First Footsteps in East Africa, or an Exploration of Harar.
By Richard F. Burton.
Blackwood's Magazine Oct 1856, Pp. 489-502
If exploratory travel continues to be as popular a pursuit among the adventurous youth of our own country as it has recently become, before the close of the century they will have exhausted the source from which so much interest and excitement is at present derived, the few geographical problems still remaining will have been solved, no portion of the earth's surface will have been unvisited, and, like the pages of a well-thumbed book, not a leaf will be left uncut.
We attribute the achievement of these important results to "the adventurous youth" of our own country, because we believe that, of late years, that rapidly-increasing class has contributed in a greater degree to geographical discovery then mere scientific men: indeed, we are well assured, that while here and there a German professor, with spectacles on nose, armed with his butterfly-net and geological hammer, may be poking into the natural history of distant lands, there are at this moment scores of our own countrymen, armed with revolvers, skimming the rivers of North America in bark canoes, rambling and scrambling across the Rocky Mountains, taking a personal inspection of the Central American difficulty, or galloping across the Pampas. Some are living on damper in the wildest bush of Australia, others sailing among South Sea Islands, shooting Himalayan pheasants or Thibetian goats, ascending Mont Blanc or Mount Ararat, journeying in Cape ox-wagons, following on the backs of uneasy camels the winding caravan across the infinite sands of Arabia, camping out on African deserts, or mayhap lying in some walled city, the prisoners of a suspicious and fanatical ruler in Central Asia. The object which has impelled these gentlemen to place themselves in these various attitudes of discomfort and danger, has, in the majority of cases, been simply "the fun of the thing"--a love of adventure, which seems to be a more powerful motive in the minds of Englishmen than a love of science, and which has the merit of increasing in intensity in exact proportion as the chances of existence diminish. That this characteristic is almost purely Anglo-Saxon, is proved by the fact that no other country produces a similar race of travellers. Foreigners regard with astonishment men who, with wealth and position at home, leave their own comfortable firesides to encounter unknown perils; while the contempt which we feel for so great a want of enterprise on their part, may perhaps in some measure account for that unpopularity which we enjoy abroad, arising from a dislike which is not unnaturally felt by those who shun danger towards those who court it.
Undoubtedly the most promising field for developing the energies of this class of our countrymen is at the present moment Africa. We have no reason to complain of a want of enterprise in this direction, but still much remains to be done. Within the last few years a great deal of light has been thrown upon this interesting country. Livingstone has bisected its southern extremity as far as the ninth parallel of southern latitude, and crossed over from Loando to Quillimane; Galton has discovered and lived amongst the Ovampo; Gordon Cumming has shot upon the banks of the Limpopo; Barth has navigated Lake Tchad, and spent nearly a year at unvisited Timbuctoo; Baikie has forced a steamer into the unexplored waters of the Binüe; Werne has traced the White Nile to the base of snow-clad mountains; and Mansfield Parkyns has been naturalised in Tigrè; Krapf and Erhardt, from behind Zanzibar, bring us astounding news of the enormous reported extend of the unknown lake Nyassi; and Mr. James Hamilton has given us an account of his explorations amid the ruins of the Cyrenaica and Agharme; while in the volume before us we have Mr Burton's visit to Harar, the Timbuctoo of Eastern Africa, a city which, though often attempted, had never before been visited. "The ancient metropolis of a once mighty race," says Mr Burton, "the only permanent settlement in Eastern Africa--the reported seat of Moslem learning--a walled city of stone-houses, possessing its independent chiefs, its peculiar population, its unknown language, and its coinage--the emporium of the coffee-trade--the birthplace of the kat-plant, and the great manufactory of cotton cloths, amply, it appeared, deserved the trouble of exploration."
That Mr Burton was successful in this important enterprise, was due not only to the prudence and courage which, under various trying circumstances, he displayed, but also to that perfect knowledge of the religion, language, and manners of those amongst whom he was thrown, and which, as our old friend Hadji Abdullah, he exhibited in so eminent a degree during that pilgrimage to Mecca, which has made his name famous, and given him a position equal to that most celebrated of Eastern travellers, Burckhardt.
In describing the unscientific explorers, to whom we aver that geography is so much indebted, we would scarcely include Mr Burton. He seems, on the contrary, to be an Admirable Crichton; he has taken his degree as a Master Sufi--sufi-ism being the Eastern parent of free-masonry--and is a Mahometan theologian of no mean pretensions among Mussulmans. He ranks high in their estimation as a pundit, for, in addition to three or four Eastern tongues which he knows thoroughly, he has a smattering of as many more, while he is as much at home in European as in Asiatic languages. He gives us very fair specimens of his poetry, and is as ready to take a sketch as to make an observation. He is skilled in the use of drugs, having practised as a physician at Cairo; knows something of botany, and a good deal of geology; is an expert swordsman, and a good shot; in fact, he unites a multitude of those accomplishments which are most indispensable to a traveller, and of the value of which he is evidently thoroughly aware. At one moment we find him discussing with a learned man, upon whom he thus brings his divinity to bear with great effect:--
"The gerad, after polite inquires, seated me by his right hand upon the dais, where I eat kat and fingered my rosary whilst he transacted the business of the day. Then one of the elders took from a little recess in the wall a large book, and, uncovering it, began to recite a long dua or blessing upon the Prophet. At the end of each period all present intoned the response, 'Allah bless our Lord Mohammed, with his progeny and his companions, one and all!' This exercise, lasting half an hour, afforded me the opportunity--much desired--of making an impression. The reader, misled by a marginal reference, happened to say, 'Angles, men, and genii;' the gerad took the book and found written, 'Men, angels, and genii.' Opinions were divided as to the order of beings, when I explained that human nature, which, amongst Moslems, is not a little lower than the angelic, ranked highest, because of it were created prophets, apostles, and saints; whereas the other is but a 'Wasitab,' or connection between the Creator and His creatures. My theology won general approbation, and a few kinder glances from the elders."
