Long before dawn on Saturday, the 13th January, the mules were saddled, bridled, and charged with our scanty luggage. After a hasty breakfast we shook hands with old Sultan the Eunuch, mounted and pricked through the desert streets. Suddenly my weakness and sickness left me — so potent a drug is joy! — and, as we passed the gates loudly salaming to the warders, who were crouching over the fire inside, a weight of care and anxiety fell from me like a cloak of lead.
Yet, dear L., I had time, on the top of my mule for musing upon how melancholy a thing is success. Whilst failure inspirits a man, attainment reads the sad prosy lesson that all our glories
“Are shadows, not substantial things.”
Truly said the sayer, “disappointment is the salt of life”— a salutary bitter which strengthens the mind for fresh exertion, and gives a double value to the prize.
This shade of melancholy soon passed away. The morning was beautiful. A cloudless sky, then untarnished by sun, tinged with reflected blue the mist-crowns of the distant peaks and the smoke wreaths hanging round the sleeping villages, and the air was a cordial after the rank atmosphere of the town. The dew hung in large diamonds from the coffee trees, the spur-fowl crew blithely in the bushes by the way-side:— briefly, never did the face of Nature appear to me so truly lovely.
We hurried forwards, unwilling to lose time and fearing the sun of the Erar valley. With arms cocked, a precaution against the possibility of Galla spears in ambuscade, we crossed the river, entered the yawning chasm and ascended the steep path. My companions were in the highest spirits, nothing interfered with the general joy, but the villain Abtidon, who loudly boasted in a road crowded with market people, that the mule which he was riding had been given to us by the Amir as a Jizyah or tribute. The Hammal, direfully wrath, threatened to shoot him upon the spot, and it was not without difficulty that I calmed the storm.
Passing Gafra we ascertained from the Midgans that the Gerad Adan had sent for my books and stored them in his own cottage. We made in a direct line for Kondura. At one P.M. we safely threaded the Galla’s pass, and about an hour afterwards we exclaimed “Alhamdulillah” at the sight of Sagharrah and the distant Marar Prairie. Entering the village we discharged our fire-arms: the women received us with the Masharrad or joy-cry, and as I passed the enclosure the Geradah Khayrah performed the “Fola” by throwing over me some handfuls of toasted grain.1 The men gave cordial poignees de mains, some danced with joy to see us return alive; they had heard of our being imprisoned, bastinadoed, slaughtered; they swore that the Gerad was raising an army to rescue or revenge us — in fact, had we been their kinsmen more excitement could not have been displayed. Lastly, in true humility, crept forward the End of Time, who, as he kissed my hand, was upon the point of tears: he had been half-starved, despite his dignity as Sharmarkay’s Mercury, and had spent his weary nights and days reciting the chapter Y.S. and fumbling the rosary for omens. The Gerad, he declared, would have given him a sheep and one of his daughters to wife, temporarily, but Sherwa had interfered, he had hindered the course of his sire’s generosity: “Cursed be he,” exclaimed the End of Time, “who with dirty feet defiles the pure water of the stream!”
We entered the smoky cottage. The Gerad and his sons were at Wilensi settling the weighty matter of a caravan which had been plundered by the Usbayhan tribe — in their absence the good Khayrah and her daughters did the duties of hospitality by cooking rice and a couple of fowls. A pleasant evening was spent in recounting our perils as travellers will do, and complimenting one another upon the power of our star.
At eight the next morning we rode to Wilensi. As we approached it all the wayfarers and villagers inquired Hibernically if we were the party that had been put to death by the Amir of Harar. Loud congratulations and shouts of joy awaited our arrival. The Kalendar was in a paroxysm of delight: both Shehrazade and Deenarzade were affected with giggling and what might be blushing. We reviewed our property and found that the One-eyed had been a faithful steward, so faithful indeed, that he had well nigh starved the two women. Presently appeared the Gerad and his sons bringing with them my books; the former was at once invested with a gaudy Abyssinian Tobe of many colours, in which he sallied forth from the cottage the admired of all admirers. The pretty wife Sudiyah and the good Khayrah were made happy by sundry gifts of huge Birmingham ear-rings, brooches and bracelets, scissors, needles, and thread. The evening as usual ended in a feast.
“We halted a week at Wilensi to feed — in truth my companions had been faring lentenly at Harar — and to lay in stock and strength for the long desert march before us. A Somali was despatched to the city under orders to load an ass with onions, tobacco, spices, wooden platters, and Karanji2, which our penniless condition had prevented our purchasing. I spent the time collecting a vocabulary of the Harari tongue under the auspices of Mad Said and All the poet, a Somali educated at the Alma Mater. He was a small black man, long-headed and long-backed, with remarkably prominent eyes, a bulging brow, nose pertly turned up, and lean jaws almost unconscious of beard. He knew the Arabic, Somali, Galla, and Harari languages, and his acuteness was such, that I found no difficulty in what usually proves the hardest task — extracting the grammatical forms. “A poet, the son of a Poet,” to use his own phrase, he evinced a Horatian respect for the beverage which bards love, and his discourse, whenever it strayed from the line of grammar, savoured of over reverence for the goddess whom Pagans associated with Bacchus and Ceres. He was also a patriot and a Tyrtaeus. No clan ever attacked his Girhis without smarting under terrible sarcasms, and his sneers at the young warriors for want of ardour in resisting Gudabirsi encroachments, were quoted as models of the “withering.” Stimulated by the present of a Tobe, he composed a song in honor of the pilgrim: I will offer a literal translation of the exordium, though sentient of the fact that modesty shrinks from such quotations.
“Formerly, my sire and self held ourselves songsters:
Only to day, however, I really begin to sing.
