Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/775

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
749
LIFE AT THE CAMEROONS.

to go alone and disport himself in the water to his heart's content. At the same time he begins to fish, using four lines at once—two attached to his big toes as his feet hang over the side of the boat, and two held in his hands. It is a curious spectacle indeed to see him pulling in first one foot and then the other, as a fish has been caught upon it, and at the same time gesticulating with his arms to keep the boat in position and manage the lines in his hand. As he fishes the boat is allowed to drift down the stream; but the pulling back absorbs his entire attention. Crab-fishing comes in about every two years, when the crustaceans occupy the water so thickly that they can be caught as fast as they can be taken out with the hands.

For the chief dish at his breakfast or dinner he receives a hash of various vegetables, baked or packed sausage-fashion in leaves. Rice, bought from the factories, and pilot-bread from the ships, are becoming common, and are regarded as delicacies. A favorite dish is made of chicken and yams, cooked, with pepper-pods, in palm oil. The youth eats his meal in company with his mother and brothers and sisters, and is allowed only in exceptional cases to share his father's usually solitary repast. By "brothers and sisters" are understood only children of the same mother; the others are the sons and daughters of his father. I learned this when I asked my little companion Akuelle, a son of King Bell, who was the other youth with us. "He is a son of King Bell," was the reply. "Then he is your brother?" "No, doctor, he has another mother." When the child is nine years old he is shorn and counted among the men. If his father is rich, a wife is bought for him, but the couple are not expected to live together for some years yet. During his earlier years the negro of this part of Guinea is conspicuously intelligent and a most pleasing companion. But his good qualities disappear with the passing away of his youth, and he becomes the false, idle, quarrelsome African of the factories.

The breech-clout constitutes the usual clothing of the men. A small apron is also worn, so that if the former piece becomes oppressive it can be taken off without the man being wholly naked. Articles of European clothing are often worn, but only on the upper part of the body; trousers have not yet been admitted to the Cameroons wardrobe. King Bell wears also a stove-pipe hat, which he manages to keep always looking new.

The birth of a girl is received with great joy, as a costless acquisition of wealth, for she is sure when she becomes marriageable to bring a goodly sum. The purchaser may come from the same village or from another, but is more welcome in the latter case, for then he will have to pay more. The child grows up under the eyes of her mother, and is taught by her to cook, work