Meditations among the Tombs--A Fracas--The Return March--The North-east Monsoon--Relief from Persecution--Interesting Animals--Gori Again--Shooting a Woman--Arrival at Aden--Fresh Projects--Arrangements.
3d January 1855.--During these three days I visited a ruined musjid and a cemetery, which, though much resembling the one at Rhut in every respect, was said to be of more recent origin, and built by Mohammedans. On my walking amongst the tombs, and inspecting the crosses (20) at their heads, the interpreter rebuked me for sacrilegious motives, and desired me to come away, lest the Dulbahantas should find it out, and be angry with me. Besides this, I daily tried to draw Sumunter, like a badger, from his hut, which was four miles distant from my tent, but without effect. He and his wife, two dwarf sisters (little hits of things, who, the interpreter said, were too small to be of any use), and some children, all lived together in a small beehive hut, so low that they had to crawl in on all-fours, and so small that it was marvellous how they could turn round in it. At length to-day he arrived in a sullen angry mood, and said, haughtily, he was displeased at my trying to force him into compliance, as if I had the power to make him move unless he chose. It was impossible to keep one's temper under such constant provocation; so I abused him vehemently, and warned him off the camp, again repeating he had abused his commission, as well as the Government authorities who engaged him,--and entreated he would "get away," and let me take my chance of proceeding how I could, for his presence simply made my position one of purgatory. He laughed in scorn, wishing to know if I thought I could do anything without him,--and said he had only to turn his back an instant, and the Dulbahantas were ready to devour me. I still persisted; and then he said, " If you say go once more, I take you at your word; and see you to the consequences."
My resolution was fixed; for I plainly saw I could not by any possibility be worse off. He now tried frightening me by assembling the Dulbahantas to confirm his words, making them say they only permitted my residence there out of the love they bore to their brother Sumunter, and that they certainly would kill me if he once left the place. They did not fear guns. The English could not reach them; besides, their fathers had driven Christians from these lands; and if an army was to attack them, they would assemble so many cavalry, and ride in such rapidity around them, that their gunners could not take aim in consequence of the clouds of dust which this feat would occasion. In addition to this, they thought the English only efficacious behind walls; else, why did they not take revenge upon the Arabs at Lahej, two years ago, for the murder of an officer? They had often heard of the English threatening and preparing to do it, but somehow they never carried their intention into execution. I treated these vain bombastic words with the contempt which they deserved,--but said, I only wanted Sumunter to take me on, or otherwise to leave me to my fate. They then tried weakening my party by bribing Farhan to side with them and leave; but the noble-hearted Seedi disclosed their treachery, and gallantly said he would share misfortunes with me, and fight, if necessary, to the last extremity.
Imam, tame-hearted Indian, got in a dreadful fright, and implored I would compromise the matter; for by this time all the camels had been driven away; and the Warsingali moved off with Sumunter, saying I brought the rupture by my obstinacy on my own head, and that as soon as they were out of sight, the Dulbahantas would walk in and kill us all in a heap. I then loaded all the guns, and, giving one to each of the servants, sat on the boxes waiting to see the upshot. I was clearly outmanoeuvred--unable to move or get anything--but still was, to use their own expression, "obstinate." After proceeding a certain distance, the retiring band, with Sumunter at their head, sitting fully equipped with spear and shield on his war-steed, came to a halt, and invited the interpreter to meet them, presuming, they said, there might be some mistake, and therefore they wished to open negotiations afresh. Sumunter then gave me back my own words, saying, "If the Sahib would only say he wished me to take him to Berbera, I will give some small presents to the Akils of the Dulbahantas as a passport for him, and proceed at once;" for they were only endeavouring to feel my disposition towards them, and did not intend desertion, if I was not irredeemably incensed against them. They then came back, and work began afresh, by the distribution of presents, which, as is usual when no man can bear to see the smallest trifle slip from his grasp to be given to another, was a matter of no small difficulty in adjusting. If the Dulbahantas did not succeed in skinning me of all my effects, they naturally thought the next tribe would; and a whole day was consumed in wrangling and disputing how much they should get. This ended by my giving one musket, thirteen tobes, and my reserve silk turban; and now I was at liberty to quit Jid Ali.
