|BOYD ALEXANDER: RIFLE BRIGADE / TEXTO
UM NATURALISTA EM FERNANDO PÓ
BOYD ALEXANDER é um explorador-naturalista, e também um escritor. É pelas qualidades de escritor que pomos em linha a parte introdutória do seu artigo "On the Birds of Fernando Pó", publicado na revista The Ibis, em 1903 (p. CCCXXX) - mostra como eram a ilha de Bioko (Fernando Pó) e a sua capital, Malabo (Santa Isabel), em 1902, e relata a sua ascensão ao Pico de Clarence (ou de Santa Isabel), a mais de 3000 metros de altitude, contra a vontade dos Bubis. O resto do artigo contém os resultados da exploração na ilha como ornitólogo. Entre as cerca de 33 novas espécies que ali descobriu, figuram as das estampas, cuja autoria pertence a J.G. Keulemans. A primeira, Apalis lopezi, Alexander dedica-a ao poeta caboverdiano José Lopes da Silva, seu guia e colector. O autor identifica-se como membro de duas instituições: a Zoological Society of London, e a militar. Era na altura tenente da Rifle Brigade. Na história de Francisco Newton, em linha no TriploV, pode ler um apontamento sobre ele. Maria Estela Guedes
HAVING completed in July last my ornithological survey of the Gold Coast and its hinterland, I determined to turn my attention to Fernando Po, the largest island of the Benin group. Although it had been previously explored by Louis Fraser, Naturalist to the Allen and Thomson Expedition to the Niger, in 1841, and by Mr. Newton, the Portuguese collector, in 1894, I had hopes of making further additions to the known fauna of the island. But the mountainous nature of Fernando Po, the lack of all roads in the interior, the form and nature of the Government, the great dearth of labour, and the evil reputation of the island for health constitute formidable difficulties to any scientific expedition.
It was, therefore, not without some misgiving that I left Liverpool in September last, in company with my Portuguese collector, Mr. Lopes, to explore this island; but I trusted to my two years' experience on the West Coast to pull me through. At Sierra Leone I had my first disappointment; I found it quite impossible to get carriers. No better success awaited me at Monrovia and at Cape Coast. At Sekondi, a goodly hoard of Lagos natives, some 400 in number, who had been working on the Kumassi Railway, came on board. Here, I thought, was my opportunity, but not one of them would dream of coming. They had abundance of money and only thought of getting home. And, besides, the very name of Fernando Po was enough. The West-African native has a wholesome dread of this island, where in the past he has been badly treated, especially by the natives of Sierra Leone, who own a large number of the cocoa-farms there. At Old Calabar, however, where we stayed for five days, Sir Ralph Moor, the High Commissioner, very kindly came forward and supplied me with Government carriers.
A two days' run from Calabar brought us to Fernando Po, where, on the evening of Oct. 27th, 1902, we dropped anchor. Unlike the Canary Islands, with their volcanic aspects sprinkled with the green of short-lived grass, Fernando Po rises from the sea with lofty hills clothed to their summits with thick bush and virgin forest. Its northern portion is by far the more mountainous, culminating in a peak known as the Clarence Peak, or by the older name Pico Santa Isabel, which attains an altitude of 10,800 feet. In the southern portion the country is more open, with fertile valleys overgrown with long grass, while a series of mineral lakes and springs exist on the higher levels.
The coast-line is flat and much indented with creeks and bays, which afford good landing-places for the numerous cocoa-farms on the island. The dotted portion on the accompanying map (Plate VIa) shews the extent of cultivation, which consists of a belt about two miles in width round the island. Along the coast-line are numerous cocoa-farms, which are in the hands of English and Spanish traders. Coffee is also cultivated to a small extent, while plantains, bananas, manioc, and yams form the food of the natives. Further towards the interior, on the edge of the belt near the wooded hills, are small scattered villages of wooden huts belonging to the natives. Beyond this coast-belt there is thick forest intersected by tracks made by the native hunters. There are no roads - only small paths between the villages.
The only communication between the different farms on the island and Santa Isabel is by means of surf-boats, which are manned by West-African natives, chiefly from Sierra Leone and the Kru coast.
The approach to the island by the steamer is from the north, and as one drops anchor in the beautiful little bay of Santa Isabel the lofty peak confronts the traveller, towering above the harbour. In the distance to the left, its taller sister, the Cameroon Peak, also clothed with forest- growth, is visible even down to the white-walled houses of Victoria, which nestles at its base.
On Oct. 28th I landed at Santa Isabel, which presented a scene of much bustle and activity. It was the cocoa-season, and strings of carriers with bags upon their backs were journeying to and from the landing-stage.
