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rutherford : batanga canoes, west africa, 1881 

David Greig Rutherford : Batanga Canoes, West Africa, 1881.

Rutheford, David Greig:
Notes on the People of Batanga
The Journal of Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
olume 10, 1881,pages 463-465

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This source noted by Hervé Manificat in an email, 31 October 2013.


Page 463

I deeply regret to announce that my friend David Greig Rutherford, who joined this Institute in the year 1876, died in West Africa in the early part of this year, during a Natural History Expedition to that country.
Had his life been prolonged there is little doubt that Anthropology, to which he was much attached, would have acquired many new facts from the interesting region of West Tropical Africa.
As it is, such of his notes which were found after his decease as appertain to our science I have reproduced here, supplemented by extracts from a letter I recently received from him.

W. L. Distant.
Notes on the People of Batanga.
[David Greig Rutherford, 1881]

The language spoken by the Batangas is simply a dialect of the Dualla, more or less corrupted by an infiltration of words from the
neighbouring tribes speaking different languages.
The Duallas appear to have settled at various places along the coast, from Camaroons southwards, as traders, but at no place have they penetrated more than thirty miles inland.
Behind the line of coast occupied by the Batangas are scattered the villages of what are called the bushmen, or people belonging to the Mabaya tribe, who trade with another tribe further inland, called the N'gumbas, for the ivory they sell to the Batangas, who, again, dispose of it to the European traders.

The physique of the Batangas is in all essential characters the same as that of the Duallas.
Some allowance, however, must be made for hereditary influences derived from intermarriage with the inland tribes.
The men are well formed, many of them being over the average height, they are lithe and free in their mien and bearing, and are strongly without being stoutly built.
These characteristics, not so commonly met with among the same race further north, are, I am inclined to think, due to the more active habits which during early life are imposed upon them by the necessity of acquiring skill

Page 464

in fishing at sea during a certain number of hours nearly every day, and daring the best part of the year.
The Janbus fish well, but not the Daallas.
The Batanga Daallas are, however, an exception, and they have acquired no little skill in the art, which is practised, with rare exceptions, with hook and line, net-fishing not being practicable on account of tiie heavy surf which usually beats upon the beach.
They begin to learn the art in early boyhood, and in many cases practise it till long after manhood is reached.
The first thing they are taught is the use of the canoe, and in this they are trained almost from their infancy.
The canoes most in use are merf. thin shells, formed from a certain hard reddish wood, and vary from 6 to 10 feet in length by 1 1/2 to 2 feet in breadth.
A triangular board, about 1 foot in length, fixed at each end imparts a certain strength to the frail craft ; and five seat-like
bars, at nearly equal distances apart, fastened inside to the upper edges by strong cord, also serve the same purpose.
Upon the middle bar the fisherman sits, sometimes with both legs in the water, and with one paddle propels and guides his canoe rapidly through the water.
That the use both of canoe and paddle requires great skill, and its attainment long practice and much perseverance, is shown by the early age at which the natives begin to learn how to manage them.
Children, scarcely able to toddle, may be seen mimicking with their little hands the motions of a paddle, and it is an ordinary thing to see young boys sitting in front of their houses fashioning models of canoes out of pieces of soft wood.
When they are eight or nine years old, or sometinies earlier, they are provided with small canoes about twice their own length, with a small paddle, and partly from imitation and partly owing to inherited skill, they soon learn how to sit and balance themselves in their tiny crafts, and paddle themselves about in shallow water.
After a time they become more venturesome, and push boldly out among the breakers.
Should they get swamped, as in nine cases out of ten they do, they are greeted by the jeers of their companions, but should they get over the rough to the quiet water beyond, they are hailed with shouts of applause.
"When they have acquired sufficient skill, they are allowed to venture out to sea with fishing lines, and learn the art of fishing as best they may.

Every morning, almost immediately after day-break, scores of people, old and young, may be seen hurrying down to the beach
from the various villages carrying or dragging their canoes with them.
If there should happen to be little surf, they launch them at once into the water, arrange their lines, and paddle off to their favourite grounds ; but if the water is rough they content themselves first of all by getting the canoe into the shallows, and
waiting until the heavier waves have rolled in.
The canoe is then dragged over the surf and the man, by a dextrous leap, mounts astride it, until he has balanced himself, then, drawing his legs inside, he, by vigorous strokes of his paddle from right to left, urges it forward over the approaching breakers.
If he has delayed a moment too long, or miscalculated his distance, he may

Page 465

be caught by the first wave and swamped, and canoe and all sent ignominiously rolling shoreward, to the great amusement of the
spectators on the beach, who on an unusually bad morning, gather in crowds to witness the departure of the fishermen, and who do not fail to reward any luckless attempt with ironical laughter.
Should he, however, succeed in surmounting the first wave, with, perhaps, the only mischance of taking in some water, the which however he can quickly remove by a backward movement of one of his feet, he either advances bodily to the second, or, should it seem too much for him, quickly turns round and paddles back until it has broken, when facing round again, he meets the next wave in the same way.
This he may have to do again and again till the favourable chance in a pause in the regular movement of the waves occurs, when, seizing advantage of it, he paddles out safely beyond the reach of the breakers.
The same care, skill, dexterity, and close observation of the movements of the waves is necessary on returning to the beach. Advancing continuously till just outside of the breakers, he awaits the approach of an unusually large wave, which he allows to carry him shoreward, and, by vigorous paddling, keeping well behind it, until its crests begin to foam, when he quickly turns round, paddles back, and waits for the next wave.
Guessing his distance and deciding that this one will take him right on to the beach, he allows it to carry him, but holds his canoe back as it breaks, and then over the surging surf paddles himself safely and triumphantly into shallow water.
But not all are so successful.
Many canoes get swamped, and sometimes damaged, and fish and fishing lines lost.
They remain fishing for about six hours and seem to take to their work industriously.
I have counted as many as a hundred canoes out of a single morning ; and as the population of Batanga is by no means large, I calculate that the majority of the male adults are more or less engaged in this occupation.
There cannot be a doubt that such work, requiring so much endurance, hardihood, and skill must have a lasting effect upon the right development of the bodies and the minds of these
They are certainly among the most intelligent of the Dual la race, and I have seen none that excel them in point of physique.
They do not, however, occupy themselves with fishing throughout life.
With the approach of manhood, a Batanga begins to think of trading ...

Page 466

Among tbe Batangas I noticed three kinds of games,*

* In a letter addressed to me, Mr. Rutherford remarks : " What a strange error Win wood Keade must bave fallen into when he committed himself to the statement that the Guinea Negros have no games.
Amongst the Batanga branch of the Duallas, I found no less then five." — W. L. D.

Page 467

Another amusement I have observed at Batanga among the boys is the construction of a small flat boat with wheels and a sail
which they place upon the smooth sand, and watch it propelled by the wind.
Some years ago I observed some boys at Brass River amusing themselves in precisely the same manner.

The Journal of Anthropological Institute
of Great Britain and Ireland

olume 10, 1881.

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Geoff Cater (2013) : David Greig Rutherford : Batanga Canoes, West Africa, 1881.