Claudia Gualtieri





I showed our native guide a map of Hausaland. On my proceeding to name off in succession the places which lay along certain well-known routes, his astonishment knew no bounds, and he ran off to tell some of the others of the marvellous power of the Englishman's paper.
Probably no country in the world, civilised or uncivilised, is better supplied with paths than this unmapped continent.
Charles Robinson, Hausaland
In the "contact-zone"1 of European colonial encounters with other peoples, processes of representation were triggered and developed which drew on and, in turn, helped to inform the cultural imagery, preconceptions, symbolic constructions, and narratives of a culture about other cultures2. One of the ways in which representations and narrations of colonised peoples and countries are encoded in colonial discourse is through the fabrication of the "exotic" by which a generalised non-European Other is constructed as "fascinating" and "different". In nineteenth-century colonial exotic representations, the Other's difference stands for primitivism, savagery, inferiority, and the lack of a history in the European sense (that of powerful nation-states). And the colonisers' fascination includes both attraction and repulsion, curiosity and detachment, marvel and disgust. By affirming European superiority over the Other (like many European colonial stereotypes which, according to Edward Said's theory of Orientalism, homogenise non-European peoples in a non-specific entity without an identity, a culture, and a history worth comparing to the European ones)3 the fabrication of the exotic helps to justify "civilising missions" and to sustain colonial enterprises4.
However, as products of colonial encounters and markers of epistemological problems, exotic representations also expound "reciprocity" among cultures which meet and interact. Not always in colonial encounters does interaction occur in terms of successful communication. On the contrary, communication is often distorted, among other things, by the colonisers' attitude of racial, cultural, economical, and political superiority to the colonised. Therefore, the epistemological encounter is founded on opposition and interaction, contrast and agreement, incomprehension and dialogue, expectation, disillusionment, and adjustment. As the epigraphs to this essay illustrate, the Other's specificity emerges in colonial narratives which is evident in how the geography and history both of colonial and colonised countries are constructed. Colonial representations of conquered lands - Africa in the epigraphs - show maps which do not fit local geography. Yet, reciprocity is a mode of negotiating meaning between the colonisers' perception of the lands they are "discovering" and "drawing" on their charts and the local people's apprehension of the land where they live5. In addition, as will be shown, reciprocity is manifest in how colonial travellers often compare their land with those newly visited, and how they also endorse themselves and their home-country with exotic features. By so doing, they overlap the history of Britain with that of the place they are visiting, thus turning what is familiar into exotic while familiarising what is new to them.
The overall purpose of this paper is to show how colonial representations - such as the exotic - include and reveal reciprocity among cultures. It is important to acknowledge that the dominance and pervasiveness of colonial discourse - as a discourse of power - makes it difficult to detect this reciprocity which is partly concealed under overwhelming colonial canons and conventions. Certainly, the process of fabrication of the Other in Western thought takes place at the same time both at home and in places distant from home6. Colonial prejudices, preconditioned fabrications, cultural and literary conventions show how official colonial discourse operates in setting up exotic images of West Africa in colonial texts. However, as Diane Macdonell argues in Theories of Discourse, ideologies as systems of meaning are produced in political, social, and cultural institutions; and prevailing institutional practices reinforce social conflicts. Therefore, the modes of existence of imperial ideas and meaning which are set up within specific apparatus can be examined and questioned. Because the field of discourse is a place of struggle and resistance, counter-discourses and reverse perspectives operate on the same ground of official discourse7. It is exactly the clash and interaction between official colonial discourse and reciprocity, and ways in which meaning is negotiated in exotic representations of West Africa which will be at issue in the following exposition. Yet, in "Resistance theory" Benita Parry warns us that to expound reciprocity in colonial discourse is not enough to strip it of its power: "while the reciprocity of the colonial relationship is stressed, all powers remain with western discourse"8. Parry argues for critical interrogations of colonial resistance by looking at "transcriptions and improvisations of dissent", by attempting to retain their "imaginary freedom", and by registering "decolonising struggles as emancipatory projects"9. Therefore, an examination of reciprocity in colonial discourse may be only a first step towards an effective critique of western colonial powers.
This paper will explore reciprocity (between colonial official and individual responses as well as between native-born people and colonisers) in connection to displacement (on the part of travellers) in the fabrication of exotic images of West Africa (and Britain, by a reverse process) in Richard and John Lander's Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Course and the Termination of the Niger (1832)10. Reciprocity complicates and at the same time backs up my original paradigm of the exotic as characterised by the negation of the Other's official history from a Western perspective, by the travellers' fascination at their discoveries and new encounters, and by a blurring of who and which is on the inside and on the outside of colonial exotic representations.
In the nineteenth century, British colonial travellers went to West Africa for various reasons: exploration, adventure, trade, and missionary work were among them. At the beginning of the century very little was known in Europe about the land and peoples north of the coastal strip of Western Africa, in spite of the fact that the Portuguese had traded with the Gold Coast from the fifteenth century. Only a very thin strip of coast, where trade posts and harbours were located, was accessible to Europeans. Not many miles northward away from the coast, the forest belt which stretched from East to West marking a long line blocked penetration. For centuries until colonial times the forest and the land close to it had remained unknown. Western maps of Africa of the time had an empty space. For centuries native-born people had reached the coast from different parts in the interior of the African continent taking with them local products for trading purposes and slaves. They brought information about the many lands they had traversed which were unknown to Europeans. Local and colonial maps of West Africa overlap but do not fit, though there is a dialogue among the different ways of looking at space and time, maps and facts, geography and history in cultures.
