Adventures in Somali Land, by John Hanning Speke

Chapter ii.

The Voyage — An Akil — The Somali Shore — Sultan (Gerad) Mahamed Ali — Hidden Treasure — The Warsingali — A Royal Reception — Somali Appetites — Difficulties and Impediments — Sultan Tries My Abban or Protector.

On the 18th October 1854, having got all my preparations completed, I embarked in an Arab vessel, attired in my Oriental costume, with my retinue and kit complete, and set sail that same evening at 6 P.M.

The voyage, owing to light and varying breezes, was very slow and tedious. Instead of performing the whole voyage in three days, the ordinary time, it took us nine. According to the method of Arab navigation, instead of going from port to port direct, we first tracked eastward along the Arabian shore three successive days, setting sail at sunrise, and anchoring regularly at sundown. By this time we were supposed to be opposite Bunder Héis, on the Somali coast, and the Nahkoda (captain) thought it time for crossing over the Gulf. We therefore put out to sea at sunrise on the morning of the 21st, and arrived the same evening, by mistake, assisted with a stiffish easterly breeze, at a small place called Rakodah, which, by report, contained a small fort, three mat huts, and many burnt ones, a little to the westward of Bunder Héis. My Abban accounted for the destruction of this place by saying it had been occupied surreptitiously for a long period by a people called Rheer Dud, who sprang from a man called Sambur-bin-Ishak; but about four years ago, the Musa Abokr — a sub-tribe of the Habr Teljala, who were the former and rightful owners of the place — suddenly returned, took the usurpers by surprise, and drove them off by setting fire to the village. The next day, by hard work, tacking up the wind, which still continued easterly, we succeeded in reaching Bunder Héis, which, like the last place, was occupied by the Musa Abokr. There were four small craft lying here, waiting for cargoes, under lee of a spur of low hills which constituted the harbour; in which, fortunately, there was very good fishing to be obtained. We were detained here by adverse and light winds two days, during which time I went on shore and paid my respects to the Akil (chief) of the place, who lived in a small box-shaped stone fort, on the west flank of the village of Héis, which was very small, composed, as usual, of square mat huts, all built together, and occupied only by a few women, who made mats, collected gums, and stored the produce of the interior, as sheep, cows, and ghee, which their men constantly brought down to them, for shipping off to Arabia.9 The Akil’s reception was very warm and polite. He offered me everything at his disposal, and gave as an honorary present a Dumba sheep and a bowl of sour camel’s milk, which I thought at the time the most delicious thing I ever drank. It is sharp and rough, like labourers’ cider, and, drunk in the heat of the day, is most refreshing. When first taken, and until the stomach becomes accustomed to it, it operates like medicine, and I on this occasion was fairly taken in. The fish we caught were not very good, but comical in appearance, and of a great variety of the most beautiful prismatic colours, changing in tint as different lights and shades struck upon them.

We left Héis on the 25th, with very light and unfavourable winds, and tracked along shore to the eastward, making very little way. The weather continuing the same, on the 26th I forced the Nahkoda, much against his will, on at night, as during the darker hours the winds were much stronger, and by this means we arrived at our destination, Bunder Gori on the Warsingali frontier, at sundown on the 27th of October. I had now seen the Somali shore, and must confess I was much disappointed. All that was visible, besides the village mentioned, was a sandy tract of ground, the maritime plain, which extended in breadth from the sea-shore to some brown-looking hills in the background, from a few hundred yards to one or two miles distant; and hills and plains — for I could, by my close approximation to them, only see the brown folds of the hills near the base — were alike almost destitute of any vegetation; whilst not one animal or any other living creature could be seen.

28th October. — The Abban would not allow anybody to go on shore until certain parties came off to welcome us and invite us to land, such being the etiquette of the country when any big-wigs arrive. After the sun rose we were duly honoured by the arrival of many half-naked dignitaries, who tenderly inquired after the state of our health, the prosperity or otherwise of our voyage, the purpose of our coming there, and a variety of other such interesting matters. Then again they were questioned by our people as to the state of the country, whether in peace or war; how and where the Sultan Gerad Mahamed Ali was residing; if rain had lately fallen, and where; if the cattle were well in milk; — to which it was responded that everything was in the most promising order; the cattle were flourishing in the hills, where rain had lately fallen, about twenty miles distant from that place; and the sultan, with all the royal family,10 were there, revelling on milk, under the shade of favouring trees, or reposedly basking in the warm morning sun — the height of Somali bliss. The order was now given to go ashore, and we all moved off to a fort which the Abban said was his own property, in Goriat (little Bunder Gori), three miles to the westward of Bunder Gori. There were two of these little forts near, and a small collection of mat huts, like those already described, and of the same material as all Somali forts and huts. The kit was now brought across and placed within the fort I occupied, all except the salt, which afterwards proved a bone of contention between me and the Abban, and the sultan was at once sent for. No one could move a yard inland, or purchase anything, without his sanction being first obtained.

