AFRICA THROUGH WESTERN EYES
Part 5: Papers of Frederick William Hugh Migeod and Mary Ward from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library
Letter from Migeod, 31 December 1898
“I notice there are several clerks waiting passage to Jebba. I do not know what department they are intended for, but I should be very glad to get a clerk myself. Since I have returned to Lokoja I have had neither Transport Sergeant nor Clerk, and have thus been doing all the clerical and other work of the department myself. In fact, since I first took charge I have been singularly unfortunate in my staff. I have had three Transport Sergeants whose frequent changes have rendered the getting the store accounts straight a matter of great difficulty: and six weeks during which I had a Clerk were so much time lost owing to his misdemeanours….”
General Report of the Transport Department,
31 March 1899
The following works have been completed in the last two months.
New native hospital built
Old native hospital re roofed
Two storehouses re roofed
The iron shed has also been enclosed on the sides with zanas for stowing beef
Yams still come –
in sufficient quantities although the number of rations issued in the week has stood as high as 960. Only once during the past month has there been a deficiency. The price stands close to 7/6 for 80 yams and there has so far been no agitation for an increase of price, but I hear that next month may bring a change. Native rice is scarce and the quantities I can buy insignificant.
For cattle & sheep for European use I have depended recently on local supply. The number on charge being always small there is less liability to losses. On the other hand Lokoja prices are high, and appear almost exorbitant in comparison with those ruling at outstations. With the small number of Europeans here beef becomes expensive owing to the large surplus in killing….”
Letter to Migeod from native African, Coomassie,
11 October 1913
I have the honour most highly and respectfully to approach you once more on the subject of my application for permission to bury the skul of my murdered brother.
I regret I cannot make you enter into my feelings in this matter being a native. Our people attach so much importance to such matters, that even in war they manage to convey at least a small part of the body home for burial. And in view of the fact that the place of the burial of the other part of the body is where his murderers are, I most humbly pray that I may be allowed to bury the skul in Coomassie.
I have the honour to be Sir your obedient servant, Eja Kormi his X mark
Writer and witness to mark
Central District No GIM 932
Note: The murdered man was a Krepi (one of the Efe tribes). The skull had been kept by the Court for evidence. It was duly handed over and buried in one of the cemeteries at Coomassie.”
Letter to Migeod from native African, Sekondi,
23 August 1911
“This is to certify that my Husband Mr Tormandoh have paid the sum of £12 (Twelve pounds) on my head (as a rule of native customs marriage of the Gold Coast) about two years and one month ago and have faithfully promised that he have right to claim £7 only from me (from the above amount of £12) that is when I left him or the man I shall then marry to. But should he left or sack me without a cause then the whole amount has become lost and lost all claims from me.
Arabah Jane X Her mark
C T Stephens
Writer and Witness to mark”
Papers of Mary Ward (1866-1965)
Letter from Mary Ward to her sister, Florence Anne, Lokoja, 30 July 1901
I have arrived so far on my journey. We were past a month getting here, 5 days on the river, it was a rather monotonous voyage, both the sea, and the river. The river is very full now so we kept mid stream and so could not see much of the country and the banks were all covered so there were no alligators or hippos to be seen. We were very disappointed to find on reaching here that I am to go to Jebba, and Miss Nevill is to stay here. It is very annoying as we had bought a good many things together meaning to share them. We bought a saddle between us and we intended to share a pony too. I am just waiting here for a boat to proceed on…. We received a very warm welcome here and find that a fine new house has been built in our absence though it is rather more in the bush even than it was before. We have a watchman but I don’t think he is of very much use for the night one of the Sisters had a monkey taken by some wild beast from her room and the following night I was sleeping with one ear open as I also had a monkey in my room and I woke to find one man in my room fumbling with one of my boxes and another outside waiting I suppose to help carry away the spoil…. I shouted for the watchman but he was nowhere to be found, now I barricade my door way with my bath etc so if any intruders come they will have something to fall over….”
Letter to Prayer Helpers by A G Fraser, Principal taken from the Newsletter of the Prince of Wales College, Achimota, Accra, April 1925
“…. As it is my last letter for a time, it is going to be a long one, for I am going to write on our biggest problems here….
First, there is the question of denationalization. How are we to educate the African and yet see to it that we do not take him clean away from his people? It must be remembered that the schools are not the only, nor are they the main factor in educating, and in denationalising the African here to-day. Unless this is clearly remembered, our school policy is sure to go wrong….
Again, the old society was largely held together by the need of preparedness for war and by religious sanctions. With the Pax Britannica, the first cement has gone. And the faith in the old Ju Ju religion is sorely shaken. It remains in part, but the presence of strangers who have no fear of Ju Ju and are unaffected by it, the mixing with travelled Africans who pay it scant respect, have so weakened its power that it no longer commands the dread which made it powerful as a safeguard of the morals of the village or tribe. Much of the old was bound to go, and the sooner it went the better. But there is more than a tendency to fling away the whole of the heritage of the past and to despise it. And those who do so are infinitely the poorer for so doing.