Richard and John Lander's Journal is particularly interesting because it reports on a momentous event of West African explorations. The text registers the journey of "discovery" of the lower course and mouth of the River Niger. It is a three-volume narrative of the expedition from Cape Coast up-river to Boossa and Rabba and finally down-river to the Niger Delta, Fernando Po, and Calabar11. The report is interesting from a stylistic point of view for the description of lands and people, as well as for the travellers' attitude to the place. It is long, verbose and very descriptive but intriguing for the analysis of ways in which the West African exotic is constructed.
The expression of the travellers' fascination at the new place - which is narrated through the mode of curiosity - is a constitutive notion of the exotic. And the travellers' account of new encounters is one of the main features of the text. It is a narrative written with immediacy, as the Lander brothers explain in their "Address to the Public" in Journal:
Our journals were invariably written on the spot at the close of each day […]. We have made no alterations […] because it was intimated to us, that the public would prefer it in that state, however faulty in style, rather than a more elaborate narrative, which might gain less in elegance than it would lose in accuracy and vividness of description ( J, pp. viii-ix).
Yet, immediacy does not only serve the purpose of spontaneity and vividness but also produces an impact on the reader with a "faithful account" obtained by adhering "religiously to the truth" (J, p. viii) - "a British Public are to be our judges, and on their candour and generosity we confidently rely" (J, p. vii). Truth is like religious faith, and reporting accurately what occurred to their national audience is a moral endeavour for these travellers. In colonial discourse in general, and in this example in particular, immediacy sanctions the authority of the travellers/writers and gives credibility to their narrative. However, direct descriptions also voice straightforward attitudes to new encounters. In fact, contrastive notions are often detectable when we examine a complex fabrication such as the exotic.
Now it is the idea of immediacy, and of curiosity related to it, which I want to look at from a contrastive perspective. In fact, I consider nineteenth-century British travel reports impressive in recounting new experiences, but I also argue that it is not a "first wonder" which they voice in the way it was expressed by Columbus - the wonder at the New World - and by the explorers of the Renaissance. My claim is supported by Paul Fussell's argument in Abroad when he suggests that travellers contribute in widening the knowledge of what has already been "discovered"12. For example, Richard and John Lander's Journal is not a narrative of "first" experience. At that time a system for exploration, trade, and territorial occupation was established in Britain and in Europe towards West Africa. And Richard Lander, the servant of Captain Clapperton, had participated in the previous Bornu Mission around Lake Chad and in search of the Niger in 1825-182713. From this perspective, the notion of curiosity which informs the fabrication of the exotic of West Africa in British travel reports is different from the "first wonder" which was narrated in Renaissance travel writings. This becomes clear when looking at colonial stereotypes as ready-made constructions of the Other, at literary conventions as expressions of epistemological and aesthetic models according to which the world is looked at, apprehended and narrated, at the deflection of the travellers' curiosity in the form of the indigenous people's curiosity, and at the travellers' nostalgia and melancholy.
An element which might help to clarify the notion of "not a first wonder" with respect to West Africa is the colonial idea of Africa as an empty (almost a non-existent) space. No matter how old European knowledge of, and contacts with Africa were, by the nineteenth century the place was still for the greatest part a mystery to Europeans. Africa paradoxically did not exist in spite of its known presence. Many expeditions were therefore sent to Africa in order to construct it, to give it a substance and a material existence before European occupation. As the epigraphs anticipates, the geography of West Africa was gradually constructed by European and British travellers on their maps. As Charles Robinson reports in Hausaland (1896)14, the processes of drawing and naming Africa are colonial acts of creations, Western "magic" formulas by virtue of which West African routes become "real". Although "well-known", these routes do not exist if they are not written on British maps. Has a native-born a map? Apparently not, for the colonisers. "The marvellous power of the Englishman's paper" names Africa. These maps give Africa a space and a time, a presence in the official geography and history of the Western world.
In colonial discourse in general, naming is a momentous act of appropriation, as such it applies to all relations between coloniser and colonised. What is specific of West Africa and of other parts of "black" Africa is the concentration of negatives by which they are connoted - such as the myth of darkness - and which for the coloniser does not make Africa worth existing in its original state. Has a native-born a history? Local knowledge of routes, rivers and villages, as well as local stories do not aim at building great nation-states: the most successful political organisations of modern times which justify themselves by means of official and politically sophisticated history. For Europeans, West African history is not modern in this sense, it is mainly a concentration of primitive rituals, hearsay, casual events, fights between rival ethnic groups which are of interest to the colonisers because they satisfy their curiosity about unknown parts of earth and as far as they help successful exploration and colonisation.
According to the nineteenth-century Western ideology, dominion is enforced by history as "a position from which Western civilisation views its relationship not only to cultures and civilisations preceding it but also to those contemporary with it in time and contiguous with it in space" as Hayden White argues in Metahistory 15. Nationalism is a paramount expression of this ideology, and the idea of "home-country" is a point of reference, the epistemological model according to which other places and people are looked at and written about. Local stories are an integral part of travel reports. They are interpreted through colonial ideology by establishing a comparative relationship with the "home-country". The comparison inevitably accounts for British superiority as far as the colonial power of a nation-state is concerned.
However, indigenous people also participate in the travellers' official and individual process of constructing West Africa (for instance when Robinson narrates of their astonishment at his map) and a form of reciprocity intervenes in the Western epistemological model of the nation-state, Britain, "home". Reciprocity may operate in disparate ways and produce quite contrasting effects in the examined text. For example, local rituals are shared and used by the travellers in order to declare some forms of affiliation to obtain favours from the local people. But rituals also capture the travellers' curiosity so that opposing responses - namely affiliation and curiosity, appropriation and fascination - are manifest on the part of the coloniser. Also the idea of "home" provides the ideal image of a powerful nation-state but it also takes a double form of escape from home and nostalgia for home. In some instances, the travellers' curiosity about their new experience is turned from West Africa to Britain, so that the latter, i.e. "home", is both a familiar and a "new", dreamed of, place. What is more, the description of the indigenous people's curiosity about the newcomers overlaps with that of the travellers and signals a deflection in the explorers' perception of the place.