Although Gerad Mahamed Ali was living only twenty miles distant from Goriat, it was not until repeated messages had been sent to him, and eleven days had elapsed, that he answered the summons by his presence. In the meanwhile, having nothing better to do during this tedious interval, as no people would bring cattle or anything for sale, I took walks about the plain, shooting, and killed a new variety of gazelle, called Déra11 by the Somali, and Salt’s antelopes, here called Sagaro, which fortunately were very abundant, though rather wild; catching fish, drawing with the camera, bathing in the sea, luxuriating on milk, dates, and rice, or talking and gossiping with the natives.

On one occasion my interpreter came to me with a mysterious air, and whispered in my ear that he knew of some hidden treasures of vast amount, which had been buried not far off, under rocky ground, in such a way that nobody had been able to dig them up, and he wished that I, being an Englishman, and consequently knowing secret arts, as well as hikmat (scientific dodges), would direct how to search for these treasures. By inquiring farther into the matter, it appeared that an old man, a miser, who had been hoarding all his life, was suddenly taken ill about forty years ago, and feared he would die. Seeing this, his relatives assembled round him to ask his blessing; and the old man, then fearing all his worldly exertions would end to no good purpose, asked them to draw near that he might tell them where his riches were hidden; but even then he would not disclose the secret, until he was in the last dying gasp, when he said, “Go to a pathway lying between two trees, and stretch out a walking-stick to the full length of your arm, and the place where the end of your wand touches is that in which my treasures are hidden.” The wretched man then gave up the ghost, and his family commenced the search; but though they toiled hard for many days and weeks, turning up the stones in every direction, they never succeeded in finding the treasure, and had now given up the search in despair. The fact was, they omitted to ask their parent on which side of the path it was concealed, and hence their discomfiture. At my request the said family came to me, corroborated the statements of the interpreter, and begged imploringly I would direct them how to search for the money; saying at the same time they would work again, if I thought it of any use; and, moreover, they would give me half if the search proved successful. I lent them some English pick-axes, and went to see the place, which certainly showed traces of very severe exertions; but the strong nature of the soil was too much for them, even when armed with tools, unless they were fortunate enough to hit upon the exact spot, which they did not, and therefore toiled in vain again.

The Warsingali complained to me sadly of their decline in power since the English had interfered in their fights with the Habr Teljala, which took place near Aden about seven years ago, and had deprived them of their vessels for creating a disturbance, which interfered with the ordinary routine of traffic. They said that on that occasion they had not only beaten the Habr Teljala, but had seized one of their vessels; and that prior to this rupture they had enjoyed paramount superiority over all the tribes of the Somali; but now that they were forbidden to transport soldiers or make reprisals on the sea, every tribe was on an equality with them.

They further spoke of the decline of their tribe’s morals since the time when the English took possession of Aden and brought in civilisation with them. This they in most part attributed to our weak manner in prosecuting crime, by requiring too accurate evidence before inflicting punishment; saying that many a dishonest person escaped the vengeance of law from the simple fact of there being no eyewitnesses to his crime, although there existed such strong presumptive evidence as to render the accusation proved. When speaking against our laws, and about their insufficiency to carry out all governmental points with a strong and spirited hand, they never forget to laud their own sultan’s despotic powers and equity in justice.

Of course no mortal man was like their Gerad Mahamed Ali. In leading them to war he was like the English French,12 and in settling disputes he required no writing office, but, sitting on the woolsack, he listened to the narration of prosecution and defence with his head buried in his hands, and never uttering a word until the trial was over, when he gave his final decision in one word only, ay or nay, without comment of any sort. In confirmation of their statements, they gave the description of a recent trial, when a boy was accused of having attempted to steal some rice from a granary; the lad had put his hand through a chink in the door of it, and had succeeded in getting one finger, up to the second joint, in the grain; this, during the trial, he frankly acknowledged having done, and the sultan appointed that much of his finger exactly to be cut off, and no more — punishing the deed exactly according to its deserts. This, to Somali notions, seemed a punctiliousness in strict equity of judicial administration which nothing could excel, and they bragged of it accordingly.

Becoming dreadfully impatient at so much loss of precious time whilst waiting here, unable to prepare in any way for the journey, I sent repeated messages to the sultan, demanding his immediate attendance; but it was not until the 6th of November that I heard definitely of his approach, and then it was that he was coming down the hill.

