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English Bosman and Dutch Bosman: A Comparison of Texts - VII

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2013

Albert van Dantzig*
University of Ghana


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Copyright © African Studies Association 1982

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1. The “tronk” was usually an area surrounded by a palisade, a kind of pen with sheds made of light materials like bamboo for shelter. Originally they were made by each captain who “lay in trade” for some time at one place to buy a large number of slaves there. Those at places like Whydah beach, however, where slaves were kept awaiting shipment after having been purchased at Savi or at Glehwe, had a more permanent character.

2. “Makron” is a term probably derived from the French “manqueron;” those fail to make the full value: “il leur manque quelquechose,” for instance good health, teeth, youth, etc.

3. The “Hannekens” or “Hannekemaayers” were seasonal laborers, mostly from Germany (where Johann, Hans, hence Hanneken, are very common names) or the poor Campines area of northeastern Belgium around Hasselt, who came at haymaking time to Holland, mostly packed “like pigs” in carts. There existed regular “ferry” services between various places in the Netherlands, and the driver of such a cart was known as a “Veerman” or ferrier.

4. The resemblance with the case of David and Absalom is only superficial and seems to refer to Absalom's support among the common people, and not that of his elder brother.

5. In the Dutch text the account of Bosman's informant is set in italics; it must have been a printer's error that this last paragraph, which obviously contains Bosman's assessment was set in italics too. This may explain the translator's addition.

6. This seems to be a reference to the Dipo ceremony on the occasion of the initiation of girls, which is celebrated widely in the Krobo, Ewe, and Adja areas.

7. Bosman makes it appear as if “one,” i.e., a foreigner, is obliged to take a girl to the shrine when he meets her in a state of trance. It is not really clear what Bosman meant by “the place before mentioned;” perhaps it is merely an oblique reference to sexual intercourse.

8. It is true that royal pythons (the sacred snakes of Whydah) are not attacked by poisonous snakes, which attack only mammals. Most poisonous snakes are bigger than royal pythons.

10. Cannibalism is not known to have existed anywhere along the Guinea Coast. There were, however, ceremonies accompanying human sacrifice in which a priest, when possessed, was seen to chew human organs like the heart without, however, swallowing them, as reported, for instance, by Dalzel. Mans” may also be translated as “the Husbands,” but if Bosman had indeed meant “husbands” he would probably have written “haar Mans,” “their Husbands.” The girls Bosman referred to are probably the Dangbevi, “daughters of the Snake,” to whom Bosman refers as “God's children,” quite correctly.

12. “Captain Blank(e)” in Whydah is in fact the predecessor of the famous “Yevogan,” (literally: the foreigners' captain) who played such an important role in Whydah after it was conquered by Dahomey. The Dutch word “blank” (like the French “blanc”) means white.

13. Francisco Gomez de Quevedo y Villegas (1580-1645) was a royal secretary, a stoic theologian, and a novelist.

14. The price of three Gouda pipes for one chicken does not seem to be all that low. The long-stemmed and proverbially fragile white earthenware pipes can be seen on many seventeenth-century Dutch paintings and are still made in Gouda. The word “pullet” is no doubt an English rendering of the French word for chicken(-meat), poulet.

15. This “Milhio” is probably sorghum arondinaceum, a species of wild millet which is quite common east of the Volta.

16. “brandig,” i.e., causing a burning sensation (like brandy). It is curious that Bosman thought that the coldness of water from deep wells brought on fevers; it is more likely that the fevers were caused by malaria mosquitoes or possibly by water-borne diseases.

17. Probably sweet potatoes, known in Ewe as anago-ti, i.e., Yoruba tubers, an indication that they were more common to the area east of the Gold Coast.

18. “Accraes,” made of ground beans, have remained a popular snack and are still known as akra in Gã or gawu in Ewe.

19. Meaning not clear: did Bosman mean to say that only the principal people of Whydah could afford such a luxury?

20. This is doubtlessly a reference to the horseriding Oyo. Indeed, Oyo and Allada were at war with each other in 1698 (“while I was here”). The estimate of one million soldiers being involved in this war sounds somewhat exaggerated. It should be noted that in the Dutch original there is no question of the Whydahs being involved in this war; they are merely quoted for their estimate of the armies.

21. The meaning of this passage, in particular the expression “ik geloof voor het naeste,” provisionally translated as “I am nearly certain,” but meaning literally “I believe for the nearest,” is not clear.

22. The Ilha do Príncipe was for some time colonized in the early seventeenth century by the Middelburgh (originally Antwerp) merchant and “patron” Balthasar de Moucheron.

23. The discovery that scurvy is caused by vitamin deficiency, or rather could be prevented by the regular consumption of fruits, was rather recent in Bosman's time.

24. “doch hoe wyd echter sou ik niet weeten te seggen”: lit.: “but how wide I would not be able to say.” It is likely that “wide” (“wyd”) is to be understood as the German “weit,” meaning “far.”

