IN THE HEART OF AFRICA
By Sir Samuel W. Baker, M.A., F.R.G.S.
Condensed By E.J.W From "The Nile Tributaries Of Abyssinia" And "The Albert N'yanza Great Basin Of The Nile."
The Nubian desert—The bitter well—Change of plans—An irascible dragoman—Pools of the Atbara—One secret of the Nile—At Cassala
Egypt's rule of the Soudan—Corn-grinding in the Soudan—Mahomet meets relatives—The parent of Egypt—El Baggar rides the camel
The Arabs' exodus—Reception by Abou Sinn—Arabs dressing the hair—Toilet of an Arab woman—The plague of lice—Wives among the Arabs—The Old Testament confirmed
On the Abyssinian border—A new school of medicine—Sacred shrines and epidemics
A primitive craft—Stalking the giraffes—My first giraffes-Rare sport with the finny tribe—Thieving elephants
Preparations for advance—Mek Nimmur makes a foray—The Hamran elephant-hunters—In the haunts of the elephant—A desperate charge
The start from Geera—Feats of horsemanship—A curious chase—Abou Do wins a race—Capturing a young buffalo—Our island camp—Tales of the Base
The elephant trumpets—Fighting an elephant with swords—The forehead-shot—Elephants in a panic—A superb old Neptune—The harpoon reaches its aim—Death of the hippopotamus—Tramped by an elephant
Fright of the Tokrooris—Deserters who didn't desert—Arrival of the Sherrif brothers—Now for a tally-ho!—On the heels of the rhinoceroses—The Abyssinian rhinoceros—Every man for himself
A day with the howartis—A hippo's gallant fight—Abou Do leaves us—Three yards from a lion—Days of delight—A lion's furious rage—Astounding courage of a horse
The bull-elephant—Daring Hamrans—The elephant helpless—Visited by a minstrel—A determined musician—The nest of the outlaws—The Atbara River
Abyssinian slave-girls—Khartoum—The Soudan under Egyptian rule—Slave-trade in the Soudan—The obstacles ahead
Gondokoro—A mutiny quelled—Arrival of Speke and Grant—The sources of the Nile-Arab duplicity—The boy-slave's story—Saat adopted
Startling disclosures—The last hope seems gone—The Bari chief's advice—Hoping for the best—Ho for Central Africa!
A start made at last—A forced march—Lightening the ship—Waiting for the caravan—Success hangs in the balance—The greatest rascal in Central Africa—Legge demands another bottle
The greeting of the slave-traders—Collapse of the mutiny—African funerals-Visit from the Latooka chief—Bokke makes a suggestion—Slaughter of the Turks—Success as a prophet—Commoro's philosophy
Disease in the camp—Forward under difficulties—Our cup of misery overflows—A rain-maker in a dilemma-Fever again—Ibrahim's quandary-Firing the prairie
Greeting from Kamrasi's people—Suffering from the sins of others-Alone among savages—The free-masonry of Unyoro.—Pottery and civilization
Kamrasi's cowardice—Interview with the king—The exchange of blood—The rod beggar's last chance—An astounded sovereign
A satanic escort—Prostrated by sun-stroke—Days and nights of sorrow—The reward for all our labor
The cradle of the Nile—Arrival at Magungo—The blind leading the blind—Murchison Falls
Prisoners on the island—Left to starve—Months of helpless-ness—We rejoin the Turks—The real Kamrasi—In the presence of royalty
The hour of deliverance—Triumphal entry into Gondokoro—Homeward bound—The plague breaks out—Our welcome at Khartoum—Return to civilization
IN THE HEART OF AFRICA.
The Nubian desert—The bitter well—Change of plans—An irascible dragoman—Pools of the Atbara—One secret of the Nile—At Cassala.
In March, 1861, I commenced an expedition to discover the sources of the Nile, with the hope of meeting the East African expedition of Captains Speke and Grant, that had been sent by the English Government from the South via Zanzibar, for the same object. I had not the presumption to publish my intention, as the sources of the Nile had hitherto defied all explorers, but I had inwardly determined to accomplish this difficult task or to die in the attempt. From my youth I had been inured to hardships and endurance in wild sports in tropical climates, and when I gazed upon the map of Africa I had a wild hope, mingled with humility, that, even as the insignificant worm bores through the hardest oak, I might by perseverance reach the heart of Africa.
I could not conceive that anything in this world has power to resist a determined will, so long as health and life remain. The failure of every former attempt to reach the Nile source did not astonish me, as the expeditions had consisted of parties, which, when difficulties occur, generally end in difference of opinion and in retreat; I therefore determined to proceed alone, trusting in the guidance of a Divine Providence and the good fortune that sometimes attends a tenacity of purpose. I weighed carefully the chances of the undertaking. Before me, untrodden Africa; against me, the obstacles that had defeated the world since its creation; on my side, a somewhat tough constitution, perfect independence, a long experience in savage life, and both time and means, which I intended to devote to the object without limit.
England had never sent an expedition to the Nile sources previous to that under the command of Speke and Grant. Bruce, ninety years before, had succeeded in tracing the source of the Blue or Lesser Nile; thus the honor of that discovery belonged to Great Britain. Speke was on his road from the South, and I felt confident that my gallant friend would leave his bones upon the path rather than submit to failure. I trusted that England would not be beaten, and although I hardly dared to hope that I could succeed where others greater than I had failed, I determined to sacrifice all in the attempt.
Had I been alone, it would have been no hard lot to die upon the untrodden path before me; but there was one who, although my greatest comfort, was also my greatest care, one whose life yet dawned at so early an age that womanhood was still a future. I shuddered at the prospect for her, should she be left alone in savage lands at my death; and gladly would I have left her in the luxuries of home instead of exposing her to the miseries of Africa. It was in vain that I implored her to remain, and that I painted the difficulties and perils still blacker than I supposed they really would be. She was resolved, with woman's constancy and devotion, to share all dangers and to follow me through each rough footstep of the wild life before me. "And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me."
Thus accompanied by my wife, on the 15th of April, 1861, I sailed up the Nile from Cairo. The wind blew fair and strong from the north, and we flew toward the south against the stream, watching those mysterious waters with a firm resolve to track them to their distant fountain.
I had a firman from the Viceroy, a cook, and a dragoman. Thus my impedimenta were not numerous. The firman was an order to all Egyptian officials for assistance; the cook was dirty and incapable; and the interpreter was nearly ignorant of English, although a professed polyglot. With this small beginning, Africa was before me, and thus I commenced the search for the sources of the Nile.
On arrival at Korosko, twenty-six days from Cairo, we started across the Nubian Desert. During the cool months, from November until February, the desert journey is not disagreeable; but the vast area of glowing sand exposed to the scorching sun of summer, in addition to the withering breath of the simoom, renders the forced march of two hundred and thirty miles in seven days, at two and a half miles per hour, one of the most fatiguing journeys that can be endured.
We entered a dead level plain of orange-colored sand, surrounded by pyramidical hills. The surface was strewn with objects resembling cannon shot and grape of all sizes from a 32-pounder downward, and looked like the old battle-field of some infernal region—rocks glowing with heat, not a vestige of vegetation, barren, withering desolation. The slow rocking step of the camels was most irksome, and, despite the heat, I dismounted to examine the Satanic bombs and cannon shot. Many of them were as perfectly round as though cast in a mould, others were egg-shaped, and all were hollow. With some difficulty I broke them, and found them to contain a bright red sand. They were, in fact, volcanic bombs that had been formed by the ejection of molten lava to a great height from active volcanoes; these had become globular in falling, and, having cooled before they reached the earth, they retained their forms as hard spherical bodies, precisely resembling cannon shot. The exterior was brown, and appeared to be rich in iron. The smaller specimens were the more perfect spheres, as they cooled quickly; but many of the heavier masses had evidently reached the earth when only half solidified, and had collapsed upon falling. The sandy plain was covered with such vestiges of volcanic action, and the infernal bombs lay as imperishable relics of a hailstorm such as may have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Passing through this wretched solitude, we entered upon a scene of surpassing desolation. Far as the eye could reach were waves like a stormy sea, gray, coldlooking waves in the burning heat; but no drop of water. It appeared as though a sudden curse had turned a raging sea to stone. The simoom blew over this horrible wilderness, and drifted the hot sand into the crevices of the rocks, and the camels drooped their heads before the suffocating wind; but still the caravan noiselessly crept along over the rocky undulations, until the stormy sea was passed; once more we were upon a boundless plain of sand and pebbles.
