First footsteps in East Africa, by Richard Burton

Chapter 1

Departure from Aden.

I doubt not there are many who ignore the fact that in Eastern Africa, scarcely three hundred miles distant from Aden, there is a counterpart of ill-famed Timbuctoo in the Far West. The more adventurous Abyssinian travellers, Salt and Stuart, Krapf and Isenberg, Barker and Rochet — not to mention divers Roman Catholic Missioners — attempted Harar, but attempted it in vain. The bigoted ruler and barbarous people threatened death to the Infidel who ventured within their walls; some negro Merlin having, it is said, read Decline and Fall in the first footsteps of the Frank.1 Of all foreigners the English were, of course, the most hated and dreaded; at Harar slavery still holds its head-quarters, and the old Dragon well knows what to expect from the hand of St. George. Thus the various travellers who appeared in beaver and black coats became persuaded that the city was inaccessible, and Europeans ceased to trouble themselves about Harar.

It is, therefore, a point of honor with me, dear L., to utilise my title of Haji by entering the city, visiting the ruler, and returning in safety, after breaking the guardian spell.

The most auspicious day in the Moslem year for beginning a journey is, doubtless, the 6th of the month Safar2, on which, quoth the Prophet, El Islam emerged from obscurity. Yet even at Aden we could not avail ourselves of this lucky time: our delays and difficulties were a fit prelude for a journey amongst those “Blameless Ethiopians,” with whom no less a personage than august Jove can dine and depart. 3

On Sunday, the 29th October, 1854, our manifold impediments were pronounced complete. Friend S. threw the slipper of blessing at my back, and about 4 P.M. embarking from Maala Bunder, we shook out our “muslin,” and sailed down the fiery harbour. Passing the guard-boat, we delivered our permit; before venturing into the open sea we repeated the Fatihah-prayer in honor of the Shaykh Majid, inventor of the mariners’ compass4, and evening saw us dancing on the bright clear tide, whose “magic waves,” however, murmured after another fashion the siren song which charmed the senses of the old Arabian voyagers.5

Suddenly every trace of civilisation fell from my companions as if it had been a garment. At Aden, shaven and beturbaned, Arab fashion, now they threw off all dress save the loin cloth, and appeared in their dark morocco. Mohammed filled his mouth with a mixture of coarse Surat tobacco and ashes — the latter article intended, like the Anglo-Indian soldier’s chili in his arrack, to “make it bite.” Guled uncovered his head, a member which in Africa is certainly made to go bare, and buttered himself with an unguent redolent of sheep’s tail; and Ismail, the rais or captain of our “foyst,”6 the Sahalah, applied himself to puffing his nicotiana out of a goat’s shank-bone. Our crew, consisting of seventy-one men and boys, prepared, as evening fell, a mess of Jowari grain7 and grease, the recipe of which I spare you, and it was despatched in a style that would have done credit to Kafirs as regards gobbling, bolting, smearing lips, licking fingers, and using ankles as napkins. Then with a light easterly breeze and the ominous cliffs of Little Aden still in sight, we spread our mats on deck and prepared to sleep under the moon.8

My companions, however, felt, without perhaps comprehending, the joviality arising from a return to Nature. Every man was forthwith nicknamed, and pitiless was the raillery upon the venerable subjects of long and short, fat and thin. One sang a war-song, another a love-song, a third some song of the sea, whilst the fourth, an Eesa youth, with the villanous expression of face common to his tribe, gave us a rain measure, such as men chaunt during wet weather. All these effusions were naive and amusing: none, however, could bear English translation without an amount of omission which would change their nature. Each effort of minstrelsy was accompanied by roars of laughter, and led to much manual pleasantry. All swore that they had never spent, intellectually speaking, a more charming soiree, and pitied me for being unable to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the dialogue. Truly it is not only the polished European, as was said of a certain travelling notability, that lapses with facility into pristine barbarism.

