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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 1. The Dark Continent
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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 1. The Dark Continent Post by :novedresources Category :Long Stories Author :Jules Verne Date :May 2012 Read :3098

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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part The Second - Chapter 1. The Dark Continent


The “slave-trade” is an expression that ought never to have found its way into any human language. After being long practised at a large profit by such European nations as had possessions beyond the seas, this abominable traffic has now for many years been ostensibly forbidden; yet even in the enlightenment of this nineteenth century, it is still largely carried on, especially in Central Africa, inasmuch as there are several states, professedly Christian, whose signatures have never been affixed to the deed of abolition.

Incredible as it should seem, this barter of human beings still exists, and for the due comprehension of the second part of Dick Sands’ story it must be borne in mind, that for the purpose of supplying certain colonies with slaves, there continue to be prosecuted such barbarous “man-hunts” as threaten almost to lay waste an entire continent with blood, fire, and pillage.

The nefarious traffic as far as regards negroes does not appear to have arisen until the fifteenth century. The following are said to be the circumstances under which it had its origin. After being banished from Spain, the Mussulmans crossed the straits of Gibraltar and took refuge upon the shores of Africa, but the Portuguese who then occupied that portion of the coast persecuted the fugitives with the utmost severity, and having captured them in large numbers, sent them as prisoners into Portugal. They were thus the first nucleus of any African slaves that entered Western Europe since the commencement of the Christian era. The majority, however, of these Mussulmans were members of wealthy families, who were prepared to pay almost any amount of money for their release; but no ransom was exorbitant enough to tempt the Portuguese to surrender them; more precious than gold were the strong arms that should work the resources of their young and rising colonies. Thus baulked in their purpose of effecting a direct ransom of their captured relatives, the Mussulman families next submitted a proposition for exchanging them for a larger number of African negroes, whom it would be quite easy to procure. The Portuguese, to whom the proposal was in every way advantageous, eagerly accepted the offer; and in this way the slave-trade was originated in Europe.

By the end of the sixteenth century this odious traffic had become permanently established; in principle it contained nothing repugnant to the semi-barbarous thought and customs then existing; all the great states recognized it as the most effectual means of colonizing the islands of the New World, especially as slaves of negro blood, well acclimatized to tropical heat, were able to survive where white men must have perished by thousands. The transport of slaves to the American colonies was consequently regularly effected by vessels specially built for that purpose, and large dépôts for this branch of commerce were established at various points of the African coast. The “goods” cost comparatively little in production, and the profits were enormous.

Yet, after all, however indispensable it might be to complete the foundation of the trans-atlantic colonies, there was nothing to justify this shameful barter of human flesh and blood, and the voice of philanthropy began to be heard in protestation, calling upon all European governments, in the name of mercy and common humanity, to decree the abolition of the trade at once.

In 1751, the Quakers put themselves at the head of the abolitionist movement in North America, that very land where, a hundred years later, the war of secession burst forth, in which the question of slavery bore the most conspicuous part. Several of the Northern States, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania prohibited the trade, liberating the slaves, in spite of the cost, who had been imported into their territories.

The campaign, thus commenced, was not limited to a few provinces of the New World; on this side of the Atlantic, too, the partisans of slavery were subject to a vigourous attack. England and France led the van, and energetically beat up recruits to serve the righteous cause. “Let us lose our colonies rather than sacrifice our principles,” was the magnanimous watchword that resounded throughout Europe, and notwithstanding the vast political and commercial interests involved in the question, it did not go forth in vain. A living impulse had been communicated to the liberation-movement. In 1807, England formally prohibited the slave-trade in her colonies; France following her example in 1814. The two great nations then entered upon a treaty on the subject, which was confirmed by Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

Hitherto, however, the declaration was purely theoretical. Slave-ships continued to ply their illicit trade, discharging their living cargo at many a colonial port. It was evident that more resolute and practical measures must be taken to impress the enormity. Accordingly the United States in 1820, and Great Britain in 1824, declared the slave-trade to be an act of piracy and its perpetrators to be punishable with death. France soon gave in her adherence to the new treaty, but the Southern States of America, and the Spanish and Portuguese, not having signed the act of abolition, continued the importation of slaves at a great profit, and this in defiance of the recognized reciprocal right of visitation to verify the flags of suspected ships.