On the 7th he came with a host of Akils to Bunder Gori, and put up in a Nahkoda’s hut. This indignity he was obliged to submit to, as he had not cautioned the merchants who occupied his forts of his intended approach, and now no one would turn out for him. Finding him so near me, I longed to walk over to him and settle matters personally at once; but dignity forbade it; and as he had come with such cautious trepidation, I feared any over-hastiness might frighten him away again. He seemed to observe the same punctiliousness towards me, so I split the difference by sending an embassy by my Abban, assisted by other powerful Akils, early the following morning, when they held durbar, and my intentions of travelling were fully discussed in open court. For a long time the elders on the sultan’s side were highly adverse to my seeing their country, considering no good could possibly arise from it, and much harm might follow; I might covet their country, and eventually take it from them, whereas they could gain nothing. Hearing this, the Abban waxed very wroth, and indignantly retorted he would never allow such a slur to be cast upon his honour, or the office which he held. He argued he had come there as my adviser and Abban; his parentage was of such high order, his patriotism could not be doubted. Had he not fought battles by their side, of which his scars bore living testimony? and now they wished to stigmatise him as a traitor to his country! The sultan must decide it. How could jungle-folk like them know anything of the English and their intentions?

The sultan listened silently during this discourse, which, though written in a few lines, took many hours of hot debating, by their turning and turning every little particular over and over again; and finally decided it in his usual curt and conclusive manner, by saying, “The Warsingali were on the most friendly and amicable relations with the English; and as he was desirous of maintaining it, he would give me leave to travel anywhere I liked within his dominions, and to see and examine anything I chose. But out of fear for the consequences, as the English would hold him answerable should any disasters befall me, he could not sanction my crossing over his frontier in any direction, and more especially into the Dulbahanta country, where wars were raging, and the country so unsafe that even Warsingali dare not venture there.” This announcement was brought back in high exultation by Sumunter, who thought his success complete, and at the same time announced to me the sultan’s intention of honouring me with a visit in the evening, which was duly done.

He came a little before sunset, with his bare head shaven, a dirty coloured tobe thrown over his shoulders, and hanging loosely down to his sandaled feet.13 He looked for all the world like a patriarch of the olden times, and passed me, marching in martial order in the centre of a double line of men sloping their spears in bristling array over their shoulders, all keeping step in slow marching order, a scene evidently got up in imitation of our soldiers. Not a word was spoken, and the deepest solemnity prevailed. On his arrival in front of the fort, I drew up my men, and fired a salute to give him welcome. This was done in right good earnest, by every man cramming his gun with powder, to excel his neighbour in a loud report, to show the superiority of his weapon; for such is the black man’s notions of excellence in a fowling-piece. The march concluded, the sultan with his followers all huddled together and squatted on the ground outside the second fort, deeply agitated, and not knowing what to do, as they evidently dreaded what might follow. To dissipate their fears, I approached his royalty, salaamed, and tried to beguile the time by engaging them in conversation.

Finding that this had rather the opposite effect, I then retired, and soon found them all intently wrapped up in prayer, prostrating and rising by turns, with uplifted hands, and muttering for hours together without cessation. I then ordered a regal repast to be served them of rice swimming in ghee, and dates ad libitum. This, notwithstanding their alarm, was despatched with the most marvellous rapacity, to such an alarming extent, that I required to know how many men were engaged in eating it. The Abban replied that there were only a few: he would not allow many to come over here out of a spirit of economy, knowing I had not much property to spare, though all the rest had wished to come, and were greatly disappointed. But these men, as is usual amongst Somali, had prepared themselves for a feast by several days’ previous fasting, and each man would, if I allowed it, swallow at one meal as much as a sheep’s skin could contain. As a gun is known by the loudness of its report, and ability to stand a large discharge of powder, to be of good quality, so is a man’s power gauged by his capacity of devouring food; it is considered a feat of superiority to surpass another in eating.

I have seen a Somali myself, when half-starved by long fasting, and his stomach drawn in, sit down to a large skinful of milk, and drink away without drawing breath until it was quite empty, and it was easy to observe his stomach swelling out in exact proportion as the skin of liquor decreased. They are perfect dogs in this fashion. I may here add, that although the Abban in this speech seemed to show so much consideration for my property, by several recent tricks of his I entertained much suspicion of his honesty; and this little address, though uttered plausibly, was too common and transparent a trick in the East to beguile me. All Orientals have a proverbial habit of saving their master’s property to leave greater pickings for themselves, and such I considered was Sumunter’s dodge now.

8th November. — This morning the sultan, having now recovered, came to return my salaam of the previous evening, when I opened to him the purport of my expedition in minute detail: how I wished to visit the Southern Dulbahantas, cross and inspect the Wadi Nogal, and thence proceed west to meet my friends, Stroyan and Herne, at Berbera. He listened very attentively and politely, but at the conclusion repeated the words I had already heard; adding that the Dulbahantas had intestine wars; they had been fighting many years, and were now in hot strife, dividing the government of their country. Not many days since a report had arrived that the southern portion of them, who occupied the countries about one hundred miles due south of Bunder Héis, had had a fight with the northern ones, who were living on the same meridian, immediately to their northward, and had succeeded in capturing 2000 horses, 400 camels, a great number of sheep and goats, and had wounded one man severely: it was therefore impossible I could go from the northern division to the southern, for I should be treated as an enemy; and that was the only line on which water could be found during this, the dry season. Had I come here during the monsoon, I might have travelled directly in a diagonal line, from the south of the mountain-range to the rear of this place, into their, the southerners’, country, who were the older branch, and were now governed by the hereditary and rightful chief, Gerad Mahamed Ali, who was on the most friendly terms with the Warsingali, and who, being an old chief, and well respected by his adherent subjects, might have granted me a hospitable reception.

