Dearest Family, No. 8

Creator

Loring Whitman

Date

September 12, 1926 - December 2, 1926

Text

No. 8

 

Dearest Family: 

            “The time has come,” the walrus said, “to continue my narrative.” How we traversed many miles of Liberian wilderness to finally return safe and sound to Monrovia, our starting point. In an impassioned, but somewhat reckless, letter written in a very short time, I tried to describe our events up to the 22nd of September at which time we were on the verge of dividing the party into two groups so that we might cover more territory with the greatest of ease. As you will remember we left Monrovia on the 2nd of August for the “Du” – the Firestone plantations on the Du River. We stayed there about two weeks in the rain before setting out on our journey into the interior. From there we worked our way in small groups and with many delays thru Lango, Kaka, Memmeh’s, Reppu’s towns – Miamu station, Zeanshu, Suakoko to Gbanga – our destination and base camp. Here we collected ravenously plants, animals, birds, insects, etc., as well as bits of skin and other medical trophies to be examined under more satisfactory conditions in the home laboratory. Then we prepared to move and it was at that time that I wrote, but so hastily. Now I will continue in a more leisurely and I hope satisfactory and complete manner.

            As the time of departure came closer we all began to start suggesting the most satisfactory way of using the remaining time in Liberia. Dr. Bequaert had an idea that he would like very much to see the more mountainous (or so it was reported) area in the northern section of the country. His plans were to work slowly north and west to the St. Paul’s River, collecting as he went, to then set up a base camp and possibly make side trips over to the nearest mountains. Dr. Allen  and Linder both decided in favor of that, too. On the other hand, Dr. Strong, backed by Coolidge, wanted to make as big a traverse of the country as possible and had set their hearts on going to Cape Palmas via the Cavalla River. I wanted to go with the Northern party but knew that I would have to stay with Strong to take pictures so I had no say in the matter. Shattuck and Theiler also were fixed by fate, Dr. George with us, Theiler with Bequaert and Co. And so it came to pass that we separated in Gbanga into two groups, a collecting (Bequaert, Linder and Allen) and a medical (Strong and Shattuck). Theiler was the medical of the one, while Hal and I were to be the collecting agents for the other. The only drawback was that I wanted to be with the other group, both for the company, particularly Allen’s, and for the chance to help in the collections, not forgetting the fact that I knew we would travel more slowly, thereby seeing more and to better advantage. I was not sold on a rush trip thru miles of country as I knew I was in for. But so much for the plans – I must be on with my chronology.

            The last couple of days together at Gbanga were spent in packing – extra chemicals must be thrown away – my dark room outfit must be packed – clothes assorted and part put in one trunk to go directly to Monrovia, part in the travelling outfit. Hal in the meantime packed the expedition food. Dr. Shattuck packed the medical supplies. The others, however, continued their collecting with the same clock like regularity as before. Then came the night of departure – a rather sad affair for me – for try as I did I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to fail and that I couldn’t have Allen’s company again for many days, and then only for a short period of time before he sailed for home. However, we had an after dinner liquer in celebration of the affair and of our last night together. I also got out my ukulele and played many odds and ends of songs for the benefit of the party. Then later Theiler, Linder and I went down to the Mandingo village to see some dancing that was going on. It was a beautiful moonlight night – a soft, mellow night – with gentle breezes catching me saying “Stay awhile – don’t rush off – just see the beauty of the evening about you.” And in the village we watched the swaying white bodies – for they wear simple white gowns – weaving back and forth in the dimlight to the stirring beat of a native drum. This one is particular was fitting for it was made of two hollow calabashes cut in half and floated upside down in a basin of water and beaten with another small one with a handle. <Drawing of calabash floating in basin> The music, for it was music, had a peculiar resonance, fitting the dim mud huts half absorbed in nothingness, the obscure white swaying figures and the half-seen black ring of people squatting around the dancers. Two were particularly clever and did not limit themselves to the common everyday stampings. In fact they had all the grace and charm that a stage dancer is supposed to possess combined with a litheness and suppleness far superior to the average. It was really quite remarkable to see these two silently weaving in the moonlit square – now coming together, now floating silently apart, with never an appearance of joints. Of course this sounds like a “Hula” dance, but it was not. In fact many of their steps were those which we see upon the Casanova stage – honest. And many of their swaying motions reminded me of “the reapers”. It was very impressive. 

            Then we went back to camp, and bed. In the morning there was the usual rush and bustle of packing, getting the loads out into a line, getting breakfast and getting knives and forks. Everybody rushes. Everybody tried to do everything until at last some order was established and we actually started to accomplish something. Eventually Shattuck loaded the men while I took pictures of the process and of their subsequent departure. Coolidge collected all the knives and forks: the necessity for this was – at breakfast we all decided that each one give his utensils to his boy to wash up and pack. Theoretically this would mean four sets to go and four sets to stay. Actually some didn’t follow this advice and left their dishes which others absent-mindedly picked up. And to complicate matters the boys finally mixed them up by deciding that their masters need more. As it was we had an awful job getting enough cutler and plates, etc. to serve our needs.

            At the last minute the D.C. presented us with about ten chickens and ducks, a gift that required two porters, thanks to the elaborate cage in which they were to be transported. Then came the final goodbyes and good lucks and we were off – on a marathon with the sea as its final objective. 68 loads – September 24, 1926.

