First footsteps in East Africa, by Richard Burton

Chapter 7

From the Marar Prairie to Harar.

Early on the 23rd December assembled the Caravan, which we were destined to escort across the Marar Prairie. Upon this neutral ground the Eesa, Berteri, and Habr Awal meet to rob and plunder unhappy travellers. The Somal shuddered at the sight of a wayfarer, who rushed into our encampment in cuerpo, having barely run away with his life. Not that our caravan carried much to lose — a few hides and pots of clarified butter, to be exchanged for the Holcus grain of the Girhi cultivators — still the smallest contributions are thankfully received by these plunderers. Our material consisted of four or five half-starved camels, about fifty donkeys with ears cropped as a mark, and their eternal accompaniments in Somali land, old women. The latter seemed to be selected for age, hideousness, and strength: all day they bore their babes smothered in hides upon their backs, and they carried heavy burdens apparently without fatigue. Amongst them was a Bedouin widow, known by her “Wer,” a strip of the inner bark of a tree tied round the greasy fillet.1 We were accompanied by three Widads, provided with all the instruments of their craft, and uncommonly tiresome companions. They recited Koran a tort et a travers: at every moment they proposed Fatihahs, the name of Allah was perpetually upon their lips, and they discussed questions of divinity, like Gil Blas and his friends, with a violence bordering upon frenzy. One of them was celebrated for his skill in the “Fal,” or Omens: he was constantly consulted by my companions, and informed them that we had nought to fear except from wild beasts. The prediction was a good hit: I must own, however, that it was not communicated to me before fulfilment.

At half past six A.M. we began our march over rough and rising ground, a network of thorns and water-courses, and presently entered a stony gap between two ranges of hills. On our right was a conical peak, bearing the remains of buildings upon its summit. Here, said Abtidon, a wild Gudabirsi hired to look after our mules, rests the venerable Shaykh Samawai. Of old, a number of wells existed in the gaps between the hills: these have disappeared with those who drank of them.

Presently we entered the Barr or Prairie of Marar, one of the long strips of plain which diversify the Somali country. Its breadth, bounded on the east by the rolling ground over which we had passed, on the west by Gurays, a range of cones offshooting from the highlands of Harar, is about twenty-seven miles. The general course is north and south: in the former direction, it belongs to the Eesa: in the latter may be seen the peaks of Kadau and Madir, the property of the Habr Awal tribes; and along these ranges it extends, I was told, towards Ogadayn. The surface of the plain is gently rolling ground; the black earth, filled with the holes of small beasts, would be most productive, and the outer coat is an expanse of tall, waving, sunburnt grass, so unbroken, that from a distance it resembles the nap of yellow velvet. In the frequent Wadys, which carry off the surplus rain of the hills, scrub and thorn trees grow in dense thickets, and the grass is temptingly green. Yet the land lies fallow: water and fuel are scarce at a distance from the hills, and the wildest Bedouins dare not front the danger of foraging parties, the fatal heats of day, and the killing colds of night. On the edges of the plain, however, are frequent vestiges of deserted kraals.

About mid-day, we crossed a depression in the centre, where Acacias supplied us with gum for luncheon, and sheltered flocks of antelope. I endeavoured to shoot the white-tailed Sig, and the large dun Oryx; but the brouhaha of the Caravan prevented execution. Shortly afterwards we came upon patches of holcus, which had grown wild, from seeds scattered by travellers. This was the first sight of grain that gladdened my eyes since I left Bombay: the grave of the First Murderer never knew a Triptolemus 2, and Zayla is a barren flat of sand. My companions eagerly devoured the pith of this African “sweet cane,” despite its ill reputation for causing fever. I followed their example, and found it almost as good as bad sugar. The Bedouins loaded their spare asses with the bitter gourd, called Ubbah; externally it resembles the water melon, and becomes, when shaped, dried, and smoked, the wickerwork of the Somal, and the pottery of more civilized people.

Towards evening, as the setting sun sank slowly behind the distant western hills, the colour of the Prairie changed from glaring yellow to a golden hue, mantled with a purple flush inexpressibly lovely. The animals of the waste began to appear. Shy lynxes3 and jackals fattened by many sheep’s tails4, warned my companions that fierce beasts were nigh, ominous anecdotes were whispered, and I was told that a caravan had lately lost nine asses by lions. As night came on, the Bedouin Kafilah, being lightly loaded, preceded us, and our tired camels lagged far behind. We were riding in rear to prevent straggling, when suddenly my mule, the hindermost, pricked his ears uneasily, and attempted to turn his head. Looking backwards, I distinguished the form of a large animal following us with quick and stealthy strides. My companions would not fire, thinking it was a man: at last a rifle-ball, pinging through the air — the moon was too young for correct shooting — put to flight a huge lion. The terror excited by this sort of an adventure was comical to look upon: the valiant Beuh, who, according to himself, had made his preuves in a score of foughten fields, threw his arms in the air, wildly shouting Libah! Libah!! — the lion! the lion!! — and nothing else was talked of that evening.

The ghostly western hills seemed to recede as we advanced over the endless rolling plain. Presently the ground became broken and stony, the mules stumbled in deep holes, and the camels could scarcely crawl along. As we advanced our Widads, who, poor devils! had been “roasted” by the women all day on account of their poverty, began to recite the Koran with might, in gratitude for having escaped many perils. Night deepening, our attention was rivetted by a strange spectacle; a broad sheet of bright blaze, reminding me of Hanno’s fiery river, swept apparently down a hill, and, according to my companions, threatened the whole prairie. These accidents are common: a huntsman burns a tree for honey, or cooks his food in the dry grass, the wind rises and the flames spread far and wide. On this occasion no accident occurred; the hills, however, smoked like a Solfatara for two days.

About 9 P.M. we heard voices, and I was told to discharge my rifle lest the kraal be closed to us; in due time we reached a long, low, dark line of sixty or seventy huts, disposed in a circle, so as to form a fence, with a few bushes — thorns being hereabouts rare — in the gaps between the abodes. The people, a mixture of Girhi and Gudabirsi Bedouins, swarmed out to gratify their curiosity, but we were in no humour for long conversations. Our luggage was speedily disposed in a heap near the kraal, the mules and camels were tethered for the night, then, supperless and shivering with cold, we crept under our mats and fell asleep. That day we had ridden nearly fifteen hours; our halting place lay about thirty miles from, and 240° south-west of, Koralay.

