Excursions near Zayla.
We determined on the 9th of November to visit the island of Saad el Din, the larger of the two patches of ground which lie about two miles north of the town. Reaching our destination, after an hour's lively sail, we passed through a thick belt of underwood tenanted by swarms of midges, with a damp chill air crying fever, and a fetor of decayed vegetation smelling death. To this succeeded a barren flat of silt and sand, white with salt and ragged with salsolaceous stubble, reeking with heat, and covered with old vegetation. Here, says local tradition, was the ancient site of Zayla, (77) built by Arabs from Yemen. The legend runs that when Saad el Din was besieged and slain by David, King of Ethiopia, the wells dried up and the island sank. Something doubtless occurred which rendered a removal advisable: the sons of the Moslem hero fled to Ahmed bin El Ashraf, Prince of Senaa, offering their allegiance if he would build fortifications for them and aid them against the Christians of Abyssinia. The consequence was a walled circuit upon the present site of Zayla: of its old locality almost may be said "periêre ruinæ."
During my stay with Sharmarkay I made many inquiries about historical works, and the Kazi; Mohammed Khatib, a Harar man of the Hawiyah tribe, was at last persuaded to send his Daftar, or office papers, for my inspection. They formed a kind of parish register of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and manumissions. From them it appeared that in A.H. 1081 (A.D. 1670-71) the Shanabila Sayyids were Kazis of Zayla and retained the office for 138 years. It passed two generations ago into the hands of Mohammed Musa, a Hawiyah, and the present Kazi is his nephew.
The origin of Zayla, or, as it is locally called, "Audal," is lost in the fogs of Phoenician fable. The Avalites (78) of the Periplus and Pliny, it was in earliest ages dependent upon the kingdom of Axum. (79) About the seventh century, when the Southern Arabs penetrated into the heart of Abyssinia, (80) it became the great factory of the eastern coast, and rose to its height of splendour. Taki el Din Makrizi (81) includes under the name of Zayla, a territory of forty-three days' march by forty, and divides it into seven great provinces, speaking about fifty languages, and ruled by Amirs, subject to the Hati (Hatze) of Abyssinia.
In the fourteenth century it became celebrated by its wars with the kings of Abyssinia: sustaining severe defeats the Moslems retired upon their harbour, which, after an obstinate defence fell into the hands of the Christians. The land was laid waste, the mosques were converted into churches, and the Abyssinians returned to their mountains laden with booty. About A.D. 1400, Saad el Din, the heroic prince of Zayla, was besieged in his city by the Hatze David the Second: slain by a spear- thrust, he left his people powerless in the hands of their enemies, till his sons, Sabr el Din, Ali, Mansur, and Jemal el Din retrieved the cause of El Islam.
Ibn Batuta, a voyager of the fourteenth century, thus describes the place: "I then went from Aden by sea, and after four days came to the city of Zayla. This is a settlement, of the Berbers, (82) a people of Sudan, of the Shafia sect. Their country is a desert of two months' extent; the first part is termed Zayla, the last Makdashu. The greatest number of the inhabitants, however, are of the Rafizah sect. (83) Their food is mostly camels' flesh and fish. (84) The stench of the country is extreme, as is also its filth, from the stink of the fish and the blood of camels which are slaughtered in its streets."
About A.D. 1500 the Turks conquered Yemen, and the lawless Janissaries, "who lived upon the very bowels of commerce", (85) drove the peaceable Arab merchants to the opposite shore. The trade of India, flying from the same enemy, took refuge in Adel, amongst its partners. (86) The Turks of Arabia, though they were blind to the cause, were sensible of the great influx of wealth into the opposite kingdoms. They took possession, therefore, of Zayla, which they made a den of thieves, established there what they called a custom-house, (87) and, by means of that post and galleys cruising in the narrow straits of Bab el Mandeb, they laid the Indian trade to Adel under heavy contributions that might indemnify them for the great desertion their violence and injustice had occasioned in Arabia.
This step threatened the very existence both of Adel and Abyssinia; and considering the vigorous government of the one, and the weak politics and prejudices of the other, it is more than probable that the Turks would have subdued both, had they not in India, their chief object, met the Portuguese, strongly established.
Bartema, travelling in A.D. 1503, treats in his 15th chapter of "Zeila in Æthiopia and the great fruitlessness thereof, and of certain strange beasts seen there."