In forty-six hours and forty-five minutes' actual marching from Korosko, we reached Moorahd, "the bitter well." This is a mournful spot, well known to the tired and thirsty camel, the hope of reaching which has urged him fainting on his weary way to drink one draught before he dies. This is the camel's grave. Situated half way between Korosko and Abou Hammed, the well of Moorahd is in an extinct crater, surrounded upon all sides but one by precipitous cliffs about three hundred feet high. The bottom is a dead flat, and forms a valley of sand about two hundred and fifty yards wide. In this bosom of a crater, salt and bitter water is found at a depth of only six feet from the surface. To this our tired camels frantically rushed upon being unloaded.
The valley was a "valley of dry bones." Innumerable skeletons of camels lay in all directions-the ships of the desert thus stranded on their voyage. Withered heaps of parched skin and bone lay here and there, in the distinct forms in which the camels had gasped their last. The dry desert air had converted the hide into a coffin. There were no flies here, thus there were no worms to devour the carcasses; but the usual sextons were the crows, although sometimes too few to perform their office. These were perched upon the overhanging cliffs; but no sooner had our overworked camels taken their long draught and lain down exhausted on the sand, than by common consent they descended from their high places and walked round and round each tired beast.
As many wretched animals simply crawl to this spot to die, the crows, from long experience and constant practice, can form a pretty correct diagnosis upon the case of a sick camel. They had evidently paid a professional visit to my caravan, and were especially attentive in studying the case of one particular camel that was in a very weakly condition and had stretched itself full length upon the sand; nor would they leave it until it was driven forward.
Many years ago, when the Egyptian troops first conquered Nubia, a regiment was destroyed by thirst in crossing this desert. The men, being upon a limited allowance of water, suffered from extreme thirst, and deceived by the appearance of a mirage that exactly resembled a beautiful lake, they insisted on being taken to its banks by the Arab guide. It was in vain that the guide assured them that the lake was unreal, and he refused to lose the precious time by wandering from his course. Words led to blows, and he was killed by the soldiers, whose lives depended upon his guidance. The whole regiment turned from the track and rushed toward the welcome waters. Thirsty and faint, over the burning sands they hurried; heavier and heavier their footsteps became; hotter and hotter their breath, as deeper they pushed into the desert, farther and farther from the lost track where the pilot lay in his blood; and still the mocking spirits of the desert, the afreets of the mirage, led them on, and the hike glistening in the sunshine tempted them to bathe in its cool waters, close to their eyes, but never at their lips. At length the delusion vanished—the fatal lake had turned to burning sand! Raging thirst and horrible despair! the pathless desert and the murdered guide! lost! lost! all lost! Not a man ever left the desert, but they were subsequently discovered, parched and withered corpses, by the Arabs sent upon the search.
During our march the simoom was fearful, and the heat so intense that it was impossible to draw the guncases out of their leather covers, which it was necessary to cut open. All woodwork was warped; ivory knife-handles were split; paper broke when crunched in the hand, and the very marrow seemed to be dried out of the bones. The extreme dryness of the air induced an extraordinary amount of electricity in the hair and in all woollen materials. A Scotch plaid laid upon a blanket for a few hours adhered to it, and upon being withdrawn at night a sheet of flame was produced, accompanied by tolerably loud reports.
We reached Berber on May 31st, and spent a week in resting after our formidable desert march of fifteen days. From the slight experience I had gained in the journey, I felt convinced that success in my Nile expedition would be impossible without a knowledge of Arabic. My dragoman had me completely in his power, and I resolved to become independent of all interpreters as soon as possible. I therefore arranged a plan of exploration for the first year, to embrace the affluents to the Nile from the Abyssinian range of mountains, intending to follow up the Atbara River from its junction with the Nile in latitude 17 deg. 37 min. (twenty miles south of Berber), and to examine all the Nile tributaries from the southeast as far as the Blue Nile, which river I hoped ultimately to descend to Khartoum. I imagined that twelve months would be sufficient to complete such an exploration, by which time I should have gained a sufficient knowledge of the Arabic to render me able to converse fairly well.
The wind at this season (June) was changeable, and strong blasts from the south were the harbingers of the approaching rainy season. We had no time to lose, and we accordingly arranged to start. I discharged my dirty cook, and engaged a man who was brought by a coffeehouse keeper, by whom he was highly recommended; but, as a precaution against deception, I led him before the Mudir, or Governor, to be registered before our departure. To my astonishment, and to his infinite disgust, he was immediately recognized as an old offender, who had formerly been imprisoned for theft! The Governor, to prove his friendship and his interest in my welfare, immediately sent the police to capture the coffee-house keeper who had recommended the cook. No sooner was the unlucky surety brought to the Divan than he was condemned to receive two hundred lashes for having given a false character. The sentence was literally carried out, in spite of my remonstrance, and the police were ordered to make the case public to prevent a recurrence. The Governor assured me that, as I held a firman from the Viceroy, he could not do otherwise, and that I must believe him to be my truest friend. "Save me from my friends," was an adage quickly proved. I could not procure a cook nor any other attendant, as every one was afraid to guarantee a character, lest he might come in for his share of the two hundred lashes!
The Governor came to my rescue, and sent immediately the promised Turkish soldiers, who were to act in the double capacity of escort and servants. They were men of totally opposite characters. Hadji Achmet was a hardy, powerful, dare-devil-looking Turk, while Hadji Velli was the perfection of politeness, and as gentle as a lamb. My new allies procured me three donkeys in addition to the necessary baggage camels, and we started from Berber on the evening of the 10th of June for the junction of the Atbara River With the Nile.
Mahomet, Achmet, and Ali are equivalent to Smith, Brown, and Thompson. Accordingly, of my few attendants, my dragoman was Mahomet, and my principal guide was Achmet, and subsequently I had a number of Alis. Mahomet was a regular Cairo dragoman, a native of Dongola, almost black, but exceedingly tenacious regarding his shade of color, which he declared to be light brown. He spoke very bad English, was excessively conceited, and irascible to a degree. He was one of those dragomans who are accustomed to the civilized expeditions of the British tourist to the first or second cataract, in a Nile boat replete with conveniences and luxuries, upon which the dragoman is monarch supreme, a whale among the minnows, who rules the vessel, purchases daily a host of unnecessary supplies, upon which he clears his profit, until he returns to Cairo with his pockets filled sufficiently to support him until the following Nile season. The short three months' harvest, from November until February, fills his granary for the year. Under such circumstances the temper should be angelic.
But times had changed. To Mahomet the very idea of exploration was an absurdity. He had never believed in it front the first, and he now became impressed with the fact that he was positively committed to an undertaking that would end most likely in his death, if not in terrible difficulties; he determined, under the circumstances, to make himself as disagreeable as possible to all parties. With this amiable resolution he adopted a physical infirmity in the shape of deafness. In reality, no one was more acute in hearing, but as there are no bells where there are no houses, he of course could not answer such a summons, and he was compelled to attend to the call of his own name—"Mahomet! Mahomet!" No reply, although the individual were sitting within a few feet, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of his own boots. "MaHOMet!" with an additional emphasis upon the second syllable. Again no response. "Mahomet, you rascal, why don't you answer?" This energetic address would effect a change in his position. The mild and lamb-like dragoman of Cairo would suddenly start from the ground, tear his own hair from his head in handfuls, and shout, "Mahomet! Mahomet! Mahomet! always Mahomet! D—n Mahomet! I wish he were dead, or back in Cairo, this brute Mahomet!" The irascible dragoman would then beat his own head unmercifully with his fists, in a paroxysm of rage.
To comfort him I could only exclaim, "Well done, Mahomet! thrash him; pommel him well; punch his head; you know him best; he deserves it; don't spare him!" This advice, acting upon the natural perversity of his disposition, generally soothed him, and he ceased punching his head. This man was entirely out of his place, if not out of his mind, at certain moments, and having upon one occasion smashed a basin by throwing it in the face of the cook, and upon another occasion narrowly escaped homicide by throwing an axe at a man's head, which missed by an inch, he became a notorious character in the little expedition.
