|La Fleur, J.D., ed. Pieter Van Den Broecke’s Journal of Voyages to Cape Verde, Guinea and Angola, 1605-1612. London: Hakluyt Society (Series III, vol. 5), 2000. xv + 139, illus., maps, biblio., appendixes, indexes. £45.00. ISBN 0 904180 68 9.
Pieter Van den Broecke (1585-1640) was a Dutch trader who made four journeys to Africa, the last three of which were to Loanga, a coastal kingdom located immediately north of the Congo River. On the first voyage (1607-1609), he acted as a minor functionary, whereas on the third journey (1611-1612) he served as Chief Factor. Van den Broecke kept a scant journal of his experiences in Africa, but nothing was done with it until about 1630, when he returned to Holland after a long stay in the East Indies. It was then prepared for publication, but was very heavily edited, with barely a third of the journal version seeing print. This slight volume published by the Hakluyt Society presents a translation of the complete hand-written manuscript for the first time in English, and what an interesting little tome it is. What is remarkable is that once journals and diaries were published (in this case, 1634) original manuscripts commonly were discarded. Fortunately, Van den Broecke’s original document has survived; thus scholars now know that so much of what he wrote never saw print. Translator and editor, J.D. La Fleur, who at the time of publication of this most interesting book was a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, must certainly be congratulated for producing a first-rate work.
This English language version of the journal comprises only 77 pages of printed text, and editorial notes consume about half of that total. The journal entry for the second voyage, for example, is only twelve pages long, and much of it consists of editorial notes. The manuscript is impeccably translated and edited, and maps are provided which greatly help the reader. What clearly becomes apparent is that European traders operating in Africa in the early seventeenth century did not practice a trivial activity. What they did was arduously hard and dangerous work, and it required both skill and courage. While in Africa, Van den Broecke tells about seeing dozens of trading vessels not only from Holland, but also from Portugal, Britain and Spain. In his accounts of how successful traders were, he reports that when the second trading foray returned to Holland in July 1611, it brought back 1,800 pieces of red wool, and 65,000 pounds of elephant tusks.
Van den Broecke tells us that throughout his three trips to Loanga, he spent a total of sixteen months ashore, but, alas, he devotes only nine pages to a description of the region; certainly not enough, but nonetheless he is informative about the region’s ethnology, geography, and wildlife. One particular comment involves “a certain type of man” who was totally wild and mute, who walked naked, and who had shaggy hair over his whole body. Furthermore, he possessed a tail the size of a thumb. One wonders if Paul du Chaillu, of nineteenth-century gorilla fame, knew about Van den Broecke’s journal.
The Hakluyt Society has done it again. It has published a worthy document that it correctly claims is a very important work for scholars interested in pre-colonial Africa. Furthermore, for a man La Fleur believes had only rudimentary schooling and was almost illiterate, Van den Broecke deserves credit for producing a jewel of travel writing.
Sanford H. Bederman
Georgia State University