Adventures in Somali Land, by John Hanning Speke

Chapter iii.

Yafir Pass — Rhut Tug — The Ruins at Kin’s City — Abban Apprehends Future Consequences — Hyenas — The Dulbahantas — Camel Drivers’ Tricks — Briny Water — Antelope-shooting — Elephant-hunting — Ostrich-hunting — Gazelles — Jealousy and Suspicions of the People — Troubles from Forty Thieves — Rapid Decline of Property.

4th December 1854. — At dawn of day the last of the camels was loaded, and we set out to clamber up to the top of the mountain-range and descend on the other side to the first watering-place in the interior of the country. It was a double march, and a very stiff one for the camels. Directly in our front lay an easy, flattish ground, with moderate undulations, densely wooded with such trees as I had already seen; but beyond it, about three miles from camp, the face of the mountain-top, towering to a great height, stood frowning over us like a huge bluff wall, which at first sight it appeared quite impossible any camel could surmount. At 9 A.M. we reached this steep, and commenced the stiffest and last ascent up a winding, narrow goat-path, having sharp turns at the extremity of every zigzag, and with huge projecting stones, which seemed to bid defiance to the passage of the camels’ bodies. Indeed, it was very marvellous, with their long spindle-shanks and great splay feet, and the awkward boxes on their backs striking constantly against every little projection in the hill, that they did not tumble headlong over the pathway; for many times, at the corners, they fell upon their chests, with their hind-legs dangling over the side, and were only pulled into the path again by the combined exertions of all the men. Like Tibet ponies, when they felt their bodies slipping helplessly over the precipices — down which, had they fallen, they would have met instantaneous and certain death — they invariably seized hold of anything and everything with their teeth to save their equilibrium. The ascent was at length completed after an infinity of trouble, and our view from the top of the mountain repaid me fully for everything of the past. It was a glorious place! In one glance round I had a complete survey of all the country I was now destined to travel over, and what I had already gone over.

The pass was called Yafir, and, by the boiling thermometer, showed an altitude of 6704 feet. It was almost the highest point on this range. From a cedar tree I cooked my breakfast under, on facing to the north I saw at once the vast waters of the Gulf, all smooth and glassy as a mill-pond, the village of Bunder Gori, and the two buggaloes lying in its anchorage-ground, like little dots of nut-shells, immediately below the steep face of the mountain. So deep and perpendicular was it, that it had almost the effect of looking down a vast precipice. But how different was the view on turning to the south! Instead of this enormous grandeur — a deep rugged hill, green and fresh in verdure, with the sea like a large lake below — it was tame in the extreme; the land dropped gently to scarcely more than half its depth, with barely a tree visible on its surface; and at the foot of the hill, stretched out as far as the eye could reach, was a howling, blank-looking desert, all hot and arid, and very wretched to look upon. It was the more disappointing, as the Somali had pictured this to me as a land of promise, literally flowing with milk and honey, where, they said, I should see boundless prairies of grass, large roomy trees, beautiful valleys with deep brooks running down them, and cattle, wild animals, and bees in abundance. Perhaps this was true to them, who had seen nothing finer in creation; who thought ponies fine horses, a few weeds grass, and a puny little brook a fine large stream. At noon we reloaded, and proceeded to join the camels and men sent forward on the previous day. The track first led us a mile or two across the hill-top, where I remarked several heaps of stones piled up, much after the fashion of those monuments the Tibet Tartars erect in commemoration of their Lahma saints. These, the Somali said, were left here by their predecessors, and, they thought, were Christian tombs. Once over the brow of the hill, we descended the slopes on the south, which fell gently in terraces, and travelled until dark, when we reached a deep nullah, here called Mukur, in which we found our vanguard safely encamped in a strong ring-fence of thorn bushes.

The distance accomplished was seventeen miles; the altitude 3660 feet. The two following days (5th and 6th) we halted to rest the cattle, whilst I went shooting and collecting. There were a great number of gazelles and antelopes, some bustard, many florikan and partridges, as well as other very interesting birds and reptiles. These were mostly found in ravines at the foot of the hills, or amongst acacia and jujube trees, with patches of heather in places. We now held durbar,16 to consult on the plan of proceeding. It was obviously impossible to march across the plateau directly upon the southern Dulbahantas, as there was not a blade of grass to be seen nor any water on the way beyond the first ten miles from the foot of the hills. To go to Berbera, then, I must perforce pass through the territories of the northern Dulbahantas; and this was fixed upon. But hearing of some “ancient Christian ruins” (left by Sultan Kin) only a day’s march to the south-eastward, I resolved to see them first, and on the 7th made a move five miles in that direction to a kraal, called Karrah, where we found a deep pool of stagnant water.

8th. — My kit was now so much diminished that we all marched together down a broad shallow valley south-eastward, in which meandered a nullah, called Rhut Tug, the first wadi I came upon in Nogal. The distance accomplished was eight miles when we put up in the Kraal of Rhut; for, as I have said before, there were no villages or permanent habitations in the interior of the Nogal country. All the little wooding there is, is found in depressions like this, near the base of hill-ranges, where water is moderately near the surface, and the trees are sheltered from the winds that blow over the higher grounds of the general plateau. Rhut is the most favoured spot in the Warsingali dominions, and had been loudly lauded by my followers; but all I could find were a few trees larger than the ordinary acacias, a symptom of grass having grown there in more favoured times when rain had fallen, a few puddles of water in the bed of the nullah, and one flock of sheep to keep the place alive. Gazelles were numerous, and many small birds in gaudy plumage flitted about the trees, amongst which the most beautiful was the Lamprotornis superba, a kind of Maina, called by the Somali Lhimber-load (the cowbird), because it follows after cows to feed.