            It was a beautiful day, but hot, very hot even in the early morning, and we were again on that same open road which acted as a wonderful reflecting medium. No shade. No cool sports where we could sit down and enjoy life. Just plug, plug, plug. Hal and I decided that we would walk ahead of the porters and put as many miles behind us as we could before the sun really climbed up on high. So we set forth at a fairly good pace and soon were by ourselves. As it was our first safari together we had plenty to talk about and after all there was not much else to do. The scenery was just as dull, if not duller, than that which we saw on our travels to Gbanga and as I have said, it was hot! So we sweated along until about eleven o’clock, cooling our brows in every stream we crossed. At eleven we came to a small town where there was an extremely dirty kitchen in which we plunked ourselves and waited. The chief brought us some very bitter oranges, some eggs, and as usual rice, all of which we accepted – and waited. After about half an our we looked around us a bit and found a tremendously thin lady of whom I took a picture. Then we went back to the shade. Soon afterwards Strong and Shattuck arrived and also sat down. In the meanwhile I spotted a pair of brass bracelets which looked more like cuffs and which I bought. I also got a knife there while the chief bought a sword. The man wanted 17 shillings and the chief offered 11 – which he accepted – but then repented. However, that did him no good. In the meantime we asked if the soldiers wouldn’t just take it to which he made the rather astounding reply that he didn’t mind the soldiers taking it for nothing, but he did think it was nasty of us to only pay 11 shillings. Oh, well, such is Liberia.

            After all hands had dried off a bit we continued on our weary way and at about two arrived at Gbai where we were to spend the night. This is also a rather large settlement, like Gbanga, with a small government compound in which we spent the night. Our dwelling, a house this time, was perched on a little hill so that it could overlook the extensive rice fields, and the forests beyond, while nearer, the town lay sleeping in the afternoon sun. As soon as all our supplies came in, I went hunting with no results. However, as I was wandering down a dark forest trail in boots, with an English shot gun on my arm, I suddenly met a native youth with only a breach cloth as a garment and in his hand a large bow and a few iron tipped arrows – the new and the old! That night the roof leaked and dripped on me, but I went to sleep just the same.

            The next morning early we left on our way to Que Congo town – in the rain. But, come what may, we have left the road for a while. It was very pleasant indeed meandering – for the trail was crooked – thru the forest, over a floor of tangled roots and leaves – yes, very pleasant and cool. As we approached the St. John’s River we found more and more banana plantations encircling the towns in the form of a solid green wall. These are as thick as it is possible for them to get and about twenty yards thru. At noon we arrived at the last town before the river crossing, a town called Walla, or Yeh, or almost anything as far as I could make out. Here we caught up to Hal who had gone on ahead and stopped to “chop” some bananas before pushing on across the river. But as Dr. George did not show up soon we decided to push on.

            The river crossing was quite an event. The St. Johns is quite a big river and evidently very deep judging from the amount of water which flows down it. And there is a very smoothly running current of thick brown water which does not make it too attractive to swim in. But it does look very pleasant to canoe down. We sat on the bank while one of the men swam across, or rather pulled himself along by a native “rope” which spans the river. Then he got one of the rafts and started back. The rafts are perfectly normal affairs about 6 ft. wide and 15 ft. long, upon which can be got some 5 or 6 men and their loads. These are then pulled across by the “Charon” who stands in the “bow” and pulls himself hand over hand along the rope. The only thing which keeps the raft from tearing down stream is the helmsman’s grip with his feet for he is the only link between the craft and the rope. This latter is merely huge Llianes – about an inch in diameter tied end to end. As there were only three boats we were quite long in getting across. And even after we were over I had to wait nearly half an hour for Shattuck.

            Que Congo, our stop for the night, was about an hour away, and very pleasant indeed. The people, to be sure, were quite curious but still they continued their work after a while and I got a few rather pleasant pictures, such as rattan making, pounding rice in huge wooden mortars, white washing babies, etc. The people seemed to be much more ambitious than those with whom we had come in contact before. Hal and I both wanted to stay over a day to learn more about these Mano people but we were not given leave to do so and had to be content with noticing that many of them had the left ear perforated and that a few of the women had a more or less stylish form of coiffure. <Drawing of coiffure> Only not quite so extreme. I got some pictures of about a  dozen or more girls pounding rice. Two girls work together with alternate strokes, but they always keep in time, not only with one another, but but with all those working near them so that there is a regular chug-chug-chug-chug of six or more wooden pestles being driven into the rice. And all the while that they do that they sing in chorus, not very musical and yet never displeasing or harsh. <Drawing of figure pounding rice>

            The next day was again thru “big bush” as the forests are called, and a pleasant day too, in spite of a few “hardships.” In the first place we got on the wrong trail, or so it seemed at that time, and didn’t discover it until noon. We were then told that we were on the best route but MUST spend the night there. As it was only twelve we didn’t like that. So we pushed on. Another hardship was wading, wading, wading, Whenever we have travelled my feet have been wet, so wet that unless we stayed in a place three my shoes would not dry out. The third was walking about 20 miles, and hot ones, with very little food. For pleasure on the other hand was this rather minor incident. As we were passing thru a particularly beautiful stretch of forest, where the trees rose straight and tall in columns to finally branch out and form dim green arches way above us. I lagged back away from the porters, not caring for the moment, whether they ran away or not. It was so peaceful, cool and pleasant. Dark shadows, intensified by restless patches of sunlight flickering and flitting back and forth. Long dim aisles between majestic columns and arches, and without effort one could imagine dim stained glass windows. And while I was thus loafing along, the porters began some carrying song up ahead. Now usually when they sing they sound like a pack of hounds baying on the trail of some fleeing quarry, but today the cool forest trunks muffled and modified it; the distance mellowed it; and all of a sudden I was in some majestic cathedral – La Notre Dame – with the chimes singing out from above to echo down thru dimly vaulted canyons lit by cool colored windows to mingle with the chanting below and then re-echo back. Certainly quite a far cry from my present surroundings. Another interesting sight was a native leopard trap built along the trail. The principle was a dead all placed in such a way that the unsuspecting animal as he walked along would be herded into this rather narrow compartment where he would be squashed flat. <Drawing of leopard trap> It was merely a pen which narrowed down in the middle. But the actual mechanics of the fall were interesting. The two diagrams will I hope show the principal of the thing. <Two drawings of leopard trap> That it was successful was shown by that fact that we bought a beautiful leopard skin in the next town which they claimed was the last victim of the trap.

