atkins : canoes and fishing, guinea and brazil, 1735
The Surf on the
Atkins writes that the Guinea coast, except a few major headlands, is "very straight without bays or inlets," with "the surf breaking all along to a great height, by means of a continued swell from a vast Southern Ocean."
This makes it difficult for the Europeans, trading for slaves, gold, and ivory, to land safely, and they have to rely on the local natives to "push their canoes through a sea only they understand." (adjusted)
They "count the seas, and know when to paddle safely on or off," apparently without danger, as Atkins "imagine(s) they can swim."
He notes that the
coast at Whyddhy is particularly dangerous, with a consistant swell breaking
on two sand bars and, on one occasion, when a canoe capsizes when attempting
to land shark seized upon one of the crew.
Although they were together cast ashore by a wave, the shark held its grip and with the next swell, returned to the sea with its prey.
Fonchial Road is
similarly dangerous, with anchorage a mile or mile and half off shore.
The appearance of "an extraordinary surf on the beach" is a sign foretelling the approach of a hurricane.
Canoes are the main transport for passengers and freight along the coast.
They are shaped from "a sigle cotton-tree, in the shape of a boat ; 8 or 10 foot broad, carrying twenty rowers."
Atkins reports that canoes, which"will carry 200 men," with matted sails and cordage twisted from a local wild vine, regulary sail from Congo to Loango.
Using paddles, they face forward, and stroke "together with dexterity," and when carrying a European sing in unison as " a mark of respect."
At Cape Corfo on the Gold Coast, Aiktins reports that in fine weather, thelocal fishing fleet numbers from 40 to 100 to canoes.
Unclear of how the Africa traders accquire elephants tusks, Aiktins does note that the rivers provide access deep into the interior and there are regular trading excursions by canoe, "like the (native) Americans."
Each native is said to have a personal "fetish," a small effergy held in the house, in canoe, or about their person.
At Cape Corfo, a
bluff peninsula prominence that juts out from the bottom of the cliff provides
a small shadow from the swell and is a recognised landing place, however
it frequently has "the sea breaking over (it) with great force."
Venerated as Tahra/Tabra, a public fetish for the local fisherman, Aikins claims that its status is related to the destruction of the local fishing fleet in a Southerly gale "about forty or fifty years ago ...on a Tuesday."
Surf on the Coast
Fonchial Road is similarly dangerous, with anchorage a mile or mile and half off shore.
The appearance of "an extraordinary surf on the beach" is a sign foretelling the approach of a hurricane.
The Manatea (Brazil)
The manatea is a prized catch, speared from a canoe it retreats to the mangroves where the hunters kill the animal and drag it ashore.
Aitkins describes the flesh as "white like veal" which can be served boiled, stewed, or roasted, and the taste comparable with venison.
-also includes "water to eye" peace sign-page???
The spelling has been updated; in the original printing there is an overuse of capitalization, and "s" is regularly is transcribed as "f."
The appersan (&) is replaced here by "and," in the case of "&c," it is replaced by "etc."
Sierraleon (Sierra Leon) River is very broad here, but in ten or twelve miles rowing upwards, narrow to half the breadth of the Thames at London, spread on both sides thick with mangroves and trees, or slender woody shrubs, that spring from the low, watery banks of rivers, in warm climates.
From the branches, the sap descends again and takes a second root, and so on, a third, fourth, etc. that the ground is all covered;
very difficult, if not impoffible for men to penetrate : this makes them fit haunts for the manatea and crocodile (sea-cow and
alligator) which, with the sharks, very much infest the river.
A story or two of these creatures, may not be unacceptable.
is very open and unsafe against West and S. W. Winds & deep water also,
that there is no anchoring but at the West
end and that in 40 fathom, a mile or mile and half off shore : so that when a swell from those quarters gives notice of a gale coming, all ships in the road slip their cables and to sea, returning at a more favourable season for their lading: which likewise, by an extraordinary surf on the beach, becomes troublefome to ship off and commonly done by swimming the pipes (?) off to the launch, or laid on the beach, and run her with many hands into the sea.
The like trouble boats have in watering (by a river at the W. end of the town) and is, most commodiously done before the sea-breeze comes in.
The manatea is about eleven or twelve foot long, and in girt half as much and teeth
only in the back part of her mouth, which are sierrated like the ox's, as is also her muzzle and head & with this difference, that her eyes are fmali in proportion, and ears you can scarce thrust a bodkin in and close to her ears almost, are two broad fins, fixteen or eighteen Inches long, that feel at the extremities as though jointed & a broad tail, cuticle granulated, and of a colour and touch like velvet : the true skin an inch thick, used by the West-Indians in thongs for punishing their slaves ; weigh to five or fix hundred weight and of a firm flesh, that cuts fat, lean, and white like veal : boiled, stewed, or roasted (for I have eaten it all ways) it has no fishy taste, but is as acceptable a treat as venison to Gockneighs.(?)
The negroes way
of taking them, is in a canoe which they paddle towards the manatea with
as little noise as possible, (she being extremely quick of hearing :) when
near enough, a man placed ready in the boat's head, strikes in his harpoon
with a long pole into her, and lets go.
She makes towards the mangroves immediately, and the water being shallow, they now and then get sight of the pole, and to follow, renewing the strokes till they kill, or weary her, and then drag her ashore.
Page 46 [Guinea?]
