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Abbeokuta; or Sunrise within the Tropics
An Outline of the Origin and Progress of the Yoruba Mission

By Sarah Tucker

New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1854.

Chapter II. The Fellatahs

"The spoiler shall come upon every city, and no city shall escape: the Valley also shall perish, and the plain shall be destroyed. Give wings unto Moab, that it may flee and get away: for the cities thereof shall be desolate, without any to dwell therein."--Jer. xlviii. 8, 9.

When we read of tens, and even hundreds, of thousands annually falling victims to the slave-trade, we naturally ask, "How and whence could these multitudes have been procured?" and the answer to this question must be sought for in the very heart of Western Africa. It is true that a small portion of these unhappy people were prisoners taken in the continual warfare carried on among the smaller states along the shore, but the chief supply was from the interior, where the love of gain tempted the more powerful chiefs to make war upon their weaker neighbours, for the express purpose of procuring slaves for the markets on the coast. Here they were eagerly purchased by Spanish and Portuguese dealers, who, in return, supplied the native chiefs with rum, gunpowder, fire-arms, and a few other articles of European manufacture. [It is, indeed, melancholy to, find how all the kindlier feelings of even a Mohammedan or a heathen heart could be so deadened, but what shall we say to those, who, bearing the name of Christians, were the instigators to such cruel and unholy deeds? How true it is, as the natives themselves express it: "The root of the slave-trade is in white man's country, not in black man's--for if white man did not buy, black man would not sell."]

[9] The heathen kings of Dahomey stand out conspicuously in this barbarous warfare; but even they must yield in this disgraceful pre-eminence to the Mohammedan Fellatahs. [Called also Foulahs and Fellanis.]

This singular people, who have exercised so extraordinary an influence over the destinies of Western Africa, seem to have been originally a nomadic nation, in the fertile tracts along the shores of the Mediterranean; but being driven thence by the Saracens, they retired across the Great Desert, and established themselves to the south and west of it, in a tract of country called Fooladoo.

In this land of refuge they lived for centuries as a pastoral and inoffensive people, moving about with their flocks and herds, as the various spots supplied them with pasturage and water. Their numbers rapidly increased, and spreading eastward, they gradually occupied the greatest part of Soudan, while small parties even made their way across the Niger into the countries of Boossa, Borgoo, and the northern part of Yoruba. They are spoken of as of [9/10] quite a distinct race from the Negro, with oval faces, small features, and long hair, and their complexion varying from a dark copper colour to that of our English gipsy. They were Mohammedans, yet nothing seems to have occurred to bring out the peculiar features of that stern and cruel faith, till about a century ago, when a sudden impulse was given to their latent love of war and conquest by one of themselves, the Sheikh Othman, or, as he is oftener called, Danfodio.

This ambitious man began by building a town in his native woods of Adecr, and persuading many of his countrymen to settle there. His next step was to establish a regular military system; he ranged the people under different chiefs, to each of whom he delivered a white flag as a token of future victory, desiring them to go forward in the name of "Allah, and of his Prophet," assuring them that God had given them all the lands and riches of the "Infidels," and declaring that all who fell in battle would be sure of Paradise. The army, fired by the exhortations and example of their leader, rushed on to deeds of valour; and the career of conquest was rapid and extensive.

Ere long the whole of Haussa, Cubbî, and Yaouri, were conquered; gradually the country of Nufi was brought into subjection, and even the powerful [10/11] kingdom of Bournu, although Mohammedan like themselves, was for a time obliged to yield.

From that time to the present the Fellatahs have been the unceasing scourge of all that portion of the continent of Africa. Their armies have been continually in motion, overrunning the country, putting the chiefs under tribute, destroying towns and villages, and carrying way the inhabitants to be sold as slaves. [The Fellatahs must not be confounded with some people whom the Haussas call "Bature,"--white men, or "strangers," who occasionally come from the east as far as the banks of the Niger for purposes of trade, and who are supposed to be either Egyptians or Abyssinians. The probability of their being the tatter is greatly strengthened by information given by Bishop Gobat during his late visit to England. He mentioned that when he was in Abyssinia he found there were persona from Darmoot and Gengira, in the south-west part of the country, who traded across the continent, and who reported that after three months journey they arrived within a fortnight's distance of the salt sea, with large ships. They gave a curious statement as to a country called Sidama, two months from Abyssinia, where they affirmed the people were Christians, and that they had the Gospels and churches, and where the men wore long hair and braided. There were two Sidama boys in Abyssinia, whom the Bishop met with, but they had left their country at too early an age to be able to give much information.]