I will now introduce you to my companions. The managing man is one Mohammed Mahmud9, generally called El Hammal or the porter: he is a Havildar or sergeant in the Aden police, and was entertained for me by Lieut. Dansey, an officer who unfortunately was not “confirmed” in a political appointment at Aden. The Hammal is a bull-necked, round-headed fellow of lymphatic temperament, with a lamp-black skin, regular features, and a pulpy figure — two rarities amongst his countrymen, who compare him to a Banyan. An orphan in early youth, and becoming, to use his own phrase, sick of milk, he ran away from his tribe, the Habr Gerhajis, and engaged himself as a coaltrimmer with the slaves on board an Indian war-steamer. After rising in rank to the command of the crew, he became servant and interpreter to travellers, visited distant lands — Egypt and Calcutta — and finally settled as a Feringhee policeman. He cannot read or write, but he has all the knowledge to be acquired by fifteen or twenty years, hard “knocking about:” he can make a long speech, and, although he never prays, a longer prayer; he is an excellent mimic, and delights his auditors by imitations and descriptions of Indian ceremony, Egyptian dancing, Arab vehemence, Persian abuse, European vivacity, and Turkish insolence. With prodigious inventiveness, and a habit of perpetual intrigue, acquired in his travels, he might be called a “knowing” man, but for the truly Somali weakness of showing in his countenance all that passes through his mind. This people can hide nothing: the blank eye, the contracting brow, the opening nostril and the tremulous lip, betray, despite themselves, their innermost thoughts.

The Hammal

The second servant, whom I bring before you is Guled, another policeman at Aden. He is a youth of good family, belonging to the Ismail Arrah, the royal clan of the great Habr Gerhajis tribe. His father was a man of property, and his brethren near Berberah, are wealthy Bedouins: yet he ran away from his native country when seven or eight years old, and became a servant in the house of a butter merchant at Mocha. Thence he went to Aden, where he began with private service, and ended his career in the police. He is one of those long, live skeletons, common amongst the Somal: his shoulders are parallel with his ears, his ribs are straight as a mummy’s, his face has not an ounce of flesh upon it, and his features suggest the idea of some lank bird: we call him Long Guled, to which he replies with the Yemen saying “Length is Honor, even in Wood.” He is brave enough, because he rushes into danger without reflection; his great defects are weakness of body and nervousness of temperament, leading in times of peril to the trembling of hands, the dropping of caps, and the mismanagement of bullets: besides which, he cannot bear hunger, thirst, or cold.

The third is one Abdy Abokr, also of the Habr Gerhajis, a personage whom, from, his smattering of learning and his prodigious rascality, we call the Mulla “End of Time.”10 He is a man about forty, very old-looking for his age, with small, deep-set cunning eyes, placed close together, a hook nose, a thin beard, a bulging brow, scattered teeth, 11 and a short scant figure, remarkable only for length of back. His gait is stealthy, like a cat’s, and he has a villanous grin. This worthy never prays, and can neither read nor write; but he knows a chapter or two of the Koran, recites audibly a long Ratib or task, morning and evening12, whence, together with his store of hashed Hadis (tradition), he derives the title of Widad or hedge-priest. His tongue, primed with the satirical sayings of Abn Zayd el Helali, and Humayd ibn Mansur13, is the terror of men upon whom repartee imposes. His father was a wealthy shipowner in his day; but, cursed with Abdy and another son, the old man has lost all his property, his children have deserted him, and he now depends entirely upon the charity of the Zayla chief. The “End of Time” has squandered considerable sums in travelling far and wide from Harar to Cutch, he has managed everywhere to perpetrate some peculiar villany. He is a pleasant companion, and piques himself upon that power of quotation which in the East makes a polite man. If we be disposed to hurry, he insinuates that “Patience is of Heaven, Haste of Hell.” When roughly addressed, he remarks —

“There are cures for the hurts of lead and steel,

But the wounds of the tongue — they never heal!”