On the other hand, the northern Dulbahantas, who were also friendly with the Warsingali, were under no control: the Gerad, by name Mahamed Ali also, was recently installed in government, and was consequently very little respected. He (the Warsingali chief) could not, therefore, give his sanction to my going amongst them, by which my life would be endangered, and he, for permitting it, would be held responsible by the English. No arguments of mine would alter the decision of the inflexible chief; I therefore changed the subject by asking him to assist me in procuring camels, by which I might go into the interior, and feel my way thereafter. This he readily agreed to, and begged permission to return to Bunder Gori to give the necessary orders to his subjects. His escort then demanded a cloth apiece from me, to be given them for their trouble in coming over here; arguing that, had I not required the sultan’s attendance, they would not have had to come; — a plausible, but truly Somali notion of justice; they knew their proper master would give them nothing for coming to support his dignity, but thought I might be softer.

10th. — The sultan, not able to do business hurriedly with his rabble subjects, did not appear again until this morning, and then, instead of proceeding at once to work, hinted he should like to have the presents I had brought from Aden for him, as the best method of showing our feelings to one another. This was not so easily concluded. I portioned out the things that were intended for him, and wished he would take them at once away and clear the room, thinking, in my inexperience of savages, I had only to give, and it would be received with a hearty Bism-illah; but I was soon undeceived: the things were taken with a grunt of discontentment; all looked over one by one. If a cloth was soiled, it must be changed; and then the measurements began by cubits = 18 inches, or from the point of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, just as Noah must have done when he built the ark. But as all forearms are not of equal length, much delay was occasioned by the sultan trying the length of his forearm against everybody’s in the room, and then by measuring every cloth by turn, and remeasuring them again for fear of mistake; then they were divided into lots, to be disposed of to his wives, and children and Akils and servants, and, of course, found insufficient to meet everybody’s expectations, and I must give more.

Tedious hours passed in this way; as a final petition, the sultan said I must give him for himself a gun and my silk turban, as I had given up wearing anything on my head, and did not require it: these were, after a certain amount of haggling, surrendered, on condition that the sultan would exert himself a little more energetically on my account. The way he handled the musket was very amusing: he had never had one in his hands before, and could not get it to sit against his shoulder; and when his people placed it for him, he persisted in always cocking the wrong eye, which tickled Farhan’s fancy so much, that he burst into loud roars of laughter. Nevertheless, the sultan took things quietly, and would not allow himself to be discomposed, but coolly said the gun would be of no use unless I gave him some powder to feed it with. This last straw broke the camel’s back; all things must have an end, and I promised I would give him some after he procured enough camels for my wants, but not before. This settled the matter, and he walked off, with all the things I had given him, as sulkily as if he had been injured.

Camels were then brought for sale, and purchasing commenced. When the sultan was present, he had to determine if the prices asked by the sellers were reasonable or not, and took for his office as mediator a tithe on all purchases; but in his absence, Akils were appointed to officiate on the same conditions. This system of robbing, I was assured, was the custom of the country, and if I wanted to buy at all I must abide by it. Cloth was at a great discount on the coast, for the men there had, by their dealings with Aden, become accustomed to handle dollars, and were in consequence inspired with that superior innate love for the precious metal over all other materials, with which all men, and especially those newly acquainted with it, become unaccountably possessed. No one would believe that my boxes could be made for any other purpose than for locking up money; and I was obliged to leave them open to inspection before they would sell anything for cloth.14

The sultan now lived at Bunder Gori, and seldom showed himself, promising to come to me every day, without the least intention of doing so; and only at last, after three days’ absence, when I threatened to invade his dwelling, did he appear, bringing several camels with him: of these I purchased some good ones, and sent the rest away: this was the 15th November. He then returned home again, and promised faithfully he would bring on the morrow a sufficient number of camels to carry all my kit.