Sometimes he deals in charms and incantations, to the satisfaction and edification of the natives, and effects thereby his own release from divers troubles. This proceeding is not always, however, unattended with inconvenient results. On one occasion an old gentleman is importunate for a charm to cure his sick camel. "Having obtained it," says our author, "he blessed us in a set speech, which lasted at least half an hour, and concluded with spitting upon the whole party for good luck." On another occasion his progress is arrested by about fifty Bedouins, "who declared that all which was ours became theirs, to whom the land belonged. We did not deny the claim, but simply threatened sorcery by death, by wild beasts and foraging-parties, to their camels, children, and women. This brought them to their senses, the usual effect of such threats; and presently arose the senior, and spat upon us for luck's sake." Occasionally he resorts to his sword or revolver to procure him that respect which a skilful use of such weapons never fails to elicit from savage nations. Nor is it in the character of an ordinary English traveller that these accomplishments are displayed; for the guise in which our quondam pilgrim made his dash into Africa, we will quote his own words:--
"I am a Moslem merchant--a character not to be confounded with the notable individuals seen on 'Charge. Mercator in the East is a compound of tradesman, divine, and T.G. Usually of gentle birth, he is everywhere welcomed and respected; and he bears in his mind and manner, that, if Allah please, he may become prime-minister a month after he has sold you a yard of cloth. Commerce appears to be an accident, not an essential, with him; yet he is by no means deficient in acumen. He is a grave and reverend signior, with rosary in hand and Koran on lip; is generally a pilgrim, talks at dreary length about holy places, writes a pretty hand, has read and can recite much poetry, is master of his religion, demeans himself with respectability, is perfect in all points of ceremony and politeness, and feels equally at home whether sultan or slave sit upon his counter; he has a wife and children in his own country, where he intends to spend the remnant of his days; but 'the world is uncertain;' 'fate descends, and man's eyes seeth it not;' 'the earth is a charnel-house;' briefly, his many wise saws give him a kind of theoretical consciousness that his bones may moulder in other places than his fatherland."
Such, then, is Hadji Abdullah, the merchant and pilgrim; and we have been at some pains to describe him to our readers, that they may thoroughly appreciate the character in whose eccentric company we propose to show them Harar, and they may congratulate themselves upon having found so remarkable and able a guide.
A few words may be necessary to describe the object of the expedition. On his return from his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Mr Burton conceived the idea of reviving the Somali expedition, a project which had at various former periods been entertained, but which had for divers reasons always fallen to the ground. In August 1854, the author, together with Lieutenants Speke, Stroyan, and Herne, of the East India Company's service, received permission to undertake this important enterprise. Preparatory, however, to starting upon the principal expedition, which was intended to penetrate from Berbereh to Zanzibar, it was deemed necessary that the winter should be employed in making experimental trips, and acquiring as much local information as possible. Lieutenants Herne and Stroyan were consequently sent to Berbereh; Lieutenant Speke made an expedition to the eastward of that town, into the Somali country, and Lieutenant Burton went to Harar. This town is situated in the Galla country to the south of Abyssinia, and is about two hundred miles distant from the shores of the Indian Ocean. Our author determined to proceed by way of Zayla, a port not far to the south of the Straits of Babelmandeb, and which contains about fifteen hundred inhabitants, and to return by Berbereh. His route thus forms a triangle, of which the coast of Africa is the base, and Harar the apex. On the last day of October 1854, he arrived at Zayla in a small native craft from Aden, accompanied by three Somali servants, whom he had engaged at the place, and was hospitably received by the governor, Hadji Sharmakay, a dependent of the Turkish pashalic of Hodaydah. Mr Burton remained a month a Zayla, whilst a route was traced out, guides were propitiated, camels were bought, mules sent for, and all the wearisome preliminaries of African travel gone through. But let not the reader suppose that during this interval, spent by himself in a miserable collection of hovels tenanted only by Bedouin Arabs and savage Somalis, existence was a burden to our friend the Hadji; on the contrary no sooner does he find himself ensconced in his new abode, "a long room with shutters to exclude the light, floored with tamped earth, full of evening-flyers (the Somali name for bats), and destitute of furniture (except mats and cushions), than he enthusiastically exclaims, pious Moslem that he is, on hearing the melodious chant of the muezzin, "After a peep through the open window I fell asleep, feeling once more at home." Nor, to judge from his account of the manner in which he passed his days, does there seem any affectation in this assertion. In the morning he ascends to his house-top, ostensibly to pray, but really to ogle two young ladies on a neighbouring roof. They are sisters by different mothers.
"The daughter of an Indian woman is a young person of fast propensities. Her chocolate-coloured skin, long hair, and parrot-like profile, are much admired by the elegants of Zayla, and she coquettes by combing, dancing, singing, and slapping the slave-girls whenever an adorer may be looking. We sober-minded men, seeing her, quote the well-known lines:--
Without justice a king is a cloud without rain;
Without goodness a sage is a field without fruit;
Without manners a youth is a bridleless horse;
Without lore and old man is a waterless wady;
Without modesty a woman is bread without salt.
The other is a matron of Abyssinian descent, as her skin, scarcely darker than a gypsy's, her long and bright blue fillet, and her gaudily-fringed dress denote. She tattoos her face; a livid line extends from her front hair to the tip of her nose; between her eyebrows is an ornament resembling a fleur-de-lis, and various beauty spots adorn the corners of her mouth and the flats of her countenance. She passes her day superintending the slave-girls and weaving mats, the worsted work of this part of the world. We soon made acquaintance, as far as an interchange of salaams. I regret however, to say, that there was some scandal about my charming neighbour, and that more than once she was detected making signals to distant persons with her hands."
