A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE NATIVES
OF THE NIGER COAST PROTECTORATE
As many Arab and European merchants had learned to their sorrow, Africans were astute and resourceful businesspeople, more than able to hold their own and press an advantage in complex commercial dealings. Unfortunately, one result of European imperialism was that African traders and entrepreneurs were forced out of business or relegated to secondary roles as employees who took orders from the European boss. When independence came after World War II, the absence of an experienced African managerial and entrepreneurial class was an obstacle to economic development in the new African states.
The following selection, written in 1899 by the French traveler and explorer de Cardi after a visit to West Africa, tells the story of JaJa, of the Anna Pepple clan in Bonny, an area on the Niger delta in modern Nigeria that for centuries had been a place where Africans sold slaves to European agents. After abolition of the slave trade, palm oil, used in Europe for lubrication, soap making, and various industrial processes, became the major item of trade. As had been true with slaves, palm oil was collected away from the coast and transported to African middlemen who sold it to Europeans.
JaJa began life as a slave but as asuccessful young businessman was able to buy his freedom while he was in his 20s. Then in 1860 he was given the job of reviving the Anna Pepple clan's commercial enterprises and paying off its debts to Europeans. Again he was successful. In the competitive and rapidly changing business environment of the Niger delta, JaJa became head of a major trading house and a powerful man in the region. When the prospect of assuming political power over Bonny faded because of his conflict with the Manilla Pepple clan, he founded and became king of the state of Opobo. He consistently outmaneuvered his African rivals and European Customers and established a near monopoly in the palm oil trade. When in 1885 the Congress of Berlin proclaimed freedom of trade on the Niger and Great Britain established a protectorate over the region, JaJa resisted British infringement on his commercial empire. But this was a game he could not win. For his refusal to abide by the new British regulations he was fined and exiled to the British West Indies, where he died in 1889.
QUESTIONS FOR ANALYSIS
From this date JaJa never looked back, becoming the most popular chief in Bonny among the white men, and the idol of his own people but looked upon with jealousy by the Manilla Pepple House, to which belonged the successful slave, Oko Jumbo, who was now, both in riches and power, the equal of JaJa, though never his equal in popularity among the Europeans. . . .
The demon of jealousy was at work, and in the private councils of the Manilla House after it was decided that JaJa must be pulled down, but the only means of doing it was a civil war. The risks of this Oko Jumbo . . . did not care to face, since although the Oko Jumbo party was more numerous, each side was equally supplied with big guns and rifles up to a short time before the end of 1868, when two European traders, on their way home, picked up a number of old 32 lb. carronades1 at Sierra Leone, and shipped the same down to Oko Jumbo. This sudden accession of war material, of course, put him in a position to provoke JaJa, and he cast about for a causa belli,2 but JaJa was an astute diplomat, and managed to steer clear of all his opponent's pitfalls. A very small matter is often seized upon by natives as a means to provoke a war, and in this case the cause of quarrel was found in "that a woman of the Anna Pepple House had drawn water from some pond belonging to the Manilla Pepple House." This was thought quite sufficient. A most insulting message was sent to JaJa, intimating that the time had come when nothing but a fight could settle their differences. His reply was characteristic of the man; he reminded them that he had no wish to fight, was not prepared, and, furthermore, that neither he, nor they, had paid their debts to the Europeans. The latter part of the message was too much for an irascible, one-eyed old fighting chief named Jack Wilson Pepple, so off he marched to his own house, and fired the first round shot into the Anna Pepple part of the town, and civil war was commenced. . . .
The Anna Pepple House was not slow to reply, but JaJa knew he was over-matched, both in guns and numbers of fighting men, so he only kept up a semblance of a fight sufficiently long to allow him to make it retreat to a small town called Tombo, in the next creek to the Bonny creek, only about three miles from Bonny by water, less by land.
From here he was in a better position to parley with his opponents, and make terms if possible, but he soon saw that no arrangement less than the complete humiliation of himself and his people was going to satisfy his enemies. . . . In the meantime, JaJa had been studying a masterly plan of retreat from Tombo Town to a river called the Ekomtoro. . .
Once in this river, by fortifying two or three points he would be able to completely turn the tables on his enemies by barring their way to the Eboe markets, but to get there he would have to pass one, if not two, fortified points held by the Manilla Pepple people. Besides this, what would his position be when there, if he could not get any white men there to trade with? Luckily for him, there dropped from the clouds the very man he wanted. This was a trader named Charley, who had been in the Bonny River some years before, and was now established . . . on his own account. At an interview with JaJa, that did not last half an hour, the whole plan of campaign was arranged. Charley . . . confided the scheme to his friend, Archie McEachan, who decided to join him. Thus JaJa had the certainty of support in his new home if he could only get there, and get there he did.