If a grain of rice adhere to our beards, he says, smilingly, “the gazelle is in the garden;” to which we reply “we will hunt her with the five.”14 Despite these merits, I hesitated to engage him, till assured by the governor of Zayla that he was to be looked upon as a son, and, moreover, that he would bear with him one of those state secrets to an influential chief which in this country are never committed to paper. I found him an admirable buffoon, skilful in filling pipes and smoking them; au reste, an individual of “many words and little work,” infinite intrigue, cowardice, cupidity, and endowed with a truly evil tongue.

The morning sun rose hot upon us, showing Mayyum and Zubah, the giant staples of the “Gate under the Pleiades.” 15 Shortly afterwards, we came in sight of the Barr el Ajam (barbarian land), as the Somal call their country16, a low glaring flat of yellow sand, desert and heat-reeking, tenanted by the Eesa, and a meet habitat for savages. Such to us, at least, appeared the land of Adel.17 At midday we descried the Ras el Bir — Headland of the Well — the promontory which terminates the bold Tajurrah range, under which lie the sleeping waters of the Maiden’s Sea.18 During the day we rigged out an awning, and sat in the shade smoking and chatting merrily, for the weather was not much hotter than on English summer seas. Some of the crew tried praying; but prostrations are not easily made on board ship, and El Islam, as Umar shrewdly suspected, was not made for a seafaring race. At length the big red sun sank slowly behind the curtain of sky-blue rock, where lies the not yet “combusted” village of Tajurrah.19 We lay down to rest with the light of day, and had the satisfaction of closing our eyes upon a fair though captious breeze.

On the morning of the 31st October, we entered the Zayla Creek, which gives so much trouble to native craft. We passed, on the right, the low island of Masha, belonging to the “City of the Slave Merchant,”— Tajurrah — and on the left two similar patches of seagirt sand, called Aybat and Saad el Din. These places supply Zayla, in the Kharif or hot season20, with thousands of gulls’ eggs — a great luxury. At noon we sighted our destination. Zayla is the normal African port — a strip of sulphur-yellow sand, with a deep blue dome above, and a foreground of the darkest indigo. The buildings, raised by refraction, rose high, and apparently from the bosom of the deep. After hearing the worst accounts of it, I was pleasantly disappointed by the spectacle of white-washed houses and minarets, peering above a long low line of brown wall, flanked with round towers.

As we slowly threaded the intricate coral reefs of the port, a bark came scudding up to us; it tacked, and the crew proceeded to give news in roaring tones. Friendship between the Amir of Harar and the governor of Zayla had been broken; the road through the Eesa Somal had been closed by the murder of Masud, a favourite slave and adopted son of Sharmarkay; all strangers had been expelled the city for some misconduct by the Harar chief; moreover, small-pox was raging there with such violence that the Galla peasantry would allow neither ingress nor egress.21 I had the pleasure of reflecting for some time, dear L., upon the amount of responsibility incurred by using the phrase “I will;” and the only consolation that suggested itself was the stale assurance that

“Things at the worst most surely mend.”

No craft larger than a canoe can ride near Zayla. After bumping once or twice against the coral reefs, it was considered advisable for our good ship, the Sahalat, to cast anchor. My companions caused me to dress, put me with my pipe and other necessaries into a cock-boat, and, wading through the water, shoved it to shore. Lastly, at Bab el Sahil, the Seaward or Northern Gate, they proceeded to array themselves in the bravery of clean Tobes and long daggers strapped round the waist; each man also slung his targe to his left arm, and in his right hand grasped lance and javelin. At the gate we were received by a tall black spearman with a “Ho there! to the governor;” and a crowd of idlers gathered to inspect the strangers. Marshalled by the warder, we traversed the dusty roads — streets they could not be called — of the old Arab town, ran the gauntlet of a gaping mob, and finally entering a mat door, found ourselves in the presence of the governor.