After this our Hadji breakfasts on sour grain cakes and roast mutton, and then receives visitors, who crowd daily to sit at his feet. Sometimes the conversation becomes intensely intellectual, sometimes they dispute religion, sometimes politics, at others history, and other humanities. When his visitors are Arab, the Hadji good-naturedly reads aloud to them a tale from the thousand and one Nights; generally the society is Somal, "who talk in their own tongue, laugh, yell, stretch their legs, and lie like cattle upon the floor, smoking the common hooka, which stands in the centre, industriously cleaning their teeth with sticks, and eating snuff like Swedes. Meanwhile I occupy the kursi or couch, sometimes muttering from a book to excite respect, or reading aloud for general information, or telling fortunes by palmistry, or drawing out a horoscope."
"It argues 'peculiarity,' I own," says our author naively, "to enjoy such a life. In the first place, there is no woman's society." For a man who despises this latter inestimable blessing, the Hadji, according to his own showing, seems a somewhat unnecessarily regular visitant to his house-top. After the morning calls comes the dinner, and our traveller "enjoys" "mutton stews of exceeding greasiness, boiled rice, maize cakes, sometimes fish, and generally curds or milk." In the afternoon he plays chess, shoots at a mark, throws the javelin, leaps, or engages in gymnastic exercises, in company with his jabbering, yelling, smoking, greasy, teeth-cleaning, snuff-eating friends and companions. After dinner, under the influence of this society, he becomes poetical, and naturally again repairs to the roof,--this time, however, "to enjoy the prospect of the far Tajurrah hills and the white moon-beams sleeping on the nearer sea. The evening star hangs like a diamond upon the still horizon; around the moon a pink zone of light mist shading off into turquoise blue, and a delicate green-like chrysoprase, invests the heavens with a peculiar charm. The scene is truly suggestive. Behind us, purpling in the night air, and silvered by the radiance from above, lie the wolds and mountains tenanted by the fiercest of savages, their shadowy mysterious forms exciting vague alarms in the traveller's breast. Sweet as the harp of David, the night breeze and the music of the water come up from the sea, but the ripple and the rustling sound alternate with the hyena's laugh, the jackal's cry, and the wild dog's lengthened howl."--and then the pilgrim bursts into song, and translates, with much sweetness and feeling, a melancholy lay by the celebrated poet Abd-el-Rahman-el-Burai, and his companions become imaginative and superstitious, a black slave from Sawahil reads his fortunes on his rosary, and ghost-stories are told, and omens discussed, till the company al last disperse, and Hadji Abdullah's shaven crown reposes for the night upon a dwarf pedestal of carved wood with a curve, which serves for a pillow. On Friday he goes to church, where his devout comportment, and the unctuous twang with which he recites the Koran, procure for him in Somali society a high reputation for sanctity.
At last he is provided with that indispensable accompaniment to Somali travel, an Abban or protector, whose office seems to be to place in the way of his protégé every possible obstacle, and always to leave him in times of difficulty and danger; and the mules arrive, and the camels are bought, and their drivers engaged, and they sing the song of travel, which sounds pleasantly in the ears of the pilgrim, for it is significant of loading:--
"O caravan men, we deceive ye not, we have laden the camels!
Old women on the journey are kenned by their sleeping;
(O Camel) canst sniff the cock-boat and the sea?
Allah guard thee from the Mikahil and their Midgans."
And his bosom-friends and boon-companions accompany the wanderer on the first mile of his march. "Here we exchanged affectionate adieus, received much prudent advice about keeping watch and ward at night, recited the Fatihah with upraised palms, and, with many promises to write frequently and to meet soon, shook hands and parted. The soldiers gave me a last volley, to which I replied with the Father of Six." We whose only experience of Somalis has been at Aden, where they first burst upon the astonished gaze of the overland passenger as he looks over the ship's side, in the form of an entirely new species of amphibious humanity, whom he might mistake for gigantic frogs, did they not keep up an incessant shout for backsheesh, and whose frizzled brickdust-coloured polls now dance upon the surface of the water, and anon disappear under the ship's quarter as they dive for halfpennies, may well congratulate Hadji Abdullah upon the intimate and affectionate relations he has cultivated with the most unprepossessing race of savages the traveller is likely to encounter between this and Feejee, and upon a freedom from prejudice with regard to the sons of Ham which we would recommend to the notice of our Transatlantic brethren. He complacently remarks, "in every corner where fate drops him for a month," he finds "a friend of the soul," "a moon-faced beauty." At present the friends of his soul wear locks dripping with rancid butter. "The colouring matter of the hair being usually a bluish black, which is removed by a mixture of quicklime and water, or in the desert by a lessive of ashes, this makes it a dull yellowish white, which is converted into red permanently by henna, temporarily by ochreish earth kneaded with water." These friends sometimes wear perukes of crimsoned sheepskin, sometimes a white or black scratch-wig. "They have broad turned-out lips, chins projecting to the detriment of the facial angle, the teeth projecting as in the negro, but not so good, while the habit of perpetually chewing coarse Surat tobacco stains them, the gums become black and mottled, and the use of ashes with the quid discolours the lips." "Curious to say," remarks the Hadji, "throughout the Somali country kissing is entirely unknown." We don't wonder at it under the circumstances, when we add to the tobacco-stained ash-begrimed lips of the Somali maiden "massive rounded features, large flat craniums, long big eyes, broad brows, heavy chins, hair parted in the middle and plaited in a multitude of hard thin pigtails, or on festivals twined with flowers, while the head is plastered with a red ochre,"--we must say that the Hadji's notion of a "moon-faced beauty" is only a degree less original than that of the Hottentot.
