The Swimmers of Budomel

Brookeside Plunge

One of the earliest references to the swimming abilities of black Africans is found in the narratives of Alvise Cadamosto, a famous Venetian captain who was dispatched by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator to explore the west coast of Africa. In 1455, Cadamosto’s ship entered a safe harbor near the border of modern Mauritania and Senegal.  As the slave trade had not yet begun, he was greeted by curious Africans in canoes and others who swam out to his ship.  On shore, Cadamosto was received by the King of Budomel, who invited Cadamosto to his village to begin trading and where he was hosted with entertainment and feasts. The village was along a river and Cadomosto observed that it was a custom for mothers bathe their children every day and to ensure their children could swim at the earliest possible age. After spending 28 days in Budomel, Cadamusto was invited by the King of Sengal to visit his country by caravan to his village which was situated along the Senegal River. In order to communicate with his caravel, and send orders to his men to meet him some miles to the south, he had to put the swimming powers of the natives to the test. Cadamosto says that his vessel was three miles out at sea, and it appeared impossible to execute his commission on account of a great storm and the violence of the waves breaking on the sand-banks.  In spite of this the negroes were eager in offering their services to carry his letter on board. He asked two of them what he should give them for the enterprise, and they only asked two mavulgies of tin apiece, the mavulgi being worth something less than a penny. “I cannot describe,” says Cadamosto, “the difficulty they had to pass the sand-banks in so furious a sea. Sometimes I lost sight of them, and thought they were swallowed up by the waves. At last one of the two could no longer resist the force of the water, turned his back on the danger, and returned to the shore. The other, more vigorous, after battling for more than an hour with the wind and the waves, passed the bank, carried my letter to the ship, and brought me the answer. I dared hardly touch it, looking upon it as such a wonderful and sacred thing. And thus I learned that the negroes of Budomel are the best swimmers in the world.”


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