After another delay, and a second vain message to the Gerad Adan, about noon appeared that dignitary’s sixth wife, sister to the valiant Beuh. Her arrival disconcerted my companions, who were too proud to be protected by a woman. “Dahabo,” however, relieved their anxiety by informing us that the Gerad had sent his eldest son Sherwa, as escort. This princess was a gipsy-looking dame, coarsely dressed, about thirty years old, with a gay leer, a jaunty demeanour, and the reputation of being “fast;” she showed little shame-facedness when I saluted her, and received with noisy joy the appropriate present of a new and handsome Tobe. About 4 P.M. returned our second messenger, bearing with him a reproving message from the Gerad, for not visiting him without delay; in token of sincerity, he forwarded his baton, a knobstick about two feet long, painted in rings of Cutch colours, red, black, and yellow alternately, and garnished on the summit with a ball of similar material.

At dawn on the 26th December, mounted upon a little pony, came Sherwa, heir presumptive to the Gerad Adan’s knobstick. His father had sent him to us three days before, but he feared the Gudabirsi as much as the Gudabirsi feared him, and he probably hung about our camp till certain that it was safe to enter. We received him politely, and he in acknowledgment positively declared that Beuh should not return before eating honey in his cottage. Our Abban’s heroism now became infectious. Even the End of Time, whose hot valour had long since fallen below zero, was inspired by the occasion, and recited, as usual with him in places and at times of extreme safety, the Arabs’ warrior lines —

“I have crossed the steed since my eyes saw light,

I have fronted death till he feared my sight,

And the cleaving of helm, and the riving of mail

Were the dreams of my youth — are my manhood’s delight.”

As we had finished loading, a mule’s bridle was missed. Sherwa ordered instant restitution to his father’s stranger, on the ground that all the property now belonged to the Gerad; and we, by no means idle, fiercely threatened to bewitch the kraal. The article was presently found hard by, on a hedge. This was the first and last case of theft which occurred to us in the Somali country; — I have travelled through most civilised lands, and have lost more.

At 8 A.M. we marched towards the north-west, along the southern base of the Gurays hills, and soon arrived at the skirt of the prairie, where a well-trodden path warned us that we were about to quit the desert. After advancing six miles in line we turned to the right, and recited a Fatihah over the heap of rough stones, where, shadowed by venerable trees, lie the remains of the great Shaykh Abd el Malik. A little beyond this spot, rises suddenly from the plain a mass of castellated rock, the subject of many a wild superstition. Caravans always encamp beneath it, as whoso sleeps upon the summit loses his senses to evil spirits. At some future day Harar will be destroyed, and “Jannah Siri” will become a flourishing town. We ascended it, and found no life but hawks, coneys, an owl5, and a graceful species of black eagle6; there were many traces of buildings, walls, ruined houses, and wells, whilst the sides and summit were tufted with venerable sycamores. This act was an imprudence; the Bedouins at once declared that we were “prospecting” for a fort, and the evil report preceded us to Harar.

After a mile’s march from Jannah Siri, we crossed a ridge of rising ground, and suddenly, as though by magic, the scene shifted.

Before us lay a little Alp; the second step of the Ethiopian Highland. Around were high and jagged hills, their sides black with the Saj7 and Somali pine8, and their upper brows veiled with a thin growth of cactus. Beneath was a deep valley, in the midst of which ran a serpentine of shining waters, the gladdest spectacle we had yet witnessed: further in front, masses of hill rose abruptly from shady valleys, encircled on the far horizon by a straight blue line of ground, resembling a distant sea. Behind us glared the desert: we had now reached the outskirts of civilization, where man, abandoning his flocks and herds, settles, cultivates, and attends to the comforts of life.

The fields are either terraces upon the hill slopes or the sides of valleys, divided by flowery hedges with lanes between, not unlike those of rustic England; and on a nearer approach the daisy, the thistle, and the sweet briar pleasantly affected my European eyes. The villages are no longer moveable: the Kraal and wigwam are replaced by the Gambisa or bell-shaped hut of Middle Africa 9, circular cottages of holcus wattle, Covered with coarse dab and surmounted by a stiff, conical, thatch roof, above which appears the central supporting post, crowned with a gourd or ostrich egg.10 Strong abbatis of thorns protects these settlements, which stud the hills in all directions: near most of them are clumps of tall trees, to the southern sides of which are hung, like birdcages, long cylinders of matting, the hives of these regions. Yellow crops of holcus rewarded the peasant’s toil: in some places the long stems tied in bunches below the ears as piled muskets, stood ready for the reaper; in others, the barer ground showed that the task was done. The boys sat perched upon reed platforms11 in the trees, and with loud shouts drove away thieving birds, whilst their fathers cut the crop with diminutive sickles, or thrashed heaps of straw with rude flails12, or winnowed grain by tossing it with a flat wooden shovel against the wind. The women husked the pineapple-formed heads in mortars composed of a hollowed trunk 13, smeared the threshing floor with cow-dung and water to defend it from insects, piled the holcus heads into neat yellow heaps, spanned and crossed by streaks of various colours, brick-red and brownish-purple14, and stacked the Karbi or straw, which was surrounded like the grain with thorn, as a defence against the wild hog. All seemed to consider it a labour of love: the harvest-home song sounded pleasantly to our ears, and, contrasting with the silent desert, the hum of man’s habitation was a music.

Descending the steep slope, we reposed, after a seven miles’ march, on the banks of a bright rivulet, which bisects the Kobbo or valley: it runs, according to my guides, from the north towards Ogadayn, and the direction is significant — about Harar I found neither hill nor stream trending from east to west. The people of the Kutti15 flocked out to gaze upon us: they were unarmed, and did not, like the Bedouins, receive us with cries of “Bori.” During the halt, we bathed in the waters, upon whose banks were a multitude of huge Mantidae, pink and tender green. Returning to the camels, I shot a kind of crow, afterwards frequently seen.16 It is about three times the size of our English bird, of a bluish-black with a snow-white poll, and a beak of unnatural proportions: the quantity of lead which it carried off surprised me. A number of Widads assembled to greet us, and some Habr Awal, who were returning with a caravan, gave us the salam, and called my people cousins. “Verily,” remarked the Hammal, “amongst friends we cut one another’s throats; amongst enemies we become sons of uncles!”