"In this city is great frequentation of merchandise, as in a most famous mart. There is marvellous abundance of gold and iron, and an innumerable number of black slaves sold for small prices; these are taken in War by the Mahomedans out of Æthiopia, of the kingdom of Presbyter Johannes, or Preciosus Johannes, which some also call the king of Jacobins or Abyssins, being a Christian; and are carried away from thence into Persia, Arabia Felix, Babylonia of Nilus or Alcair, and Meccah. In this city justice and good laws are observed. (88) ... It hath an innumerable multitude of merchants; the walls are greatly decayed, and the haven rude and despicable. The King or Sultan of the city is a Mahomedan, and entertaineth in wages a great multitude of footmen and horsemen. They are greatly given to war, and wear only one loose single vesture: they are of dark ash colour, inclining to black."
In July 1516 Zayla was taken, and the town burned by a Portuguese armament, under Lopez Suarez Alberguiera. When the Turks were compelled to retire from Southern Arabia, it became subject to the Prince of Senaa, who gave it in perpetuity to the family of a Senaani merchant.
The kingdom of Yemen falling into decay, Zayla passed under the authority of the Sherif of Mocha, who, though receiving no part of the revenue, had yet the power of displacing the Governor. By him it was farmed out to the Hajj Sharmarkay, who paid annually to Sayyid Mohammed el Barr, at Mocha, the sum of 750 crowns, and reserved all that he could collect above that sum for himself. In A.D. 1848 Zayla was taken from the family El Barr, and farmed out to Sharmarkay by the Turkish Governor of Mocha and Hodaydah.
The extant remains at Saad el Din are principally those of water-courses, rude lines of coralline, stretching across the plain towards wells, now lost, (89) and diminutive tanks, made apparently to collect rain water. One of these latter is a work of some art--a long sunken vault, with a pointed arch projecting a few feet above the surface of the ground; outside it is of rough stone, the interior is carefully coated with fine lime, and from the roof long stalactites depend. Near it is a cemetery: the graves are, for the most part, provided with large slabs of close black basalt, planted in the ground edgeways, and in the shape of a small oblong. The material was most probably brought from the mountains near Tajurrah: at another part of the island I found it in the shape of a gigantic mill-stone, half imbedded in the loose sand. Near the cemetery we observed a mound of rough stones surrounding an upright pole; this is the tomb of Shaykh Saad el Din, formerly the hero, now the favourite patron saint of Zayla,--still popularly venerated, as was proved by the remains of votive banquets, broken bones, dried garbage, and stones blackened by the fire.
After wandering through the island, which contained not a human being save a party of Somal boatmen, cutting firewood for Aden, and having massacred a number of large fishing hawks and small sea-birds, to astonish the natives, our companions, we returned to the landing-place. Here an awning had been spread; the goat destined for our dinner--I have long since conquered all dislike, dear L., to seeing dinner perambulating--had been boiled and disposed in hunches upon small mountains of rice, and jars of sweet water stood in the air to cool. After feeding, regardless of Quartana and her weird sisterhood, we all lay down for siesta in the light sea-breeze. Our slumbers were heavy, as the Zayla people say is ever the case at Saad el Din, and the sun had declined low ere we awoke. The tide was out, and we waded a quarter of a mile to the boat, amongst giant crabs who showed grisly claws, sharp coralline, and sea-weed so thick as to become almost a mat. You must believe me when I tell you that in the shallower parts the sun was painfully hot, even to my well tried feet. We picked up a few specimens of fine sponge, and coral, white and red, which, if collected, might be valuable to Zayla, and, our pic-nic concluded, we returned home.
On the 14th November we left the town to meet a caravan of the Danakil, (90) and to visit the tomb of the great saint Abu Zarbay. The former approached in a straggling line of asses, and about fifty camels laiden with cows' hides, ivories and one Abyssinian slave-girl. The men were wild as ourang-outangs, and the women fit only to flog cattle: their animals were small, meagre-looking, and loosely made; the asses of the Bedouins, however, are far superior to those of Zayla, and the camels are, comparatively speaking, well bred. (91) In a few minutes the beasts were unloaded, the Gurgis or wigwams pitched, and all was prepared for repose. A caravan so extensive being an unusual event,--small parties carrying only grain come in once or twice a week,--the citizens abandoned even their favourite game of ball, with an eye to speculation. We stood at "Government House," over the Ashurbara Gate, to see the Bedouins, and we quizzed (as Town men might denounce a tie or scoff at a boot) the huge round shields and the uncouth spears of these provincials. Presently they entered the streets, where we witnessed their frantic dance in presence of the Hajj and other authorities. This is the wild men's way of expressing their satisfaction that Fate has enabled them to convoy the caravan through all the dangers of the desert.
