We determined on the 9th of November to visit the island of Saad el Din, the larger of the two patches of ground which lie about two miles north of the town. Reaching our destination, after an hour’s lively sail, we passed through a thick belt of underwood tenanted by swarms of midges, with a damp chill air crying fever, and a fetor of decayed vegetation smelling death. To this succeeded a barren flat of silt and sand, white with salt and ragged with salsolaceous stubble, reeking with heat, and covered with old vegetation. Here, says local tradition, was the ancient site of Zayla1, built by Arabs from Yemen. The legend runs that when Saad el Din was besieged and slain by David, King of Ethiopia, the wells dried up and the island sank. Something doubtless occurred which rendered a removal advisable: the sons of the Moslem hero fled to Ahmed bin El Ashraf, Prince of Senaa, offering their allegiance if he would build fortifications for them and aid them against the Christians of Abyssinia. The consequence was a walled circuit upon the present site of Zayla: of its old locality almost may be said “periere ruinae.”
During my stay with Sharmarkay I made many inquiries about historical works, and the Kazi; Mohammed Khatib, a Harar man of the Hawiyah tribe, was at last persuaded to send his Daftar, or office papers, for my inspection. They formed a kind of parish register of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and manumissions. From them it appeared that in A.H. 1081 (A.D. 1670-71) the Shanabila Sayyids were Kazis of Zayla and retained the office for 138 years. It passed two generations ago into the hands of Mohammed Musa, a Hawiyah, and the present Kazi is his nephew.
The origin of Zayla, or, as it is locally called, “Audal,” is lost in the fogs of Phoenician fable. The Avalites2 of the Periplus and Pliny, it was in earliest ages dependent upon the kingdom of Axum.3 About the seventh century, when the Southern Arabs penetrated into the heart of Abyssinia4, it became the great factory of the eastern coast, and rose to its height of splendour. Taki el Din Makrizi5 includes under the name of Zayla, a territory of forty-three days’ march by forty, and divides it into seven great provinces, speaking about fifty languages, and ruled by Amirs, subject to the Hati (Hatze) of Abyssinia.
In the fourteenth century it became celebrated by its wars with the kings of Abyssinia: sustaining severe defeats the Moslems retired upon their harbour, which, after an obstinate defence fell into the hands of the Christians. The land was laid waste, the mosques were converted into churches, and the Abyssinians returned to their mountains laden with booty. About A.D. 1400, Saad el Din, the heroic prince of Zayla, was besieged in his city by the Hatze David the Second: slain by a spear-thrust, he left his people powerless in the hands of their enemies, till his sons, Sabr el Din, Ali, Mansur, and Jemal el Din retrieved the cause of El Islam.
Ibn Batuta, a voyager of the fourteenth century, thus describes the place: “I then went from Aden by sea, and after four days came to the city of Zayla. This is a settlement, of the Berbers 6, a people of Sudan, of the Shafia sect. Their country is a desert of two months’ extent; the first part is termed Zayla, the last Makdashu. The greatest number of the inhabitants, however, are of the Rafizah sect.7 Their food is mostly camels’ flesh and fish. 8 The stench of the country is extreme, as is also its filth, from the stink of the fish and the blood of camels which are slaughtered in its streets.”
About A.D. 1500 the Turks conquered Yemen, and the lawless Janissaries, “who lived upon the very bowels of commerce”9, drove the peaceable Arab merchants to the opposite shore. The trade of India, flying from the same enemy, took refuge in Adel, amongst its partners. 10 The Turks of Arabia, though they were blind to the cause, were sensible of the great influx of wealth into the opposite kingdoms. They took possession, therefore, of Zayla, which they made a den of thieves, established there what they called a custom-house11, and, by means of that post and galleys cruising in the narrow straits of Bab el Mandeb, they laid the Indian trade to Adel under heavy contributions that might indemnify them for the great desertion their violence and injustice had occasioned in Arabia.
This step threatened the very existence both of Adel and Abyssinia; and considering the vigorous government of the one, and the weak politics and prejudices of the other, it is more than probable that the Turks would have subdued both, had they not in India, their chief object, met the Portuguese, strongly established.
Bartema, travelling in A.D. 1503, treats in his 15th chapter of “Zeila in AEthiopia and the great fruitlessness thereof, and of certain strange beasts seen there.”
“In this city is great frequentation of merchandise, as in a most famous mart. There is marvellous abundance of gold and iron, and an innumerable number of black slaves sold for small prices; these are taken in War by the Mahomedans out of AEthiopia, of the kingdom of Presbyter Johannes, or Preciosus Johannes, which some also call the king of Jacobins or Abyssins, being a Christian; and are carried away from thence into Persia, Arabia Felix, Babylonia of Nilus or Alcair, and Meccah. In this city justice and good laws are observed.12 . . . It hath an innumerable multitude of merchants; the walls are greatly decayed, and the haven rude and despicable. The King or Sultan of the city is a Mahomedan, and entertaineth in wages a great multitude of footmen and horsemen. They are greatly given to war, and wear only one loose single vesture: they are of dark ash colour, inclining to black.”
In July 1516 Zayla was taken, and the town burned by a Portuguese armament, under Lopez Suarez Alberguiera. When the Turks were compelled to retire from Southern Arabia, it became subject to the Prince of Senaa, who gave it in perpetuity to the family of a Senaani merchant.