At 3 P.M. we pursued our way over rising ground, dotted with granite blocks fantastically piled, and everywhere in sight of fields and villages and flowing water. A furious wind was blowing, and the End of Time quoted the Somali proverb, “heat hurts, but cold kills:” the camels were so fatigued, and the air became so raw17, that after an hour and a half’s march we planted our wigwams near a village distant about seven miles from the Gurays Hills. Till late at night we were kept awake by the crazy Widads: Ao Samattar had proposed the casuistical question, “Is it lawful to pray upon a mountain when a plain is at hand?” Some took the pro, others the contra, and the wordy battle raged with uncommon fury.

On Wednesday morning at half past seven we started down hill towards “Wilensi,” a small table-mountain, at the foot of which we expected to find the Gerad Adan awaiting us in one of his many houses, crossed a fertile valley, and ascended another steep slope by a bad and stony road. Passing the home of Sherwa, who vainly offered hospitality, we toiled onwards, and after a mile and a half’s march, which occupied at least two hours, our wayworn beasts arrived at the Gerad’s village. On inquiry, it proved that the chief, who was engaged in selecting two horses and two hundred cows, the price of blood claimed by the Amir of Harar, for the murder of a citizen, had that day removed to Sagharrah, another settlement.

As we entered the long straggling village of Wilensi, our party was divided by the Gerad’s two wives. The Hammal, the Kalendar, Shehrazade, and Deenarzade, remained with Beuh and his sister in her Gurgi, whilst Long Guled, the End of Time, and I were conducted to the cottage of the Gerad’s prettiest wife, Sudiyah. She was a tall woman, with a light complexion, handsomely dressed in a large Harar Tobe, with silver earrings, and the kind of necklace called Jilbah or Kardas.18 The Geradah (princess) at once ordered our hides to be spread in a comfortable part of the hut, and then supplied us with food — boiled beef, pumpkin, and Jowari cakes. During the short time spent in that Gambisa, I had an opportunity, dear L., of seeing the manners and customs of the settled Somal.

The interior of the cottage is simple. Entering the door, a single plank with pins for hinges fitted into sockets above and below the lintel — in fact, as artless a contrivance as ever seen in Spain or Corsica — you find a space, divided by dwarf walls of wattle and dab into three compartments, for the men, women, and cattle. The horses and cows, tethered at night on the left of the door, fill the cottage with the wherewithal to pass many a nuit blanche: the wives lie on the right, near a large fireplace of stones and raised clay, and the males occupy the most comfortable part, opposite to and farthest from the entrance. The thatched ceiling shines jetty with smoke, which when intolerable is allowed to escape by a diminutive window: this seldom happens, for smoke, like grease and dirt, keeping man warm, is enjoyed by savages. Equally simply is the furniture: the stem of a tree, with branches hacked into pegs, supports the shields, the assegais are planted against the wall, and divers bits of wood, projecting from the sides and the central roof-tree of the cottage, are hung with clothes and other articles that attract white ants. Gourds smoked inside, and coffee cups of coarse black Harar pottery, with deep wooden platters, and prettily carved spoons of the same material, compose the household supellex. The inmates are the Geradah and her baby, Siddik a Galla serf, the slave girls and sundry Somal: thus we hear at all times three languages19 spoken within the walls.

Long before dawn the goodwife rises, wakens her handmaidens, lights the fire, and prepares for the Afur or morning meal. The quern is here unknown20. A flat, smooth, oval slab, weighing about fifteen pounds, and a stone roller six inches in diameter, worked with both hands, and the weight of the body kneeling ungracefully upon it on “all fours,” are used to triturate the holcus grain. At times water must be sprinkled over the meal, until a finely powdered paste is ready for the oven: thus several hours’ labour is required to prepare a few pounds of bread. About 6 A.M. there appears a substantial breakfast of roast beef and mutton, with scones of Jowari grain, the whole drenched in broth. Of the men few perform any ablutions, but all use the tooth stick before sitting down to eat. After the meal some squat in the sun, others transact business, and drive their cattle to the bush till 11 A.M., the dinner hour. There is no variety in the repasts, which are always flesh and holcus: these people despise fowls, and consider vegetables food for cattle. During the day there is no privacy; men, women, and children enter in crowds, and will not be driven away by the Geradah, who inquires screamingly if they come to stare at a baboon. My kettle especially excites their surprise; some opine that it is an ostrich, others, a serpent: Sudiyah, however, soon discovered its use, and begged irresistibly for the unique article. Throughout the day her slave girls are busied in grinding, cooking, and quarrelling with dissonant voices: the men have little occupation beyond chewing tobacco, chatting, and having their wigs frizzled by a professional coiffeur. In the evening the horses and cattle return home to be milked and stabled: this operation concluded, all apply themselves to supper with a will. They sleep but little, and sit deep into the night trimming the fire, and conversing merrily over their cups of Farshu or millet beer.21 I tried this mixture several times, and found it detestable: the taste is sour, and it flies directly to the head, in consequence of being mixed with some poisonous bark. It is served up in gourd bottles upon a basket of holcus heads, and strained through a pledget of cotton, fixed across the narrow mouth, into cups of the same primitive material: the drinkers sit around their liquor, and their hilarity argues its intoxicating properties. In the morning they arise with headaches and heavy eyes; but these symptoms, which we, an industrious race, deprecate, are not disliked by the Somal — they promote sleep and give something to occupy the vacant mind. I usually slumber through the noise except when Ambar, a half-caste Somal, returning from a trip to Harar, astounds us with his contes bleus, or wild Abtidon howls forth some lay like this:—

I.

“’Tis joyesse all in Eesa’s home!

The fatted oxen bleed,

And slave girls range the pails of milk,

And strain the golden mead.

