from the Quran."


"Mr. Anderson, could it be that they are at their best behavior because of our status as representatives of Liberia?"


Benjamin Anderson did not respond to my questions but merely changed the subject. 


"Look there."


I followed Mr. Anderson's command.  I looked up into the sky.


"Look at those large numbers of hawks as large as American geese flying low in the sky, but for short periods of time."


I saw hawks crowding the few trees growing on the open plain.  I also saw hawks perched on rocks. These white birds with black colored feathers around their necks and wings that would make the ground grow black as they flew in flocks of eight in number or even twelve. 


"Thomas, these huge hawks are natural predators."


Not being a simpleton, I was aware of nature. I had grown up in Columbia, South Carolina. I felt that Anderson had belittled me, but the interior of Liberia was not the place to spar with the man that President Daniel Bashiel Warner installed as a bigwig of our expedition.


I held my anger behind my breath and went along with Anderson's efforts to ignore my observation.


"Yes, Musardu is singularly free from grasshoppers, rats, and even small creeping mice."


I found it odd, that Anderson found such a fascination with birds but seem to find no contradiction with the Mandingo Empire that was supposed to be tolerant of other religions. Yet I reasoned that empires do not ask groups permission to occupy their lands; they take them through the force of violence.   


Benjamin Anderson did not show much concern for what the Muslim Mandingoes sought to do in the Liberian interior. While Mr. Anderson went on about the plants and animals in the interior, I reasoned if the Liberian government desired to end slavery, the Mandingo Empire, which was the antithesis of a Republic, would have to be destroyed. 


I was concerned about the slaves that I encountered in so many of these African towns.  But I now stood in front of a man whose face glowed when he talked about agriculture. Anderson picked up a hoe.


"It is remarkable, Brown, that these natives are able to create such high quality iron.  And Brown, the farmers here use this hoe to turn over high grass and wild cane into the soil to use as fertilizers."


I pretended that I was interested in what Benjamin Anderson had to say as we walked in a field.


"Thomas, in my estimation and observation were crops of rice; of which there are three kinds, potatoes, ground-nuts, onions, peas and beans, large gourds, and corn, pumpkins."


I tried to make conversation.


"Mr. Anderson, the crop that was raised in plots near streams of water was the tobacco plant. 


Benjamin Anderson bent down and scooped up rich black soil.


"Thomas in several of my inquiries that the natives, I learned that the Mandingoes are the great tobacco-raisers and snuff-makers of the country. They supply both themselves and the Boozies."


"Musardu produced bullocks, hides, horses, and country cloths.  But the people did not keep these items in the walled city," Mrs. Anderson observed.


"Why?" I inquired.


"Instead, they kept them in a Boozie town that was friendly to them as well as in the Vukkah hills.

One day, Mr. Anderson and I were taken to a huge marketplace a few hundred yards from the south-western gate of the town.  We were told that that space was once used for the sale of  country cloth, cattle, gold, (dust and manufactured goods,) slaves, grain, and salt, of which there were two kinds—the slab or rock-salt, which came on camels from the north-east, and our fine salt, gotten from the coast; ostrich feathers; leather, in the beautiful and soft tanning of which the Mandingoes are particularly expert; ivory, cotton, and an infinite variety of domestic articles were all named, and the different places where they were sold designated.


One of our guides went on and explained.


“War has abolished every sign of this commercial activity and life, and has introduced in its stead a barren space, filled with weeds, grass, and the broken skulls and skeletons of enemies.”


"What happened here?" I asked.


Our Musardu guide explained,


"Before the town had a wall, it had been even more prosperous than its present condition.  A powerful bigwig who hailed from Madina, which was north-east of Musardu, by the name of Ibrahima or Blammer Sissa, who became involved in the politics of Musardu.  This Ibrahima aided Musardu in fighting non-Muhammadans who lived over the eastern hills. After helping to defeat Musardu’s enemy, Ibrahima returned to Musardu with his cavalry and infantry and engaged in a great plunder." 


"For what reason?" questioned Mr. Anderson.


We learned through this conversation that Ibrahimaa took from the town all creation of value, including many pretty young women. I could imagine horses riding through the town with dark skinned cavalry men killing men with iron tipped spears.  I could envision men riding side saddled grabbing up women and shooting muskets into Musarda homes.  I could imagine wild fires killing human flesh and the potential of inventive minds.  I could also imagine many decades of warfare for property, ruining years of human progress and creating a climate of fear.  I could even imagine women abused in mind and in body by men who see them merely as a spoil of war as precious as gold or ivory.  As spoils of war, these women might find themselves sold to an Arab or European and again abused in ways one would never do to a donkey or a horse.


Our guide to Musardu explained the current problem that his people faced.


"We have our fighting men expected war on their north border from Ibrahima. In the East, the people of Musardu continued to fight a war against their enemies. The Southwest and the West were open to the town of Musardu without the threat of war."

I observed that every house in the town possessed “muskets, cutlasses, a powder horn, war belts, and war coats, a powerful large bow, and four or five large archery bags filled with poisoned arrows. Regarding weapons of war, I was especially interested in the poisoned arrows.  I learned that the poison for the arrows originated from a bulbous root twice as large as an onion, and two different kinds of small vines.” The poisonous material was boiled until it was black with color and sticky in nature. Put on the points of an arrow tip, the poison, when it came in contact with a wound would cause bleeding at the nose and ears.  The poison attacked the stomach, causing constant spitting and eventually forcing the body into an inclined position, and then the body was capable of only waiting for death.


It became apparent to me that the lands of the African interior had known war for a very long time.




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