The kingdom of Yemen falling into decay, Zayla passed under the authority of the Sherif of Mocha, who, though receiving no part of the revenue, had yet the power of displacing the Governor. By him it was farmed out to the Hajj Sharmarkay, who paid annually to Sayyid Mohammed el Barr, at Mocha, the sum of 750 crowns, and reserved all that he could collect above that sum for himself. In A.D. 1848 Zayla was taken from the family El Barr, and farmed out to Sharmarkay by the Turkish Governor of Mocha and Hodaydah.
The extant remains at Saad el Din are principally those of water-courses, rude lines of coralline, stretching across the plain towards wells, now lost13, and diminutive tanks, made apparently to collect rain water. One of these latter is a work of some art — a long sunken vault, with a pointed arch projecting a few feet above the surface of the ground; outside it is of rough stone, the interior is carefully coated with fine lime, and from the roof long stalactites depend. Near it is a cemetery: the graves are, for the most part, provided with large slabs of close black basalt, planted in the ground edgeways, and in the shape of a small oblong. The material was most probably brought from the mountains near Tajurrah: at another part of the island I found it in the shape of a gigantic mill-stone, half imbedded in the loose sand. Near the cemetery we observed a mound of rough stones surrounding an upright pole; this is the tomb of Shaykh Saad el Din, formerly the hero, now the favourite patron saint of Zayla — still popularly venerated, as was proved by the remains of votive banquets, broken bones, dried garbage, and stones blackened by the fire.
After wandering through the island, which contained not a human being save a party of Somal boatmen, cutting firewood for Aden, and having massacred a number of large fishing hawks and small sea-birds, to astonish the natives, our companions, we returned to the landing-place. Here an awning had been spread; the goat destined for our dinner — I have long since conquered all dislike, dear L., to seeing dinner perambulating — had been boiled and disposed in hunches upon small mountains of rice, and jars of sweet water stood in the air to cool. After feeding, regardless of Quartana and her weird sisterhood, we all lay down for siesta in the light sea-breeze. Our slumbers were heavy, as the Zayla people say is ever the case at Saad el Din, and the sun had declined low ere we awoke. The tide was out, and we waded a quarter of a mile to the boat, amongst giant crabs who showed grisly claws, sharp coralline, and sea-weed so thick as to become almost a mat. You must believe me when I tell you that in the shallower parts the sun was painfully hot, even to my well tried feet. We picked up a few specimens of fine sponge, and coral, white and red, which, if collected, might be valuable to Zayla, and, our pic-nic concluded, we returned home.
On the 14th November we left the town to meet a caravan of the Danakil14, and to visit the tomb of the great saint Abu Zarbay. The former approached in a straggling line of asses, and about fifty camels laiden with cows’ hides, ivories and one Abyssinian slave-girl. The men were wild as ourang-outangs, and the women fit only to flog cattle: their animals were small, meagre-looking, and loosely made; the asses of the Bedouins, however, are far superior to those of Zayla, and the camels are, comparatively speaking, well bred.15 In a few minutes the beasts were unloaded, the Gurgis or wigwams pitched, and all was prepared for repose. A caravan so extensive being an unusual event — small parties carrying only grain come in once or twice a week — the citizens abandoned even their favourite game of ball, with an eye to speculation. We stood at “Government House,” over the Ashurbara Gate, to see the Bedouins, and we quizzed (as Town men might denounce a tie or scoff at a boot) the huge round shields and the uncouth spears of these provincials. Presently they entered the streets, where we witnessed their frantic dance in presence of the Hajj and other authorities. This is the wild men’s way of expressing their satisfaction that Fate has enabled them to convoy the caravan through all the dangers of the desert.
The Shaykh Ibrahim Abu Zarbay16 lies under a whitewashed dome close to the Ashurbara Gate of Zayla: an inscription cut in wood over the doorway informs us that the building dates from A.H. 1155=AD. 1741-2. It is now dilapidated, the lintel is falling in, the walls are decaying, and the cupola, which is rudely built, with primitive gradients — each step supported as in Cashmere and other parts of India, by wooden beams — threatens the heads of the pious. The building is divided into two compartments, forming a Mosque and a Mazar or place of pious visitation: in the latter are five tombs, the two largest covered with common chintz stuff of glaring colours. Ibrahim was one of the forty-four Hazrami saints who landed at Berberah, sat in solemn conclave upon Auliya Kumbo or Holy Hill, and thence dispersed far and wide for the purpose of propagandism. He travelled to Harar about A.D. 143017, converted many to El Islam, and left there an honored memory. His name is immortalised in El Yemen by the introduction of El Kat. 18
Tired of the town, I persuaded the Hajj to send me with an escort to the Hissi or well. At daybreak I set out with four Arab matchlock-men, and taking a direction nearly due west, waded and walked over an alluvial plain flooded by every high tide. On our way we passed lines of donkeys and camels carrying water-skins from the town; they were under guard like ourselves, and the sturdy dames that drove them indulged in many a loud joke at our expense. After walking about four miles we arrived at what is called the Takhushshah — the sandy bed of a torrent nearly a mile broad19, covered with a thin coat of caked mud: in the centre is a line of pits from three to four feet deep, with turbid water at the bottom. Around them were several frame-works of four upright sticks connected by horizontal bars, and on these were stretched goats’-skins, forming the cattle-trough of the Somali country. About the wells stood troops of camels, whose Eesa proprietors scowled fiercely at us, and stalked over the plain with their long, heavy spears: for protection against these people, the citizens have erected a kind of round tower, with a ladder for a staircase. Near it are some large tamarisks and the wild henna of the Somali country, which supplies a sweet-smelling flower, but is valueless as a dye. A thick hedge of thorn-trees surrounds the only cultivated ground near Zayla: as Ibn Said declared in old times, “the people have no gardens, and know nothing of fruits.” The variety and the luxuriance of growth, however, prove that industry is the sole desideratum. I remarked the castor-plant — no one knows its name or nature20 — the Rayhan or Basil, the Kadi, a species of aloe, whose strongly scented flowers the Arabs of Yemen are fond of wearing in their turbans.21 Of vegetables, there were cucumbers, egg-plants, and the edible hibiscus; the only fruit was a small kind of water-melon.
