Download Copal of Zanzibar - Microsoft Word format
Copal is one of the three main ingredients for making coach varnish. The best copal was thought to come from the port of Zanzibar.
Copal of Zanzibar
New York Coach-Maker's Magazine August 1870 page 48 Among the specimens of vegetation growing along the coast of the bay of Dan-Salam, in the southern end of the island of Zanzibar, is the Trachylobium mossambicense, which the native inhabitants call M'ti-Sandaruski, or the tree of copal. A resinous, translucent, hard and brittle exudation is found on its trunk and principal branches. The upper branches, too, exude a resin which, however, is never found in a liquid state, from whence it may be justly infererd that it concretes and hardens very soon after its exudation. On account of its brittleness it cracks from the branches by the least movement. Insects are often found inclosed in such pieces, all of which present a uniform surface, as if they were polished, but none of them show that rough surface, called goose-flesh, which is characteristic of all fossil gums found in the earth. This sort is carried in large quantities to India, but as yet does not reach Europe.
After satisfying himself that the Trachylobium was the source of a sort of copal, Mr. M. T. Kirk, who has made considerable investigation into this subject, has admitted that the old copal of Zanzibar, well known in Europe as a half-fossil resin, and commonly used int he manufacture of varnishes, was likely to be a product of the same tree.
There are three different sorts of copal of Zanzibar, which the merchants distinguish by color, surface, general appearance, and other indications, and which they further subdivide. The first sort is called Sandaruski-M'ti, or copal of tree, and the second Chakazzi, or copal found in the earth, which, however, is similar to the first and of the same value. The third sort, which is the true copal Sandaruski, is, as the second, found in the earth, but it is harder, less soluble, and commands more than double the price. This last sort comprises the largest quantity of Zanzibar copal, and often 400,000 kilograms, worth 1,500,000 frs., are exported during the year to Europe.
The Trachylobium mossambicense, which, as shown, affords the first sort of copal of Zanzibar, the tree copal, grows along the coast of Mozambique as far as Lamo, from the 10th to the 15th degree of southern latitude. It is very frequent between Delgado and Monbos, abounding near the bays and the banks of the rivers, but it grows rare at a short distance from the sea, and still further inland it disappears. The second sort, Chakazzi, is found clinging to the roots of the copal-tree, and it is, as Mr. Kirk has ascertained, really the same sort as the first, but mixed with the third. It is found only in the neighborhood of forests still living, where the third sort never is found, and it is evidently a fresh resin which has fallen to the ground a little after the decay of the mother-tree, though still fresh enough to receive and preserve impressions from sand, stones, or other hard bodies; but crafty people understand how to mix these inferior resins form the coast with those more valuable from the inner land.
The true copal is undoubtedly a product of forests which have been destroyed; no living tree gives such a product. It is only found in the woodless inner land, where the native inhabitants dig the soil, when softened by heavy rain-storms, searching after the resin, to sell it to the foreign merchants. This fossil resin, when compared with the fresh one, resembles it in its physical character, but it affords no true evidence of being produced from the Trachylobium. The insects inclosed in it are all winged insects, and the leaves which sometimes are found inclosed in it together with the insects do not sem to belong to the copal-tree. Yet, when it is remembered that the resin hardens very soon after exudating, and that it cracks from the branches just at the time when leaves and flowers are in full vigor on their tops, it is evident that leaves of the shrubbery growing below the copal-tree are more likely to be found in the exudations than those of the tree itself.
Such is the origin of the copal, which forms one of the principal ingredients of coach varnish, and such are the three principal classes into which Zanzibar copal is divided.
From the Hub October 1871 page 132
Chapter III Hub December 1871 page 179
The Island of Zanzibar--Its situation--Climate--Productions--Exports--Government--Inhabitants--Language--Slavery--Copal-bearing trees--Where Zanzibar Copal is chiefly found--Zanzibar a trading post--Its business houses--The position held by Americans in the Copal trade--In Varnish manufacture--Do the English make the best Varnish?--Have they better facilities than Americans?
by Geo. W. W. Houghton
Our specimens of Copal--The insects inclosed--Copal one of the leading constituents of Varnish--
Our sources of information--The classification of Copals--The Gums--The Resins--The Gum-resins--
Copal strictly belongs to neither--It is a fossil.
In our cabinet at home is a long box containing some specimens of copal. There is a cross, very carefully molded from a piece of copal, so pure and colorless that it resembles flint glass. Next it is a heart, pierced by a scarlet ribbon, on which it is suspended; then a fish cut in yellow gum, and so perfectly finished that even its scales are visible. Next, there is a globe of the most brilliant golden yellow, and if you hold it in your hand and let the sun shine straight upon it, it bursts into a splendor of beauty--its heart is a tiny flame, and in its effulgence it resembles a molten ball of the precious metal. Then there is a variety of little odd-shaped pieces, just as they appeared after being cleansed--little irregular pieces, of various shades of yellow, and curiously ornamented with what is popularly known as "goose-skin." Last, and most interesting, are three pieces, in one of which is a spider, in another a leaf of the copal tree, and in the third a sort of insect, looking something like our common house-fly, but bigger and more delicately formed. Such are the contents of this long box, and we can never tire of looking at these beautiful relics, which have come down to us from a far remote age, and at these wonderful insects which have so curiously defied the laws of nature, and have retained their fragile forms century after century and century after century, while all the mighty things, that were coexistent with them--the huge coiling plants, the mighty forests, and the very earth that supported those forests--have since been remolded and remolded perhaps into a thousand different forms. One of these specimens, the one containing the fly, has been cut into a form convenient for a breastpin, and will sometime be honored with a suitable setting. There is a Salem merchant who owns a specimen which is still more striking than any we have mentioned; it holds a little wasp nest, which is so placed that the honey-comb is visible.
Copal is one of the three principal constituents used in the manufacture of coach and railway varnishes; the other are linseed oil and spirits of turpentine. It has always been enveloped in a shroud of mystery, which was the natural sequence of its singular formation and the uncertainty as to the true interpretation of its origin, and this mystery has been the means of attaching to this subject, already teeming with intrinsic interest, and additional importance which is the direct result of that mystery. No one can examine a piece of copal, knowing that it was dug from the sand in a foreign desert, without an immediate desire to know more about it. "What!" exclaims a lady to whom we show one of the specimens in our long box, "dug out of the sand! Out of a desert! What desert, pray, and how came it there?" These questions are asked of us very frequently, and they are questions to which a full reply comprehends many particulars.
We shall direct our remarks mainly to the Zanzibar copal--that variety being the best in quality and therefore the one most used in varnishes of the highest grade, and it is the kind about which we have the most direct and definite information. But in order to insure a correct understanding of the subject, we shall, in the present sketch, speak mainly of copals in general and their varieties.
