batanga canoes, west africa, 1881
Greig Rutherford : Batanga Canoes, West Africa, 1881.
Rutheford, David Greig:
Notes on the People
The Journal of Anthropological Institute of Great Britain
Volume 10, 1881,pages 463-465
This source noted by Hervé Manificat in an email, 31 October
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
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
W. L. Distant.
Notes on the
People of Batanga.
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
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
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
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
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
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
from the various villages carrying or dragging their canoes
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
be caught by the first wave and swamped, and canoe and all
sent ignominiously rolling shoreward, to the great amusement
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
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
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
They are certainly among the most intelligent of the Dual la
race, and I have seen none that excel them in point of
They do not, however, occupy themselves with fishing
With the approach of manhood, a Batanga begins to think of
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.
Another amusement I have observed at Batanga among the boys
is the construction of a small flat boat with wheels and a
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.
Journal of Anthropological Institute
of Great Britain and Ireland
Volume 10, 1881.
Geoff Cater (2013) : David Greig Rutherford : Batanga Canoes, West