The narration of the indigenous people's curiosity may be seen as a mode of colonial anxiety. It confirms for the travellers their strangeness and displacement in the explored place. In earlier discourses of discovery, Columbus decodes and interprets native-born Americans' marvel at the people coming from the sea by translating their expressions and gestures into his own words according to his culture and world-view. As Todorov has argued in The Conquest of America, this linguistic act is a relevant means of appropriation. In nineteenth-century travel reports of West Africa this function of language mingles with its failure to describe new experiences. On many an occasion English words are said not to be suitable for recounting West African land, phenomena, and people. On the one hand, colonial stereotypes provide British explorers and writers with conventional images of West African people. On the other hand, the indigenous people's curiosity as well as their protective attitude to their own cultures signal problems of communication and understanding. Quite often travellers narrate local stories as they heard them from the native-born people. These stories sometimes provide useful information for journeys inland, but often mark for the traveller an epistemological difficulty. This is evident in the use of geographical names where different words refer to the same place. But the opposite is also clear, when the same words are used with different meanings. Particularly local oral narratives, in which visible and invisible facts are considered as belonging to the same order of events, signal a problem of understanding for the colonisers. Apparently, no epistemological difficulty is signalled between British colonial writers and their readers who share the same cultural preconceptions and world-view.
Richard and John Lander's Journal opens with conventional addresses which were quite common in travel reports at that time: a homage to the sponsor of the expedition - "To the right honourable Viscount Gederich, his Majesty's Principal Secretary of the State for the colonies" - and a speech to the readers. Both passages help to include the Lander brothers' mission in the line of official expeditions sponsored by national institutions (or by their representatives), inspired by patriotism, and performed for the good of the colonising nation and its people: "In remembrance of the patriotic interest which his lordship has taken in the discovery they record; and in token of gratitude for the patronage which his benevolence has conferred on the authors, these volumes are, with his lordship's permission, humbly inscribed, by his most obedient and faithful servants, Richard and John Lander" (J, dedication). This obsequious style is a particular characteristic of the Landers' narrative. If we accept their justification that they were not educated people, but only servants, we understand why grammar and spelling mistakes can be found in the text and why the writers themselves often deplore their incapacity at using language properly for literary purposes. Richard writes: "[I] have regretted a thousand times over that my ignorance incapacitates me from giving a proper representation of them [multicoloured birds and thick trees], or describing the simplest flower that adorns the plains, or the smallest insect that sparkles in the air" (J, vol. 1, p. 122). The Landers' style also serves different purposes which are part of official colonial discourse of travel writing at that time.
A servile tone is used in the "Address to the Public" - "It is with considerable diffidence we presume to lay our imperfect labours before the world" (J, p. vii) - in order to establish a privileged discourse between writers and readers by asking for sympathy. Readers are invited to trust the narrative for two main reasons: the truthfulness of the account, based on experienced facts, and the dangers and pain which the travellers underwent for the cause of the nation: "Surely when our countrymen reflect, even for a moment, on the disadvantages against which we had to struggle, and the difficulties under which we laboured, they will not exercise too much severity of criticism" ( J, p. vii). As a male discourse for fellow countrymen, the Landers' Journal reports on a struggle against a hostile Africa: the "painful journey", the "disabilitating effects of the African climate", "to experience a degree of languor which not even the warmest enthusiasm could wholly overcome [made] our spirits often [sink] under the depressing influence of this powerful adversary, whose inroads on our constitutions we had no means of resisting" ( J, p. viii). Only the Bible (and Psalms) provides the travellers with protection, as when they escape an attack at Bocqua (just below the confluence of the Niger and the Benué): "For the Almighty has, indeed, to use the words of the Psalmist of Israel, 'delivered our soul from death, and our feet from falling; and preserved us from any terror by night, and from the arrow that flieth by day; from the pestilence that walketh in darkness; and from the sickness that destroyeth at noon-day'" ( J, vol. 3, p. 80).
References to Victorian religious ideas and morality help to establish a common understanding between writers and readers. Both in Journal and in Richard Lander's Records of his previous journey with Clapperton, the tone is generally modest. It aims at highlighting the travellers' unselfishness and their devotion to the national cause. Sometimes it is emotionally exaggerated in order to stress their honesty and loyalty. Quite often the travellers' enterprises are magnified to a great extent and their descriptions are full of exclamations which underline the importance of their actions for the common good in contrast with the native-born people's arrogance. The Landers describe an attack near Bocqua which a "band of wild men, with their ferocious looks and hostile appearance" (J, vol. 3, p. 75) attempted against their encampment. "To persons peaceably inclined, like ourselves, and who had done them no harm", they recount, it was with "the most painful anxiety" that they threw down their pistols and "walked very composedly, and unarmed" towards the chief ( J, vol. 3, p. 76).
In critical moments such as this, explorers enjoy the protection of God - "This was a highly critical moment - the next might be our last. But the hand of Providence averted the blow" ( J, vol. 3, p. 76) - and have the "natural" power which race and national origin give them:
The chief looked up full in our faces, kneeling on the ground - light seemed to flash from his dark rolling eyes - his body was convulsed all over, as though he were enduring the utmost torture, and with a timorous, yet undefinable, expression of countenance, in which all the passions of our nature were strangely blended, he drooped [sic] his head, eagerly grasped our proferred hands, and burst into tears. This was a sigh of friendship - harmony followed, and war and bloodshed were thought of no more ( J, vol. 3, pp. 76-77).