The copals of commerce are said to have been brought originally from Mexico, and, it is thought by Chambers, that, primarily, the term copal was a general Mexican name for either resins or gums. But since this class of substances has been further classified, the application of the word has changed. Copals are allied to the classes of gums, resins and gum-resins, all of which are vegetable exudations from various plants and trees; but, although these classifications possess many properties in common, they are yet sufficiently distinct, and by defining the condition of each we shall be able to determine the one to which copal is most closely allied McCulloch's "Commercial Dictionary" defines these classes admirably, as follows:
"1. A Gum is thick, transparent fluid that issues spontaneously from certain species of plants, particularly such as produce stone fruit, as plum and cherry trees. It is very adhesive, and gradually hardens by exposure to the atmosphere. It is usually obtained in small pieces, like tears, moderately hard and somewhat brittle when cold, so that it can be reduced by pounding, to a fine powder. When pure it is colorless, but it commonly has yellowish tinge. It is not destitute of luster, has no smell, its taste is insipid, and its specific gravity varies form 1.316 to 1.431. It readily dissolves in water, but is insoluble in alcohol.
"2.Resins, for the most part, exude spontaneously from trees, though they are often obtained by artificial wounds, and are, not uncommonly, at first combined with volatile oils, from which they are separated by distillation. They are solid substances, naturally brittle, have a certain degree of transparency, and a color commonly inclining to yellow. Their taste is more or less acrid, and not unlike that of volatile oils, but they have no smell unless they happen to contain some foreign body. They are all heavier than water, their specific gravity varying from 1.018 to 1.186. They differ from gums in being insoluble in water, whether cold or hot, while they are, with a few exceptions, soluble in alcohol, especially when assisted by heat. When heated they melt, and if the heat is increased they take fire, burning with a strong, yellow flame, and emitting a vast quantity of smoke. Common rosin furnishes a very perfect example of a true resin, and it is from this substance that the whole genus have derived their names. Rosin is indeed frequently denominated resin.
"3. Gum-resins are a class of substances consisting of gum and resin. They differ from resins in this--that they never exude spontaneously from the plant, being obtained either by bruising the parts containing them and expressing the juice, which is generally white, or by making incisions in the plant, from which the juice flows. The juice, being exposed to the action of the sun, is condensed, until it forms the gum-resin of commerce. Alcohol partially dissolves them. Myrrh and gamboge are gum-resins."
Now, copal has neither the solubility in water, which is common to gums, nor the solubility in alcohol common to resins.
In the "Academical Collection of Memoirs," from the Academy of Berlin, is an article entitled; "Historical and Chemical Inquiries about Copal," in which their author, M. Lehamann, speaks thus of the class to which copal belongs:
"Copal," he says, "resembles amber very much in its outward appearance, in its variety of form and colors, the insects inclosed in it, and so forth. It is easily electrified, and holds electricity for a considerable time; retaining it even when burnt. When it is burning it gives a clear flame, a dense smoke and a singular smell, like other bituminous substances. When consumed, it leaves a black, imponderable and beautiful residium, which looks like burned asphaltum. It does not dissolve either in spirits of wine or in any other menstruum, except oil of turpentine. If it were a gum, distilled water would, of course, dissolve it to a certain degree; if it were a resin, it would be easily dissolved in alcohol; if it were a gum-resin, both menstrua would have some effect on it, and as they have none this proves that the substance belongs to another class than the gums and resins.
Still it is generally called a gum, but gums are soluble in water, and to this condition copal does not agree. It does not, then, possess the great distinguishing characteristic of the class, and can not be strictly called a gum. Still it is generally so spoken of. We say gum copal, gum Zanzibar and Benguela gum, the English speak of gum animi, both Tomlinson and Muspratt speak of gum copals; in Booth's "Cyclopaedia of Chemistry," and other standard works, we find the same expressions, and the well-known French writer, Tripier and Violette, have much to say of "gomme copal.," Whence, then, this constant use of a term which so incorrectly defines the true nature of copal? There are two ways of explaining away this difficulty. We may, with MCCullock, say that "the term gum, as applied to copals, is, in reality, incorrect, but, in commerce, the term gum is applied not only to gums properly so-called, but also to resins and gum-resins." Or, secondly, we may explain what appears to be an error in terminology, by conceiving of true copal as being a fossil gum,--a substance that was once a true gum, soluble in water, and having the other essential qualities of a gum, but whose characteristics have been so changed, by the action of outward influences, that the ordinary tests of its identity are no longer available. Richard F. Burton speaks of it as a semi-fossil. We prefer to dispose of the question in the latter manner.
There are many varieties of copals, which differ greatly from each other and among themselves in appearance and chemical qualities. Of these, we shall give a detailed description in our second chapter.
Chapter II Hub November 1871
The different varieties of Copal--Benguela Gum--Angola and Congo Gums--Accra Gum--Animé--Animi--Dammar--Batavia and Singapore Gum--Kowrie--Amber--Copalite.
There are many varieties of copals, which differ greatly from each other and among themselves in appearance and chemical properties. They are divided generically, by the French, into three classes, copal dur, or hard copal, le demi-dur, of medium hardness, and le tendre, soft; and not only are there many varieties of each class, and many degrees of those varieties, but it has been shown by the learned Unverdorben and Filhol that copal is in itself constituted of five distinct resins, somewhat variable in properties. These are named respectively the alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon resins, and the complex nature of copal is well illustrated by the fact that the solubility of each of these resins is different, and must be understood in order to manipulate with a degree of certainty.
The great bulk of copal comes from different parts of Africa, and in many parts of that country forms a very important feature of the export trade. As we have already mentioned, the most important of these varieties is that one which is shipped from the island of Zanzibar, which lies off the eastern coast of Africa, and whose principal features we shall dwell upon in the next number, describing its climate, productions and government, and the strange modes of life led by the heterogeneous peoples of the tropical island. The other principal varieties are as follows:
Benguela gum, from the western coast of Africa, ranks next in importance to Zanzibar, which it resembles; and Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone, from places of the same names also on the western coast, are similar in character, although the soil in these districts is not so well adapted to the development of best copal as on the eastern coast, and the character of the soil has a most important influence upon the character of the copal, as will be described hereafter. Accra gum comes from a port of the same name on the northern coast of Africa, and resembles that of the western coast. Animé is a general term applied to the importations from South America, the East Indies and other second quality gums. It is probably so called from the fact that it often contains insects and bits of vegetation, which give it the appearance of being animated or inhabited by organic life. The large transparent pieces, with pale yellow color, and with vitreous fracture--or, in other words with resemblance to glass when broken--are best suited for varnish. Although varnish made from animé is hard and dries well, it possesses some disadvantages, as it always deepens in color on exposure to the air, and is apt to crack. Copal is liable to be confounded with animé, when the latter is clear and good. But it is of importance to distinguish between them, as the animé, although valuable for varnish making, is much less so than the finest copal Animé is readily soluble in alcohol, while copal is hardly affected by it, and the former will soften in the mouth, instead of being brittle like copal. It is produced by a tree called the Hymenoea courbaril, a large native tree of Brazil and New Spain, and by the Vateria Indica of India.
Animé is often mixed with other varnishes. The term "animi," so commonly used by the English, seems to be connected with animé, but appears to be used by them in a much broader and less definite sense, as is illustrated by the price-list of a large London broker that is now before us, in which we find the quotations of animi include not only East India gums, but Zanzibar as well, and others of the best varieties. Dammar is a certain quality of animé, coming from the East Indies, chiefly from Batavia and Singapore, and is often designated by the name of the island from which it comes, as Batavia gum, Sinapore gum, etc. It is tasteless and without smell, and has a good degree of solubility.