II.

“’Tis joyesse all in Eesa’s home!

This day the Chieftain’s pride

Shall join the song, the dance, the feast,

And bear away a bride.

III.

“‘He cometh not!’ the father cried,

Smiting with spear the wall;

‘And yet he sent the ghostly man,

Yestre’en before the fall!’

IV.

“‘He cometh not!’ the mother said,

A tear stood in her eye;

‘He cometh not, I dread, I dread,

And yet I know not why.’

V.

“‘He cometh not!’ the maiden thought,

Yet in her glance was light,

Soft as the flash in summer’s eve

Where sky and earth unite.

VI.

“The virgins, deck’d with tress and flower,

Danced in the purple shade,

And not a soul, perchance, but wished

Herself the chosen maid.

VII.

“The guests in groups sat gathering

Where sunbeams warmed the air,

Some laughed the feasters’ laugh, and some

Wore the bent brow of care.

VIII.

“’Tis he! —’tis he!”— all anxious peer,

Towards the distant lea;

A courser feebly nears the throng —

Ah! ’tis his steed they see.

IX.

“The grief cry bursts from every lip,

Fear sits on every brow,

There’s blood upon the courser’s flank! —

Blood on the saddle bow!

X.

“’Tis he! —’tis he!’— all arm and run

Towards the Marar Plain,

Where a dark horseman rides the waste

With dust-cloud for a train.

XI.

“The horseman reins his foam-fleckt steed,

Leans on his broken spear,

Wipes his damp brow, and faint begins

To tell a tale of fear.

XII.

“‘Where is my son?’—‘Go seek him there,

Far on the Marar Plain,

Where vultures and hyaenas hold

Their orgies o’er the slain.

XIII.

“‘We took our arms, we saddled horse,

We rode the East countrie,

And drove the flocks, and harried herds

Betwixt the hills and sea.

XIV.

“‘We drove the flock across the hill,

The herd across the wold —

The poorest spearboy had returned

That day, a man of gold.

XV.

“‘Bat Awal’s children mann’d the vale

Where sweet the Arman flowers,

Their archers from each bush and tree

Rained shafts in venomed showers.

XVI.

“‘Full fifty warriors bold and true

Fell as becomes the brave;

And whom the arrow spared, the spear

Reaped for the ravening grave.

XVII.

“‘Friend of my youth! shall I remain

When ye are gone before?’

He drew the wood from out his side,

And loosed the crimson gore.

XVIII.

“Falling, he raised his broken spear,

Thrice wav’d it o’er his head,

Thrice raised the warrior’s cry ‘revenge!’—

His soul was with the dead.

XIX.

“Now, one by one, the wounded braves

Homeward were seen to wend,

Each holding on his saddle bow

A dead or dying friend.

XX.

“Two galliards bore the Eesa’s son,

The corpse was stark and bare —

Low moaned the maid, the mother smote

Her breast in mute despair.

XXI.

“The father bent him o’er the dead,

The wounds were all before;

Again his brow, in sorrow clad,

The garb of gladness wore.

XXII.

“‘Ho! sit ye down, nor mourn for me,’

Unto the guests he cried;

‘My son a warrior’s life hath lived,

A warrior’s death hath died.

XXIII.

“‘His wedding and his funeral feast

Are one, so Fate hath said;

Death bore him from the brides of earth

The brides of Heaven to wed.’

XXIV.

“They drew their knives, they sat them down,

And fed as warriors feed;

The flesh of sheep and beeves they ate,

And quaffed the golden mead.

XXV.

“And Eesa sat between the prayers

Until the fall of day,

When rose the guests and grasped their spears,

And each man went his way.

XXVI.

“But in the morn arose the cry,

For mortal spirit flown;

The father’s mighty heart had burst

With woe he might not own.

XXVII.

“On the high crest of yonder hill,

They buried sire and son,

Grant, Allah! grant them Paradise —

Gentles, my task is done!”


Immediately after our arrival at Wilensi we sent Yusuf Dera, the Gerad’s second son, to summon his father. I had to compose many disputes between the Hammal and the End of Time: the latter was swelling with importance; he was now accredited ambassador from the Hajj to the Girhi chief, consequently he aimed at commanding the Caravan. We then made preparations for departure, in case of the Gerad being unable to escort us. Shehrazade and Deenarzade, hearing that the small-pox raged at Harar, and fearing for their charms, begged hard to be left behind: the Kalendar was directed, despite his manly objections, to remain in charge of these dainty dames. The valiant Beuh was dressed in the grand Tobe promised to him; as no consideration would induce him towards the city, he was dismissed with small presents, and an old Girhi Bedouin, generally known as Said Wal, or Mad Said, was chosen as our escort. Camels being unable to travel over these rough mountain paths, our weary brutes were placed for rest and pasture under the surveillance of Sherwa: and not wishing the trouble and delay of hiring asses, the only transport in this country, certain moreover that our goods were safer here than nearer Harar, we selected the most necessary objects, and packed them in a pair of small leathern saddlebags which could be carried by a single mule.

All these dispositions duly made, at 10 A.M. on the 29th December we mounted our animals, and, guided by Mad Said, trotted round the northern side of the Wilensi table-mountain down a lane fenced with fragrant dog roses. Then began the descent of a steep rocky hill, the wall of a woody chasm, through whose gloomy depths the shrunken stream of a large Fiumara wound like a thread of silver. The path would be safe to nought less surefooted than a mule: we rode slowly over rolling stones, steps of micaceous grit, and through thorny bush for about half an hour. In the plain below appeared a village of the Gerad’s Midgans, who came out to see us pass, and followed the strangers to some distance. One happening to say, “Of what use is his gun? — before he could fetch fire, I should put this arrow through him!” I discharged a barrel over their heads, and derided the convulsions of terror caused by the unexpected sound.