11th.--At 10 A.M. we were loaded, and commenced the journey westward; whilst the Abban said he would bid his friends adieu at home, and bring five horses with him to Biyn Hablé, where he would meet us on the following day. The track led us across a fiat alluvial plain, still in the valley, which was well covered with a thick growth of acacias, and dry short grass, nipped short by cattle. After walking five miles, we arrived at our destination, not far from a well, and made a ring-fence of prickly boughs.
Here for the last time I boiled the thermometer, to ascertain the altitude of the plateau along my line of march, and found its average height was 3913 feet: the minimum, at Rhut Tug, being 3077 feet--and the maximum, at Yubbé Tug, 4498 feet.
The following day two Dulbahantas paid us a visit, and demanded to know by whose authority we had come upon their grounds; we were trespassers, and must pay our footing. The ground was theirs, and they recognised no authority over them. What I had given at the last place was no concern of theirs, but I must give them also a quantity of cloth equivalent to it. This being refused as a preposterous imposition, they turned hastily away, and, tossing their heads, said, I might soon expect to see them again in larger numbers, when they would help themselves. Moreover, for my satisfaction, they could assure me that a number of men, who had learned which road I was bent on travelling, were fast gathering on ahead, to oppose my advance. In the evening the Abban arrived, bringing only two ponies with him.
17th.--It would be needless to recount all the varied incidents of the next five days which were wasted here, by the thousand and one stories which the Abban produced to fritter away my time near his home, and swindle me out of my property. The time had now arrived when by appointment I should have been at Berbera; and as I was not then aware at what time the fair usually broke up, I felt much afraid of being too late to join my companions. Sometimes Sumunter raised my hopes by saying he would certainly proceed on a certain date; and when that day arrived, the journey was deferred again, but not without severe rows, so exactly like the past ones as to be unworthy of description. One day we were ready, and I was to pass through any people that might fall in the way by giving large credits on Aden under his security, when the tide was turned again in another moment by the arrival of some accomplices, who dropped in like unexpected evils, to say the southern Dulbahantas had gained a great victory, slaughtering men and cattle, and the road to Berbera would be thronged with people, so that advance would be impossible for the present. This was a settler to my westward march; and now I thought of escaping from this land of robbers by turning northwards, and marching over the hills to Bunder Héis, where I could either ship off, or march along the coast to Berbera.
Negotiations were then set on foot with the Rheer Hamaturwa, and several of their Akils came at my bidding, but were as implacable about obliging a stranger as any of their neighbours. The whole distance was not three days' travel; still they said I should not see their country, and acknowledged themselves a lawless band, who would take everything from me if I ventured there: adding, if the Warsingali and Dulbahantas, who were stronger than themselves, would only withdraw from me one day, they would come down at once, and demolish my whole camp. They then demanded cloths for the trouble I had given them, but, not receiving any, retired in huge disgust.
18th.--In final despair I faced about, and marched north-easterly, by a new route, to reach Bunder Gori again, to ship for Aden, as there only could I be certain of finding a vessel to convey me over the Gulf. After six miles' march across the head of the valley, we arrived at Mirhiddo Kraal, on elevated ground, and found a large party assembled there. Some of them were the Rheer Hamaturwa, with whom I tried again for permission to cross their hills, but this time by the gap at the head of the valley in front of Bunder Jedid. This they were ready to permit, and give security of passage to my people, if I gave them all my remaining cloths; but they thought I should not find a vessel there, which settled the question. I had no time to lose, and, moreover, should save my cloths by continuing on the line I was travelling. For though I should have to cross the hills where they were occupied by the Habr Gerhajis, in the new way my track would pass so near to the Warsingali frontier, that that tribe would not have strength enough to demand anything from me, and passport fees are only given in such places to the extent to which they can be enforced.
The other people I met here were some Dulbahantas arming for the fight. They said they were 4000 strong in cavalry, and were slaughtering sheep wholesale for provision on the road. Each man carried a junk of flesh, a skin of water, and a little hay, and was then ready for a long campaign, for they were not soft like the English (their general boast), who must have their daily food; they were hardy enough to work without eating ten days in succession, if the emergency required it. Here a second camel was on the point of dying, when his flesh was saved from becoming carrion by a knife being passed across his throat.