We left Berber in the evening, and about two hours after sunset of the following day reached the junction of the Nile and Atbara. The latter presented a curious appearance. In no place was it less than four hundred yards in width, and in many places much wider. The banks were from twenty-five to thirty feet deep, and had evidently been overflowed during floods; but now the river bed was dry sand, so glaring that the sun's reflection was almost intolerable. The only shade was afforded by the evergreen dome palms; nevertheless the Arabs occupied the banks at intervals of three or four miles, wherever a pool of water in some deep bend of the dried river's bed offered an attraction. In such places were Arab villages or camps, of the usual mat tents formed of the dome-palm leaves.
Many pools were of considerable size and of great depth. In flood-time a tremendous torrent sweeps down the course of the Atbara, and the sudden bends of the river are hollowed out by the force of the stream to a depth of twenty or thirty feet below the level of the bed. Accordingly these holes become reservoirs of water when the river is otherwise exhausted. In such asylums all the usual inhabitants of this large river are crowded together in a comparatively narrow space. Although these pools vary in size, from only a few hundred yards to a mile in length, they are positively full of life; huge fish, crocodiles of immense size, turtles, and occasionally hippopotami, consort together in close and unwished-for proximity. The animals of the desert—gazelles, hyenas, and wild asses—are compelled to resort to these crowded drinking-places, occupied by the flocks of the Arabs equally with the timid beasts of the chase. The birds that during the cooler months would wander free throughout the country are now collected in vast numbers along the margin of the exhausted river; innumerable doves, varying in species, throng the trees and seek the shade of the dome-palms; thousands of desert grouse arrive morning and evening to drink and to depart; while birds in multitudes, of lovely plumage, escape from the burning desert and colonize the poor but welcome bushes that fringe the Atbara River.
After several days' journey along the bank of the Atbara we halted at a spot called Collodabad, about one hundred and sixty miles from the Nile junction. A sharp bend of the river had left a deep pool about a mile in length, and here a number of Arabs were congregated, with their flocks and herds.
On the evening of June 23d I was lying half asleep upon my bed by the margin of the river, when I fancied that I heard a rumbling like distant thunder. I had not heard such a sound for months, but a low, uninterrupted roll appeared to increase in volume, although far distant. Hardly had I raised my head to listen more attentively when a confusion of voices arose from the Arabs' camp, with a sound of many feet, and in a few minutes they rushed into my camp, shouting to my men in the darkness, "El Bahr! El Bahr!" (the river! the river!)
We were up in an instant, and my interpreter, Mahomet, in a state of intense confusion, explained that the river was coming down, and that the supposed distant thunder was the roar of approaching water.
Many of the people were asleep on the clean sand on the river's bed; these were quickly awakened by the Arabs, who rushed down the steep bank to save the skulls of two hippopotami that were exposed to dry. Hardly had they descended when the sound of the river in the darkness beneath told us that the water had arrived, and the men, dripping with wet, had just sufficient time to drag their heavy burdens up the bank.
All was darkness and confusion, everybody talking and no one listening; but the great event had occurred; the river had arrived "like a thief in the night". On the morning of the 24th of June, I stood on the banks of the noble Atbara River at the break of day. The wonder of the desert! Yesterday there was a barren sheet of glaring sand, with a fringe of withered bushes and trees upon its borders, that cut the yellow expanse of desert. For days we had journeyed along the exhausted bed; all Nature, even in Nature's poverty, was most poor: no bush could boast a leaf, no tree could throw a shade, crisp gums crackled upon the stems of the mimosas, the sap dried upon the burst bark, sprung with the withering heat of the simoom. In one night there was a mysterious change. Wonders of the mighty Nile! An army of water was hastening to the wasted river. There was no drop of rain, no thunder-cloud on the horizon to give hope. All had been dry and sultry, dust and desolation yesterday; to-day a magnificent stream, some five hundred yards in width and from fifteen to twenty feet in depth, flowed through the dreary desert! Bamboos and reeds, with trash of all kinds, were hurried along the muddy waters. Where were all the crowded inhabitants of the pool? The prison doors were broken, the prisoners were released, and rejoiced in the mighty stream of the Atbara.
The 24th of June, 1861, was a memorable day. Although this was actually the beginning of my work, I felt that by the experience of this night I had obtained a clew to one portion of the Nile mystery, and that, as "coming events cast their shadows before," this sudden creation of a river was but the shadow of the great cause. The rains were pouring in Abyssinia! THESE WERE SOURCES OF THE NILE!
The journey along the margin of the Atbara was similar to the route from Berber, through a vast desert, with a narrow band of trees that marked the course of the river. The only change was the magical growth of the leaves, which burst hourly from the swollen buds of the mimosas. This could be accounted for by the sudden arrival of the river, as the water percolated rapidly through the sand and nourished the famishing roots.
At Gozerajup, two hundred and forty-six miles from Berber, our route was changed. We had hitherto followed the course of the Atbara, but we were now to leave that river on our right, while we travelled about ninety miles south-east to Cassala, the capital of the Taka country, on the confines of Abyssinia, and the great depot for Egyptian troops.
The entire country from Gozerajup to Cassala is a dead flat, upon which there is not one tree sufficiently large to shade a full-sized tent. There is no real timber in the country; but the vast level extent of soil is a series of open plains and low bush of thorny mimosa. There is no drainage upon this perfect level; thus, during the rainy season, the soakage actually melts the soil, and forms deep holes throughout the country, which then becomes an impenetrable slough, bearing grass and jungle. No sooner had we arrived in the flooded country than my wife was seized with a sudden and severe fever, which necessitated a halt upon the march, as she could no longer sit upon her camel. In the evening several hundreds of Arabs arrived and encamped around our fire. It was shortly after sunset, and it was interesting to watch the extreme rapidity with which these swarthy sons of the desert pitched their camp. A hundred fires were quickly blazing; the women prepared the food, and children sat in clusters around the blaze, as all were wet from paddling through the puddled ground from which they were retreating.
No sooner was the bustle of arrangement completed than a gray old man stepped forward, and, responding to his call, every man of the hundreds present formed in line, three or four deep. At once there was total silence, disturbed only by the crackling of the fires or by the cry of a child; and with faces turned to the east, in attitudes of profound devotion, the wild but fervent followers of Mahomet repeated their evening prayer. The flickering red light of the fires illumined the bronze faces of the congregation, and as I stood before the front line of devotees, I tools off my cap in respect for their faith, and at the close of their prayer made my salaam to their venerable Faky (priest); he returned the salutation with the cold dignity of an Arab.
On the next day my wife's fever was renewed, but she was placed on a dromedary and we reached Cassala about sunset. The place is rich in hyenas, and the night was passed in the discordant howling of these disgusting but useful animals. They are the scavengers of the country, devouring every species of filth and clearing all carrion from the earth. Without the hyenas and vultures the neighborhood of a Nubian village would be unbearable. It is the idle custom of the people to leave unburied all animals that die; thus, among the numerous flocks and herds, the casualties would create a pestilence were it not for the birds and beasts of prey.
On the following morning the fever had yielded to quinine, and we were enabled to receive a round of visits—the governor and suite, Elias Bey, the doctor and a friend, and, lastly, Malem Georgis, an elderly Greek merchant, who, with great hospitality, insisted upon our quitting the sultry tent and sharing his own roof. We therefore became his guests in a most comfortable house for some days. Here we discharged our camels, as our Turk, Hadji Achmet's, service ended at this point, and proceeded to start afresh for the Nile tributaries of Abyssinia.
Egypt's rule of the Soudan—Corn-grinding in the Soudan—Mahomet meets relatives—The parent of Egypt—El Baggar rides the camel.
Cassala was built about twenty years before I visited the country, after Taka had been conquered and annexed to Egypt. The general annexation of the Soudan and the submission of the numerous Arab tribes to the Viceroy have been the first steps necessary to the improvement of the country. Although the Egyptians are hard masters, and do not trouble themselves about the future well-being of the conquered races, it must be remembered that, prior to the annexation, all the tribes were at war among themselves. There was neither government nor law; thus the whole country was closed to Europeans. At the time of my visit to Cassala in 1861 the Arab tribes were separately governed by their own chiefs or sheiks, who were responsible to the Egyptian authorities for the taxes due from their people. Since that period the entire tribes of all denominations have been placed under the authority of that grand old Arab patriarch, Achmet Abou Sinn, to be hereafter mentioned. The iron hand of despotism has produced a marvellous change among the Arabs, who are rendered utterly powerless by the system of government adopted by the Egyptians; unfortunately, this harsh system has the effect of paralyzing all industry.