After enjoying a walk through the garden and a bath at the well, I started, gun in hand, towards the jungly plain that stretches towards the sea. It abounds in hares, and in a large description of spur-fowl22; the beautiful little sand antelope, scarcely bigger than an English rabbit23, bounded over the bushes, its thin legs being scarcely perceptible during the spring. I was afraid to fire with ball, the place being full of Bedouins’ huts, herds, and dogs, and the vicinity of man made the animals too wild for small shot. In revenge, I did considerable havoc amongst the spur-fowl, who proved equally good for sport and the pot, besides knocking over a number of old crows, whose gall the Arab soldiers wanted for collyrium.24 Beyond us lay Warabalay or Hyaenas’ hill25: we did not visit it, as all its tenants had been driven away by the migration of the Nomads.
Returning, we breakfasted in the garden, and rain coming on, we walked out to enjoy the Oriental luxury of a wetting. Ali Iskandar, an old Arab mercenary, afforded us infinite amusement: a little opium made him half crazy, when his sarcastic pleasantries never ceased. We then brought out the guns, and being joined by the other escort, proceeded to a trial of skill. The Arabs planted a bone about 200 paces from us — a long distance for a people who seldom fire beyond fifty yards; — moreover, the wind blew the flash strongly in their faces. Some shot two or three dozen times wide of the mark and were derided accordingly: one man hit the bone; he at once stopped practice, as the wise in such matters will do, and shook hands with all the party. He afterwards showed that his success on this occasion had been accidental; but he was a staunch old sportsman, remarkable, as the Arab Bedouins generally are, for his skill and perseverance in stalking. Having no rifle, I remained a spectator. My revolvers excited abundant attention, though none would be persuaded to touch them. The largest, which fitted with a stock became an excellent carbine, was at once named Abu Sittah (the Father of Six) and the Shaytan or Devil: the pocket pistol became the Malunah or Accursed, and the distance to which it carried ball made every man wonder. The Arabs had antiquated matchlocks, mostly worn away to paper thinness at the mouth: as usual they fired with the right elbow raised to the level of the ear, and the left hand grasping the barrel, where with us the breech would be. Hassan Turki had one of those fine old Shishkhanah rifles formerly made at Damascus and Senaa: it carried a two-ounce ball with perfect correctness, but was so badly mounted in its block-butt, shaped like a Dutch cheese, that it always required a rest.
On our return home we met a party of Eesa girls, who derided my colour and doubted the fact of my being a Moslem. The Arabs declared me to be a Shaykh of Shaykhs, and translated to the prettiest of the party an impromptu proposal of marriage. She showed but little coyness, and stated her price to be an Audulli or necklace26, a couple of Tobes — she asked one too many — a few handfuls of beads,27 and a small present for her papa. She promised, naively enough, to call next day and inspect the goods: the publicity of the town did not deter her, but the shamefacedness of my two companions prevented our meeting again. Arrived at Zayla after a sunny walk, the Arab escort loaded their guns, formed a line for me to pass along, fired a salute, and entered to coffee and sweetmeats.
On the 24th of November I had an opportunity of seeing what a timid people are these Somal of the towns, who, as has been well remarked, are, like the settled Arabs, the worst specimens of their race. Three Eesa Bedouins appeared before the southern gate, slaughtered a cow, buried its head, and sent for permission to visit one of their number who had been imprisoned by the Hajj for the murder of his son Masud. The place was at once thrown into confusion, the gates were locked, and the walls manned with Arab matchlock men: my three followers armed themselves, and I was summoned to the fray. Some declared that the Bedouins were “doing”28 the town; others that they were the van of a giant host coming to ravish, sack, and slay: it turned out that these Bedouins had preceded their comrades, who were bringing in, as the price of blood29, an Abyssinian slave, seven camels, seven cows, a white mule, and a small black mare. The prisoner was visited by his brother, who volunteered to share his confinement, and the meeting was described as most pathetic: partly from mental organisation and partly from the peculiarities of society, the only real tie acknowledged by these people is that which connects male kinsmen. The Hajj, after speaking big, had the weakness to let the murderer depart alive: this measure, like peace-policy in general, is the best and surest way to encourage bloodshed and mutilation. But a few months before, an Eesa Bedouin enticed out of the gates a boy about fifteen, and slaughtered him for the sake of wearing the feather. His relations were directed to receive the Diyat or blood fine, and the wretch was allowed to depart unhurt — a silly clemency!