At the order of Abdullah, Allah sent, my tongue is loosed,
The son of the Kuraysh by a thousand generations,
He hath visited Audal, and Sahil and Adari3;
A hundred of his ships float on the sea;
His intellect,” &c. &c. &c.
When not engaged with Ali the Poet I amused myself by consoling Mad Said, who was deeply afflicted, his son having received an ugly stab in the shoulder. Thinking, perhaps, that the Senior anticipated some evil results from the wound, I attempted to remove the impression. “Alas, 0 Hajj!” groaned the old man, “it is not that! — how can the boy be my boy, I who have ever given instead of receiving stabs?” nor would he be comforted, on account of the youth’s progeniture. At other times we summoned the heads of the clans and proceeded to write down their genealogies. This always led to a scene beginning with piano, but rapidly rising to the strepitoso. Each tribe and clan wished to rank first, none would be even second — what was to be done? When excitement was at its height, the paper and pencil were torn out of my hand, stubby beards were pitilessly pulled, and daggers half started from their sheaths. These quarrels were, however, easily composed, and always passed off in storms of abuse, laughter, and derision.
With the end of the week’s repose came Shaykh Jami, the Berteri, equipped as a traveller with sword, praying-skin, and water-bottle. This bustling little divine, whose hobby it was to make every man’s business his own, was accompanied by his brother, in nowise so prayerful a person, and by four burly, black-looking Widads, of whose birth, learning, piety, and virtues he spoke in terms eloquent. I gave them a supper of rice, ghee, and dates in my hut, and with much difficulty excused myself on plea of ill health from a Samrah or night’s entertainment — the chaunting some serious book from evening even to the small hours. The Shaykh informed me that his peaceful errand on that occasion was to determine a claim of blood-money amongst the neighbouring Bedouins. The case was rich in Somali manners. One man gave medicine to another who happened to die about a month afterwards: the father of the deceased at once charged the mediciner with poisoning, and demanded the customary fine. Mad Said grumbled certain disrespectful expressions about the propriety of divines confining themselves to prayers and the Koran, whilst the Gerad Adan, after listening to the Shaykh’s violent denunciation of the Somali doctrine, “Fire, but not shame!”4 conducted his head-scratcher, and with sly sarcasm declared that he had been Islamized afresh that day.
On Sunday, the 21st of January, our messenger returned from Harar, bringing with him supplies for the road: my vocabulary was finished, and as nothing delayed us at Wilensi, I determined to set out the next day. When the rumour went abroad every inhabitant of the village flocked to our hut, with the view of seeing what he could beg or borrow: we were soon obliged to close it, with peremptory orders that none be admitted but the Shaykh Jami. The divine appeared in the afternoon accompanied by all the incurables of the country side: after hearing the tale of the blood-money, I determined that talismans were the best and safest of medicines in those mountains. The Shaykh at first doubted their efficacy. But when my diploma as a master Sufi was exhibited, a new light broke upon him and his attendant Widads. “Verily he hath declared himself this day!” whispered each to his neighbour, still sorely mystified. Shaykh Jami carefully inspected the document, raised it reverently to his forehead, and muttered some prayers: he then in humble phrase begged a copy, and required from me “Ijazah” or permission to act as master. The former request was granted without hesitation, about the latter I preferred to temporize: he then owned himself my pupil, and received, as a well-merited acknowledgment of his services, a pencil and a silk turban.
The morning fixed for our departure came; no one, however, seemed ready to move. The Hammal, who but the night before had been full of ardour and activity, now hung back; we had no coffee, no water-bags, and Deenarzade had gone to buy gourds in some distant village. This was truly African: twenty-six days had not sufficed to do the work of a single watch! No servants had been procured for us by the Gerad, although he had promised a hundred whenever required. Long Guled had imprudently lent his dagger to the smooth-tongued Yusuf Dera, who hearing of the departure, naturally absconded. And, at the last moment, one Abdy Aman, who had engaged himself at Harar as guide to Berberah for the sum of ten dollars, asked a score.
A display of energy was clearly necessary. I sent the Gerad with directions to bring the camels at once, and ordered the Hammal to pull down the huts. Abdy Aman was told to go to Harar — or the other place — Long Guled was promised another dagger at Berberah; a message was left directing Deenarzade to follow, and the word was given to load.
By dint of shouting and rough language, the caravan was ready at 9 A.M. The Gerad Adan and his ragged tail leading, we skirted the eastern side of Wilensi, and our heavily laden camels descended with pain the rough and stony slope of the wide Kloof dividing it from the Marar Prairie. At 1 P.M. the chief summoned us to halt: we pushed on, however, without regarding him. Presently, Long Guled and the End of Time were missing; contrary to express orders they had returned to seek the dagger. To ensure discipline, on this occasion I must have blown out the long youth’s brains, which were, he declared, addled by the loss of his weapon: the remedy appeared worse than the disease.
Attended only by the Hammal, I entered with pleasure the Marar Prairie. In vain the Gerad entreated us not to venture upon a place swarming with lions; vainly he promised to kill sheep and oxen for a feast; — we took abrupt leave of him, and drove away the camels.
Journeying slowly over the skirt of the plain, when rejoined by the truants, we met a party of travellers, who, as usual, stopped to inquire the news. Their chief, mounted upon an old mule, proved to be Madar Farih, a Somali well known at Aden. He consented to accompany us as far as the halting place, expressed astonishment at our escaping Harar, and gave us intelligence which my companions judged grave. The Gerad Hirsi of the Berteri, amongst whom Madar had been living, was incensed with us for leaving the direct road. Report informed him, moreover, that we had given 600 dollars and various valuables to the Gerad Adan — Why then had he been neglected? Madar sensibly advised us to push forward that night, and to ‘ware the bush, whence Midgans might use their poisoned arrows.
