The Journeys of Benjamin Anderson
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.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: A White Man and a Black Men Enter the African Interior
Benjamin Anderson, a Liberian explorer, and surveyor, wanted to visit Musardu, a major city of the Mandingo people, who resided in the eastern interior of Monrovia. I, George C. Brown, was asked, by the reigning Liberian President, Daniel Bashiel Warner, and Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first president of the Republic of Liberia, to accompany Mr. Anderson on his mission.
The Mandingo, a nation ruled by tall Black men who practiced Islam, were of interest to Liberia because of their alleged natural intelligence and enterprise. In Anderson's journal, which would later be published entitled, Narrative of a journey to Musardu: the capital of the Western Mandingoes. In that narrative, he wrote: “A strong moral advantage is already gained, from there being a reading and writing people, practicing a communication of ideas and an interchange of thought using Arabic.”
These Mandingo had all the attributes of what most people in Liberia considered to be the hallmarks of civilization. Many of them used a written language, produced works of literature, built impressive stone buildings in the form of mosques, and believed in one God.
As we prepared for our journey farther into the interior, more than any foreigner had ever been, Anderson said to me, "George, we can reach that city within twenty-five or thirty days." In our preparation for his journey to Musardu, we would take with us numerous presents and supplies packed up in boxes to give to kings and chiefs that I might meet along the way in my travels. I packed a sextant, which would enable me to measure the angular distances between objects associated with altitudes in navigation. I also brought with us on our mission, two small night and day compasses to target the proper direction that would eventually lead to Musardu, the land of civilized Mandingo."
I responded to Anderson, "I also brought as you requested two thermometers to record the temperature of the places that we might visit."
One could easily see the gleam in his eyes as he ensured that nothing essential for the success of the trip would be left behind.
"George, did you pack an aneroid barometer? We will want to measure atmospheric pressure and yes we will also need a watch for measuring time."
I held up the aneroid barometer to show Mr. Anderson that the order from New York had arrived.
"The watches are also packed with the gifts that we are to give to the various kings that we will encounter on our journey."
Benjamin Anderson patted me on my back. "You are a good man. You inspire confidence that our mission will be a successful one."
The other supplies that we brought with us consisted of many crate boxes containing numerous mechanical gifts, medicines, watches, and guns from America and England.
I returned a compliment.
"President Daniel Bashiel Warner knows that you will help us return safely to Monrovia after our mission is completed."
On the 14th of February, 1868, during the dry season, Mr. Anderson, myself, and twenty men set out. Included in our number were a tall but lean Mandingo Muslim by the name of Kaifal-Kandal and one heavyset boy, a Krooman, known as Big Ben. Both the men and the boy embarked with Mr. Anderson and me on four twelve-foot canoes. Two of the canoes carried our cargo of presents and instruments.
Now, we traveled to the Liberian colony of New Virginia, which was on the northern side of St. Paul’s River. St. Paul's is a large central river that began at the Liberian coast and runs far into the West African interior.
In New Virginia, the colonists erected from stone the Methodist church. The Baptists at New Virginia have persevered, without any aid outside of their purse and efforts, until they had succeeded in the erection of a fine brick edifice, which, on the Sabbath, was dedicated to the service of God. On the 25th of August, thirty-five persons were presented for baptism. There were more native and Congo converts than at any previous administration with this solemn audience since March of 1868.
At New Virginia, we encountered a military parade by the “Virginia Blue,” under the command of a man by the name of Captain Capehart. After which time, the citizens and military marched in procession to the large new Baptist Church, where Rev. Alex. Crummel, one of Liberia’s greatest ministers and scholars, delivered the oration. Later a public dinner was given by Captain Capehart in celebration of the country’s founding.
The next morning, Benjamin Anderson and I went to Vannawah, a village composed of two African peoples; Deys and Mandingo traders.
