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West African Studies

Library of Alexandria
I pray you who may come across this book to distinguish carefully between the part of it written by others and that written by me. Anything concerning West Africa written by M. le Comte C. de Cardi or Mr. John Harford, of Bristol, does not require apology and explanation; while anything written by me on this, or any subject, does. M. le Comte de Cardi possesses an unrivalled knowledge of the natives of the Niger Delta, gained, as all West Coasters know, by personal experience, and gained in a way whereby he had to test the truth of his ideas about these natives, not against things said concerning them in books, but against the facts themselves, for years; and depending on the accuracy of his knowledge was not a theory, but his own life and property. I have always wished that men having this kind of first-hand, well-tested knowledge regarding West Africa could be induced to publish it for the benefit of students, and for the foundation of a true knowledge concerning the natives of West Africa in the minds of the general public, feeling assured that if we had this class of knowledge available, the student of ethnology would be saved from many fantastic theories, and the general public enabled to bring its influence to bear in the cause of justice, instead of in the cause of fads. I need say nothing more regarding Appendix I.; it is a mine of knowledge concerning a highly developed set of natives of the true Negro stem, particularly valuable because, during recent years, we have been singularly badly off for information on the true Negro. It would not be too much to say that, with the exception of the important series of works by the late Sir A. B. Ellis, and a few others, so few that you can count them on the fingers of one hand, and Dr. Freeman’s Ashanti and Jaman, published this year, we have practically had no reliable information on these, the most important of the races of Africa, since the eighteenth century. The general public have been dependent on the work of great East and Central African geographical explorers, like Dr. Livingstone, Mr. H. M. Stanley, Dr. Gregory, Mr. Scott Elliott, and Sir H. H. Johnston, men whose work we cannot value too highly, and whom we cannot sufficiently admire; but who, nevertheless, were not when describing Africans describing Negroes, but that great mixture of races existing in Central and East Africa whose main ingredient is Bantu. To argue from what you know about Bantus when you are dealing with Negroes is about as safe and sound as to argue from what you may know about Eastern Europeans when you are dealing with Western Europeans. Nevertheless, this fallacious method has been followed in the domain of ethnology and politics with, as might be expected, bad results. I am, therefore, very proud at being permitted by M. le Comte de Cardi to publish his statements on true Negroes; and I need not say I have in no way altered them, and that he is in no way responsible for any errors that there may be in the portions of this book written by me. Mr. John Harford, the man who first[1] opened up that still little-known Qua Ibo river, another region of Negroes, also requires no apology. I am confident that the quite unconscious picture of a West Coast trader’s life given by him in Appendix II. will do much to remove the fantastic notions held concerning West Coast traders and the manner of life they lead out there; and I am convinced that if the English public had more of this sort of material it would recognise, as I, from a fairly extensive knowledge of West Coast traders, have been forced to recognise, that they are the class of white men out there who can be trusted to manage West Africa. I most sincerely wish that the whole of this book had been written by such men as the authors of Appendices I. and II. We are seriously in want of reliable information on West African affairs. It is a sort of information you can only get from resident white men, those who live in close touch with the natives, and who are forced to know the truth about them in order to live and prosper, and from scientific trained observers. The transient traveller, passing rapidly through such a region as West Africa, is not so valuable an informant as he may be in other regions of the Earth, where his observations can be checked by those of acknowledged authorities, and supplemented by the literature of the natives to whom he refers. For on West Africa, outside Ellis’s region, there is no authority newer than the eighteenth century, and the natives have no written literature. You must, therefore, go down to Urstuff and rely only on expert observers, whose lives and property depend on their observing well, or whose science trains them to observe carefully