You must not suppose, dear L., that I yielded myself willingly to the weary necessity of a month at Zayla. But how explain to you the obstacles thrown in our way by African indolence, petty intrigue, and interminable suspicion? Four months before leaving Aden I had taken the precaution of meeting the Hajj, requesting him to select for us an Abban30, or protector, and to provide camels and mules; two months before starting I had advanced to him the money required in a country where nothing can be done without a whole or partial prepayment. The protector was to be procured anywhere, the cattle at Tajurrah, scarcely a day’s sail from Zayla: when I arrived nothing was forthcoming. I at once begged the governor to exert himself: he politely promised to start a messenger that hour, and he delayed doing so for ten days. An easterly wind set in and gave the crew an excuse for wasting another fortnight.31 Travellers are an irritable genus: I stormed and fretted at the delays to show earnestness of purpose. All the effect was a paroxysm of talking. The Hajj and his son treated me, like a spoilt child, to a double allowance of food and milk: they warned me that the small-pox was depopulating Harar, that the road swarmed with brigands, and that the Amir or prince was certain destruction — I contented myself with determining that both were true Oriental hyperbolists, and fell into more frequent fits of passion. The old man could not comprehend my secret. “If the English,” he privately remarked, “wish to take Harar, let them send me 500 soldiers; if not, I can give all information concerning it.” When convinced of my determination to travel, he applied his mind to calculating the benefit which might be derived from the event, and, as the following pages will show, he was not without success.
Towards the end of November, four camels were procured, an Abban was engaged, we hired two women cooks and a fourth servant; my baggage was reformed, the cloth and tobacco being sewn up in matting, and made to fit the camels’ sides32; sandals were cut out for walking, letters were written, messages of dreary length — too important to be set down in black and white — were solemnly entrusted to us, palavers were held, and affairs began to wear the semblance of departure. The Hajj strongly recommended us to one of the principal families of the Gudabirsi tribe, who would pass us on to their brother-in-law Adan, the Gerad or prince of the Girhi; and he, in due time, to his kinsman the Amir of Harar. The chain was commenced by placing us under the protection of one Raghe, a petty Eesa chief of the Mummasan clan. By the good aid of the Hajj and our sweetmeats, he was persuaded, for the moderate consideration of ten Tobes33, to accompany us to the frontier of his clan, distant about fifty miles, to introduce us to the Gudabirsi, and to provide us with three men as servants, and a suitable escort, a score or so, in dangerous places. He began, with us in an extravagant manner, declaring that nothing but “name” induced him to undertake the perilous task; that he had left his flocks and herds at a season of uncommon risk, and that all his relations must receive a certain honorarium. But having paid at least three pounds for a few days of his society, we declined such liberality, and my companions, I believe, declared that it would be “next time:”— on all such occasions I make a point of leaving the room, since for one thing given at least five are promised on oath. Raghe warned us seriously to prepare for dangers and disasters, and this seemed to be the general opinion of Zayla, whose timid citizens determined that we were tired of our lives. The cold had driven the Nomads from the hills to the warm maritime Plains34, we should therefore traverse a populous region; and, as the End of Time aptly observed, “Man eats you up, the Desert does not.” Moreover this year the Ayyal Nuh Ismail, a clan of the Habr Awal tribe, is “out,” and has been successful against the Eesa, who generally are the better men. They sweep the country in Kaum or Commandos35, numbering from twenty to two hundred troopers, armed with assegai, dagger, and shield, and carrying a water skin and dried meat for a three days’ ride, sufficient to scour the length of the low land. The honest fellows are not so anxious to plunder as to ennoble themselves by taking life: every man hangs to his saddle bow an ostrich36 feather — emblem of truth — and the moment his javelin has drawn blood, he sticks it into his tufty pole with as much satisfaction as we feel when attaching a medal to our shell-jackets. It is by no means necessary to slay the foe in fair combat: Spartan-like, treachery is preferred to stand-up fighting; and you may measure their ideas of honor, by the fact that women are murdered in cold blood, as by the Amazulus, with the hope that the unborn child may prove a male. The hero carries home the trophy of his prowess37, and his wife, springing from her tent, utters a long shrill scream of joy, a preliminary to boasting of her man’s valour, and bitterly taunting the other possessors of noirs faineants: the derided ladies abuse their lords with peculiar virulence, and the lords fall into paroxysms of envy, hatred, and malice. During my short stay at Zayla six or seven murders were committed close to the walls: the Abban brought news, a few hours before our departure, that two Eesas had been slaughtered by the Habr Awal. The Eesa and Dankali also have a blood feud, which causes perpetual loss of life. But a short time ago six men of these two tribes were travelling together, when suddenly the last but one received from the hindermost a deadly spear thrust in the back. The wounded man had the presence of mind to plunge his dagger in the side of the wayfarer who preceded him, thus dying, as the people say, in company. One of these events throws the country into confusion, for the vendetta is rancorous and bloody, as in ancient Germany or in modern Corsica. Our Abban enlarged upon the unpleasant necessity of travelling all night towards the hills, and lying perdu during the day. The most dangerous times are dawn and evening tide: the troopers spare their horses during the heat, and themselves during the dew-fall. Whenever, in the desert — where, says the proverb, all men are enemies — you sight a fellow creature from afar, you wave the right arm violently up and down, shouting “War Joga! War Joga!”— stand still! stand still! If they halt, you send a parliamentary to within speaking distance. Should they advance38, you fire, taking especial care not to miss; when two saddles are emptied, the rest are sure to decamp.