9th. — Halt. Kin’s City, or rather the ruins of it, I was told, lay to the northward of my camp, in the direction of the hills, at a distance of about two miles; so I proceeded at once to see it, hoping by this means I should be able to advance westward on the following day. After an hour’s walk I came upon those remains of which I had heard so much at first on landing in the country, as indicative of the great advancement in architectural art of Kin’s Christian legion over the present Somali inhabitants; but I was as much disappointed in this matter as in all others of Somali fabrication. There were five objects of attraction here:— 1. The ruins of a (said to be) Christian church; 2. The site and remains of a village; 3. A hole in the ground, denoting a lime-kiln; 4. A cemetery; and, 5. The ground-lines of a fort. This certainly showed a degree of advancement beyond what the Somali now enjoy, inasmuch as they have no buildings in the interior, though that does not say much for the ancients. The plan of the church is an oblong square, 48 by 27 feet, its length lying N.E. and S.W., whilst its breadth was directed N.W. and S.E., which latter may be considered its front and rear. In the centre of the N.W. wall there was a niche, which evidently, if built by Christians, was intended to point to Jerusalem; and this might have been conclusive evidence of its having been a Christian house of worship, and consequently of great antiquity, did it not unfortunately point likewise in the direction of Mecca, to which place all Mohammedans turn when saying their prayers. Again, I entertained some suspicion that the walls, which were in some parts ten feet high, had not sufficient decay to warrant their being four and a half or more centuries old. But one thing was remarkable at this present time — there were no springs or any water nearer than my camping place, which could not have been the case when this place was occupied; but it denoted a certain amount of antiquity, without any doubt. The walls of the church were composed of limestone rocks, cemented together with a very pure white lime.

The entrance fronted the niche, and was led up to by a street of round pebbles, protected on each side by semicircular loosely-thrown-up stone walls. There was nothing left of the village but its foundation outlines, which at once showed simplicity of construction, as well as economy of labour in building. It lay about 50 yards to the east of the church. One straight wall ran down the centre, from which, as supports, ran out a number of lateral chambers lying at right angles to it.

To the northward of the church was the cemetery, in which, strange to say, if the Somali believe their own story, they even at the present time bury their dead, and erect crosses at the head of the tombs, in the same manner as we Christians do. The kiln was an artless hole in the ground, in which there was a large collection of cinders, and other debris not worth mentioning. Lastly, the fort, or rather remains of what the Somali said had been one, was situated on an eminence overlooking the village, and about 70 yards to the S.W. of the church. Now, having completed my investigations of the ruins, I returned to camp, where I was met by the Abban, looking as sulky as a bear with a sore head, and frowning diabolically. He had been brooding over my late censures, and reflecting on the consequences his bad conduct would finally have upon him, if he could not obtain a pardon from me. And should he not be able to elicit it by fair means, he thought at any rate he would extract it by foul, then and there, without condition or any clause whatever. This was preposterous. I frankly told him exactly what I thought of him, saying I could not forget what had happened; that he had abused the trust reposed in him by the English, and I was bound in duty to report the whole matter in every detail to the Government; but should he discontinue his evil ways, and take me safely to my journey’s end, I would promise him a full pardon as soon as I arrived at Berbera. This would not answer his purpose — bygones must be bygones without any condition whatever, and he went to his bed as wrathful as he rose.

10th. — I rose early and ordered the men to load, but not a soul would stir. The Abban had ordered otherwise, and they all preferred to stick, like brother villains, to him. And then began a battle-royal; as obstinately as I insisted, so obstinately did he persist; then, to show his superior authority, and thinking to touch me on a tender point, forbade my shooting any more. This was too much for my now heated blood to stand, so I immediately killed a partridge running on the ground before his face. Seeing this, he wheeled about, prepared his pony, and, mounting it, with his arms agitated and ready for action, said to the people standing by that he would kill me if I dared shoot again. I was all this while standing prepared to shoot, without understanding a word of what was said, when the interpreter rushed towards me pale and trembling, and implored me not to shoot, but to arrange matters quietly. He would not tell me, however, what had occasioned the great anxiety his excited manner showed. I of course was ready at any time to do anything I could to help me on the journey, and again stated the terms on which I would grant the man a pardon. At this juncture, Hassan, the sultan’s brother, who had been absent a few days, came and interceded between us. I told him everything that had happened, how the Abban had even superseded the sultan’s order, by forbidding me to do what I wished in his country, and again begged him to be my Abban in Sumunter’s stead. This he said he could not do, but gave Sumunter a wigging, and desired me to go and shoot anywhere I liked. Thus ended this valuable day.