Kowrie comes from the Island of New Zealand. It is a less valuable kind, but vast quantities are used, and the call constantly increases as scarcity of other gums throws an increased consumptive demand upon it. An examination of English price-lists shows how important a place it there occupies among the varnish gums, and there can be no doubt of its value for use in the lower grades of manufacture, and for mixture with the higher grades. It is a soft resin of whitish appearance, and occurs in large semi-transparent pieces. The above varieties embrace all the principal copals used in varnish making. Amber might be mentioned in this connection, as being allied to the same class, although its use is limited. It is a fossil resin of yellowish color, and is found on the shores of the Baltic and Adriatic seas and elsewhere, and in the alluvial soil with beds of lignite. It is transparent, hard and moderately tough, and is used as the basis of fine varnish, being distinguished for extreme durability, but its costliness, and the length of time it requires in order to become dry, present serious objections to its extensive use.
Deposits of copal have from time to time been found in America, and in various parts of Europe, and show that the growth of trees producing copal was in some past age far more abundant and wide-spread than at present. A few years ago, a native fossil substance of resinous character, and resembling copal in its exterior appearance, was found in the blue clay of Highland Hill, near London, and another fossil resin was once taken from the walls of a trap-dyke in Northumberland. These varieties have been named copalite.
Such are the leading copals, their character and distinguishing features. In subsequent numbers we shall present the subject more in detail, referring directly to the Zanzibar copal as a representative, and describing the country in which it is found, the mode of gathering it from the sand, and its collection by traders, and the most probable explanation of its origin and formation.
In order to give a right conception of the trade in Zanzibar Copal, it is necessary, in the first place, to describe the characteristics of the country from which it comes. To this end we shall devote the present sketch, and although we have never visited the island we describe, we are favored in having special facilities for gaining accurate information thereof, from friends who lived there many years, and who are thoroughly conversant with all the details of life in Zanzibar. Among these we have the pleasure to mention Wm. E. Hines. Esq., (of the firm of Arnold, Hines & Co.) of New York, late Consul of the United States to Zanzibar; Mr. Thos. T. Graves, of West Newton, Massachusetts, who was there associated with him; Mr. C. Cooke, of Salem, Massachusetts, who went to Zanzibar in 1860, for Professor Agassiz, and remained there several years, and several others whom we shall mention hereafter. It is through the assistance of these gentlemen, mainly, who have told us many particulars, and have furnished us with valuable manuscripts written by them, while on the island, that we have gathered the following particulars.
The island of Zanzibar lies in the Indian Ocean, twenty-five miles off Zanguebar, on the eastern coast of Africa. It is situated in the tropics, between the parallels of 5 and 7 of south latitude, and is about four hundred miles south of the equator. It is just about as large as the State of Rhode Island, being fifty miles long, aud its mean breadth from east to west is seventeen to twenty miles. The island is of coral formation, and there are evidences to show that, through some volcanic agency, it is slowly rising from the sea and enlarging its extent, or it may be that the sea is gradually receding from it. On the western shore of the island, looking toward the mainland, is its capital, of the same name, and it is to this city and port that the island owes its importance as a trading post. Without this city the island would be almost unknown. In a Harper's Monthly of last year, a correspondent gives the following description of the city of Zanzibar: "As we entered the harbor, the appearance of the capital was very novel and beautiful. We saw the houses of the consuls on the white sand beach, all trimmed with flags; and behind them were the white houses of the town, built in squares dn with flat roofs and castellated tops, and among them were the mosques, and the rude mud huts of the slaves, thatched with coconut leaves, and around all were the groves of coca, plantains, bananas, palms and pomerantates, with huts here and there interspersed."
The climate of Zanzibar is tropical, and there are two seasons, the wet and the dry. The southwest monsoon sets in by the last of March, and the rainy season then continues for four or five weeks, after which there follows a period of cool and pleasant weather, which continues until September. January, February and March are the hottest months. Vegetation is exceedingly rank and fertile in every part of the island, but only a small portion of it is under cultivation. Its leading productions are cloves, coca-nuts, orchilla oranges, bananas, yams and other tropical fruits. The cloves produced are of fine quality. And vast quantities of them are exported to England, France and America, forming quite a specialty in its export trade. It is probably the largest clove producing country in the world, and this product with coconuts are the only natural productions which enter into its foreign trade. The business in coconuts pays better than that in cloves, and there are many French, German and Hindoo houses which are engaged in their collection, drying and exportation. There is also a large trade in the orchilla weed, a material used for making matting of railway cars, etc. But the export trade of Zanzibar depends almost entirely upon the Mrima or coast of Zanguebar, which lies opposite the island, and from whose inhabitants the Zanzibar traders gather ivory, rice, valuable woods, tobacco, etc., for all of which they find a ready market and steady demand. Zanzibar exports more and better ivory than any other port in the world.
The island is under Arabian rule. The present Sultan is Madjid Ben Syud, a son of Syud who was late Imaum of Muscat. He is mild in government, and aims not only to please his own subjects, but to promote the interest of the few white residents, and to secure the interest and approval of their governments. His word is law among his subjects. The population of the island is supposed to number about two hundred thousand, of which three-fifths are Negro slaves, about one-fifth are free Negroes, and the remaining one-fifth is made up of Arabs, Hindoos, Comoro people, and a scattering of many other nationalities. The city itself contains about forty thousand inhabitants, most of whom are Negroes. There are many Hindoos and Banyans form India, and the trade of the island is conducted by them almost exclusively. They are all traders, many of them being large capitalist, and there are merchants among them who do a business of millions of dollars each year. They send agents or clerks to every part of the Mrima to trade and barter with the natives for all sorts of produce, and they fit out many expeditions for penetrating into the far interior of Africa, where they procure large quantities of ivory and other valuable articles. These expeditions sometimes occupy form three to five years, and in 1859 there was a party that came into Zanzibar, who had been absent for twelve years. These Banyan traders are ready at any time to buy a whole cargo of any kind of goods which they may require in their trade, and will readily contract for a cargo of the products of Zanzibar in return. The language chiefly spoken in Zanzibar in is Kisawahili, which, on the eastern shore of Africa, is what the French language has been in Europe. It is the common medium of communication between the different nationalities. It is a soft sounding language, but abounds in slang words and black-guard phrases, and there is not a polite word in it, nor a word expressive of thanks. Every such expression must be made in Arabic, which is the language of the court, and is spoken only by the comparatively educated Arabs. Among the other tongues which are used are Gujerattee and Hindoostanee, which are spoken by the Indian subjects. The Kisawahili language has no written characters, but it is often expressed in the characters of other languages, and Arabic is generally used for this purpose. The civil government and its organizations, are very simple in form. There is no established code of laws; the Sultan is the law-giver, and every new edict is made public, first, by writing it in three different languages, and posting these writings in a conspicuous place in the Custom-house, and second,, by publishing the law in the street three times a day by the lips of the street crier. The coinage of the country is regulated by him. There is no true Arabian money, and the legal tender consist of American and English gold, French gold and silver, the Austrian "Maria Theresa dollars," and German crowns and Indian rupees, all of which are, by the edict of His Highness the Sultan, made receivable at par value.