The principal object of Turks and Egyptians in annexation is to increase their power of taxation by gaining an additional number of subjects. Thus, although many advantages have accrued to the Arab provinces of Nubia through Egyptian rule, there exists very much mistrust between the governed and the governing. Not only are the camels, cattle, and sheep subjected to a tax, but every attempt at cultivation is thwarted by the authorities, who impose a fine or tax upon the superficial area of the cultivated land. Thus, no one will cultivate more than is absolutely necessary, as he dreads the difficulties that broad acres of waving crops would entail upon his family. The bona fide tax is a bagatelle to the amounts squeezed from him by the extortionate soldiery, who are the agents employed by the sheik; these must have their share of the plunder, in excess of the amount to be delivered to their employer; he also must have his plunder before he parts with the bags of dollars to the governor of the province. Thus the unfortunate cultivator is ground down. Should he refuse to pay the necessary "backsheesh" or present to the tax-collectors, some false charge is trumped up against him, and he is thrown into prison. As a green field is an attraction to a flight of locusts in their desolating voyage, so is a luxuriant farm in the Soudan a point for the tax-collectors of Upper Egypt. I have frequently ridden several days' journey through a succession of empty villages, deserted by the inhabitants upon the report of the soldiers' approach. The women and children, goats and cattle, camels and asses, had all been removed into the wilderness for refuge, while their crops of corn had been left standing for the plunderers, who would be too idle to reap and thrash the grain.
Notwithstanding the miserable that fetters the steps of improvement, Nature has bestowed such great capabilities of production in the fertile soil of this country that the yield of a small surface is more than sufficient for the requirements of the population, and actual poverty is unknown. The average price of dhurra is fifteen piastres per "rachel," or about 3s. 2d. for five hundred pounds upon the spot where it is grown. The dhurra (Sorghum andropogon) is the grain most commonly used throughout the Soudan; there are great varieties of this plant, of which the most common are the white and the red. The land is not only favored by Nature by its fertility, but the intense heat of the summer is the laborer's great assistant. As before described, all vegetation entirely disappears in the glaring sun, or becomes so dry that it is swept off by fire; thus the soil is perfectly clean and fit for immediate cultivation upon the arrival of the rains.
The tool generally used is similar to the Dutch hoe. With this simple implement the surface is scratched to the depth of about two inches, and the seeds of the dhurra are dibbled in about three feet apart, in rows from four to five feet in width. Two seeds are dropped into each hole. A few days after the first shower they rise above the ground, and when about six inches high the whole population turn out of their villages at break of day to weed the dhurra fields. Sown in July, it is harvested in February and March. Eight months are thus required for the cultivation of this cereal in the intense heat of Nubia. For the first three months the growth is extremely rapid, and the stem attains a height of six or seven feet. When at perfection in the rich soil of the Taka country, the plant averages a height of ten feet, the circumference of the stem being about four inches. The crown is a feather very similar to that of the sugar-cane; the blossom falls, and the feather becomes a head of dhurra, weighing about two pounds. Each grain is about the size of hemp-seed. I took the trouble of counting the corns contained in an average-sized head, the result being 4,848. The process of harvesting and threshing is remarkably simple, as the heads are simply detached from the straw and beaten out in piles. The dried straw is a substitute for sticks in forming the walls of the village huts; these are plastered with clay and cow-dung, which form the Arab's lath and plaster.
The millers' work is exclusively the province of the women. No man will condescend to grind the corn. There are no circular hand-mills, as among Oriental nations; but the corn is ground upon a simple flat stone, of cithor gneiss or granite, about two feet in length by fourteen inches in width. The face of this is roughened by beating with a sharp-pointed piece of harder stone, such as quartz or hornblende, and the grain is reduced to flour by great labor and repeated grinding or rubbing with a stone rolling-pin. The flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment; it is then made into thin pancakes upon an earthenware flat portable hearth. This species of leavened bread is known to the Arabs as the kisra. It is not very palatable, but it is extremely well suited to Arab cookery, as it can be rolled up like a pancake and dipped in the general dish of meat and gravy very conveniently, in the absence of spoons and forks.
On the 14th of July I had concluded my arrangements for the start. There had been some difficulty in procuring camels, but the all-powerful firman was a never-failing talisman, and as the Arabs had declined to let their animals for hire, the Governor despatched a number of soldiers and seized the required number, including their owners. I engaged two wild young Arabs of eighteen and twenty years of age, named Bacheet and Wat Gamma. The latter, being interpreted, signifies "Son of the Moon." This in no way suggests lunacy; but the young Arab had happened to enter this world on the day of the new moon, which was considered to be a particularly fortunate and brilliant omen at his birth. Whether the climax of his good fortune had arrived at the moment he entered my service I know not; but, if so, there was a cloud over his happiness in his subjection to Mahomet, the dragoman, who rejoiced in the opportunity of bullying the two inferiors. Wat Gamma was a quiet, steady, well-conducted lad, who bore oppression mildly; but the younger, Bucheet, was a fiery, wild young Arab, who, although an excellent boy in his peculiar way, was almost incapable of being tamed and domesticated. I at once perceived that Mahomet would have a determined rebel to control, which I confess I did not regret. Wages were not high in this part of the world—the lads were engaged at one and a half dollars per month and their keep.
Mahomet, who was a great man, suffered from the same complaint to which great men are (in those countries) particularly subject. Wherever he went he was attacked with claimants of relationship. He was overwhelmed with professions of friendship from people who claimed to be connections of some of his family. In fact, if all the ramifications of his race were correctly represented by the claimants of relationship, Mahomet's family tree would have shaded the Nubian desert
We all have our foibles. The strongest fort has its feeble point, as the chain snaps at its weakest link. Family pride was Mahomet's weak link. This was his tender point; and Mahomet, the great and the imperious, yielded to the gentle scratching of his ear if a stranger claimed connection with his ancient lineage. Of course he had no family, with the exception of his wife and two children, whom he had left in Cairo. The lady whom he had honored by admission into the domestic circle of the Mahomets was suffering from a broken arm when we started from Egypt, as she had cooked the dinner badly, and the "gaddah," or large wooden bowl, had been thrown at her by the naturally indignant husband, precisely as he had thrown the axe at one man and the basin at another while in our service. These were little contretemps that could hardly disturb the dignity of so great a man.
Mahomet met several relatives at Cassala. One borrowed money of him; another stole his pipe; the third, who declared that nothing should separate them now that "by the blessing of God" they had met, determined to accompany him through all the difficulties of our expedition, provided that Mahomet would only permit him to serve for love, without wages. I gave Mahomet some little advice upon this point, reminding him that, although the clothes of the party were only worth a few piastres, the spoons and forks were silver; therefore I should hold him responsible for the honesty of his friend. This reflection upon the family gave great offence, and he assured me that Achmet, our quondam acquaintance, was so near a relative that he was—I assisted him in the genealogical distinction: "Mother's brother's cousin's sister's mother's son? Eh, Mahomet?"
"Yes, sar, that's it!" "Very well, Mahomet; mind he doesn't steal the spoons, and thrash him if he doesn't do his work!" "Yes, sar", replied Mahomet; "he all same like one brother; he one good man; will do his business quietly; if not, master lick him." The new relative not understanding English, was perfectly satisfied with the success of his introduction, and from that moment he became one of the party.
One more addition, and our arrangements were completed: the Governor of Cassala was determined we should not start without a soldier guide to represent the government. Accordingly he gave us a black corporal, so renowned as a sportsman that he went by the name of "El Baggar" (the cow), because of his having killed several of the oryx antelope, known as "El Baggar et Wabash" (cow of the desert).
After sixteen hours' actual marching from Cassala we arrived at the valley of the Atbara. There was an extraordinary change in the appearance of the river between Gozerajup and this spot. There was no longer the vast sandy desert with the river flowing through its sterile course on a level with the surface of the country; but after traversing an apparently perfect flat of forty-five miles of rich alluvial soil, we had suddenly arrived upon the edge of a deep valley, between five and six miles wide, at the bottom of which, about two hundred feet below the general level of the country, flowed the river Atbara. On the opposite side of the valley the same vast table-lands continued to the western horizon.