Throughout the day I was busy getting my baggage together and taking in stores for an early start up-countryon the morrow. Trade-goods - such as beads, tobacco, rum, gunpowder, and clothes,- besides bags of rice for the carriers, had to be taken, and this greatly increased the work of transport. Much assistance was given to me by Mr. Couch, of the well-known trading-firm of Messrs. Holt. The Governor, the Marquis Montifuerte, also showed himself gracious and allowed alI the baggage to pass free of custom-duties: this was a distinct advantage, since the duties are heavy.
At 5.30 A.M. on Oct. 29th our column of twenty-five men was on the move. This quick departure greatly surprised all the natives, who said "it must mean business." It was a fortunate thing that we arrived with carriers, as there was not a labourer to be had on the island - a curious state of things in a country so fertile and so full of possibilities. But the natives, known as Edeeyahs or Boobies, are excessively indolent, and nothing will induce them to work for any length of time. They are a feeble people and form a strange contrast to other West-African races. Of short stature, abdominous and spindle-shanked, and with broad furtive faces, they create anything but a favourable impression. Their dirt is undescribable; they seldom wash, but scrape themselves with small knives, which are attached to their left upper arms for that purpose by a string band. Horrible deformities are also produced by hempen bands about six inches in width, which are fixed tight round the upper arms and below the knees. By way of adornment, they frequently plaster their bodies, faces, and hair with clay, dyed red with a leaf of a tree indigenous to the island. Patterns are often indulged in. It was quite a common thing to see tiny babies on their mothers' backs literally coated with this clay.
Heavy necklaces, bracelets, and anklets of beads deftly woven together in alternate bands of colour are worn - red, yellow, and blue being the most favoured colours. These ornaments sometimes consist of a very small pointed landshell. It is treated in the same way as the beads, and shews rank in the wearer. Before the introduction of trade-goods these shells were the current coin in the island, just as cowries were with the West-Coast natives. Little clothing is worn, except a loin-cloth of the scantiest description, in many cases replaced at the posterior by a tail of twisted cloth. A flat circular hat of woven grass, with a small pepper-pot crown, is worn, secured to the hair by a wooden skewer; this is often decorated with the skin of a small tree-squirrel and the blue pinion-feathers of a large Plantain-eater (Corythoeola cristata).
Although it was now towards the end of the rainy season, the rains were still heavy. The native track along which we journeyed was slippery, and everything dripped with moisture. We were soon drenched through, and it was with difficulty that we could keep our guns dry. Our progress was slow, never more than two miles an hour, the carriers frequently slipping and stumbling, while in many places the path had to be cleared of undergrowth. At times it debouched into open glades, where birds mustered strongly, revelling in the bright sunlight, which scintillated on the delicate pink-tinted leaves of the cocoa-plants, and, where the ground sloped down from the wooded hills to cultivated land, interspersed with palms and mighty cotton-trees, with their colossal branches in pale contrast to the blue background of distant sea. About midday, after a tiring trek, we reached Basupu, a small Boobie-village, where we pitclied our camp. While on the road we had collected a dozen specimens, the skinning and making up of which kept us busy for the rest of the afternoon. Our camp was prettily situated just above a stream, the noise of which we constantly heard. There is no lack of water on the island. We continually had to cross deep ravines, down which water, sparkling and clear, flowed from the hills.
At Ribola, our next camp, we met with some difficulty at the hands of the natives. After a tiring march through thick bush, we arrived towards sundown at this Boobie village, which consisted of small oblong huts scattered among plantations of yam. These dwellings are made of wooden slabs driven upright into the ground and roofed with palm-leaves. The low doorways, through which the natives crawl, are closed by slabs in the same way as our pig-pounds.
Our advent became the signal for a general helter-skelter of the owners into the long grass and bush. Mothers caught up their children as they ran, while the men stared at us and then tailed off to neighbouring huts, jabbering the whole way like a string of geese. The night was perfect. Palm-trees, with their tops silvered by the moon, reared their trunks from masses of tall fish-cane growing round our camp. Small mice crossed and recrossed the narrow paths without disturbing the silence, which now and again was broken by the rustling of grass-cane being pushed aside, and black faces would peer out the next moment to catch a glimpse of me as I sat enjoying my last pipe before bedtime. Not long afterwards an uproar of fowls being caught in neighbouring bushes made it clear to me that we were not going to be trusted. Early next morning (Nov.1) we struck our camp, and were glad to get away from this dirty village. The natives followed us for some distance, and, thinking they had seen the last of us, gradually melted away into the bush. I then doubled back and took a native track going almost due south into the wooded hills, where we stayed collecting for a couple of days; but the natives, gathering together under their king and queen, objected to our going any further. It was, they said, their hunting or "beef" country, and no white man was fit to get to the big hill. They told my carriers many tales, for instance that a big river lived up in the monntain, and anyone who crossed it would die. All these stories were readily believed, and signs of intending desertion on the part of several carriers induced me to return the same way as I had come, our column being followed by a howling mob up to within a mile of Sipopo, where they again vanished. I subsequently learned that the natives of this district had been roughly handled by the Spanish troops, and this accounted for their unfriendly attitude towards the white man.