But although the slave-trade by these measures was in a considerable measure reduced, it continued to exist; new slaves were not allowed, but the old ones did not recover their liberty. England was now the first to set a noble example. On the 14th of May, 1833, an Act of Parliament, by a munificent vote of millions of pounds, emancipated all the negroes in the British Colonies, and in August, 1838, 670,000 slaves were declared free men. Ten years later, in 1848, the French Republic liberated the slaves in her colonies to the number of 260,000, and in 1859 the war which broke out between the Federals and Confederates in the United States finished the work of emancipation by extending it to the whole of North America.

Thus, three great powers have accomplished their task of humanity, and at the present time the slave-trade is carried on only for the advantage of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, or to supply the requirements of the Turkish or Arab populations of the East. Brazil, although she has not emancipated her former slaves, does not receive any new, and all negro children are pronounced free-born.

In contrast, however, to all this, it is not to be concealed that, in the interior of Africa, as the result of wars between chieftains waged for the sole object of making captives, entire tribes are often reduced to slavery, and are carried off in caravans in two opposite directions, some westwards to the Portuguese colony of Angola, others eastwards to Mozambique. Of these miserable creatures, of whom a very small proportion ever reach their destination, some are despatched to Cuba or Madagascar, others to the Arab or Turkish provinces of Asia, to Mecca or Muscat. The French and English cruisers have practically very little power to control the iniquitous proceedings, because the extent of coast to be watched is so large that a strict and adequate surveillance cannot be maintained. The extent of the odious export is very considerable; no less than 24,000 slaves annually reach the coast, a number that hardly represents a tenth part of those who are massacred or otherwise perish by a deplorable end. After the frightful butcheries, the fields lie devastated, the smouldering villages are void of inhabitants, the rivers reek with bleeding corpses, and wild beasts take undisputed possession of the soil. Livingstone, upon returning to a district, immediately after one of these ruthless raids, said that he could never have recognized it for the same that he had visited only a few months previously; and all other travellers, Grant, Speke, Burton, Cameron, Stanley, describe the wooded plateau of Central Africa as the principal theatre of the barbarous warfare between chief and chief. In the region of the great lakes, throughout the vast district which feeds the market of Zanzibar, in Bornu and Fezzan, further south on the banks of the Nyassa and Zambesi, further west in the districts of the Upper Zaire, just traversed by the intrepid Stanley, everywhere there is the recurrence of the same scenes of ruin, slaughter, and devastation. Ever and again the question seems to be forced upon the mind whether slavery is not to end in the entire annihilation of the negro race, so that, like the Australian tribes of South Holland, it will become extinct. Who can doubt that the day must dawn which will herald the closing of the markets in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, a day when civilized nations shall no longer tolerate the perpetration of this barbarous wrong?

It is hardly too much to say that another year ought to witness the emancipation of every slave in the possession of Christian states. It seems only too likely that for years to come the Mussulman nations will continue to depopulate the continent of Africa; to them is due the chief emigration of the natives, who, torn from their provinces, are sent to the eastern coast in numbers that exceed 40,000 annually. Long before the Egyptian expedition the natives of Sennaar were sold to the natives of Darfur and vice versa; and even Napoleon Buonaparte purchased a considerable number of negroes, whom he organized into regiments after the fashion of the mamelukes. Altogether it may be affirmed, that although four-fifths of the present century have passed away, slave-traffic in Africa has been increased rather than diminished.

The truth is that Islamism really nurtures the slave-trade. In Mussulman provinces, the black slave has taken the place of the white slave of former times; dealers of the most questionable character bear their part in the execrable business, bringing a supplementary population to races which, unregenerated by their own labour, would otherwise diminish and ultimately disappear.