According to the Landers, the indigenous people understand the white men's signs of peace and accept them in worship. A miracle happens when Providence intervenes on the travellers' side and seems to redeem the local chief. Light in his eyes and convulsion in his body are divine signs which dominate his passions. "The passions of our nature", as the Landers call them, are common to mankind, but they are controlled and civilised in the British, whereas they are still in their primitive form in the native-born people. In the description, the travellers are said to be perceived by the local people as the medium through which God acts. But the Christian God whom the colonisers claim to be emissaries of, is not the same God(s) indigenous people believe the colonisers to represent. After the event, when the Landers are received by the Chief, he explains that they wanted to attack the strangers who had arrived at the market-place: "'But when you came to meet us unarmed, and we saw your white faces, we were all so frightened that we could not pull our bows, nor move hand or foot; when you drew near me, and extended your hands towards me, I felt my heart faint within me, and believed that you were "Children of Heaven," and had dropped from the skies'" ( J, vol. 3, p. 79). The travellers' magic power coming from God and expressed through "our white faces and calm behaviour" in the Landers' text is a popular colonial theme. According to it, the two ideas - namely the white men as emissaries of the Christian God and as personifications of the Gods of the indigenous people - are blurred and fused into one.
Literary conventions as well as colonial stereotypes about West Africans intervene in the travellers' apprehension of the new place, in their curiosity about West Africa, and in their description of it. Travellers and writers of the time exploit ready-made pictures and descriptions of the Other throughout their narratives. In some cases they magnify the Other's primitive traits by describing stereotyped characteristics: all armed villagers "ran about as though they were possessed of evil spirits - they twanged their bowstrings, fired off their muskets, shook their spears, clattered their quivers, danced, put their bodies into all manners of ridiculous positions, laughed, cried, and sung in rapid succession - they were like a troop of maniacs. Never was a spectacle more wild and terrific" (J, vol. 3, p. 78). In other instances they denounce the failure of imagination and words to understand and narrate the Other: "the spectacle altogether was odd and grotesque beyond description, and such an one could never enter into the dreams or waking visions of an European" (J, vol. 2, p. 164). However, the colonial stereotype is still detectable in the description, where something that could ever enter the dreams or waking visions of a European stands for unimaginable and unspeakable occurrences. From one perspective, colonial stereotypes help to fix the Other into one mode of being - the spectacle was odd and grotesque - so that their characteristics are virtually already known to the travellers and their readers before any physical encounter occurs. And encounters will eventually confirm the stereotype. In the passage West African people excite the travellers' curiosity only to be fitted into Western models. From another perspective, stereotypes cannot describe the Other, because they exceed colonial qualifications - the spectacle was beyond description. Because they fail to represent exhaustively the Other, colonial stereotypes do not prevent the travellers' curiosity from being aroused. They help to formulate descriptions which draw on, and in turn inform and modify the stereotype according to which a nation, and therefore its people, look at and interpret the Other.
Colonial stereotypes are used in travel writing as a cultural means to help understanding and communication for the British. By contrast, they often hinder them. Because of this ambivalence, colonial stereotypes in travel reports are yet another feature of the exotic in West Africa - namely the expression of the traveller's curiosity through conventional images. Stereotypes are fabricated according to a comparative relationship of resemblance with or, on the contrary, of exaggerated difference from "home". This process is evident in the Landers' Journal where England is a constant allusion, as if West Africa would undergo an impossible, though necessary process of identification with it. As regards history, England is a model for nation-building, with reference to nature it is endowed with remarkable characteristics. The Landers test West African history and nature respectively according to European nationalism and the aesthetic conventions of the picturesque, the sublime, and of Romantic ideas and feelings about nature.
However, descriptions of people, of how they dress and behave, interest the Landers more than nature. West African kings and queens have some resemblance with British sovereigns, because of their regal status. Kings and soldiers particularly attract the travellers' curiosity. At a horse race at Kaiama knights are remarkable figures who concentrate beauty and strength: "The sun shone gloriously on the tobes of green, white, yellow, blue, and crimson, as they fluttered in the breeze; and with the fanciful caps, the glittering spears, the jingling of the horses' bells, the animated looks and warlike bearing of their riders, presented one of the most extraordinary and pleasing sights that we have ever witnessed" (J, vol. 1, pp. 243-244). And in the forest horsemen and warriors recall visions of Western history as well as mental associations with conventional exotic images of the East: "The appearance of our warlike and romantic escort was also highly amusing. They were clad in the fashion of the East, and sought their way between the trees on our right and left; but sometimes they fell in our rear, and then again dashed suddenly by us with astonishing swiftness, looking as wild as the scenery through which their chargers bounded" (J, vol. 1, p. 223). What is West African in the passage is the forest, where the people of the escort move quite mysteriously, the reflection of the moon-beams on their polished spears and silver caps, and "the luminous fire-fly [which] appeared in the air like rising and falling particles of flames" (J, vol. 1, p. 223). Fictitious characters from past British history are located in the West African setting and overlap "real" people. It is a recurrent technique of superimposition in Journal where the details of the described scene are seen as corresponding (or not) to the epistemological model used by the observers.
European nationalism is the model according to which the official history of West Africa is looked at. The Landers listen to the King of Boossa's speech keeping his Majesty of England in mind as a reference. The local king seems to be an example of good sovereign: he is noble and austere, he rules over an empire, he is in charge of his people's welfare, he is their guide, mentor, and authority:
If such a comparison may be ventured on, the commencement of his speech was in its nature not much unlike that delivered on the opening of parliament by his Majesty of England. The King of Boossà began by assuring his people of the internal tranquillity of the empire, and of the friendly disposition of foreign powers towards him. He then exhorted his hearers to attend to the cultivation of the soil, to work diligently, and live temperately; and concluded with an injunction for them all to be abstemious in the use of beer. […] "Go; retire to rest soberly and cheerfully," said the king, "and do as I have requested you, when you will be an example to your neighbours, and win the good opinion and applause of mankind." The king's speech lasted for three-quarters of an hour. He spoke vehemently and with much eloquence; his language was forcible and impressive, and his action appropriate and commanding; and he dismissed the assembly with a graceful and noble air. Instead of a sceptre the monarch flourished the tuft of a lion's tail ( J, vol. 2, pp. 166-167).