11th. — Last night I shot a female spotted crocuta hyena (here called Durwa) in the act of robbing. These tiresome brutes prowl about at night, and pick up anything they can find. Their approach is always indicated by a whining sound, which had prepared me on this occasion. She was caught in the act of stealing away some leather thongs. The specimen was a fine one, but until dissected I could not, from the hermaphrodital form of these animals, determine which sex it was that I had killed. We now prepared for the march westward, when Hassan said he would go back to near the Mijjertaine frontier, where rain had lately fallen, and all the Warsingalis had migrated with their cattle, to fetch some ponies, which he would bring to me in a few days, even before I could arrive at the Dulbahanta frontier, and begged a gun at parting as Judge’s fee for his settlement of the Abban question, and as an earnest that he would bring the five ponies which I wanted. We then got under way, and travelled westward, bidding Rhut Tug adieu, but every one was stiff and formal. Sumunter had not confessed contrition, and I had not committed myself to saying that I would hush the matter up, assuring him that in duty as a public officer I could not, that I was bound to report every circumstance, though privately I promised a pardon as before. After travelling a little way, we emerged from the low land of the valley, and ascended a higher track to the normal level of the plateau, which, as I have said before, was all bleak and barren, with scarcely a tree growing on it, and very stony. Here I saw a large troop of ostriches and numberless gazelles stalking away out of the line of the caravan’s march. My men were all highly anxious I should shoot them, but I would not, to try what effect it would have on the Abban, saying, sport was of secondary importance to me, and I now only wished to finish the journey quickly.

By his detentions I had lost so much time, I despaired of reaching Berbera agreeably with my instructions, and, moreover, he had not begged my pardon, from which I doubted his intention to serve me faithfully. This caused a halt. Sumunter and all the men alike said, “Of what good is your coming here, if you do not enjoy yourself? We all came on this journey to reap advantages from serving you, and now if you don’t shoot, what may we expect?” I said, Prove to me that I shall not be thwarted again, and I will shoot or do anything to create good-will. Then appointing three men as Sumunter’s advisers to hold him in restraint in case any wrong-headedness on his part should get the mastery of him, I begged they would proceed. This proved successful for the time. Sumunter wrote me a letter, stating his intention of abject servitude, and ratified it by presenting his spear and shield, through the hands of the interpreter, for me to return to him as an acknowledgment that I would henceforth forgive him; and we again proceeded on the journey.

After travelling ten miles without seeing a single habitation or human being of any sort, we arrived at a nullah, in which there were several pools of bitter spring-water, and some Egyptian geese swimming on them. This place was called Barham. On the right or northern side of the line of our march was the hill-range, about ten miles distant, at the foot of which, in the beds of small ravines, grew some belts of the jujube-tree and hardy acacias; but to the south the land was all sterile, and stretched away in a succession of little flat plains, circumscribed by bosses or hillocks of pure white limestone rock, which appeared standing unaffected by the weathering which had worn down the plains that were lying between them. Again these little enclosed plains sank in gentle gradation to their centres, where nullahs, like the one I was encamped upon, drained the land and refuse debris to the south and eastward, possibly to join eventually the Rhut Tug.

12th. — At 9 A.M. we were again in motion on our westward course, rising by a gentle incline to about half-way between Rhut Tug and a second Wadi Nogal farther on, called Yubbé Tug. Here, at the water-parting between these two large watercourses, was the tomb of the great founder of these mighty nations, Darud bin Ismail, and an excavated tumulus. There were also several bitter springs in the neighbourhood, with stone enclosures and numerous flocks of sheep tended by Somali. On passing the tomb I scarcely remarked it, so insignificant did it appear, whilst the Somali paid no homage to it whatever. But the tumulus excited more attention, and I was requested to examine it. Six years ago, the interpreter said, a Somali who wished to bury his wife in it, broke through its exterior, and found a hollow compartment propped up by beams of timber, at the bottom of which, buried in the ground, were several earthenware pots, some leaden coins, a ring of gold such as the Indian Mussulman women wear in their noses, and various other miscellaneous property.

I was very much struck with the sleekness of the sheep, considering there appeared nothing for them to live upon; but I was shown amongst the stony ground here and there a little green pulpy-looking weed, an ice plant called Buskàlé, succulent, and by repute highly nutritious. It was on this they fed and throve. These Dumba sheep — the fat-tailed breed — appear to thrive on much less food, and can abstain longer from eating, than any others. This is probably occasioned by the nourishment they derive from the fat of their tails, which acts as a reservoir, regularly supplying, as it necessarily would do, any sudden or excessive drainage from any other part of their systems.

After crossing over this high land we began descending to the westward, and at the completion of the twelfth mile dropped into a nullah tributary to the Yubbé Tug, made a kraal for protection against hyenas close to a pool of water, and spent the night. This plain was called Libbahdilé (the haunt of lions).17

13th. — The air was so cold, the men could not bestir themselves until after sunrise, when, to my great surprise and delight, without one angry word or attempted impediment from the Abban, we were on the move at 8 A.M. I now fondly hoped the Abban had really turned over a new leaf, but was soon undeceived, and also disappointed. He was married to a Dulbahanta woman, and this wife, for he had two others, with her family, was residing in that country. I was therefore, unawares to myself, travelling directly on his home. Hence these three consecutive marches. Gradually we descended into a broad valley, down the centre of which meandered the Yubbé Tug, or the second Wadi Nogal of my acquaintance. This formed a natural boundary-line, separating the Warsingali from the northern Dulbahanta frontiers. Where we first came upon the nullah it was deep and broad, with such steep perpendicular sides that camels could not cross it. We therefore turned suddenly northward, and followed up its left bank till we turned its head, which begins abruptly, and marched five miles to the Yubbé Kraals. Had this valley been blessed with a moderate quantity of rain, there is no doubt it would have been available for agricultural purposes; and as it was, there were more trees growing in the hollow here than in any other place I had seen, and several flocks and herds were congregated in it. Whilst travelling to-day the interpreter narrated the circumstances of a fight which the Warsingali had with the Dulbahantas about ten years ago in this valley, in which it appeared the Dulbahantas were the aggressing party, having sent a foraging-party over their frontier to lift some cattle. The Warsingali, seeing this, mustered their forces and repelled the enemy; but would not follow them up, preferring rather to tease them into submission than to engender a bloody contest. This they effected by exposing all their flocks and herds to the view of the Dulbahantas on the bank of the impassable nullah, whilst they guarded its head and protected their flank by stationing a strong party of warriors there. The Dulbahantas, tantalised at this tempting yet aggravating sight, for they had not strength enough to cope with the Warsingali in full force, waited covetously gazing across the nullah for some time, and then retired in such great disgust, they have never attempted to steal again.