            At Ziche (German pronunciation) where we spent the night we ran across a very pleasant official who later asked for medical treatment (tho not for “galloping consumption” a complaint one person was supposed to suffer from). When Shattuck asked if he drank much, he ‘lowed that perhaps chronic alcoholism might be at the bottom of his troubles. He gave us some rather interesting material in the form of a story about a lion (he believed it) who fed on leopards and was only heard roaring just before some big man died. As far as I can make out it was some localized society which thought itself one better than the leopard societies common throughout Africa.

            The next day, the longest march during our trip, we went from there to Tappi town, a distance of about 25 to 30 miles. And it was a bad day as far as getting into trouble was concerned. Hal and I started out first, leaving Strong and Shattuck engrossed in a medical patient who showed up with some enlarged glands which might have been interesting. And for about four hours everything went smoothly, tho slowly, - big cool forests – then a stretch of rather hot road which is being built from Tappi town to Grand Bassa – then more forest. Until eleven. Then we sat down in a town to wait for Strong and Shattuck who soon turned up. When we started on again, alas, we found that about seven of our porters had run away leaving us in a comparatively deserted place with no one to help us out. Just then, Lando, the cook, saw one miscreant sneak around a hut so, like hounds on a fresh scent, we put in pursuit. He dodged into an open door but the ferrets dragged him out. Then we started searching and were at least able to get under way again. At the next town we had almost the same thing happen – with this variation – when we arrived there were two musicians bent on amusing us, with rattle and rum amidst a crowd of admiring natives, most of whom had never seen a white man before. Now, as we searched for our missing carriers with fire in our eyes, a large portion of our audience melted away, leaving the two performers still too worked up and intent upon their business to notice what was going on. Not so our boys, however. For, with a howl, they yanked the drums from out of their hands, they striped them of their finery, and before the look of surprised bewilderment had had time to leave their faces, they were shoved under a waiting box and had joined our porter gang. At least we were amused. And at the next town we had to get women carriers – a state of affairs to which we later became accustomed. But to make a  long story short, after barging thru thick mud, over a new road, etc., we at last came to Tappi town. I – who was at the head of the column – was 10 hours on the road. Hal, who brought in the last man, was 11. But we got to Tappi town in four days when we were told it was five – if that is an satisfaction. 

            Our stay in tappi lasted eventually for twelve rather dull days altho parts of the time were interesting. Tappi itself is quite a scattered place in 2 and ½ sections. One is the town with, so we are told, about 200 huts. My own guess would be not more than 100. And that is all the town has to offer. Nothing to see. Then there is a government compound with five or six large buildings in it and a few small ones. Our house was in the process of construction and will eventually be lived in by the quartermaster. I say it was in the process of construction – it had a roof, a floor and walls, but the walls had not been plastered. They were still in their latice-like stage. <Drawings of lattice-like walls> Eventually mud will be smacked on both inside and out and the house will be finished and hot! As it was it gave the idea of being a house and yet afforded ample ventilation. Also the roof DID NOT LEAK. The ½ section of Tappi consisted of the school compound in the middle of the government rice farm. This rice farm has been found the most satisfactory way of feeding the soldiers. Rather than have the natives bring so much they have their supply so many laborers at the proper times to plant, grow, harvest, prepare and store the grain. An amusing sidelight on Liberian school sis the following: Hal went up there one day and found the schoolmaster – a short jolly man in shoes – in the process of tying up a bevy of damsels – not in shoes. Later the schoolmaster explained to us that a man had left his wife with the schoolmaster in pawn; that she had run away to the chief of the town who stated that he knew nothing of the matter and hadn’t seen the lady. As a return measure the schoolmaster had just swiped a bevy above mentioned as a ransom. And sure enough, the paw was returned. “Woman Palava”.

            The first two days were spent recuperating, getting cleaned up and moving into our residence. The third was spent in looking around, and on the fourth, Hal and I went on an elephant hunt which was pleasant tho fruitless. We started out about six with five loads and our boys and walked about six miles thru really beautiful forests to a town called Sessu. On the way we saw some old elephant tracks where a herd had crossed the road a week before. But old or not, they were elephants and they were our first sight of them. When we got to Sessu we fixed up our dwelling in a kitchen and waited. We had sent out scouts, especially to bring in the hunter who had made the original report of elephants in that country. And in the meantime I shot a sun bird (new species to our collection), a barbit (another new species) and a white nosed monkey which we worked with until dark to keep us busy. Then in the morning we started our leaving Monio and Shaeffer to look after the camp. It was really delightful walking semi-silently thru the untouched forest, crossing clear little streams or swamps or big ridges with huge trees in which herds of red colobus (or Diana) or other monkeys, screamed and played. And when we saw traces of elephants made yesterday, only yesterday, I let my imagination go and pictured the whole scene – how he came along here, snipped off a small tree there, or scraped himself. I actually saw him (in my mind, alas) and later we found where he had run (the herd I mean)  - and again where another herd had joined in. Really this was getting too exciting. Then as we were going along we heard a baboon (chimpanzee) drumming – how? “Quien sabe?” – but all admitted that it was a baboon. And so we spent the day, lunching beside a small clear stream amidst the jungle, and ever pursing this big track – as tho a long on end had been jumping about. But we were doomed to failure, and we never gained on them. But as they headed for the road we finally gave up and went off to look at some feeding grounds. And the worst of that was that they had evidently stayed over a whole day in that little strip between us and the road – an unexpected event – for they didn’t cross over till that night. But that is hunter’s luck. When we got back Hal and I went swimming and I had the pleasure of cutting my good which laid me up for the next day while Hal went out alone. Again no luck but a good time. Then back to Tappi town – shooting a couple of birds, a fly catcher (new species) and a green pigeon which I skinned in the afternoon.