I had met Sharmarkay at Aden, where he received from the authorities strong injunctions concerning my personal safety: the character of a Moslem merchant, however, requiring us to appear strangers, an introduction by our master of ceremonies, the Hammal, followed my entrance. Sharmarkay was living in an apartment by no means splendid, preferring an Arish or kind of cow-house — as the Anglo-Indian Nabobs do the bungalow

“with mat half hung,

The walls of plaster and the floors of —— ”

— to all his substantial double-storied houses. The ground was wet and comfortless; a part of the reed walls was lined with cots bearing mattresses and silk-covered pillows, a cross between a divan and a couch: the only ornaments were a few weapons, and a necklace of gaudy beads suspended near the door. I was placed upon the principal seat: on the right were the governor and the Hammal; whilst the lowest portion of the room was occupied by Mohammed Sharmarkay, the son and heir. The rest of the company squatted upon chairs, or rather stools, of peculiar construction. Nothing could be duller than this assemblee: pipes and coffee are here unknown; and there is nothing in the East to act substitute for them.22

The governor of Zayla, El Hajj Sharmarkay bin Ali Salih, is rather a remarkable man. He is sixteenth, according to his own account, in descent from Ishak el Hazrami23, the saintly founder of the great Gerhajis and Awal tribes. His enemies derive him from a less illustrious stock; and the fairness of his complexion favours the report that his grandfather Salih was an Abyssinian slave. Originally the Nacoda or captain of a native craft, he has raised himself, chiefly by British influence, to the chieftainship of his tribe.24 As early as May, 1825, he received from Captain Bagnold, then our resident at Mocha, a testimonial and a reward, for a severe sword wound in the left arm, received whilst defending the lives of English seamen. 25 He afterwards went to Bombay, where he was treated with consideration; and about fifteen years ago he succeeded the Sayyid Mohammed el Barr as governor of Zayla and its dependencies, under the Ottoman Pasha in Western Arabia.

The Hajj Sharmarkay in his youth was a man of Valour: he could not read or write; but he carried in battle four spears26, and his sword-cut was recognisable. He is now a man about sixty years old, at least six feet two inches in stature, large-limbed, and raw-boned: his leanness is hidden by long wide robes. He shaves his head and upper lip Shafei-fashion, and his beard is represented by a ragged tuft of red-stained hair on each side of his chin. A visit to Aden and a doctor cost him one eye, and the other is now white with age. His dress is that of an Arab, and he always carries with him a broad-bladed, silver-hilted sword. Despite his years, he is a strong, active, and energetic man, ever looking to the “main chance.” With one foot in the grave, he meditates nothing but the conquest of Harar and Berberah, which, making him master of the seaboard, would soon extend his power as in days of old even to Abyssinia.27 To hear his projects, you would fancy them the offspring of a brain in the prime of youth: in order to carry them out he would even assist in suppressing the profitable slave-trade.28

After half an hour’s visit I was led by the Hajj through the streets of Zayla29, to one of his substantial houses of coralline and mud plastered over with glaring whitewash. The ground floor is a kind of warehouse full of bales and boxes, scales and buyers. A flight of steep steps leads into a long room with shutters to exclude the light, floored with tamped earth, full of “evening flyers”30, and destitute of furniture. Parallel to it are three smaller apartments; and above is a terraced roof, where they who fear not the dew and the land-breeze sleep.31 I found a room duly prepared; the ground was spread with mats, and cushions against the walls denoted the Divan: for me was placed a Kursi or cot, covered with fine Persian rugs and gaudy silk and satin pillows. The Hajj installed us with ceremony, and insisted, despite my remonstrances, upon occupying the floor whilst I sat on the raised seat. After ushering in supper, he considerately remarked that travelling is fatiguing, and left us to sleep.