The Shaykh Ibrahim Abu Zarbay (92) lies under a whitewashed dome close to the Ashurbara Gate of Zayla: an inscription cut in wood over the doorway informs us that the building dates from A.H. 1155=AD. 1741-2. It is now dilapidated, the lintel is falling in, the walls are decaying, and the cupola, which is rudely built, with primitive gradients,--each step supported as in Cashmere and other parts of India, by wooden beams,-- threatens the heads of the pious. The building is divided into two compartments, forming a Mosque and a Mazar or place of pious visitation: in the latter are five tombs, the two largest covered with common chintz stuff of glaring colours. Ibrahim was one of the forty-four Hazrami saints who landed at Berberah, sat in solemn conclave upon Auliya Kumbo or Holy Hill, and thence dispersed far and wide for the purpose of propagandism. He travelled to Harar about A.D. 1430, (93) converted many to El Islam, and left there an honoured memory. His name is immortalised in El Yemen by the introduction of El Kat. (94)
Tired of the town, I persuaded the Hajj to send me with an escort to the Hissi or well. At daybreak I set out with four Arab matchlock-men, and taking a direction nearly due west, waded and walked over an alluvial plain flooded by every high tide. On our way we passed lines of donkeys and camels carrying water-skins from the town; they were under guard like ourselves, and the sturdy dames that drove them indulged in many a loud joke at our expense. After walking about four miles we arrived at what is called the Takhushshah--the sandy bed of a torrent nearly a mile broad, (95) covered with a thin coat of caked mud: in the centre is a line of pits from three to four feet deep, with turbid water at the bottom. Around them were several frame-works of four upright sticks connected by horizontal bars, and on these were stretched goats'-skins, forming the cattle-trough of the Somali country. About the wells stood troops of camels, whose Ísa proprietors scowled fiercely at us, and stalked over the plain with their long, heavy spears: for protection against these people, the citizens have erected a kind of round tower, with a ladder for a staircase. Near it are some large tamarisks and the wild henna of the Somali country, which supplies a sweet-smelling flower, but is valueless as a dye. A thick hedge of thorn-trees surrounds the only cultivated ground near Zayla: as Ibn Said declared in old times, "the people have no gardens, and know nothing of fruits." The variety and the luxuriance of growth, however, prove that industry is the sole desideratum. I remarked the castor-plant,--no one knows its name or nature, (96)--the Rayhan or Basil, the Kadi, a species of aloe, whose strongly scented flowers the Arabs of Yemen are fond of wearing in their turbans. (97) Of vegetables, there were cucumbers, egg-plants, and the edible hibiscus; the only fruit was a small kind of water-melon.
After enjoying a walk through the garden and a bath at the well, I started, gun in hand, towards the jungly plain that stretches towards the sea. It abounds in hares, and in a large description of spur-fowl (98); the beautiful little sand antelope, scarcely bigger than an English rabbit, (99) bounded over the bushes, its thin legs being scarcely perceptible during the spring. I was afraid to fire with ball, the place being full of Bedouins' huts, herds, and dogs, and the vicinity of man made the animals too wild for small shot. In revenge, I did considerable havoc amongst the spur-fowl, who proved equally good for sport and the pot, besides knocking over a number of old crows, whose gall the Arab soldiers wanted for collyrium. (100) Beyond us lay Warabalay or Hyaenas' hill (101): we did not visit it, as all its tenants had been driven away by the migration of the Nomads.