16th. — For the first time the sultan kept his promise by returning, but the animals he brought were weak and useless, and I could plainly see I was being trifled with, and detained here for the mere purpose of being robbed in an indirect manner, so that no accusation could be laid against any one. Nothing, I may say, in all my experiences, vexes the mind so much as feeling one’s self injured in a way that cannot be prevented or avenged. Some might take such matters quietly, but I confess I could not. Indeed, I stormed and expostulated with the sultan until he agreed to assist me in a move. I had now eleven camels, and wanted some five more, but thought it better not to wait; for as long as I remained in a comfortable dwelling, I knew my men would not exert themselves. That day, then, packing up what I most required, I started for Bunder Gori, and unloaded, after a three miles’ march, at an old well in rear of the village, selecting as a camping-ground the least comfortable place I could find, and not allowing the tent to be pitched, though the sun-heat was 112 degrees, and the sand was blowing in perfect clouds. Some days previous to my leaving Goriat, Sumunter induced me to give him twenty rupees to hire donkeys for conveying the heavier things over the hills, and repeatedly assured me he had got them, but they never came; and now I asked him to return the money, as I had brought it with me as a reserve fund, to provide against any possible difficulty, and not to be parted with for any ordinary purpose. This commenced a series of rows between Sumunter and myself: he had made away with the money, and could not produce it. The salt also was never forthcoming.

17th. — I could not succeed in making up my complement of camels. The sultan said he and his men must be fed before they could do work, and sat upon the date-bags so resolutely I was fain to open them that some business might be done. After feasting they all dispersed, under pretence of bringing other camels, and I went into the town to inspect the place. There were five small forts, occupied by merchants, of whom one was a Hindi from Cutch, and a large collection of mat huts, mostly occupied by women. Instead of finding a harbour (Bunder), as the name of the village implied, the shore was a gradual shelving open roadstead, in which two buggaloes were lying at anchor, waiting for cargoes, and four small sailing-boats were preparing, with harpoon and tackle, to go porpoise-hunting for oil.

18th. — Having made everybody as uncomfortable as I could wish, sitting in the sandy open plain, all the men were equally desirous with myself for a move on the journey; but still I was five camels short, and saw no hopes of getting them. The plan then settled was to move southwards half-way up the hill, leaving the few things still in the fort as they were, until I arrived at the camping-place, and could send the animals I was taking with me back to fetch them. Having now desired the sultan, Sumunter, and Farhan to return to Goriat, and leave the rear property in safe custody with the fort-keeper, I commenced the march across the maritime plain with Ahmed, Imam, a number of Somali camel-tenders armed with spear and bow, and the sultan’s youngest son, Abdullah, to direct the way until his father and the other two should arrive, which they promised they would do by the evening. The track first led us across the maritime plain, here about two miles broad, and composed of sand overlying limestone, with boulders in the dry shallow watercourses, and with no vegetable life save a few scrub acacias and certain salsola. This traversed, we next wound along a deep ravine called Tug (river) Tura,15 lying between the lower spurs of the mountain-range, and commenced a slight ascent up its cracked, uneven passage, until we reached a halting-place called Iskodubuk. The distance we had made was only about five miles from Bunder Gori, but the camels were so fatigued by travelling over boulders, that we were obliged to unload and stop there for the day. The sultan and Abban now overtook us to say that the rear things were in safe custody in the fort; and, leaving instructions with the young Prince Abdullah about the road we should follow on the morrow, returned nolens volens back to Bunder Gori, saying, as they went away, we might expect them at the next camping-ground as soon even as we could get there with the camels. A little after sunset, some interesting rock-pigeons — very similar to the Indian painted bird, which I found there frequenting ground much of the same nature — lit at some pools in the bed of the ravine, and enabled me to shoot and stuff several of them.

19th. — We got under way in the early morning, and commenced ascending the same ravine, when a messenger from the sultan arrived, and desired we would stop until he came. We had scarcely accomplished two miles, and the morning was yet young and cool, and I strove with every effort in my power to induce the men to go a little further forward, but without the slightest effect; they were as obstinate as mules, and just as unruly. This was a fair specimen of Somali travelling; any pretext to save the trouble of moving is accounted too precious to be lost. The ground here was a little more wooded; tall slender trees, with thick green foliage, grew in the bed of the ravine, in which there were some occasional pools of stagnant rain-water, and the brown rocky hill-sides were decorated with budding bush acacias, which afforded a good repast for the weary camels, whose journey over the boulders must have been very fatiguing to them.

20th. — As the sultan did not arrive, and the young prince would not allow my men to load, I ordered the interpreter and Imam to remain where they were, whilst I returned to Bunder Gori to see what was the matter, and on no account were they to issue any food until I came back again. As soon as I had gone two or three miles, I found the young prince and all the camel-men hastening after me, and entreating me to return; they said the sultan was on his way, and would arrive in camp in the evening. I complied, conditionally that they bound themselves to march in the morning whether he came or not. Once again in camp, I had my food prepared, and sat savagely watching the effect its odour had upon my starving men, who, fearing they would get none, formed in a body, and came petitioning me to forgive them, as they consented to do my bidding for ever after. They were then fed.

