We are going by train from Accra to Tafo, the main artery of the most extensive cocoa-growing district in the Gold Coast. Although the whole distance to railhead at Tafo is only about sixty-six miles, we are not travelling straight through; our plans are made for breaking the journey at the principal cocoa stations en route, and staying at one and another of them long enough to enjoy a variety of excursions on foot and by motor to neighbouring and outlying scenes of activities connected with the cultivation of cocoa, the preparation of the beans for market, and the disposal of the crop. The country in which the cocoa farms are situated is usually spoken of as "the Bush," because it was practically all jungleland not long ago, and forests are still in possession of numerous and often extensive tracts; the farms occupy clearings in the jungle, many of them being bordered by a stretch of forest on this side or that, whilst some are buried away in the very heart of a wilderness.
The principal cocoa stations on this line are Nsawam, Mangoase, Koforidua, and Tafo, at each of which there is a railway siding flanked by stores capable of housing tens of thousands of bags of cocoa.
We shall first break our journey at Nsawam, twenty-three miles up the line.
Our travelling companions in a first-class carriage - corridor pattern, unbroken by division into compartments-are Englishmen and West African negroes.
The Englishmen are all attired in the smart and business-like costume known as "Bush kit" - khaki drill shorts and shirt, helmet, strong boots, and puttees. One of them, as we happen to know because he is our host, is an agent going to kill two birds with one stone by acting as our guide and by making a tour of inspection to see how his assistants are getting on- examine their books, discuss prices, look into the quality and quantity of cocoa they have been buying the last few days, find out how the workmen are progressing with the bungalow that is being put up so that such or such an assistant at a newly-opened station may move out as quickly as possible from temporary quarters into a comfortable home, make a survey of prospects with a view to anticipating requirements in the way of sacks, scales, and motor lorries. . . . You are quite right, an agent holds a much more responsible position and has a great deal more work to do than most people would imagine; an assistant, too, if he is to make a success of his job and qualify for promotion, must be a smart, steady, and industrious man, with plenty of initiative and self-reliance. For instance, you see that boyish-looking young Briton sitting opposite us in the far corner of our carriage: I happen to. know, and I am sure you will be interested to hear, that he is a new assistant, just turned twenty-two years of age, who only arrived at Accra yesterday, and who is now off up the line to distribute several thousand pounds among fellow assistants who are buying cocoa for his firm; he has the money with him in sacks under his feet, and in suit cases on the seat beside him and in the rack over his head. Of our other European fellow passengers, three are fellow-countrymen, and two are Frenchmen; judging from their conversation, some are Old Coasters returning to their work of cocoa buying, and others are newcomers going to learn what it means to be an assistant at a cocoa-buying station.
The blacks who are travelling first class with us favour a neglige style of ready-made tweeds or boating costume; they are traders, we are told, doing a big business in cocoa as middlemen.
Everyone around us is talking about cocoa - the price is still rising, we hear, the present Big Season will be a short one, as there has been so little rain this year, so and so in such or such a place is buying more cocoa than any of his neighbours. We are getting used to cocoa as the sole topic of conversation anywhere and everywhere from morning till night; indeed, there is so much interest and excitement in the air over cocoa, and so much cocoa in evidence, that we ourselves are already beginning to talk, think, and dream of nothing but cocoa.
A few miles out from Accra we catch sight of cocoa trees, and as we get nearer to Nsawam they become a more and more prominent feature of the small farms on either side of the railway line.
Unloading A Trainload Of Cocoa Beans At Accra
We leave the train at Nsawam, and walk a few hundred yards to the bungalow residence of our host's assistant who is in charge of one of the many factories here. We are greeted with the typically warm welcome of the Bush, the welcome which in a twinkling turns strangers into friends and would fain make the visitor believe he is doing a favour by coming.
After a good breakfast, nicely served, to which we do full justice, our host of Accra and his assistant go down to the office for a few minutes to discuss business. During their absence let us have a further little talk about the cocoa tree.
There are several varieties of cocoa, each with its own botanical name. The distinctive names depend, mainly, on the shape and colour of the fruits, or, as they are more usually called, "pods," and on the internal colour of the beans within the pods. At first sight of beans taken from different varieties of freshly gathered pods you would probably think they are all white, because nature fits them carefully into the pods amongst a quantity of soft, pasty white packing material, which prevents them getting broken or scratched.
Most scientific experts divide the cocoa trees into two main classes - Criollo and Forastero.