Slavery is a long established institution of Zanzibar, which of course exerts a powerful influence on the organization of its government, but it must by no means be associated with those ideas of injustice and cruelty which make it so odious in many places. Among a civilized people and under an enlightened government the institution of slavery is a shame and a curse, but in the case of the natives belonging to many of the African tribes, it cannot be doubted that their condition is really improved when they are taken from their barbarous freedom--which is only another name of the most cruel of slavery--and are brought as slaves and servants to the merchants of the island. They are slaves, truly, but their condition under the cruel mastery of their chiefs was not only worse in degree, but less mitigated by the greater security of life and the condition of life under the organized government of the Island, Poor government, even the most unprincipled, is vastly preferable to no government at all. There are several peculiarities about the system of slave holding, as here practiced, which are worthy of mention. In the first place, it is noticeable that the slaves are commonly treated much as if they were children. It is true that they seldom become educated, but they are generally treated kindly. The country or plantation slaves are allowed two days in every week, as, free days, in which they can work for themselves or amuse themselves, as they may wish. Moreover, each slave is entitled to a piece of land large enough to enable him to gain support of himself and family, and by using his free days rightly he can cultivate it to advantage, and perhaps make a saving of the profits on the excess of his productions over and above his immediate wants. Another marked feature of the system is the fact that any slave is allowed by law to own a slave or as many as he pleases, nor does the master hold any right or claim on the slaves of his slaves, as his property, nor is he entitled to any moiety of what they earn for his servant. There are instances in which a slave thus own more slaves than his master, and over them he holds the same power that his master holds over him this leaves room for the improvement and the rise of the slave, and gives him a certain kind of independence. In this way he is often enabled to purchase his liberty. As an illustration of the general liberty which is enjoyed by the slaves, it has been told to us that it is not uncommon to hear a slave arguing with his master as to the propriety of doing a certain thing that has been ordered, and oftentimes in the most friendly manner. Of course there are frequent cases of the most cruel despotism, under this institution, as must always be the case, but in certain grades of humanity the people are only children, and frequently of the grossest material, and it is undoubtedly just in the main to treat them as such.
We have now given, in outline, a general description of the island, having touched upon its situation, climate and productions, its inhabitants, language and government, together with some of its customs and social ideas, and those facts will help the reader in understanding what we shall speak of in as subsequent chapter. We will continue by referring directly to the trade in copal.
Contrary to what is generally supposed, there is but very little copal found upon the Island of Zanzibar itself, and the little which is found is very inferior in quality and does not enter into trade. Moreover, there are copal-producing trees still growing on the island, and in various parts of West Africa, particularly in the interior whence the raw copal is brought by the natives, but the fresh and unfossilized gum obtained form these is nearly valueless, and when mixed with the fossil gums, as is often done by the natives for the purpose of adulteration, it is always rejected by experienced buyers.
The great bulk of the fossil copal, which alone is merchantable, comes from the adjacent shores of Africa, where it is found principally in a long strip of coast land having an extent of two or three hundred miles in length, and extending inland to a distance of about twenty-five miles. This section of the east African coast land is called the Mrima, and it is in the sand of this low and desolate tract, in which there are no inhabitants and but little vegetation, that the Zanzibar copal is found. Richard F. Burton thus describes the appearance of the Mrima, as seen from Zanzibar.
"There is something peculiarly interesting in the appearance of the Mrima, or hill-land, as this part of the African coast is called. On one side lies the Indian Ocean illimitable toward the east, and broken westward by a thin line of foam creaming upon the whitest and finest of sand. It indents the coast deeply, forming bays, bayous, lagoons and backwaters, where after breaking their force upon bars and black ledges of sand and rock, the water lies at rest in the arms of the land like sheets of oil. The points and isles formed by the sea-streams are almost flush with the briny surface, yet they are overgrown with a profuse vegetation, the result of tropical suns and copious showers which supply the want of rich soil. The banks of the back waters are lined with finest of white and red mangrove. Plats of bald old trees betray the position of settlement, which, generally sheltered from sight, besprinkle the coast in a long, straggling line. Thirteen of these were counted in the space of three miles. The monotony of green that clothes the soil is relieved in places by swarf earth-cliffs, and behind this fore-ground. At a distance varying form three to five miles, rises a blue line of higher level, conspicuous even from Zanzibar, which is the raised sand beach, near the frontiers of the wild men. To this sketch add its accompaniment; by day, the plashing of the wave and the scream of the gull, with the perpetual hum and buzz of insect life; and, after the sunset the deep, dead silence of a tropical night, broken only by the roar of the old bull-crocodile, the "qua-qua" of the heron, and the shouts and shots of the watchmen, who know from the grunts of the hippopotamus, struggling up the bank, that he is quitting his watery home to pay a visit to their fields."
It will be seen by what we have said above, that the function of Zanzibar in the copal trade is this: it occupies the position of a trading post, at which the copal is collected and shipped by the merchants who are there established. In 1864 there were eight large merchant houses in the city who were engaged in the trade, two of which were American, three German, one English and two French, as follows: America was represented by Arnold, Hines & Company and John Bertram & Company; Germany, by Hr. Reich, Hr. Reuter (agent), and Oswald & Co.; England, by Fraser and Company, who opened in 1862, but discontinued in 1865, and France, by Barard & Company, and Vinal & Co. The firm last-named was a Marseilles house, who did very little in copal, confining their business mainly to oil and cloves. We understand that the number of houses has since decreased. In a letter from Zanzibar, dated April 3d, 1869, which appeared in the "Boston Journal," it appeared that there was at that time five houses who were engaged in the trade three American and two German, as follows: Arnold, Hines and Company, of New York, John Bertram of Salem, Massachusetts, and William H. Goodhue & Company; and Hr. Reich and Oswald & Company of Germany. Hr. Reuter had discontinued.
In seasons of ordinary activity, the shipments of copal from Zanzibar to the United States far exceed the shipments made to any other country. Germany (Hamburg) ranks next in the extent of its importation of this commodity, and then India. England has no business house in the island, nearly all the Zanzibar copal used there being obtained by the way of India. It is sometimes argued that the excellence of English varnish is in part due to the fact that country has the control of the copal market; but such is not the case. In point of fact, America has really a much better position in this respect than England. The fallacy of this argument is even more apparent than in the case of the claim of climatical advantages possessed by England, where it will be readily understood by any reader who is acquainted with even the first principles of the business, that the damp fog of the London atmosphere (which is proverbial), is peculiarly ill adapted to varnish making. An examination of the subject shows that the Englishman does not hold any natural advantage which gives him a monopoly in this respect. It is rather a question of experience, skill and perseverance, and in these we believe that American is rapidly proving her equality, and in a manner which has gained the respect even of the English manufacturers with whom she competes.
But we diverge somewhat from our immediate subject, and our present chapter is already long. In the January Hub we shall continue by describing more fully the trading houses which we have mentioned, and shall enter into the details of the collection of the copal. This portion of our subject will include many interesting particulars in regard to life and living in Africa and in Zanzibar.
Chapter IV Hub January 1872 page 202
Trade in Copal--How conducted--Its collection by the natives in Africa--Where found--How dug--Its sale by the natives to Banyan traders--a splendid chance to make riches--One objection.
We closed our previous article by speaking of the five business houses which were established in Zanzibar by American and German merchants. It is by these houses the copal is shipped from the island. They buy from the Banyans or Hindoos, who act as traders, and the Banyans in their turn collect the copal from the natives across the strait. The Banyans, possessing capital, have many boats and assistants, and have established several receiving stations along the coast of the Mrima, or Zanguebar coast of Africa, with which they keep up a constant communication.