The appearauce of our big column aroused their suspicions, and, having no interpreter, we were quite unable to enlighten them as to the nature of our mission.
At Sipopo we occupied a cocoa-planter's house and stayed there making collections for several days. This gave a much-needed rest to our carriers. As soon as daylight came, about half-past five, my collector and I used to start off with a couple of carriers and follow one of the native paths into the bush. As a rule, we obtained during the morning's trek about 13 or 14 specimens, and with these we returned to camp, but were out again collecting in the evening. Our average take was between 18 and 20 birds a day. On one occasion, during a trek, we were suddenly startled by the sound of a stampede into the bush, just like the noise a flock of sheep make in getting through some obstacle, followed the next moment by a weird howl of voices like the whines of many dogs in unison. We again passed this spot on our return home. No one was visible, but our track was followed all the same. From time to time the loud report of guns came from behind. The Boobies, emboldened by our retreat, had followed us like an angry flock of geese, firing their guns at a respectful distance to frighten us. It would take too long here to record all our adventures with these curious people, so we must pass on to our camp at Bakaki, whence our first serious attempt to ascend the Peak was made. On the way I was furtunate enough to obtain thc services of a young Boobie-boy, named John, as guide and interpreter, from Mr. Barleycorn, of the Protestant Mission near Lakha.
The Bakaki country is inhabited by a race that speaks a different dialect, and is distinguishable by tribal marks on the face, and these people proved more friendly to us. It is a remarkable fact, but there are no less than five distinct tribal groups on the island. The Edeeyah is a very stay-at-home creature. Many old men that we met with had never gone beyond their own villages all their lives. The mountainous and enclosed nature of the country, with its lack of communication, has no doubt been the cause of these tribal separations. As we passed each village our column gathered ill strength, the principal men of the village preceding us as guides. Each had a small hollow-necked gourd with a hole at the rounded end, and this was used as a flute; it can be heard at a great distance. Long before a village came in sight a musical dialogue used to be carried on, telling the inhabitants all about us and our coming. We toiled through the villages surrounded by natives, all eager to gain a sight of a white man, while some, less brave, eyed the column through the chinks in their huts. At Bakaki the natives again crowded round us; they watched, with open-eyed wonder, my tent being pitched, but what surprised and baffled them more than anything else was the opening and putting up of my camp-bed. They shewed themselves friendly enough, presenting us with fowls, for which they expected double their value in return; but when I asked for guides to take me up the big mountain, they became sullen and refused to help me. So long as we kept to the low ground they did not mind, but they did not want us to go into their "beef" country and build houses there. However, I determined to go without them, and with the help of my prismatic compass I struck the right direction. All our provisions and water had to be carried with us, and after a two days' climb and cutting our way through thick bush, I reached a height of nearly 8000 feet. Here was formed the nucleus of our collection, which iucluded the majority of the new and rare species.
Hard work and the continual wearing of wet clothes soon began to tell upon us. My collector was the first to be threatened with fever, and I was reluctantly compelled to hurry down to Bakaki, where he fell ill. On my return, the Boobies could not disguise their satisfaction at the failure of my plans, and more palm-wine than ever was drank that night. Beyond the cultivation of their yams, these natives think of nothing else except to gather palm-wine - or "topi," as they call it -and palm-oil, which they exchange with the white traders for rum and tobacco. As regularly as clock-work the village is deserted towards the evening, and families troop down with calabashes to the palm-trees to gather the precious wine. To keep a Boobie away from his palm-wine for a single day is to make him a wretched man. After a halt of two days, my collector, although weak, was well enough to travel, and we accordingly pushed on to Bilelipi, where I determined to attempt the ascent of the mountain once more. By the large bribe of a keg of gun-powder, two hunters were at length induced to agree to guide us up to the top of the hill. Much talk ensued, and the other Boobie-folk did all they could to hinder these two men from going, saying that if they did so evil would befall them.