            The next day Strong and Shattuck went over to Sauro, on the French border, while Hal and I sat around and amused ourselves writing diaries and watching the rice pounding. Here, as I have said, they were preparing government rice just outside our dwelling – about 30 pounders – 4 or 5 winnowing – a dozen or more stamping on the heads of grain to free the stalks, etc. This lasted from six A.M. till after dark in the evening. And always with a chorus. On the third day I went hunting guinea fowl in the early morning with some success but at eleven I was back to normal, after only a small temperature 103°. And that is the last of my fevers to date – I have knocked on wood.

            Two days later I went over to Zugi’s town with Strong and Shattuck where they did some medical work while I took pictures of the patients all in all we were very successful. Then we let for Sino.

            While we were in Tappi the District Commissioner had come thru and had promised us all kinds of porters for the time of departure. But when he left he had taken 200 – all the available men –with him, leaving the place barren. In consequence we were hard pressed for carriers. So on the morning of our start we were rather worried. The acting assistant D.C., of course, said not to worry, that he would supply the necessaries, but even he suggested that we might send our men down to the town to help round up victims. Now, a little later, Hal and I saw some men with empty baskets coming up but, when we tried to corral them, they ran away, which annoyed us, and we stopped them. Just then a mandingo gentleman to whom we had been supplying free advice and medicine ran out and ordered the people on – his people who weren’t to carry for us – why not? – Because! We told him of our letters from the government authorizing all chiefs and headmen to supply porters but he politely said “To Hell with the Government.” He also said, “Hit me, Kill me,” etc., knowing full well that we were tempted to do so and that in Liberia, if a white hits a black, there is the devil to pay. Still we didn’t, but eventually brought him and his people back. He then started some rather Bolshevik talk about we don’t want the white man – you’re all fools to work for the white man, etc., etc. He called our head steward a fool, - “You’re a fool,” said Burma, “Fool Palava.” But we eventually got away with about 40 men and 20 women. Then the acting assistant D.C. told us that we had sinned, etc., and that the Mandingo chief had registered a complaint against us, etc., to which we replied that we were sorry that it was so late, and that we must hurry, goodbye! Still the chap won out for he sent one of his men ahead who succeeded in getting seven men to run away in short order.

            Well we eventually got going. The first part of the day was spent in passing thru one small town after another, along an open and hot road, but after two hours we got once more into the bush, and this time with a vengeance. Five hours before we struck the next town, and that was a deserted half-town. We deliberated for a while and decided to push on to Granh, our objective, if possible. But darkness caught us in the bush and as the going was so muddy we were forced to stop at the next village. Even at at that, Hal, who was again in the rear, did not get in until seven. The town was deserted and partially decayed, but with our 60 odd porters of both sexes we formed quite a jolly little party with all the houses occupied and fires glittering here and there with natives squatting about and cooking the rice which we had distributed. We slept in a regular mud hut. 

            The next day was Shattuck’s birthday (Oct. 12) so we only went for an hour to Granh where we decided to rest up. This, however, was not done until we had palava’d long and furiously with the head man. Would his men stay? Yes. Because there were no other carriers in town it was quite important that we keep our mits on what we had. And if they were going to run away – well we would push on immediately, and get another day out of them. But they promised to stay. “Porter Palava.” For the rest of the day we sat in idleness reading and writing and otherwise amusing ourselves. The only event of interest was a thunderstorm which rained like a cloudburst until there was a couple of inches of water on the ground with a river wherever there was a slope. As quickly as it came it went, and the heat descended once more. When we came to distribute rice in the evening only 18 of our porters were left – the rest had run away!

            The next day – 15 porters left!! – we were able to pick up some women carriers and started off again on our travels – 6 hours to the next town thru “big bush”. It was very pleasant going and quite cool with no casualties in our porter list to speak of, only two or three who were replaced from extras in our outfit. This brought us to Weea town where we decided to spend the night as there was no town in sight for another long period. And Weea, altho deserted, was quite attractive. A wild delapidated little town in a big cleareing in which a few tall trees stood out in lovely splendor, spreading out their feathery branches in contempt for the other more paltry members of their group who lived in such close packed surroundings. But, coming down to the edge of the clearing, was the tall forest like a wall. We took our baths, put on clean clothes and in the evening sat beneath a mellow moon smoking our pipes – real peace – real comfort.

            The next morning we pushed on for what proved to be the toughest day of the whole trip. In the first place we didn’t have enough porters to go around which meant that we had to call on all our boys – cook included – to carry. This meant that cameras must be tied into a single load and that we must carry all our own paraphernalia, such as guns, canteens, etc. Then within ten minutes three loads were dropped which caused a little more juggling, Still we got off. But as we progressed we got nearer to the Cess River, and as we approached we met more and more streams, vines, thorns and other miserable things which seem to be continually saying, “Hold on there, don’t hurry thru so fast.” And, when we didn’t obey, they merely looped themselves around our necks or our feet and agued with us. Also, the women porters are very poor at carrying loads across logs which necessitates helping them and carrying them across, laying them dow and going back for another (I am talking of loads now – not the porters). So it was that we finally came to the River Cess, - a big brown rushing torrent which roared in a subdued way. That was at nine A.M. We followed down stream all day until dark – tho our mileage wouldn’t show it. From nine until five we must have crossed at least 30 or 40 small streams which flowed across our path into the river. Each of these had steep banks and deep still water. And few had logs across them, altho some boasted of thin trembly poles which hardly bore up under the strain and which required all the skill of a tightrope walker to cross. Some were waded to be sure and others were crossed thru the trees, a laborious, even if unusual, task. And all of them took a long time! Every now and then I worked up ahead of the whole outfit to see how they were getting on and occasionally I would sit down on some root or log and count them as they came by. On one of these occasions I slowly succumbed to the influence of the muffled roar of the river, the drone of the cicadas and the shadows of the forest, taking out my notebook and writing the following which I will send on as an example of the enfeebling effect to the tropics on one’s mind.