But we must follow the fortunes of our traveller, as, having reluctantly torn himself from so much charming society, he jogs his weary way over the arid wastes of Somali-land. He gives a humorous description of his attendants, his Abban or protector, and the two buxom dames whose duty it is to carry pipe and tobacco, lead and flog the camels and adjust their burdens, and who, to relieve their fatigue, resort to the curious expedient called the Jogsi. "They lie at full length, prone, standing upon each other's backs, trampling and kneading with the toes, and rise like giants refreshed." These, together with four servants, complete the little cortège whose wanderings we are to accompany. First they traverse the Eesa country, that broad maritime plain which extends between the first range of mountains and the sea, containing little water, scant herbage, and an uncertain nomadic population, who congregate here and there in kralls composed of hive-shaped huts, tenanted sometimes by hostile Bedouins, sometimes by friendly tribes of Somalis, whose riches consist in flocks of camels and of sheep, and whose food is mutton and camels' milk. Upon one occasion our author accompanied a tribe for some distance on their migration. "Before dawn the Somali Stentor proclaimed from the ridgetop, 'Fetch your camels!' 'Load your goods! We march!' About 8 A.M. we started in rear--the spectacle was novel to me. Some hundred and fifty spearmen, assisted by their families, were driving before them divisions which in total might amount to 200 cows, 7000 camels, and 11,000 or 12,000 sheep or goats." Dogs and boys assisted the drivers, the sick were carried on dromedaries, and the children swung upon their mothers' backs. Gradually the cortège leaves the plains, and the scenery changes: the road ascends the ghauts by ravines, where the banks are charmingly wooded with graceful tamarisks and acacias, and the huge snake-shaped creepers enclasp giant trees, and luxurious parasites abound. "Here," says our author, "they form domes of flashing green, there they surround with verdure decayed trunks, and not unfrequently cluster into sylvan bowers, under which, grateful sight! Appears succulent grass." But as our traveller recedes from the coast, his enjoyment of so favourable a change in the aspect of the country is considerably damped by the variety of obstacles he has to encounter. Sometimes it is the treachery or insolence of his Abban; sometimes the cowardice of his servants; at others, decided opposition on the part of the inhabitants, whose suspicions are excited at the colour of his skin. The effects, however, of this later phenomenon vary amusingly. Occasionally the people rush out exclaiming, "Lo, let us look at the kings!" others, "Come see the white man, he is Governor of Zayla!" "This fairness," says the Hadji, "and the Arab dress, made me at different times the ruler of Aden, the chief of Zayla, the Hadji's son, a boy, an old woman, a man painted white, a warrior in silver armour, a merchant, a pilgrim, a hedge-priest, Ahmed the Indian, a Turk, an Egyptian, a Frenchman, a Banyan, a sherif, and, lastly, a calamity sent down from heaven to weary out the lives of the Somal." It was in this last capacity that he was looked upon as objectionable. The ladies are especially particular on this score. "Once," he says, "we met a party of Eesa girls, who derided my colour." One of them, however, overcomes this scruple, offers to marry him for a necklace, two tobes, a few handfuls of beads, and a present for her papa. Upon another occasion he was petted like a child, forced to drink milk and to eat mutton. Girls were offered him in marriage; the people begged him to settle among them, to lead their predatory expeditions, free them from lions, and kill their elephants; and often a man has exclaimed, in pitying accents, "What hath brought thee, delicate as thou art, to sit with us on the cowhide, in this cold, under a tree?" After ascending the mountains, the party proceed through a comparatively fertile country, in places covered with ruins, which indicate the former residence of an abundant settled population. Here our traveller finds himself among the Gudabirsi, a tribe as turbulent and unmanageable, though not so blood-thirsty, as the Eesa, and prepares to cross the Marar prairie, a tract dreaded by his followers, because upon it various tribes meet to rob and plunder unhappy travellers. This plain is an expanse of waving sun-burnt grass, so unbroken that from a distance it resembles the nap of yellow velvet. With the exception of a false alarm, and the presence of a huge lion in the middle of the party, which the Hadji put to flight with his rifle, he met with no adventure. Shortly after passing this dangerous tract, he finally quitted the desert and its inhabitants; a rich, well-watered country, with a settled population, burst upon his delighted gaze, and more than rewarded him for his toils and hardships.
"Suddenly, al though by magic, the scene shifted: before us lay a little alp, the second step of the Ethiopian highland; around were high and jagged hills, their sides black with teak and Somali pine, and their upper brows veiled with a thin growth of cactus; beneath was a deep valley, in the midst of which rose a serpentine of shining waters, the gladdest spectacle we had yet witnessed; further in front, masses of hill rose abruptly from shady valleys, encircled on the far horizon by a straight line of blue ground, resembling a distant sea. Behind us glared the desert. We had now reached the outskirts of civilisation, where man, abandoning his flocks and herds, settles, cultivates, and attends to the comforts of life. The fields are either terraces upon the hill-slopes or the sides of valleys, divided by flowery hedges, with lanes between, not unlike those of rustic England; and on a nearer approach, the daisy, the thistle, and the sweetbrier pleasantly affected my European eyes. The villages are no longer movable; the kraal and wigwam are replaced by the gambisa or bell-shaped hut of middle Africa; circular cottages of holcus-wattle, covered with coarse dab, and surmounted by a stiff conical thatch roof, above which appears the central support post, crowned with a gourd or ostrich egg."
