Loring Whitman's letter, July 7 - 12, 1926

Creator

Loring Whitman

Date

July 7, 1926 - July 12, 1926

Text

- 3 -

Several white men came aboard to get some good beer, a hair cut, and see some new faces. Dr. Willis – our present host – and Mr. Johnson had lunch with us. Dr. Willis has been in Monrovia a month. He is out here as a change from New York where he was a surgeon – and probably. quite good. Pleasant and very obliging – I don’t think that he has yet got the spirit of the place and I am afraid that he will be very glad to leave long before his 18 months are up. He has been used to the very latest conveniences and appliances in surgery and the change to superstitious, unintelligent, disobedient natives must be tremendous. His wife is also very pleasant, indeed – also a New Yorker – and of the same type. Johnson, on the other had, has been 18 years on the coast. A born handler of natives with many years experience behind him – and at the same time a lover of the bush. We are trying to get him as a chaperon for this trip as he is very congenial and of pleasant personality. He is really the “goods”. They all speak of him as knowing more about the country than any other white man here.

            After lunch we got into one of the boats and pushed off – Good-bye Wadai – Good-bye Captain and friends of the last two weeks – we are going to land in Africa – our home for the next few months. For a while the launch towed us until we reached the bar and breakers. Then with grunts and chattering the big oars were dipped in the water and we were headed in towards the white water. Unfortunately, it was a very calm day on the bar so that we had no excitement of any kind, altho I can see that a rough day would provide many thrills. The boys settled down to work – the leader, in a high voice, would say “chung” at the beginning of the catch, while the other men in chorus would grunt “chug” as the oars bent. It was a specialized rhythm and one which seemed to fit so well with the rippling, black bodies of the 12 oarsmen. But always somebody talking in rolling, labial syllables. We drew up to the customs house where all our luggage lay piled before us on the floor. Stacks of it thrown down helter skelter, no order of any kind. We set to work to get our tin trunks and personal baggage separated from photograph chemicals and boxes of foods so that we could get it thru and up to our houses. The room was quite narrow – more of an alleyway, in which there were packed our ten tons of baggage, plus guinea pigs – our own 8 selves, a mob of some 50 or more blacks of all ages, all wanting to work, and a few officials. At the end of the room was an iron fence thru which peered another mass of black bodies, this time representing both sexes. I felt as if I were in a cage and should pace back and forth in front of the bars. We got out all our trunks finally and tacked him in two piles for we are staying in two houses. One lot of baggage was then sent off – carried on the heads of some30 boys, while I took the rest of Dr. Willis’ house in a Ford truck. Strong, Shattuck, Coolidge, and I are staying at the latter place, while Bequaert, Theiller, Allen and Linger at No. 5. <Map of Monrovia streets with numbers correlating to specific locations>

 

1 – The Mansion (President’s house)

2 – American Embassy

3 – Firestone headquarters

4 – Dr. Willis’ house (#1)

5 – Where Bequaert is staying (#5)

6 – Customs house

7 – Krutown

8 – A park
 

This plan of Monrovia is very crudely drawn but perhaps it will give you an idea. X – is the only big of cement road. It runs up the very steep climb from Water street to Ashman street where it stops with the slope. After that it is flat and the streets are mainly red dirt tracks where the automobiles have worn away the grass. White plaster buildings flank the streets on both sides – white, ugly buildings with large unscreened porches and corrugated tin roofs. And the sidewalks are red gravel with a cement curbstone. However, you usually walk in the street because the sidewalks may suddenly bulge up into a boulder or vanish into vines and grass. At the main corners are to be found traffic cops who place one hand over their heart and point majestically with the other in the direction you wish to go. Of course, you rarely meet another car.

            There is also a park – a bare red patch of gravel-like earth – still being leveled in one corner – with four statues – the most touching is a simple spike with a plate on one side in memory of Matilda Peabody, who did a valorous deed. On the other side she is shown knocking the ashes of her pipe into the touch hole of a cannon before which stand countless figures, supposed to be people. I think that the Peruvians did better sculpture. But it is a pleasant dreamy place for all that, even though it does look a bit corroded and a bit as though it had been eroded by many rains. The people, too, are pleasant though somewhat passive. After all it is the monotony of the place which drives one into the feeling of passivity.

            There is one thing here – big, green mango trees, 100 feet high, very dense and spread out – and a few tall silk cotton trees with straight gray trunks and big horizontal branches near the top. Beautiful trees.

