National Geographic : 1934 Jan
THREE-WHEELING THROUGH AFRICA Photograph by Francis Flood A RECEPTION COMMITTEE MEETS THE VISITOR The author could not converse with the Kanuri belles in their own language, but an exchange of smiles acknowledged the cordial welcome. this branch of the Yoruba nation and ruler over some 200,000 souls. He served tea from exquisite china, with all the aplomb of an ambassador from the Court of St. James, and spoke Oxford English quite as well as Flood and I speak American. But his face, anthracite-black and shiny beneath the ponderous silver coronet given his predecessor by Queen Victoria, was slashed with the Egba tribal marks, and his thick lips opened and closed over a row of filed teeth. And across the court yard I saw one of the Alake's wives and her several inky offspring sitting on the floor eating couscous with their fingers out of a big carven calabash. STORIES TOLD BY DRUMBEATS In Abeokuta I got acquainted with the Yoruba talking drum. As a native friend and I were passing a wedding party, one of the drummers saluted us with a queer succession of sounds on his instrument. "That man, he tell you old, old Yoruba proverb," said my friend-" 'Two lambs cannot drink out of one calabash.' " "Hmm," thought I. "Queer thing to be saying at a wedding." Yoruba oral literature is rich in prov erbs, legends, and historical tales. The drummer beat out several, and then in vited me to examine his drum. It was an elongated tom-tom, hourglass-shaped, so that a performer holding it under his arm could vary the pitch, tympanum-fashion, by exerting pressure on the cords connect ing the heads. The three elements of Yoruba speech--vowel, consonant, and pitch inflection-could all be approximated with surprising accuracy. Drummers fre quently "show off" by holding long conver sations on their instruments. Some 58 miles inland we came to Ibadan, a pagan metropolis sprawled over a score of hills. Largest city in tropical Africa is Ibadan-250,000 people sweating, work ing, loving, dying, year after year back there in the jungle. One wonders what life holds for them. And yet, in strolling through the market place, I noted that at least every third citizen was smiling. Poor, benighted heathen-they didn't know any better than to enjoy life as they found it! There were 250,000 people, and not a sewer pipe within the city limits, we were told. But there's the sun-and the goats!