The well-known sounds of El Islam returned from memory. Again the melodious chant of the Muezzin — no evening bell can compare with it for solemnity and beauty — and in the neighbouring mosque, the loudly intoned Amin and Allaho Akbar — far superior to any organ — rang in my ear. The evening gun of camp was represented by the Nakkarah, or kettle-drum, sounded about seven P.M. at the southern gate; and at ten a second drumming warned the paterfamilias that it was time for home, and thieves, and lovers — that it was the hour for bastinado. Nightfall was ushered in by the song, the dance, and the marriage festival — here no permission is required for “native music in the lines,”— and muffled figures flitted mysteriously through the dark alleys.


After a peep through the open window, I fell asleep, feeling once more at home.

1 “A tradition exists,” says Lieut. Cruttenden, “amongst the people of Harar, that the prosperity of their city depends upon the exclusion of all travellers not of the Moslem faith, and all Christians are specially interdicted.” These freaks of interdiction are common to African rulers, who on occasions of war, famine or pestilence, struck with some superstitious fear, close their gates to strangers.

2 The 6th of Safar in 1864 corresponds with our 28th October. The Hadis is [Arabic] “when the 6th of Safar went forth, my faith from the cloud came forth.”

3 The Abyssinian law of detaining guests — Pedro Covilhao the first Portuguese envoy (A.D. 1499) lived and died a prisoner there — appears to have been the Christian modification of the old Ethiopic rite of sacrificing strangers.

4 It would be wonderful if Orientals omitted to romance about the origin of such an invention as the Dayrah or compass. Shaykh Majid is said to have been a Syrian saint, to whom Allah gave the power of looking upon earth, as though it were a ball in his hand. Most Moslems agree in assigning this origin to the Dayrah, and the Fatihah in honor of the holy man, is still repeated by the pious mariner.

Easterns do not “box the compass” after our fashion: with them each point has its own name, generally derived from some prominent star on the horizon. Of these I subjoin a list as in use amongst the Somal, hoping that it may be useful to Oriental students. The names in hyphens are those given in a paper on the nautical instrument of the Arabs by Jas. Prinseps (Journal of the As. Soc., December 1836). The learned secretary appears not to have heard the legend of Shaykh Majid, for he alludes to the “Majidi Kitab” or Oriental Ephemeris, without any explanation.

North Jah
N. by E. Farjad
N.N.E. Naash
N.E. by E. Nakab
N.E. Ayyuk
N.E. by E. Waki
E.N.E. Sumak
E. by N. Surayya
East Matla
E. by S. Jauza
E.S.E. Tir
S.E. by E. Iklil
S.E. Akrab
S.E. by S. Himarayn
S.S.E. Suhayl
S. by E. Suntubar

The south is called El Kutb and the west El Maghib. The western points are named like the eastern. North-east, for instance is Ayyuk el Matlai; north-west, Ayyuk el Maghibi. Finally, the Dayrah Jahi is when the magnetic needle points due north. The Dayrah Farjadi (more common in these regions), is when the bar is fixed under Farjad, to allow for variation, which at Berberah is about 4° 50’ west.

5 The curious reader will find in the Herodotus of the Arabs, El Masudi’s “Meadows of gold and mines of gems,” a strange tale of the blind billows and the singing waves of Berberah and Jofuni (Cape Guardafui, the classical Aromata).

6 “Foyst” and “buss,” are the names applied by old travellers to the half-decked vessels of these seas.

7 Holcus Sorghum, the common grain of Africa and Arabia: the Somali call it Hirad; the people of Yemen, Taam.

8 The Somal being a people of less nervous temperament than the Arabs and Indians, do not fear the moonlight.

9 The first name is that of the individual, as the Christian name with us, the second is that of the father; in the Somali country, as in India, they are not connected by the Arab “bin”— son of.

10 Abdy is an abbreviation of Abdullah; Abokr, a corruption of Abubekr. The “End of Time” alludes to the prophesied corruption of the Moslem priesthood in the last epoch of the world.