We alighted at the village formerly beneath Gurays, now shifted to a short distance from those hills. Presently appeared Deenarzade, hung round with gourds and swelling with hurt feelings: she was accompanied by Dahabo, sister of the valiant Beuh, who, having for ever parted from her graceless husband, the Gerad, was returning under our escort to the Gurgi of her family. Then came Yusuf Dera with a smiling countenance and smooth manners, bringing the stolen dagger and many excuses for the mistake; he was accompanied by a knot of kinsmen deputed by the Gerad as usual for no good purpose. That worthy had been informed that his Berteri rival offered a hundred cows for our persons, dead or alive: he pathetically asked my attendants “Do you love your pilgrim?” and suggested that if they did so, they might as well send him a little more cloth, upon the receipt of which he would escort us with fifty horsemen.
My Somal lent a willing ear to a speech which smelt of falsehood a mile off: they sat down to debate; the subject was important, and for three mortal hours did that palaver endure. I proposed proceeding at once. They declared that the camels could not walk, and that the cold of the prairie was death to man. Pointing to a caravan of grain-carriers that awaited our escort, I then spoke of starting next morning. Still they hesitated. At length darkness came on, and knowing it to be a mere waste of time to debate over night about dangers to be faced next day, I ate my dates and drank my milk, and lay down to enjoy tranquil sleep in the deep silence of the desert.
The morning of the 23rd of January found my companions as usual in a state of faint-heartedness. The Hammal was deputed to obtain permission for fetching the Gerad and all the Gerad’s men. This was positively refused. I could not, however, object to sending sundry Tobes to the cunning idiot, in order to back up a verbal request for the escort. Thereupon Yusuf Dera, Madar Farih, and the other worthies took leave, promising to despatch the troop before noon: I saw them depart with pleasure, feeling that we had bade adieu to the Girhis. The greatest danger we had run was from the Gerad Adan, a fact of which I was not aware till some time after my return to Berberah: he had always been plotting an avanie which, if attempted, would have cost him dear, but at the same time would certainly have proved fatal to us.
Noon arrived, but no cavalry. My companions had promised that if disappointed they would start before nightfall and march till morning. But when the camels were sent for, one, as usual if delay was judged advisable, had strayed: they went in search of him, so as to give time for preparation to the caravan. I then had a sharp explanation with my men, and told them in conclusion that it was my determination to cross the Prairie alone, if necessary, on the morrow.
That night heavy clouds rolled down from the Gurays Hills, and veiled the sky with a deeper gloom. Presently came a thin streak of blue lightning and a roar of thunder, which dispersed like flies the mob of gazers from around my Gurgi; then rain streamed through our hut as though we had been dwelling under a system of cullenders. Deenarzade declared herself too ill to move; Shehrazade swore that she would not work: briefly, that night was by no means pleasantly spent.
At dawn, on the 24th, we started across the Marar Prairie with a caravan of about twenty men and thirty women, driving camels, carrying grain, asses, and a few sheep. The long straggling line gave a “wide berth” to the doughty Hirsi and his Berteris, whose camp-fires were clearly visible in the morning grey. The air was raw; piles of purple cloud settled upon the hills, whence cold and damp gusts swept the plain; sometimes we had a shower, at others a Scotch mist, which did not fail to penetrate our thin raiment. My people trembled, and their teeth chattered as though they were walking upon ice. In our slow course we passed herds of quagga and gazelles, but the animals were wild, and both men and mules were unequal to the task of stalking them. About midday we closed up, for our path wound through the valley wooded with Acacia — fittest place for an ambuscade of archers. We dined in the saddle on huge lumps of sun-dried beef, and bits of gum gathered from the trees.
Having at length crossed the prairie without accident, the caravan people shook our hands, congratulated one another, and declared that they owed their lives to us. About an hour after sunset we arrived at Abtidon’s home, a large kraal at the foot of the Konti cone: fear of lions drove my people into the enclosure, where we passed a night of scratching. I was now haunted by the dread of a certain complaint for which sulphur is said to be a specific. This is the pest of the inner parts of Somali-land; the people declare it to arise from flies and fleas: the European would derive it from the deficiency, or rather the impossibility, of ablutions.
“Allah help the Goer, but the Return is Rolling:” this adage was ever upon the End of Time’s tongue, yet my fate was apparently an exception to the general rule. On the 25th January, we were delayed by the weakness of the camels, which had been half starved in the Girhi mountains. And as we were about to enter the lands of the Habr Awal5, then at blood feud with my men, all Habr Gerhajis, probably a week would elapse before we could provide ourselves with a fit and proper protector. Already I had been delayed ten days after the appointed time, my comrades at Berberah would be apprehensive of accidents, and although starting from Wilensi we had resolved to reach the coast within the fortnight, a month’s march was in clear prospect.
Whilst thus chewing the cud of bitter thought where thought was of scant avail, suddenly appeared the valiant Beuh, sent to visit us by Dahabo his gay sister. He informed us that a guide was in the neighbourhood, and the news gave me an idea. I proposed that he should escort the women, camels, and baggage under command of the Kalendar to Zayla, whilst we, mounting our mules and carrying only our arms and provisions for four days, might push through the lands of the Habr Awal. After some demur all consented.
It was not without apprehension that I pocketed all my remaining provisions, five biscuits, a few limes, and sundry lumps of sugar. Any delay or accident to our mules would starve us; in the first place, we were about to traverse a desert, and secondly where Habr Awal were, they would not sell meat or milk to Habr Gerhajis. My attendants provided themselves with a small provision of sun-dried beef, grain, and sweetmeats: only one water-bottle, however, was found amongst the whole party. We arose at dawn after a wet night on the 26th January, but we did not start till 7 A.M., the reason being that all the party, the Kalendar, Shehrazade and Deenarzade, claimed and would have his and her several and distinct palaver.