21st.--The Abban slipped away on the 19th, when I was out specimen-hunting, and would not come again till to-day, and then even returned to give his wife a last salute, permitting me to advance to a watercourse called Hanfallal, whilst he would join me on the following day. This day we accomplished ten miles, and made a kraal about four miles north of our old line of march.
22d.--As the Abban did not keep his promise, and none of us knew the road, I now tried to prevail on his mother Awado, who was tending her flocks close by, to be my guide, which she readily consented to do, as she was anxious herself to go to Bunder Gori. The water found here was in a circular cleft of limestone, sixty feet below the surface, which was so small, only one person at a time could descend to it; and the supply was so limited, I was obliged to keep my men down there all night, to be the first for drawing in the morning. Gazelles were very abundant, and in the evening we were visited by a very singular-looking canine animal, which unfortunately I could not get a shot at. It was a little less in size than the Crocuta hyena, but inclined rather more, in its general shape, to a wolf than a hyena. The body was a pure black, like the black Tibet wolf, but the tail was tipped with white. I am not aware that this animal has ever been described.
23d.--At the usual starting-hour the Abban arrived, with two ponies belonging to his brother-in-law, Husayn Ali, but which he tried to pass off as his own, being ever very anxious to make me believe he was a large stock proprietor, to magnify his importance. But, unfortunately for him, the interpreter, who was as treacherous a man as any of the breed, although he often confounded me by his innate deceit, also peached at times upon his brother Sumunter. The Abban, on seeing his mother equipped and ready on her donkey to go with me, scolded her heartily for presuming to undertake the journey without his leave, and sent her home faster than she came. We now commenced the march, and travelled five miles diagonally across some low spurs of hills, and encamped in the evening in a broad, deep, dry nullah, at a place called Dalmallé. We brought water with us, and fortunate it was so, for none could be found anywhere near the camp.
24th.--We started early in the morning, ascending the hill-range by a steep winding footpath up one of its ridges, which, in respect to its barrenness and soil, resembled the descent I had from Yafir. After completing eleven miles' march, the caravan crested the hill opposite Ras (21) Galwéni, travelled a short way on the flat of the summit, and encamped in the evening amongst some thick jungle on its north or seaward side, at a kraal called Gobamiré.
Immediately on arriving, as we commenced to unload the camels, a number of men who were occupying that district--the Urus Sagé section of the Habr Gerhajis tribe--seized the camels by their heads, and demanded their customary fees, at the same time boisterously gesticulating that they would help themselves if their request was not complied with. Farhan enjoyed the row in the boisterous characteristic manner of a Seedi--began dancing frantically the negro war dance, cocking his gun, and pointing it at everybody by turns; whilst Sumunter and the other Warsingali began thumping them with their clubs, and swearing a fearful vengeance would be wrought upon them by their tribe, who were living within an hour or two's call, should they not desist. The fact was, my men knew their power here, and, guided only by animal passions, enjoyed showing it. The poor discomfited Urus Sagé now slunk off like defeated dogs, or schoolboys returning from a fight, just wishing to know if they were only to be considered in the light of women, who could not maintain their own right, and, snarling and snapping, threatened they would return again in stronger force before the morning.
We then unloaded, and lay-to for the night. Immediately on reaching the top of this range, a most interesting and novel sight was presented to our view. We stepped in one instant from constant sunshine into constant clouds, and saw what accounted for the dense verdure of the north, as well as the extreme barrenness of the south side of the hills. For two months we had not seen the vestige of a cloud, or felt a drop of rain, and now we were at once launched into the middle of the "Dairti" or north-east monsoon, which had been pouring for some time previously against the north face of the mountain, and was arrested there by it. It reminded me at once of that marked phenomenon with which all travellers in the Himalaya Mountains, who spend their "hot-weather" season at Chini, on the banks of the Sutlege river, to escape rain, must be acquainted, when the clouds of the great Indian monsoon envelop all the mountain-range for months together on the weather or south-west side, and hang suspended on the top of a high hill in sight of that place, but never pass over, looking as if the mountain was too high to be surmounted by them, when trying to reach the dry plateaux of Tibet. The clouds were rolling in thick successive volumes at our feet, and obscured the view below us.
