We arrived in Boké and spent the night in the Hotel Niara Bely in Boffa. It was a brand new hotel built to accommodate the tourist traffic expected to follow our expedition and publicity of the slave trail.
During breakfast, I persuaded Dr. Naby Camara, our historian and leader, to take a side trip to Boké, a regional capital on the Rio Nunez and the site of the famous Battle in 1849. This was outside our permitted area and a town not familiar to Dr. Camara who is a Susu from Farenya.
The Rio Nunez is 50 miles north of the Rio Pongo and was also the site of extensive slave trading during the 1790– 1860 period. The geography of the rivers is similar— short, tidal, originating in the Futa Djallon plateau. The tribes, however, are different even to this day. The Susu is the major tribe of the Rio Pongo, and the Landuman people dominate the Rio Nunez. The Baga farmed rice in the coastal marshes of both rivers, then and now, and are still considered a lesser people.
We loaded into the double cab pickup. Dr. Camara, Dr. Jim Fisher, Bah Oure, and I sat in the front. Sekou Camara, Dr. Camara’s son; Ahmed Soumah, our interpreter; and Dr. Camara’s daughter, Mimi, rode in the back with our luggage. After a stop for diesel fuel and air for the tires, we headed north on the coastal highway.
It was 10 a. m.
At 11 a. m. we stopped to pick up provisions at the border of Boké Prefecture. It was 90 degrees. A few minutes later we crossed the Rio Nunez bridge. At 11: 25 a. m. we entered the town of Boké, and Dr. Camara asked for directions to the town offices.
We arrived unannounced at the Prefect’s (governor) office, an unpardonable sin in West Africa. However, Dr. Camara, a profoundly eloquent gentleman, used our historic
Slave Trail Trek as a tool to open the Prefect’s door. Once inside, we were treated like visiting dignitaries by the Prefect and allowed to an immediate palaver (formal discussion).
The Prefect, Mamadou Camara (no relation to Dr. Camara), was most hospitable and sincerely interested in our expedition on the Rio Pongo. He brought in his cabinet to hear Dr. Camara’s explanation and some of my history of Capt. Lightburn, Queen Niara Bely, and Farenya. The Boké officials were only familiar with Niara Bely in that Capt. Morgan, a slave trader on the Rio Nunez, once exchanged a slave with her.
The Prefect told us about their museum, of which they were ver y proud, and how they were trying to restore several old slave buildings and a wharf to attract tourists. Bingo! We had hit on a new treasure.
The Prefect told one of his officials to take us to the museum and sent a runner to fetch the museum director. We thanked him, took a number of photographs, and walked the 200 yards to the museum.
The museum grounds once housed the fort overlooking the river. A crumbling stone wall and four ancient cannons surrounded a large central building, several out buildings, and a dozen statues of Guinea patriots.
The main building was dated 1878 and was said to have served as the French Colonial Headquarters for Gen. Louis Faidherbe, French governor of Senegal (French West Africa) from 1854 to 1865. There was a marker where René Caillie, the French explorer, started his expedition into the dark continent in 1824. Caillie is known for being the first European to travel to Timbuctou and live to tell about it. In 1982, I visited his home in the fabled city of Timbuctou and later read his 1830 account of his travels.
Needless to say, I was excited about what we had found on the hill overlooking the site of the famous Battle of 1849 between the French, Belgians, and native Africans. It was this battle that drove the English out of the Rio Nunez forever.
(Next week: The Battle of 1849 comes to life.)
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