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Detail map Haas Homann 1743 showing the Malaguetta or
Grain Coast


A Dutch account of the Pepper Coast
in the Seventeenth Century:
Olfert Dapper

The results of Dutch exploration of the Grain Coast in the seventeenth century are summed up by the learned Dr. O. Dapper in his great work on African geography, which was published at Amsterdam in both Flemish and French in 1686. Dapper devotes a good many interesting pages to the description of the coast tribes of what is now called Liberia. The northern coast region of Liberia between the Mano River and Cape Mesurado is described as the kingdom of Quoja (? Kwoya of Kwia). The Quoja is said to be the name of the language; but it would seem to be that of the dominant caste at the time, for all these people, Dapper is careful to tell us, belonged to the Vey (Vai) tribe.fvdk

Dapper writes much of a warlike people called the Folgia, who are much mixed up in their history with the Kru tribes. One of the provinces of the Folgia kingdom was called “Karou,” and it is a question whether this word can be in any way connected with the name of the Kru people. It is stated by Dapper that the most widely spread language of all this part of the Liberian coast was the of the “Folgia” people, of which he describes the Quoja, Gebbe (Gibi) , and the Gala (Gora) as being merely dialects. The Folgia appear to have repeatedly attacked and decimated the Vai tribes. The Mano River is mentioned under the name of Magwibba. The Mafa bears its present name, and the lake and creeks behind Cape Mount, which are nowadays






fvdk The Vai form the first tribe of this region which was moslem. It was one of the few tribes of Black Africa who developed its own script.



known as Pisu1, are referred to as Plizoge. The Little Cape Mount River is called the Menoch or Rio Aguado. The interior people immediately behind the Kwoya or Vai are styled the “Galavey.” The tribal name of Hondo, still farther in the interior, is probably the modern Kondo. The Dē tribe is not referred to by name, but is evidently included under the generic term of Carou, by which seems to be indicated the Kru race in general. (Reference to my vocabularies will show that the Dē language is only one of the dialects of the Kru family.) The Folgia (?Fulja) may be a people belonging to the Gora stock. They seem to have inhabited the coast district now occupied by the Dē people; but they were at that time – the middle of the seventeenth century – a powerful and warlike race which, under the name of Kwoya or Kwia, had partially conquered the coast Vai. 1 Merely “lake” or “river” in Vai.
Dapper’s “Gala” are evidently the Gora of to-day and the “Golahs” of writers in the first half of the last century2. The St. Pauls’ River is referred to by Dapper, but is evidently regarded as a much more insignificant stream than the rivers farther north.

Acoording to Dapper, the true Grain Coast does not begin till the mouth of the River Cestos is reached, and extends thence to the mouth of the Cavalla. Dapper constantly refers to the French settlement of Petit Dieppe at the mouth of a river. (?Bisō River, near Grand Basā.)

The tribal name for the Kru people is spelt Krouw, which would be pronounced in Dutch “Krau.” The Kru people behind Cape Palmas were classed by Dapper as cannibals, no doubt correctly.

Besides the Dutch, both the English and the French were very active on this coast. The River Cestos appears to have been the most frequented trading station, and during this century it exported large quantities of ivory. It was, as well, the headquarters of the pepper trade.
2 Benjamin Anderson’s researches (1868) show that even at that late date there were Dē settlements fifty miles west of the middle St. Paul’s River, behind the Vai peoples and west of the Gora. So the Folgia and possibly Kwoya conquerors may have been akin to the Kru peoples. The Gora, by their language, are the indigenes. The Mamba people who inhabit the country east of the Lower St. Paul are allied to the Dē and Basā.

'The Dutch were shy of this river exploration, because they disliked travelling in canoes'

According to Dapper, the English at this time frequently ascended the St. Paul River, and were always active on the Junk and St. John Rivers, searching for ivory and camwood. The Dutch were shy of this river exploration, because they disliked travelling in canoes.

Dapper and the Dutch traders from whom he derives his stories seem to have concentrated their researches chiefly on the northern coast of Liberia, the Vai country, generally mentioned as Quoja. A very detailed description is given of the forest trees and their uses: The Soap tree, the Kola nut, the Bombax, Parinarium, the Borassus, Oil, Raphia, and Coconut palms are all to be identified in Dapper’s descriptions.




He is somewhat more vague about the fauna. A large species of Pangolin or Scaly Ant-eater (Manis gigantea) is described and illustrated, with the suggestion that it is a relation of the crocodile. Its native name is given as quoguelo. In describing the wild pigs it is rather remarkable that Dapper distinguishes carefully between the red bush swine (which he calls Couja3) and a gigantic species of black pig which is described as being very dangerous, and with teeth so sharp that they snap through everything they bite. It may be that an allusion here is made to the Forest Pig of Equatorial Africa, the existence of which in Liberia has been already reported from native accounts by Mr. M. Pye-Smith, while a skull collected by Mr. G.L. Bates serves to prove its existence in the Cameroons. The chimpanzee is described accurately, and the leopard is called a “royal” animal, being regarded by the natives as the king of beasts. Dapper mentions that there is a tiger in the country which does no harm to mankind. The description given of the “tiger”is very vague, and may be due really to stories of lions brought to the coast by the Mandingo people. A good deal is said about the native beliefs in bird-oracles. This bird-lore, of which Dapper gives many instances, is another proof of the homogeneity of the Negro race, as they might be capped by similar stories from East, South, and Central Africa.

According to Dapper, the natives of this part of Liberia knew nothing of dysentery, which was apparently introduced into West Africa by a Dutch trading ship that called at Sierra Leone in 1626. It spread to Northern Liberia as a terrible plague soon afterwards, so that the plantations were left untilled for three years, and many people died or fled into the interior in panic. Smallpox was already established in the country.

The great monarch of the country appears to have been the King of Manu, referred to occasionally as “Mendi Manou,” possibly a Mandingo chieftain. No direct statement is made by Dapper of the advance of Muhammadanism, but it is probable, from one or two of his allusions that Islam had already reached the interior of the Vai country. Dapper gives an admirable description of the various initiation ceremonies of boys and girls nearly identical with those of the present day.

As to the Karou, who at one time conquered the Vai, they are described as having lived recently in the country of the Folgia, which is located by Dapper in the vicinity of the present town of Monrovia. The first general of this conquering tribe was known as Sokwalla, who was succeeded by his son Flonikerri. Under these leaders the Karou first conquered the Folgia round about the River Junk, and then made friends with them. The united peoples of the Folgia and Karou conquered the tribes about the River Cestos on the one hand and the Gala (Gora), Vai, and Kwoya on the other, even carrying their victorious arms as far west as Sierra Leone, also bringing under their control the interior people called Dogo and the Gibi tribe.

John Snoek / Bosman

A Dutch account of Liberia in the seventeenth century





3 If, as is co common, the “u” in this word is a misprint for “n,” and the “j” has its Dutch pronunciation, this word might read as Kônia, its actual form in Vai at the present time.



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