We commenced the descent toward the river: the valley was a succession of gullies and ravines, of landslips and watercourses. The entire hollow, of miles in width, had evidently been the work of the river. How many ages had the rains and the stream been at work to scoop out from the flat tableland this deep and broad valley? Here was the giant laborer that had shovelled the rich loam upon the delta of Lower Egypt! Upon these vast flats of fertile soil there can be no drainage except through soakage. The deep valley is therefore the receptacle not only for the water that oozes from its sides, but subterranean channels, bursting as land-springs from all parts of the walls of the valley, wash down the more soluble portions of earth, and continually waste away the soil. Landslips occur daily during the rainy season; streams of rich mud pour down the valley's slopes, and as the river flows beneath in a swollen torrent, the friable banks topple down into the stream and dissolve. The Atbara becomes the thickness of peasoup, as its muddy waters steadily perform the duty they have fulfilled from age to age. Thus was the great river at work upon our arrival on its bank at the bottom of the valley. The Arab name, "Bahr el Aswat" (black river) was well bestowed; it was the black mother of Egypt, still carrying to her offspring the nourishment that had first formed the Delta.
At this point of interest the journey had commenced; the deserts were passed; all was fertility and life. Wherever the sources of the Nile might be, the Atbara was the parent of Egypt! This was my first impression, to be proved hereafter.
A violent thunderstorm, with a deluge of rain, broke upon our camp on the banks of the Atbara, fortunately just after the tents were pitched. We thus had an example of the extraordinary effects of the heavy rain in tearing away the soil of the valley. Trifling watercourses were swollen to torrents. Banks of earth became loosened and fell in, and the rush of mud and water upon all sides swept forward into the river with a rapidity which threatened the destruction of the country, could such a tempest endure for a few days. In a couple of hours all was over.
In the evening we crossed with our baggage and people to the opposite side of the ricer, and pitched our tents at the village of Goorashee. In the morning the camels arrived, and once more we were ready to start. Our factotum, El Baggar, had collected a number of baggage-camels and riding dromedaries, or "hygeens". The latter he had brought for approval, as we bad suffered much from the extreme roughness of our late camels. There is the same difference between a good hygeen, or dromedary, and a baggage-camel, as between the thoroughbred and the cart-horse; and it appears absurd in the eyes of the Arabs that a man of any position should ride a baggage-camel. Apart from all ideas of etiquette, the motion of the latter animal is quite sufficient warning. Of all species of fatigue, the back-breaking, monotonous swing of a heavy camel is the worst; and should the rider lose patience and administer a sharp cut with the coorbatch, that induces the creature to break into a trot, the torture of the rack is a pleasant tickling compared to the sensation of having your spine driven by a sledge-hammer from below, half a foot deeper into the skull.
The human frame may be inured to almost anything; thus the Arabs, who have always been accustomed to this kind of exercise, hardly feel the motion, and the portion of the body most subject to pain in riding a rough camel upon two bare pieces of wood for a saddle, becomes naturally adapted for such rough service, as monkeys become hardened from constantly sitting upon rough substances. The children commence almost as soon as they are born, as they must accompany their mothers in their annual migrations; and no sooner can the young Arab sit astride and hold on than he is placed behind his father's saddle, to which he clings, while he bumps upon the bare back of the jolting camel. Nature quickly arranges a horny protection to the nerves, by the thickening of the skin; thus, an Arab's opinion of the action of a riding hygeen should never be accepted without a personal trial. What appears delightful to him may be torture to you, as a strong breeze and a rough sea may be charming to a sailor, but worse than death to a landsman.
I was determined not to accept the camels now offered as hygeens until I had seen them tried. I accordingly ordered our black soldier, El Baggar, to saddle the most easy-actioned animal for my wife; but I wished to see him put it through a variety of paces before she should accept it. The delighted EL Baggar, who from long practice was as hard as the heel of a boot, disdained a saddle. The animal knelt, was mounted, and off he started at full trot, performing a circle of about fifty yards' diameter as though in a circus. I never saw such an exhibition! "Warranted quiet to ride, of easy action, and fit for a lady!" This had been the character received with the rampant brute, who now, with head and tail erect, went tearing round the circle, screaming and roaring like a wild beast, throwing his forelegs forward and stepping at least three feet high in his trot.
Where was El Baggar? A disjointed looking black figure was sometimes on the back of this easy going camel, sometimes a foot high in the air; arms, head, legs, hands, appeared like a confused mass of dislocation; the woolly hair of this unearthly individual, that had been carefully trained in long stiff narrow curls, precisely similar to the tobacco known as "negro-head," alternately started upright en masse, as though under the influence of electricity, and then fell as suddenly upon his shoulders. Had the dark individual been a "black dose", he or it could not have been more thoroughly shaken. This object, so thoroughly disguised by rapidity of movement, was El Baggar happy, delighted El Baggar! As he came rapidly round toward us flourishing his coorbatch, I called to him, "Is that a nice hygeen for the Sit (lady), EL Baggar? Is it very easy?" He was almost incapable of a reply. "V-e-r-y e-e-a-a-s-y," replied the trustworthy authority, "j-j-j-just the thin-n-n-g for the S-i-i-i-t-t-t." "All right, that will do," I answered, and the jockey pulled up his steed. "Are the other camels better or worse than that?" I asked. "Much worse," replied El Baggar; "the others are rather rough, but this is an easy goer, and will suit the lady well."
It was impossible to hire a good hygeen; an Arab prizes his riding animal too much, and invariably refuses to let it to a stranger, but generally imposes upon him by substituting some lightly-built camel that he thinks will pass muster. I accordingly chose for my wife a steady-going animal from among the baggage-camels, trusting to be able to obtain a hygeen from the great Sheik Abou Sinn, who was encamped upon the road we were about to take along the valley of the Atbara. We left Goorashee on the following day.
The Arabs' exodus-Reception by Abou Sinn-Arabs dressing the hair-Toilet of an Arab woman-The plague of lice-Wives among the Arabs-The Old Testament confirmed
IT was the season of rejoicing. Everybody appeared in good humor. The distended udders of thousands of camels were an assurance of plenty. The burning sun that for nine months had scorched the earth was veiled by passing clouds. The cattle that had panted for water, and whose food was withered straw, were filled with juicy fodder. The camels that had subsisted upon the dried and leafless twigs and branches, now feasted upon the succulent tops of the mimosas. Throngs of women and children mounted upon camels, protected by the peculiar gaudy saddle-hood, ornamented with cowrie-shells, accompanied the march. Thousands of sheep and goats, driven by Arab boys, were straggling in all directions. Baggage-camels, heavily laden with the quaint household goods, blocked up the way. The fine bronzed figures of Arabs, with sword and shield, and white topes, or plaids, guided their milk-white dromedaries through the confused throng with the usual placid dignity of their race, simply passing by with the usual greeting, "Salaam aleikum" (Peace be with you).
It was the Exodus; all were hurrying toward the promised land—"the land flowing with milk and honey", where men and beasts would be secure, not only from the fevers of the south, but from that deadly enemy to camels and cattle, the fly. This terrible insect drove all before it.
If all were right in migrating to the north, it was a logical conclusion that we were wrong in going to the south during the rainy season; however, we now heard from the Arabs that we were within a couple of hours' march from the camp of the great Sheik Achmet Abou Sinn, to whom I had a letter of introduction. At the expiration of about that time we halted, and pitched the tents among some shady mimosas, while I sent Mahomet to Abou Sinn with the letter, and my firman.
I was busily engaged in making sundry necessary arrangements in the tent when Mahomet returned and announced the arrival of the great sheik in person. He was attended by several of his principal people, and as he approached through the bright green mimosas, mounted upon a beautiful snow-white hygeen, I was exceedingly struck with his venerable and dignified appearance. Upon near arrival I went forward to meet him and to assist him from his camel; but his animal knelt immediately at his command, and he dismounted with the ease and agility of a man of twenty.
He was the most magnificent specimen of an Arab that I have ever seen. Although upward of eighty years of age, he was as erect as a lance, and did not appear more than between fifty and sixty. He was of herculean stature, about six feet three inches high, with immensely broad shoulders and chest, a remarkably arched nose, eyes like an eagle's, beneath large, shaggy, but perfectly white eyebrows. A snow-white beard of great thickness descended below the middle of his breast. He wore a large white turban and a white cashmere abbai, or long robe, from the throat to the ankles. As a desert patriarch he was superb—the very perfection of all that the imagination could paint, if we should personify Abraham at the head of his people. This grand old Arab with the greatest politeness insisted upon our immediately accompanying him to his camp, as he could not allow us to remain in his country as strangers. He would hear of no excuses, but at once gave orders to Mahomet to have the baggage repacked and the tents removed, while we were requested to mount two superb white hygeens, with saddle-cloths of blue Persian sheepskins, that he had immediately accoutered when he heard from Mahomet of our miserable camels. The tent was struck, and we joined our venerable host with a line of wild and splendidly-mounted attendants, who followed us toward the sheik's encampment.