21st. — After loading in the morning, with a great deal of beating and thumping, all the camels, save two or three weakly ones, were whipped up a winding steep ridge, one of the buttresses of the mountain, to a camping-ground, six miles farther on, called Adhai. Here we were at the station originally assigned for the first day’s march, and, for the first and last time during the whole journey, I pitched the tent. The higher we ascended the hill the more abundant became the wooding, and green grass for the first time was visible amongst the stones. This freshness was attributed to a recent fall of rain. Altitude, by boiling thermometer, 4577 feet.

22d. — I sent all the freshest camels off to Goriat for the remaining property, with orders that everybody should return on the following day. At this height the temperature of the air was very delightful, the range at noon being only 79°. I spent the whole day specimen-hunting, and found the rocks were full of fossil shells. I killed a new snake or variety of Psammophis sibilans, and shot an interesting little antelope, Oreotragus saltatrix, the “klip-springer” of the Cape Colonist, as well as hyraxes and various small birds, which we duly preserved. My collections in this country were sent by Lieutenant Burton to the Asiatic Society’s Museum, Calcutta, and have been described in their journals by Mr E. Blyth, the Curator.

23d and 24th. — Passed without anybody appearing, and I was becoming much alarmed at repeated stories I heard of the Abban’s dishonesty. It then transpired that Sumunter was heavily in debt, and one of his principal creditors was at Bunder Gori detaining him there. A pony had been hired for my riding, and on this animal I wished to send Imam back, to find out the truth of everything, and to return to me the following day; but the wicked young prince, Abdullah, got wind of my intention, and had the pony driven away, so that the unfortunate Imam had to walk.

25th. — Still nobody came. I now despatched the interpreter on the same mission, and was left alone with the young prince and two or three camel-drivers. After a little while had elapsed, a number of savage hungry-looking men came up the hill and settled themselves in my encampment, squatting on the date-bags and clamouring for food. The prince and camel-drivers joined them, and became so importunate, I was obliged to rebuke them with angry demonstration. No sooner did they see me vexed than they began hovering tauntingly around me, jeering and vociferating in savage delight at the impunity they enjoyed in irritating me when all alone and helpless. However, I stood by the date and rice bags with my gun, and prevented anybody coming near me. The prince and camel-men now seeing me determined, and no farther discomposed by their manoeuvres, came supplicating for their daily rations. I gave it them at once, but could not satisfy them; they must have some more for all their brothers (meaning the blackguards who had just arrived), or they would strike work. This stirred my blood; I took back what I had given, and resolutely declined to be passively cajoled out of anything, let happen what may. They saw I was determined not to submit to them; and suddenly, as if the same thought struck every one of them at the same instant, they dashed down the hill, flying over the bushes and stones in their way, with yells and shouts, and, seizing a goat from a neighbouring flock, killed and quartered it without a moment’s hesitation. At this juncture, just as the robbed shepherd came crying to me for the price of his goat, Imam arrived from Goriat, and tried to reason with him that it was no business of mine, and I could not be expected to pay it. The injured man then swore he would have justice done him at the sultan’s hands, and all yelled again for dates and rice. As they could not get it, the young prince, ever full of boyish tricks, now seized up a mussack (water-skin), and said I should have no more water until I complied with their demands. The others, following his example, picked up as many more as they could find, and left but one mussack remaining. This one I immediately captured, and requested Imam to fill from a spring farther down the hill; but the men, thus far outdone, rather than allow it, said they would kill him if he dared attempt to go now. As Imam showed alarm at their wild threats, I took the water-skin myself and walked off to fill it, upon which the savages threw themselves out in line, flourishing their spears and bows, and declared they would kill me if I persisted in going. On I went, however, and had just passed through their line, when the sultan’s eldest son, Mohamed Aul, fortunately arrived, and rebuked them, together with his brother, for allowing me to be ill-treated. Finding Mohamed Aul very reasonable and obliging, I begged him to send Abdullah away as a nuisance, for I could never permit him to eat any more salt of mine.

Imam now disclosed to me the results of his investigations at Goriat and Bunder Gori. The Abban, as I had heard before, was detained there by a creditor to whom he had contracted debts in Aden, and now, in part liquidation of them, he had given away all my salt, the twenty rupees he took for hiring donkeys, several pieces of cloth, and he had changed my good rice for bad; and, knowing Farhan to be cognisant of all his villanies, had tried by bribes to induce him to desert. The sultan now arrived, and excused his long absence, saying that he had lost the time in fruitless endeavours to induce Sumunter to come with him. He said he had been remonstrating with Sumunter, and thought him very culpable in not obeying me. Hoping the sultan was in earnest in what he said, I now told him of all I had seen and heard about Sumunter, and begged he would assist me in sending him back to Aden, for no reliance could possibly be placed on a man who had proved himself so dishonest and unprincipled as he was. The interpreter also thought this would be a good plan, and advised my employing the sultan’s brother Hasan as abban or protector in his stead. However, the sultan said he could not undo what the English had done in Aden, but said if I wished he would send for Sumunter and rebuke him in my presence. I replied that I thought he could not get Sumunter to leave Bunder Gori, or he should have done so ere this. This touched his pride, and he raised his body indignantly, and said, “If I command, he must obey.” “Then, for goodness’ sake,” said I, “order him with all — all my things at once, and lose no more time.”