When once ensconced in the new camp, the Abban came to me with an air of high importance, to announce that we were now on the Dulbahanta frontier, and that, if I wished to see their land, I must allow him to precede me, and pave the way, taking the young prince Abdullah with him to magnify the purport of his mission, as the Dulbahantas were a terrible and savage nation, governed, not like the Warsingalis, by an old and revered chief, but by a young sultan whom nobody listened to. Moreover, the Dulbahantas had sent word to say they had heard of my marking the Warsingali country out with paper, and would not admit me on any consideration. Besides which, it was a custom in the country that strangers should ask permission to enter through the medium of an abban, and as I had acted on that custom in the Warsingali country, so also must I do it here.

I was kept at this station eight days, sometimes hearing ominous announcements of the terrible Dulbahantas, sent to frighten me by the Abban, and sometimes amusing myself in other and various ways. The Dulbahantas could not conceive my motive for wishing to travel in their land; no peddling Arab, even, had ever ventured there, so why should I desire to go? Fortunately I had a good deal of employment with my gun; for, besides gazelles, antelopes, a lynx, florikans, and partridges, I shot many very beautiful little honey-birds, as well as other small birds. Of these former the most beautiful was the Nectarinia Habessinica. It has an exceedingly gaudy plumage, that glistens in metallic lustre as the rays of light strike upon its various-coloured feathers. This is the more remarkable on a warm sunshiny day, when the tiny bird, like a busy humble-bee, bowing the slender plant with its weight, inserts his sharp curved bill into the flower-bells to drink their honey-dew, keeping its wings the whole time in such rapid motion as to be scarcely distinguishable.

Without animal flesh I do not know what I should have done here. The water was so nitrous I could not drink it. To quench my thirst, I threw it in gulps down my throat; and rice, when boiled in it, resembled salts and senna. After returning from sport one day, the interpreter brought up one of the camel-drivers, to be punished for having stolen some deer flesh when sent to clean it. He was a Midgar, or low-caste fellow, who does not object to indulge in cannibalism when hard pressed by hunger. I would not decide the case myself, but handed him over, much against his wish, to the tender mercies of the interpreter and two other men whom the sultan, at parting, appointed judges on any sudden occasion. It was everybody’s interest to make him guilty, and therefore he was condemned to find two sheep, to be killed and eaten in the camp. Another case of theft, much more vexatious than this, occurred when I first arrived here, and turned off some spare camel-drivers, who took away all the packing-ropes with them, and I have been obliged to employ the remaining men ever since in chewing acacia bark into fibres to make new ones.

I was now becoming so much alarmed at the Abban’s delay and tricks, that I wrote a letter to Lieutenant Playfair, Assistant Political Resident at Aden, complaining of what he had done, saying I felt very uncertain of being able to reach Berbera by the time appointed, and requesting him to send a letter of remonstrance to the sultan. This I forwarded by a man called Abdie, viâ Bunder Gori. Prudence would have suggested my returning with the letter, for I had now received intelligence that the Abban was in his home, and after experience gained by the tragedies on the coast, I could have expected no good from him. But as long as life and time lasted, I was resolved to go ahead.

It was very remarkable to see the great length of time animals in this country can exist, even under hard work, without drinking water. In an ordinary way, the Somali water camels only twice a-month, donkeys four times, sheep every fourth day, and ponies only once in two days, and even object to doing it oftener, when the water is plentiful, lest the animals should lose their hardihood. I do not think antelopes could possibly get at water for several months together, as every drop of water in the country is guarded by the Somali. We were now in “the land of honey,” and the Somali nomads constantly came to me to borrow my English pickaxe for digging it out of the ground; for the bees of this country, instead of settling in the boughs of trees, as they do in England, work holes in the ground like wasps, or take advantage more generally of chinks or fissures in the rocks to build their combs and deposit their wax. It was a great treat to get a little of this sweet nutriment, to counteract the salts which prevail in all the spring waters of the interior. When out shooting specimens, I often saw the Somali chasing down the Salt’s antelopes on foot.

I killed many of them myself right and left, when running like hares, with common shot, much to the astonishment of the Somali, for they are too small a mark for their bow-and-arrow shooting. The little creatures cannot stand travelling in the mid-day sun, and usually lie about under favouring trees which line the watercourses. Knowing this weakness, the cunning Somali hunter watches him down from feeding to his favourite haunts, and, after the sun shines strong enough, quietly disturbs him; then, as he trots away to search for another shady bush, they follow gently after to prevent his resting. In the course of an hour or so, the terrified animal, utterly exhausted, rushes from bush to bush, throwing itself down under each in succession, until at length it gets captured.