            I am sitting by a river, - a big muddy brown torrent which roars beside me – on a majestic root of an equally majestic tree. And all about me are slender but tall trees, and vines which rise up, up, up to leap out into a delicate green ceiling which permits only little elusive patches of sunlight to dash thru and light up the dead leaves of the forest floor. Locust drone in chorus. First one getting the rust out of his wings in rasping clicks before bursting forth in full blast, to be followed by another and another until the river’s roar becomes but a murmur by comparison. And then suddenly they cease together, and as the silence shuts in, the river comes back to life. A butterfly jerkily flits from one sunlit patch to another, alternately disappearing in the shadows. A hornbill passes overhead on creaking wings to sail by, the wind rushing thru his feathers. Then I am alone again with only the rolling waters and the breathless trees awaiting some caressing breeze, sitting on a majestic root of an equally majestic tree.

            Later we came to a stream thru which we were forced to wade – up to our necks literally – or to be more exact, half way between my chin and mouth. I got quite wet! To facilitate matters and speed up the crossing, I took off my shirt for it didn’t do me any good, and carried some 20 loads across on my head, including a 2 man trunk which weighed about 100 pounds. Then, and this is the climax, I swam two young damsels across on my back as they could not swim and the water was too deep. Coolidge, with just his head out of water beside me, wept, for he didn’t have his camera! 

            That night we slept in the bush, without tents or shelter of any kind. In fact it was dark before we started to clear the ground. We just set up our beds, hung our mosquito nets above them, and got out our raincoats. It was pitchy black for the moon had not yet risen and thru the tree trunks little wee fires flickered like fireflies around us. Our own camp was even wallowed up by blackness. The lanterns’ lights making some giant bole stand out alone from the unknown shadow behind. A when we blew them out, the whole ground lighted up with phosphorescence, while our white mosquito nets loomed up vaguely as ghosts about us. 

            The next day we crossed the river in a very rickety raft with a capacity for five passengers (crew included) with no luggage and this had to be paddled. However, I didn’t wait for the luggage but pushed on about seven miles to a fairly big town where I picked up 40 porters “one time” (at once) and headed back to the river. When I got back at about two I found them already set up in a small half town True and they decided to stay. So we sent off 40 loads which were not needed for the night and settled down. It was a very clean little town in the middle of the forest with a hill – yes, actually a hill, - to form a background on one side. Our bunks were placed under the eaves of the already occupied houses where we hoped to keep dry – not an inspiring accommodation but adequate. Later we rather regretted it for the inmates, due either to the mosquitoes, or our advent, or both, made much palava all night and we hardly slept. However before we went to bed we saw the moon rise above the giant trees to cast its light on the slumbering village. 

            The next day we did the seven miles to the next town Chekomma. On the way we had to go over quite a high ridge which added a change from the monotonously flat going which we have had in the past. And it was pleasant to clamber over tangled rocks even if they were few.

            Chekomma itself has very little to offer. And as I have sent you a drawing of it which does give an idea of the place, I am not going to describe it. We stayed over here a day recuperating from some rather hard going, doing some intensive medical work and catching up on our diaries. Actually, however, we did little of interest and prepared for our next lap – the last big jump before reaching Sino and civilization.

            As an auspicious opener – the next morning brought no porters altho the two headmen of the town promised “plenty plenty”. Even the headmen themselves didn’t come until late, with plenty of palava about why they couldn’t get carriers. They had a dozen or so, no more. We decided we had best get busy thereupon and in the next half hour got about 20, and the rest had to be women again. Now this didn’t appeal to us because we wanted to get a crew which would take us to Sordya and then two or three days on, thru the trackless forest into Kulu country and people again. However as they all said “plenty of men at Sordya”, we decided we had best take what we could get and started. Now they had told us that Sordya was far-far and that if we started (at sunrise) “soon morning” we would get there when sun was “so” (sunset). As it was 8.30 when we got underway we were doubtful where we would sleep and, in consequence, we were very surprised to arrive at about 12.30 and still further surprised to find it deserted entirely except for one man. Great! We also discovered that our porters were rather anxious to leave us flat and return home (without pay) so we kept our eye on them pretty carefully and prevented them from running away. In the evening we went as far as to organize shifts to guard the men, and in that way held them all, but to no avail. That night it rained and, as usual, the leaks were over my bed.

            Next morning we gave them all rice at about four so that they would be ready to go on a full stomach at about seven. Then we ate, packed and assigned the loads.  But when we told them to start they complained that they had not yet eaten. Something funny. We told them that we would bring it along cooked and they could have it when we stopped in the middle of the morning. But, off we must go now. “Chop palava”. And off they went but into the bush – that is. Five of them did before ten minutes were up! That was distinctly awkward and I stopped the whole parade and told my boys to guard them with guns only to find that tow of the women had run in the bunch behind me. There is nothing to do but put the rascally headman under the  boxes. But, before we did that, we roped the male population together in groups of twos and threes to make running away a bit more difficult. I also divided my gang of 18 men into three parts of six, putting one of the boys in front to keep them from going too fast and getting out of sight, another boy behind the first, and second groups while I brought up the rear. So we travelled and none of them ran away. With those behind, however, things did not go so well as I soon found out.

            At about 10:30 I thought I would stop in a small clearing made by a blowdown on the bank of a stream and wait for information from the rear. And I soon got it. Only about 10 carriers left – 28 run away. I picked up my 18 worthy henchmen and started back to the assistance and we had to go a long long way to get to the first box dropped. One of the headmen had been given about ten women to look after but we did not see him or his charges again although they were honest enough to leave the loads in the trail. Likewise with another headman. But just then fortune smiled for a moment. We sent out emissaries from Sordya the night before to Coe town in search of porters, the washman to talk and Colbar with a rifle to add emphasis. At just that minute they arrived with 18, 10 men, 6 women and 2 boys. So with 36 people we picked up the loads and brought them up to the front ranks. After a short palava we picked up all but 10 loads and pushed on for another hour and half to where we found a favorable camp site Here we stopped, sending ten men back to bring in the loads left behind.