But his sceptre, the tangible sign of power, is not that of a king, therefore it is not officially recognisable as asserting his authority in ways Western people would accept it. His sceptre might in fact be seen as a fetish, a superstitious symbol which downgrades the local king's political power and the history (if any for the colonisers) of his people. However, the colonial attempt to familiarise and to domesticate the Other cannot proceed further: difference still remains.
In the Landers' opinion, African people are not ready for building nations for many reasons. Their attitudes are said not to be what is needed for the purpose, their minds and will are far away from ideas such as "people" and "nation". This is clear when the Landers consider how the Falatah have occupied the region of Katunga without opposition from the people who live there: "Such unconcern and apathy pervade the minds of the monarch and his ministry, that the wandering and ambitious Falàtah has penetrated into the very heart of the country, made himself master of two of its most important and flourishing towns" ( J, vol. 1, p. 178). None of the values which inspire a people to build up and defend their nation seem to interest the local inhabitants; neither collective nor individual cause stimulates them to look at their future history as the Landers would see it:
Neither the love of country, which stimulates almost all nations to heroic achievements in defence of their just and natural rights, and all that is truly dear to them in the world; since neither affection for their defenceless wives and unprotected offspring, nor love of self can awaken a single spark of courage or patriotism in their bosoms, can scare away that demon sloth from among them, or induce them to make a solitary exertion to save themselves and posterity, from a foreign yoke ( J, vol. 1, pp. 178-179).
For the writers, nations born from "just and natural rights" must maintain their power. The origin of a nation, the abnegation of its people for a common ideal, the past, present, and future prestige of a country and of a race are what can be called a nation. And a nation has something to teach, it is a model and a guide. Thus the Landers explain why the people of Katunga "are surely unworthy to be called a people; they deserve to be deprived of their effects, children, and personal liberty, to have their habitual sloth and listlessness converted into labour and usefulness, in tilling, improving, and beautifying for strangers that soil, which they have neither spirit nor inclination to cultivate for themselves" ( J, vol. 1, p. 179). The Landers use a common strategy in colonial discourse of defining one group - the people of Katunga - as effeminate and weak, and by contrast the colonisers as strong and spirited. For the Landers, native-born kings and soldiers have better opportunities to emulate the British, because of their status. In this respect, the Other is not fixed, but it shifts in Western imagination according to political expediency. The same technique of comparison is applied to a description of the Falatah. The difference between the British and the Falatah is not stated but can be inferred. The Falatah are not a nation themselves, they are warriors and impose their dominion to satisfy their ambition. They fight for the sake of fighting without any conception of order and of reasoned activity. A constant notion is that the British can teach indigenous peoples how to work and improve their land. Subjugation is therefore justified by the Victorian ideal of work-ethics transmitted through education.
In many instances West African people are said to be in need of guidance, because of their primitive vision of the world. As the Landers write, local people magnified their own actions and if a British traveller questioned them "their love for the marvellous could not so easily be eradicated from their mind, and they turned a deaf ear to his remarks" (J, vol. 2, p. 146). Their individual and social life is said to be governed by primitive beliefs, which once were part of the Western vision of the world, but at present a faith in these traditional inexplicable ideas marks a distinction between educated and ignorant people in British society: "Any kind of inanimate substance is made fetìsh by the credulous, stupid native-born people and, like the horse-shoe, which is still nailed to the doors of the more superstitious of the peasantry in England, these fetìshes are supposed to preserve them from ghosts and evil spirits" (J, vol. 1, p. 133). The Landers acknowledge that points of view are not the same among people belonging to the same society, though this marks a hierarchical difference in their status.
Inevitably different cultures presuppose different visions of the world. In fact West African peoples are said to look at the travellers from particular angles according to which what is familiar to a culture is unfamiliar to another. The Landers narrate: "The people stand gazing at us with visible emotions of amusement and terror; we are regarded, in fact, in just the same light as the fiercest tigers in England" (J, vol. 3, p. 33). The juxtaposition of "tigers" and "England" signals a relationship of unfamiliarity - like the one between West African people and the British travellers - considered from a British perspective. It is interesting to notice that one of the terms of the comparison - tigers - is not at all specific of West Africa. Tigers live in India and in some regions of Southern Asia. However, it was commonplace in seventeenth - and eighteenth-century Britain to consider wild animals in general as living in Africa, thus collapsing rep and resentations of Africa and of the Orient in homogeneous exotic fabrications. Therefore, in the Landers' view, West African indigenous people should be more familiar with tigers than with British travellers. But the terms of the relationship do not fit the example unless the word "tigers" be read as "wild animals" to which the native-born people should be more accustomed. Different readings are also plausible in the light of the travellers' mode of attributing exotic traits to their "home" which will be illustrated in the following pages.
Another example of the Landers' interpretation of the indigenous people's behaviour - which results in representations of the travellers as exotic - is given in the following description. At Bocqua, just below the confluence of the Niger and the Benué: "a village suddenly opened before [our men]. However, it happened to contain only women; but these were terrified beyond measure at the sudden and abrupt entrance of strange-looking men, whose language they did not know, and whose business they could not understand, and they all ran out in a fright into the woods" ( J, vol. 3, p. 73). Yet, the writers' interpretation of the indigenous people's curiosity, amusement, and terror at them is a superimposition of ways in which the Landers themselves would look at strangers in their country, or better of ways in which they would look at strangers if they were native-born people, but with a knowledge of West Africa like the one they had acquired in Britain. This example also supports my claim that not only fixed contrastive discourses are formulated in the text (namely colonial and indigenous) but a blurring of perspectives is a mode on which the literary fabrication of the colonial exotic is founded.
