The Fardle of Facions, by Johannes Boemus

The. iiij. Chapitre.

Of Ethiope, and the auncient maners of that nation.

Two countreies there ware of that name Ouerlanders, and Netherlanders. The one pertaynyng to Aphrique, the other to Asie. The one whiche at this daie is called Inde, hath on the east the redde sea, and the sea named Barbaricum, on the northe it toucheth vpon Egypte, and vpon that Libie that standeth on the vtter border of Afrike toward the sea. On the west it is bounded with the other Libie that standeth more into the mayne londe. The residue that runneth toward the south, ioyneth vpon the netherland Ethiope, whiche lyeth more southerly, and is muche greater. It is thought that these Ethiopes toke name of Ethiopus Vulcanes sonne, that (as Plinie saieth) was gouernour there. Or els of the Greke wordes aythoo and ops, whereof the former signifieth to broyle, or to bourne vp with heate, and the other, in the eye or sight. Whiche sheweth in effecte, that the countreie lyeng in the eye of the Sonne, it must nedes be of heate almost importable. As in diede it lyeth in the full course of the sonne, and is in continuall heate. Toward the weast it is hilly, in the middes grauell and sande, and on the easte waste and deserte. There be in it dyuers peoples of sondry phisonomy and shape, monstruous and of hugly shewe. They are thought (as I saied) to haue bene the fyrst of all men, and those whiche of all other maye truelyest be called an homeborne people. Neuer vnder the bondage of any: but euer a free nacion. The first wae of worshippyng God (say thei) was deuised and taught emonge theim: with the maners and ceremonies there to appertinent. They had two kyndes of letters, one, whiche ware knowen onely to their priestes for matters of Religion, whiche they called misticall, and another for the vse of the people hidden from none. Yeat ware not their Letters facioned to ioyne together in sillables like ours, but Ziphres, and shapes of men and of beastes, of heades, and of armes, and artificers tooles, which signified in sondrie wise echone accordyng to his propertie. As by the picture of an hauke swiftenes and spiede, by the shape of a crocodile [Transcriber’s note: ‘crocoiled’ in original] displeasure or misfortune, by the figure of an eye, good watche or regarde, and so forthe of other. Emong their priestes, loke whome they sawe startle aboute as haulfe wood,7 him did iudge of all othermooste holy, and making him their king, they fall downe and worship him, as thoughe there ware in him a Godhead, or as thoughe at the least he ware by goddes prouidence giuen them. This king for al that, must be gouerned by the lawe, and is bounde to all thinges after thorde of the contry. He his selfe maye neither punishe or guerdon any manne. But loke vpon whome he wyl haue execution done, he sendeth the minister appoincted for the purpose, to the person with a token of deathe: whiche when he hath shewed, the officier retourneth, and the persone what soeuer he be, incontinent fordoeth him self. So greatly ware they giuen to thee honour of their kynges, suche a feruencie had they towarde them, that if it fortuned the king through any mishap, to be maymed or hurte in any parte of his bodye, as many as ware towarde him, namely of householde, voluntarily woulde giue them selues the lyke hurt, thincking it an vnfitting [Transcriber’s note: original ‘unsitting’] thing the kynge to lacke an eye or the vse of a legge, and his frindes neither to halt, ne yet to lacke parte of their sight. Thei say it is the manier also, that when the king dieth, his friendes should wilfully dispatche theim selues and die with hym, for this compte they glorious and a testimony of very friendship. The moste part of them, for that they lye so vnder the Sonne, go naked: couering their priuities with shiepes tayles. But a feawe of them are clad with the rawe felles8 of beastes. Some make them brieches of the heares of their heades vp to the waeste. They are comonly brieders and grasiers in commune together. Their shepe be of very small body, and of a harde and roughe coate. Their dogges also are neuer a whitte bigger, but thei are fierce and hardie. They haue good store of gromel and barly, wherof they vse to make drincke. All other graine and fruictes thei lacke, excepte it be dates whiche also are verye skante. Some of them lyue with herbes and the tender rootes of cannes or Riedes. Other eate flesshe, milke, and chese. Meroe, was in time past the heade citie of the kyngdome, whiche stondeth in an Isle of the same name facioned like a shielde, stretching it self thre thousand furlong alongest by Nilus. Aboute that Islande do the cattle masters dwelle, and are muche giuen to hunting, and those that be occupied with tilthe of the grounde haue also mines of gold. Herodotus writeth that thethiopians named Macrobij, do more estieme latten then thei do golde whiche thei put to nothyng that thei compt of any price. In so muche that the Ambassadours of Cambises, when thei came thether, found the prisoners in the gaole fettred and tied with Chaines of golde. Some of theim sowe a kinde of graine called Sesamus, and other the delicate Lothom. Thei haue greate plenty of Hebenum, a woode muche like Guaiacum, and of Siliquastrum. Thei hunte Elephantes and kyll them to eate. There be Lions, Rhinocerotes, Basiliskes, Pardales, and Dragones, whiche I said enwrappe thelephauntes, and sucke them to death, for their bloude. There be found the precious stones called the Iacinthe, and the Prasne. There is also cinamome gathered. Thei occupie bowes of woode seasoned in the fire, of foure cubites long. Women be trayned also to the warres, and haue for the moste parte a ring of latton hanging throughe their lippe. Certeine of theim worshippe the Sonne at his vprijste, and curse him moste bitterly at his doune gate. Diuers of them throwe their dead into Riuers, other cofer them vp in earthen cofres, some enclose them in glasse, and kepe them in their houses a yeare, and in the meane season worship them deuoutly, and offre vnto them the first of all their encreace. In the naming of a newe king, they giue their voice chiefly to him that is moste goodly of stature, moste conning in brieding of cattle, and of strength and substance passing the reast. The lawe hath bene, that the priestes of Memphis shoulde haue the aucthoritie to sende the Kinge the token of deathe, and to set vp another in the place of the deade, whom they thoughte good. They haue an opinion that ther are two Goddes, one immortall, by whome all thinges haue their beginning and continuance vnder his gouernement, and another mortall, and he is vncerteine. Their king, and him that best deserueth of the city next vnto him, they honour as Goddes. This was the state of Ethiope from the beginning, and many yeares sence.