11 This peculiarity is not uncommon amongst the Somal; it is considered by them a sign of warm temperament.

12 The Moslem should first recite the Farz prayers, or those ordered in the Koran; secondly, the Sunnat or practice of the Prophet; and thirdly the Nafilah or Supererogatory. The Ratib or self-imposed task is the last of all; our Mulla placed it first, because he could chaunt it upon his mule within hearing of the people.

13 Two modern poets and wits well known in Yemen.

14 That is to say, “we will remove it with the five fingers.” These are euphuisms to avoid speaking broadly and openly of that venerable feature, the beard.

15 Bab el Mandeb is called as above by Humayd from its astronomical position. Jebel Mayyum is in Africa, Jebel Zubah or Muayyin, celebrated as the last resting-place of a great saint, Shaykh Said, is in Arabia.

16 Ajam properly means all nations not Arab. In Egypt and Central Asia it is now confined to Persians. On the west of the Red Sea, it is invariably used to denote the Somali country: thence Bruce draws the Greek and Latin name of the coast, Azamia, and De Sacy derives the word “Ajan,” which in our maps is applied to the inner regions of the Eastern Horn. So in Africa, El Sham, which properly means Damascus and Syria, is applied to El Hejaz.

17 Adel, according to M. Krapf, derived its name from the Ad Ali, a tribe of the Afar or Danakil nation, erroneously used by Arab synecdoche for the whole race. Mr. Johnston (Travels in Southern Abyssinia, ch. 1.) more correctly derives it from Adule, a city which, as proved by the monument which bears its name, existed in the days of Ptolemy Euergetes (B.C. 247-222), had its own dynasty, and boasted of a conqueror who overcame the Troglodytes, Sabaeans, Homerites, &c., and pushed his conquests as far as the frontier of Egypt. Mr. Johnston, however, incorrectly translates Barr el Ajam “land of fire,” and seems to confound Avalites and Adulis.

18 Bahr el Banatin, the Bay of Tajurrah.

19 A certain German missionary, well known in this part of the world, exasperated by the seizure of a few dollars and a claim to the droit d’aubaine, advised the authorities of Aden to threaten the “combustion” of Tajurrah. The measure would have been equally unjust and unwise. A traveller, even a layman, is bound to put up peaceably with such trifles; and to threaten “combustion” without being prepared to carry out the threat is the readiest way to secure contempt.

20 The Kharif in most parts of the Oriental world corresponds with our autumn. In Eastern Africa it invariably signifies the hot season preceding the monsoon rains.

21 The circumstances of Masud’s murder were truly African. The slave caravans from Abyssinia to Tajurrah were usually escorted by the Rer Guleni, a clan of the great Eesa tribe, and they monopolised the profits of the road. Summoned to share their gains with their kinsmen generally, they refused upon which the other clans rose about August, 1854, and cut off the road. A large caravan was travelling down in two bodies, each of nearly 300 slaves; the Eesa attacked the first division, carried off the wives and female slaves, whom they sold for ten dollars a head, and savagely mutilated upwards of 100 wretched boys. This event caused the Tajurrah line to be permanently closed. The Rer Guleni in wrath, at once murdered Masud, a peaceful traveller, because Inna Handun, his Abban or protector, was of the party who had attacked their proteges: they came upon him suddenly as he was purchasing some article, and stabbed him in the back, before he could defend himself.

22 In Zayla there is not a single coffee-house. The settled Somal care little for the Arab beverage, and the Bedouins’ reasons for avoiding it are not bad. “If we drink coffee once,” say they, “we shall want it again, and then where are we to get it?” The Abyssinian Christians, probably to distinguish themselves from Moslems, object to coffee as well as to tobacco. The Gallas, on the other hand, eat it: the powdered bean is mixed with butter, and on forays a lump about the size of a billiard-ball is preferred to a substantial meal.