Passing onwards we entered a continuation of the Wady Harirah. It is a long valley choked with dense vegetation, through which meandered a line of water brightly gilt by the sun’s rays: my Somal remarked that were the elephants now infesting it destroyed, rice, the favourite luxury, might be grown upon its banks in abundance. Our road lay under clumps of shady trees, over rocky watercourses, through avenues of tall cactus, and down tranchees worn by man eight and ten feet below stiff banks of rich red clay. On every side appeared deep clefts, ravines, and earth cracks, all, at this season, dry. The unarmed cultivators thronged from the frequent settlements to stare, and my Somal, being no longer in their own country, laid aside for guns their ridiculous spears. On the way passing Ao Samattar’s village, the worthy fellow made us halt whilst he went to fetch a large bowl of sour milk. About noon the fresh western breeze obscured the fierce sun with clouds, and we watered our mules in a mountain stream which crossed our path thrice within as many hundred yards. After six miles’ ride reaching the valley’s head, we began the descent of a rugged pass by a rough and rocky path. The scenery around us was remarkable. The hill sides were well wooded, and black with pine: their summits were bared of earth by the heavy monsoon which spreads the valleys with rich soil; in many places the beds of waterfalls shone like sheets of metal upon the black rock; villages surrounded by fields and fences studded the country, and the distance was a mass of purple peak and blue table in long vanishing succession. Ascending the valley’s opposite wall, we found the remains of primaeval forests — little glades which had escaped the axe — they resounded with the cries of pintados and cynocephali.22 Had the yellow crops of Holcus been wheat, I might have fancied myself once more riding in the pleasant neighbourhood of Tuscan Sienna.

At 4 P.M., after accomplishing fifteen miles on rough ground, we sighted Sagharrah, a snug high-fenced village of eight or nine huts nestling against a hill side with trees above, and below a fertile grain-valley. Presently Mad Said pointed out to us the Gerad Adan, who, attended by a little party, was returning homewards: we fired our guns as a salute, he however hurried on to receive us with due ceremony in his cottage. Dismounting at the door we shook hands with him, were led through the idle mob into a smoky closet contrived against the inside wall, and were regaled with wheaten bread steeped in honey and rancid butter. The host left us to eat, and soon afterwards returned:— I looked with attention at a man upon whom so much then depended.

Adan bin Kaushan was in appearance a strong wiry Bedouin — before obtaining from me a turban he wore his bushy hair dyed dun — about forty-five years old, at least six feet high, with decided features, a tricky smile, and an uncertain eye. In character he proved to be one of those cunning idiots so peculiarly difficult to deal with. Ambitious and wild with greed of gain, he was withal so fickle that his head appeared ever changing its contents; he could not sit quiet for half an hour, and this physical restlessness was an outward sign of the uneasy inner man. Though reputed brave, his treachery has won him a permanent ill fame. Some years ago he betrothed a daughter to the eldest son of Gerad Hirsi of the Berteri tribe, and then, contrary to Somali laws of honor, married her to Mahommed Waiz of the Jibril Abokr. This led to a feud, in which the disappointed suitor was slain. Adan was celebrated for polygamy even in Eastern Africa: by means of his five sons and dozen daughters, he has succeeded in making extensive connexions23, and his sister, the Gisti24 Fatimah, was married to Abubakr, father of the present Amir. Yet the Gerad would walk into a crocodile’s mouth as willingly as within the walls of Harar. His main reason for receiving us politely was an ephemeral fancy for building a fort, to control the country’s trade, and rival or overawe the city. Still did he not neglect the main chance: whatever he saw he asked for; and, after receiving a sword, a Koran, a turban, an Arab waistcoat of gaudy satin, about seventy Tobes, and a similar proportion of indigo-dyed stuff, he privily complained to me that the Hammal had given him but twelve cloths. A list of his wants will best explain the man. He begged me to bring him from Berberah a silver-hilted sword and some soap, 1000 dollars, two sets of silver bracelets, twenty guns with powder and shot, snuff, a scarlet cloth coat embroidered with gold, some poison that would not fail, and any other little article of luxury which might be supposed to suit him. In return he was to present us with horses, mules, slaves, ivory, and other valuables: he forgot, however, to do so before we departed.

The Gerad Adan was powerful, being the head of a tribe of cultivators, not split up, like the Bedouins, into independent clans, and he thus exercises a direct influence upon the conterminous races.25 The Girhi or “Giraffes” inhabiting these hills are, like most of the other settled Somal, a derivation from Darud, and descended from Kombo. Despite the unmerciful persecutions of the Gallas, they gradually migrated westwards from Makhar, their original nest, now number 5000 shields, possess about 180 villages, and are accounted the power paramount. Though friendly with the Habr Awal, the Girhi seldom descend, unless compelled by want of pasture, into the plains.

The other inhabitants of these hills are the Gallas and the Somali clans of Berteri, Bursuk, Shaykhash, Hawiyah, Usbayhan, Marayhan, and Abaskul.

The Gallas26 about Harar are divided into four several clans, separating as usual into a multitude of septs. The Alo extend westwards from the city: the Nole inhabit the land to the east and north-east, about two days’ journey between the Eesa Somal, and Harar: on the south, are situated the Babuli and the Jarsa at Wilensi, Sagharrah, and Kondura — places described in these pages.

The Berteri, who occupy the Gurays Range, south of, and limitrophe to, the Gallas, and thence extend eastward to the Jigjiga hills, are estimated at 3000 shields.27 Of Darud origin, they own allegiance to the Gerad Hirsi, and were, when I visited the country, on bad terms with the Girhi. The chief’s family has, for several generations, been connected with the Amirs of Harar, and the caravan’s route to and from Berberah lying through his country, makes him a useful friend and a dangerous foe. About the Gerad Hirsi different reports were rife: some described him as cruel, violent, and avaricious; others spoke of him as a godly and a prayerful person: all, however, agreed that he had sowed wild oats. In token of repentance, he was fond of feeding Widads, and the Shaykh Jami of Harar was a frequent guest at his kraal.

The Bursuk number about 5000 shields, own no chief, and in 1854 were at war with the Girhi, the Berteri, and especially the Gallas. In this country, the feuds differ from those of the plains: the hill-men fight for three days, as the End of Time phrased it, and make peace for three days. The maritime clans are not so abrupt in their changes; moreover they claim blood-money, a thing here unknown.