            The evening we arrived the customs man came around – 10 shillings per person was supposed to be, and actually appeared to be, sufficient, although he did ask Mr. Hines (one of Firestone’s diplomatic men) for a loan as he didn’t realize as much as he expected from us. Mr. Hines turned him down so he tried Dr. Willis, also to no effect. Poor man, his ambitions ran away with him. 

            Thursday we went to the bank and repacked. In the afternoon Hal and I went out to buy umbrellas – a necessary evil in this country where showers, and good ones, too, come at a moment’s notice. We also called on the young Firestone engineers – nice chaps from the States – and on Wolo.

            Wolo is the African graduate from Harvard, once credited with being a chief, now proved to be a very intelligent, educated negro, who was born in Liberia and lives in the town of Monrovia with no title except professor. We went for a walk with him out the main road until we could look over the beach along which waves were breaking – waves which come unchecked from America – thousands of miles away. Dr. Bouet, a Frenchman, who has spent the last 30 years in Africa, came up to call on us. About 60 years or more, with white hair and a big nose, he still has the impetuosity and vivacity of youth about him plus a very charming personality. He has spent probably more time collecting plants and insects – not to mention animals and birds – than he has practicing medicine, a really delightful man.

            Another man we met was Farmer – a tramp in his own estimation – he came out to work on the boundary survey but has now been enlisted in the government. He has 6 or more titles but no work and he is now getting discouraged by his inactivity. He is Chief of the Department of Public Works – and there is none. He is in charge of the harbor construction, which is not in progress. He heads the telephone service – distinctly limited – and so it goes.

             Dr. Willis’ cook has been arrested every other day, just before supper to make it more convenient. A native of the gold coast he has failed to pay his aliens artisan tax and after two years has been arrested. Each day following he is released – a note is sent to Dr. Willis asking him to pay and the fine goes up two pounds. Starting with 2 £10 – the cook finally paid 8 £18.

            The government being financially shy they pick on fines as one source of revenue. It is said that an Englishman one misty morning stood on his front porch in a bathrobe, to be find about 500 £ for shocking the neighbors. He was smuggled aboard a boat in the harbor and so escaped. If you hit a black for any reason at all you are broken financially when you are thru and some of the Firestone boys, swimming in the river at night paid for destroying the morals of the people.

            The weather here has been very good – several nice sunny days and only one real snorter of a rain. But it is very unusual to get so much sun at this season of the year. The temperature is about 80 on the average with a relative humidity of 85 – 94 – rather high.

            The days so far have been spent making official and unofficial calls on secretaries of state, the war department, on American consulate etc.  – so I won’t try to catalogue them. Just days of drifting from one house to another, hoping that our supplies would get out of the customs soon.

            However, I had one very pleasant break at 7:30 Monday morning. Strong, Shattuck, Allen, and I, with Dr. Bouet and Johnson, left Monrovia to go up to the Plantations, 25 miles away. We drove out to the beginning of a small tropical stream, completely  arched over by tall trees with ferns, palms and streamers, down which we twisted in a launch to enter the big river, down which we rode until we came to its junction with the Du. <Drawing of Liberian coastline>

            Then up stream – a beautiful trip passing from brackish palm and mangrove scenery up into tremendous vine clad banks with towering 150 foot trees on each side or arching over the water – a thick dense tropical scene, very like good photographs have shown.

            We didn’t arrive at the first plantation until 3:00, where we had lunch before pushing onto No. 2. In the morning we went up to No. 3 where we expect to set up our first camp from Monrovia. They are cutting there and we hope to better satisfy the botanist by working there. Then we came back down the river to finally arrive back in Monrovia.

            This morning we talked to the President for a few minutes.

            Please excuse this rush but I have been away and couldn’t write then and this morning must needs be spent in calling on the President and making arrangements for a permit of residence.

And the mail must be in in 5 minutes to catch this boat.

My best love to you all at home and I hope you think of me as often as I think of you.

            Yours most loving son

                        LORING.

            Harold sends his best.

            P.S. The Plantations are but huge ever increasing clearings. As yet they have only set out spikes on No. 1 over a limited area. Still when you realize that they only started clearing in November and have now several thousand acres on each it is quite remarkable. They fell the tress, brush them and then when its dry burn the whole shooting match – insects and weather do the rest.

            But I will write more and better later. 

Type

Historical Documents

Identifier

VAD2036-U-00095D

Original Format

To

Mr. and Mrs. Whitman Jr.

Citation

Loring Whitman, “Loring Whitman's letter, July 7 - 12, 1926,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed November 20, 2017, http://liberianhistory.org/items/show/3628.