23 The following genealogical table was given to me by Mohammed Sharmarkay:—

  1. Ishak (ibn Ahmed ibn Abdillah).
  2. Gerhajis (his eldest son).
  3. Said (the eldest son; Daud being the second).
  4. Arrah, (also the eldest; Ili, i.e. Ali, being the second).
  5. Musa (the third son: the eldest was Ismail; then, in succession, Ishak, Misa, Mikahil, Gambah, Dandan, &c.)
  6. Ibrahim.
  7. Fikih (i.e. Fakih.)
  8. Adan (i.e. Adam.)
  9. Mohammed.
  10. Hamid.
  11. Jibril (i.e. Jibrail).
  12. Ali.
  13. Awaz.
  14. Salih.
  15. Ali.
  16. Sharmarkay.

The last is a peculiarly Somali name, meaning “one who sees no harm.”— Shar-ma-arkay.

24 Not the hereditary chieftainship of the Habr Gerhajis, which belongs to a particular clan.

25 The following is a copy of the document:—

“This Testimonial, together with an Honorary Dress, is presented by the British Resident at Mocha to Nagoda Shurmakey Ally Sumaulley, in token of esteem and regard for his humane and gallant conduct at the Port of Burburra, on the coast of Africa, April 10. 1825, in saving the lives of Captain William Lingard, chief officer of the Brig Mary Anne, when that vessel was attacked and plundered by the natives. The said Nagoda is therefore strongly recommended to the notice and good offices of Europeans in general, but particularly so to all English gentlemen visiting these seas.”

26 Two spears being the usual number: the difficulty of three or four would mainly consist in their management during action.

27 In July, 1855, the Hajj Sharmarkay was deposed by the Turkish Pasha of Hodaydah, ostensibly for failing to keep some road open, or, according to others, for assisting to plunder a caravan belonging to the Dankali tribe. It was reported that he had been made a prisoner, and the Political Resident at Aden saw the propriety of politely asking the Turkish authorities to “be easy” upon the old man. In consequence of this representation, he was afterwards allowed, on paying a fine of 3000 dollars, to retire to Aden.

I deeply regret that the Hajj should have lost his government. He has ever clung to the English party, even in sore temptation. A few years ago, the late M. Rochet (soi-disant d’Hericourt), French agent at Jeddah, paying treble its value, bought from Mohammed Sharmarkay, in the absence of the Hajj, a large stone house, in order to secure a footing at Zayla. The old man broke off the bargain on his return, knowing how easily an Agency becomes a Fort, and preferring a considerable loss to the presence of dangerous friends.

28 During my residence at Zayla few slaves were imported, owing to the main road having been closed. In former years the market was abundantly stocked; the numbers annually shipped to Mocha, Hodaydah, Jeddah, and Berberah, varied from 600 to 1000. The Hajj received as duty one gold “Kirsh,” or about three fourths of a dollar, per head.

29 Zayla, called Audal or Auzal by the Somal, is a town about the size of Suez, built for 3000 or 4000 inhabitants, and containing a dozen large whitewashed stone houses, and upwards of 200 Arish or thatched huts, each surrounded by a fence of wattle and matting. The situation is a low and level spit of sand, which high tides make almost an island. There is no Harbour: a vessel of 250 tons cannot approach within a mile of the landing-place; the open roadstead is exposed to the terrible north wind, and when gales blow from the west and south, it is almost unapproachable. Every ebb leaves a sandy flat, extending half a mile seaward from the town; the reefy anchorage is difficult of entrance after sunset, and the coralline bottom renders wading painful.

The shape of this once celebrated town is a tolerably regular parallelogram, of which the long sides run from east to west. The walls, without guns or embrasures, are built, like the houses, of coralline rubble and mud, in places dilapidated. There are five gates. The Bab el Sahil and the Bab el Jadd (a new postern) open upon the sea from the northern wall. At the Ashurbara, in the southern part of the enceinte, the Bedouins encamp, and above it the governor holds his Durbar. The Bab Abd el Kadir derives its name from a saint buried outside and eastward of the city, and the Bab el Saghir is pierced in the western wall.