The process of the business is as follows: the Negroes of Zanguebar and vicinity have learned that the Banyans value this gum which abounds in their country; so when absolute want happens to be stronger than their native laziness, they take their hoes, made of wood, and go into the desolate region which forms a wide skirt along the eastern coast of Africa, and here they dig for copal in the white sand.
Like most of the produce of Eastern Africa, the collection of copal is careless and desultory. The diggers are of the lowest classes, and there is a scarcity of hands. Near the sea-coast the diggings are worked by the Moslem Negroes, called the Wamrima or coast-clans. Each gang has its own boss, who, by distributing the stock, contrives to gain more than the others and to labor less. In the interior it is gathered by the heathen Negroes, who work independently of one another. When there is no blood-feud to interfere, they carry it down to the coast for sale; otherwise, they must wait the visit of some petty retail dealer from the ports. As a rule, the apathetic Moslem and the heathen will not work while anything eatable remains in his hut.
Considerable of the copal is found lying upon the surface or the ground, which is called in commerce, "surface gum," but this is not so valuable as that which occurs deeper in the sand.
The superficies of the copal country is generally a thin coat of light colored sand, covering a dark and fertilizing humus, the vestiges of decayed vegetation, which varies in depth from a few inches to a foot and a half in depth. In the Island of Zanzibar, which produces only the raw copal, the sub-soil is a stiff blue clay forming the raised sea-beach. This sub-soil is greasy and adhesive, clogging the hoe in its lower bed, where it is dotted with blood colored fragments of ochreish earth, proving the presence of oxidizing efficients. When digging in these formations, the copal occurs in the vegetable soil overlaying the clayey sub-soil. In he vicinity of the little port of Saadani, the copal region is described as being covered with a thin but rich vegetable covering, which supports a luxuriant thicket, and the sub-soil is red and sandy, and the color darkens as the excavations deepen. After digging down about three feet, fibrous matter appears, and below this is found the copal, which is small and dusty, and blended with the red ochreish earth. The guides assert that they have never come across a sub-soil of blue clay in this district, but they never dig lower than a man's waist, and as a rule the pits are not generally more than two feet in depth.
Usually the copal is found at a depth of from a few inches to three or four feet, and it is very seldom that they dig deeper than this, but there is reason to believe that the gum would be found at a much greater depth, and perhaps in much larger quantities. The greater the depth at which it is found, the greater the purity and value of the gum. Copal dug before the rains is always more impure than that which comes afterward, because it is more of a surface gum. The ground has been baked and hardened by the constant scorch of the sun, and it is very difficult to dig therefore during the dry season. But during the rainy season, when the soil is moist and soft, the natives dig deeper and the copal comes in larger pieces and of better quality. A very dry season affects the copal trade therefore very materially, as it decreases the quantity of the shipments, deteriorates the quality, while, at the same time, it advances the price on account of the scarcity.
Indeed, The Kosi, which is the southwest or rainy monsoon, is the only period during which any work is done at the copal diggings. The dry season is a period of almost complete inactivity, the extreme hardness of the ground being too much for the energy of the Negro, and, moreover, the gum dug at this time gives them much trouble in washing, on account of the tenacity with which the dry sand then clings to the surface, and the liability of breaking the copal in the process of cleansing.
The more civilized laborers use a little jambe, or hoe, a very primitive kind of implement, which is about as convenient and efficient as the wooden spade with which a child makes dirt-pies. With this hoe, the Negroes "crow" a hole in the soil, about six inches in diameter, and scrape out the loosened earth with the hand, and as far as the arm will reach. Here, mixed with the white sand of the desert they find the pieces of copal, coated with dirt, and generally small and scattered, but sometimes when fortune favors they will come across large junks weighing a pound or more, or they will find a bushel of smaller pieces in one spot. They generally desert the diggings long before it is exhausted, and although it is calculated that each digger could easily make an average collection of from ten to twelve pounds per day, they much prefer sleeping through the heated hours, and generally content themselves with as many ounces. Whenever there is a blood-feud on the coast, and this is often the case, or in case there is a drought, or a famine, or a pestilence, then all the workmen strike work; and no one will work at any price. It is evident that the copal mines can never be worked regularly or efficiently as long as they continue under the control of such unreliable miners. If Europeans were settled on the sea-board, with gangs of foreign workmen, their energy would soon remedy the evils which exist at present, but they would require not only the special permission, but also the protection of the local government, and in any case there would undoubtedly be a considerable opposition from those in possession. And the question of health makes a still more insurmountable barrier. One of our informants, in speaking of this, remarked: "o, if a company of Americans were to establish a house on the coast, it would pay immensely."
"And has it never been attempted?' we asked.
"Well, it has been though of, but nothing has ever been done, It might pay millions a year."
"And why is it not done?"
"There is every inducement for its being done, but there is one objection, folks will die there."
There certainly was some cause for delaying this splendid chance for millions a year.
But to return to the native diggers, who manage to survive the climate. Having filled their baskets, made from the rushes which grow along the water courses, they carry them to the Banyans, who are stationed here and there in the villages along the coast, or if they find no purchaser near, they await until a trading boat comes that way from the island. They have no boats themselves, being very lazy and destitute fellows, and they have to depend entirely upon the Banyans for a disposal of their copal. Having met a trader, the Banyan barters for the copal in exchange for cotton, muskets, powder or flour, and carries it across the strait to the island. In this way the Banyan collects the copal, basket by basket, and boat load by boat load, until he has gathered a large quantity of it in its raw condition. He then puts it in baskets, mounts each basket upon the back of a slave, and the procession comes filing into the yard of the merchant, for its disposal. The packages are opened, and the gum poured upon the ground, where it is carefully examined by the merchant. After being well shaken, a price is agreed upon and payed over to the Banyans trader, who then departs.
In our next chapter, we shall describe the processes by which it is prepared for the market by the merchant.
Chapter V Hub February 1872 page 226
Its preparation for the market--classification of sizes--:Pandy-pandy," or large--small--refuse--garbling in soda--brushing--wages in Zanzibar--"Jackass" copal--classification of colors--packing and shipment.
In our last chapter we described how the collection of the copal in Zanquebar is conducted by the native diggers, and how it is transferred to the Banyan traders, who ship it to Zanzibar, and sell it to the foreign merchants there established. In the present chapter we shall describe the preparation which it undergoes while in the hands of the merchant.