Somali, from their roving habits of life, are as keen and cunning sportsmen as any in the world. They told me of many dodges they adopted for killing elephants, ostriches, and gazelles, which they do as follows:— If an elephant is ever seen upon the plains, a large body of men assemble on foot, armed with spears, bows, and sharp double-edged knives, with one man mounted on a white horse, to act as teaser. This man commences by riding in front of the animal, to irritate and absorb his entire attention by riding in repeated circles just in front of him. When the huge beast shows signs of distress by fruitlessly charging on his nimble adversary, the footmen rush in upon him from behind, and hamstring him with their knives, and then with great facility soon despatch him with their arrows and spears.

Ostriches, again, are killed in two ways; the more simple one is by finding out what places they usually resort to in search of food, and then throwing down some tempting herb of strong poisonous properties, which they eagerly eat and die from. The other method adopted in catching them is not so easy, but is managed with great effect. The ostrich is, as is generally known, a remarkably shy bird, and is so blind at night it cannot feed. Again, the Somali pony, though wonderfully hardy and enduring, is not swift; therefore, to accommodate existing power to knowledge of these various weaknesses, the Somali provides himself with a pony, and provisions for two or three days, and begins his hunt by showing himself at such a considerable distance from the birds he has formed his design upon, that they quietly stalk off, and he, at the same rate, follows after, but never draws near enough to scare them out of sight of him. At night, the birds stop in consequence of the darkness, but cannot feed. He, on the other hand, dismounts to rest and feed with his pony, and resumes the chase the following day. After the second or third day, when he and the pony are as fresh as ever, the ostriches, from constant fasting, become so weak, he is able to ride in amongst them, and knock down one by one as many as may be in the flock. The flesh is eaten, and the feathers are taken to the sea-coast for transportation to the Aden market. I once saw a donkey-load of feathers carried to market that had been taken in this way.

There are two methods, also, of killing gazelles; the more usual one is effected by two men walking into a bushy ground to search for them, and when discovered, walking in such large circles around them as will not scare them; gradually they draw their circles in, until a favoured bush, down wind, is found, which the herd is most likely, when once moved, to pass by, and behind this one of the men stops, with his bow and arrows, whilst the second one, without ever stopping to create alarm, continues drawing in the circles of circumvention until he induces the gazelles to walk up to the bush his friend is concealed in, when one or more may be easily shot. The other plan for killing them is extremely artful, and is done on horseback, and therefore on the open plain. Fleet animals, like antelopes and gazelles, always endeavour to head across their pursuers, no matter in which direction they go. The Somali, therefore, taking advantage of this habit, when they wish to catch them on ponies, which are not half so swift as the gazelles in fair open chase, economise their strength by directing their animals’ heads towards the leading gazelle, and thus inducing the herd, as they continue heading on, to describe double the circumference of ground their ponies have to traverse. In process of time, the gazelles, by their extra exertions, begin to flag and drop, and the hunters rush in upon them, and cut them up in detail.

20th. — To-day the young prince, Abdullah, returned to say the Dulbahantas had been conferred with, and had shown the strongest objections to my seeing their country, enumerating at the same time all their reasonings, such as I had already heard; but added, as a great concession on their part, as a particular favour they wished to show to my Abban, that I might be permitted to advance a little way to the next valley; but then only on condition that I would surrender to them the whole of my remaining property.

I now heard more particulars of the Dulbahantas’ fights, and the manner in which they first originated. For full thirteen years they had been disputing amongst themselves, and many cabals had sprung out of it. Whilst these intrigues were gaining ground, a minor chief, named Ali Haram, with a powerful support in connections, about five years ago determined on alienating himself from the yoke of the government, which was headed by an old Gerad, called Mahamed Ali, the rightful and hereditary chief. Since then the original kingdom has been divided into two portions, called the Northern and Southern Dulbahantas; but although the northerners declare themselves independent, the chief of the south still fights for his lawful rights, and at this present time had driven the northerners, with all their cattle and stock, to Jid Ali Tug, the next valley beyond this, which I was now desirous of visiting. Ali Haram was an old man, and consequently incapacitated from taking an active part in these tumultuous filibusterings; he had therefore, since his first accession to power, deputed a son called Mahamed Ali Gerad to act as Regent in his stead, and this was the man of whom the Warsingali spoke to me at Bunder Gori so disparagingly.

21st. — I was now preparing to start again westward, when an order came from the Abban to my men, that no property should accompany me, excepting what little I felt disposed to part with in presents to the Dulbahantas; as an Akil, by name Husayn Hadji, the senior man present at Jid Ali, had decided, as a final measure, on seizing everything I brought with me immediately I set foot in Jid Ali. Though I had had experience enough of the Abban’s tricks to see that this was merely a farce, though a very useless and inconvenient one, I permitted the arrangement rather than make a row and retard my progress, and set out with the young prince, Hamed, Farhan, and two camels and drivers, leaving Imam and the other nine camels, with their drivers, behind, to follow as soon as I should send back.

