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DISCOVERIES IN THE INTERIOR PARTS OF AFRICA.
Jill The association instituted for promoting discoveries in the interior parts of Africa, of whose labours some accounts were given in the Bee, vol. i. p. 15 and 96, .continue with unremitting ardour in their pursuits ; and have lately printed, for the use of the subscribers only, an account of a continuation of their discoveries since the former publication ; with a sight of which the Editor having been favoured, he makes: haste to lay before his readers an abstract of the im-portant discoveries it contains.
here described. I had once occasion to obserye a circumstance of this sort myself, respecting eels, which being curious, and nothing of the same bort taken notice of in any natural history of that animal I have seen, I Thall briefly staie for the satisfaction of the reader.
MIGRATION OF EELS. Having occasion to be once on a visit at a friend's house on Dee-side in Aberdeenshire, I often delighted to walk by the banks of the river *p mark the phenomeņa that occurred. I soon observed something like a long black string roving along the edge of the river in shoal water. Upon closer inspection I discovered that this was a shoal of young eels, so closely joined together, as to appear, on a superficial view, one continued body, moving briskly up against the stream. To avoid the retardment they experienced from the force of the current they kept close along the water's edge the whole way, following all the bendings and sinuosities of the river. Where they were embayed, and in still water, the shoal dilated in breadth, so as to be sometimes near a foot broad, but when they turned a cape, where the current was strong, they were forced to occupy less space, and press close to the shore, struggling very hard till they passed it.
This shoal continued to move on without interruption night and diy for several weeks. Their progress might be at the rate of about one mile in the hour. It was easy to catch as many of the animals as you pleased, though they were very active and nimble. They were eels perfectly formed in every respect, but not exceeding two inches in length. I con. ceive that the shoal did not contain, on an average, less than from twelve to twenty in breadth, so that the number that passed,.on the whole, dusing their progress, must have been very great. Whence they came or whether they went I know not. The place I remarked them at was six miles from the sea. And I am told the same phenomenon takes place there every year about the same season.
It seems perfectly astonishing that Africa, the: northern parts of which are almost at our very door, should have remained for so many centuries so to.. tally unknown to the natives of Europe. It now appears that the vast tract of country which lies behind the kingdom of Morocco, that has hitherto been deemed a steril and inhospitable desart, which geographers had no other way of delineating but by inserting figures.of elephants, and other wild beasts,, in their maps, is, in many places, a rich and fertile country, abounding with people who are no strangers. to industry and arts, and considerably advanced in: civilization and refinement of manners..
By the former publication of this society, the public were made acquainted with the singular conformation of that extensive district in the northern parts of Africa, which hath hitherto been, denominated Zaara, or the desert, which exhibits appearances not more novel to the naturalist than interesting to the philosopher. It may be called a vast sea of sand, having islands interspersed through it, which abound with the richest productions of the vegetable kingdom, and are inhabited by various tribes of people in different degrees of civilization, and carrying on with each other an expensive and precarious traffic, not by means of ships, but by. caravans of camels, which are sometimes overwhelmed in billows of sand, and sunk into endless oblivion...
Beyond this district, which is only habitable in those spots where springs abound on the surface, and where of course the sands are either entirely interrupted, or of small depth, and which we have compared to islands, it now appears, that another district, consisting of firmer materials, begins in which mountains arise in various directions, that produce rivers of great magnitude, which not only add fertility to the country, but facilitate the commerce of those numerous tribes of people who inhabit their borders. This fertile zone, besides smaller streams, is watercd by the Senegal, the Gambia, the Niger, and the Nile. Part of this district forms the subject of the present publication, and the discoveries respecting it are already great and highly interest ing; but hitherto only a small part of it has been imperfectly explored. The internal parts of that immense tract of country, which extends from the Niger southward to Caffraria, remains yet to be in. vestigated, and will furnish many future memoirs . from a society which promises to add much more to the sum total of human knowledge, than was expected when it was first instituted. May they continue steady in their pursuits, and be as fortunate as they hitherto have been, in finding men calculated for engaging in the arduous task of discovery !
The public have already heard some surmises of the existence of a large town on the banks of the Niger, called Houssa, which seemed to be so wonderful, and it appeared so impossible that a place of such magnitude as it was represented to be, could have so long been totally unknown in Europe, if
such a place there had been, that its existence was doubted by many. It now appears undeniable that such a place does actually exist. The circumstances that have led to this conclusion, and the steps that have been taken for extending our discoveries still farther in Africa, will be learnt from the following abstract of the publication of the society, which shall be given, as much as our limits will admit,, in the words of the ingenious compiler of this account.
An Arab called Shabeni had, two years ago, given to the society an account of an empire on the banks of the Niger, which strongly attracted the attention of the society.
He said that the popu. lation of Houssa, its capital, where he resided two years, was equalled only (as far as his knowledge extended) by that of London and Cairo: and in his rude unlettered way, he described the government as monarchical, yet not unlimited ; its justice as severe, but directed by written laws; and the rights of landed property as guarded by the institution of certain hereditary officers, whose functions appear to be similar to those of the Canongoes of Hindostan, and whose important and complicated duties imply an unusual degree of civilization and refinement.
• For the probity of their merchants, he expressed the highest respect; but remarked, with indignation, that the women were admitted into society, and that the honour of the husband was often insecure.
• Of their written alphabet he knew no more than that it was perfectly different from the Arabic and the Hebrew characters; but he described the art of writing as common in Houssa. And when he acted the manner in which their pottery is made, he gave, unknowingly to himself, a representation 'of the Grecian wheel.
• In passing from Houssa to Tombuctoo, in which last city he resided seven years, he found the banks of the Niger more numerously peopled than those of the Nile, from Alexandria to Cairo; and his mind was obviously impressed with higher ideas of the wealth and grandeur of the empire of Houssa, than those of any other kingdom he had seen, England alone excepted.
· The existence of the city of Houssa, and the empire thus described by Shabeni, was strongly confirmed by the letters which the committee received from his majesty's consuls at Tunis and Morocco, and with this additional circumstance of information from them, that both at Tunis and Morocco, the eunuchs of the seraglio were brought from the city of Houssa.
• Anxious to investigate the truth of these ac.counts, and impatient to explore the origin a course of a river that might possibly open to Britain a commercial pafsage to rich and populous nations; the committee embraced the proposals which the ardour of a new missionary offered to their acceptance. For major Houghton, who was formerly a captain in the 69th regiment, and in the year 1779 had acted under general Rooke as fort major, in the island of Goree, expressed his willingness to undertake the execution of a plan, which he heard they had formed, of penetrating to the Niger by the way of the Gambia.