The public edifices are six mosques, including the Jami, or cathedral, for Friday prayer: these buildings have queer little crenelles on whitewashed walls, and a kind of elevated summer-house to represent the minaret. Near one of them are remains of a circular Turkish Munar, manifestly of modern construction. There is no Mahkamah or Kazi’s court; that dignitary transacts business at his own house, and the Festival prayers are recited near the Saint’s Tomb outside the eastern gate. The northeast angle of the town is occupied by a large graveyard with the usual deleterious consequences.

The climate of Zayla is cooler than that of Aden, and, the site being open all around, it is not so unhealthy. Much spare room is enclosed by the town walls: evaporation and Nature’s scavengers act succedanea for sewerage.

Zayla commands the adjacent harbour of Tajurrah, and is by position the northern port of Aussa (the ancient capital of Adel), of Harar, and of southern Abyssinia: the feuds of the rulers have, however, transferred the main trade to Berberah. It sends caravans northwards to the Dankali, and south-westwards, through the Eesa and Gudabirsi tribes as far as Efat and Gurague. It is visited by Cafilas from Abyssinia, and the different races of Bedouins, extending from the hills to the seaboard. The exports are valuable — slaves, ivory, hides, honey, antelope horns, clarified butter, and gums: the coast abounds in sponge, coral, and small pearls, which Arab divers collect in the fair season. In the harbour I found about twenty native craft, large and small: of these, ten belonged to the governor. They trade with Berberah, Arabia, and Western India, and are navigated by “Rajput” or Hindu pilots.

Provisions at Zayla are cheap; a family of six persons live well for about 30_l. per annum. The general food is mutton: a large sheep costs one dollar, a small one half the price; camels’ meat, beef, and in winter kid, abound. Fish is rare, and fowls are not commonly eaten. Holcus, when dear, sells at forty pounds per dollar, at seventy pounds when cheap. It is usually levigated with slab and roller, and made into sour cakes. Some, however, prefer the Arab form “balilah,” boiled and mixed with ghee. Wheat and rice are imported: the price varies from forty to sixty pounds the Riyal or dollar. Of the former grain the people make a sweet cake called Sabaya, resembling the Fatirah of Egypt: a favourite dish also is “harisah”— flesh, rice flour, and boiled wheat, all finely pounded and mixed together. Milk is not procurable during the hot weather; after rain every house is full of it; the Bedouins bring it in skins and sell it for a nominal sum.

Besides a large floating population, Zayla contains about 1500 souls. They are comparatively a fine race of people, and suffer from little but fever and an occasional ophthalmia. Their greatest hardship is the want of the pure element: the Hissi or well, is about four miles distant from the town, and all the pits within the walls supply brackish or bitter water, fit only for external use. This is probably the reason why vegetables are unknown, and why a horse, a mule, or even a dog, is not to be found in the place.

30 “Fid-mer,” or the evening flyer, is the Somali name for a bat. These little animals are not disturbed in houses, because they keep off flies and mosquitoes, the plagues of the Somali country. Flies abound in the very jungles wherever cows have been, and settle in swarms upon the traveller. Before the monsoon their bite is painful, especially that of the small green species; and there is a red variety called “Diksi as,” whose venom, according to the people, causes them to vomit. The latter abounds in Gulays and the hill ranges of the Berberah country: it is innocuous during the cold season. The mosquito bites bring on, according to the same authority, deadly fevers: the superstition probably arises from the fact that mosquitoes and fevers become formidable about the same time.

31 Such a building at Zayla would cost at most 500 dollars. At Aden, 2000 rupees, or nearly double the sum, would be paid for a matted shed, which excludes neither sun, nor wind, nor rain.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31