Among the retinue of the aged sheik whom we now accompanied, were ten of his sons, some of whom appeared to be quite as old as their father. We had ridden about two miles when we were suddenly met by a crowd of mounted men, armed with the usual swords and shields; many were on horses, others upon hygeens, and all drew up in lines parallel with our approach. These were Abou Sinn's people, who had assembled to give us the honorary welcome as guests of their chief. This etiquette of the Arabs consists in galloping singly at full speed across the line of advance, the rider flourishing the sword over his head, and at the same moment reining up his horse upon its haunches so as to bring it to a sudden halt. This having been performed by about a hundred riders upon both horses and hygeens, they fell into line behind our party, and, thus escorted, we shortly arrived at the Arab encampment. In all countries the warmth of a public welcome appears to be exhibited by noise. The whole neighborhood had congregated to meet us; crowds of women raised the wild, shrill cry that is sounded alike for joy or sorrow; drums were beat; men dashed about with drawn swords and engaged in mimic fight, and in the midst of din and confusion we halted and dismounted. With peculiar grace of manner the old sheik assisted my wife to dismount, and led her to an open shed arranged with angareps (stretchers) covered with Persian carpets and cushions, so as to form a divan. Sherbet, pipes, and coffee were shortly handed to us, and Mahomet, as dragoman, translated the customary interchange of compliments; the sheik assured us that our unexpected arrival among them was "like the blessing of a new moon", the depth of which expression no one can understand who has not experienced life in the desert, where the first faint crescent is greeted with such enthusiasm.
Abou Sinn had arranged to move northward on the following day; we therefore agreed to pass one day in his camp, and to leave the next morning for Sofi, on the Atbara, about seventy-eight miles distant.
From Korosko to this point we had already passed the Bedouins, Bishareens, Hadendowas, Hallongas, until we had entered the Shookeriyahs. On the west of our present position were the Jalyns, and to the south near Sofi were the Dabainas. Many of the tribes claim a right to the title of Bedouins, as descended from that race. The customs of all the Arabs are nearly similar, and the distinction in appearance is confined to a peculiarity in dressing the hair. This is a matter of great importance among both men and women. It would be tedious to describe the minutiae of the various coiffures, but the great desire with all tribes, except the Jalyn, is to have a vast quantity of hair arranged in their own peculiar fashion, and not only smeared, but covered with as much fat as can be made to adhere. Thus, should a man wish to get himself up as a great dandy, he would put at least half a pound of butter or other fat upon his head. This would be worked up with his coarse locks by a friend, until it somewhat resembled a cauliflower. He would then arrange his tope or plaid of thick cotton cloth, and throw one end over his left shoulder, while slung from the same shoulder his circular shield would hang upon his back; suspended by a strap over the right shoulder would hang his long two-edged broadsword.
Fat is the great desideratum of an Arab. His head, as I have described, should be a mass of grease; he rubs his body with oil or other ointment; his clothes, i.e. his one garment or tope, is covered with grease, and internally he swallows as much as he can procure.
The great Sheik Abou Sinn, who is upward of eighty, as upright as a dart, a perfect Hercules, and whose children and grandchildren are like the sand of the sea-shore, has always consumed daily throughout his life two rottolis (pounds) of melted butter. A short time before I left the country he married a new young wife about fourteen years of age. This may be a hint to octogenarians.
The fat most esteemed for dressing the hair is that of the sheep. This undergoes a curious preparation, which renders it similar in appearance to cold cream; upon the raw fat being taken from the animal it is chewed in the mouth by an Arab for about two hours, being frequently taken out for examination during that time, until it has assumed the desired consistency. To prepare sufficient to enable a man to appear in full dress, several persons must be employed in masticating fat at the same time. This species of pomade, when properly made, is perfectly white, and exceedingly light and frothy. It may be imagined that when exposed to a burning sun, the beauty of the head-dress quickly disappears; but the oil then runs down the neck and back, which is considered quite correct, especially when the tope becomes thoroughly greased. The man is then perfectly anointed. We had seen an amusing example of this when on the march from Berber to Gozerajup. The Turk, Hadji Achmet, had pressed into our service, as a guide for a few miles, a dandy who had just been arranged as a cauliflower, with at least half a pound of white fat upon his head. As we were travelling upward of four miles an hour in an intense heat, during which he was obliged to run, the fat ran quicker than he did, and at the end of a couple of hours both the dandy and his pomade were exhausted. The poor fellow had to return to his friends with the total loss of personal appearance and half a pound of butter.
Not only are the Arabs particular in their pomade, but great attention is bestowed upon perfumery, especially by the women. Various perfumes are brought from Cairo by the travelling native merchants, among which those most in demand are oil of roses, oil of sandal-wood, an essence from the blossom of a species of mimosa, essence of musk, and the oil of cloves. The women have a peculiar method of scenting their bodies and clothes by an operation that is considered to be one of the necessaries of life, and which is repeated at regular intervals. In the floor of the tent, or hut, as it may chance to be, a small hole is excavated sufficiently large to contain a common-sized champagne bottle. A fire of charcoal, or of simply glowing embers, is made within the hole, into which the woman about to be scented throws a handful of various drugs. She then takes off the cloth or tope which forms her dress, and crouches naked over the fumes, while she arranges her robe to fall as a mantle from her neck to the ground like a tent. When this arrangement is concluded she is perfectly happy, as none of the precious fumes can escape, all being retained beneath the robe, precisely as if she wore a crinoline with an incense-burner beneath it, which would be a far more simple way of performing the operation. She now begins to perspire freely in the hot-air bath, and the pores of the skin being thus opened and moist, the volatile oil from the smoke of the burning perfumes is immediately absorbed.
By the time that the fire has expired the scenting process is completed, and both her person and robe are redolent of incense, with which they are so thoroughly impregnated that I have frequently smelt a party of women strongly at full a hundred yards' distance, when the wind has been blowing from their direction.
The Arab women do not indulge in fashions. Strictly conservative in their manners and customs, they never imitate, but they simply vie with each other in the superlativeness of their own style; thus the dressing of the hair is a most elaborate affair, which occupies a considerable portion of their time. It is quite impossible for an Arab woman to arrange her own hair; she therefore employs an assistant, who, if clever in the art, will generally occupy about three days before the operation is concluded. First, the hair must be combed with a long skewer-like pin; then, when well divided, it becomes possible to use an exceedingly coarse wooden comb. When the hair is reduced to reasonable order by the latter process, a vigorous hunt takes place, which occupies about an hour, according to the amount of game preserved. The sport concluded, the hair is rubbed with a mixture of oil of roses, myrrh, and sandal-wood dust mixed with a powder of cloves and cassia. When well greased and rendered somewhat stiff by the solids thus introduced, it is plaited into at least two hundred fine plaits; each of these plaits is then smeared with a mixture of sandal-wood dust and either gum water or paste of dhurra flour. On the last day of the operation, each tiny plait is carefully opened by the long hairpin or skewer, and the head is ravissante. Scented and frizzled in this manner with a well-greased tope or robe, the Arab lady's toilet is complete. Her head is then a little larger than the largest sized English mop, and her perfume is something between the aroma of a perfumer's shop and the monkey-house at the Zoological Gardens. This is considered "very killing," and I have been quite of that opinion when a crowd of women have visited my wife in our tent, with the thermometer at 95 degrees C, and have kindly consented to allow me to remain as one of the party.
It is hardly necessary to add that the operation of hairdressing is not often performed, but that the effect is permanent for about a week, during which time the game becomes so excessively lively that the creatures require stirring up with the long hairpin or skewer whenever too unruly. This appears to be constantly necessary from the vigorous employment of the ruling sceptre during conversation. A levee of Arab women in the tent was therefore a disagreeable invasion, as we dreaded the fugitives; fortunately, they appeared to cling to the followers of Mahomet in preference to Christians.