            In the meantime we pitched camp, lashed and fed the porters, and Hal and I swam in the nearby stream. A very pleasant climax to the day. Again we were under the stars without the slightest shelter, and again the ground glowed at night with phosphorescence.

            In the morning, after breakfast, the remains of our Chekomma porters ran away, except two, leaving us only the 18 Coe town people. Well, there was only one thing to do – take the minimum requirements and beat it for Kulu country where we could get a fresh porter gang to go back into the bush to get the remainder of our supplies. So we loaded up our steward boys, cook, etc., the 18 Coe towners and the two remnants from Chekomma and started. And 20 minutes later the last two mentioned checked out and we were clear of the lot. We had to abandon a load of rice and convert a two-man load into one, but what is that?

            And so for that and the next three days we were alone with no more adieu, comparatively. That noon the porters did threaten to run away if we went farther, but we told them that they would have to go farther and what’s more they just jolly well couldn’t run away. That night, to make sure, we gave them some quinine with the idle threat that, if they beat it, woe to them, and at the same time gave Burma a pill, saying that if he didn’t play fair, he would pass on. My suggestion, Burma’s execution, my only contribution to science so far. Be it as it may, they didn’t run and we had no more palava’s. And as I said before for three days we passed thru interminable big bush – swamps, ridges, and more swamps. I tore my trousers. We saw many elephant tracks. And we saw no game. And how we did walk. It really was quite jolly and I could not but think of how perhaps at some past time the slave traders had passed over the same trail – only instead of singing porters they probably silently – or with oaths – escorted sullenly surprised blacks destined for servitude in America, but how could they have known?

            On the afternoon of the fourth day in the bush we came to the Sanguin river and villages. As we came to the bank some natives showed up on the far side and after a little conversation they came over in a big canoe and started to transport our goods across the river. I went across with the first load and took some rather poor pictures of the people as they came across. It was sprinkling anyway. Then, when everything was across, we wandered up to the town. It was quite a change from what we had become accustomed to and for the better. The houses, for example, were made with mat walls. The roofs had a Japanese air to them. <Drawing of house on stilts with “Japanese air”> The buildings were also arranged along a “main street”, giving a feeling of order and design. The mat walls, too had a certain variety of pattern which added to the charm of the place.

            We had a very quiet time for the next four days, largely because of the fact that we had left most of our scientific outfit behind. I could not develop pictures, nor did I have any skinning materials, and worse, I only had a limited supply of films. However, we were successful in amusing ourselves. We were living in a rather large house, one wall of which we had removed that we might get better ventilation. It was quite comfortable, and, as the floor was some three to four feet above the ground, comparatively clean. And it was fairly cool. We also were once more in the land of abundance, where food was not only plentiful, but varied – squash, pumpkin, eddo, pawpaw, bananas, chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, all in abundance with eddo leaves, cassava leaves and other things for greens. So we had no complaints to make.

            The first day was spent in attempted cleanliness which included cutting off my moustache – I mean my attempted moustache (excuse me) and brushing my hair which by now was very long over the ears and almost manageable on top. We also go our our clothes, aired them and had the soiled ones washed, etc. The second day was spent in going over to Bashman’s town about an hour away and palavaing with the Paramount chief to no avail except we got some unusually good bananas from him. On the way home I shot a squirrel which I skinned in the afternoon. While I was at Bashman’s town I saw a hawk which the chief wanted, so, after deliberation, I stalked the thing, took careful aim, and Bang, he flew. The natives thought it was an excellent joke – why, I can’t understand. On the third day Hal and I took a boat up stream on the river but the current was more than our boys could manage and we were forced to return. Then we tried Baboon hunting with equally successful results altho we did have a good time chatting with our backs against a big root. When we returned to town, there was a tremendous wailing which told us that a lady who had got a severe infection after child birth had died. After all we told them she would and that we had none of the necessary implements and medicines at hand. However, I am sorry that we didn’t, for the rest of our stay there was a constant weeping and gnashing of teeth which apparently never ceased. When the old mourners were worn out, new came into town to take their places. One old lady, evidently blind, came bawling in on the back of a huge stalwart black of stolid expression. The rig was extremely neat and looked very efficient for use in first aid. <Drawing of woman in rig on back of man> By the way, all the “rope” used for making hump lines is made by stripping young saplings of their bark, trees about 1 ½” in diameter, yielding a flat strip of bark about 2” wide. Very neat. But to return to our mourners – when on the next day our porters returned from the bush they immediately rushed in to have a few good bellows before reporting to us. We could count the loads by the new voices.

            In the afternoon, while all this was going on, Strong and Shattuck went over to call on the P.C. while Hal and I feebly wrote in our diaries and siesta’d perhaps a bit more vigorously. At any rate, we accomplished little but enjoyed much.

            Next morning, Strong and Shattuck checked out with all loads, leaving Coolidge and me to reship our boxes which we expected to come out of the bush. They were going to do medical work. As for us, it was a signal for complete indolence and much conversation until two when the loads came in and we left Towya to the fates, arriving at Bashman town at about five, where we paid off the men and had supper. That evening the interpreter came round and, having said that his brother was Paramount chief and a crook while he was honest and an enemy of Liberia – How about a smoke? – meaning, how about our giving him a head of tobacco. This is a common trait among all those in favor in this country. And later we had a drum serenade – 1:00 to be exact-with many drums, one about 5 ft. long. Personally it may be annoying, but it is native art at its best and I can’t keep from getting in tune with it and having the same sensations which a Boston deb. Gets out of Billy Lozey’s orchestra, if that is the right way to spell that gentleman’s name. So despite the hushed curses of most of our party and the harsh language of some (which brought it to a close finally). I was rather disappointed when they drifted away into obscurity.