At the western extremity of the valley we came upon a small mound of earth, all white and glistening, covered with nitre in an efflorescent form, which shone so conspicuously in the sun, it could be seen at many miles’ distance; from the base of it a clear spring of water trickled, so disagreeable in taste that no one, save Somali, could possibly drink it. Now, emerging from the low land, we again left the trees behind us, and rose by a well-beaten foot-track to the primary level of the country, where stone and bare ground prevailed. Each of these elevations and depressions was a mere reflection of the other, only varying more or less according to their size; and as my line was directed due west, I always had the mountain-range at even distance on the north, whilst every feature on the south remained the same. It was monotonous in the extreme. At the fifth mile we came upon some springs of bitter water, sunk in deep cavities in the earth, from which we filled our water-skins, and travelled on till night; when, dark overtaking us, we slipped into a hollow in the ground, called Ali, cooked a little rice with the water we had brought, and slept it out till morning. Distance, thirteen miles.

22d. — As soon as the morning was well aired with the sun, and the black men had recovered from the torpor which the cold seemed to produce on them as it does on lizards and snakes, I struck out for Jid Ali, hoping to surprise the Abban, and thereby counteract, if possible, his various machinations. But this was not to be done. At the thirteenth mile, as we were descending in full view of Jid Ali, at a place called Birhamir, I was met by the Akil Husayn Hadji himself, who, instead of showing any disposition to hinder my approach, was very affable and kind in manner. He politely begged me to remain where I was and rest the day, and on the morrow he would take me to the Tug (river) below. He had never felt indisposed towards me; but one Galed Ali, an Akil superior to himself, was averse to my proceeding further. Unfortunately for the Somali, their lies are very transparent, and they were too fond of uttering falsehoods ever to be trusted. I neither believed in the existence of Galed Ali, nor in his own kind intentions towards me, and therefore begged him to prove it by allowing me to pass. This began a long discussion. The wars were raging. The Dulbahantas would not let me see their country, as they could not see why an Englishman should wish to travel where even beggars were afraid to go; and then followed a hundred other excuses, all of which I rejected as freely as he advanced them.

Then at length, Somali fashion, the true meaning of his unwelcome visit transpired. He then said —“Well, if you have no fear of anything, and will join us in our fight, to represent your nation’s disposition in our favour, I will give you as many horses as you may wish to have, and a free passage to Berbera, as soon as it is concluded.” This was certainly a tempting offer, as I told him; but I said, Although, as far as I was individually concerned, there was nothing which would please me better, still, being a servant of the Government, I could not represent anything they had not sanctioned; and, moreover, I was bound to be at Berbera by a certain date, which I could not if I went southwards with them. They argued, There would be no delay in finishing the battles, if I merely showed myself as a representative of the English, for the enemy would retire before a shot was fired, concluding that the opinion of the world was against them. They all declared the war had lasted so long, and had been so harassing, they wished ardently to put an end to it. I told them, in my opinion, it was all their own fault; that they ought never to have commenced the war, for the chief they now recognised was a mere usurper — a traitor, in fact, who ought to be punished.

The Abban’s mother, Mrs Awado, of whom I knew nothing until now, and who was living at Birhamir, in a hut close by, then hastened towards us, joined our party, and interrupted the conversation by clapping her hands and beating her knees, exclaiming, in wild dismay and terrifying words, “Oh! why have you come to this land, where there are no laws, or any respect for life? You don’t know what these people are you’ve come amongst! Come with me now to my place; rest the night, and refresh yourself: tomorrow morning your Abban will come and conduct you safely on your way.” This was a climax to the day’s journey; the men smelt grub in an instant, and hurried off with the old lady to some empty stone enclosures (sheepfolds), and at once unburdened and “lay-to” for the night. As before, I had many conferences about the THE WADI NOGAL, which Lieutenant Burton had desired me to investigate, but could obtain no satisfactory information. They said there were many wadis in Nogal, but the largest one was in the Mijjertaine country, where its waters were deep and large, with extensive forest around it, frequented by numerous herds of elephants. Those in advance of my line of march, on the road to Berbera, were all mere nullahs, like Yubbé Tug, or Jid Ali Tug, and were not used for agricultural purposes. However, in the southern Dulbahanta country, south by west of this, at a distance of five or six marches, there was a nullah, with many springs in it, which united in certain places, and became a running stream. This I now, from subsequent inquiries and inspection of Lieut. Cruttenden’s map,18 suspect is the watercourse set down in my instructions as the Wadi Nogal. This watercourse, I was assured, bounded the Nogal or white stony country on the west, and divided it from the Haud or red stoneless country, which is occupied in most part by the southern Dulbahantas, who have “the finest grazing-grounds in the world, and possess incalculable numbers of camels and horses (meaning ponies), and cows, sheep, and goats; whilst the game which roamed about there covered the ground like flocks of sheep.” Of these the largest were giraffes, rhinoceroses, and lions, elephants being confined to the Mijjertaine country, the Koolies hills to the south of Berbera, and the Webbé Shebéli, or Haines River.19