First, comes the sorting of the sizes, which is thus accomplished: the yard-boys put it in large sieves, having inch apertures, and shake it thoroughly. That portion of it which is left in the sieve is called "pandy-pandy," or in Hindoo, "ras," meaning large, and this is put on one side and kept by itself. The remainder of the gum, which makes its way through the first sieve, is then passed into a finer sieve, and again shaken. All that runs through this second sieve, is "refuse," consisting of dirt and such small pieces of gum that they are not saleable, and this "refuse" is thrown into the sea. What remains in the second sieve is, like the "pandy-pandy," laid aside by itself. The gum has now been separated into two qualities, the large and the small, and in this condition it is sometimes weighed, packed separately in bags of seventy pounds each, and shipped at once. But generally it is first cleansed, for when it comes into the hands of the merchant it is in a very impure condition, appearing like mere stones or dirt balls, and it usually requires much sifting and gargling before it is merchantable. After being carefully sifted, it is placed in a solution composed of a certain proportion of soda dissolved in water, and in this it is allowed to soak for thirty-six hours longer. It sometimes happens, when the solution is not prepared properly that the dirt will cling very tightly to the gum--so tightly that it is impossible to wash it off, and in such case the only way to clean the gum is to scrape each piece separately by hand. But when the process is properly conducted, the dirt will begin to soften about noon on the third day, an it is then removed from the soda hogshead and carried to the house-top, where it is spread upon the flat roof to dry beneath the warm afternoon sun. Then the boys are called together, and each piece is carefully brushed. This is a long and tedious job, but as labor is very cheap in that part of the world, and merchant-house will often have from one hundred to three hundred employés, it is done in much less time and at much less expense than might be imagined. The daily wages of these natives is eight "pice" in the coin of India, which is equivalent to about five cents in our money. This does not sound like very generous pay, but five cents will buy a good deal more in Zanzibar, than in the United States, and in reality it perhaps represents much more than the wages which some of our carriage mechanics receive. If five cents per day will buy all a man needs, and satisfy all his immediate desires, why, then five cents per day is excellent pay; but oftentimes, in New York at least, this result cannot be attained with many times that sum. In Zanzibar five cents will buy a hundred oranges, or as many bananas as a man can lift, and other eatables at a similar ratio. Then as to the matter of clothing, this is an item of which the natives of Africa under their warm sun, make very little account; the children go naked, and the men and women wear merely a bit of cotton stuff about the loins, and a string around the neck--"only this and nothing more." and the roofs which cover their heads at night are just as primitive.
After the copal is brushed perfectly clean, and dried, it is then picked over and classified according to its size and color. This classification differs very essentially by the different nationalities, and in the different business houses.
The Arabs and Africans divide the gum into two classes, the ripe copal, and second, the raw copal, (copal vert of the French marker), which latter is sandarusi za miti, "tree copal," or chakazi, corrupted by the Zanzibar merchant to "jackass copal." This "jackass copal" is either picked from the tree, or is found, as in the Island of Zanzibar, shallowly imbedded in the loose soil, where it has not remained long enough to obtain sufficient bitumenizaiton to make it of much value in fine varnish making. Being little esteemed by Europeans, it is exported to Bombay, where it is converted into an inferior varnish for carriages and palanquins, and to China, where the people have a process for utilizing it, which, like the manufacture of rice paper and Indian ink, is kept a profound secret by them.
There are many tints and peculiarities known only to those whose business requires them to study copal with care, and to correctly estimate the value of copal, like estimating the value of cotton, or ivory or cashmere shawls, requires years of experience and careful observation. As a rule, the clear and semi-transparent pieces are the most valuable, then follow the numerous and almost imperceptible varieties of dull white, lemon color, amber yellow, rhubarb yellow, bright red, and dull red. Some specimens, by their dirty and blackened hue, appear as if they had been subjected to the influence of fire, others are remarkable for a tender grass-green color, and others are nearly as pure and lucid as flint glass. According to some authorities, when kept a long time it is said that the gum has been observed to change its tinge very perceptibly. This is very probable, for exposure to the sun-light would undoubtedly tend to bleach it. We have reason to believe, however, that the change in color during the period of a few years only would be but slight. Frequently it becomes oxidized by a long exposure to the sunlight, so that the surface cracks and crumbles off in flakes.
The ordinary divisions of sizes are five, medium and large, with many subdivisions, and the pieces vary from the size of small pebbles to two or three ounces, and pieces have been found which weighed five pounds or more. One informant mentions that a piece was once owned in Salem, Massachusetts, which weighed thirty-five pounds. We think this must be a mistake. We spent a day in Salem while gathering materials for this series of chapters about copal, and although we saw many large and fine specimens, we neither say nor heard of any which weighed over five pounds.
The Germans separate it into eight classes, as follows: Pure white large, Pure white small, Light rose large, Light rose small, Dark rose large, Dark rose small, Very dark large, Very dark small.
The American merchants generally make but four classes, and when the English house was in Zanzibar the same rule was followed, thus: White large, White small, Dark large, Dark small.
After the copal has been shipped, it is sometimes classified further by the merchants in the United States, Thus, wh have the price list of a New York broker before us, in which the quotations for Zanzibar copal are divided into the ten classes, as follows: Bold white, Thumb-size white, Pea-size white, Bold red, Small red, Bold amber, Thumb-size amber, Pea-size amber, X fine, X X fine.
Having been classified by the merchants in Zanzibar, it is packed in cases similar to orange crates, and holding about 225 pounds each, and the copal is ready for shipment in the first vessel that shall arrive, which is bound for the right port. It finds a ready sale in the United States, where it is used very extensively in the manufacture of the highest grades of coach and railway varnishes. This is the only purpose for which copal is used, but the following figures show what a vast quantity of the article is employed for this purpose, and illustrates what an important positions occupied by varnish making among American manufactures. From a communication received by us from the Bureau of Statistics, connected with the Treasury department at Washington, it appears that there passed the custom houses and entered into consumption during the fiscal year which ended June 30th, 1868, importation of copal, kowrie, dammar and other varnish gums, amounting to 4,078,000 lbs., valued at over $508,000. The rate of duty upon the importation has in times past been ten cents per pound, but under the revised tariff, copal, dammar and kowrie have been made free. In the fiscal year closing June 30th, 1869, the quantity increases to 4,458,000 lbs., valued at about $550,000, and the report of the year which has just closed will undoubtedly show a still larger increase over the preceding.
In former years Salem was the great port of entry for copal coming to this country, the trade being held exclusively by merchants of that city, but of late copal shipments have been received frequently in Boston, Providence and New York. Salem has been identified with the copal trade ever since the first shipments, and the names of John Bertram and Benjamin West, Salem merchants, are well known to American varnish-maker. Rufus Green, of Providence, Rhode Island, has been largely interested at times.
The demand for copal in the United States is constant, and for several years past the prices have been very high. Twelve of fifteen years ago Zanzibar copal could be bought from thirty to fifty cents per pound, whereas, during the war it commanded from eighty cents to one dollar and ten cents, and advance of over one hundred per cent., but with all things else its price has been gradually decreasing to the old standard.
We have now tracked the Zanzibar copal from the sand to the time when it reaches the factory of the varnish-maker, and amid a hideous smoke and a smell still more hideous, there loses its distinctive character. We shall in the next chapter, which will conclude this series of sketches, attempt an examination into the origin of copal, and the many mysteries connected with its wonderful existence.
Chapter VI Hub March 1872 page 249
Amount of Zanzibar Copal exported--Is Copal of mineral or vegetable origin?--The Copal tree described--Deposit of the gum--Action of soil upon copal--Probable time of the great Copal deposits--What causes the "goose-skin" in Copal--An answer.
The following question has been addressed to us: "About how much copal do you suppose is annually shipped from Zanzibar, and when is the supply going to give out?"
It is almost impossible to give a report of the average export of copal from Zanzibar. In 1834 there was little if any export trade in it, but in 1859, it amounted to 875,875 pounds, valued at $198,834. According to the late Col. Hamerton, it varies from 800,000 to 1,200,000 per annum, and if properly worked there is no reason to believe that the supply will become limited for many years, as the copal-producing districts are very extended, and at present they are but imperfectly worked.
