The African Chief

Author: William Cullen Bryant  | Date: 1825


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.

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Chicago: William Cullen Bryant, The African Chief Original Sources, accessed June 24, 2024,

MLA: Bryant, William Cullen. The African Chief, Original Sources. 24 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Bryant, WC, The African Chief. Original Sources, retrieved 24 June 2024, from