At Whyddhy a very
dangerous coast to land at, having two bars before it, and great sea; a
canoe was going on shore from a
merchant-ship with some goods, and in attempting to land, overset : a shark nigh hand, feized upon one of the men in the water, and by the swell of the sea, they were both cast on shore ; notwithstanding which, the shark never quitted his hold, but with the next ascend of the sea, carried him clear off.
The religion here,
if it may be called such, is their veneration to Gregries (effergies?)
: every one keeps in his house, in his canoe, or about his person, something
that he highly reverences, and that he imagines can, and does defend him
from miscarriage, in the nature oar country-folks do charms, but
with more fear : and these things are very various either a cleaved piece
of wood, a bundle of peculiar little sticks or bones, a monkey's skull,
or the like.
To these, every family has now and then a feast, inviting one another and but of this more, under the word Fetifa.
We found in our
coasting by Bafbou, and other trading towns, the same fears subsisting
(?), coming off every day in their canoes,
and then at astand whether they should enter.
The boldest would sometimes come on board, bringing rice, malaguetta, and teeth (tusks), but staying under fear and suspicion.
Here we may take these observations.
1. Canoes are
what are used through the whole Coast for transporting men and goods.
Each is made of a sigle cotton-tree, chizelled and hollowed into the shape of a boat ; some of them 8 or 10 foot broad, carrying
The Negroes do not row one way and look another, but all forward, and standing at their paddles, they dash together with dexterity, and if they carry a Cabiceer always sing ; a mark of respect
1. That the land
from Sierraleon, except cape Apol- jng two or three Capes, and that
about Drewin, appears low, and the first land you see (as the Irishman
says) is trees and runs very straight without bays or inlets, which makes
it difficult to distinguish, and impossible for us to land safely at ;
the surf breaking all along to a great height, by means of a continued
swell from a vast Southern Ocean ; a sea which the natives only underfsand,
and can push their canoes through.
This seems a natural prohibition to strangers, and whence it follows in respect to trade, that ships are obliged to send their boats with goods near shore, where the natives meet them, and barter for slaves, gold, and ivory for at many places a Grandee Shippee (as they call it) assrights (?) them, and they will venture then, as I imagine they can swim.
made him very rusty, upon what he called his dues from every body, tho'
just in trade ; and when we had returned
to a good underftanding, my self, with some other of our officers paid him a visit : our landing was dangerous, the Southerly winds
making fo great a surf, nor could we do it by our own boats, but Canoos of his sending.
... they. Pumas. count the seas, and know when to paddle safely on or off.
At this Cape Corfo on the Gold Coast, is Corfa, the principal Fort and Factory of our English Company, to which their ships constantly resort, and receive orders either by themfelves, or with supercargoes, where else to proceed.
Their town is
a little without the castle-gate, where the women keep a market with their
soap and fish, such as
cavallocs, bream, cat-fish, etc.. all small, but in tolerable plenty and there being out in the road fishing, from 40 and 50, to 100 canoes, when fine weather.
There is also
at Cabo Corfo, a public fetifh; the guardian of them all and that
is the rock Tahra, a bluff peninsula prominence that juts out from
the bottom of the cliff the castle stands on, making a sort of cover for
landing, but so unsafe, as frequently to expose the boats and people to
danger, the sea breaking over with great force.
This was moft remarkably felt by them about forty or fifty years ago, when all their fishing canoes, from somewant (?) of Devoir, were by a Southerly wind fplit against Rock Tabra, and the misfortune happening on a Tuefday, has ever since been fee apart forldlenefs, Dancing, and Diverfion. (?)
Page 166 [Guinea Trade]
canoes there, will carry 200 men and matted sails to them, and cordage
twisted from a wild vine that grows in plenty about'the country ; with
these they pass frequently from Congo to Loango.
A slave-ship in the former river would intercept much of the trade to Cabenda and Angola: the duties are easy with the King
of Soiii, and the harmony they live in with a few defenceless Tortuguefe missionaries, shews they are a peaceable people.
I have been often
ruminating, how the trading negroes come by these elephants teeth, and
find they exchange our European commodities with the inland natives for
them ; but whether they again shoot the elephants, or find their teeth
through the woods and desarts (?), is uncertain.
Their rivers and canoes indeed, help to extend their knowledge a vast way through the country, and there are some accounts
that tell us, the negroes faciluated (?) upon these rivers (like the Americans) make excursion or voyages of a month or two, from
At the Seafon
(once a year) they move their pavilions from the pleafurable spots, the
better to attend the logwood cutting, which carries them fometimes many
miles from this principal refidence, to follow the wood, which runs in
a line or vein (like minerals in the earth) of some miles perhaps, and
then as many, without a stick of it.
They cut it into large pieces, and leave it on the ground till the land-flood favours their bringing it into the river, and then canoes
are laden away with it, to lay in store at Barcaderas, where the Chief are still left residing.
The present hurricane
was a week after our arrival ; began at eight in the morning, two days
before the change of the moon, gave
at leaft 48 hours notice, by a noisy breaking of the waves upon the quays, very disproportioned to the breeze, a continued swell,
without reflux of the water and the two nights preceding, prodigious lightnings and thunder ; which all the old experienced men foretold would be a hurricane or that one already had happened at no great distance.
A Voyage to Guinea, Brasil and the West Indies.
C. Ward and R. Chandler, London, 1735.