The highest authority among them is vested in the Sultan of Sokatoo, the "Emir el Mumenin," as he is called, or "Commander of the Faithful;" and it is. generally speaking, from him that the inferior [11/12] Sultans receive their investiture as governors of the different provinces. The present Emir is Ali ben Bello, son of the Sultan Bello visited by Clapperton, and the direct descendant of the founder of this vast empire, Danfodio. The great boast of the Fellatahs has been, that their power will soon extend to the sea; and, from Dr. Barth's account, we find that their boast has so far been accomplished, as that the Sultan of Tchamba, near the Tchadda, about three years ago, succeeded in a "razzia" on the country between himself and the Bight of Biafra, reached the Iboe country near the mouth of the Niger, plundered the whole neighbourhood, and laid it under a tribute of "slaves, salt, and cowries." [See Mission to Central Africa, in Journal of Royal Geographical Society for 1851.] But, notwithstanding this and other partial successes, there is reason to hope and believe that the power of the Fellatahs is on the wane. We learn from Dr. Barth that the whole land is so impoverished, that the Emir can only maintain the expenses of his government by the large tribute he receives from the caravans that pass through his territories; while Lander, as long ago as 1830, speaks of their losing one town after another in the country of Haussa; and later accounts tell us of the Nufi people having in a great degree recovered their independence.

But we must go back to the palmy days of their [12/13] greatest power, when all the nations on the north and ~ eastern side of the Niger were subjected to them, and only a few on its western banks had been able to resist Mir inroads. The most important of these was the heathen kingdom of Yoruba, a country lying inland from the Bight of Benin, and stretching from two to three hundred miles in length, and nearly the same in breadth. Its northern and north-eastern boundaries are the kingdom of Borgoo, the Niger, and part of the Nufi country; the territories of Kakanda and Benin skirt it on the east and south-eastern quarters; the fierce Dahomians border on its western limit; while on the south it is only separated from the sea by a strip of land belonging to the Popos. Divided from the Fellatahs by the broad streams of the friendly Niger, and powerful enough to check aggression from any less formidable enemy, Yoruba enjoyed a comparative peace and prosperity unknown to most of the neighbouring states.

The towns were numerous and populous (the larger ones containing sometimes 60,000 or 70,000 inhabitants), and were generally surrounded by triple walls of wood or mud, and an outside ditch. Villages of 3,000 or 4,000 were thickly scattered over the country, and many persons resided on their own separate farms.

The soil was productive, the climate healthy, the [13/14] people industrious, honest, and affectionate, and in their own simple way they lived in external ease and comfort. [The unusual honesty of the Yoruba people is particularly noticed by Capt. Clapperton.]

The nation was composed of several different tribes, all owing allegiance and paying tribute to the king of Yoruba, whose residence was at Oyo, or Eyeo, near the Niger; and though feuds and jealousies among the tribes occasionally led to affrays between them, yet nothing had occurred sufficiently serious to affect the integrity of the kingdom. [The captives taken on such occasions were condemned to domestic slavery, but it was of the mildest kind. The slave was then, and still is, considered as part of the family, is often called "my son," and a stranger would scarcely discern the difference between the freeman and the bond-slave.]

But about forty years ago a disastrous change took place in the social condition of Yoruba, brought about by a combination of circumstances.

In the southern part of the kingdom very serious disputes had broken out, not only among the different tribes, but also between the smaller subdivisions; and a quarrel in the market of the little town of Aponi, as to the value of a trifling quantity of pepper, was the spark to kindle a flame that had nearly depopulated the surrounding country. The [14/15] towns of Ifè, Ikija, Kesi, the Ijebbus, Owus, and many others, were in arms against each other, and now for the first time did they learn from their barbarous neighbours to send their unfortunate prisoners to the slave-markets on the coast. [There were few or no Yorubans brought to Sierra Leone till the year 1822, so that the internal slave-wars could not have begun much earlier. The labours and the blessed successes of Mr. Johnson and the earlier missionaries in the colony were among the less hopeful tribes.]

In the north the disasters were from a different source, and commenced in the ambition of a young man named Afonja, the chief of Illorin. He had heard the fame of the Fellatah war-towns beyond the Niger, and was filled with a passionate desire to emulate them. Intent only on the accomplishment of his own will, and regardless of the consequences to his country, he invited a Fellatah chief named Alimi from Sokatoo, and another called Ali from Haussa, to share the government with him. [We may judge somewhat of the character of Ali, when we are told that he had at one time 20,000 slaves working in diains upen his farm.] The offer was eagerly accepted; the door which had been so long closed was now opened, and the Fellatah scourge began to be felt in Yoruba.

The two chiefs invited their countrymen to join them; many of the Yorubans were prevailed on to embrace their religion; and open hostilities and [15/16] secret artifices were but too successfully employed against this unhappy people. It is calculated that there were not less than twenty thousand men in Yoruba whose sole occupation was rapine and slave-hunting.

