Negro Love And Other Observations

From the 1807 book Observations Upon The Windward Coast Of Africa by Joseph Corry.

The Negro is attached by love about his thirteenth year, and from sixteen to twenty he seeks the object of his affection. This choice generally continues in his confidence during life; and in proportion as he acquires wealth, he associates with her several concubines, who generally live cordially together. From this acquisition to his household, he is considered rich; and it is a common expression with the Negro to say, “such a man be rich, he have much woman.” When an object excites his desire, he consults his head woman, who, without any apparent suspicion of rivalry, gives her assent, and forwards his suit; but she is displeased when not consulted; and it is not uncommon that the object falls a victim to her jealousy. Celibacy is a state almost unknown in Africa; and when it does occur, it is considered as a degradation.

The Negroe’s existence is almost a gratuitous gift of nature; his wants are supplied without laborious exertion, his desires are gratified without restraint, his soul remains in peaceful indolence and tranquillity, and his life glides on in voluptuous apathy and tranquil calm: he has few solicitudes or apprehensions, and he meets the stroke of fate with perfect resignation.

In the countries which I have visited, and, as I understand from others, every principal village or town has its bantaba, or palaver-house, which I have before described. In this house, or under the shade of some venerable tree, all ranks occasionally assemble in groups, from sun-rising to sun-set, and pass the time in chit-chat, or in conversation on public affairs. Their subjects are inexhaustible, and their tittle-tattle is carried on with surprising volubility, gaiety, and delight; their time thus occupied is so seducing, that they separate with great reluctance, sometimes passing the entire day in this, pratling, smoaking, and diversion: night, however, terminates these amusements: They assemble in the open air during the dry season, and under the palaver-houses in the wet, where they form themselves into dancing companies, generally during half the night, and not unfrequently the whole of it. Their instruments of music are upon a very rude construction, consisting of a tabila, or drum, hollowed out from a piece of wood, and covered at each end with a bull’s hide, producing a most barbarous noise, accompanied by a baba, or rattle, loud shouts, palaver, songs, and violent gesticulations, forming a system of confused uproar, unmusical, and ungraceful. Their motions are irregular, sometimes in violent contortion, and at others voluptuous and slow. Nothing can be done without a palaver; and at the change of every dance, he from whom the proposition originates, makes a solemn harangue over the musical instruments, which is generally descriptive of some warlike action or exploit, when they again give themselves up with rapture to the pleasures of the dance, the females in particular, whose actions and shew of luxuriant pleasure are highly offensive to delicacy, exhibiting all the gradations of lascivious attitude and indecency. At this period of unusual delight, they are applauded by the men with rapturous ardour; but suddenly a feeling of shame strikes the minds of the young creatures with a humiliating sense of their display, and amidst these plaudits they hastily retire to the matrons, who are spectators of the scene, and hide their blushes in their bosoms. So strongly implanted is this ingenuous and amiable modesty in youth, which is frequently laid aside when engaged in the vortex of pleasure, that it is one of the highest charms of beauty; and wretches only, degraded by debauchery and systematic vice, are capable of insulting this sentiment. A scrupulous regard to modesty and truth will not permit me to pursue the description of these amusements farther than observing, that they prepare them for a profound and tranquil sleep on their mats, from whence they arise at the dawn of day cheerful and easy. Thus infancy and youth are singularly happy, and mothers attend their offspring with maternal feeling and delight; they are neither disturbed by painful commands or restraint; and it is a picture of perfect happiness to see these children of nature in sportive groups and infantine diversion. This happy infancy and gay youth is peculiarly calculated to organise a vigorous manhood, and a firm old age; and, I am persuaded, that these are the physical causes why the Negro race are so muscular in body, and procreative of their species. In some countries innoculation is practised; but the small pox is not so common, or dreadful in its effects, in these countries as in Europe. The greatest term of their lives may be computed at from sixty to seventy years, it seldom or ever happening that life is prolonged beyond that period in this part of Africa. They retain their vigour, and enjoy a permanent and regular state of health until the last; and I have observed a venerable chief of advanced years having the possession of a dozen of young handsome wives, and the father of a young progeny, whose legitimacy was never disputed or suspected. In Europe the last stage of man is a daily anticipation of dissolution; but in Africa, declining years are only insensible approaches to the termination of a journey, the event of which he considers as the end of life, unconscious of the future, but as a fatality equally attached to all the creation.


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