25. “handel dryven”: “to trade, do business.”

26. “Aber, ich antwortete, es kumt mir jetzt auch nicht gelegen”: suddenly Bosman changes over into a rather garbled German, probably for the humorous effect.

27. Probably a reference to a kind of skin cream made of dawadawa (parkia) seeds which does have a peculiar strong scent.

28. Probably mating displays of small whales which drifted into these tropical seas with the cold and strong Benguela stream. If Bosman meant to describe porpoises, he rather exaggerated their size.

29. “houtwaren”: clearly not fuel-wood. Precious species of timber like mahogany were much in demand in Europe, but in the records of the WIC references to the timber trade are rare. Normally a cruiser would not be used for trade, but the WIC did employ such ships, which were essentially used to pursue interlopers and others infringing on the Company's professed monopoly, to carry minor cargoes from the outposts to Elmina or vice versa.

30. The Dutch version of these curious pieces of poetry is:

China-Reisers om Negotie
Meer om't goud dan om Devotie
Meer om't goed dan om't Geloof
Waarom moest gy uit Firando
Uit Japon, Achin en Bando
Wat [sic] 't niet om u grooten roof.
Gy besocht Chineese landen
En d'Americaansche stranden
Waerom niet in't Noorderquartier
By de Russen, Moscovieten
De Tartaren, Samogieten
Of is daer 't goud te dier.
Neen, gy soekt al beeter Have
By de Potosische Slaven
Of by 't Albosonsche goud
In Angola, ook Fusola
Mani-Congo, Puerto-Bella
't Is in't Noorden veel te koud
Staet, myn Musa, loopt niet verder
Dwing u Pen, en schryft niet herder [sic]
Eer gy haar krygt aen den hals
Beeter was't den Duivel tegen
Als met haerlui dwers gelegen
Want de boggers syn te vals.

It seems that Bosman considered the first edition of his book not sufficiently anti-Catholic. His suggestion that the missionaries were expelled from Japan and other places on account of their greed is not supported by any historical evidence. Bosman (or rather his poet) was apparently not informed of the Catholic missions in Central Asia, asking why they were not active among the Samoyeds etc. Typical for the prejudice of the period was also the allegation that missionaries and other Roman Catholic clergy were “buggers” or homosexuals.

31. What Bosman really wanted to say is that the East Indiamen normally keep out of the Guinea Current and tradewinds along the Guinea Coast, sailing from the Canary Islands in a southeasterly direction to the Cape, often with a detour bringing them close to the coast of Brazil, hoping to catch the southwesterly tradewinds and to avoid the dangerously strong Benguela current. If they keep too much to the east (the leeward) they may get into the Guinea Current and have to call at Annobón. Once they were in the Bight of Biafra, East Indiamen often had the greatest difficulty getting out again, and captains were well advised to stock up with a good quantity of fresh water, fruits, vegetables, and fuel-wood from Annobón.

32. The area of Annobón is about 6½ square miles. So Bosman was not really exaggerating all that much, considering that the Dutch mile was about 4 English miles. This tiny island is incomparably smaller than S. Tomé and Príncipe.

33. Fidalgo is the Portuguese word for nobleman. This term was also used by the Portuguese and later the Dutch for the ruler of Offra on the Slave Coast, the “viceroy” of the king of Allada. In fact, that “fidalgo” was originally probably a fully independent chief, but with the growth of the Atlantic trade Offra became Allada's port of trade and the Europeans may have mistaken him for a mere “fidalgo” of the king of Allada.

34. From the Dutch text it is by no means evident that the ship was as English as its captain. Her name makes one rather suspect that it was a Dutch interloper “Galey” or small ship. Sloten is a name of a town in Friesland and of a village near Amsterdam.

35. The translator did Bosman a corrective service by adding the name “de Noailles.” From the Dutch text one gets the false impression that the archbishop of Meaux was the same person as the Cardinal de Noailles; Louis-Antoine de Noailles (1651-1729) was in 1695 Archbishop of Paris and became in 1700 cardinal.

36. Bosman's account of the “Hannibal” episode is somewhat inconsistent and misleading; according to French accounts, Aniaba was not “discovered” among the slaves aboard a ship on her way to the West Indies, but he was presented to the French who came to visit Assini in 1687 as a hostage to seal the treaty Du Casse had made with the chief, Acassini. Accounts differ on whether Aniaba was originally presented as “a man of consequence” or not. If this was the case, it would be consistent with Bosman's suggestion that the French had been cheated by “the blacks.” Hannibal did not stay for long in Assini after his return. He took service with a French captain, who, on a journey to the Slave Coast, sent him ashore on an errand at Keta, but weighed anchor before Hannibal could return on board. Hannibal then became a person of some importance in these new surroundings and in 1718 entertained a Fiscal of the WIC who travelled overland from Whydah to Elmina very well, and provided him an account of his life.

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