The following day they all arrived, and Sumunter with them, riding on a pony. I felt much incensed as the Abban came cringing up to me, and proclaimed him in presence of the sultan and all my men a traitor and robber, mentioning all his villanies in detail, and begging he would leave my camp at once, for I could not travel with him. He appeared very humble, and denied flatly all the accusations I brought against him. Upon this I begged the sultan, flattering him with his great renown for administering justice, that he would do me justice as his guest. He said he was willing to do anything for me if I would direct the way in which I wished him to proceed; he did not understand the English law, and I must submit to Somali methods. This was agreed to, and we all assembled in my tent, and arranged the court as follows:— I sat at the gable end of the tent with Imam, Ahmed, and Farhan, with Sumunter facing us. The sultan mounted on the bales of cloth, and all his retainers and princes, and my camel-drivers, sat in a group on the ground at his feet.

In opening the proceedings of the prosecution, I first said to Sumunter —

P. Speke. —“Where is the salt which you confess came with us to Goriat, and which you have told me daily you would give; but as yet, though everything, you say, is in the camp, it has not arrived?”

D. Sumunter. —“I did not bring it because it was so heavy, and thought you would not want it.”

P.—“Then why did you not land it at Goriat, and give it me there, or why did you even buy it at all at Aden if it was of no use?”

D.—“Because the Nahkoda took it to Bunder Gori.”

After a few more questions and answers, and the subject was exhausted, the sultan (judge), who had been sitting in silence with his head buried in his hands, now gave a grunt and motioned us to continue.

P.—“Where are the bales of cloth which by my account and Imam’s are missing?”

D.—“I did not take them; somebody else must have.”

P.—” They were in your charge, and you are answerable for them; besides which, Farhan here knows you gave them away.”

Judge. —“Ahem!” and the prosecution continued.

P.—“Where are the twenty rupees I gave you for hiring donkeys, and which I particularly ordered should not be expended for any other purpose?”

Sumunter, putting his hand fixedly in his breast, said, “I’ve got them; they are all right. I will give them to you presently.”

Speke. —“No! give them to me now; I want them this instant.”

Sumunter, confused, and fumbling at his pocket, much to the delight of all the court, who burst with laughter, said, “No! I’ve left them at home in Bunder Gori, and will give them by-and-by.”

Judge. —“Ahem!” and the prosecution continued.

P.—“Why did you change my good rice for bad?” (opening and showing the contents of the nearest sack).

D.—“I thought it would not signify: bad rice is good enough for the camel-drivers, and I have left enough good for your consumption. An old friend asked me for it, and I did it to oblige him.”

Judge. —“Ahem!” and the prosecution continued.

P.—“Why did you attempt to bribe Farhan to leave my service, and say nothing to me about it?”

D.—“Farhan is a bad man; and I was afraid he would steal your things.”

Judge. —“Ahem!”

Thus ended the prosecution and defence. The sultan raised his head, and in answer to my appeal as to what judgment he would give, calmly said, he could see no harm in what had been done — Sumunter was my Abban, and, in virtue of the ship he commanded, was at liberty to do whatever he pleased either with or to my property. Words, in fact, equivalent to saying I had come into a land of robbers, and therefore must submit to being robbed; and this I plainly told him. Further, I even threatened the sultan with a pretended determination to return to Aden, where I said the matter would be settled at our police court without bias or favour. I then desired the interpreter to look out for any vessel that would give me a passage to Aden, as it was obvious to me Sumunter had more power in the land than the sultan. This took them all by surprise, abashed the old sultan and his family — for they were proud of their strength — and induced them to say I need not fear anything on that score; — was the sultan of the Warsingali, indeed, not the greatest chief in the land, and, moreover, a great ally of the English? This, of course, was only a feint on my part to bring them to a proper sense of their duty towards me; for I had brought letters of recommendation from the Government at Aden to their chief, and knew they would rather do anything than let me go back in a huff.