Being shortly after joined by these two white traders trade was opened in the Ekomtoro, and on Christmas Day, 1870, Ekomtoro was named
1 A short light cannon effective only
at short range.
the Opobo River, after Opobo, the founder of the town of "Grand Bonny," as Bonny men . . . call their mud and thatch capital.
The tables were now turned with a vengeance, and JaJa remained the master of the position, and for several years kept the Bonny men out of the Eboe and Qua markets, eventually agreeing to have the differences between himself and the Manilla Pepple people settled by the arbitration of the New Calabar and the Okrika chiefs with Commodore Commerell and Mr. Charles Livingstone, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul . . . as referees.3
Evidently the arbitrators considered that JaJa was in no way to blame for the civil war that had taken place in Bonny, for in the division of the markets that had been common property when JaJa and his people had formed an integral part of the Bonny nation, the greater part wits given to JaJa and his right to remain where he had established himself fully recognized.
Immediately on this settlement being agreed upon, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul entered into a commercial treaty with JaJa recognizing him as King of Opobo. This treaty was signed January 4th, 1873, the deed of arbitration having been signed the day previous. . . .
Opobo became, under King JaJa's firm rule, one of the largest exporting centers of palm oil in the delta, and for years King JaJa enjoyed a not undeserved popularity among the white traders who visited his river, but a time came when the price for palm oil fell to such a low figure in England that the European firms established in Opobo could not make both ends meet, so they intimated to King JaJa that they were going to reduce the price paid in the river, to which he replied by shipping large quantities of his oil to England, allowing his people only to sell a portion of their produce to the white men. The latter now formulated a scheme among themselves to divide equally whatever produce came into the river, and thus do away with competition among themselves. JaJa found that sending his oil to England was not quite so lucrative as he could wish, owing to the length of time it took to get his returns back, namely, about three months at the earliest, while by selling in the river he could turn over his money three or four times during that period. He therefore tried several means to break the white men's combination, at last hitting Upon the bright idea of offering the whole of the river's trade to one English house. . . . His bait took with one of the European traders; the latter could not resist the golden vision of the yellow grease thus displayed before him by the astute JaJa, who metaphorically dangled before his eyes hundreds of canoes laden with the coveted palm oil. A bargain was struck, and one . . . morning the other white traders in the river woke up to the fact that their combination was at an end, for on taking their morning spy round the river through their binoculars . . . they saw a fleet of over a hundred canoes round the renegade's wharf, and for nearly two years this trader scooped all the trade. The fat was fairly in the fire now, and the other white traders sent a notice to Jaja that they intended to go to his markets. Jaja replied that he held a treaty, signed in 1873, by . . . Her Britannic Majesty's Consul, that empowered him to stop any white traders from establishing factories anywhere above Hippopotamus Creek, and under which he was empowered to stop and hold any vessel for a fine of one hundred puncheons' of oil. In June, 1885, the traders applied to the consul, Mr. . . . White, who informed King Jaja that the Protectorate treaty meant freedom of navigation and trade. . . .
In the meantime, clouds had been gathering round the head of King JaJa. His wonderful success since 1870 had gradually obscured his former keen perception of how far his rights as a petty African king would be recognized by the English Government under the new order of things just being inaugurated in the Oil Rivers; honestly believing that in signing the Protectorate treaty of December 19th, 1884, . . . he had retained the right given him by the commercial treaty of 1873 to keep white men from proceeding to his markets, he got himself entangled in a number of disputes which culminated in his being taken out of the Opobo River in September, 1887, by Her Britannic Majesty's Consul, Mr. H. H. Johnston, . . . and conveyed to Accra,7 where he was tried before Admiral Sir Hunt Grubbe, who condemned him to five years' deportation to the West Indies, making him an allowance of about £800 per annum and returning a fine of thirty puncheons of palm oil, value about £450 . . .
Poor Jaja did not live to return to his country and his people whom he loved so well, and whose condition he had done so much to improve, though at times his rule often became despotic. . . .
1 In other words, they would bypass
JaJa and trade directly with the upcountry producers of palm oil.
If one seeks proof of the remarkable changes in the human condition over the past two centuries consider the fate of the Ndebele (pronounced en-duh-bee'-lee) people of Africa and the life of one of their sons, Ndansi Kumalo. In the early nineteenth century the Ndebele were pastoralists living in the southeastern corner of Africa just north of the Tugela River. In the 1820s they fled in terror from the warriors of Shaka, chief of the ZULU, another group of pastoralists that suddenly embarked on a campaign of conquest, plunder, and destruction in much of Southern Africa. The Ndebele moved to the Transvaal but ten years later were forced off their land by Boer trekkers, Dutch pioneers from the south who were seeking grazing land for their cattle. The Ndebele ended up in an area to the north of the Limpopo River that is part of modern Zimbabwe. Despite their years of flight, they were able to subdue other groups in the region and establish a sizable kingdom with a population of 100,000.