As in the time of Buonaparte, these slaves often become soldiers; on the Upper Niger, for instance, they still form half the army of certain chieftains, under circumstances in which their lot is hardly, if at all, inferior to that of free men. Elsewhere, where the slave is not a soldier, he counts merely as current coin; and in Bornu and even in Egypt, we are told by William Lejean, an eye-witness, that officers and other functionaries have received their pay in this form.

Such, then, appears to be the present actual condition of the slave-trade; and it is stern justice that compels the additional statement that there are representatives of certain great European powers who still favour the unholy traffic with an indulgent connivance, and whilst cruisers are watching the coasts of the Atlantic and of the Indian Ocean, kidnapping goes on regularly in the interior, caravans pass along under the very eyes of certain officials, and massacres are perpetrated in which frequently ten negroes are sacrificed in the capture of a single slave.

It was the knowledge, more or less complete, of all this, that wrung from Dick Sands his bitter and heart-rending cry:—

“We are in Africa! in the very haunt of slave-drivers!”

Too true it was that he found himself and his companions in a land fraught with such frightful peril. He could only tremble when he wondered on what part of the fatal continent the “Pilgrim” had stranded. Evidently it was at some point of the west coast, and he had every reason to fear that it was on the shores of Angola, the rendezvous for all the caravans that journey in that portion of Africa.

His conjecture was correct; he really was in the very country that a few years later and with gigantic effort was to be traversed by Cameron in the south and Stanley in the north. Of the vast territory, with its three provinces, Congo, Angola, and Benguela, little was then known except the coast. It extends from the Zaire on the north to the Nourse on the south, and its chief towns are the ports of Benguela and of St. Paul de Loanda, the capital of the colony, which is a dependency of the kingdom of Portugal. The interior of the country had been almost entirely unexplored. Very few were the travellers who had cared to venture far inland, for an unhealthy climate, a hot, damp soil conducive to fever, a permanent warfare between the native tribes, some of which are cannibals, and the ill-feeling of the slave-dealers against any stranger who might endeavour to discover the secrets of their infamous craft, all combine to render the region one of the most hazardous in the whole of Equatorial Africa.

It was in 1816 that Tuckey ascended the Congo as far as the Yellala Falls, a distance not exceeding 203 miles; but the journey was too short to give an accurate idea of the interior of the country, and moreover cost the lives of nearly all the officers and scientific men connected with the expedition.

Thirty-seven years afterwards, Dr. Livingstone had advanced from the Cape of Good Hope to the Upper Zambesi; thence, with a fearlessness hitherto unrivalled, he crossed the Coango, an affluent of the Congo, and after having traversed the continent from the extreme south to the east he reached St. Paul de Loanda on the 31st of May, 1854, the first explorer of the unknown portions of the great Portuguese colony.

Eighteen years elapsed, and two other bold travellers crossed the entire continent from east to west, and after encountering unparalleled difficulties, emerged, the one to the south, the other to the north of Angola.

The first of these was Verney Lovett Cameron, a lieutenant in the British navy. In 1872, when serious doubts were entertained as to the safety of the expedition sent out under Stanley to the relief of Livingstone in the great lake district, Lieutenant Cameron volunteered to go out in search of the noble missionary explorer. His offer was accepted, and accompanied by Dr. Dillon, Lieutenant Cecil Murphy, and Robert Moffat, a nephew of Livingstone, he started from Zanzibar. Having passed through Ugogo, he met Livingstone’s corpse, which was being borne to the eastern coast by his faithful followers. Unshaken in his resolve to make his way right across the continent, Cameron still pushed onwards to the west. He passed through Unyanyembe and Uganda, and reached Kawele, where he secured all Livingstone’s papers. After exploring Lake Tanganyika he crossed the mountains of Bambarre, and finding himself unable to descend the course of the Lualaba, he traversed the provinces devastated and depopulated by war and the slave-trade, Kilemba, Urua, the sources of the Lomami, Ulanda, and Lovalé, and having crossed the Coanza, he sighted the Atlantic and reached the port of St. Philip de Benguela, after a journey that had occupied three years and five months. Cameron’s two companions, Dr. Dillon and Robert Moffat, both succumbed to the hardships of the expedition.