And so he passed along these smiling valleys, where the boys were perched upon reed platforms in the trees to drive off thieving birds; where the men were thrashing and the women stacking the yellow corn; where the song of the harvest-home sounded pleasantly in his ears, and the hum of man's habitation was a music to one who had pitched his tents for more than a month in the silent desert. In this fairyland he was hospitably entertained by the Princess Sudiyah, who, in the absence of her husband, placed the resources of her capital at his disposal. "She was a tall woman, with a light complexion, handsomely dressed in a large Harar tobe, with silver earrings, and a necklace strung with little silver bells." Here the Hadji, like a wise man, finding himself in good quarters, rested from his journeyings, and employs his time in collecting materials for an account of his home among th settled Somal, which is doubly interesting, because he was the first European who had ever visited them, but which we have not space to notice, if we intend to get to Harar itself. Whether Mr Burton would ever do so, depended in a great measure upon the good offices of the husband of the lady with whom he had now taken up his abode, and who in due time arrived, surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of an influential chief. "Adan Bin Kauchan," says our traveller, "was in appearance a strong wiry Bedouin; before obtaining from me a turban, he wore his hair dyed dun; about forty-five years old, at least six feet high, with decided features, a tricky smile, and an uncertain eye. In character he proved to be one of those cunning idiots so peculiarly difficult to deal with." It is in the management of such men that the experienced traveller may exhibit that quality upon which the success of his explorations chiefly depends. An enduring frame, undaunted courage, and indefatigable energy, are valuable attributes, but of small avail if not combined with one still more essential--tact. That Mr Burton possesses it in an eminent degree is shown in his treatment of the Gerad Adan, and still more in his intercourse with the Amir of Harar. When the Gerad heard of his intention to visit that city, "he confessed fear of his Harari kinsman, and owned that he had lost all his villages in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. I asked him, point-blank, to escort us; he as frankly replied, that it was impossible." This was not encouraging; and as if still more to perplex and daunt the Hadji, he was assured that inevitable destruction awaited him within the walls. His servants took alarm, one of them refused to go; in fact, matters looked as unpropitious and disagreeable as they well could. Under these circumstances, Mr Burton hit upon the following notable plan: "I wrote," he says, "an English letter from the political agent at Aden to the Amir of Harar, proposing to deliver it in person, and throw off my disguise. Two reasons influenced me in adopting this 'neck-or-nothing' plan. All the races amongst whom my travels lay hold him nidering who hides his origin in places of danger; and, secondly, my white face had converted me into a Turk, a nation more hated and detested than any European, without our prestige." Then, leaving the greater part of his baggage with the most timid of his servants, and a letter addressed to Lieut. Herne at Berbereh, directing him how to act in case of necessity, the undaunted Hadji mounted his ass, and, accompanied by some of the Ghirir tribe, whose escort he had prevailed upon the Adan to grant, and two of his own servants, proceeds to place his head in the jaws of the lion. After a thirty miles' ride through a rich well-watered country, the object of his aspirations appears in sight. "About two miles distant, on the crest of a hill, stood the city, the end of my present travel, a long sombre line, contrasting strikingly with the white-washed towns of the East. The spectacle, materially speaking, was a disappointment; nothing conspicuous appeared but two grey minarets of rude shape; many would have grudged exposing three lives to win so paltry a prize. But of all that have attempted, none ever succeeded in entering that pile of stones. The thoroughbred traveller will understand my exultation."
A couple of hours more and he is in the palace court, surrounded by Galla courtiers, and seated near a low building, which the clanking of fetters argued to be a state prison. At last he was roused from the agreeable reflection which this circumstance was likely to engender by a summons to the royal presence, and, following his guide, entered barefoot into the long single-storied windowless barn which served as a palace. The Amir sat on a raised cot in a dark room with whitewashed walls, decorated with rusty matchlocks and polished fetters. He was not more than twenty-five, plain, and thin-bearded, with a yellow complexion and protruding eyes.
"I entered the room with a loud 'peace be upon ye,' to which his highness, replying graciously, and extending a hand bony and yellow as a kite's claw, snapped his thumb and middle finger. Two chamberlains, stepping forward, held my forearms, and assisted me to bend low over the fingers, which, however, I did not kiss, being naturally averse to performing that operation upon any but a woman's hand." Then followed the cross-examination and delivery of the fictitious letter, and an elaborate explanation by the Hadji of the affectionate interest which the English generally, and the agent at Aden especially, feel in the Amir of Harar, which caused a propitious smile to light up the countenance of that dignitary, and he retired in high favour, much to the astonishment of the world at large, who never expected to see him reappear. After this comes a visit to the Vizir, then the presentation of a revolver to the Amir, and the installation of the party in a clean house set apart for them, where the traveller lay down to rest, "worn out by fatigue, and profoundly impressed with the poësie of our position." Considering that he was under the roof of a bigoted prince, whose least word was death, and amongst a people who detest foreigners, "the poetical," as enjoyed by the Hadji, must be an acquired taste.
During the ten days the traveller spent at Harar he obtained a fund of information which he has pleasantly given to the public; for the history of the town, the origin of the Amir, the character of its language, we must refer the curious to the work itself. The city contains 8000 extremely ugly inhabitants, to judge from Mr Burton's description of them; they are fanatic Moslems, and very exclusive. The flowing garment called tobe is the dress of both sexes. The country immediately surrounding the city is peopled by Gallas, amongst whom Mr Burton heard of traders who had visited the far west, traversing for seven months a country of pagans wearing golden bracelets, till they reached the salt sea, upon which Franks sail in ships. He also made the acquaintance of a man who had visited the source of the Blue Nile from Harar. The houses are mean, and generally built of Holcus stalks and dab; the furniture a few skins, stools, coarse mats, and Somali pillows, wodden spoons, gourds, &c.; the exports slaves, ivory, coffee, tobacco, tobes, for the manufacture of which Harar is very celebrated; sheep's fat and tallow of sorts. Three caravans leave Harar every year for the Berbereh market, and there can be no doubt that, were greater security offered to traders, an important commerce might be developed. It has a coinage peculiar to itself, consisting of a diminutive brass piece, with "the coinage of Harar" on one side, and the date on the reverse. The greater part of the Hadji's time, as usual, is occupied in receiving visits from a most diverse assortment of callers. And he becomes an adept in the art of masticating kat--a narcotic grown only in perfection in the neighbourhood of the town, but renowned throughout the East. The people of Harar eat it every day from 9 A.M. till noon, when they dine, and afterwards indulge in millet-beer, and mead.