The Boobie is an excellent hunter. Armed with a long dane-gun and cutlass, he seeks the wooded hills, cutting out his track as he goes. The game is plentiful and nothing comes amiss to him: tree-squirrels (Sciurinae) - including the flying squirrel (Anomalurus fraseri) - small antelopes (of which there are at least two kinds, one, Gephalophus ogilbyi, a red species, and the other, C. melanorheus, a mouse-coloured animal), and, the most prized of all, the tree-dassie (Dendrohyrax dorsalis) form his quarry. Living in the tops of the palms or in the leafy portions of forest trees, the last-named animal looks exceedingly comical, as it runs, in wild-pig fashion, along the broad branches from one thick retreat to another. The Boobies are quick to discover its home. Every likely tree is scanned and the least shaking of the leafy top seldom escapes their keen sight. While one stays below the tree with cutlass and dane-gun and a couple of native dogs, the other rapidly scales the tree and shakes the dassies's home violently. The poor dassie falls with a great thud to the ground beneath and attempts to run, but the dogs keep it at bay and the next moment it is quickly dispatched with the cutlass. Our two hunters killed no less than thirteen of these animals in one morning on our way up the mountain.
On November 25th my second attempt to ascend the Peak was commenced. Six men preceded the column as pioneers to cut the road. Our loads had to be greatly reduced in weight, while ten carriers were told off to carry large rum-jars full of water. A heavy mist hung round everything. It did not take long to become drenched with moisture as we brushed past and tought our way through the thick forest-growth wringing with wet. Our progress was tedious. The Boobie-track, little frequented but by hunters, was much overgrown, and the axe had constantly to be used. In many places the path led through tunnels in impenetrable thickets, which it was hopeless to try to cut away, and we had to crawl through on our hands and feet, the loads being passed on from one carrier to another. From time to time heavy mists swept over us. The daylight was obscured, the dreary twilight of the forest became more dreary than ever, and all the birds were silent. After a climb of nearly seven hours we reached a small hunter's hut, at an altitude of about 3200 feet, which we made our base-camp. My carriers were thoroughly exhausted, and I found that a day's rest was necessary before continuing the ascent. This gave me an opportunity of making further collections. From this camp the ascent became so steep and rough that allloads of over 20 lbs. had to be discarded and our tents abandoned. water, too, was no longer obtainable, and every drop had to be carried with us. At night our only shelter was a roughly-made roof of leaves. At a height of 6000 feet the kola-nut tree and the rubber-vine flourished, and the carriers, now short of rations, gathered the nuts with avidity. Many species of orchids and mountain-ferns grew in abundance on the sheltered slopes. As we ascended, the air became clearer. Below hung a great carpet of mist, but now alld again a breath of wind would swoop down and open it, disclosing to view valleys of exquisite beauty bathed in sunlight, where groups of giant tree-ferns flourished, and whence streams, looking like tiny threads of silver, wound their way to the distant sea.
On the morning of the fourth day, as the summit was reached, we experienced cold blasts of wind from the north- west. A coarse woody weed covered the ground, and the scattered trees were weather-beaten and wind-torn. Near the summit bird-life was scarce, but examples of several species were obtained, including Laniariu poensis, Urolais mariae, and Lioptilus claudi. The whole ascent resulted in a collection of 45 specimens.
On December lst we reached Banterbari Beach, where Messrs. Holt have a large cocoa-farm. Here I obtained, through the kindness of Messrs. Maysmor and Blissett, a couple of large surf-boats to take the whole expedition back to Port St. Isabel. A week later we all arrived safely, with boots and clothes looking much the worse for wear, and glad indeed we were to get back to civilization again.
My leave of absence from England having nearly expired, I started by the s.s. 'Oron' on her homeward voyage, leaving my collector behind, however, to work the southern portion of the island. Principal Father Coll and Padre Albanell, of the Roman Catholic Mission, gave him much assistance in his arduous work, and after a successful trip through the Moka Valley, he returned to England with an additional hundred skins. The work of the whole expedition resulted in a series of nearly 500 specimens representing three new genera and 103 species, of which 35 have proved to be new to science. I owe this remarkable success to having traversed the high ground, my predecessors having confined their attention to the lowlands. The wealth of bird-life on the island is indeed wonderful, and proportionately larger than in the forest-region of the adjoining West Coast. The new species are in many cases remarkable, some of them possessing very distinct characters, while others seem to have their nearest allies in East Africa. Owing to the close proximity of Fernando Po to Cameroon, it is, however, to be expected that a number of these local forms will eventually be found in the latter when the highlands of that country have been thoroughly investigated.
In conclusion, it may be stated that the rich fauna of Fernando Po supports the theory that this island at one time formed part of the mainland. A large proportion of its birds are West African, while many species of its plants have been found to occur in the highlands of Abyssinia. The Peak of Fernando Po and the Cameroon Peak appear to rest on the same base, the narrow channel (30 miles wide) now separating them having a depth of only 290 feet, which suddenly falls on both sides to 600 fathoms.
The distribution of the species of birds recorded up to the present time as occurring in Fernando Po, relatively to the continent of Africa, may be stated as follows :-
Restricted to the Island
Found also in Westa Africa
Found in East Africa
Found in Africa generally
My best thanks are due to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe for his assistance in the identification of my birds.