But at this daye as myne Authour Sabellicus saieth that he learned of those that are enhabitantes in that countrey: The King of Ethiope (whom we commonly calle Pretoianes or Presbiter Ihon) is a man of suche power, that he is reported to haue vndre him thre skore and two other kinges. If the heade Bysshoppess of the Realme desire to do, or to haue aughte done, al is referred vnto him. Of him be giuen al benefices, and spiritual promocions, which prerogatiue the Pope hath giuen, to the maiestie of kinges. Yet is he him selfe no priest, he hath any maner of ordres. There is of Archebisshoppes (that is to say of superiour and head bisshoppes) a great nombre, whiche haue euery one vndre them at the least twenty other. The Princes, Dukes, Earles, and head Bishoppes, and suche other of like dignitie, when they come abrode, haue a crosse, and a basine of golde filled ful of earthe caried before them: that thone 9 maye put them in remembraunce that earth into earth must again be resolued, and the other renewe the memory of Christes suffering. Their priestes to haue yssue, mary one wyfe, but she ones beyng dead, it is vnlawfull to mary another. The temples and churches ther, are muche larger, much richer, and more gorgeous then ours, for the moste part voulted from the floore to the toppe. They haue many ordres of deuout men, moche like to our ordres of Religious: as the ordre of S. Anthony, Dominique, Calaguritani, Augustines, and Machareanes, whiche are bound to no colour but weare some suche one as Tharchebysshoppe shall allowe. Next vnto the supreame and souereigne GOD, and Mary the virgin his mother, they haue moste in honour Thomas sirnamed Didimus. This King, of all other the worthiest, whome they call Gias (a name giuen him of his mightiness and power) is of the bloud of Dauid, continued from one generation to another (as they are perswaded) by so many yeres of succession. And he is not as the moste of the Ethiopians are, blacke, but white. Gamma the chiefe citie, and as we terme it the chambre of the king, stondeth not by building of masonrie, and carpentrie as ours, but strieted with tentes and pauilions placed in good ordre, of veluet and saten, embrauded with silkes and purples of many diuers sortes. By an auncient ordre of the realme, the king liueth euer in presence and sighte of his people, and neuer soiourneth within the walles aboue two daies. Either for that they iudge it an vncomely thing, and a token of delicate slouthfulnes, or elles for that some law doth forbid it. His army in the warres is ten hundred thousande men, fiue hundred Elephantes, and horses, and Cameles, a wonderfull nomber, and this is but a meane preparacion. Ther are througheout the whole nacion certeine houses and stockes, that are pencionaries at armes, whose issue is as it ware branded with the marcke of the crosse, the skinne beyng pretely slitte. Thei vse in the warres, Bowe, Pique, Habregeon, and helmette. Their highest dignitie is priesthode, the next, thordre of the Sages, whiche thei cal Balsamates, and Tamquates. They attribute moche also to the giltelesse and vprighte dealing man, whiche vertue they estieme as the firste staier to climbe to the dignitie of the sages. The nobilitie hath the thirde place of dignitie, and the pencionaries aforesaid, the fourthe. When the iudges haue giuen sentence of life, or of deathe, the sentence is brought to the headborough of the Citie (whom we call the Mayour) and they Licomegia: he supplieth the place of the King. Lawes written thei occupy none, but iudge accordyng to reason and conscience. If any man be conuict of adulterie he forfeicteth the fourtieth parte of his goodes, but thadulteresse is punished at home, accordyng to the discretion of the partie offended. The men giue dowrie to those whom thei mary withal, but not to those that thei purchase besides. Their womens attire is of Golde, (whereof that country hathe plentie) of pearle, and of Sarsenette. Bothe men and women are apparelled in long garmentes downe to the foote, slieued, and close rounde aboute of al maner of colours, sauing only blacke for that in that contry is proper for morning. They bewaile their dead xl. daies space. In bancquettes of honour, in the place of our fruicte (which the latine calleth the seconde boorde) they serue in rawe flesshe very finely minced and spiced, whervpon the gestes fiede very licouricely.10 They haue no maner of wollen webbe, but are eyther cladde in sarsenettes, or in linnen. One maner of speache serueth not througheout the whole contry, but sondry and diuerse, aswel in phrase as in naming of thinges. Thei haue twise in the yere haruest, and twise in the yere somer. These Ethiopians or Indianes excepted, al the reste of the people of Libia Westward, are worshippers of Mahomet, and liue aftre the same sorte in maner, that the Barbariens do in Egipte at this present, and are called Maures, or Moores, as I thincke of their outleapes and wilde rowming. For that people was no lesse noysome to Lybie in those cursed tymes (when so greate mutacion of thinges happened, when peoples ware so chaunged, suche alteration of seruice, and religion broughte in, and so many newe names giuen vnto contries) then the Sarasens ware.

7 Mad, from the Saxon wod. See “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” ii., 3, and “Mids. N. Dr.,” ii., 3.

8 Skin. “To feed on bones, when flesh and fell is gone.” Gasc. Steel Glass (Chalm. Poet.), ii., 556, etc.

9 The one.

10 Gluttonously, daintily. (N. Wiley’s Dictionary, 1737).

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