Well, quite obviously, the schools cannot nationalize the African. We cannot re-make the African in his own image. But we can try to see that he understands the new factors that are coming into his country so rapidly, the meaning of the changes they are effecting, and the nature of the traditional laws, customs and lore threatened. We can show him parallels elsewhere and help him to study them and think on them….
The Education of Boys and Girls
…. Women here are of more importance, if possible, than even in most other lands. The Queen mothers and the sisters of the local chiefs or kings are the powers behind the throne. With them rather than with the men, are the traditions of the stool or throne, and through the women, in most of the Gold Coast, and not through the men, is descent traced. It is not the chief’s son, but the sister’s son, for instance, who inherits. If one wishes one’s way towards local improvements made easy, one has to get not so much the chief as the leading woman on one’s side….
But there is another point more important still. The curse of Africa, as far as I have seen it in Uganda, and even more here, is not drink or any such thing, but gross over-indulgence in sexuality, whether in marriage or out of it. In Mission Schools it is not unusual for the missionaries to teach their girls to regard men as dangerous animals, so far as I can see, and they are debarred from any communication with boys. But that does not help matters really. It keeps them separated whilst they are at school, only to give them a bad conscience when they have to meet later, and when the barrier comes down, it comes down with a smash….”
Report on a visit to the Northern Peoples by A G Fraser, Principal taken from the Newsletter of the Prince of Wales College, Achimota, Accra, April 1928
“…. The villages of some of the tribes are curiously constructed. They desire to keep out wild beasts and evil spirits, so they are surrounded by a high gateless wall. These walls are ascended by trunks of trees which have foot holds cut in them, and which are leant up against the walls at short intervals. Once on the top of the wall one finds oneself on a large flat mud roof, whereon the villagers walk as on a promenade. In the roof are holes about 8 ft square: more notched tree trunks lead down into well-like places, and they prove to be the courtyards of the private houses of the village which have their rooms and stores opening off them.
The dress of some of these Northern peoples is as scanty as any I have seen. Most of the younger men wear a small loin cloth, those that have wandered afar for trade and employment may wear more. Many of the women wear a string round the waist with a leaf in front and two or three leaves behind, but some do not wear even the string…. Very, very few wear beads or ornaments of any kind. I have seen other races where there was as least as much nakedness as here, but I have not seen any others with so few ornaments. The people have excellent voices: we have heard labourers chanting as they marched with their thatching material, and their singing is excellent.
Lions abound up here, and we passed a place where they had carried off a man and a woman the previous week, but we ourselves have seen none. Rushing, though, as we are doing, and mainly concentrating on the centres of population, we would have been lucky if we had seen them. I have found some ancient stone implements, an axe head, an arrow tip, etc not very good ones for the most part, but interesting. They are made of quartz. The people are artistic I should judge. The almost complete absence of decoration of their persons is not paralleled in their houses or daily utensils…. not only are their houses beautifully polished and ornamented, but their daily field baskets, their whistles, stools and pipes, as well as their pottery, have care and skill and beauty lavished on them. Their colours too are well chosen. They dig up and smelt their own iron and make their own spades, axes and hunting weapons. At present they are not so cheery as a crowd at the Coast would be, though very friendly. They have had two had harvests, and many are gaunt and lean, and all are said to be hungry. That must have a considerable effect on their spirits. Many are tall and well built, and some very good looking judged by any standards….”
Description by Mary Ward of her first journey to Lokoja, Nigeria, 1899
“…. The journey up river was very pleasant, & once we got away from the mangrove swamps very interesting. The river was very low and we frequently bumped on to a sandbank – this became more frequent as we got higher up. We passed through country un-inhabited but frequently came upon a small village consisting of a few native huts – always at the entrance the ju ju house with their offering of fowls. At last we heard that we were coming to a proper village. Asaba was one side of the river and a small station. On the other side were some white men in business to take over from the Royal Niger Company. At Asaba the river did not permit of our going any further. Here there was a large house in which lived the local medical officer to the Niger Co and into which he admitted certain white patients…. This man, Dr Adams, was a woman hater and to him was broken the news that he was to give the three white women lunch. But, to his consternation, he found them followed by a number of boys with all their luggage and loads and gradually it was told him that he was to accommodate all three until the river rose sufficiently for them to proceed up country to Lokoja. However Dr Adams settled down to his duty. The nurses helped by doing mending for him in the mornings, and following an afternoon rest he used to take us for walks showing us the sights & after dinner he taught us to play Patience….”