The plague of lice brought upon the Egyptians by Moses has certainly adhered to the country ever since, if "lice" is the proper translation of the Hebrew word in the Old Testament. It is my own opinion that the insects thus inflicted upon the population were not lice, but ticks. Exod. 8:16: "The dust became lice throughout all Egypt;" again, Exod. 8:17: "Smote dust... it became lice in man and beast." Now the louse that infests the human body and hair has no connection whatever with "dust," and if subject to a few hours' exposure to the dry heat of the burning sand, it would shrivel and die. But the tick is an inhabitant of the dust, a dry horny insect without any apparent moisture in its composition; it lives in hot sand and dust, where it cannot possibly obtain nourishment, until some wretched animal lies down upon the spot, when it becomes covered with these horrible vermin. I have frequently seen dry desert places so infested with ticks that the ground was perfectly alive with them, and it would have been impossible to rest on the earth.
In such spots, the passage in Exodus has frequently occurred to me as bearing reference to these vermin, which are the greatest enemies to man and beast. It is well known that, from the size of a grain of sand in their natural state, they will distend to the size of a hazelnut after having preyed for some days upon the blood of an animal. The Arabs are invariably infested with lice, not only in their hair, but upon their bodies and clothes; even the small charms or spells worn upon the arm in neatly-sewn leathern packets are full of these vermin. Such spells are generally verses copied from the Koran by the Faky, or priest, who receives some small gratuity in exchange. The men wear several such talismans upon the arm above the elbow, but the women wear a large bunch of charms, as a sort of chatelaine, suspended beneath their clothes around the waist.
Although the tope or robe, loosely but gracefully arranged around the body, appears to be the whole of the costume, the women wear beneath this garment a thin blue cotton cloth tightly bound round the loins, which descends to a little above the knee; beneath this, next to the skin, is the last garment, the rahat. The latter is the only clothing of young girls, and may be either perfectly simple or adorned with beads and cowrie shells according to the fancy of the wearer. It is perfectly effective as a dress, and admirably adapted to the climate.
The rahat is a fringe of fine dark brown or reddish twine, fastened to a belt, and worn round the waist. On either side are two long tassels, that are generally ornamented with beads or cowries, and dangle nearly to the ankles, while the rahat itself should descend to a little above the knee, or be rather shorter than a Highland kilt. Nothing can be prettier or more simple than this dress, which, although short, is of such thickly hanging fringe that it perfectly answers the purpose for which it is intended.
Many of the Arab girls are remarkably good-looking, with fine figures until they become mothers. They generally marry at the age of thirteen or fourteen, but frequently at twelve or even earlier. Until married, the rahat is their sole garment. Throughout the Arab tribes of Upper Egypt, chastity is a necessity, as an operation is performed at the early age of from three to five years that thoroughly protects all females and which renders them physically proof against incontinency.
There is but little love-making among the Arabs. The affair of matrimony usually commences by a present to the father of the girl, which, if accepted, is followed by a similar advance to the girl herself, and the arrangement is completed. All the friends of both parties are called together for the wedding; pistols and guns are fired off, if possessed. There is much feasting, and the unfortunate bridegroom undergoes the ordeal of whipping by the relatives of his bride, in order to test his courage. Sometimes this punishment is exceedingly severe, being inflicted with the coorbatch or whip of hippopotamus hide, which is cracked vigorously about his ribs and back. If the happy husband wishes to be considered a man worth having, he must receive the chastisement with an expression of enjoyment; in which case the crowds of women again raise their thrilling cry in admiration. After the rejoicings of the day are over, the bride is led in the evening to the residence of her husband, while a beating of drums and strumming of guitars (rhababas) are kept up for some hours during the night, with the usual discordant singing.
There is no divorce court among the Arabs. They are not sufficiently advanced in civilization to accept a pecuniary fine as the price of a wife's dishonor; but a stroke of the husband's sword or a stab with the knife is generally the ready remedy for infidelity. Although strict Mahometans, the women are never veiled; neither do they adopt the excessive reserve assumed by the Turks and Egyptians. The Arab women are generally idle, and one of the conditions of accepting a suitor is that a female slave is to be provided for the special use of the wife. No Arab woman will engage herself as a domestic servant; thus, so long as their present customs shall remain unchanged, slaves are creatures of necessity. Although the law of Mahomet limits the number of wives for each man to four at one time, the Arab women do not appear to restrict their husbands to this allowance, and the slaves of the establishment occupy the position of concubines.
The Arabs adhere strictly to their ancient customs, independently of the comparatively recent laws established by Mahomet. Thus, concubinage is not considered a breach of morality; neither is it regarded by the legitimate wives with jealousy. They attach great importance to the laws of Moses and to the customs of their forefathers; neither can they understand the reason for a change of habit in any respect where necessity has not suggested the reform. The Arabs are creatures of necessity; their nomadic life is compulsory, as the existence of their flocks and herds depends upon the pasturage. Thus, with the change of seasons they must change their localities, according to the presence of fodder for their cattle. Driven to and fro by the accidents of climate, the Arab has been compelled to become a wanderer; and precisely as the wild beasts of the country are driven from place to place either by the arrival of the fly, the lack of pasturage, or by the want of water, even so must the flocks of the Arab obey the law of necessity, in a country where the burning sun and total absence of rain for nine months of the year convert the green pastures into a sandy desert.
The Arab cannot halt on one spot longer than the pasturage will support his flocks; therefore his necessity is food for his beasts. The object of his life being fodder, he must wander in search of the ever-changing supply. His wants must be few, as the constant changes of encampment necessitate the transport of all his household goods; thus he reduces to a minimum the domestic furniture and utensils. No desires for strange and fresh objects excite his mind to improvement, or alter his original habits; he must limit his impedimenta, not increase them. Thus with a few necessary articles he is contented. Mats for his tent, ropes manufactured with the hair of his goats and camels, pots for carrying fat, water-jars and earthenware pots or gourd-shells for containing milk, leather water-skins for the desert, and sheep-skin bags for his clothes—these are the requirements of the Arabs. Their patterns have never changed, but the water-jar of to-day is of the same form as that carried to the well by the women of thousands of years ago. The conversation of the Arabs is in the exact style of the Old Testament. The name of God is coupled with every trifling incident in life, and they believe in the continual action of divine special interference. Should a famine afflict the country, it is expressed in the stern language of the bible—"The Lord has sent a grievous famine upon the land;" or, "The Lord called for a famine, and it came upon the land." Should their cattle fall sick, it is considered to be an affliction by divine command; or should the flocks prosper and multiply particularly well during one season, the prosperity is attributed to special interference. Nothing can happen in the usual routine of daily life without a direct connection with the hand of God, according to the Arab's belief.
This striking similarity to the descriptions of the Old Testament is exceedingly interesting to a traveller when residing among these curious and original people. With the Bible in one hand, and these unchanged tribes before the eyes, there is a thrilling illustration of the sacred record; the past becomes the present; the veil of three thousand years is raised, and the living picture is a witness to the exactness of the historical description. At the same time there is a light thrown upon many obscure passages in the Old Testament by a knowledge of the present customs and figures of speech of the Arabs, which are precisely those that were practised at the periods described. I do not attempt to enter upon a theological treatise, therefore it is unnecessary to allude specially to these particular points. The sudden and desolating arrival of a flight of locusts, the plague, or any other unforeseen calamity, is attributed to the anger of God, and is believed to be an infliction of punishment upon the people thus visited, precisely as the plagues of Egypt were specially inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
Should the present history of the country be written by an Arab scribe, the style of the description would be purely that of the Old Testament; and the various calamities or the good fortunes that have in the course of nature befallen both the tribes and individuals would be recounted either as special visitations of divine wrath or blessings for good deeds performed. If in a dream a particular course of action is suggested, the Arab believes that God has spoken and directed him. The Arab scribe or historian would describe the event as the "voice of the Lord" ("kallam el Allah"), having spoken unto the person; or, that God appeared to him in a dream and "said," etc. Thus much allowance would be necessary on the part of a European reader for the figurative ideas and expressions of the people. As the Arabs are unchanged, the theological opinions which they now hold are the same as those which prevailed in remote ages, with the simple addition of their belief in Mahomet as the Prophet.
On the Abyssinian border. A new school of medicine—Sacred shrines and epidemics.
We left the camp of Abou Sinn on the morning of July 25th, and in a few rapid marches arrived at Tomat, a lovely spot at the junction of the Atbara with the Settite.
The Settite is the river par excellence, as it is the principal stream of Abyssinia, in which country it bears the name of "Tacazzy." Above the junction the Athara does not exceed two hundred yards in width. Both rivers have scooped out deep and broad valleys throughout their course. This fact confirmed my first impression that the supply of soil had been brought down by the Atbara to the Nile. The country on the opposite or eastern bank of the Atbara is contested ground. In reality it forms the western frontier of Abyssinia, of which the Atbara River is the boundary; but since the annexation of the Nubian provinces to Egypt there has been no safety for life or property upon the line of frontier; thus a large tract of country actually forming a portion of Abyssinia is uninhabited.