            Next morning we had the damnedest time getting under way that we have had yet. In the first place the P.C. seriously showed his objections to the Coe town carriers by dragging one of their ladies around the lot in a conscientious endeavor to show that she was not wanted. This specific demonstration promptly annoyed her escorts and they decided that the coast Krus were no good and home was the best place after all. So – with seeing paus, I mean Sino, also the chief’s son, the headman was absolutely useless, in fact he probably caused us an unusual amount of trouble. But, in Liberia, you know, After throwing out the Coe town lot there were not enough men and we refused children. I finally had to drag two innocent men who were hiding in the chief’s house. And so we left. 

            Now every one told us that we could not make Sino in less than four days (at a shilling per person per day) except one man who stuck to his guns at three. We did it in two. But I am ahead of my story. After passing thru a couple of towns we again passed into big bush in which we could hear baboon, but, of course, never see them, and in which we ran across a few elephant tracks. Then, at noon, we passed into towns again.

            In order to keep our useless porter gang together and from stopping so early we had to herd them thru several towns without a rest until they got sick of us, and decided to carry us to our objective, Paidibo, which we reached at 3:00. This breach of Eru etiquette – the fact that they had carried six hours instead of three – was so great that half of them ran away that night after getting free rice.

            Paidibo was a small town with very little in hotel accommodations, but, by tearing down three walls (we get more ambitious as we progress), we had quite a cool residence. But outside of “dashing” away all trade gin and most of the tobacco to an affable official who wisely figured that it was much easier to be “dashed” for saying that we were in sight of the coast then for saying we were a week off, there was little of interest. The official, by the way, said that we could go to Sino and return in a day – I suspect he meant 24 hours. 

            Well, we did get to Sino at four P.M. after a day which would have been sleeting at home – a cold, drizzling wind-driven rain which kept us soaked and dripping all day. But get there we did, and with a certain satisfaction, of having maltreated the tropics and got away with it. And there we paid off our porters – and we finished with Safari until the dim future of the upper Congo. When we first arrived we called on the Superintendent of the place who gave us a whole house into which we bundled our many boxes and hastily put on dry things. Shortly afterwards Mr. Van Hensden, the head agent of the Deutsche Oest Afrika Co., invited us to dinner but, as our chop was already on the fire, and as Hal had a slight chill, we declined his invitation. However, I went over after dinner and for the first time since leaving the Du talked with a white man. I found that Tunney had beaten Dempsey, that Lacoste had beaten Tilden, etc. Same old stuff. Otherwise, no news. But they were extremely pleasant.

            Sino is a very pleasant, tho rural, spot which looks quite large after three months in the interior. It boasts of three “white” stores. But, after a couple of days, its beauty wanes and it stands out in its true light. A small village of rather dilapidated houses situated on a point. And, of course, there is absolutely no connection with the world by any means other than boats. Even the steamers are but two each way a month and of course none were due for ten days. The main navigation therefore was in open whale boats, but more of that. <Drawing of Sino town>

            We stayed in Sino four days hoping that the wind would shift and let us sail to Cape Palmas which we wanted to see very much indeed. In the meantime we took a few pictures, developed 11 dozen in two nights, dined with the Dutchmen en masse and swam. This latter was the source of a rather amusing incident.

            Having seen natives in swimming a la nude as it were, we decided why not – and we did. Well, you just can’t keep the damsels away from good looking, nay, handsome gents – and they crowded, I mean one or two came down to watch u s whom I may thankfully say we ignored. But, on the third day of our stay, a portly colored gentleman – in Liberia we may safely assume all colored men to be gentlemen – came to call on us. We tried to claim other more pressing engagements but no he must see us, and he did. With serious mien and in dignified words he explained to us that we were shocking the people of Sino. “Now,” he continued “You wouldn’t want such a great institution as Firestones to be cast from Liberia just because you swam in the ocean without bathing suits.” We protested that he was too hard on us and that they weren’t ladies. “Oh, I don’t mean them”, he said, “they don’t count. It is the American Liberians.” We breathed something about spy glasses and far-sightedness and then tacitly hoped that such great people as the Liberians would be able to ignore such petty miscreants as we in order to favor the great American dollar. Seeing that he was not quite getting away with it, he shifted his tactics to “In America – oh, yes, I have been there - they don’t do such things,” with the afterthought, “except at Coney Island.” We agreed and he shifted the conversation from morals to our potential discoveries of gold. This, too, was unfortunate because we had to admit we hadn’t looked for any, seen any, nor would we have recognized it if we had. The gentleman’s name was Mr. Ross and we found out from van Hensden that he had been a guest – “a free guest” – of the United States: - as that gentleman put it, - in Sing Sing. Outside of having been Vice President of Liberia, of having started a rebellion, and of being “wanted” in several places should he leave his native shore, he was a man of little consequence.

             It was a Monday that we left Sino, in the pouring rain. But not on foot. I spoke of surf boats a moment ago. These surf boats are double ended life boats- about 30 ft. long – which are designed primarily to row with 8-10 long sweeps. The oarsmen sit on benches, two to a bench, which rather cuts up the interior. There is no cabin, no comfortable seat, in fact, no comfortable anything about them except that they are able. In these they erect a mast, merely a log and a sail, best described by this drawing. <Drawing of boat> The gaff is another log and the halyards consist of a rope tied on the gaff and passed thru a hole in the mast with no pully. This now serves also as a stay, a great saving in time and trouble, as well as rope. And it was in one of these crafts that we slipped away from the dutchman’s dock, passed the customs officer, tilted back in a chair, down the river and out across the bar to sea. All in a heavy rain storm. Now the boat was only 30 ft. long and besides our 60 boxes “all packed with care with his name printed clearly on each” we had our four selves, our five boys and a crew of fifteen hardlooking blacks fit for any pirate crew. Needless to say, we were crowded. 