25th.--We were detained until noon in consequence of the Abban's ponies, which had gone astray, and until then could not be found. In the meanwhile the Urus Sagé came again, and tried to prevent us loading, on the same plea as yesterday, but without effect; but when we were starting, a compromise was effected on condition they would escort us down the hill and guide the way. The road was steep and very slippery, so that the camels could hardly get along, and this was further increased by the thick strong green jungle-bushes, as well as rocks and other difficulties incidental to mountain travelling with such large and ungainly animals as laden camels. At the fourth mile we found a large roomy cave under a rock, and put up for the night. Sheep had been kept here, and the place was so full of fleas that the ground was literally browned with them. I never saw such an astonishing quantity congregated in one place; but we soon disposed of them by burning certain boughs, which the Somali justly said was a specific remedy against them.
26th and 27th.--During these two days we descended by a tortuous winding footpath under no mean difficulties, and finally arrived, after twelve miles' marching, at a place called Hundurgal, situated in the hollow of a watercourse which divides the Warsingali from the Habr Gerhajis frontiers, and transmits its waters to the Gulf at Ras Galwéni. During the journey the Somali pointed out some of their richest gum-trees, of which the finest in order is a species of frankincense, called by them Falafala, or Luban Maiti. The gum of this tree is especially valued by the Somali women for fumigating purposes, which they apply to their bodies by sitting over it, when ignited, in the same manner as Cashmeres sit over their little charcoal-pots to keep themselves warm when resting on their travels. They enshroud themselves in a large wrapper, place a pot with the burning gum between their legs, and allow the perfume to rise to every portion of their body simultaneously. We gave our guides five cloths for escort, and sent them away.
I was informed by my men that under lee of Ras Galwéni there is a better harbour than any on the whole coast-line, having deep water close in to the shore, but, being neutral ground, the Warsingali will not allow anybody to occupy it. They do not allow the Habr Gerhajis to do so, as they would monopolise the trade; and they will not take it themselves, as their sultan sagely remarks it would draw all their force to one side of their possessions, and thus leave the other exposed to attack from the Mijjertaines. Now the Dulbahantas are obliged to come to Bunder Gori if they want to traffic with outer nations, but were the Habr Gerhajis at Galwéni, this custom would be drawn from them.
25th.--The inexpressible delight I felt at snuffing the fresh sea-air, and being comparatively free from the tyranny of my persecutor Sumunter, was truly indescribable; and I felt so impatient to end this useless journey, and join my friends for the larger and more promising one, I could hardly restrain my spirits. I stepped out before the caravan was ready, and began the journey alone, when presently a rapid fire, the discharge of a six-barrel revolver, attracted my attention. This was done by the Abban, who said that whilst travelling there his life was in jeopardy from the Habr Gerhajis, in consequence of an old feud he had contracted with them, on account of which they had forbidden this road to him. He thought to frighten them by the report of firearms, but it seemed to have the opposite effect, for many men at once gathered around the caravan, and for the time prevented its onward course. As usual, they wanted me not only to pay for travelling in their country, but to liquidate their claim on the Abban, as I had brought him there, and only out of consideration for the respect they felt towards me, they permitted his passage in safety.
They might as well have tried to skin a flint as obtain anything from me, and I told them so, for Sumunter had fleeced me of all my effects. This parley concluded, we travelled on without any further molestation, and, crossing over the foot of some low spurs, arrived at noon in a broad watercourse on the maritime plain to eat some breakfast.
Here I shot and stuffed a very interesting rat, with a bushy tail, very much resembling the little gilléri squirrel of the Indian plains, but plumper in face and body, like a recently born rabbit. I had seen many of them in rocks about the hill's side, but until now had not secured a good specimen. (22) Again at this place I saw those large black canine animals with white-tipped tail, but could not get a shot: there were three hunting together, like jungle dogs in India. After refreshing ourselves we resumed the march, and travelled along the sandy shore eastward to a halting-place called Farjeh, completing a march of twelve miles.