The intrepid Englishman was soon to be followed into the field by an American, Mr. Henry Moreland Stanley. It is universally known how the undaunted correspondent of the New York Herald, having been despatched in search of Livingstone, found the veteran missionary at Ujiji, on the borders of Lake Tanganyika, on the 31st of October, 1871. But what he had undertaken in the course of humanity Stanley longed to continue in the interests of science, his prime object being to make a thorough investigation of the Lualaba, of which, in his first expedition, he had only been able to get a partial and imperfect survey. Accordingly, whilst Cameron was still deep in the provinces of Central Africa, Stanley started from Bagamoyo in November, 1874. Twenty-one months later he quitted Ujiji, which had been decimated by small-pox, and in seventy-four days accomplished the passage of the lake and reached Nyangwe, a great slave-market previously visited both by Livingstone and Cameron. He was also present at some of the horrible razzias, perpetrated by the officers of the Sultan of Zanzibar in the districts of the Marunzu and Manyuema.

In order to be in a position to descend the Lualaba to its very mouth, Stanley engaged at Nyangwe 140 porters and nineteen boats. Difficulties arose from the very outset, and not only had he to contend with the cannibals of Ugusu, but, in order to avoid many unnavigable cataracts, he had to convey his boats many miles by land. Near the equator, just at the point where the Lualaba turns north-north-west, Stanley’s little convoy was attacked by a fleet of boats, manned by several hundred natives, whom, however, he succeeded in putting to flight. Nothing daunted, the resolute American pushed on to lat. 20° N. and ascertained, beyond room for doubt, that the Lualaba was really the Upper Zaire or Congo, and that, by following its course, he should come directly to the sea.

Beset with many perils was the way. Stanley was in almost daily collision with the various tribes upon the river-banks; on the 3rd of June, 1877, he lost one of his companions, Frank Pocock, at the passage of the cataracts of Massassa, and on the 18th of July he was himself carried in his boat into the Mbelo Falls, and escaped by little short of a miracle.

On the 6th of August the daring adventurer arrived at the village of Ni Sanda, only four days from the sea; two days later he received a supply of provisions that had been sent by two Emboma merchants to Banza M’buko, the little coast-town where, after a journey of two years and nine months, fraught with every kind of hardship and privation, he completed his transit of the mighty continent. His toil told, at least temporarily, upon his years, but he had the grand satisfaction of knowing that he had traced the whole course of the Lualaba, and had ascertained, beyond reach of question, that as the Nile is the great artery of the north, and the Zambesi of the east, so Africa possesses in the west a third great river, which in a course of no less than 2900 miles, under the names of the Lualaba, Zaire, and Congo, unites the lake district with the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1873, however, the date at which the “Pilgrim” foundered upon the coast, very little was known of the province of Angola, except that it was the scene of the western slave-trade, of which the markets of Bihé, Cassanga, and Kazunde were the chief centres. This was the country in which Dick Sands now found himself, a hundred miles from shore, in charge of a lady exhausted with fatigue and anxiety, a half-dying child, and a band of negroes who would be a most tempting bait to the slave-driver.

His last illusion was completely dispelled. He had no longer the faintest hope that he was in America, that land where little was to be dreaded from either native, wild beast, or climate; he could no more cherish the fond impression that he might be in the pleasant region between the Cordilleras and the coast, where villages are numerous and missions afford hospitable shelter to every traveller. Far, far away were those provinces of Bolivia and Peru, to which (unless a criminal hand had interposed) the “Pilgrim” would certainly have sped her way. No: too truly this was the terrible province of Angola; and worse than all, not the district near the coast, under the surveillance of the Portuguese authorities, but the interior of the country, traversed only by slave caravans, driven under the lash of the havildars.

Limited, in one sense, was the knowledge that Dick Sands possessed of this land of horrors; but he had read the accounts that had been given by the missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, by the Portuguese traders who frequented the route from St. Paul de Loanda, by San Salvador to the Zaire, as well as by Dr. Livingstone in his travels in 1853, and consequently he knew enough to awaken immediate and complete despair in any spirit less indomitable than his own.

Anyhow, his position was truly appalling.

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