The second interview accorded by the Amir to the traveller is scarcely so satisfactory as the first. He was asked whether it was his intention to buy and sell at Harar: the reply was, "we are no buyers or sellers; we have become your guests, to pay our respects to the Amir, whom may Allah preserve! And that the friendship between the two powers may endure." Mr Burton then went on to say, that, the air of Harar being too dry for him, he requested permission to depart. The Vizir said, "the reply would be vouchsafed," and Mr Burton retired to contemplate "the poetry" of the position, and to vary the even tenor of his life by "a perpetual reference to the rosary, consulting soothsayers, and listening to the reports and rumours of visitors." His stay at Harar was assuming the character of imprisonment, when fortunately the medical skill of the Hadji came to his assistance. The Vizir was suffering illness. "I had distinguished his complaint, chronic bronchitis, and resolving to make a final impression, related to him all its symptoms, and promised on reaching Aden to send the different remedies employed by ourselves. He clung to the hope of escaping his sufferings, whilst the attendant courtiers looked on approvingly, and begged me to lose no time." The result was a final audience with the Amir, in which he received permission to depart, which was responded to by the Hadji in a short prayer, the gist of which was that the Amir's days and reign might be long in the land, and that the faces of his foes might be blackened here and hereafter.
Three days after this we find the Hadji passing out of the gates of Harar, moralising, as he bestrides his ass, upon the shadowy and unsubstantial nature of success. He reaches the villages of the Gerad Adan, finds there his servants and baggage, and, after the ususl delays, at last effects a start for Berbereh. After crossing the Marar Prairie, Mr Burton determined, on account of the weakness of the camels, and the danger of the country he was about to travel, to send them back to Zayla, and make a forced ride himself to Berbereh, accompanied by a few of his attendants. "It was not without apprehension," he says, "that I pocketed all my remaining provisions--five biscuits, a few limes, and sundry limps 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, where they would not sell meat or milk to Habr Gerhajis." It was a bold measure, and had nearly terminated the wanderings of the intrepid pilgrim.
"For four-and-twenty 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 have gladly 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 was tempest, rain-storm, and the huge purple nimbus. I tried to talk--it was in vain; vainly to think, every idea was bound up in one subject--water!"
Now that Mr Burton has returned in safety to tell the tale, we can scarcely regret that he should have undergone an experience which has afforded him an opportunity of describing in such impressive terms that great bugbear of the African traveller,--thirst.
The art of chronicling his observations and adventures is indeed not the least of the varied acquirements of our author. We are struck at every page with the extent and variety of the information which, during his short sojourn in Somaliland, he has managed to obtain. To one not curious in African dialects his disquisitions upon the languages of the country are even wearisome, but show an indefatigable industry. He has collected a vocabulary of Harari words, and given us a short account of the grammatical construction of the language.
His careful observations of the physical aspect of the country, its productions and resources, are full of interest. Occasionally the scenery affords an excuse for warmer terms than those which usually apply to Africa. The descent to the sea is thus described:--
"This ravine, the Splugen of Somaliland, led us, after a few hours' 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 above 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 green 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 stones that defended some spur of ragged hill."
Our space will not allow us to follow Mr Burton in his minute description of the manners and customs of the various tribes through which he passed, in which he tells of their quaint superstitions and barbarous punishments, of their poets and prophets, of their laws of government and laws of marriage. One specimen of the latter will suffice for our fair readers. "On first entering the nuptial hut, the bridegroom draws forth his horsewhip, and inflicts memorable chastisement upon the fair person of the bride, with a view of taming any lurking propensity to shrewishness." Four is the usual allowance of wives in Somaliland: polygamy, according to Mr Burton, being indispensable in a country where children are the principal wealth. "I would not, however," philosophically remarks the Hadji, "advise polygamy amongst highly-civilised raves when the sexes are nearly equal, and where reproduction becomes a minor duty." The sooner the Hadji returns to Somaliland the better. His opinions are much too advanced for "the highly-civilised race" amongst whom he is at present sojourning. Indeed, in his capacity of pilgrim, Master Sufi, experienced soothsayer and dispenser of charms and talismans, he is thrown away in a London club. Let him follow the bent of his natural instincts, and anoint himself. "At first," he says, "the sensation of grease annoys; after a few days it is forgotten, and at last the pat of butter is expected as pleasantly as the pipe or cup of coffee." Let him then go forth greased into the wilderness; he need not be afraid of "wasting his sweetness in the desert air" there. It is upon the "sweet shady side of Pall Mall" that his perfume is not properly appreciated; and let him send home from thence more pleasant accounts of his eccentric wanderings, and graphic descriptions of his discoveries and adventures.