At first single farms were attacked, then villages were destroyed, till, emboldened by success, large towns fell before them, and massacre, fire, and misery marked their progress. One of these towns was Oshog_n, situated in the western part of the country, beyond the Kong mountains; its wooden walls were nearly four miles in circuit, and it numbered 12,000 as its population.

The people dwelt secure, they were far from the lands that had hitherto suffered from Fellatah avarice and cruelty; they anticipated no attack, and should an unexpected enemy arrive, their walls were strong, their men were brave, and what cause had they to fear? [The progress of the Fellatahs was far less rapid here than it had been on the further shore of the Niger, for as late as 1825, Capt. Clapperton speaks of that part of the country through which he travelled as being well cultivated, peaceful, and prosperous; and Lander, in 1830, only heard of their distant ravages. It appears too that the early settlers in the country (see p. 9) did not join their warlike countrymen;, for the same traveller frequently fell in with Fellatah villages where the inhabitants were living peacefully and quietly, and engaged in tending their flocks and herds.] They were soon fatally undeceived. One morning in the early spring of 1821 the people had [16/17] risen as usual in peace and security, the women were busy preparing the morning meal, the men were following their various avocations, when suddenly the cry was heard, "The Mohammedans are coming!" The men rushed to the walls, bidding their wives and children flee into the bush. It was too late! So well had the enemy laid his plans, that the gates were already secured, and escape was impossible. The men fought as those who were fighting for their all, but in vain; they were overpowered by numbers; the troops entered the town, set fire to the houses, chained together all who would bring them profit, and massacred the rest. The same sun that had risen in tropical splendour on the busy flourishing town of Oshog_n, shed its setting rays on a mass of burning ruins, where many a blackened corpse told of desperate and unavailing struggles. But what human tongue shall tell of the cries, the groans, the wailings of suffering and despair that throughout that weary night entered into the ears of the "Lord of Sabaoth" from the multitude of widows and orphans that were led like sheep from Oshog_n!

One of these was a boy of twelve years old, of the name of Adjai, who, with his mother and sisters, was bound in chains and sold into slavery. We shall not enter into the particulars of this boy's [17/18] sufferings; they are already before the public; we shall only state that, after having been several times sold and resold, dragged from place to place, and enduring almost intolerable hardships and sorrows, he was, early in 1822, with one hundred and eighty-seven unfortunate companions, shipped on board a Portuguese slaver at Lagos, where the treatment he met with corresponded but too well with the frightful accounts detailed in the Parliamentary Papers. ["Adjai, or Good out of Evil," Nisbet and Co.; "The African Slave Boy," Wertheim; and C. M. Record for 1837,] Happily it was but of short duration, for on the very next evening, by God's good Providence, the slaver fell in with two English cruisers, and was captured' by them. The poor captives were now in greater despair than before, for the Portuguese had succeeded in making these simple-hearted people believe that the English thus watched for and seized the slave-ships, that they might use the blood of the negroes to dye their scarlet cloth, and their flesh as baits for cowries! Adjai and a few other boys were taken on board one of the English ships; but here their terror was wound up to its highest pitch by seeing a number of cannon-balls piled upon the deck, which they took for the heads of some of their companions, while they concluded that some joints of pork hanging up to dry were their limbs. They were soon, however, re-assured; and when we tell [18/19] of readers that the ship on board which our young friend was now taken was the "Myrmidon," and the commander was Captain Leeke, they will have no difficulty in recognising the heathen Adjai under the Christian name of Samuel Crowther.

But our object is history, not biography; we shall not follow Adjai in the events of his next few years, except to say that, on his arrival at Sierra Leone, he TO placed under the care of an European catechist and his wife, who showed him every kindness; that he grew in grace as in years, was baptised, and became first a student, and then a teacher in the Fourah Bay Institution for the education of young men as teachers and catechists.

Years rolled on in Yoruba, but brought with them no return of peace or prosperity; the Fellatahs still gained ground; the slave-wars were still carried on, and the king, driven from his capital, was forced to take up his abode in the town of Aggo-Ojá. The whole country was disorganised, and the inferior chiefs, throwing off their allegiance to their sovereign, left him in possession of but a small part of his former dominions. [Now called Yoruba Proper.]

Adjai's town was rebuilt, and again destroyed; [19/20] and not a vestige now remains of what has twice been Oshog_n. Large districts were depopulated, the land in consequence was left untilled, fields of waving corn were supplanted by the tangled wood and impenetrable jungle; the chatter of the monkey, and the shrill scream of the parrot, took the place of the busy hum of active human life; while the roar of the lion proclaimed that he had reasserted his ancient rights, and was once more the monarch of the forest. [Judges v. 8, 7.]

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