I had given the Abban orders to be in readiness — my patience being thoroughly exhausted — on Sunday, the 26th of November, and determined to walk the whole way, rather than waste another day waiting for cattle. As the case had become hopeless, a vessel was descried standing straight from Tajurrah, and, suddenly as could happen in the Arabian Nights, four fine mules, saddled and bridled, Abyssinian fashion, appeared at the door.39
1 Brace describes Zayla as “a small island, on the very coast of Adel.” To reconcile discrepancy, he adopts the usual clumsy expedient of supposing two cities of the same name, one situated seven degrees south of the other. Salt corrects the error, but does not seem to have heard of old Zayla’s insular position.
2 The inhabitants were termed Avalitae, and the Bay “Sinus Avaliticus.” Some modern travellers have confounded it with Adule or Adulis, the port of Axum, founded by fugitive Egyptian slaves. The latter, however, lies further north: D’Anville places it at Arkiko, Salt at Zula (or Azule), near the head of Annesley Bay.
3 The Arabs were probably the earliest colonists of this coast. Even the Sawahil people retain a tradition that their forefathers originated in the south of Arabia.
4 To the present day the district of Gozi is peopled by Mohammedans called Arablet, “whose progenitors,” according to Harris, “are said by tradition to have been left there prior to the reign of Nagasi, first King of Shoa. Hossain, Wahabit, and Abdool Kurreem, generals probably detached from the victorious army of Graan (Mohammed Gragne), are represented to have come from Mecca, and to have taken possession of the country — the legend assigning to the first of these warriors as his capital, the populous village of Medina, which is conspicuous on a cone among the mountains, shortly after entering the valley of Robi.”
5 Historia Regum Islamiticorum in Abyssinia, Lugd. Bat. 1790.
6 The affinity between the Somal and the Berbers of Northern Africa, and their descent from Canaan, son of Ham, has been learnedly advanced and refuted by several Moslem authors. The theory appears to have arisen from a mistake; Berberah, the great emporium of the Somali country, being confounded with the Berbers of Nubia.
7 Probably Zaidi from Yemen. At present the people of Zayla are all orthodox Sunnites.
8 Fish, as will be seen in these pages, is no longer a favourite article of diet.
9 Bruce, book 8.
10 Hence the origin of the trade between Africa and Cutch, which continues uninterrupted to the present time. Adel, Arabia, and India, as Bruce remarks, were three partners in one trade, who mutually exported their produce to Europe, Asia, and Africa, at that time the whole known world.
11 The Turks, under a show of protecting commerce, established these posts in their different ports. But they soon made it appear that the end proposed was only to ascertain who were the subjects from whom they could levy the most enormous extortions. Jeddah, Zebid, and Mocha, the places of consequence nearest to Abyssinia on the Arabian coast, Suakin, a seaport town on the very barriers of Abyssinia, in the immediate way of their caravan to Cairo on the African side, were each under the command of a Turkish Pasha and garrisoned by Turkish troops sent thither from Constantinople by the emperors Selim and Sulayman.
12 Bartema’s account of its productions is as follows: “The soil beareth wheat and hath abundance of flesh and divers other commodious things. It hath also oil, not of olives, but of some other thing, I know not what. There is also plenty of honey and wax; there are likewise certain sheep having their tails of the weight of sixteen pounds, and exceeding fat; the head and neck are black, and all the rest white. There are also sheep altogether white, and having tails of a cubit long, and hanging down like a great cluster of grapes, and have also great laps of skin hanging down from their throats, as have bulls and oxen, hanging down almost to the ground. There are also certain kind with horns like unto harts’ horns; these are wild, and when they be taken are given to the Sultan of that city as a kingly present. I saw there also certain kind having only one horn in the midst of the forehead, as hath the unicorn, and about a span of length, but the horn bendeth backward: they are of bright shining red colour. But they that have harts’ horns are inclining to black colour. Living is there good and cheap.”
13 The people have a tradition that a well of sweet water exists unseen in some part of the island. When Saad el Din was besieged in Zayla by the Hatze David, the host of El Islam suffered severely for the want of the fresh element.
14 The singular is Dankali, the plural Danakil: both words are Arabic, the vernacular name being “Afar” or “Afer,” the Somali “Afarnimun.” The word is pronounced like the Latin “Afer,” an African.
15 Occasionally at Zayla — where all animals are expensive — Dankali camels may be bought: though small, they resist hardship and fatigue better than the other kinds. A fair price would be about ten dollars. The Somal divide their animals into two kinds, Gel Ad and Ayyun. The former is of white colour, loose and weak, but valuable, I was told by Lieut. Speke, in districts where little water is found: the Ayyun is darker and stronger; its price averages about a quarter more than the Gel Ad.
To the Arabian traveller nothing can be more annoying than these Somali camels. They must be fed four hours during the day, otherwise they cannot march. They die from change of food or sudden removal to another country. Their backs are ever being galled, and, with all precautions, a month’s march lays them up for three times that period. They are never used for riding, except in cases of sickness or accidents.
The Somali ass is generally speaking a miserable animal. Lieut. Speke, however, reports that on the windward coast it is not to be despised. At Harar I found a tolerable breed, superior in appearance but inferior in size to the thoroughbred little animals at Aden. They are never ridden; their principal duty is that of carrying water-skins to and from the walls.