At last, worn out with fatigue, Mr Burton reached Berbereh, having accomplished the journey from Harar in an incredibly short time. Here he found Lieutenants Herne and Stroyan, and after visiting some of the points of interest near it, he returned to Aden to prepare for the grand expedition. About the same time Lieut. Speke arrived at Aden from his experimental trip through a tract of the Somali country formerly unvisited by any European, and which lies between Berbereh and Cape Guardafui. Although he failed in reaching the Wady Nogal, the principal object of his expedition, owing to the treachery of his Abban or protector, he penetrated for some distance into the interior, and gained a great deal of interesting information with respect to the tribes inhabiting that portion of the country. A resumé of Mr Speke's observations is appended to Mr Burton's work, but it lacks the interest of a personal narrative, and we much regret that the experiences of one whose extensive wanderings had already so well qualified him for the task, and who has shown himself so able an explorer, should not have been chronicled at greater length, and thrown into a form which would have rendered them more interesting to the general reader. Mr Speke landed at a place called Las Kuray, a collection of twenty or thirty huts, but which derives its importance from three large and six small forts which command it, and from its being the residence of the sultan or chief of the Warsingali tribe, of whose territory it is the capital. The jealousy of this man, and the connivance of the Abban or protector in his schemes of opposition to Mr Speke, operated as an insurmountable obstacle to the prosecution of the expedition beyond thirty or forty miles from the coast. At this point the traveller discovered some extensive ruins. Some of these are said to be the remains of Christian houses of worship. In some parts the walls were ten feet high, and showed an extent of civilisation now completely beyond the Warsingali. The people themselves assert these ruins to be those of Nazarene. Thence Mr Speke turned westward, and, keeping parallel to the coast, reached the Jid Ali valley, noted as the most wooded lowland he saw, and where the first indications, on the part of the Somali, have been manifested of changing their nomadic habits, and cultivating the ground. The highest altitude attained by the traveller was 7500 feet, but even at that height ice was unknown to the natives. During his three months' residence in the country, he was harassed by perpetual delays, and accounts of disputes and quarrels with his attendants occupy a large share of the journal. There was nothing, however, in their conduct, either to him or Mr Burton, during their intercourse with these savages, to lead them to anticipate the tragedy, which brought to an untimely end the ill-fated expedition, the details of which are given in a postscript to Mr Burton's work. The party consisted of forty-two souls, including Messrs Burton, Speke, Herne, and Stroyan, with fifty-six camels, upon which they intended to convey upwards of a thousand pounds' worth of property, for purposes of barter with the natives in the interior. The camp was pitched near the sea-shore, in a position which was commanded by the guns of the E. I. Company's schooner Mahi, which had conveyed them from Aden. Unfortunately she was unable to remain in harbour during the interval which elapsed before all the preparations for the final start had been completed. Meanwhile the annual fair at Berbereh was drawing to a close, and of the thousands who had flocked there during the winter months, but a few hundreds were remaining. There was no reason to suspect any aggressive designs on the part of the natives, but with so much valuable merchandise it was always deemed advisable at night to post sentries over the camp. The tents were pitched in line, Mr Stroyan's on the extreme right, Messrs Herne and Burton occupied one in the centre, and Mr Speke slept in one on the left.
"Between 2 and 3 A.M. on the 19th April (writes Mr Burton), I was suddenly aroused by the Balyuz (captain of the caravan), who cried aloud that the enemy were upon us (the attacking party was afterwards said to be 350 strong). Hearing a rush of men like a stormy wind, I sprang up, called for my sabre, and sent Lieutenant Herne to ascertain the cause of the foray. Armed with a Colt, he went to the rear and left of the camp, the direction of danger, collected some of the guard, others having already disappeared, and fired two shots into the assailants. Then finding himself alone, he turned hastily towards the tent; in so doing he was tripped up by the ropes, and as he rose a Somali appeared in the act of striking at him with a club. Lieutenant Herne fired, floored the man, and, returning, he declared that the enemy was in great force, and the guard nowhere. Meanwhile I had aroused Lieutenants Stroyan and Speke, who were sleeping in the extreme right and left tents. The former, it is supposed, rose to defend himself, but, as the sequel shows, we never saw him alive."
The battle now commenced in earnest.
"The enemy swarmed like hornets, with shouts intended to terrify, and proving the overwhelming odds that were against us. It was by no means easy to avoid in the shades of night the jobbing of javelins, and the long heavy daggers thrown at our legs from under and through the opening of the tent. We three remained together; Lieutenant Herne knelt by my right, on my left was Lieutenant Speke guarding the entrance. I stood in the centre, having nothing but my sabre. The revolvers were used by my companions with deadly effect. Unfortunately there was but one pair. When the fire was exhausted, Lieutenant Herne went to search for his powder-horn, and, that failing, to find some spears usually tied to the tent-pole. Whilst thus engaged he saw a man breaking into the rear of our tent, and came back to inform me of the circumstance."
To avoid being entangled in the falling tent, Mr Burton now gave the word for escape, closely followed by his two companions. Fortunately the day before a small native craft had come into the harbour and anchored off the camp, and Mr Burton had been in communication with the native master. They determined, therefore, to make for the shore, in the hope of getting on board the vessel. It was "sauve qui peut," and the three companions were soon separated in the melée. Mr Burton cut his way through the enemy, whose war-clubs worked without mercy, and reached the shore as by a miracle, not, however, until a javelin had pierced both checks. Here he found himself alone in the darkness, and spent the interval before dawn wandering in search of his comrades, and lying down when overcome with faintness and pain. As day broke, he found his way to the head of the creek, and was carried on board the vessel. Lieutenant Herne, meanwhile, had made for the now deserted town, using the but-end of his discharged revolver as his weapon. More fortunate than either of his companions, with the exception of sundry stiff blows with the war-club, he escaped unhurt, and remained concealed among the empty huts until daylight enabled him to steal his way to the friendly craft where his comrade had already found an asylum. Lieutenant Speke's escape was so miraculous that we quote it at length:--