The indigenous people's curiosity is also an expression of this technique of superimposition I mentioned, according to which "home" provides the model for interpreting the Other. As a mirror for the travellers' curiosity, the indigenous people's curiosity marks a deflection in the travellers' perception of the place still expressed through cultural misunderstanding. When the writers attempt to give reasons for the indigenous people's curiosity, actually what they describe is what they would have been interested in, had they been native-born people though with their British background: "Indeed our clothing was exceedingly grotesque, consisting of a straw hat larger than an umbrella, a scarlet Mohammedan tobe or tunic and belt, with boots and full Turkish trousers. So unusual a dress might well cause the people to laugh heartily" ( J, vol. 1, p. 6). The deflection of the travellers' curiosity into the expression of the indigenous people's curiosity at the newcomers leads to a consideration of the travellers' displacement, which can be perceived in Journal both in the travellers being looked at as strangers by the local people, and in the constant reference to the travellers' "home-country".
The aesthetic reference which the Landers have in mind for apprehending West African scenes is the English landscape. At Bohoo, which they visit: "The land in the vicinity of the town presents a most inviting appearance, by no means inferior to any part of England in the most favourable season of the year" ( J, vol. 1, p. 146). The aesthetic models which help them to appreciate the panorama are taken from the British Romantic tradition. In the journey from Chow to Egga is one of the rare descriptions of the beauty of nature in Journal according to the ideas of the beautiful and the sublime: "It is the contemplation of such beautiful objects as these [strange coloured birds and thick foliage of the trees], all so playful and so happy - or the more sublime ones of dark waving forests, plains of vast extent, or stupendous mountains, that gives the mind the most sensible emotions of delight and grandeur" ( J, vol. 1, p. 122). Sublime visions are conventionally linked with magnitude and provoke awe and terror in the observer: "Nothing could surpass the singularity, perhaps I may say the sublimity, of the whole view from the top of the granite hill which we had ascended; and we contemplated it in silence for a few seconds with emotions of astonishment and rapture" ( J, vol. 1, p. 124). Again West African landscapes are described according to British literary conventions and aesthetic models which add something in beauty to the place. It appears that a completion is needed - namely an overlapping of unfamiliar scenes with familiar models - to transform the factual landscape into an exotic one. Around Bohoo the Landers:
arrived at the borders of a deep glen, more wild, romantic, and picturesque, than can be conceived. It is enclosed and overhung on all sides by trees of amazing height and dimensions, which hid it in deep shadow. Fancy might picture a spot, so silent and solemn as this, as the abode of genii and fairies; everything conducing to render it grand, melancholy, and venerable; and the glen only wants an old dilapidated castle, a rock with a cave in it, or something of the kind, to render it the most interesting place in the universe ( J, vol. 1, pp. 61-62).
This imaginary spot, populated with fantastic figures like "genii and fairies", is fabricated and perceived as a dream come true or, better, as a dreamed place conceived as "real". A ruined castle, a cave and a rock help to characterise a place as Romantic and exotic in the British literary tradition. Melancholy and grandeur go together in order to give the place a concentration of accurate details. Literary conventions are used to encode and domesticate the landscape, its modes of being, and the travellers' response to it. As such, conventional descriptions of West Africa express a form of deflected marvel on the part of the observer. In fact, "home" not only provides historical and moral examples, literary conventions and aesthetic models for the travellers, it is also, by transposition, a place the travellers long for: another mode of the exotic which collapses unfamiliar and familiar images and transforms factual places into dreamed lands.
However luxuriant and harmonious, West African landscapes are not often described in Journal. At times they may arouse peaceful and happy feelings, but there is something missing in them, the Landers write:
Yet with all its allurements there is something wanting in an African scene to render it comparable in interest and beauty to an English landscape. "By secret charms our native land attracts." There is nothing here half so attractive or inspiring. It is seldom, very seldom, that the morn is ushered in by the "song of earliest birds;" which is so eminently enchanting at home, and which induces so much happiness and cheerfulness, benevolence and joy. Here there are no verdant fields, nor hedges, adorned with jessamine, the daisy, the primrose, the blue-bottle or the violet, and the hundred other pretty wild flowers, which please the sight, and exhale in springtime or summer the most grateful and delicious fragrance. No flowers here "Waste their sweetness in the desert air," for not a solitary one is any where to be seen ( J, vol. 2, p. 263).
In the passage a number of terms which are conventionally used to connote unfamiliar and exotic scenes are used to define home-like conditions for the British. The song of birds is "enchanting", and the names of common flowers are listed to recall to the travellers' mind their beauty and "delicious fragrance". The Landers - travellers in distant lands - remember their "home-country" through sense perceptions: sounds, colours, smells, and the feelings of happiness, joy, and benevolence which they arouse. The only thought of "home" makes the travellers feel good and relaxed. To them "home" is "attractive" and "inspiring". It is turned in a curious manner into an exotic place of "secret charms". As these words show, the travellers' curiosity is turned from West Africa to England. In colonial travel writing West Africa is mysterious, unfamiliar, unknown and inexplicable, and therefore secret to Europeans. Charms are conventionally understood as fetishes, incantatory objects which West Africans use for their rituals. In the passage these associations are subverted: "charms" are the song of birds and the flowers of Britain, and a "secret" means a well-known however distant and, for the moment, lost and desired place.
It is of this desire in the mode of nostalgia for "home", and of their present melancholy that the Landers speak when they look at, and describe West Africa. This is to the extent that solemnity and grandeur in West Africa become synonyms for a death-like silence which brings sadness and melancholy:
Besides, generally speaking, a loneliness, a solemnity, a death-like silence pervades the noblest and most magnificent prospects, which has a tendency to fill the mind with associations of sadness, and the reflections of melancholy, very opposite to the silent cheerfulness, and that internal springing joy which we feel on contemplating those goodly and charming landscapes, which are the pride, the beauty, and the ornament of England ( J, vol. 2, p. 263).