At one time it was generally believed that the class of copals and amber, which is nearly allied to them were all of mineral origin, and that it had either flowed from the ground in a manner similar to petroleum oils, or is, as some people still think, a bituminous substance raking between the liquid petroleum and coal. In a French work, now before us, the author says:
"A communication was made of Mr. Tournefort in the year 1700, saying that the yellow amber was found in the most sterile and naked clefts of the rocks of Provence, which led the writer of the communication to believe that amber was mineral gum and not a vegetable one, and that the amber of the sea of Dantzig was not dropped from trees, but brought over by torrents.
In he year 1703, Mr Galland made known that he had found yellow amber at Marseilles, in the bottom of the sea, at a place where there were no trees, and where the sea was closed in on all sides by steep rocks. The yellow amber must have been detached from the rocks and fallen in the seas."
But, today, it is well known that both amber and copal once flowed from trees.
Not only does the copal itself point to a vegetable origin, but copal-producing trees may to-day be seen growing in the island of Zanzibar, and all along the eastern part of Africa, and one may watch the gum as it oozes from these, may see the ants and the spiders as they are entombed by it, and follow up the process of gradual hardening. And though the copal of today's formation is of very little value as a varnish gum, this is not due to a difference of origin, but to another reason, bituminization, which we shall speak of presently.
Richard F. Burton describes the copal tree of Eastern Africa, thus:
"The copal tree is called by the Arabs shajar el sandarus, from the Hindoostani chhandarus; by the Wasawahilli, msandarusi; and by the Wazaramo and other maritime races, mnangu. The tree still lingers on the island and the mainland off Zanzibar. It is by no means, as some have supposed, a shrubby thorn; its towering bole has formed canoes sixty feet long, and a single tree has sufficed for the kelson of a brig. The average height, however, is only about half that height, with from three to six feet girth near the ground. The bark is smooth, the lower branches are often within reach of a man's hand, and the tree frequently emerges from a natural ring-fence of dense vegetation. The trunk is of a yellow-whitish tinge, rendering the tree conspicuous amid the dark African jungle growth. It is dotted with exudations of raw gum, which is found scattered in bits about the base, and it is infested by ants, especially by a long ginger-colored and semi-transparent variety, called by the people "boiling water," from its fiery bite. The copal wood is yellow tinted, and the saw collects from it large flakes. When dried and polished, it darkens to a honey brown, and being well veined, it is used for the panels of doors. The small and pliable branches, form the favorite bastinadoing instrument of those regions; after long keeping they become brittle. The modern habitat of the tree is the alluvial sea plain, and the anciently raised beach, though extending over the coast of the latter formation, it ceases to be found at any distance beyond the landward counter-slope, and it is unknown in the interior."
In regard to the origin to the true copal, he says,
"The ripe copal, properly called sandarusi, is the product of vast extinct forests, overthrown in some former age by some violent action of the elements, or exuded from the roots of the tree by an abnormal action which exhausted and destroyed it. That it is the produce of a tree is proved by the discovery of pieces of gum embedded in touch-wood, which crumbles under the fingers."
Very little of the "raw copal is imported into America, it being valueless in the manufacture of fine varnishes. It is smoke or clouded, feels soft to the touch, and becomes like putty when exposed to the action of alcohol, and when acted upon by the solution used for washing the true copal it becomes viscid. Now the marked differences which exist between the characteristics of the ripe and the raw copal, are without doubt due to the bituminization of the former. It has been found that the character of the soil in which copal is found has a very important influence upon the character of copal. Thus, when the soil is white and clayey, the copal found therein is whitish, but of less value than in a golden soil, when the copal takes an amber shade, which, when clear, is the most valuable quality. The redder the earth from which the gum is dug, the better the gum. Magagony, Kwaly, Burgamoier, and the coast in the vicinity of these places produce the most valuable copal. As you leave these places the soil grows white and more clayey in proportion to the distance that you extend, and so in the same proportion does the copal grow poorer and poorer. In the case of the best specimens of copal, undoubtedly a slow chemical action has been kept up between the soil and the gum of century after century, during which process the soil has been at work removing impurities form the gum, and the gum in its turn has been extracting certain important principles from the soil. Being buried at a depth beyond atmospheric influences, it has, like amber and similar gum-resins, been bituminized in all its purity, the volatile principles being fixed by moisture and by the exclusion of external air.
How long this action has been going on, or in what age the great mass of the copal was deposited, are questions upon which we cannot speak with any certainty. On this point the "Pacific Monthly" has an article written by Wm. C. Hines, late consul to Zanzibar, in which he says:
"At the diggings, no copal trees are found, nor any signs of them, and to this time it is mere conjecture in what ages these deposits of copal were made, but probably it was many thousands of years ago. The merchants often try to get specimens of anything the Negroes may dig up with the copal, but they in every case say they get nothing whatever."
Dr. Packard, of Salem, thinks the antiquity of the copal is not so great as has been generally considered, and judging from the remains of vegetable and animal life which are found in it, he is of the opinion that its origin should be referred to the age preceding the historical, namely, the Tertiary Age.
Prof. W. D. Gunning refers it to an earlier period, saying, in an article that appeared in the first volume of the Hub:
"We no longer wonder how the insect got into the copal, but how long it has been there. We have no data by which we can fix the time, but we know enough to assure us that it must be reckoned in thousands of years. The revolutions of nature, from forest to desert, are never achieved in a day. The crimes of men "have dried up realms to deserts." Nature has done the same, but she is now a swift architect of ruin. To have wrought the extinction of a race of trees from Africa, and buried the soil which bore them under eighty feet of sand, must have required many ages. The fly or moth, which looks as if it had first lit in its crystal coffin, may have been there a hundred thousand years. We are very sure it was there, just as you see it to-day, long before there was any man upon the earth."
If these references to an antediluvian origin seem past belief, we have only to remember what Young once wrote:
"Still seems it strange that thou shouldst live for ever.
It is less strange that thou shouldst live at all?
This is a miracle, and that no more!"
We will now conclude this series of papers by referring to the so-called "goose-skin" which is commonly found on the best varieties of Zanzibar copal. What mades this "goose-skin?" The first copal dealer you ask will probably tell you he doesn't know; the next one will tell you that it is generally thought to be the impression of the particles of sand, which were imparted to the copal while in a soft state. We have never believed in this theory, for three reasons: first, the impressions are too regular; Second, they are utterly different from what would be made of sand. The surface consists, not in depressions, but in small and regularly molded protuberances, as is illustrated rudely in the following cut, showing the sectional view of a fragment of copal.
It will be seen by the above, that the "goose-skin" does not show indentations, as could be caused by the pressure of sand against it when in a soft state, but its surface is rounded into a continued series of excresconces. a third, and very forcible argument against the common theory, is the fact that we have often examined pieces of copal which were partly enveloped in decayed vegetable matter, which crumbled under the touch; and, beneath this covering, which protected the copal against any contact with the sand, was found the same goose-skin, as perfect and as regular as on pieces not so protected. Does not this fact decide the matter? We think so. If not, here is another fact which is given in the "Quarterly Journal of Science."