Returning, we breakfasted in the garden, and rain coming on, we walked out to enjoy the Oriental luxury of a wetting. Ali Iskandar, an old Arab mercenary, afforded us infinite amusement: a little opium made him half crazy, when his sarcastic pleasantries never ceased. We then brought out the guns, and being joined by the other escort, proceeded to a trial of skill. The Arabs planted a bone about 200 paces from us,--a long distance for a people who seldom fire beyond fifty yards;--moreover, the wind blew the flash strongly in their faces. Some shot two or three dozen times wide of the mark and were derided accordingly: one man hit the bone; he at once stopped practice, as the wise in such matters will do, and shook hands with all the party. He afterwards showed that his success on this occasion had been accidental; but he was a staunch old sportsman, remarkable, as the Arab Bedouins generally are, for his skill and perseverance in stalking. Having no rifle, I remained a spectator. My revolvers excited abundant attention, though none would be persuaded to touch them. The largest, which fitted with a stock became an excellent carbine, was at once named Abu Sittah (the Father of Six) and the Shaytan or Devil: the pocket pistol became the Malunah or Accursed, and the distance to which it carried ball made every man wonder. The Arabs had antiquated matchlocks, mostly worn away to paper thinness at the mouth: as usual they fired with the right elbow raised to the level of the ear, and the left hand grasping the barrel, where with us the breech would be. Hassan Turki had one of those fine old Shishkhanah rifles formerly made at Damascus and Senaa: it carried a two-ounce ball with perfect correctness, but was so badly mounted in its block-butt, shaped like a Dutch cheese, that it always required a rest.
On our return home we met a party of Ísa girls, who derided my colour and doubted the fact of my being a Moslem. The Arabs declared me to be a Shaykh of Shaykhs, and translated to the prettiest of the party an impromptu proposal of marriage. She showed but little coyness, and stated her price to be an Audulli or necklace, (102) a couple of Tobes,--she asked one too many--a few handfuls of beads, (103) and a small present for her papa. She promised, naively enough, to call next day and inspect the goods: the publicity of the town did not deter her, but the shamefacedness of my two companions prevented our meeting again. Arrived at Zayla after a sunny walk, the Arab escort loaded their guns, formed a line for me to pass along, fired a salute, and entered to coffee and sweetmeats.
On the 24th of November I had an opportunity of seeing what a timid people are these Somal of the towns, who, as has been well remarked, are, like the settled Arabs, the worst specimens of their race. Three Ísa Bedouins appeared before the southern gate, slaughtered a cow, buried its head, and sent for permission to visit one of their number who had been imprisoned by the Hajj for the murder of his son Masud. The place was at once thrown into confusion, the gates were locked, and the walls manned with Arab matchlock men: my three followers armed themselves, and I was summoned to the fray. Some declared that the Bedouins were "doing" (104) the town; others that they were the van of a giant host coming to ravish, sack, and slay: it turned out that these Bedouins had preceded their comrades, who were bringing in, as the price of blood, (105) an Abyssinian slave, seven camels, seven cows, a white mule, and a small black mare. The prisoner was visited by his brother, who volunteered to share his confinement, and the meeting was described as most pathetic: partly from mental organisation and partly from the peculiarities of society, the only real tie acknowledged by these people is that which connects male kinsmen. The Hajj, after speaking big, had the weakness to let the murderer depart alive: this measure, like peace-policy in general, is the best and surest way to encourage bloodshed and mutilation. But a few months before, an Ísa Bedouin enticed out of the gates a boy about fifteen, and slaughtered him for the sake of wearing the feather. His relations were directed to receive the Diyat or blood fine, and the wretch was allowed to depart unhurt--a silly clemency!
You must not suppose, dear L., that I yielded myself willingly to the weary necessity of a month at Zayla. But how explain to you the obstacles thrown in our way by African indolence, petty intrigue, and interminable suspicion? Four months before leaving Aden I had taken the precaution of meeting the Hajj, requesting him to select for us an Abban, (106) or protector, and to provide camels and mules; two months before starting I had advanced to him the money required in a country where nothing can be done without a whole or partial prepayment. The protector was to be procured anywhere, the cattle at Tajurrah, scarcely a day's sail from Zayla: when I arrived nothing was forthcoming. I at once begged the governor to exert himself: he politely promised to start a messenger that hour, and he delayed doing so for ten days. An easterly wind set in and gave the crew an excuse for wasting another fortnight. (107) Travellers are an irritable genus: I stormed and fretted at the delays to show earnestness of purpose. All the effect was a paroxysm of talking. The Hajj and his son treated me, like a spoilt child, to a double allowance of food and milk: they warned me that the small-pox was depopulating Harar, that the road swarmed with brigands, and that the Amir or prince was certain destruction,--I contented myself with determining that both were true Oriental hyperbolists, and fell into more frequent fits of passion. The old man could not comprehend my secret. "If the English," he privately remarked, "wish to take Harar, let them send me 500 soldiers; if not, I can give all information concerning it." When convinced of my determination to travel, he applied his mind to calculating the benefit which might be derived from the event, and, as the following pages will show, he was not without success.