The Shaykhash, or “Reverend” as the term means, are the only Somal of the mountains not derived from Dir and Darud. Claiming descent from the Caliph Abubakr, they assert that ten generations ago, one Ao Khutab bin Fakih Umar crossed over from El Hejaz, and settled in Eastern Africa with his six sons, Umar the greater, Umar the less, two Abdillahs, Ahmed, and lastly Siddik. This priestly tribe is dispersed, like that of Levi, amongst its brethren, and has spread from Efat to Ogadayn. Its principal sub-families are, Ao Umar, the elder, and Bah Dumma, the junior, branch.

The Hawiyah has been noticed in a previous chapter. Of the Usbayhan I saw but few individuals: they informed me that their tribe numbered forty villages, and about 1000 shields; that they had no chief of their own race, but owned the rule of the Girhi and Berteri Gerads. Their principal clans are the Rer Yusuf, Rer Said, Rer Abokr, and Yusuf Liyo.

In the Eastern Horn of Africa, and at Ogadayn, the Marayhan is a powerful tribe, here it is un-consequential, and affiliated to the Girhi. The Abaskul also lies scattered over the Harar hills, and owns the Gerad Adan as its chief. This tribe numbers fourteen villages, and between 400 and 500 shields, and is divided into the Rer Yusuf, the Jibrailah, and the Warra Dig:— the latter clan is said to be of Galla extraction.

On the morning after my arrival at Sagharrah I felt too ill to rise, and was treated with unaffected kindness by all the establishment. The Gerad sent to Harar for millet beer, Ao Samattar went to the gardens in search of Kat, the sons Yusuf Dera and a dwarf28 insisted upon firing me with such ardour, that no refusal could avail: and Khayrah the wife, with her daughters, two tall dark, smiling, and well-favoured girls of thirteen and fifteen, sacrificed a sheep as my Fida, or Expiatory offering. Even the Galla Christians, who flocked to see the stranger, wept for the evil fate which had brought him so far from his fatherland, to die under a tree. Nothing, indeed, would have been easier than such operation: all required was the turning face to the wall, for four or five days. But to expire of an ignoble colic! — the thing was not to be thought of, and a firm resolution to live on sometimes, methinks, effects its object.

On the 1st January, 1855, feeling stronger, I clothed myself in my Arab best, and asked a palaver with the Gerad. We retired to a safe place behind the village, where I read with pomposity the Hajj Sharmarkay’s letter. The chief appeared much pleased by our having preferred his country to that of the Eesa: he at once opened the subject of the new fort, and informed me that I was the builder, as his eldest daughter had just dreamed that the stranger would settle in the land. Having discussed the project to the Gerad’s satisfaction, we brought out the guns and shot a few birds for the benefit of the vulgar. Whilst engaged in this occupation, appeared a party of five strangers, and three mules with ornamented Morocco saddles, bridles, bells, and brass neck ornaments, after the fashion of Harar. Two of these men, Haji Umar, and Nur Ambar, were citizens: the others, Ali Hasan, Husayn Araleh, and Haji Mohammed, were Somal of the Habr Awal tribe, high in the Amir’s confidence. They had been sent to settle with Adan the weighty matter of Blood-money. After sitting with us almost half an hour, during which they exchanged grave salutations with my attendants, inspected our asses with portentous countenances, and asked me a few questions concerning my business in those parts, they went privily to the Gerad, told him that the Arab was not one who bought and sold, that he had no design but to spy out the wealth of the land, and that the whole party should be sent prisoners in their hands to Harar. The chief curtly replied that we were his friends, and bade them, “throw far those words.” Disappointed in their designs, they started late in the afternoon, driving off their 200 cows, and falsely promising to present our salams to the Amir.

It became evident that some decided step must be taken. The Gerad confessed fear of his Harari kinsman, and owned that he had lost all his villages in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. I asked him point-blank to escort us: he as frankly replied that it was impossible. The request was lowered — we begged him to accompany us as far as the frontier: he professed inability to do so, but promised to send his eldest son, Sherwa.

Nothing then remained, dear L., but payer d’audace, and, throwing all forethought to the dogs, to rely upon what has made many a small man great, the good star. I addressed my companions in a set speech, advising a mount without delay. They suggested a letter to the Amir, requesting permission to enter his city: this device was rejected for two reasons. In the first place, had a refusal been returned, our journey was cut short, and our labours stultified. Secondly, the End of Time had whispered that my two companions were plotting to prevent the letter reaching its destination. He had charged his own sin upon their shoulders: the Hammal and Long Guled were incapable of such treachery. But our hedge-priest was thoroughly terrified; “a coward body after a’,” his face brightened when ordered to remain with the Gerad at Sagharrah, and though openly taunted with poltroonery, he had not the decency to object. My companions were then informed that hitherto our acts had been those of old women, not soldiers, and that something savouring of manliness must be done before we could return. They saw my determination to start alone, if necessary, and to do them justice, they at once arose. This was the more courageous in them, as alarmists had done their worst: but a day before, some travelling Somali had advised them, as they valued dear life, not to accompany that Turk to Harar. Once in the saddle, they shook off sad thoughts, declaring that if they were slain, I should pay their blood-money, and if they escaped, that their reward was in my hands. When in some danger, the Hammal especially behaved with a sturdiness which produced the most beneficial results. Yet they were true Easterns. Wearied by delay at Harar, I employed myself in meditating flight; they drily declared that after-wit serves no good purpose: whilst I considered the possibility of escape, they looked only at the prospect of being dragged back with pinioned arms by the Amir’s guard. Such is generally the effect of the vulgar Moslems’ blind fatalism.

I then wrote an English letter29 from the Political Agent at Aden to the Amir of Harar, proposing to deliver it in person, and throw off my disguise. Two reasons influenced me in adopting this “neck or nothing” plan. All the races amongst whom my travels lay, hold him nidering who hides his origin in places of danger; and secondly, my white face had converted me into a Turk, a nation more hated and suspected than any Europeans, without our prestige. Before leaving Sagharrah, I entrusted to the End of Time a few lines addressed to Lieut. Herne at Berberah, directing him how to act in case of necessity. Our baggage was again decimated: the greater part was left with Adan, and an ass carried only what was absolutely necessary — a change of clothes, a book or two, a few biscuits, ammunition, and a little tobacco. My Girhi escort consisted of Sherwa, the Bedouin Abtidon, and Mad Said mounted on the End of Time’s mule.