Having taken leave of our friends and property6, we spurred our mules, and guided by Beuh, rode through cloud and mist towards Koralay the Saddle-back hill. After an hour’s trot over rugged ground falling into the Harawwah valley, we came to a Gudabirsi village, where my companions halted to inquire the news, also to distend their stomachs with milk. Thence we advanced slowly, as the broken path required, through thickets of wild henna to the kraal occupied by Beuh’s family. At a distance we were descried by an old acquaintance, Fahi, who straightways began to dance like a little Polyphemus, his shock-wig waving in the air: plentiful potations of milk again delayed my companions, who were now laying in a four days’ stock.
Remounting, we resumed our journey over a mass of rock and thicket, watered our mules at holes in a Fiumara, and made our way to a village belonging to the Ugaz or chief of the Gudabirsi tribe. He was a middle-aged man of ordinary presence, and he did not neglect to hold out his hand for a gift which we could not but refuse. Halting for about an hour, we persuaded a guide, by the offer of five dollars and a pair of cloths, to accompany us. “Dubayr”— the Donkey — who belonged to the Bahgobo clan of the Habr Awal, was a “long Lankin,” unable, like all these Bedouins, to endure fatigue. He could not ride, the saddle cut him, and he found his mule restive; lately married, he was incapacitated for walking, and he suffered sadly from thirst. The Donkey little knew, when he promised to show Berberah on the third day, what he had bound himself to perform: after the second march he was induced, only by the promise of a large present, and one continual talk of food, to proceed, and often he threw his lengthy form upon the ground, groaning that his supreme hour was at hand. In the land which we were to traverse every man’s spear would be against us. By way of precaution, we ordered our protector to choose desert roads and carefully to avoid all kraals. At first, not understanding our reasons, and ever hankering after milk, he could not pass a thorn fence without eyeing it wistfully. On the next day, however, he became more tractable, and before reaching Berberah he showed himself, in consequence of some old blood feud, more anxious even than ourselves to avoid villages.
Remounting, under the guidance of the Donkey, we resumed our east-ward course. He was communicative even for a Somali, and began by pointing out, on the right of the road, the ruins of a stone-building, called, as customary in these countries, a fort. Beyond it we came to a kraal, whence all the inhabitants issued with shouts and cries for tobacco. Three o’clock P.M. brought us to a broad Fiumara choked with the thickest and most tangled vegetation: we were shown some curious old Galla wells, deep holes about twenty feet in diameter, excavated in the rock; some were dry, others overgrown with huge creepers, and one only supplied us with tolerable water. The Gudabirsi tribe received them from the Girhi in lieu of blood-money: beyond this watercourse, the ground belongs to the Rer Yunis Jibril, a powerful clan of the Habr Awal, and the hills are thickly studded with thorn-fence and kraal.
Without returning the salutations of the Bedouins, who loudly summoned us to stop and give them the news, we trotted forwards in search of a deserted sheep-fold. At sunset we passed, upon an eminence on our left, the ruins of an ancient settlement, called after its patron Saint, Ao Barhe: and both sides of the mountain road were flanked by tracts of prairie-land, beautifully purpling in the evening air. After a ride of thirty-five miles, we arrived at a large fold, where, by removing the inner thorn-fences, we found fresh grass for our starving beasts. The night was raw and windy, and thick mists deepened into a drizzle, which did not quench our thirst, but easily drenched the saddle cloths, our only bedding. In one sense, however, the foul weather was propitious to us. Our track might easily have been followed by some enterprising son of Yunis Jibril; these tracts of thorny bush are favourite places for cattle lifting; moreover the fire was kept blazing all night, yet our mules were not stolen.
We shook off our slumbers before dawn on the 27th. I remarked near our resting-place, one of those detached heaps of rock, common enough in the Somali country: at one extremity a huge block projects upwards, and suggests the idea of a gigantic canine tooth. The Donkey declared that the summit still bears traces of building, and related the legend connected with Moga Medir.7 There, in times of old, dwelt a Galla maiden whose eye could distinguish a plundering party at the distance of five days’ march. The enemies of her tribe, after sustaining heavy losses, hit upon the expedient of an attack, not en chemise, but with their heads muffled in bundles of hay. When Moga, the maiden, informed her sire and clan that a prairie was on its way towards the hill, they deemed her mad; the manoeuvre succeeded, and the unhappy seer lost her life. The legend interested me by its wide diffusion. The history of Zarka, the blue-eyed witch of the Jadis tribe, who seized Yemamah by her gramarye, and our Scotch tale of Birnam wood’s march, are Asiatic and European facsimiles of African “Moga’s Tooth.”
At 7 A.M. we started through the mist, and trotted eastwards in search of a well. The guide had deceived us: the day before he had promised water at every half mile; he afterwards owned with groans that we should not drink before nightfall. These people seem to lie involuntarily: the habit of untruth with them becomes a second nature. They deceive without object for deceit, and the only way of obtaining from them correct information is to inquire, receive the answer, and determine it to be diametrically opposed to fact.