29th.--This day we completed our journey by marching into Gori, when I again took occupation of the old fort. An answer from the Government at Aden to my appeal against the sultan and Abban had now arrived, and affected Sumunter severely. He was ready to sink into the earth, and said to me, "Oh, why did you not whip me when I was in fault? I could have borne that well, but writing to the English at Aden is more than I can bear. What will be the consequences now if I return to Aden?" I said I could not answer for it, as it was now beyond my control, and if he went over there he must take his chance; but I strongly advised his not going at all. "Indeed," I said, "I wish you would depart from me at once. From the first, I told you I was obliged, by order, to write accurate accounts of everything as it happened, and the English, as you have often said yourself, are remarkable for not telling lies." The sultan, into whose hands the letter first went, would not show himself, but remained in the distant jungles, although I sent repeatedly for him to converse concerning Sumunter.
The buggalow in which I came from Aden was now anchored in Bunder Gori. It had made a voyage somewhere in the meanwhile, but the captain had been afraid to go to Aden in consequence of the salt question, in which Sumunter had made him confederate, fearing lest I might have since written to the authorities there about it. However, I now wanted to hire it again, and made sundry overtures to the captain, who at first showed a disposition to treat, hoping thereby I should forgive him; but he was finally hindered from doing so by the insidious machinations of Sumunter, who doubtless was afraid by this means of collecting at Aden more witnesses against himself. Sumunter now saw his position clearly, and must have felt equally with myself it was a great pity the letter of reproof from the Brigadier of Aden (23) did not arrive sooner, and keep him on a course of rectitude, for he was obliged to return to Aden and take his chance, as there he had not only a wife and family, but it was the headquarters of all his mercantile transactions. During this time, whilst I was in the old fort, an odd accident occurred to an Akil's wife. She was playing with my interpreter, who, for a frolic, snatched up one of my six-barrelled revolver pistols and gave her chase. Suddenly she darted into the room I was sitting in, bounced on a bench and poked her tail in my man's face. He, not knowing the pistol was loaded, pulled at the trigger, and discharged the contents of two barrels at once into her fleshy projection. In an instant their fun came to an end, and great consternation ensued. She thought she must die from it, and bolted off home to give up the ghost. Her husband now came and clamoured for revenge--her value was so-and-so, and my man must pay it. The interpreter, hearing this, came crying to me, and wished to know if I thought she would die; for should she do so, he, by the laws of the land, would have to pay her price. I said I could not tell without seeing her wounds, but, under any circumstances, the bullets ought to be extracted. This appeared to them still more alarming than ever. They did not wish me to inspect the wounds, and the woman herself was very bashful. However, the Sahib was the only surgeon present, and votes gave me the practice. It was certainly very amusing to witness the struggle between virtue and necessity, and the operation was so far satisfactory that I succeeded in extracting one of the balls. The other ball, however, was so deeply imbedded I could not find a probe that would reach it. Fortunately it was not fired in a dangerous direction, and the ball being small, I thought it would not occasion her any serious inconvenience. In short, I set their minds easy on that score, though it did not keep their tongues quiet from importunate begging. I was now dreadfully impatient to get away, but day by day I had to suffer disappointment. I was assured by Sumunter he was doing everything in his power to facilitate it, and as often told by the interpreter, when he had gone away that he was doing nothing of the sort, but, on the contrary, had sent to the interior to get three ponies which would make five with what he had, the complement required by Lieutenant Burton, to make a present to him on arrival, as a bribe to overlook his faults. I besought he would desist from this hopeless speculation, as time was now more precious than any other matter. Still he persisted, and in a fortnight's time the animals arrived, and then, without further trouble, we chartered a vessel for thirty-five dollars, twelve times the fare I paid for coming over, with the whole vessel to myself; and embarked with eight camels and five ponies on the 15th February 1855. After five days' sailing we anchored in Aden harbour, and no sooner did the "let go the anchor" sound, than, Somali fashion, overjoyed at my release from three and a half months' persecution, I took a header into the sea, and hastily swam ashore to hurry off and meet old friends.