The Criollo varieties have thin-skinned pods, with, usually, rough skins, and a shape resembling that of a plump ridge cucumber with a pointed tail end; the beans are generally white or pale coloured. The Forastero varieties have hard and thick-skinned pods something like a lemon in shape; the beans are usually purple in colour.
The Criollo class includes several varieties of cocoa that have special characteristics allied with class distinctions. For instance, there is Nicaraguan Criollo, which yields very large but rather flat beans; and there is Old Bed Criollo, with beans that are plumper and more rounded, but smaller than their Nicaraguan relations.
Similarly there are several varieties of the ForasteRo class: for instance, Cundeamor, with bottle-necked pods and very good quality beans; Calabacillo, with smooth, small pods containing small, flat beans; Amelonado, with medium size pods and medium quality beans that are all purple in colour and inclined to be flat.
Some authorities group Calabacillos as a separate class.
Trees of the same variety bear different coloured pods - some red, some yellow. To indicate the special pod-colour characteristic of a tree, the descriptive adjective amarillo (yellow) or Colorado (red) is added to the variety name.
The full botanical name of the cocoa trees which are commonly grown in the Gold Coast and Ashanti is Forastero, Amelonado amarillo, which is to say, they belong to the yellow pod variety of the Forastero class.
The Criollos are the aristocrats among cocoa trees; they are delicate and difficult to cultivate, but they yield the best quality beans. The Forasteros are the middle class; they are moderately hardy and the beans are of medium quality. Calabacillos, the hardiest variety, will thrive under the worst conditions, but the beans come last on the quality list.
These distinctions in quality, as governed by class or variety, are founded on facts furnished by scientific experiments. The actual quality of the cocoa beans of commerce depends largely on methods of cultivation and the amount of care exercised in preparing the crop for market. Thus, a good sample of Forastero beans will command a higher price than a poor sample of Criollos.
The homeland of the cocoa tree is South America, but the extent of country within which it originally grew wild is a matter of dispute.
Wild cocoa trees are still to be seen in the primeval forests of the basins of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers up to an altitude of about 400 feet. Many authorities bear witness to this fact, and, possibly, my statement of fact will have more power of appealing to your imagination when I tell you that I myself have had the joyously romantic experience of seeing wild cocoa trees in the Amazon valley. Some authorities are inclined to think that the native land of the cocoa tree extended northward into Central America as far as Guatemala, and eastward through Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil, into the Guianas and Trinidad.
Certain it is that when Columbus discovered the New World, the Indians - as he called the natives, through the mistaken idea that he had found a new route to India - were already cultivating the cocoa tree. They may have introduced the tree into Central America and Mexico, or it may have been indigenous to those countries as well as to the land farther south. You see how difficult it is to decide whether the old historians were correct in saying that cocoa trees were indigenous to such and such a part of the New World, since trees which they believed to be wild might very well have been the naturalized descendants of cocoa introduced into that particular district by the Indians, or by early Spanish colonists.
Beyond all dispute, it is to the aboriginal Indians of South America - to mere savages, as we are pleased to call them - that the whole civilized world owes the discovery of cocoa. They singled out the tree from the multitudinous variety of trees in the tangled maze of primeval forests; they ran the risk of sampling the fruit, which might have been poisonous; they had the good taste to regard the fruit as a delicacy, the brains to make from the beans a beverage fit to serve at royal feasts, the common sense and enterprise to multiply supplies of the raw product by cultivating the tree that had proved such a find of finds in their forest homeland of hidden treasures.
The civilized Spaniard not only first saw cocoa trees in the land of the South American Indians and saw them under cultivation, too, but he learned from the savages there what good fare could be prepared from cocoa beans; it must have been a pleasant experience, judging from the accounts that have been handed down of the chocolate "froth" that was served in golden goblets at Montezuma's feasts. Unfortunately, the recipe of that delectable preparation has not been handed down. Have you read Prescott's histories of the Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of Peru ? If not, make an early opportunity of doing so after we get home from our travels together - they are more exciting than any adventure story that has ever been invented, and they teem with fascinating descriptions and stories of the homeland of cocoa, the lands in which the tree was first cultivated, and the people who first made beverages and sweetmeats from cocoa beans.
Bags Of Cocoa Beans On The Beach At Accra Awaiting Shipment
Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico, sent specimens of cocoa to his royal master, Charles V. of Spain. Spain was the first country to manufacture cocoa, and to her, therefore, belongs the honour of introducing cocoa to the civilized world.