I will not trouble you, dear L., with descriptions of the uniform and uninteresting scenery through which we rode — horrid hills upon which withered aloes brandished their spears, plains apparently rained upon by a shower of stones, and rolling ground abounding only with thorns like the “wait-a-bits” of Kafir land, created to tear man’s skin or clothes. Our toil was rendered doubly toilsome by the Eastern travellers’ dread — the demon of Thirst rode like Care behind us. For twenty-four hours we did not taste water, the sun parched our brains, the mirage mocked us at every turn, and the effect was a species of monomania. As I jogged along with eyes closed against the fiery air, no image unconnected with the want suggested itself. Water ever lay before me — water lying deep in the shady well — water in streams bubbling icy from the rock — water in pellucid lakes inviting me to plunge and revel in their treasures. Now an Indian cloud was showering upon me fluid more precious than molten pearl, then an invisible hand offered a bowl for which the mortal part would gladly have bartered years of life. Then — drear contrast! — I opened my eyes to a heat-reeking plain, and a sky of that eternal metallic blue so lovely to painter and poet, so blank and deathlike to us, whose [Greek kalon] was tempest, rain-storm, and the huge purple nimbus. I tried to talk — it was in vain, to sing in vain, vainly to think; every idea was bound up in one subject, water.8
As the sun sank into the East we descended the wide Gogaysa valley. With unspeakable delight we saw in the distance a patch of lively green: our animals scented the blessing from afar, they raised their drooping ears, and started with us at a canter, till, turning a corner, we suddenly sighted sundry little wells. To spring from the saddle, to race with our mules, who now feared not the crumbling sides of the pits, to throw ourselves into the muddy pools, to drink a long slow draught, and to dash the water over our burning faces, took less time to do than to recount. A calmer inspection showed a necessity for caution; — the surface was alive with tadpoles and insects: prudence, however, had little power at that time, we drank, and drank, and then drank again. As our mules had fallen with avidity upon the grass, I proposed to pass a few hours near the well. My companions, however, pleading the old fear of lions, led the way to a deserted kraal upon a neighbouring hill. We had marched about thirty miles eastward, and had entered a safe country belonging to the Bahgoba, our guide’s clan.
At sunrise on the 28th of January, the Donkey, whose limbs refused to work, was lifted into the saddle, declaring that the white man must have been sent from heaven, as a special curse upon the children of Ishak. We started, after filling the water-bottle, down the Gogaysa valley. Our mules were becoming foot-sore, and the saddles had already galled their backs; we were therefore compelled to the additional mortification of travelling at snail’s pace over the dreary hills, and through the uninteresting bush.
About noon we entered Wady Danan, or “The Sour,” a deep chasm in the rocks; the centre is a winding sandy watercourse, here and there grassy with tall rushes, and affording at every half mile a plentiful supply of sweet water. The walls of the ravine are steep and rugged, and the thorny jungle clustering at the sides gives a wild appearance to the scene. Traces of animals, quagga and gazelle, every where abounded: not being however, in “Dianic humour,” and unwilling to apprise Bedouins of our vicinity, I did not fire a shot. As we advanced large trees freshly barked and more tender plants torn up by the roots, showed the late passage of a herd of elephants: my mule, though the bravest of our beasts, was in a state of terror all the way. The little grey honey-bird 9 tempted us to wander with all his art: now he sat upon the nearest tree chirping his invitation to a feast, then he preceded us with short jerking flights to point out the path. My people, however, despite the fondness for honey inherent in the Somali palate10, would not follow him, deciding that on, this occasion his motives for inviting us were not of the purest.
Emerging from the valley, we urged on our animals over comparatively level ground, in the fallacious hope of seeing the sea that night. The trees became rarer as we advanced and the surface metallic. In spots the path led over ironstone that resembled slag. In other places the soil was ochre-coloured 11: the cattle lick it, probably on account of the aluminous matter with which it is mixed. Everywhere the surface was burnt up by the sun, and withered from want of rain. Towards evening we entered a broad slope called by the Somal Dihh Murodi, or Murodilay, the Elephants’ Valley. Crossing its breadth from west to east, we traversed two Fiumaras, the nearer “Hamar,” the further “Las Dorhhay,” or the Tamarisk waterholes. They were similar in appearance, the usual Wady about 100 yards wide, pearly sand lined with borders of leek green, pitted with dry wells around which lay heaps of withered thorns and a herd of gazelles tripping gracefully over the quartz carpet.
After spanning the valley we began to ascend the lower slopes of a high range, whose folds formed like a curtain the bold background of the view. This is the landward face of the Ghauts, over which we were to pass before sighting the sea. Masses of cold grey cloud rolled from the table-formed summit, we were presently shrouded in mist, and as we advanced, rain began to fall. The light of day vanishing, we again descended into a Fiumara with a tortuous and rocky bed, the main drain of the landward mountain side. My companions, now half-starved — they had lived through three days on a handful of dates and sweetmeats — devoured with avidity the wild Jujube berries that strewed the stones. The guide had preceded us: when we came up with him, he was found seated upon a grassy bank on the edge of the rugged torrent bed. We sprang in pleased astonishment from the saddle, dire had been the anticipations that our mules — one of them already required driving with the spear — would, after another night of starvation, leave us to carry their loads upon our own hacks. The cause of the phenomenon soon revealed itself. In the rock was a hole about two feet wide, whence a crystal sheet welled over the Fiumara bank, forming a paradise for frog and tadpole. This “Ga’angal” is considered by the Somal a “fairies’ well:” all, however, that the Donkey could inform me was, that when the Nomads settle in the valley, the water sinks deep below the earth — a knot which methinks might be unravelled without the interposition of a god. The same authority declared it to be the work of the “old ancient” Arabs.
The mules fell hungrily upon the succulent grass, and we, with the most frugal of suppers, prepared to pass the rainy night. Presently, however, the doves and Katas12, the only birds here requiring water, approached in flights, and fearing to drink, fluttered around us with shrill cries. They suggested to my companions the possibility of being visited in sleep by more formidable beasts, and even man: after a short halt, an advance was proposed; and this was an offer which, on principle, I never refused. We remounted our mules, now refreshed and in good spirits, and began to ascend the stony face of the Eastern hill through a thick mist, deepening the darkness. As we reached the bleak summit, a heavy shower gave my companions a pretext to stop: they readily found a deserted thorn fence, in which we passed a wet night. That day we had travelled at least thirty-five miles without seeing the face of man: the country was parched to a cinder for want of water, and all the Nomads had migrated to the plains.