16 He is generally called Abu Zerbin, more rarely Abu Zarbayn, and Abu Zarbay. I have preferred the latter orthography upon the authority of the Shaykh Jami, most learned of the Somal.
17 In the same year (A.D. 1429-30) the Shaykh el Shazili, buried under a dome at Mocha, introduced coffee into Arabia.
18 The following is an extract from the Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. xii. No. v. Nov. 1. 1852. Notes upon the drugs observed at Aden Arabia, by James Vaughan, Esq., M.R.C.S.E., Assist. Surg., B.A., Civil and Port. Surg., Aden, Arabia.
“Kat [Arabic], the name of a drug which is brought into Aden from the interior, and largely used, especially by the Arabs, as a pleasurable excitant. It is generally imported in small camel-loads, consisting of a number of parcels, each containing about forty slender twigs with the leaves attached, and carefully wrapped so as to prevent as much as possible exposure to the atmosphere. The leaves form the edible part, and these, when chewed, are said to produce great hilarity of spirits, and an agreeable state of wakefulness. Some estimate may be formed of the strong predilection which the Arabs have for this drug from the quantity used in Aden alone, which averages about 280 camel-loads annually. The market price is one and a quarter rupees per parcel, and the exclusive privilege of selling it is farmed by the government for 1500 rupees per year. Forskal found the plant growing on the mountains of Yemen, and has enumerated it as a new genus in the class Pentandria, under the name of Catha. He notices two species, and distinguishes them as Catha edulis and Catha spinosa. According to his account it is cultivated on the same ground as coffee, and is planted from cuttings. Besides the effects above stated, the Arabs, he tells us, believe the land where it grows to be secure from the inroads of plague; and that a twig of the Kat carried in the bosom is a certain safeguard against infection. The learned botanist observes, with respect to these supposed virtues, ‘Gustus foliorum tamen virtutem tantam indicare non videtur.’ Like coffee, Kat, from its acknowledged stimulating effects, has been a fertile theme for the exercise of Mahomedan casuistry, and names of renown are ranged on both sides of the question, whether the use of Kat does or does not contravene the injunction of the Koran, Thou shalt not drink wine or anything intoxicating. The succeeding notes, borrowed chiefly from De Sacy’s researches, may be deemed worthy of insertion here.
“Sheikh Abdool Kader Ansari Jezeri, a learned Mahomedan author, in his treatise on the use of coffee, quotes the following from the writings of Fakr ood Deen Mekki:—‘It is said that the first who introduced coffee was the illustrious saint Aboo Abdallah Mahomed Dhabhani ibn Said; but we have learned by the testimony of many persons that the use of coffee in Yemen, its origin, and first introduction into that country are due to the learned All Shadeli ibn Omar, one of the disciples of the learned doctor Nasr ood Deen, who is regarded as one of the chiefs among the order Shadeli, and whose worth attests the high degree of spirituality to which they had attained. Previous to that time they made coffee of the vegetable substance called Cafta, which is the same as the leaf known under the name of Kat, and not of Boon (the coffee berry) nor any preparation of Boon. The use of this beverage extended in course of time as far as Aden, but in the days of Mahomed Dhabhani the vegetable substance from which it was prepared disappeared from Aden. Then it was that the Sheik advised those who had become his disciples to try the drink made from the Boon, which was found to produce the same effect as the Kat, inducing sleeplessness, and that it was attended with less expense and trouble. The use of coffee has been kept up from that time to the present.’
“D’Herbelot states that the beverage called Calmat al Catiat or Caftah, was prohibited in Yemen in consequence of its effects upon the brain. On the other hand a synod of learned Mussulmans is said to have decreed that as beverages of Kat and Cafta do not impair the health or impede the observance of religious duties, but only increase hilarity and good-humour, it was lawful to use them, as also the drink made from the boon or coffee-berry. I am not aware that Kat is used in Aden in any other way than for mastication. From what I have heard, however, I believe that a decoction resembling tea is made from the leaf by the Arabs in the interior; and one who is well acquainted with our familiar beverage assures me that the effects are not unlike those produced by strong green tea, with this advantage in favour of Kat, that the excitement is always of a pleasing and agreeable kind. [Note: “Mr. Vaughan has transmitted two specimens called Tubbare Kat and Muktaree Kat, from the districts in which they are produced: the latter fetches the lower price. Catha edulis Forsk., Nat. Ord. Celastraceae, is figured in Dr. Lindley’s Vegetable Kingdom, p. 588. (London, 1846). But there is a still more complete representation of the plant under the name of Catha Forskalii Richard, in a work published under the auspices of the French government, entitled, ‘Voyage en Abyssinie execute pendant les annees 1839-43, par une commission scientifique composee de MM. Theophile Lefebvre, Lieut. du Vaisseau, A. Petit et Martin-Dillon, docteurs medecins, naturalistes du Museum, Vignaud dessinateur.’ The botanical portion of this work, by M. Achille Richard, is regarded either as a distinct publication under the title of Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, or as a part of the Voyage en Abyssinie. M. Richard enters into some of the particulars relative to the synonyms of the plant, from which it appears that Vahl referred Forskal’s genus Catha to the Linnaean genus Celastrus, changing the name of Catha edulis to Celastrus edulis. Hochstetter applied the name of Celastrus edulis to an Abyssinian species (Celastrus obscurus Richard), which he imagined identical with Forskal’s Catha edulis, while of the real Catha edulis Forsk., he formed a new genus and species, under the name of Trigonotheca serrata Hochs. Nat. Ord. Hippocrateaceae. I quote the following references from the Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, vol. i. p. 134.: ‘Catha Forskalii Nob. Catha No. 4. Forsk. loc. cit, (Flor. AEgypt. Arab. p. 63.) Trigonotheca serrata Hochs. in pl. Schimp. Abyss. sect. ii, No. 649. Celastrus edulis Vahl, Ecl. 1. 21.’ Although In the Flora AEgyptiaco-Arabica of Forskal no specific name is applied to the Catha at p. 63, it is enumerated as Catha edulis at p. 107. The reference to Celastrus edulis is not contained in the Eclogae Americanae of Vahl, but in the author’s Symbolae Botanicae (Hanulae, 1790, fol.) pars i. p. 21. (Daniel Hanbury signed.)]