"At the meeting of the Linnean Society held May 5th, 1870, Dr. J. D. Hooker read a communication from Dr. Kirk, Her Majesty's Vice-Consul at Zanzibar, on the distinction between the recent and fossil states of the resin known in commerce as copal. One characteristic by which fossil copal is known form the recent resin is the so-called "goose-skin." Dr. Kirk has ascertained that the fossil copal shows no trace of this goose-skin when first dug out of the earth, but that it makes its appearance only after cleaning and brushing the outer surface."
This not only goes towards unsettling one theory, but it gives the hint of another and more plausible one, which we had previously been led to by other premises, namely, that the "goose-skin" is caused by the contraction of the gum (sometimes before and sometimes after digging), which follows the evaporation of moisture and the volatile principles previously contained by it, and in the process of contraction its surface is swelled or depressed into regular forms. Instances of similar formation are very common. We have often seen it on the surface of ice.
Such is gum copal, its formation, its position as an article of commerce: and such is the principal ingredient of coach and car varnishes.
The Copal Trade of Zanzibar.
Carriage Monthly August 1874 page 90-91
Captain Elton, the First Assistant to the Political Agent at Zanzibar, has drawn up a valuable report on the condition of gum copal in Zanzibar, based upon inquiries lately made by him at Dar-es-Salam. It was difficult, we learn, to arouse any interest in inquiries made at Dar-es-Salam with regard to the whereabouts of the modern copal tree. The Arabs asserted that it was not worth taking the trouble to look at, and when the Banyans, who in the neighborhood of Zanzibar trade largely in "anime," were referred to, they adopted a similar view of the inutility of taking any trouble in the matter, adding, with characteristic hankering after profit, "If the true sandarusi could be dug nearer the coast that would be a gain to us; but do not all know the tree copal is cheap stuff?" Some maintained with persistency that there were no such trees now standing near Zanzibar; " those seen by people before, had long since been cut down," "there were but few far inland," and others seriously attempted to convince the inquirers that the existence of the "inti sandarusi" was questionable. In fact Captain Elton failed altogether to elicit any information or excite any sympathy on this interesting subject among the more civilized portion of the community, so he turned to the slave population and instituted an inquiry on the Seyyid's plantation outside the town. He soon discovered not only that several isolated trees and small groups existed within reach, but also that the slaves, employed in clearing land, had arrived at an extensive belt of them, where the india rubber uiana was also abundantly found, and which spread for a considerable distance inland. He left Dar-es-Salam in company with Lieut. T. F. Pullen, and proceeded with a guide in a westerly direction for some two miles, until a "clearing" of the customary east coast description was reached. Charred stumps of trees and felled and blackened trucks, entangled with the tough, half burned ropes of the india rubber climber, strewed the ground, and obstructed rapid progress over ankle-deep layers of wood ashes and treacherous "stubbing" holes, on the one side as far as the long "straw" grass and thick brushwood bordering the cultivated lands, and in the other direction up to the outskirts of a dense African forest stretching far away toward the Marni Hills and the Uzarmo. Past this clearing, slaves were found busily at work hacking down trees recklessly, and from among these people the guide chose two slaves, one a Miao and the other an Inninde, who led the way over the wrecks of some hundreds of fallen trunks, until at last the explorers found themselves among the "inti sandarusi." They were astonished at the immense number and size of these trees.
The following carefully measured dimensions are given as representing an average tree, but by no means one of the largest of the group:
Height (top branches lopped off) 60 feet
Girth at ground 4 feet 3 inches
Girth at 5 feet above ground 3 feet 2 inches
Height to first branch 21 feet 6 inches
Girth at first branch 2 feet 10 inches
The trunk, which is covered with a moderately thick bark, 3/16ths of an inch, resembling that of the birch, grows perpendicularly in the larger proportion of trees to a height of about 20 to 25 feet. At this point the main limbs fork out, and from the extremities of the branches the foliage spreads into the flat-crowned appearance so common to many African trees. The fruit is of a brown color and an irregular almond shape, studded with small excrescences, the leaves glossy and of a vivid green.
On stripping off the bark, the gum was found deposited in many places between it and the wood, in a liquid form. This was also observable to a greater extent when sawing off sections of branches. Where the tree was injured a resinous gum had collected in considerable quantities, and was also seen on several trees on the lower sides of the branches; on the upper sides none were seen.
The Inninde climbed up and stripped off several specimens with a knife, but none of these run to a large size. The larger pieces, Captain Elton was told, are found at the foot of the tree, where, failing, they become buried in the sand.
Marks of digging were observed in all the surrounding soil; however, Captain Elton is inclined to think the gum falls in a liquid state, for no extensive deposit was noticed except where a state of decay existed.
It is probable that, where trees have been left to fall to pieces from sheer old age, large quantities may with reason be expected to be found buried, and to have survived all traces of the tree itself on the ancient site.
Insects innumerable live on the " inti sandarusi." One branch was cut down in which a family of ants had formed a large nest behind the wall of the gum, and were rapidly undermining the heart of the wood. Between the bark and the wood, and Stripping the former covering, legions of ants and wood lice were seen, and a small green lizard with a yellow head, striped longitudinally with black lines, were pointed out as peculiar to the tree.
The conclusion, says Capt. Elton, which both Lieut. Pullen and myself arrived at is, that the attacks of the swarms of ants and other insects lead invariably to the slow but sure destruction of these trees, piece after piece, branch after branch; as the heart of the wood becomes undermined the tree throws out the resinous gum in considerable quantities, almost, it would seem, in an effort to arrest the process of decay, which occasions finally its fall, after which but a few years would be necessary to bury the wreck in the shifting sand which covers the surface of the sienna-colored sub-soil, rich in vegetable remains, in which the copal tree is found. Almost all these trees were festooned with the long, intertwined ropes of the india rubber uiana, the thickly matted cord of which, pendent from the main limbs, and knotted into a sort of rigging, becomes an easy means of ascent to the natives looking for the resinous deposits on the branches. This india rubber war, worked rather extensively here at one time, but was soon given up as unprofitable, in consequence of the number of slave lads carried off by leopards. Now, however, it does not appear to strike the Sultan's overseers that it would be more lucrative to collect it as they move on with the clearing then to cut down and burn the uiana by hundreds. Our guide easily worked up two large balls of india rubber for us. After making deep longitudinal incisions in the main ropes of the uiana, the milky substances which exuded profusely they smeared on the fore part of the left arm. When enough had been procured, this was stripped off in flakes and rolled up in the hands until it assumed the shape of a small dumpling. At Dar-es-Salam this article of commerce commands a price of from $9 to $10 per frasilah of 35 pounds weight. The slaves told us that you could travel for two days into the interior before losing the " inti sandarusi," and that during the whole of that distance, the india rubber was commonly parasitic to the trees. At the rate the clearing progresses, however, it will not be long before this copal tree will become a thing of the past. At a second visit, when we worked along and into the wood, all we saw only confirmed the conclusion we had already come to. However, I trust after inspecting the principal diggings, to be able to give a more detailed account of the situation in which the tree is found, and its relation to the fossau anime.
Capt. Prideaux, the Acting Political Agent, has brought the matter of the wanton destruction of the gum copal and india rubber trees to the notice of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who, we are told, at once promised that orders should be given for the practice to be discontinued.--Exchange.