            Then the rain stopped and the sun shone “but all averred I’d killed the bird that made the breeze to blow” so we slatted from 7 to 11 waiting for something to happen. I will admit the crew rowed a bit but they were so afraid of exerting themselves that we didn’t go far. Then the breeze picked up and we started to slip merrily on our way to go bounding over the waves. We all began to feel seasick – but no casualties. About five o’clock as the crew was cooking rice in a tin can on a sand box stove we had some water boiled and made tea and soup. Darkness came and with it rain, so we donned our raincoats and lay down on our odds and ends of baggage to sleep. It was a dark night, cloudy, with a few starry patches shining thru. And the water was aglow with phosphorescence, so that we could sail freely between illuminated rocks where the surf dashed against them. It was quite a sight. And as I was lying on my back with my pipe in my teeth, the crew started to sing from out of the darkness of the bow, at first, native songs, until suddenly, “Adeste Fidelis” in parts. Well, I have been startled before I will be again, but I don’t be quite so surprised very soon! 

            That night we opened our umbrellas to keep the rain from running down our ears. But we did sleep despite the fact that you can’t flatten the cover of a tin trunk by sleeping on it.

            Came the dawn – Just as the faint light was appearing in the east we rounded the point at Grand Bassa and as we slowly approached the beach black forms came gliding over the heavy swell – black crawling things which silently passed us, the fishing dugouts putting forth to sea. We landed on the beach and were carried thru the surf on our crew’s shoulders just as the sun was rising. Immediately we got a fire going and, as Sando was cooking, went for a very refreshing swim down the beach a ways. Then we returned and had breakfast. Afterwards, while Strong and Shattuck shaved, Hal and I went forth to call on anybody worth calling on. As it happened we ran across the Elder Dempster people who were so nice to us that we got them to invite Strong and Shattuck up which they did. And so we spent a very pleasant morning. At two we sailed away again – a repetition of the day before except at one we anchored off the bar at Monrovia in time to get a beautiful thunderstorm. It was so doggone wet that the four of us sat huddled in the stern – umbrellas set for the rest of the night. The crew in the meanwhile had spread the sail and crawled under it. I will leave the picture to your imagination. And as it dawned again, the same creepy crawly things came floating out by us as we manned the oars and slipped across the bar into Monrovia – nearly four months to a day since we landed. 

            And that really finishes my story.

            But there are a few additions: As soon as we got in we stopped at Capt. Beard’s where we got some tea and toast before passing on to the Willises. Here we were again welcomed and took up much the same life as before. The other party returned from their travels in a couple of days and we had to swap stories with them. In the meantime we packed.

            Now it so happened that there is a Mr. Cheek staying at the Willis’ , connected with Firestones and the father of one M.A.Cheek Jr. who captained the 1925-1926 football team. And, as he is interested in hunting, he offered to take Shattuck and Coolidge out some morning. And it also happened that there had been several robberies in the house and that, on the night before the hunting trip started, Mr. Cheek was successfully divested of many belongings. It was not surprising therefore that when Shattuck saw Cheek in a scuffle with a negro that he should put two and two together and rush to the assistance – also remember that it is 5:30 A.M. The actual facts, of course, happened to be that the chauffeur was late and was fresh to Cheek. However, there was a witness and when they returned from hunting there was a cry for vengeance. In Liberia they have a system whereby the official salaries are raised if a white man so much as says boo to a black. This was a great opportunity and amidst discourteous crys from the onlookers Shattuck was arrested in his room (without a warrant) and was led off on foot – a car having been refused by a police – to the court house. Strong accompanied him amidst jeers. Later Cheek was escorted to the jail in similar fashion. Well, feeling ran high but the President was upset and many thought that the “Palava finished” when suddenly they were tried, fined the maximum and then the judge, politely saying that it was at his discretion to double it, did so neatly and for all. Even Shattuck was annoyed and thought it a bit thick. Cables flew to Washington. The President returned the fines but what will come of it remains to be seen. At least there was a hornets’ nest stirred up at one time – and parts of it were very funny. 

            Shortly afterwards we said goodbye to Allen. I am not going to tell you now  much I admire, respect and love him but I think I can safely say that he was meant more to each of us than any other member of the party. Certainly this is true as far as I am concerned, and my only hesitation is that it would take a book to express my feelings. Some day, if I have time, I will write a letter on that subject alone. He has a wonderful sense of humor in the bargain. By all means get to know him and well – for he is shy unobtrusive.

            After he left there has been little of excitement. I have collected some 16 birds; we have botanize; made medical surveys; and I have photographed the Mt. Barclay plantation for young Mr. Firestone who is out here. But it has been merely a case of waiting till this boat, already eleven days late, should come and carry us away.

            And so at last on the 21st of November, four months and two weeks after our arrival we rowed out of the harbor for the last time.

            Since then we have visited Principe and San Thome, two Portuguese islands. We have stopped at Tibuville, Port Gentil, Landana, Cabinda, and have but just now left Landana. Tomorrow we will get to Boma, and Friday Matadi. But as we will have to pack, visit officials and rush, I will close this now. Maybe soon, I will write you some notes on Liberia. 

On board the S. S. Wolfream

Finished December 2, 1926

            At 1:50 A.M.

            P.S. This is an unusually comfortable cargo boat.

 

           

 

 

Type

Historical Documents

Identifier

VAD2036-U-00095H

Original Format

To

Mr. and Mrs. Whitman Jr.

Citation

Loring Whitman, “Dearest Family, No. 8,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed November 23, 2017, http://liberianhistory.org/items/show/3631.