There are joy and good at "home": a tranquillity which is also a guarantee of morality, cheerfulness, and protection which people enjoy in their land, in familiar conditions, and among their people. Familiar details acquire exotic features because they are longed for amid the unfamiliar, they shape the dreams of the travellers, attract their curiosity without satisfying it, and take on the mysterious traits of unfulfilled desires. England is far away while West Africa is where the Landers are. For this reason West Africa becomes familiar to the travellers and it does not stand the confrontation with what is familiar in England:
To look at the cleanliness of our cottages, and the tidiness of their occupants is pleasant; but when the dirty mud huts of the natives of this part of the world, with the people themselves, do appear, in our opinion, they banish every favourable impression, and destroy the effect of all ( J, vol. 2, pp. 263-264).
On the one hand, West Africa is a litmus test for the travellers who turn their dreams of heroism, adventure, and civilisation towards pristine lands and people. So that West Africa is an exotic land at the beginning of its official national history which attracts the travellers' curiosity because it is unknown to them. On the other hand, West African dreams prove delusive. Travellers feel displaced in a land and among cultures which are so different from their own. Therefore "home" takes over the traits of a deflected exotic place, because it attracts its people in the modes of nostalgia and melancholy16.
Contrastive feelings - namely melancholy and pleasure, sorrow and delight, gloom and gladness - are the travellers' mood towards West Africa and qualify its peculiar exotic in the British imagination. In fact, in spite of the numerous references to the negative aspects (and the evil) of West Africa, which are frequent in the text, it still fascinates and attracts British travellers. As a matter of fact many explorers returned to West Africa and there they died, as Mungo Park and Captain Clapperton did. And many others went back there captivated by the place. Richard Lander, Sir John Glover, William Cole, and Harold Bindloss, just to mention some, all travelled to West Africa more than once, with the official duty of serving their country, and also with a desire to enter into the mystery of the place. Administrators and officials, who represented Britain in the colonies and governed in the name of the Queen, also wrote about their dual attitude towards West Africa governed both by the difficulty to perform their duty and by an inexplicable attraction for that country. Sir John H. Glover, for example, who served in Nigeria for fourteen years, became Governor of Lagos, and raised the Hausa force during the Ashanti Campaign of 1872-3, notes in The Voyage of the 'Dayspring ': "It is so strange that I have come back to all this; and yet I like it all so much"17. He intersperses information on his job in West Africa with descriptions of the landscape which hint at its peculiarity: "All to-day we have been steaming along with the endless heavy smell that is ever rolling on this to me (though I can hardly tell you why) fascinating shore"18. And more: "in spite of its fever and mosquitoes all this has a charm for me"19. Again, the puzzling and mysterious quality of the African exotic is stressed.
I purposely refer to Africa as a whole, at this point, because I want to look at a possible factual and metaphorical access route to the African continent. Travellers, traders, administrators, white people in general who wish to enter the mystery of the place need to walk on the African "beaten track", as Robinson calls it, which will take them into the country. As the epigraph to this paper anticipates, two pictures of West Africa are detected by the traveller: one is the mapped area of Hausaland as it is constructed in colonial charts, the other is an entirely unmapped continent (in colonial paper) which has however been charted on the ground by indigenous peoples. This African track takes on various meanings in Robinson's narrative. It is an expression of African primitivism which confirms colonial stereotypes about Africa and its people, it is a magic track leading travellers into an unknown and mysterious country, and it is an evidence of the history of Africa marked on the land. Fragments, archaeological pieces of local histories unknown to Europeans are scattered along the African "beaten track" and only gradually reveal themselves as forging a complex history of signs, traditions, visions of the world written on the land and carried by the people who walk along the "beaten track" of African history. Robinson takes a quotation from Professor Drummond's Tropical Africa (1888), which was written as a description of East Africa, but which Robinson believes is exactly applicable to the country through which they passed, namely Hausaland in West Africa. The whole passage is interesting and worth reading:
It may be a surprise to the unenlightened to learn that probably no explorer in forcing his passage through Africa has ever, for more than a few days at a time, been off the beaten track. Probably no country in the world, civilised or uncivilised, is better supplied with paths than this unmapped continent. Every village is connected with some other village, every tribe with the next tribe, every state with its neighbour, and therefore with all the rest. The explorer's business is simply to select from this network of tracks, keep a general direction, and hold on his way. Let him begin at Zanzibar, plant his foot on a native footpath and set his face towards Tanganyika; in eight month he will be there; he has simply to persevere. From village to village he will be handed on, zigzagging it may be sometimes to avoid the impassable barriers of nature or the rarer perils of hostile tribes, but never taking to the woods, never guided solely by the stars, never in fact leaving a beaten track, till hundreds and hundreds of miles are between him and the sea, and his interminable footpath ends with a canoe on the shores of Tanganyika. … The native tracks I have just described are the same in character all over Africa. They are veritable footpaths, never over a foot in breadth, beaten as hard as adamant, and rutted beneath the level of the forest bed by century of native traffic. … Although the African footpath is on the whole a bee-line, no fifty yards of it are ever straight. And the reason is not far to seek. If a stone is encountered no native will ever think of removing it. Why should he? It is easier to walk round it; the next man who comes that way will do the same. He knows that a hundred men are following him, he looks at the stone a moment, and it might be unearthed and tossed aside, but no; he also holds his way. It is not that he resents the trouble, it is that the idea is wanting. … But it would be a very stony country indeed, and Africa is far from stony, that would wholly account for the aggravating obliqueness and indecision of the African footpath. Probably each four miles on an average path is spun out by an infinite series of minor sinuosities to five or six. Now these deflections are not meaningless. Each has some history, a history dating back perhaps a thousand years, but to which all clue has centuries ago been lost. The leading cause probably is a fallen tree; when a tree falls across a path no man ever removes it. As in the case of the stone, the native goes around it (H, pp. 52-54).