At 10 A.M. on the 2nd January, all the villagers assembled, and recited the Fatihah, consoling us with the information that we were dead men. By the worst of foot-paths, we ascended the rough and stony hill behind Sagharrah, through bush and burn and over ridges of rock. At the summit was a village, where Sherwa halted, declaring that he dared not advance: a swordsman, however, was sent on to guard us through the Galla Pass. After an hour’s ride, we reached the foot of a tall Table-mountain called Kondura, where our road, a goat-path rough with rocks or fallen trees, and here and there arched over with giant creepers, was reduced to a narrow ledge, with a forest above and a forest below. I could not but admire the beauty of this Valombrosa, which reminded me of scenes whilome enjoyed in fair Touraine. High up on our left rose the perpendicular walls of the misty hill, fringed with tufted pine, and on the right the shrub-clad folds fell into a deep valley. The cool wind whistled and sunbeams like golden shafts darted through tall shady trees —

Bearded with moss, and in garments green —

the ground was clothed with dank grass, and around the trunks grew thistles, daisies, and blue flowers which at a distance might well pass for violets.

Presently we were summarily stopped by half a dozen Gallas attending upon one Rabah, the Chief who owns the Pass.30 This is the African style of toll-taking: the “pike” appears in the form of a plump of spearmen, and the gate is a pair of lances thrown across the road. Not without trouble, for they feared to depart from the mos majorum, we persuaded them that the ass carried no merchandise. Then rounding Kondura’s northern flank, we entered the Amir’s territory: about thirty miles distant, and separated by a series of blue valleys, lay a dark speck upon a tawny sheet of stubble — Harar.

Having paused for a moment to savour success, we began the descent. The ground was a slippery black soil — mist ever settles upon Kondura — and frequent springs oozing from the rock formed beds of black mire. A few huge Birbisa trees, the remnant of a forest still thick around the mountain’s neck, marked out the road: they were branchy from stem to stern, and many had a girth of from twenty to twenty-five feet.31

After an hour’s ride amongst thistles, whose flowers of a bright redlike worsted were not less than a child’s head, we watered our mules at a rill below the slope. Then remounting, we urged over hill and dale, where Galla peasants were threshing and storing their grain with loud songs of joy; they were easily distinguished by their African features, mere caricatures of the Somal, whose type has been Arabized by repeated immigrations from Yemen and Hadramaut. Late in the afternoon, having gained ten miles in a straight direction, we passed through a hedge of plantains, defending the windward side of Gafra, a village of Midgans who collect the Gerad Adan’s grain. They shouted delight on recognising their old friend, Mad Said, led us to an empty Gambisa, swept and cleaned it, lighted a fire, turned our mules into a field to graze, and went forth to seek food. Their hospitable thoughts, however, were marred by the two citizens of Harar, who privately threatened them with the Amir’s wrath, if they dared to feed that Turk.

As evening drew on, came a message from our enemies, the Habr Awal, who offered, if we would wait till sunrise, to enter the city in our train. The Gerad Adan had counselled me not to provoke these men; so, contrary to the advice of my two companions, I returned a polite answer, purporting that we would expect them till eight o’clock the next morning.

At 7 P.M., on the 3rd January, we heard that the treacherous Habr Awal had driven away their cows shortly after midnight. Seeing their hostile intentions, I left my journal, sketches, and other books in charge of an old Midgan, with directions that they should be forwarded to the Gerad Adan, and determined to carry nothing but our arms and a few presents for the Amir. We saddled our mules, mounted and rode hurriedly along the edge of a picturesque chasm of tender pink granite, here and there obscured by luxuriant vegetation. In the centre, fringed with bright banks a shallow rill, called Doghlah, now brawls in tiny cascades, then whirls through huge boulders towards the Erar River. Presently, descending by a ladder of rock scarcely safe even for mules, we followed the course of the burn, and emerging into the valley beneath, we pricked forwards rapidly, for day was wearing on, and we did not wish the Habr Awal to precede us.

About noon we crossed the Erar River. The bed is about one hundred yards broad, and a thin sheet of clear, cool, and sweet water, covered with crystal the greater part of the sand. According to my guides, its course, like that of the hills, is southerly towards the Webbe of Ogadayn32: none, however, could satisfy my curiosity concerning the course of the only perennial stream which exists between Harar and the coast.

In the lower valley, a mass of waving holcus, we met a multitude of Galla peasants coming from the city market with new potlids and the empty gourds which had contained their butter, ghee, and milk: all wondered aloud at the Turk, concerning whom they had heard many horrors. As we commenced another ascent appeared a Harar Grandee mounted upon a handsomely caparisoned mule and attended by seven servants who carried gourds and skins of grain. He was a pale-faced senior with a white beard, dressed in a fine Tobe and a snowy turban with scarlet edges: he carried no shield, but an Abyssinian broadsword was slung over his left shoulder. We exchanged courteous salutations, and as I was thirsty he ordered a footman to fill a cup with water. Half way up the hill appeared the 200 Girhi cows, but those traitors, the Habr Awal, had hurried onwards. Upon the summit was pointed out to me the village of Elaoda: in former times it was a wealthy place belonging to the Gerad Adan.

At 2 P.M. we fell into a narrow fenced lane and halted for a few minutes near a spreading tree, under which sat women selling ghee and unspun cotton. About two miles distant on the crest of a hill, stood the city — the end of my present travel — a long sombre line, strikingly contrasting with the white-washed towns of the East. The spectacle, materially speaking, was a disappointment: nothing conspicuous appeared but two grey minarets of rude shape: many would have grudged exposing three lives to win so paltry a prize. But of all that have attempted, none ever succeeded in entering that pile of stones: the thorough-bred traveller, dear L., will understand my exultation, although my two companions exchanged glances of wonder.

