A Review of Carl Patrick Burrowes’ Between The Kola Forest And The Salty Sea (Part IV)
By Keith Neville Asumuyaya Best
(To Recap) A young man who told me he had read Part III, asked whether I believed Dr. Burrowes had found writing his book, “a piece of cake.”
“No, I corrected, apologizing that he had gotten that impression. We had simply tried — without trying to shut out the competition — to hint at the esoteric, (special interest in the matter and special knowledge or understanding of the historical background) indispensable to grasping the total picture of this region’s past and its ramifications, as well as Europe’s chauvinism (prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own group) and other negative activities that seem directed at the continent and its people. Accordingly, we listed the skills and experience any writer or historian would need, as well as the mindset and perspective required. Also discussed were some of the things the author had to do to ensure that the book ended up a job, well-done!
Quite some time earlier, Dr. Burrowes had set out on an ‘Odyssey,’ (a long journey) that took him wherever he needed to go to double-check everything he planned to capture in his book. That included a number of facts and details about Liberia and the sub-region that skeptics, (doubters, non-believers) might label “outrageous,” having done so little reading on either of the three topics.
Had this epic (larger-than-life) adventure — begun with European colonial intrusion into the region in the mid 1700s? Not really — even though the search for gold from the African interior that began it all would help pave the way for incoming European colonialism — and the tribulations it would rain down on the Continent. Add to that, some serious scattering of African men, women and children away from their homeland, to unknown parts of the world) and it would be the first of its kind and, probably, the first of this magnitude, (scale, size) ever, on the Continent!
No larger than the state of Ohio, these 43,000 sq. miles (Liberia) boasts a 360-mile long coastal-line that runs across the southern base of its peninsula capital, Monrovia, to the south, abutting the Atlantic Ocean. (Coastal segments outside Montserrado County might not be included in this 360-mile long costal-line mentioned above. Liberia is contiguous, (sharing common borders and cultural similarities — lifestyle, language, food staple, dress, etc.) with three other countries: The Ivory Coast, to the east, Sierra Leone, to the west and La Guinée, to the north.
The Peopling of Liberia
Beyond these immediate three nations, the sub-region’s land area pushes farther inland into a number of more-internally situated nations that the West African sub-region comprises. They include Ghana, Benin, Togo, Mali, Senegal Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger and Chad. These countries extend northward, toward the Sahara Desert, gradually drifting a bit eastward, as one goes from one country to the other.
This, and a bit more, is the sub-region — a plateau that would command the entire western world to its shores, in the name of “trade”, as the Europeans gladly anointed it, for their duplicitous (double-dealing, two-faced) purposes. Over the centuries, such “trade,” would morph (reconfigure, transform) itself into booty grabbing, that would take various forms — while a gradual domination of the communities they engaged, proceeded as predicted, in accordance with the dictates of their ‘’trade,” their vocation.
The internal or land migrants — from as far inland as the Niger River basin — obviously were in search of a greener, healthier, peaceful and, of course, prosperous situations they could control. Their sojourn is explained away in part, by what befell the nearby kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, that we already might have mentioned.
A Defining Moment
From the opposite direction across the ocean, a ship sailed and dropped anchor in the sub-region. Then came another, and yet, another, bringing strangers from distant lands. In time, for reasons best known to these travelers, the world from beyond would follow, wending its way to these shores and onward — reportedly, as far inland as the Sahel: the Saharan coast.
It is a story of the ages that memorializes, even as it celebrates, two groups of travelers — from worlds apart, thrown together along the Atlantic Coast and a little beyond these notorious forty-three thousand square miles of land at an unlikely crossroads that would work itself out and about the surrounding sub-region and its people.
It was a turning point, a defining moment, almost as though nothing in the world could have prevented the life- and death-struggle that for the rest of those lives concerned, soon would entrap these two groups of people; on the one hand, the unsuspecting (naive, innocent) Africans; on the other, the disingenuous (devious, dishonest) travelers from across the sea.
The Real Story
But the real “…story of the Liberian people,” Dr. Burrowes tells us at the onset of his book: Chapter 1, “The Eden of West Africa,” begins neither in America (referencing former captives from the U.S. and elsewhere), nor The Caribbean (people who left those areas, came back to and Africa settled on the West Coast of the Continent, in 1822 and later). No, not these few thousand square miles that remained, after the French and the English had whittled (carved, cut down to 43,000 square miles) Liberia’s current territory, now the focal point of our discussion.
Nor was it the 12th to the 15th century (some historians put it more specifically as between the 13th to the 15th century) large migration that had begun from as far as the Niger River basin. That migration seems to have coincided with the exodus of nations and tribes on their way out of the crumbling Songhay Empire — the last of the Ghana, Mali and Songhay trio — from the Western Sudan (790 to 1659 A.D.), that would “feature prominently in the peopling of Liberia, between the 13 th and the 15 th centuries, following the fall of Songhay, around 1650 A.D.” The three empires have been reported as having “defined the pre-colonial history of the region, laying the foundation for standards governing regional trade.”
Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea tells us that Liberia’s story began in East Africa, 1.5 million years ago. From this point, mankind took off only to resurface in far-flung places all over the globe.
The “Discovery” of an Era
The simple-looking items, around which the combined stories began and swirled, must have involved more than they appeared to, for some unknown reason. Dropped on a European market, starved for exotic, (foreign, striking) items, could have instigated (caused, set off) a donnybrook (brawl, free for all) among buyers drawn by the unusual appeal from the strange attraction the items seemed to exude (show, give off). That is probably what helped maintain a brisk sale for Pedro de Cintra’s 1462 gold diggers for some time until they finally spotted gold. Finally, something unusual had occurred, and the world no longer remained the same. Had this development been that big a surprise? Here is how it seems to have gone down.
As usual, the gold-seekers’ manufactured goods were ferried into West Africa from Europe, in exchange for the regular cache (supply): (malagueta spice, iron, salt and tobacco, etc., that had flourished up until then. This time around, a payload was dropped off at a port-of-call on the other side of the Atlantic that, as per the manifest, would not have been ‘of record.’ This obvious new run would culminate (end, close) the triangular voyage, thanks to a detour, off the ship’s regular itinerary: from Africa, back to Europe, to berth until the next scheduled voyage.
It was the first time in the sailing schedule, (agenda, time-table) that a ship would leave the West African coast, dash across the Atlantic to the South American Continent, changing the routine. That maneuver mapped out a triangle, already mentioned, activating what was soon to become the infamous, “Trade Triangle.” And now, for the first time what remained of the live cargo that earlier had been herded aboard as possessions or chattel, was now at the end of that perilous journey, dropped ashore as beasts of burden — headed for a lifetime of captivity, hard-labor and misery. And, for the first time — since the trade between the Europeans and the Africans began, centuries before — the cargo had turned into the 15th century gold-diggers’ gold: albeit, Black gold — “of Human Bondage” — though the Europeans would dub their trophies something less complimentary, trying to play down their crimes against humanity!
(To Be Continued.)