Monday, February 25, 2013

Archibald Lyall: "Black and White Make Brown" (1938) - two reviews

Review by: S. F. D.
Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 38, No. 150 (Jan., 1939), pp. 189-191

Black and White Make Brown. By Archibald Lyall. (Heinemann, 18s.)
THERE is always something attractive about the description of places which are seldom visited and little known. The Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese Guinea, which form the subject matter of this book, are "off the map" for most of the civilised world; and since Dakar and Las Palmas have replaced St. Vincent as fuelling stations for ships en route to South America the islands are rarely visited except by Portuguese vessels which call at irregular intervals.
It is a pathetic story the author has to tell, a story in keeping with the gloomy scenery of the island of St. Vincent, which is described as "a petrified thunderstorm of a landscape." From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century the islands were a collecting station for the slave trade; and, by reason of this evil traffic they flourished as the bay tree. Ships from the Portuguese possessions in India and the Spice Islands called there en route to Lisbon, at one time the richest city of the world. Even Sir Francis Drake paid tribute to the im- portance of the Islands by sacking their principal city.
The present population of 150,000 is crowded on to 1500 square miles of land, most of which is barren and precipitous rock. Dependent for their crops on a few fertile valleys and a precarious rainfall, the people live in continual dread of famine. Between 1903 and 192o, four serious famines occurred; and in the latter year 30,000 people are said to have died from starvation. The vegetation and forest which once clothed the sides of the valleys have succumbed to the ubiquitous goat and the inevitable erosion has followed to intensify the danger of food shortage and famine.
The people, mainly of mixed African and European blood, are known as Creoles, a term which in the West Indies is used in the contrary sense of a white person born in the islands. The author describes them as idle, miserably poor and riddled with every kind of disease, but withal, hospitable and kindly and endowed with the gifts of poetry and dancing which they indulge to the full to relieve the monotony of their existence.
The infant mortality of the islands is estimated at 50 per cent., and the women have a hard life. "If a woman, a man, a horse and a load have to come up a hill, the man rides the horse and the woman carries the load."
But, though the glory has departed, here and there among these gloomy abodes can be found cases of dazzling beauty. Nova Cintra, on the Island of Brava, has evoked from the author the following description: "It is not a city with a lot of little gardens in it. It is a garden with a lot of little houses in it; an enchanted garden hanging by invisible cords from the clouds."
There seems little future for these unfortunate islanders. Emigration to America no longer provides the means of restoring fallen fortunes; and the people seem too apathetic to take up trading and clerical work on the mainland of West Africa. One may venture to hope that the Portuguese Government in its projected programme of colonial development will not overlook the claims of the Cape Verde islanders who have fallen on evil times through no fault of their own.
In Portuguese Guinea, which the author describes in the latter part of the book, little-known natives of the Bissagos Islands present many features of interest, and appear to have affinities with the Bushmen of South Africa. Until a few years ago they had maintained their independence and refused to have anything to do with civilization.
A ferocious Boadicea of a queen named Pampa reputed to have weighed 25 stones, may have contributed to the repulse of the Portuguese advances. Be this as it may, the final subjugation of the Bissagos islanders was not achieved until 1936. They are described as completely indifferent to death, as they believe in early reincarnation. Though primitive and backward in other respects they excel in the carving of wooden ornaments, in mural decoration and in furniture making. Further information about this interesting people would have added materially to the value of the book.
The author does not agree with the Portuguese belief that the larger the population of "assimilates" the more secure will be their authority. He considers that the educated "Creoles" in their secret hearts hate the whites; and that, if ever an anti-European movement arises in West Africa, the half-castes will be at the head of it. A thoroughly interesting and readable book.

S. F. D.
Review by: A. Z. C.
The Geographical Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Aug., 1938), p. 170

BLACK AND WHITE MAKE BROWN: an account of a journey to the Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese Guinea. By Archibald Lyall. London: William Heinemann, 1938. 9 x 5,5 inches; x + 304 pages; illustrations and maps. 18s.
This is not Mr. Lyall's first travel book, but undoubtedly it is the most interesting. He spent several months in the Portuguese colonies of Cape Verde and Guinea, during which he saw all that was possible with the means of transport at his disposal. He has not however seen every thing he writes about, as, for instance, in his story of a dead donkey in a Lisbon reservoir.
Although many books in other languages have been written about these colonies, the author claims that they are still little known. His book, nevertheless, is the most comprehensive, and possesses a topical interest in view of the strate- gical importance of the Cape Verde Islands and the rumours current about the state of affairs in the Bissagos Islands. Mr. Lyall visited the whole archi- pelago, and stayed three weeks in Bubaque Island, enjoying the hospitality of the German Company which runs the important palm-oil factory there. From what he has seen he dismisses as untrue the stories that "Bubaque is full of oil stores for aeroplanes, submarines and surface ships," and that "the authority of Lisbon and its control have become practically non-existent" in the archipelago.
Almost all the Cape Verde Islands and the whole of Guinea were visited by him, and he gives a colourful picture of life and nature as he saw them. His remarks on the native poetry of the Cape Verde Islands and the artistic skill of the Nalus and Bissagos wood sculptors, in Guinea, are very interesting indeed. The two colonies are studied in all their aspects, and praise is bestowed upon the Portuguese colonial administration.
With the exception perhaps of the two first chapters, the whole book is fascinating; there are however a few slips. Pedro Nunes is described as "astronomer, cosmographer and mathematician of Prince Henry the Navigator" (p. 19). Prince Henry died in 1460 and Pedro Nunes was born in 1502. "Prince Henry's brother, Dom Pedro, brought him from Venice... the portolan of Sanuto and Dulcert..., the famous Laurentian portolan..., the Catalan Atlas and many rare Venetian maps..." (p. 19). So far as it is known, D. Pedro brought from Venice only one map, lost long ago and about which nothing positive is known. Prince Henry did not live in the houses or hear Mass in the chapel now existing in Sagres (p. 23). They were built much later, after his death. The highest peak in the Portuguese Empire is not in Fogo Island (2829 m.) but Tata Mailau (2920 m.) in Portuguese Timor. The Guinea "chabeu" is not "the red-brown oil of the little palm-nuts, which would, if they were left on the trees, one day grow into coconuts" (p. 202). The palm in question is the oil palm (Elaeis Guineensis), not the coconut palm (Cocus nucifera). The former is a native plant of Guinea and the latter an introduced one.
The reviewer, who has visited the Cape Verde Islands and Guinea several times, and is acquainted with most of what has been published on these colonies, knows of no more readable and stimulating book than this. It deserves to be appreciated by those interested in colonial life and the literature of travel.

A. Z. C.

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