But the Ndebele could not escape danger, which came this time from the British, who, under the famous imperialist Cecil Rhodes, were anxious to exploit the region's mineral wealth. In 1888 the Ndebele chieftain Lobengula signed an agreement with Rhodes that gave Rhodes's South Africa Company mining rights in exchange for one thousand rifles and a monthly Stipend of one hundred pounds. Friction grew. especially after European settlers began establishing farmsteads around 1890, and war broke out in 1893. The Ndebele were defeated, and they were defeated again when they rose up against the British in 1897. The Ndebele then made one last journey, to the vast but arid reservation their new masters provided.
One of the Ndebele who made this journey was Ndansi Kumalo. Born in the late 1870s, he was raised as a warrior to protect Ndebele land and raid neighbors for wives and cattle. He fought the British in the 1890s and took up farming after the Ndebele's defeat. In 1932 he caught the eye of a British filmmaker who was in Southern Rhodesia to make a film, Rhodes of Africa, on the life of Cecil Rhodes. He was recruited to play the part of Lobengula, the chief of the Ndebele when they fought Rhodes and the British in the 1890s. To complete the film he traveled to England, where he saw the king, saw the sights of London, and took his first plane flight. While there he also related his life story to the English Africanist Margery Perham, whose transcription of it serves as the basis for the following excerpt. His most moving experience was being "treated . . . as an equal" by an English farm family that entertained him for dinner. Rhodes of Africa was a modest success, and after it opened, Ndansi Kumalo returned to Africa, where he presumably rejoined his large family and never lacked for tales to tell.
In the following excerpt he describes events of the 1890s.
QUESTIONS FOR ANALYSIS
Lobengula had no war in his heart: he had always protected the white men and been good to them. If he had meant war, would he have sent our regiments far away to the north at this moment? As far as I know the trouble began in this way Gandani, a chief who was sent out, reported that some of' the Mashona had taken the king's cattle; some regiments were detailed to follow and recover them. They followed the Mashona to Ziminto's people. Gandani had strict instructions not to molest the white people established in certain parts and to confine himself to the people who had taken the cattle. The commander was given a letter which he had to produce to the Europeans and tell them what the object of the party was. But the members of the party were restless and went without reporting to the white people and killed a lot of Mashonas. The pioneers were very angry and said, "You have trespassed into our part. They went with the letter, but only after they had killed some people, and the white men said, "You have done wrong, you should have brought the letter first and then we should have given you permission to follow the cattle." The commander received orders from the white people to get out, and up to a certain point which he could not possibly reach in the time allowed. A force followed them up and they defended themselves. When the pioneers turned out there was a fight at Shangani and at Bembezi . . . .
The next news was that the white people had entered Bulawayo; the King's kraal3 had been burnt down and the King had fled. Of the cattle very few were recovered; most fell into the hands of the white people. Only a very small portion were found and brought to Shangani where the King was, and we went there to give him any assistance we could. . . . Three of our leaders mounted their horses and followed up the King and he wanted to know where his cattle were; they said they had fallen into the hands of the whites, only a few were left. He said, "Go back and bring them along." But they did not go back again; the white forces had occupied Bulawayo and they went into the Matoppos. Then the white people came to where we were living and sent word round that all chiefs and warriors should go into Bulawayo and discuss peace, for the King had gone and they wanted to make peace. . . . The white people said, "Now that your King has deserted you, we occupy your country. Do you submit to us? What could we do? "If you are sincere, come back and bring in all your arms, guns, and spears." We did so. . . .
So we surrendered to the white people and were told to go back to our homes and live our usual lives and attend to our crops. But the white men sent native police who did abominable things; they were cruel and assaulted a lot of our people and helped themselves to our cattle and goats. These policemen were not our
1 In the agreement Lobengula signed
with Rhodes in 1888 the British government (Her Majesty's government) guaranteed
there would be no English settlers on Ndebele land and no diminution
of Lobengula's authority. Lobengula's concessions angered many of his
warriors, who began to press for war against the Europeans.
own people; anybody wits made it policeman. We were treated like slaves. They came and were overbearing and we were ordered to carry their clothes and bundles. They interfered with our wives and our daughters and molested them. In fact, the treatment we received was intolerable. We thought it best to fight and die rather than bear it. How the rebellion started I do not know; there was no organization, it was like a fire that suddenly flames up. We had been flogged by native police and then they rubbed salt water in the wounds. There was much bitterness because so many of our cattle were branded and taken away front us; we had no property, nothing we could call our own. We said, "It is no good living under such conditions; death would be better -- let us fight." Our King gone, we had submitted to the white people and they ill-treated us until we became desperate and tried to make an end of it all. We knew that we had very little chance because their weapons were so much superior to ours. But we meant to fight to the last, feeling that even if we could not beat them we might at least kill a few of them and so have some sort of revenge.