19 This is probably the “River of Zayla,” alluded to by Ibn Said and others. Like all similar features in the low country, it is a mere surface drain.
20 In the upper country I found a large variety growing wild in the Fiumaras. The Bedouins named it Buamado, but ignored its virtues.
21 This ornament is called Musbgur.
22 A large brown bird with black legs, not unlike the domestic fowl. The Arabs call it Dijajat el Barr, (the wild hen): the Somal “digarin,” a word also applied to the Guinea fowl, which it resembles in its short strong fight and habit of running. Owing to the Bedouin prejudice against eating birds, it is found in large coveys all over the country.
23 It has been described by Salt and others. The Somal call it Sagaro, the Arabs Ghezalah: it is found throughout the land generally in pairs, and is fond of ravines under the hills, beds of torrents, and patches of desert vegetation. It is easily killed by a single pellet of shot striking the neck. The Somal catch it by a loop of strong twine hung round a gap in a circuit of thorn hedge, or they run it down on foot, an operation requiring half a day on account of its fleetness, which enables it to escape the jackal and wild dog. When caught it utters piercing cries. Some Bedouins do not eat the flesh: generally, however, it is considered a delicacy, and the skulls and bones of these little animals lie strewed around the kraals.
24 The Somal hold the destruction of the “Tuka” next in religious merit to that of the snake. They have a tradition that the crow, originally white, became black for his sins. When the Prophet and Abubekr were concealed in the cave, the pigeon hid there from their pursuers: the crow, on the contrary, sat screaming “ghar! ghar!” (the cave! the cave!) upon which Mohammed ordered him into eternal mourning, and ever to repeat the traitorous words.
There are several species of crows in this part of Africa. Besides the large-beaked bird of the Harar Hills, I found the common European variety, with, however, the breast feathers white tipped in small semicircles as far as the abdomen. The little “king-crow” of India is common: its bright red eye and purplish plume render it a conspicuous object as it perches upon the tall camel’s back or clings to waving plants.
25 The Waraba or Durwa is, according to Mr. Blyth, the distinguished naturalist, now Curator of the Asiatic Society’s Museum at Calcutta, the Canis pictus seu venaticus (Lycaon pictus or Wilde Honde of the Cape Boers). It seems to be the Chien Sauvage or Cynhyene (Cynhyaena venatica) of the French traveller M. Delegorgue, who in his “Voyage dans l’Afrique Australe,” minutely and diffusely describes it. Mr. Gordon Cumming supposes it to form the connecting link between the wolf and the hyaena. This animal swarms throughout the Somali country, prowls about the camps all night, dogs travellers, and devours every thing he can find, at times pulling down children and camels, and when violently pressed by hunger, men. The Somal declare the Waraba to be a hermaphrodite; so the ancients supposed the hyaena to be of both sexes, an error arising from the peculiar appearance of an orifice situated near two glands which secrete an unctuous fluid.
26 Men wear for ornament round the neck a bright red leather thong, upon which are strung in front two square bits of true or imitation amber or honey stone: this “Mekkawi,” however, is seldom seen amongst the Bedouins. The Audulli or woman’s necklace is a more elaborate affair of amber, glass beads, generally coloured, and coral: every matron who can afford it, possesses at least one of these ornaments. Both sexes carry round the necks or hang above the right elbow, a talisman against danger and disease, either in a silver box or more generally sewn up in a small case of red morocco. The Bedouins are fond of attaching a tooth-stick to the neck thong.
27 Beads are useful in the Somali country as presents, and to pay for trifling purchases: like tobacco they serve for small change. The kind preferred by women and children is the “binnur,” large and small white porcelain: the others are the red, white, green, and spotted twisted beads, round and oblong. Before entering a district the traveller should ascertain what may be the especial variety. Some kind are greedily sought for in one place, and in another rejected with disdain.