23d. — Early in the morning, accompanied by Husayn Ali, who opposed me no longer, we commenced our descent to the valley of Jid Ali, an expansive flat several miles in breadth, fuller and better wooded in the north than any place I had yet seen, but tapering away to the south and eastwards, until it became lost to sight in the barren plateau. After marching a mile or so, we found the Abban hastening to meet us, in high dudgeon with my men for having advanced contrary to his mandates, before he had time to arrive and smooth the way; for now the great impressive spell, his influence, which I was to understand could alone save me from the terrors of the unruly Dulbahantas, was proved to me of secondary importance, and he, consequently, insignificant. This occasioned a little delay; but at last, the Abban becoming reconciled to this defeat of his projected plans, we were permitted to resume the march, and, soon arriving in the bed of the valley, encamped near the watercourse of Jid Ali Tug, on the meridian of Mai. The water in the nullah extended upwards of half a mile, when it became absorbed in the thirsty soil. It consisted of a chain of pools, connected by little runners, the produce of some bitter springs, and made the country green in consequence. Attracted by my dates and rice — for I had brought no other property save my specimen-boxes and ammunition — many of the Dulbahantas forgot their occupations in war, and flocked around my camp all day and night, bothering my servants incessantly whilst cooking, and begging presents from me every moment. I remained here three days, trying to negotiate with the head men for permission to advance, but obtained no practical result. They insisted, for even coming thus far, that I should give them as many cloths and material as I had given to the Warsingali, for they would take no less. When told all my worldly goods did not admit of such a payment, they quietly said, I had come there against their will; they did not believe me; and if I did not open my boxes to their inspection, they would smash them up and help themselves. This was an everyday occurrence, which became only insignificant, as it was repeated without being carried into execution. Most of the time the Abban was away, stopping at his home, and no business could be done. I therefore took short excursions about the valley shooting, and inspecting the various habitations.

Animals were more abundant, in consequence of the greater extent of water; and I shot gazelles, little saltiana antelopes, hares, Egyptian geese, rock-pigeons, ducks and teal, and snipe and partridge, besides a choice collection of small birds. In one place I found a small stone hut, occupied by an old man who had once been on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and had seen the art of cultivating ground. He was now turning his experience to account by growing jowari (a species of millet), and effected it with some success; for he had two small enclosures, which he irrigated by cuts from the nullah, that produced grain, which grew from eight to nine feet high. He was loud in praise of the advantages which he derived from his farm, saying it saved his flocks, and assisted him in the means of food when his ewes were pregnant, or giving lamb. I patronised this farmer, and offered to lend him some tools for digging with, when he said he did not want that so much as some hints about sowing, and wished I would send a man to instruct him. Farhan, who was with me, delighted at the prospect of showing his skill in any manner — for he styled himself professor of all things — at once took the hint, and bargained to do a day’s work, and furnish him with some wrinkles for his future guidance, for the payment of a goat, which was readily agreed to.

The people here were highly superstitious, and, like all ignorant races, very punctilious in their ceremonies of worship. As true Mussulmans, they were constant in their time of prayer, and abused my interpreter for never saying his. When I made him cut the deer’s throats a little lower down the throat than their canons permit, to save the specimen, they spat on the ground to show their contempt, and abused him heartily. If I threw date-stones in the fire (the seed of paradisiacal food), they looked upon it as a sacrilege. They were also very suspicious. If I walked up and down the same place to stretch my legs, they formed councils of war on my motives, considering I must have some secret designs upon their country, or I would not do it, as no man in his senses could be guilty of working his legs unnecessarily.

Considering all the northerners were said to have been driven up here by the war, I was much surprised to see so few habitations or flocks in the valley; all there were consisted in a few kraals scattered over the plain, which were constantly moved as soon as each plot of ground in turn was eaten up by the cattle. In changing ground, these nomads pack up everything on their camels, mat and stick, hut and all, and placing the wife, with perhaps a baby also, on a donkey, march to any unoccupied watering-place they can find. Their food is very limited, except in the rainy season, when milk prevails: in consequence of this, it being now the dry season, my servants accounted for their increasing appetite for my dates. Some of the poorer men are said to pass their whole lives without tasting any flesh or grain, but to live entirely on sour milk, wild honey, or gums, as they may chance to come across them, and they are almost naked; but notwithstanding this, disease is scarcely known, and excepting in a few cases of endemic ophthalmia, which appears to attack the country periodically, at intervals of two or three years, I never heard of any. The climate was very delightful at this season, and the nights so cold I had to wrap myself well up in flannels. But perhaps that which best illustrates the healthiness of the country and pleasantness of its atmosphere, is the fact that I, although I had no bedstead, but always slept on the ground, never pitched my tent a single day in the interior, and neither wore a hat or shoe throughout the journey, save on one or two occasions, when, severely stabbed with thorns, I put on a sandal. I never knew a moment’s illness.

25th. — This evening, Husayn Hadji, who I now found out was brother-in-law to Sumunter, approached me as I came in from shooting, and said, “We are surprised to see you return alive; did you not meet some armed men when you were shooting?” I replied, “No, not one.” “Then,” said he, “there are many men come here, who from the first have forbid your coming into this country; they are under no control, but, in open defiance of the Gerad, do and act just as they like: indeed, every head man is a Gerad here, and those who are strongest carry the day.” This was the prelude to another farce; presently the men came of whom Husayn Hadji spoke, and, surrounding my camp, boisterously demanded to know what I was doing in their country against their orders. A violent altercation then ensued. They must have all my property given up at once, or they would take it by force; and remained trying to bully me into compliance, until I said I would sooner die than give them anything. Seeing me determined, they then walked off, saying I had not one night left to live, for they would return and kill me after dark. The place was now getting too hot to be pleasant, for the fact was, we were so near the watering-place, that my camp offered a convenient and tempting lounge for all the idle blackguards of the country to assemble at.