I fought in the rebellion. We used to look out for valleys where the white men were likely to approach. We took cover behind rocks and trees and tried to ambush them. We were forced by the nature of our weapons not to expose ourselves. I had a gun, a breech-loader. They -- the white men -- fought us with big guns and Maxims4 and rifles.
I remember a fight in the Matoppos when we charged the white men. There were some hundreds of us; the white men also were as many. We charged them at close quarters: We thought we had it good chance to kill them but the Maxims were too much for us. We drove them off at the first charge but they returned and formed up again. We made a second charge, but they were too strong for us. I cannot say how many white people were killed, but we think it was quite a lot . . . . Many of our people were killed in this fight: I saw four of my cousins shot. One was shot in the jaw and the whole of his face was blown away -- like this -- and he died. One was hit between the eyes; another here, in the shoulder; another had part of his ear shot off. We made many charges but each time we were beaten off, until at last the white men packed up and retreated. But for the Maxims, it would have been different . . .
So peace was made. Many of our people had been killed, and now we began to die of starvation and then came the rinderpest5 and the cattle that were still left to us perished. We could not help thinking that all these dreadful things brought by the white people. We struggled, and the Government helped us with grain; and by degrees we managed to get crops and pulled through. Our cattle were practically wiped out, but a few were left and from them we slowly bred up our herds again. We were offered work in the mines and farms to earn money and so were able to buy back some cattle. At first, of course, we were not used to going out to work, but advise was given that the chief should advise the young people to go out to work, and gradually they went. At first we received a good price for our cattle and sheep and goats. Then the tax came. It was 10s.6 a year. Soon the Government said, "That is too little, you must contribute more; you Must pay £1." We did so. Then those who took more than one wife were taxed: 10s. for each additional wife. The tax is heavy, but that is not all. We are also taxed for our dogs; 5s. for a dog. Then we were told we were living on private land; the owners wanted rent in addition to the Government tax, some 10s. some £1, some £2 a year. . . .
Would I like to have the old days back? Well, the white men have brought some good things. For a start, they brought us European
4 Invented by the American-born engineer
Henry S. Maxim, the Maxim gun was an early machine gun.
implements -- plows; we can buy European clothes, which are an advance. The Government has arranged for education and through that, when our children grow up, they may rise in status. We want them to be educated and civilized and make better citizens. Even in our own time there were troubles, there was much fighting and many innocent people were killed. It is infinitely better to have peace instead of war, and our treatment generally by the officials is better than it was at first. But, under the white people we still have our troubles. Economic conditions are telling on us very severely. We are on land where the rainfall is scanty, and things will not grow well. In our own time we could pick our own country, but now all the best land has been taken by the white people. We get hardly any price for our cattle; we find it hard to meet our money obligations. If we have crops to spare we get very little for them; we find it difficult to make ends meet and wages are very low. When I view the position, I see that our rainfall has diminished, we have suffered drought and have poor crops and we do not see any hope of improvement, but all the same our taxes do not diminish. We see no prosperous days ahead of us. There is one thing we think an injustice. When we have plenty of grain the prices are very low, but the moment we are short of grain and we have to buy from Europeans at once the price is high. If when we have hard times and find it difficult to meet our obligations some of these burdens were taken off us it would gladden our hearts. As it is, if we do raise anything, it is never our own all, or most of it, goes back in taxation. We can never save any money. If we could, we could help ourselves: we could build ourselves better houses we could buy modern means of traveling about a cart, or donkeys or mules.
As to my own life, I have had twelve wives altogether, five died and seven are alive. I have twenty-six children alive, five have died. Of my sons five are married and are all at work farming; three voting children go to school. I hope the younger children will all go to school. I think it is a good thing to go to school.
There are five schools in our district. Quite a number of people are Christians, but I am too old to change my ways. In our religion we behave that when anybody dies the spirit remains and we often make offerings to the spirits to keep them good-tempered. But now the making of offerings is dying out rapidly, for every member of the family should be present, but the children are Christians and refuse to come, so the spirit-worship is dying out. A good many of our children go to the mines in the Union, for the wages are better there. Unfortunately a large number do not come back at all. And some send money to their people -- others do not. Some men have even deserted their families, their wives, and children. If they cannot go by train they walk long distances.