The morning of the 29th January was unusually fine: the last night’s rain hung in masses of mist about the hill-sides, and the rapid evaporation clothed the clear background with deep blue. We began the day by ascending a steep goat-track: it led to a sandy Fiumara, overgrown with Jujubes and other thorns, abounding in water, and showing in the rocky sides, caverns fit for a race of Troglodytes. Pursuing the path over a stony valley lying between parallel ranges of hill, we halted at about 10 A.M. in a large patch of grass-land, the produce of the rain, which for some days past had been fertilising the hill-tops. Whilst our beasts grazed greedily, we sat under a bush, and saw far beneath us the low country which separates the Ghauts from the sea. Through an avenue in the rolling nimbus, we could trace the long courses of Fiumaras, and below, where mist did not obstruct the sight, the tawny plains, cut with watercourses glistening white, shone in their eternal summer.
Shortly after 10 A.M., we resumed our march, and began the descent of the Ghauts by a ravine to which the guide gave the name of ‘Kadar.’ No sandy watercourse, the ‘Pass’ of this barbarous land, here facilitates the travellers’ advance: the rapid slope of the hill presents a succession of blocks and boulders piled one upon the other in rugged steps, apparently impossible to a laden camel. This ravine, the Splugen of Somaliland, led us, after an hour’s ride, to the Wady Duntu, a gigantic mountain-cleft formed by the violent action of torrents. The chasm winds abruptly between lofty walls of syenite and pink granite, glittering with flaky mica, and streaked with dykes and veins of snowy quartz: the strata of the sandstones that here and there projected into the bed were wonderfully twisted around a central nucleus, as green boughs might be bent about a tree. Above, the hill-tops towered in the air, here denuded of vegetable soil by the heavy monsoon, there clothed from base to brow with gum trees, whose verdure was delicious to behold. The channel was now sandy, then flagged with limestone in slippery sheets, or horrid with rough boulders: at times the path was clear and easy; at others, a precipice of twenty or thirty feet, which must be a little cataract after rain, forced us to fight our way through the obstinate thorns that defended some spur of ragged hill. As the noontide heat, concentrated in this funnel, began to affect man and beast, we found a granite block, under whose shady brow clear water, oozing from the sand, formed a natural bath, and sat there for a while to enjoy the spectacle and the atmosphere, perfumed, as in part of Persia and Northern Arabia, by the aromatic shrubs of the desert.
After a short half-hour, we remounted and pursued our way down the Duntu chasm. As we advanced, the hills shrank in size, the bed became more level, and the walls of rock, gradually widening out, sank into the plain. Brisk and elastic above, the air, here soft, damp, and tepid, and the sun burning with a more malignant heat, convinced us that we stood once more below the Ghauts. For two hours we urged our mules in a south-east direction down the broad and winding Fiumara, taking care to inspect every well, but finding them all full of dry sand. Then turning eastwards, we crossed a plain called by the Donkey “Battaladayti Taranay”— the Flats of Taranay — an exact representation of the maritime regions about Zayla. Herds of camels and flocks of milky sheep browsing amongst thorny Acacia and the tufted Kulan, suggested pleasing visions to starving travellers, and for the first time after three days of hard riding, we saw the face of man. The shepherds, Mikahil of the Habr Awal tribe, all fled as we approached: at last one was bold enough to stand and deliver the news. My companions were refreshed by good reports: there had been few murders, and the sea-board was tolerably clear of our doughty enemies, the Ayyal Ahmed. We pricked over the undulating growth of parched grass, shaping our course for Jebel Almis, to sailors the chief landmark of this coast, and for a certain thin blue stripe on the far horizon, upon which we gazed with gladdened eyes.
Our road lay between low brown hills of lime and sandstone, the Sub-Ghauts forming a scattered line between the maritime mountains and the sea. Presently the path was choked by dense scrub of the Arman Acacia: its yellow blossoms scented the air, but hardly made amends for the injuries of a thorn nearly two inches long, and tipped with a wooden point sharp as a needle. Emerging, towards evening, from this bush, we saw large herds of camels, and called their guardians to come and meet us. For all reply they ran like ostriches to the nearest rocks, tittering the cry of alarm, and when we drew near each man implored us to harry his neighbour’s cattle. Throughout our wanderings in Somaliland this had never occurred: it impressed me strongly with the disturbed state of the regions inhabited by the Habr Awal. After some time we persuaded a Bedouin who, with frantic gestures, was screaming and flogging his camels, to listen: reassured by our oaths, he declared himself to be a Bahgoba, and promised to show us a village of the Ayyal Gedid. The Hammal, who had married a daughter of this clan, and had constituted his father-in-law my protector at Berberah, made sure of a hospitable reception: “To-night we shall sleep under cover and drink milk,” quoth one hungry man to another, who straightways rejoined, “And we shall eat mutton!”
After dark we arrived at a kraal, we unsaddled our mules and sat down near it, indulging in Epicurean anticipations. Opposite us, by the door of a hut, was a group of men who observed our arrival, but did not advance or salute us. Impatient, I fired a pistol, when a gruff voice asked why we disturbed the camels that were being milked. “We have fallen upon the Ayyal Shirdon”— our bitterest enemies — whispered the End of Time. The same voice then demanded in angrier accents, “Of what tribe be ye?” We boldly answered, “Of the Habr Gerhajis.” Thereupon ensued a war of words. The Ayyal Shirdon inquired what we wanted, where we had been, and how we dared, seeing that peace had not been concluded between the tribes, to enter their lands. We replied civilly as our disappointment would permit, but apparently gained little by soft words. The inhospitable Bedouins declared our arrival to be in the seventeenth house of Geomancy — an advent probable as the Greek Kalends — and rudely insisted upon knowing what had taken us to Harar. At last, a warrior, armed with two spears, came to meet us, and bending down recognized the End of Time: after a few short sentences he turned on his heel and retired. I then directed Long Guled to approach the group, and say that a traveller was at their doors ready and willing to give tobacco in exchange for a draught of milk. They refused point-blank, and spoke of fighting: we at once made ready with our weapons, and showing the plain, bade them come on and receive a “belly full.” During the lull which followed this obliging proposal we saddled our mules and rode off, in the grimmest of humours, loudly cursing the craven churls who knew not the value of a guest.