26th. — I sent orders back for the rear traps to come on as quick as possible, and at the suggestion of my servants, who were just as tired as myself of these incessant provocations, changed camp to a place three miles farther up the valley, much more remote from water, but nearer to the Abban’s home, by which I hoped I should be able to get at him easier; for the aggravating wretch, whenever I sent messages to recall him, invariably returned plausible excuses, showing the necessity of his having stopped away, and as repeatedly said he would not fail in coming immediately; but at the same time, as the sequence showed, never intending to do so.

It would be useless, as well as painful, to narrate in detail all the daily and hourly incidents which occurred in the next few days whilst I was detained here by the artful and dishonest machinations of this vile-conditioned man, from whom I could never get one true word, and whose absence, although I was striving to induce his coming to me, really seemed a relief. A wicked feeling was almost coming over me, which made me shudder again when I reflected more calmly on what my mind was now dilating. He seemed to me only as an animal in satanical disguise; to have shot him would have given me great relief, for I fairly despaired of ever producing any good effect upon his mind. Again I tried the old scheme of forcing him to leave me, and even begged an Akil of the Dulbahantas, offering him large rewards, to be my guide to Berbera. This, as might be imagined, provoked a severe row. The man I was endeavouring to seduce to favour me was one of the gang of forty thieves, and as birds of a feather all Dulbahantas flocked together to assist the victim of my displeasure; for Sumunter was, by his intermarriage with these northerners, naturalised amongst them. However, I had my wicked will, by relating, in presence of all his now rapidly congregating friends (a row always brings a crowd), the whole of his misdemeanours since he first came with me to this country, and threatened him with the lasting displeasure of our Government, and ruin to his trade at Aden, if he still persisted in his tricks. This brought matters home much closer than anybody liked to hear, and set all parties cogitating on what course had best be followed. I now retired to cool myself by shooting, and on returning again was met by the Abban, interpreter, and many Dulbahanta Akils, who, now trying the conciliating dodge, came to report the good news that a victory had been gained by the northerners, and the southerners were in full retreat to their provinces, by which the road to Berbera would be open to my proceeding onwards. Moreover, the rear traps had arrived at Abi, by which accident everything seemed to harmonise. This sounded very cheering for the moment, but I soon was damped again.

I wanted to move at once, and lose no time in taking full benefit of the opportunity thus offered; but this, like every other proposal that I made, was immediately checked by a cruel device, as unforeseen as it was objectionable. Hassan had not come with the ponies he went after from Rhut Tug; I must therefore, before advancing, send back to the farther frontier of the Warsingali to purchase, by bills on Aden, five ponies at thirty dollars a-head, to be afterwards given away in presents to chiefs on the road for allowing me to pass through their territories, and this, at a minimum calculation, would occupy a fortnight’s time, and even then I should have to go single-handed, without a servant, instrument, or article of any bulk with me. Of course this, as the Abban knew, I never would consent to. On no account would I suffer my being separated from my men and property when the time for my return to Berbera was so close at hand; and, moreover, without the instruments the journey would be of no avail. Row succeeded row when I pushed matters closely; the Abban sometimes affected repentance, but more often became defiant, and forbade anybody’s assisting me without his entire consent. Such, in fact, were the effects of these angry ebullitions of temper on the minds of my people, that the young Prince Abdullah, fearing to be witness to them any more, took his leave and departed home.

31st. — At length the rear traps arrived, but one camel, having been taken ill on the march this morning whilst coming from Abi, was slaughtered to “save” his flesh, and devoured by my hungry men. As soon as everything had arrived, and the men were made aware of my intention to push forward, they requested their discharge, affecting fear to enter on a strange land, but in reality seeing I had no cloths left to pay them, as afterwards transpired. This deficiency I visited on the Abban, who, in trying to excuse himself for inefficiency in his protectorship, meekly said he had been grieved to see the very rapid decline of my property, but he could not help it, as I had so many thieves in my employment!!! Mrs Awado now came over from Birhamir, bringing a sheep and some ghee as a present for me; but I refused taking anything from the relative of the Abban, and this appeared to grieve her much. She said she had heard of all my disputes with Sumunter, her son, and had remonstrated with him about them; he was a proud man, and easily led away by vanity. She could see his being at variance with me would not end to his advantage on his return to Aden, and tried coaxing him to journey with me; but at the same time told me he would have to be well upon his guard, as in former years he had married clandestinely with a damsel of the Rheer Hamaturwa, a sub-tribe of the Habr Gerhajis, who occupy the hill-range overlooking Bunder Héis; and her loss to those people would be avenged at once, if he ever came within their power. The Rheer Hamaturwa had heard of my intention to journey westwards, and would be in readiness to descend upon and intercept our march, kill Sumunter, and destroy the whole of us; indeed, they had sent messages to that effect.

16 Durbar— Eastern Court.

17 Lions, as well as other large animals, are said to come into the Nogal during the rainy season, when water and grass are abundant.

18 Unfortunately, when sent on this mission, I was not furnished with a chart, and had never seen any works written on the subject.

19 For the advancement of future investigations, I would here notice the reported existence of a large reptile like the armadillo — probably a Manis — which the Somali think a very remarkable animal. It is said by them to be common in Haud, is very slow in motion, has a hard scaly exterior coating, invulnerable to their spears, and capable of supporting the weight of a man without any apparent inconvenience to the creature who bears it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00