Our learned Mandingo named Kaifal-Kanda and our teen Kroomen named Big Ben helped tote our supplies with our other carriers, while they also acted as our translators.
These Kroomen of West Africa were among the first Africans to learn the way of the British while serving as sailors on European ships. Kroomen had practiced slavery long before the coming of Europeans and Arabs to their shores but often committed suicide if they themselves were captured as slaves themselves.
Big Ben proved to be loyal to us, but we later found that we had to keep a keen eye on Kaifal-Kanda.
From these two Africans we learned the potential dangers that lay in Boporo. Boporo was a city that represented a direct route by which we might arrive at Musardu. Boporo had a policy of non-intercourse with foreigners. I discovered this when I woke up from my tent to greet the villagers who came to us from Vannawah villagers. I also learned something quite alarming.
"They have abandoned us!" he shouted.
Anderson said to me, "the Kroomen. The bloody cowards, they left out of cowardice."
"Where did they go?" I asked.
Big Ben, the only Kroomen remaining said,
"Away from us Mr. George. Mr. George, they have no use for our journey."
Now Big Ben was a Kroomen who was perhaps no older than twelve years of age. Big Ben had a body that was almost as big as a full-grown man and had the skill to build canoes, huts, and all sorts of African crafts. He also served us well because he knew more than five African languages.
“They are bloody cowards,” said Big Ben in a British sort of a manner.
Mr. Anderson looked at Big Ben and Kaifal Kanda and then turned to me and said,
"These two Africans and you George are the only ones that have not disappointed me."
I responded to him and said,
"Well Mr. Anderson, I think the wars between African tribes present problems for trade and Big Ben tells me that the town of Boporo dominates the surrounding regions we must pass through."
"That is why they left," said Big Ben. “The Kroomen have many enemies there.”
I turned to Mr. Anderson and said, "Then what are we to do? We need carriers. We cannot tote all those boxes across the country."
"We need to find men loyal and not afraid," said Mr. Anderson.
"But where?" I questioned.
And Kaifal-Kanda said,
"There are Congoes here who tried to live here with these other Africans. They are not of the same tribe as the people in West Africa."
When I came to Liberia I saw them. I saw the Congoes; Captured men, women, children, but freed them from slaves ships, who resettled among Liberians and in native towns. I noticed how many of them struggled to adapt to the native towns. The Congoes’ homelands lay several thousand miles away in Central Africa.
The Congoes would never return to their homeland but would always be considered foreigners among the tribes of the Liberian interior. It was a fact that many Negroes from America integrated, through marriage, with many Congoes into Liberia. In time, as more and more Congoes were assimilated into the Liberian state they became Liberians.
Big Ben and I set up a camp with two tents where we housed our equipment and all of our boxes while Benjamin Anderson and Kaifal-Kanda searched among Vannawah villagers. The two men made inquiries with every Congo man that they met. The agreement that they posed to the Congo men was that if they accompanied us on our quest to reach Masuruda, in exchange for this service, we would ask President Roberts, our former president, to secure foreman jobs on coffee and sugar plantations. This type of plantation job was usually reserved for Negroes from the Americas, due to the fact that they fetched a higher purse than the common laborers. After several days of making inquiries, we found some Congoes who consented to our demands.
On the sixth of March, 1868, we enlisted eighteen Congoes to replace the Kroomen who had abandoned our mission.
Kaifal-Kanda, our main guide said to us "There has been much trouble in Boporo. I suggest we first travel to Vannawah and then to King Bessa's town. We can determine from the locals in King Bessa’s town if the degree of danger we might face in Boporo."
Benjamin Anderson took out a cigar from a pocket in his frock coat and puffed on it hard, then looked over at me for assurance, which I gave him with a nod. Then he turned back to Kaifal-Kanda.
"If you think that is wise, we shall proceed first to Vannawah proper and then perhaps to Boporo."
And so we went through forests, into desert lands, and crossing tall hills into yet another undiscovered county.
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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