We visited successively three villages of the Ayyal Gedid: the Hammal failed to obtain even a drop of water from his connexions, and was taunted accordingly. He explained their inhospitality by the fact that all the warriors being at Berberah, the villages contained nothing but women, children, servants, and flocks. The Donkey when strictly questioned declared that no well nearer than Bulhar was to be found: as men and mules were faint with thirst, I determined to push forward to water that night. Many times the animals were stopped, a mute hint that they could go no further: I spurred onwards, and the rest, as on such occasions they had now learned to do, followed without a word. Our path lay across a plain called Banka Hadla, intersected in many places by deep watercourses, and thinly strewed with Kulan clumps. The moon arose, but cast a cloud-veiled and uncertain light: our path, moreover, was not clear, as the guide, worn out by fatigue, tottered on far in the rear.
About midnight we heard — delightful sound! — the murmur of the distant sea. Revived by the music, we pushed on more cheerily. At last the Donkey preceded us, and about 3 A.M. we found, in a Fiumara, some holes which supplied us with bitter water, truly delicious after fifteen hours of thirst. Repeated draughts of the element, which the late rains had rendered potable, relieved our pain, and hard by we found a place where coarse stubbly grass saved our mules from starvation. Then rain coming on, we coiled ourselves under the saddle cloths, and, reckless alike of Ayyal Ahmed and Ayyal Shirdon, slept like the dead.
At dawn on the 30th January, I arose and inspected the site of Bulhar. It was then deserted, a huge heap of bleached bones being the only object suggestive of a settlement. This, at different times, has been a thriving place, owing to its roadstead, and the feuds of Berberah: it was generally a village of Gurgis, with some stone-houses built by Arabs. The coast, however, is open and havenless, and the Shimal wind, feared even at the Great Port, here rages with resistless violence. Yet the place revives when plundering parties render the plain unsafe: the timid merchants here embark their goods and persons, whilst their camels are marched round the bay.
Mounting at 6 A.M. we started slowly along the sea coast, and frequently halted on the bushy Fiumara-cut plain. About noon we bathed in the sea, and sat on the sands for a while, my people praying for permission to pass the kraals of their enemies, the Ayyal Ahmed, by night. This, their last request, was graciously granted: to say sooth, rapid travelling was now impossible; the spear failed to urge on one mule, and the Hammal was obliged to flog before him another wretched animal. We then traversed an alluvial plain, lately flooded, where slippery mud doubled the fatigue of our cattle; and, at 3 P.M., again halted on a patch of grass below the rocky spur of Dabasenis, a hill half way between Bulhar and Berberah. On the summit I was shown an object that makes travellers shudder, a thorn-tree, under which the Habr Gerhajis 13 and their friends of the Eesa Musa sit, vulture-like, on the look-out for plunder and murder. Advancing another mile, we came to some wells, where we were obliged to rest our animals. Having there finished our last mouthful of food, we remounted, and following the plain eastward, prepared for a long night-march.
As the light of day waned we passed on the right hand a table-formed hill, apparently a detached fragment of the sub-Ghauts or coast range. This spot is celebrated in local legends as “Auliya Kumbo,” the Mount of Saints, where the forty-four Arab Santons sat in solemn conclave before dispersing over the Somali country to preach El Islam. It lies about six hours of hard walking from Berberah.
At midnight we skirted Bulho Faranji, the Franks’ Watering-place14, a strip of ground thickly covered with trees. Abounding in grass and water, it has been the site of a village: when we passed it, however, all was desert. By the moon’s light we descried, as we silently skirted the sea, the kraals and folds of our foe the Ayyal Ahmed, and at times we could distinguish the lowing of their cattle: my companions chuckled hugely at the success of their manoeuvre, and perhaps not without reason. At Berberah we were afterwards informed that a shepherd in the bush had witnessed and reported our having passed, when the Ayyal Ahmed cursed the star that had enabled us to slip unhurt through their hands.
Our mules could scarcely walk: after every bow-shot they rolled upon the ground and were raised only by the whip. A last halt was called when arrived within four miles of Berberah: the End of Time and Long Guled, completely worn out, fell fast asleep upon the stones. Of all the party the Hammal alone retained strength and spirits: the sturdy fellow talked, sang, and shouted, and, whilst the others could scarcely sit their mules, he danced his war-dance and brandished his spear. I was delighted with his “pluck.”
Now a long dark line appears upon the sandy horizon — it grows more distinct in the shades of night — the silhouettes of shipping appear against sea and sky. A cry of joy bursts from every mouth: cheer, boys, cheer, our toils here touch their end!
The End of Time first listened to the small still voice of Caution. He whispered anxiously to make no noise lest enemies might arise, that my other attendants had protectors at Berberah, but that he, the hated and feared, as the locum tenens of Sharmarkay — the great bete noire — depended wholly upon my defence. The Donkey led us slowly and cautiously round the southern quarter of the sleeping town, through bone heaps and jackals tearing their unsavoury prey: at last he marched straight into the quarter appropriated to the Ayyal Gedid our protectors. Anxiously I inquired if my comrades had left Berberah, and heard with delight that they awaited me there. It was then 2 A.M. and we had marched at least forty miles. The Somal, when in fear of forays, drive laden camels over this distance in about ten hours.