29th. — I had been now nine days waiting here, and had taken many walks about the hill-sides, investigating the place, and making sundry collections. The most interesting amongst these was a small lizard, a new species, afterwards named by Mr E. Blyth, the Curator of the Asiatic Society, Tiloqua Burtoni, after my commandant. The Somali brought a leopard into camp, which they said they had destroyed in a cave by beating it to death with sticks and stones. They have a mortal antipathy to these animals, as they sometimes kill defenceless men, and are very destructive to their flocks. Besides the little antelope described, I only saw the Saltiana antelope, and the tracks of two other species which were said to be very scarce. Rhinoceroses were formerly very abundant here, but have been nearly all killed down with spear and bow (they do not use firearms) by the Somali hunters, in consequence of the great demand for their skins for making shields. Amongst the bush and trees there were several gum-producing ones, of which the frankincense, I think, ranked first. These gums are usually plucked by the women and transported to Aden. The barks of various other trees are also very useful; for instance, they strip down the bark of the acacia in long slips, and chew it until only fibres remain, which, when twisted in the hand, make strong cordage. The acacia bark also makes a good tan for preserving leather; but of far greater account than this is the bark of a squat stunted tree, like the “elephant’s foot,” called by the Somali mohur, which has a smooth skin, with knotty-looking warts upon it like a huge turnip, reddish inside, with a yellowish-green exterior. It has a highly aromatic flavour, and is a powerful astringent. When making mussacks, the Somali pull a sheep or goat out of his skin; tie its legs and tail, where incisions had been made, to make it a waterproof bag, and then fill it with bits of this bark, chopped up and mixed with water. They then suspend it in a tree to dry, and afterwards render it soft and pliable by a severe course of manipulation. The taste of the bark is considered very wholesome, and a corrective to bad and fetid water. Besides possessing this quality, the mohur is useful as a poultice-when mashed and mixed with water; and the Somali always have recourse to it when badly wounded.

During my peregrinations at this place, I often dropped bits of paper about the jungle, little suspecting what would become of them; and, to my surprise, one day the interpreter came to me in some alarm, to say that several Dulbahantas had arrived at Bunder Gori, and were sharply canvassing amongst themselves the probable objects of my visit. I could not be travelling without a purpose, at so much expense; and they thought these bits of paper, which they had carefully picked up, conclusive evidence I was marking out some spots for future purposes. They abused the Warsingali for being such fools as to let me travel in their country, and said I should never cross over to them. This little incident of dropping paper, though fully explained to them, was ever afterwards brought up in accusation against me, and proved very perplexing.

30th. — Camp Habal Ishawalé. Altitude 5052 feet. — We were now all together, and I thought ready to march; but the men had first to be paid their hire in advance — a monthly stipend of five tobes each. When that was settled, many other men, and amongst them the sultan’s second brother Hassan, coveting my clothes, wished to be engaged. Some tedious hours were wasted on this subject. The sultan, at the instigation of these advocates for service, would have it, if I wished to travel according to the custom of the country, I must take more men with me as a guard. I, on the other hand, neither wanted them nor could afford to pay them, as I had been so extensively plundered — but wished to exchange Sumunter for his brother, and promised high rewards if he would take me through the journey. To put an end to the discussion, I struck my tent, never to be pitched again, and waited patiently until the camels came. It was not until near sundown that the camels were ready and the march commenced. The sultan then ordered Hassan and the naughty boy Abdullah, against my wish, to accompany me on the journey; and we set off, leaving two or three loads behind to be brought up on the morrow. The march was a short one, made to relieve the one beyond; for the spring of water we were now drinking from was the last on this side the range. It led us up a gradual but tortuous ascent, very thickly clad with strong bushes, to a kraal or ring-fence of prickly acacias, which was evidently made to protect the Somali’s sheep from lions, leopards, hyenas, and freebooters suddenly pouncing on them.

We remained here three days, sending the things I had brought in relays across the mountain, and fetching up the rear ones. The sultan could not lose the opportunity afforded by my detention to come again and beg for presents, and I gave him a razor to shave his head with and make a clean Mussulman of him. On finding he could get nothing further from me gratis, he demanded that a cloth should be paid to the man whom my camel-drivers had robbed of the goat at Adhai, and, before retiring, wished me urgently to take a letter for him to Aden, petitioning the English to allow him to form an expedition by sea, and take retribution on the Musa Abokr at Héis, who had recently killed one of his subjects.

9 Akil, plural Okál— chief or elder.

10 The sultan has four sons.

11 This gazelle is slightly different from the Dorcas, and, I believe, has never been obtained before.

12 In talking of white men or Europeans, the Somali always say English French, those two branches of the European community being all they are acquainted with.

13 Tobe, properly thobe, the dress used by Somali of both sexes. It consists of a white cloth, eight cubits long, frequently adorned with gaily-coloured edges; by the men it is worn loosely round the body with the end thrown over the shoulder, very much like the Roman toga. The women gather it in folds round the waist, where it is confined by a string, and both ends are fastened in a knot across the breast.

14 It may appear strange that these men would not accept anything from me in payment except such things as they were accustomed to; and many of the pretty baubles which I brought from Calcutta, and considered would allure them by their beauty, proved of no use here as a medium of exchange.

15 Tug, in the Somali language, signifies a periodical river, or water-course, the same as Wadi in Arabic, and Nullah in Hindustani.

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30