Fernando Po

FERNANDO PO, or Fernando Póo, a Spanish island on the west coast of Africa, in the Bight of Biafra, about 20 m. from the mainland, in 3° 12' N. and 8° 48' E. It is of volcanic origin, related to the Cameroon system of the adjacent mainland, is the largest island in the Gulf of Guinea, is 44 m. long from N.N.E. to S.S.W., about 20 m. broad, and has an area of about 780 sq. m. Fernando Po is noted for its beautiful aspect, seeming from a short distance to be a single mountain rising from the sea, its sides covered with luxuriant vegetation. The shores are steep and rocky and the coast plain narrow. This plain is succeeded by the slopes of the mountains which occupy the rest of the island and culminate in the magnificent cone of Clarence Peak or Pico de Santa Isabel (native name Owassa). Clarence Peak, about 10,000 ft. high, [1] is in the north-central part of the island. In the south Musolo Mt. attains a height of 7400 ft. There are numerous other peaks between 4000 and 6000 ft. high. The mountains contain craters and crater lakes, and are covered, most of them to their summits, with forests. Down the narrow intervening valleys rush torrential streams which have cut deep beds through the coast plains. The trees most characteristic of the forest are oil palms and tree ferns, but there are many varieties, including ebony, mahogany and the African oak. The undergrowth is very dense; it includes the sugar-cane and cotton and indigo plants. The fauna includes antelopes, monkeys, lemurs, the civet cat, porcupine, pythons and green tree-snakes, crocodiles and turtles. The climate is very unhealthy in the lower districts, where malarial fever is common. The mean temperature on the coast is 78° Fahr. and varies little, but in the higher altitudes there is considerable daily variation. The rainfall is very heavy except during November-January, which is considered the dry season.

The inhabitants number about 25,000. In addition to about 500 Europeans, mostly Spaniards and Cubans, they are of two classes, the Bubis or Bube (formerly also called Ediya), who occupy the interior, and the coast dwellers, a mixed Negro race, largely descended from slave ancestors with an admixture of Portuguese and Spanish blood, and known to the Bubis as "Portos" - a corruption of Portuguese. The Bubis are of Bantu stock and early immigrants from the mainland. Physically they are a finely developed race, extremely jealous of their independence and unwilling to take service of any kind with Europeans. They go unclothed, smearing their bodies with a kind of pomatum. They stick pieces of wood in the lobes of their ears, wear numerous armlets made of ivory, beads or grass, and always wear hats, generally made of palm leaves. Their weapons are mainly of wood; stone axes and knives were in use as late as 1858. They have no knowledge of working iron. Their villages are built in the densest parts of the forest, and care is taken to conceal the approach to them. The Bubis are sportsmen and fishermen rather than agriculturists. The staple foods of the islanders generally are millet, rice, yams and bananas. Alcohol is distilled from the sugar-cane. The natives possess numbers of sheep, goats and fowls.

The principal settlement is Port Clarence (pop. 1500), called by the Spaniards Santa Isabel, a safe and commodious harbour on the north coast. In its graveyard are buried Richard Lander and several other explorers of West Africa. Port Clarence is unhealthy, and the seat of government has been removed to Basile, a small town 5 m. from Port Clarence and over 1000 ft. above the sea. On the west coast are the bay and port of San Carlos, on the east coast Concepcion Bay and town. The chief industry until the close of the 19th century was the collection of palm-oil, but the Spaniards have since developed plantations of cocoa, coffee, sugar, tobacco, vanilla and other tropical plants. The kola nut is also cultivated. The cocoa plantations are of most importance. The amount of cocoa exported in 1905 was 1800 tons, being 370 tons above the average export for the preceding five years. The total value of the trade of the island (1900-1905) was about £250,000 a year.

History. - The island was discovered towards the close of the 15th century by a Portuguese navigator called Fernão do Po, who, struck by its beauty, named it Formosa, but it soon came to be called by the name of its discoverer. [2] A Portuguese colony was established in the island, which together with Annobon was ceded to Spain in 1778. The first attempts of Spain to develop the island ended disastrously, and in 1827, with the consent of Spain, the administration of the island was taken over by Great Britain, the British "superintendent" having a Spanish commission as governor. By the British Fernando Po was used as a naval station for the ships engaged in the suppression of the slave trade. The British headquarters were named Port Clarence and the adjacent promontory Cape William, in honour of the duke of Clarence (William IV.). In 1844 the Spaniards reclaimed the island, refusing to sell their rights to Great Britain. They did no more at that time, however, than hoist the Spanish flag, appointing a British resident, John Beecroft, governor. Beecroft, who was made British consul in 1849, died in 1854. During the British occupation a considerable number of Sierra Leonians, West Indians and freed slaves settled in the island, and English became and remains the common speech of the coast peoples. In 1858 a Spanish governor was sent out, and the Baptist missionaries who had laboured in the island since 1843 were compelled to withdraw. They settled in Ambas Bay on the neighbouring mainland (see Cameroon). The Jesuits who succeeded the Baptists were also expelled, but mission and educational work is now carried on by other Roman Catholic agencies, and (since 1870) by the Primitive Methodists. In 1879 the Spanish government recalled its officials, but a few years later, when the partition of Africa was being effected, they were replaced and a number of Cuban political prisoners were deported thither. Very little was done to develop the resources of the island until after the loss of the Spanish colonies in the West Indies and the Pacific, when Spain turned her attention to her African possessions. Stimulated by the success of the Portuguese cocoa plantations in the neighbouring island of St Thomas, the Spaniards started similar plantations, with some measure of success. The strategical importance and commercial possibilities of the island caused Germany and other powers to approach Spain with a view to its acquisition, and in 1900 the Spaniards gave France, in return for territorial concessions on the mainland, the right of pre-emption over the island and her other West African possessions.

The administration of the island is in the hands of a governor-general, assisted by a council, and responsible to the ministry of foreign affairs at Madrid. The governor-general has under his authority the sub-governors of the other Spanish possessions in the Gulf of Guinea, namely, the Muni River Settlement, Corisco and Annobon (see those articles). None of these possessions is self-supporting.

See E. d'Almonte, "Someras Notas ... de la isla de Fernando Póo y de la Guinea continental española," in Bol. Real. Soc. Geog. of Madrid (1902); and a further article in the Riv. Geog. Col. of Madrid (1908); E.L. Vilches, "Fernando Póo y la Guinea española," in the Bol. Real. Soc. Geog. (1901); San Javier, Tres Años en Fernando Póo (Madrid, 1875); O. Baumann, Eine africanische Tropeninsel: Fernando Póo und die Bube (Vienna, 1888); Sir H.H. Johnston, George Grenfell and the Congo ... and Notes on Fernando Pô (London, 1908); Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, ch. iii. (London, 1897); T.J. Hutchinson, sometime British Consul at Fernando Po, Impressions of Western Africa, chs. xii. and xiii. (London, 1858), and Ten Years' Wanderings among the Ethiopians, chs. xvii. and xviii. (London, 1861). For the Bubi language see J. Clarke, The Adeeyah Vocabulary (1841), and Introduction to the Fernandian Tongue (1848). Consult also Wanderings in West Africa (1863) and other books written by Sir Richard Burton as the result of his consulship at Fernando Po, 1861-1865, and the works cited under Muni River Settlements.

[1] The heights given by explorers vary from 9200 to 10,800 ft.

[2] Some authorities maintain that another Portuguese seaman, Lopes Gonsalves, was the discoverer of the island. The years 1469, 1471 and 1486 are variously given as those of the date of the discovery.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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