In postcolonial West African writing the image of the road is a metaphor for new encounters, and for the processes connected to them. In Robinson's passage the image of the African path is first of all a surprise. People who have never been to Africa hardly imagine that a net of paths crosses the African continent which is thought of as unmapped by colonial Europeans. And in fact a hidden network connects villages, tribes, and close neighbouring to the rest of the continent far away. Still these tracks have not an official geographical importance to European travellers. Colonisers draw their own roads on their maps. Local, narrow paths - a foot in breadth, a bee-line - do not deserve to be written on charts and are not part of official geography. Yet, travellers need to follow these tracks if they want to penetrate the continent. This is one of the modes of reciprocity between travellers and the explored country. When travellers set foot on the African "beaten track" they gradually understand something of it. In its spatial dimension the path is long, very long, interminable - eight months are needed to walk from the eastern coast to Lake Tanganika, hundreds and hundreds of miles are between the coast and the interior - and perseverance is the necessary attitude which allows travellers into the country. In its temporal dimension the path is old - beaten by centuries of local traffic - with a history dating back perhaps a thousand years. And the path is not straight. It zigzags and has an infinite series of minor sinuosities. Nevertheless the "beaten track" is veritable and should never be left to follow the stars or to cut across the wood, because a lot of people passed along it and hundreds of men will follow. The African "beaten track" has a long tradition, a history marked on its ground which the travellers often dismiss according to the colonial stereotype of the Other without a history.
To Robinson the signs of nature on the path - namely a stone or a fallen tree - signal the local people's indolence and lack of civilisation - it is easier to walk around the object than to move it aside, and at any rate it is that the idea is wanting. The Lander brothers express the same opinion when they write: "Trees not infrequently fall across the pathway, but, instead of removing, the people form a large circuit round them; even a small ant-hill is an object too mighty to be meddled with, and it is left in the centre of the narrow road, so inconsiderate and indolent are the natives of this part of the world" (J, vol. 1, p. 107). Nor do the local people intervene in modifying natural processes, because of their laziness and underdevelopment, as the Landers suggest in the following passage informed by colonial stereotypes:
With very trifling manual labour, the path, which is little better that a mere gutter, formed by repeated rains, might be converted into a good and commodious road; and were a tree simply thrown over them, the streams and morasses might be crossed with ease and safety. But the natives appear to have no idea whatever of such improvements; and would rather be entangled daily in a thick underwood, and wade through pools of mud and water, than give themselves any concern about repairing the road (J, vol. 1, pp. 106-107).
If, for the Landers, civilisation is expressed by improving living conditions and by solving natural problems, in this example, which would also account for a qualitative change in the history of West African people, this is not the indigenous people's vision of the world. As Robinson suggests, African people and nature are part of the history of the place, and a common tradition governs this relationship: "If a stone is encountered, no native will ever think of removing it", because they know that "the next man who comes that way will do the same". Therefore, deviations in the African "beaten track" are not meaningless, Robinson writes. And even if the cause of the twisting has been lost back in time, they still speak of the history of the place to the travellers. This African "beaten track" has some resemblance with the "songlines" - Australian Aborigines' paths - of which Bruce Chatwin speaks in his book by the same title20. They are roads where people meet and narrate stories. Local stories and fragments of history surface and unveil themselves to the travellers not as part of an exhaustive system of official written history in the way Europeans understood it in colonial times, but as traces of other histories.
In the African postcolonial context of The Invention of Africa, V. Y. Mudimbe suggests an archaeological approach to history to contest official Western history. His "archaeology of knowledge" is a quest for reinscriptions of history inspired by the notions of difference and fragmentedness. As Walter Benjamin claims in Illuminations, the challenge to official history - the Western history of nation-states in the nineteenth century, in the temporal span covered in this paper - is pursued by positing the "hypothesis of an alternative history", which gives voice to marginalised, silenced stories21. Archaeology rescues pieces which have been forgotten and eradicated from history, and signals their emergence as fragments of reinterpreted stories. Discussing the transformation of history and archaeology into critical history in Finzioni occidentali, the Italian critic Gianni Celati focuses on the archaeological quest as generating alternative positions with respect to official history. Celati argues that if it is true that we need grammars to understand factual reality, it is also true that we need to recognise alternatives to the ruling grammars. This reference helps to show how the archaeological quest, not being a grammar, but an alternative mode of understanding, operates as a means of singling out and of formulating counter-discursive practices. But, as Celati goes on to say, whereas fragmented and marginal stories appear to help the retrieval and the reinvention of history from diverse perspectives, these recuperated stories also signal reference points against which the hegemonical, centralised position still marks its location. Yet, "the archaeology of knowledge" does help to forge histories, in that it entails an awareness that no self-sufficient and univocal history is descriptive of a people and of a place22.
By focusing on reciprocity, on dialogue as well as on epistemological problems between cultures in colonial discourse, and by highlighting the thin, though momentous input of West Africa - such as a "stone", a "tree", and an "ant" along the beaten track - a rescue work has been attempted in this paper. It concerns narratives of West African routes (a spatial dimension) and stories (a temporal dimension) which are intrinsic parts of indigenous people's life and which, on the contrary, appear as exotic features of West Africa to colonial travellers. Certainly, reading the Lander's Journal we learn more about the seer than about the object they perceive and try to represent. However, West Africa as a mirror for the travellers is active. It does not only reflect their images, those of their "home-country", and of their preconditioned cultural constructions, but it complicates, overlaps, and transforms them by displaying different geographies and other histories.
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