THE AFRICAN CHIEF
BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
The story of the African Chief, related in
this ballad, may be found in the African
Repository for April, 1825. The subject of
it was a warrior of majestic stature, the
brother of Yarradee, king of the Solima
nation. He had been taken in battle, and
was brought in chains for sale to the
Rio Pongas, where he was exhibited in the
market-place, his ankles still adorned
with the massy rings of gold which he wore
when captured. The refusal of his captor
to listen to his offers of ransom drove
him mad, and he died a maniac.
Chained in the market-place he stood,
A man of giant frame,
Amid the gathering multitude
That shrunk to hear his name--
All stern of look and strong of limb,
His dark eye on the ground:--
And silently they gazed on him,
As on a lion bound.
Vainly, but well, that chief had fought,
He was a captive now,
Yet pride, that fortune humbles not,
Was written on his brow.
The scars his dark broad bosom wore,
Showed warrior true and brave;
A prince among his tribe before,
He could not be a slave.
Then to his conqueror he spake--
"My brother is a king;
Undo this necklace from my neck,
And take this bracelet ring,
And send me where my brother reigns
And I will fill thy hands
With store of ivory from the plains,
And gold-dust from the sands."
"Not for thy ivory nor thy gold
Will I unbind thy chain;
That bloody hand shall never hold
The battle-spear again.
A price thy nation never gave
Shall yet be paid for thee;
For thou shalt be the Christian's slave,
In lands beyond the sea."
Then wept the warrior chief, and bade
To shred his locks away;
And, one by one, each heavy braid
Before the victor lay.
Thick were the platted locks, and long,
And deftly hidden there
Shone many a wedge of gold among
The dark and crisped hair.
"Look, feast thy greedy eye with gold
Long kept for sorest need;
Take it--thou askest sums untold,
And say that I am freed.
Take it--my wife, the long, long day,
Weeps by the cocoa-tree,
And my young children leave their play,
And ask in vain for me."
"I take thy gold--but I have made
Thy fetters fast and strong,
And ween that by the cocoa shade
Thy wife will wait thee long."
Strong was the agony that shook
The captive's frame to hear,
And the proud meaning of his look
Was changed to mortal fear.
His heart was broken--crazed his brain:
At once his eye grew wild;
He struggled fiercely with his chain,
Whispered, and wept, and smiled;
Yet wore not long those fatal bands,
And once, at shut of day,
They drew him forth upon the sands,
The foul hyena's prey.