Towards the end of November, four camels were procured, an Abban was engaged, we hired two women cooks and a fourth servant; my baggage was reformed, the cloth and tobacco being sewn up in matting, and made to fit the camels' sides (108); sandals were cut out for walking, letters were written, messages of dreary length,--too important to be set down in black and white,--were solemnly entrusted to us, palavers were held, and affairs began to wear the semblance of departure. The Hajj strongly recommended us to one of the principal families of the Gudabirsi tribe, who would pass us on to their brother-in-law Adan, the Gerad or prince of the Girhi; and he, in due time, to his kinsman the Amir of Harar. The chain was commenced by placing us under the protection of one Raghe, a petty Ísa chief of the Mummasan clan. By the good aid of the Hajj and our sweetmeats, he was persuaded, for the moderate consideration of ten Tobes, (109) to accompany us to the frontier of his clan, distant about fifty miles, to introduce us to the Gudabirsi, and to provide us with three men as servants, and a suitable escort, a score or so, in dangerous places. He began, with us in an extravagant manner, declaring that nothing but "name" induced him to undertake the perilous task; that he had left his flocks and herds at a season of uncommon risk, and that all his relations must receive a certain honourarium. But having paid at least three pounds for a few days of his society, we declined such liberality, and my companions, I believe, declared that it would be "next time:"--on all such occasions I make a point of leaving the room, since for one thing given at least five are promised on oath. Raghe warned us seriously to prepare for dangers and disasters, and this seemed to be the general opinion of Zayla, whose timid citizens determined that we were tired of our lives. The cold had driven the Nomads from the hills to the warm maritime Plains, (110) we should therefore traverse a populous region; and, as the End of Time aptly observed, "Man eats you up, the Desert does not." Moreover this year the Ayyal Nuh Ismail, a clan of the Habr Awal tribe, is "out," and has been successful against the Ísa, who generally are the better men. They sweep the country in Kaum or Commandos, (111) numbering from twenty to two hundred troopers, armed with assegai, dagger, and shield, and carrying a water skin and dried meat for a three days' ride, sufficient to scour the length of the low land. The honest fellows are not so anxious to plunder as to ennoble themselves by taking life: every man hangs to his saddle bow an ostrich (112) feather,--emblem of truth,--and the moment his javelin has drawn blood, he sticks it into his tufty pole with as much satisfaction as we feel when attaching a medal to our shell-jackets. It is by no means necessary to slay the foe in fair combat: Spartan-like, treachery is preferred to stand-up fighting; and you may measure their ideas of honour, by the fact that women are murdered in cold blood, as by the Amazulus, with the hope that the unborn child may prove a male. The hero carries home the trophy of his prowess, (113) and his wife, springing from her tent, utters a long shrill scream of joy, a preliminary to boasting of her man's valour, and bitterly taunting the other possessors of noirs fainéants: the derided ladies abuse their lords with peculiar virulence, and the lords fall into paroxysms of envy, hatred, and malice. During my short stay at Zayla six or seven murders were committed close to the walls: the Abban brought news, a few hours before our departure, that two Ísas had been slaughtered by the Habr Awal. The Ísa and Dankali also have a blood feud, which causes perpetual loss of life. But a short time ago six men of these two tribes were travelling together, when suddenly the last but one received from the hindermost a deadly spear thrust in the back. The wounded man had the presence of mind to plunge his dagger in the side of the wayfarer who preceded him, thus dying, as the people say, in company. One of these events throws the country into confusion, for the vendetta is rancorous and bloody, as in ancient Germany or in modern Corsica. Our Abban enlarged upon the unpleasant necessity of travelling all night towards the hills, and lying perdu during the day. The most dangerous times are dawn and evening tide: the troopers spare their horses during the heat, and themselves during the dew-fall. Whenever, in the desert,--where, says the proverb, all men are enemies--you sight a fellow creature from afar, you wave the right arm violently up and down, shouting "War Joga! War Joga!"--stand still! stand still! If they halt, you send a parliamentary to within speaking distance. Should they advance, (114) you fire, taking especial care not to miss; when two saddles are emptied, the rest are sure to decamp.
I had given the Abban orders to be in readiness,--my patience being thoroughly exhausted,--on Sunday, the 26th of November, and determined to walk the whole way, rather than waste another day waiting for cattle. As the case had become hopeless, a vessel was descried standing straight from Tajurrah, and, suddenly as could happen in the Arabian Nights, four fine mules, saddled and bridled, Abyssinian fashion, appeared at the door. (115)