« IndietroContinua »
ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY
I.—Is the Quorra, which has lately been traced to its Discharge into the Sea, the same River as the Nigir of the Ancients? By W. Martin Leake, Esq., V.P., F.R.S.
As there exists a difference of opinion on the propriety of applying the name Niger or Nigir to the river, of which the lower course and termination have lately been discovered, I am induced to submit to the Society a few remarks on this question, which immediately involves the greater one as to the extent of knowledge of the interior of Africa, acquired by the ancients. Upon the whole subject, it would have been sufficient to refer to D'Anville* and Rennell,i" who favour the affirmative of the question, and on the opposite side to M. Walckenaer,^ who, of all later writers, has examined it with the greatest diligence, had not recent discoveries furnished us with better grounds for forming a conclusive opinion, than even the latest of those authors possessed.
Maritime surveys have now completed a correct outline of Northern Africa. Major Laing, by ascertaining the source of the Quorra to be not more than 1600 feet above the sea, proved that it could not flow to the Nile; Denham and Clapperton demonstrated that it did not discharge itself into the lake of Bornu; and, at length, its real termination in a delta, at the head of the great gulf of the western coast of Africa, has rewarded the enlightened perseverance of the British Government, and the courage and enterprise of its servants. The value to science of this discovery, and the great merit of those whose successive exertions have prepared and completed it, is the more striking, when we consider that the hydrography of an unknown country is the most important step to a correct knowledge of its geography, and that in barbarous Africa nothing short of the ocular inquiries of educated men is sufficient to procure the requisite facts. It is curious to observe how the best collectors of oral information in that country have failed in arriving at the truth as to the origin, course, and termination of the rivers. Edrisi, Abulfeda, Leo Africanus,
* Jtemoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, vol. xxvi. t Geography of Herodotus, sections 16, 22.
J Recherches GGographiques snr l'lnttrieur de l'Afrique Septentrionale: an octavo of 517 pages, published at Paris in 1821.
Delisle, and Bruce, all came to the determination that the Quorra flowed from east to west.* Burckhardt, whose oral inquiries on Bornu have proved generally correct, concluded that the Shary flowed from N.E. to S.W.; and Lyon, though particularly successful in his information on the countries not visited by him, was induced to confound the Shary of Bornu with the Tjad or Y6u, and, like Sultan Bello, to carry the Quorra, after passing Y&uri and Funda, into the lake Tjad, and from thence to Egypt. The most intelligent natives are confused when questioned on the subject of rivers, while the generality, unable to understand the object or utility of such inquiries, can neither inform the traveller whether two streams are different rivers or part of the same; where any river rises or whither it flows; and seem often to believe that all the lakes and streams of Africa are parts of one and the same water. It is not surprising, therefore, that ancients as well as moderns, having obtained the knowledge of a large river flowing to the east, should have supposed that it was a branch of the Nile of Egypt; or that, when the existence of a great lake, in the direction of the known portion of its stream, became known, the opinion should have followed that the river terminated in that lake, or that it was discharged through the lake into the Nile. Such, consequently, have been the prevalent notions in all ages, even among the most intelligent foreigners, as well as the highest class of natives,—from Herodotus, Etearchus, and Juba, to Ibn Batuta, and Bello of Sakkatu.
Considering these circumstances, it will hardly be contended that the late discovery has made any alteration in the nature of the question as to the identity of the Quorra and Nigir,—the sudden bend of the river to the southward, through a country which has been equally unknown to ancients and moderns, having always left the best informed of them in ignorance of any part of the river, except that of which the course was northerly or easterly. If, then, there is sufficient reason for the belief that these latter portions were known to the ancients, we have only to suppose them to have had some such imperfect knowledge of the interior of North-Africa, as we ourselves had attained previously to the expedition of Denham and Clapperton, to justify the application of the name Nigir to the whole course of the river. It remains to inquire whether they had that degree of knowledge.
The only passage in history, more ancient than the time of the Roman empire, from which an inference can be drawn that the Quorra was then known, is the description given by Herodotus
* Leo had been at Timbuktu, and had therefore seen the river; but he was very young at the time, and his memory probably failed him when he wrote his book many years afterwards in Italy.
of a very remarkable journey of discovery, undertaken, in his time, by some of the Nasamones, a Libyan people, who occupied the country lying between that of the Gaiamantes, or the modern Fezzdn, and .the great bay of Syrtis, and who appear to have held also the Oasis of Augila in their dependence.* Some of the sons of the chief men of the tribe having formed an association for the purpose of discovering new countries in the Libyan desert, five of them, chosen by lot, and furnished with every requisite, set out on this perilous enterprise. After having passed through the olxeo/jiiw, or inhabited region, and the Swpidltvi!, or country of wild beasts, which lay beyond it, they traversed, during many days, the great sandy desert f towards the west, J until they arrived in a country inhabited by men of a low stature, § who conducted them through extensive marshes || to a city, built on a great river, which produced crocodiles, and which flowed towards the rising sun. %
That there can be no casual error in the direction here ascribed to the current of the river, is proved by the historian's opinion, that it was a branch of the Nile, in which he coincided with Etearchus, king of the Ammonii, from whom, through the medium of the Greeks of Gyrene, his information on the Nasamonian expedition was derived.** It is equally evident that the country, visited by the Nasamones, could not have been near the maritime provinces, afterwards called Africa and Mauritania, for Herodotus expressly describes the Oixeo/xevw, or inhabited country, as that which stretched along the Mediterranean from Egypt, as far as Cape Soloeis, now Blanco, thus comprehending all modern Barbary, and which, where not occupied by Greek or Phoenician colonies, was then inhabited by Libyans. The country of the wild beasts lay inland from the inhabited belt, and the desert was beyond the latter, so that it is impossible that the river discovered by the Nasamones could have been one of those lying on the southern side of the kingdom of Algiers, as in that case they would not have crossed any desert, and their most convenient route, for half the distance, would have been along the sea-coast.
That Herodotus could not have intended any but a part of the Sahara, or Great Western Desert, as that which he believed the Nasamones to have crossed, seems evident from his forcible and accurate description of it, ft and from his similar description of the
* Herodot. 1. ii. c. 32.—1. iv. c. 172, 173, 175.—v. et Plin. 1. v. c. 5 — Strabo, p. 836.
f T^v 'igrifiov %ugav vroXXov ipafifjt&ibia. J fT^flf &Qvg°v avl^w.
§ ftfrg'im iXxffffcms avlgm. \\ it \\iaii fLlylctoiv.
\ avro it»fftfiris ffgos *fX»v ivarixXovra. * ** It appears from the name of Etearchus, that the Greeks at that time possessed Ammonia.
ft "IVej Ss r?f Itpoim raurn;, To nrm xai fit/rlyaixv rris A/W«s, Igrifios xxi a»i/Sj»f xai xSngoS xxi mopiga; xx\ X%u)j>s iffri h X*tf xe" ''P&ol •"t' eliSir.—Herodot.