Upon our arrival at Sofi we were welcomed by the sheik, and by a German, Florian, who was delighted to see Europeans. He was a sallow, sickly-looking man, who with a large bony frame had been reduced from constant hard work and frequent sickness to little but skin and sinew. He was a mason, who had left Germany with the Austrian mission to Khartoum, but finding the work too laborious in such a climate, he and a friend, who was a carpenter, had declared for independence, and they had left the mission. They were both enterprising fellows, and sportsmen; therefore they had purchased rifles and ammunition, and had commenced life as hunters. At the same time they employed their leisure hours in earning money by the work of their hands in various ways.
I determined to arrange our winter quarters at Sofi for three months' stay, during which I should have ample time to gain information and complete arrangements for the future. I accordingly succeeded in purchasing a remarkably neat house for ten piastres (two shillings). The architecture was of an ancient style, from the original design of a pill-box surmounted by a candle extinguisher. I purchased two additional huts, which were erected at the back of our mansion, one as the kitchen, the other as the servants' hall.
In the course of a week we had as pretty a camp as Robinson Crusoe himself could have coveted. We had a view of about five miles in extent along the valley of the Atbara, and it was my daily amusement to scan with my telescope the uninhabited country upon the opposite side of the river and watch the wild animals as they grazed in perfect security. We were thoroughly happy at Sofi. There was a delightful calm and a sense of rest, a total estrangement from the cares of the world, and an enchanting contrast in the soft green verdure of the landscape before us, to the many hundred weary miles of burning desert through which we had toiled from Lower Egypt.
Time glided away smoothly until the fever invaded our camp. Florian became seriously ill. My wife was prostrated by a severe attack of gastric fever, which for nine days rendered her recovery almost hopeless. Then came the plague of boils, and soon after a species of intolerable itch, called the coorash. I adopted for this latter a specific I had found successful with the mange in dogs, namely, gunpowder, with one fourth sulphur added, made into a soft paste with water, and then formed into an ointment with fat. It worked like a charm with the coorash.
Faith is the drug that is supposed to cure the Arab; whatever his complaint may be, he applies to his Faky or priest. This minister is not troubled with a confusion of book-learning, neither are the shelves of his library bending beneath weighty treatises upon the various maladies of human nature; but he possesses the key to all learning, the talisman that will apply to all cases, in that one holy book, the Koran. This is his complete pharmacopoeia: his medicine chest, combining purgatives, blisters, sudorifies, styptics, narcotics, emetics, and all that the most profound M.D. could prescribe. With this "multum in parvo" stock-in-trade the Faky receives his patients. No. 1 arrives, a barren woman who requests some medicine that will promote the blessing of childbirth. No. 2, a man who was strong in his youth, but from excessive dissipation has become useless. No. 3, a man deformed from his birth, who wishes to become straight as other men. No. 4, a blind child. No. 5, a dying old woman, carried on a litter; and sundry other impossible cases, with others of a more simple character.
The Faky produces his book, the holy Koran, and with a pen formed of a reed he proceeds to write a prescription—not to be made up by an apothecary, as such dangerous people do not exist; but the prescription itself is to be SWALLOWED! Upon a smooth board, like a slate, he rubs sufficient lime to produce a perfectly white surface; upon this he writes in large characters, with thick glutinous ink, a verse or verses from the Koran that he considers applicable to the case; this completed, he washes off the holy quotation, and converts it into a potation by the addition of a little water; this is swallowed in perfect faith by the patient, who in return pays a fee according to the demand of the Faky.
As few people can read or write, there is an air of mystery in the art of writing which much enhances the value of a scrap of paper upon which is written a verse from the Koran. A few piastres are willingly expended in the purchase of such talismans, which are carefully and very neatly sewn into small envelopes of leather, and are worn by all people, being handed down from father to son.
The Arabs are especially fond of relics; thus, upon the return from a pilgrimage to Mecca, the "hadji" or pilgrim is certain to have purchased from some religious Faky of the sacred shrine either a few square inches of cloth, or some such trifle, that belonged to the prophet Mahomet. This is exhibited to his friends and strangers as a wonderful spell against some particular malady, and it is handed about and received with extreme reverence by the assembled crowd. I once formed one of a circle when a pilgrim returned to his native village. We sat in a considerable number upon the ground, while he drew from his bosom a leather envelope, suspended from his neck, from which he produced a piece of extremely greasy woollen cloth, about three inches square, the original color of which it would have been impossible to guess. This was a piece of Mahomet's garment, but what portion he could not say. The pilgrim had paid largely for this blessed relic, and it was passed round our circle from hand to hand, after having first been kissed by the proprietor, who raised it to the crown of his head, which he touched with the cloth, and then wiped both his eyes. Each person who received it went through a similar performance, and as ophthalmia and other diseases of the eyes were extremely prevalent, several of the party had eyes that had not the brightness of the gazelle's; nevertheless, these were supposed to become brighter after having been wiped by the holy cloth. How many eyes this same piece of cloth had wiped, it would be impossible to say, but such facts are sufficient to prove the danger of holy relics, that are inoculators of all manner of contagious diseases.
I believe in holy shrines as the pest spots of the world. We generally have experienced in Western Europe that all violent epidemics arrive from the East. The great breadth of the Atlantic boundary would naturally protect us from the West, but infectious disorders, such as plague, cholera, small-pox, etc., may be generally tracked throughout their gradations from their original nests. Those nests are in the East, where the heat of the climate acting upon the filth of semi-savage communities engenders pestilence.
The holy places of both Christians and Mahometans are the receptacles for the masses of people of all nations and classes who have arrived from all points of the compass. The greater number of such people are of poor estate, and many have toiled on foot from immense distances, suffering from hunger and fatigue, and bringing with them not only the diseases of their own remote counties, but arriving in that weak state that courts the attack of any epidemic. Thus crowded together, with a scarcity of provisions, a want of water, and no possibility of cleanliness, with clothes that have been unwashed for weeks or months, in a camp of dirty pilgrims, without any attempt at drainage, an accumulation of filth takes place that generates either cholera or typhus; the latter, in its most malignant form, appears as the dreaded "plague." Should such an epidemic attack the mass of pilgrims debilitated by the want of nourishing food, and exhausted by their fatiguing march, it runs riot like a fire among combustibles, and the loss of life is terrific. The survivors radiate from this common centre, upon their return to their respective homes, to which they carry the seeds of the pestilence to germinate upon new soils in different countries. Doubtless the clothes of the dead furnish materials for innumerable holy relics as vestiges of the wardrobe of the Prophet. These are disseminated by the pilgrims throughout all countries, pregnant with disease; and, being brought into personal contact with hosts of true believers, Pandora's box could not be more fatal.
Not only are relics upon a pocket scale conveyed by pilgrims and reverenced by the Arabs, but the body of any Faky who in lifetime was considered unusually holy is brought from a great distance to be interred in some particular spot. In countries where a tree is a rarity, a plank for a coffin is unknown; thus the reverend Faky, who may have died of typhus, is wrapped in cloths and packed in a mat. In this form he is transported, perhaps some hundred miles, slung upon a camel, with the thermometer above 130 degrees Fah. in the sun, and he is conveyed to the village that is so fortunate as to be honored with his remains. It may be readily imagined that with a favorable wind the inhabitants are warned of his approach some time before his arrival.
Happily, long before we arrived at Sofi, the village had been blessed by the death of a celebrated Faky, a holy man who would have been described as a second Isaiah were the annals of the country duly chronicled. This great "man of God," as he was termed, had departed this life at a village on the borders of the Nile, about eight days' hard camel-journey from Sofi; but from some assumed right, mingled no doubt with jobbery, the inhabitants of Sofi had laid claim to his body, and he had arrived upon a camel horizontally, and had been buried about fifty yards from the site of our camp. His grave was beneath a clump of mimosas that shaded the spot, and formed the most prominent object in the foreground of our landscape. Thither every Friday the women of the village congregated, with offerings of a few handfuls of dhurra in small gourd-shells, which they laid upon the grave, while they ATE THE HOLY EARTH in small pinches, which they scraped like rabbits, from a hole they had burrowed toward the venerated corpse. This hole was about two feet deep from continual scratching, and must have been very near the Faky.