I dismounted at the huts where my comrades were living. A glad welcome, a dish of rice, and a glass of strong waters — pardon dear L., these details — made amends for past privations and fatigue. The servants and the wretched mules were duly provided for, and I fell asleep, conscious of having performed a feat which, like a certain ride to York, will live in local annals for many and many a year.
1 It is an Arab as well as a Somali ceremony to throw a little Kaliyah or Salul (toasted grain) over the honored traveller when he enters hut or tent.
2 Bread made of holcus grain dried and broken into bits; it is thrown into broth or hot water, and thus readily supplies the traveller with a wholesome panade.
3 The Somal invariably call Berberah the “Sahil,” (meaning in Arabic the sea-shore,) as Zayla with them is “Audal,” and Harar “Adari.”
4 “Al Nar wa la al Ar,” an Arabic maxim, somewhat more forcible than our “death rather than dishonor.”
5 This is the second great division of the Somal people, the father of the tribe being Awal, the cadet of Ishak el Hazrami.
The Habr Awal occupy the coast from Zayla and Siyaro to the lands bordering upon the Berteri tribe. They own the rule of a Gerad, who exercises merely a nominal authority. The late chief’s name was “Bon,” he died about four years ago, but his children have not yet received the turban. The royal race is the Ayyal Abdillah, a powerful clan extending from the Dabasanis Hills to near Jigjiga, skirting the Marar Prairie.
The Habr Awal are divided into a multitude of clans: of these I shall specify only the principal, the subject of the maritime Somal being already familiar to our countrymen. The Esa Musa inhabit part of the mountains south of Berberah. The Mikahil tenant the lowlands on the coast from Berberah to Siyaro. Two large clans, the Ayyal Yunis and the Ayyal Ahmed, have established themselves in Berberah and at Bulhar. Besides these are the Ayyal Abdillah Saad, the Ayyal Geraato, who live amongst the Ayyal Yunis — the Bahgobo and the Ayyal Hamed.
6 My property arrived safe at Aden after about two months. The mule left under the Kalendar’s charge never appeared, and the camels are, I believe, still grazing among the Eesa. The fair Shehrazade, having amassed a little fortune, lost no time in changing her condition, an example followed in due time by Deenarzade. And the Kalendar, after a visit to Aden, returned to electrify his Zayla friends with long and terrible tales of travel.
7 “Moga’s eye-tooth.”
8 As a rule, twelve hours without water in the desert during hot weather, kill a man. I never suffered severely from thirst but on this occasion; probably it was in consequence of being at the time but in weak health.
9 I have never shot this feathered friend of man, although frequent opportunities presented themselves. He appears to be the Cuculus Indicator (le Coucou Indicateur) and the Om-Shlanvo of the Kafirs; the Somal call him Maris. Described by Father Lobo and Bruce, he is treated as a myth by Le Vaillant; M. Wiedman makes him cry “Shirt! Shirt! Shirt!” Dr. Sparrman “Tcherr! Tcherr!” Mr. Delegorgue “Chir! Chir! Chir!” His note suggested to me the shrill chirrup of a sparrow, and his appearance that of a greenfinch.
Buffon has repeated what a traveller had related, namely, that the honey-bird is a little traitor who conducts men into ambuscades prepared by wild beasts. The Lion-Slayer in S. Africa asserts it to be the belief of Hottentots and the interior tribes, that the bird often lures the unwary pursuer to danger, sometimes guiding him to the midday retreat of a grizzly lion, or bringing him suddenly upon the den of the crouching panther. M. Delegorgue observes that the feeble bird probably seeks aid in removing carrion for the purpose of picking up flies and worms; he acquits him of malice prepense, believing that where the prey is, there carnivorous beasts may be met.
The Somal, however, carry their superstition still farther. The honey-bird is never trusted by them; he leads, they say, either to the lions’ den or the snakes’ hiding-place, and often guides his victim into the jaws of the Kaum or plundering party.
10 The Somal have several kinds of honey. The Donyale or wasp-honey, is scanty and bad; it is found in trees and obtained by smoking and cutting the branch. The Malab Shinni or bee-honey, is either white, red or brown; the first is considered the most delicate in flavour.
11 The Somal call it Arrah As.
12 The sand-grouse of Egypt and Arabia, the rock-pigeon of Sindh and the surrounding countries.
13 The Habr Gerhajis, or eldest branch of the sons of Ishak (generally including the children of “Arab”), inhabit the Ghauts behind Berberah, whence they extend for several days’ march towards Ogadayn, the southern region. This tribe is divided into a multitude of clans. The Ismail Arrah supply the Sultan, a nominal chief like the Eesa Ugaz; they extend from Makhar to the south of Gulays, number about 15,000 shields and are subdivided into three septs. The Musa Arrah hold the land between Gulays and the seats of the Mijjarthayn and Warsangeli tribes on the windward coast. The Ishak Arrah count 5000 or 6000 shields, and inhabit the Gulays Range. The other sons of Arrah (the fourth in descent from Ishak), namely, Mikahil, Gambah, Daudan, and others, also became founders of small clans. The Ayyal Daud, facetiously called “Idagallah” or earth-burrowers, and sprung from the second son of Gerhajis, claim the country south of the Habr Awal, reckon about 4000 shields, and are divided into 11 or 12 septs.
As has been noticed, the Habr Gerhajis have a perpetual blood feud with the Habr Awal, and, even at Aden, they have fought out their quarrels with clubs and stones. Yet as cousins they willingly unite against a common enemy, the Eesa for instance, and become the best of friends.
14 So called from the Mary Anne brig, here plundered in 1825.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06