Spurring our mules we advanced at a long trot, when Mad Said stopped us to recite a Fatihah in honor of Ao Umar Siyad and Ao Rahmah, two great saints who repose under a clump of trees near the road. The soil on both sides of the path is rich and red: masses of plantains, limes, and pomegranates denote the gardens, which are defended by a bleached cow’s skull, stuck upon a short stick 33 and between them are plantations of coffee, bastard saffron, and the graceful Kat. About half a mile eastward of the town appears a burn called Jalah or the Coffee Water: the crowd crossing it did not prevent my companions bathing, and whilst they donned clean Tobes I retired to the wayside, and sketched the town.

These operations over, we resumed our way up a rough tranchee ridged with stone and hedged with tall cactus. This ascends to an open plain. On the right lie the holcus fields, which reach to the town wall: the left is a heap of rude cemetery, and in front are the dark defences of Harar, with groups of citizens loitering about the large gateway, and sitting in chat near the ruined tomb of Ao Abdal. We arrived at 3 P.M., after riding about five hours, which were required to accomplish twenty miles in a straight direction.34

Advancing to the gate, Mad Said accosted a warder, known by his long wand of office, and sent our salams to the Amir, saying that we came from Aden, and requested the honor of audience. Whilst he sped upon his errand, we sat at the foot of a round bastion, and were scrutinised, derided, and catechized by the curious of both sexes, especially by that conventionally termed the fair. The three Habr Awal presently approached and scowlingly inquired why we had not apprised them of our intention to enter the city. It was now “war to the knife”— we did not deign a reply.

1 It is worn for a year, during which modest women will not marry. Some tribes confine the symbol to widowhood, others extend it to all male relations; a strip of white cotton, or even a white fillet, instead of the usual blue cloth, is used by the more civilized.

2 Cain is said to repose under Jebel Shamsan at Aden — an appropriate sepulchre.

3 This beast, called by the Somal Jambel, closely resembles the Sindh species. It is generally found in the plains and prairies.

4 In the Somali country, as in Kafirland, the Duwao or jackal is peculiarly bold and fierce. Disdaining garbage, he carries off lambs and kids, and fastens upon a favourite friandise, the sheep’s tail; the victim runs away in terror, and unless the jackal be driven off by dogs, leaves a delicate piece of fat behind it.

5 The Somal call the owl “Shimbir libah”— the lion bird.

6 The plume was dark, chequered with white, but the bird was so wild that no specimen could be procured.

7 The Arabs apply this term to tea.

8 The Dayyib of the Somal, and the Sinaubar of the Arabs; its line of growth is hereabouts an altitude of 5000 feet.

9 Travellers in Central Africa describe exactly similar buildings, bell-shaped huts, the materials of which are stakes, clay and reed, conical at the top, and looking like well-thatched corn-stacks.

10 Amongst the Fellatahs of Western Africa, only the royal huts are surmounted by the ostrich’s egg.

11 These platforms are found even amongst the races inhabiting the regions watered by the Niger.

12 Charred sticks about six feet long and curved at the handle.

13 Equally simple are the other implements. The plough, which in Eastern Africa has passed the limits of Egypt, is still the crooked tree of all primitive people, drawn by oxen; and the hoe is a wooden blade inserted into a knobbed handle.

14 It is afterwards stored in deep dry holes, which are carefully covered to keep out rats and insects; thus the grain is preserved undamaged for three or four years.

15 This word is applied to the cultivated districts, the granaries of Somali land.

16 “The huge raven with gibbous or inflated beak and white nape,” writes Mr. Blyth, “is the corvus crassirostris of Ruppell, and, together with a nearly similar Cape species, is referred to the genus Corvultur of Leason.”

17 In these hills it is said sometimes to freeze; I never saw ice.

18 It is a string of little silver bells and other ornaments made by the Arabs at Berberah.

19 Harari, Somali and Galla, besides Arabic, and other more civilized dialects.

20 The Negroes of Senegal and the Hottentots use wooden mortars. At Natal and amongst the Amazulu Kafirs, the work is done with slabs and rollers like those described above.

21 In the Eastern World this well-known fermentation is generally called “Buzab,” whence the old German word “busen” and our “booze.” The addition of a dose of garlic converts it into an emetic.

22 The Somal will not kill these plundering brutes, like the Western Africans believing them to be enchanted men.

23 Some years ago Adan plundered one of Sharmarkay’s caravans; repenting the action, he offered in marriage a daughter, who, however, died before nuptials.

24 Gisti is a “princess” in Harari, equivalent to the Somali Geradah.

25 They are, however, divided into clans, of which the following are the principal:—

  1. Bahawiyah, the race which supplies the Gerads.
  2. Abu Tunis (divided into ten septs).
  3. Rer Ibrahim (similarly divided).
  4. Jibril.
  5. Bakasiyya.
  6. Rer Muhmud.
  7. Musa Dar.
  8. Rer Auro.
  9. Rer Walembo.
  10. Rer Khalid.

26 I do not describe these people, the task having already been performed by many abler pens than mine.

27 They are divided into the Bah Ambaro (the chief’s family) and the Shaykhashed.

28 The only specimen of stunted humanity seen by me in the Somali country. He was about eighteen years old, and looked ten.

29 At first I thought of writing it in Arabic; but having no seal, a sine qua non in an Eastern letter, and reflecting upon the consequences of detection or even suspicion, it appeared more politic to come boldly forward as a European.

30 It belongs, I was informed, to two clans of Gallas, who year by year in turn monopolise the profits.

31 Of this tree are made the substantial doors, the basins and the porringers of Harar.

32 The Webbe Shebayli or Haines River.

33 This scarecrow is probably a talisman. In the Saharah, according to Richardson, the skull of an ass averts the evil eye from gardens.

34 The following is a table of our stations, directions, and distances:—

Miles
1. From Zayla to Gudingaras S.E. 165° 19
2. To Kuranyali 145° 8
3. To Adad 225° 25
4. To Damal 205° 11
5. To El Arno 190° 11
6. To Jiyaf 202° 10
7. To Halimalah (the Holy Tree about half way) 192° 7
— 91 miles.
8. To Aububah 245° 21
9. To Koralay 165° 25
10. To Harar 260° 65
— 111 miles.
Total statute miles 202

Costumes of Harar

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