28 The Somali word “Fal” properly means “to do;” “to bewitch,” is its secondary sense.
29 The price of blood in the Somali country is the highest sanctioned by El Islam. It must be remembered that amongst the pagan Arabs, the Korayah “diyat,” was twenty she-camels. Abd el Muttaleb, grandfather of Mohammed, sacrificed 100 animals to ransom the life of his son, forfeited by a rash vow, and from that time the greater became the legal number. The Somal usually demand 100 she-camels, or 300 sheep and a few cows; here, as in Arabia, the sum is made up by all the near relations of the slayer; 30 of the animals may be aged, and 30 under age, but the rest must be sound and good. Many tribes take less — from strangers 100 sheep, a cow, and a camel; — but after the equivalent is paid, the murderer or one of his clan, contrary to the spirit of El Islam, is generally killed by the kindred or tribe of the slain. When blood is shed in the same tribe, the full reparation, if accepted by the relatives, is always exacted; this serves the purpose of preventing fratricidal strife, for in such a nation of murderers, only the Diyat prevents the taking of life.
Blood money, however, is seldom accepted unless the murdered man has been slain with a lawful weapon. Those who kill with the Dankaleh, a poisonous juice rubbed upon meat, are always put to death by the members of their own tribe.
30 The Abban or protector of the Somali country is the Mogasa of the Gallas, the Akh of El Hejaz, the Ghafir of the Sinaitic Peninsula, and the Rabia of Eastern Arabia. It must be observed, however, that the word denotes the protege as well as the protector; In the latter sense it is the polite address to a Somali, as Ya Abbaneh, O Protectress, would be to his wife.
The Abban acts at once as broker, escort, agent, and interpreter, and the institution may be considered the earliest form of transit dues. In all sales he receives a certain percentage, his food and lodging are provided at the expense of his employer, and he not unfrequently exacts small presents from his kindred. In return he is bound to arrange all differences, and even to fight the battles of his client against his fellow-countrymen. Should the Abban be slain, his tribe is bound to take up the cause and to make good the losses of their protege. El Taabanah, the office, being one of “name,” the eastern synonym for our honour, as well as of lucre, causes frequent quarrels, which become exceedingly rancorous.
According to the laws of the country, the Abban is master of the life and property of his client. The traveller’s success will depend mainly upon his selection: if inferior in rank, the protector can neither forward nor defend him; if timid, he will impede advance; and if avaricious, he will, by means of his relatives, effectually stop the journey by absorbing the means of prosecuting it. The best precaution against disappointment would be the registering Abbans at Aden; every donkey-boy will offer himself as a protector, but only the chiefs of tribes should be provided with certificates. During my last visit to Africa, I proposed that English officers visiting the country should be provided with servants not protectors, the former, however, to be paid like the latter; all the people recognised the propriety of the step.
In the following pages occur manifold details concerning the complicated subject, El Taabanah.
31 Future travellers would do well either to send before them a trusty servant with orders to buy cattle; or, what would be better, though a little more expensive, to take with them from Aden all the animals required.
32 The Somal use as camel saddles the mats which compose their huts; these lying loose upon the animal’s back, cause, by slipping backwards and forwards, the loss of many a precious hour, and in wet weather become half a load. The more civilised make up of canvass or “gunny bags” stuffed with hay and provided with cross bars, a rude packsaddle, which is admirably calculated to gall the animal’s back. Future travellers would do well to purchase camel-saddles at Aden, where they are cheap and well made.
33 He received four cloths of Cutch canvass, and six others of coarse American sheeting. At Zayla these articles are double the Aden value, which would be about thirteen rupees or twenty-six shillings; in the bush the price is quadrupled. Before leaving us the Abban received at least double the original hire. Besides small presents of cloth, dates, tobacco and rice to his friends, he had six cubits of Sauda Wilayati or English indigo-dyed calico for women’s fillets, and two of Sauda Kashshi, a Cutch imitation, a Shukkah or half Tobe for his daughter, and a sheep for himself, together with a large bundle of tobacco.
34 When the pastures are exhausted and the monsoon sets in, the Bedouins return to their cool mountains; like the Iliyat of Persia, they have their regular Kishlakh and Yaylakh.
35 “Kaum” is the Arabic, “All” the Somali, term for these raids.
36 Amongst the old Egyptians the ostrich feather was the symbol of truth. The Somal call it “Bal,” the Arabs “Rish;” it is universally used here as the sign and symbol of victory. Generally the white feather only is stuck in the hair; the Eesa are not particular in using black when they can procure no other. All the clans wear it in the back hair, but each has its own rules; some make it a standard decoration, others discard it after the first few days. The learned have an aversion to the custom, stigmatising it as pagan and idolatrous; the vulgar look upon it as the highest mark of honor.
37 This is an ancient practice in Asia as well as in Africa. The Egyptian temples show heaps of trophies placed before the monarchs as eyes or heads were presented in Persia. Thus in 1 Sam. xviii. 25., David brings the spoils of 200 Philistines, and shows them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. Any work upon the subject of Abyssinia (Bruce, book 7. chap, 8.), or the late Afghan war, will prove that the custom of mutilation, opposed as it is both to Christianity and El Islam, is still practised in the case of hated enemies and infidels; and De Bey remarks of the Cape Kafirs, “victores caesis excidunt [Greek: tu aidoui], quae exsiccata regi afferunt.”
38 When attacking cattle, the plundering party endeavour with shoots and noise to disperse the herds, whilst the assailants huddle them together, and attempt to face the danger in parties.
39 For the cheapest I paid twenty-three, for the dearest twenty-six dollars, besides a Riyal upon each, under the names of custom dues and carriage. The Hajj had doubtless exaggerated the price, but all were good animals, and the traveller has no right to complain, except when he pays dear for a bad article.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06