After the first greetings were over, and I had delivered for report all my sketch-notes (24) of the journey, as well as maps and collections, which latter were sent to the public museum in Calcutta, a discussion took place as to the disposal of the Abban, who, I now found out, was not singular in the way of treating his clients, for Herne had been writing over complaints constantly about his man. I was averse to punishing him, from the simple fact of having brought him over; but my commandant thought otherwise, and that he had better be punished, if for no other reason than to set a good moral example to the others. (25)
Against my inclination I was appointed to be Sumunter's prosecutor, and with my servants as witnesses, a verdict of guilty was speedily effected against him in the Aden Police Court. He was then sentenced to two months' imprisonment, and to pay the sum of 200 rupees, or, failing to do that within the given time, he would be further subjected to imprisonment, with hard labour, for six months more, and was to be banished with his family for ever after the present punishment should cease.
I now advised Lieutenant Burton, after my late defeat in travelling, that it would be highly essential to the success of the great expedition that we should be escorted by some Somali picked from the Aden police force, as by this means alone should we have men on whom we could depend. He also was aware of this fact, from having been successfully taken himself into Harar by one of that corps; but, unfortunately for us, there were none to spare.
Though the Somali are rare blackguards in most respects, there are some traits in their character which have always won me to them. They love freedom and liberty, and enjoy a jolly row, added to which they are always in good spirits. In my humble opinion, they would make first-rate guerilla soldiers for Aden, if armed and trained to shoot with good rifles, and not restrained to wearing any particular clothes, or confined to steady-marching drills. They have a national antipathy to the Arabs, their elder brothers, and would glory in having scrimmages with them.
This was the climax of my first proceedings with Africa.
Stroyan and Herne were now both employed at Berbera or in its vicinity. The former had been making slight excursions inland, shooting, and had killed three elephants; whilst the latter was purchasing baggage-cattle for the expedition transport. After enjoying a short repose in civilised life, I again felt restless, and proposed a move to proceed thither in order to assist Herne in completing the desired complement of animals. This at once met the views of our commandant, who, doubting whether Berbera could supply a sufficient number of beasts of burden of itself, asked me to cross over the Gulf and see what I could do at Kurrum, to keep in communication with Herne, and as soon as I had got enough, to march with them along the sea-shore to Berbera.
Nothing could have suited me better. I saw before me, by this measure, active employment until the breaking-up of the Berbera fair.
A kind friend (Lieutenant Dansey of the Bombay army, late Assistant Political Agent of Aden, who knew the characters of all the Somali well) offered to procure me a man as guide and interpreter who had formerly performed, during the time of his appointment, some political service in the Somali country, with great credit both to his mission and himself. In consequence of this he was nicknamed El Balyuz, or the Ambassador.
Balyuz was a clever Hindostani scholar, and, as I ultimately found, possessed such honesty of purpose and straightforwardness of character, as rendered him a perfect rara avis amongst all Somali. He was of the Mijjertaine tribe. Travelling in his company, after my experiences with Sumunter and Ahmed, was verily a luxury. I parted with him at the termination of the expedition with pure feelings of affection.
Lieutenant Burton now conceived the idea of suppressing the system of Abbanship, thinking that, as the Somali had access to Aden without any impost, Englishmen ought to enjoy a corresponding freedom to travel in Somali Land. This perhaps was scarcely the right time to dictate a policy which would be distasteful as well as injurious (in a monetary sense) to the people among whom we were about to travel, and with whom it was highly essential to our interest to be on the most friendly terms. (26)
I now applied to the Government for some Somali policemen, but unfortunately there were then too few hands present to carry on the duties of the office, and I could not have them. I therefore engaged, by the orders of Lieutenant Burton, a dozen men of various races (Egyptians, Nubians, Arabs, and Seedis), to form an escort, and armed them with my sabres and muskets. They were all raw recruits, and unaccustomed to warfare. Still we could get no others. With a little practice they learned to shoot at a mark with tolerable accuracy.
Seven of these men, together with the eight camels I brought across from Bunder Gori, were despatched direct to Berbera, whilst the remaining five, and some ponies I purchased in Aden, remained with me. I then took a bag of dollars for purchasing camels; some dates and rice for the consumption of the party; and with the Balyuz and the old servants, Imam the butler and Farhan the gamekeeper, all was ready for my second adventure on the 20th March 1855.