Mungo Park, 1771-1806
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“View of Ali’s Tent”

March 12. . . . About five o’clock we came in sight of Benown, the residence of Ali. It presented to the eye a great number of dirty looking tents, scattered, without order, over a large space of ground; and among the tents appeared large herds of camels, cattle, and goats. . . . We reached at length the king’s tent, where we found a great number of people, men and women, assembled. Ali was sitting upon a black leather cushion, clipping a few hairs from his upper lip; a female attendant holding up a looking glass before him. He appeared to be an old man, of the Arab cast, with a long white beard; and he had a sullen and indignant aspect. He surveyed me with attention, and inquired of the Moors if I could speak Arabic; being answered in the negative, he appeared much surprised, and continued silent. The surrounding attendants, and especially the ladies, were abundantly more inquisitive: they asked a thousand questions; inspected every part of my apparel, searched my pockets, and obliged me to unbutton my waistcoat, and display the whiteness of my skin: they even counted my toes and fingers, as if they doubted whether I was in truth a human being. In a little time the priest announced evening prayers; but before the people departed, the Moor who had acted as interpreter, informed me that Ali was about to present me with something to eat; and looking round, I observed some boys bringing a wild hog, which they tied to one of the tent strings, and Ali made signs to me to kill and dress it for supper. Though I was very hungry, I did not think it prudent to eat any part of an animal so much detested by the Moors, and therefore told him I never eat such food. They then untied the hog, in hopes that it would run immediately at me; for they believe that a great enmity subsists between hogs and Christians; but in this they were disappointed; for the animal no sooner regained his liberty, than he began to attack indiscriminately every person that came in his way, and at last took shelter under the couch upon which the King was sitting. The assembly being thus dissolved, I was conducted to the tent of Ali’s slave, but was not permitted to enter, nor allowed to touch any thing belonging to it. I requested something to eat, and a little boiled corn, with salt and water, was at length sent to me in a wooden bowl; and a mat was spread upon the sand before the tent, on which I passed the night, surrounded by the curious multitude. [pp. 121-23]

“View of Kamalia”

Sept. 16th. . . . [A]bout two o’clock [I] reached Kamalia, a small town . . . situated at the bottom of some rocky hills, where the inhabitants collect gold in considerable quantities. . . . On my arrival at Kamalia, I was conducted to the house of a Bushreen named Karfa Taura, the brother of him to whose hospitality I was indebted at Kinyeto. He was collecting a coffle of slaves, with a view to sell them to the Europeans on the Gambia, as soon as the rains should be over. I found him sitting in his baloon, surrounded by several Slatees, who proposed to join the coffle. He was reading to them from an Arabic book; and inquired, with a smile, if I understood it? Being answered in the negative, he desired one of the Slatees to fetch the curious book, which had been brought from the west country. On opening this small volume, I was surprised, and delighted, to find it our Book of Common Prayer; and Karfa expressed great joy to hear that I could read it: for some of the Slatees, who had seen Europeans upon the Coast, observing the colour of my skin (which was now become very yellow from sickness), my long beard, ragged clothes, and extreme poverty; were unwilling to admit that I was a white man, and told Karfa, that they suspected I was some Arab in disguise. Karfa, however, perceiving that I could read this book, had no doubt concerning me; and kindly promised me every assistance in his power. . . . He added, that if I would remain with him until the rains were over, he would give me plenty of victuals in the meantime, and a hut to sleep in; and that if he conducted me in safety to the Gambia, I might then make him what return I thought proper. I asked him, if the value of one prime slave would satisfy him. He answered in the affirmative. . . . Thus was I delivered, by the friendly care of this benevolent Negro, from a situation truly deplorable. [pp. 252-54]

“View of a Bridge”

The chief of Manna, with a number of his people, accompanied us to the banks of the Basing, or Black river (a principal branch of the Senegal) which we crossed upon a bridge of bamboos, of a very singular construction; some idea of which may be formed from the annexed engraving. The river at this place is smooth and deep, and has very little current. Two small trees, when tied together by the tops, are sufficiently long to reach from one side to the other; the roots resting upon the rocks, and the tops floating in the water. When a few trees have been placed in this direction, they are covered with dry bamboos, so as to form a floating bridge, with a sloping gangway at each end, where the trees rest upon the rocks. This bridge is carried away every year by the swelling of the river in the rainy season, and is constantly rebuilt by the inhabitants of Manna, who, on that account, expect a small tribute from every passenger. [p. 338]