"Sallying from the tent, he levelled his Dean and Adams close to an assailant's breast. The pistol refused to revolve. A sharp blow of a war-club upon the chest felled our comrade, who was in the rear, and unseen. When he fell, two or three men sprang upon him, pinioned his hands behind, felt him for concealed weapons, an operation to which he submitted in some alarm, and led him towards the rear, as he supposed, to be slaughtered. Then Lieutenant Speke, who could scarcely breathe from the pain of the blow, asked a captor to tie his hands before instead of behind, and begged a drop of water to relieve his excruciating thirst. The savage defended him against a number of the Somal, who came up threatening, and brandishing their spears; he brought a cloth for the wounded man to lie upon, and lost no time in procuring a draught of water. Lieutenant Speke remained upon the ground till dawn. During the interval he witnessed the war-dance of the savages--a scene striking in the extreme. The tallest and largest warriors marched in a ring round the huts and booty, singing with the deepest and most solemn tones the song of thanksgiving. At a little distance they grey uncertain light disclosed four or five men lying desperately hurt, whilst their kinsmen kneaded their limbs, poured limps of dates in their stiffening hands. As day broke the division of plunder caused angry passions to arise. The dead and dying were abandoned. One party made a rush upon the cattle, and with shouts and yells drove them off to the wilds. Some loaded themselves with goods; others fought over pieces of cloth, which they tore with hand and dagger; whilst the disappointed, vociferating with rage, struck at one another, and brandished their spears. More than once during these scenes a panic seized them. They moved off in a body to some distance; and there is little doubt that, had our guard struck one blow, we might still have won the day. Lieutenant Speke's captor went to seek his own portion of the spoil, when a Somal came up and asked him in Hindostani, what business the Frank had in their country; and added, that he would kill him if a Christian, but spare the life of a brother Moslem. The wounded man replied that he was going to Zanzibar, that he was still a Nazarene, and therefore that the work had better be done at once. The savage laughed, and passed on. He was succeeded by a second, who, equally compassionate, whirled a sword round his head, twice pretended to strike, but returned to the plunder without doing damage. Presently came another manner of assailant. Lieutenant Speke, who had extricated his hands, caught the spear levelled at his breast, but received, at the same moment, a blow from a club, which, paralysing his arm, caused him to lose his hold. In defending his heart from a succession of thrusts, he received severe wounds on the back of his hand, his right shoulder, and his left thigh. Pausing a little, the wretch crossed to the other side, and suddenly passed his spear clean through the right leg of th wounded man. The latter, smelling death, then leapt up, and, taking advantage of his assailant's terror, rushed headlong towards the sea. Looking back, he avoided the javelin hurled at his back, and had the good fortune to run, without further accident, the gauntlet of a score of missiles. When pursuit was discontinued, he sat down, faint from loss of blood, upon a sandhill. Recovering strength by a few minutes' rest, he staggered on to the town, where some old women directed him to us. Then, pursuing his way, he fell in with the party sent to seek him, and with their aid reached the craft, having walked and run at least three miles after receiving eleven wounds, two of which had pierced his thighs."
"A touching lesson," remarks Hadji, "how difficult it is to kill a man in sound health." Poor Stroyan's corpse was afterwards brought on board. A spear had traversed his heart; another had pierced his abdomen, and a frightful gash, apparently of a sword, had opened the upper part of his forehead. The body had been bruised with war-clubs, and the thighs showed marks of violence after death. They buried their lamented comrade, and then, with heavy hearts, set sail for Aden; and after two tedious days, carried to their friends there the news of unexpected disaster.
From the foregoing description of the treachery and ferocity of these savages, the hazard of the enterprise so ably accomplished by Mr Burton will be better appreciated than it would otherwise have been; and after such an experience we might have supposed that he and his friends would have been cured of their love of African exploration. So far from this being the case, the Eastern proverb that "disappointment is the salt of life" seems to hold good with them; for says our author, "The writer has had the satisfaction of receiving from his comrades assurances that they are willing to accompany him once more in the task of African exploration." Meanwhile two of the East India Company's ships are at this moment blockading that part of the Somali coast which was the scene of the tragedy, and 15,000 dollars have been offered by the natives as indemnity for the outrage; but by these measures nothing is gained--trade is hindered, and ill-feeling maintained between the natives and Franks, which will only render any further attempt to travel in their country more dangerous. Our real policy under such circumstances would be that advocated by Mr Burton, of forming an agency at Berbereh, and thus not only would the trade of the country be developed, and the teeming resources of the interior find a large and safe market, but friendly relations would be cultivated with the natives, and be productive of mutual beneficial results. "The natives of the country," says Mr Burton, "are essentially commercial, and offer a favourable contrast to their kindred, the Arabs of Aden--a race over whom as yet we have never succeeded in acquiring any influence. Berbereh is the true key of the Red Sea in the opinion of our author, the centre of Eastern traffic, and the only safe place for shipping between Suez and Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbour has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it, as it were, into our arms, and if we refuse this chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind." By establishing an armed post here, we should not only protect the lives and property of Englishmen wrecked on the coast, but put a stop to that extensive traffic in slaves which is now carried on from this port. According to travellers who have visited both places, the climate of Aden will not bear a comparison with this place, which is equally on the route to India, and a convenient stopping-place for steamers. We trust that the attention of Government may be directed to the advantages which it holds out for a permanent settlement, and that the favourable moment for forming a new and most valuable mercantile connection will not be allowed to slip away. A growing tendency has been manifested, of late years, to shrink from what is termed aggression upon savages, but there are cases where the interests of humanity demand the interference of some civilised power. We have had no reason to complain of our aggressive policy hitherto; it has placed us where we are in the scale of nations, and contributed to the welfare and happiness of millions who otherwise would have been the victims of a savage despotism. We thoroughly agree with our author in his views. "The philanthropist and political economist," he says, "may fondly hope, by outcry against 'territorial aggrandisement,' by advocating a compact frontier, by abandoning colonies, and by cultivating equilibrium, to retain our rank amongst the great nations of the world. Never! The facts of history prove nothing more conclusively than this: a race either progresses or retrogrades, either increases or diminishes--the children of Time, like their sire, cannot stand still."
What is the use of those bold spirits of ours, who. Like the men of no other country, "with their lived in their hands," dare everything to open up to the enterprise of their countrymen the hidden resources of unknown lands, if our Government will not profit by their hardy exploits? Our Burtons, and Spekes, and Stroyans are the pioneers of civilisation, and are made of very different stuff from those morbid politicians who regard with dread the acquisition of every acre of new territory. We trust, therefore, that something beyond a mere blockade will be established at Berberch. Meantime we are glad to hear that the Hadji himself starts this month for his favourite quarter of the globe; we can wish him no nobler reward to his indefatigable enterprise than that his First Footsteps in East Africa may be the track which will ultimately become a highway for nations.