10: Berberah and Its Environs
<< 9: A Ride to Berberah || 11: Postscript >>
It is interesting to compare the earliest with the latest account of the
great emporium of Eastern Africa.
Bartema, writing in the sixteenth century "of Barbara and the Island of
Ethiope," offers the following brief description:—"After that the
tempests were appeased, we gave wind to our sails, and in short time
arrived at an island named Barbara, the prince whereof is a Mahometan.(1)
The island is not great but fruitful and well peopled: it hath abundance
of flesh. The inhabitants are of colour inclining to black. All their
riches is in herds of cattle."
Lieut. Cruttenden of the I. N., writing in 1848, thus describes the
place:—"The annual fair is one of the most interesting sights on the
coast, if only from the fact of many different and distant tribes being
drawn together for a short time, to be again scattered in all directions.
Before the towers of Berbera were built(2), the place from April to the
early part of October was utterly deserted, not even a fisherman being
found there; but no sooner did the season change, than the inland tribes
commenced moving down towards the coast, and preparing their huts for
their expected visitors. Small craft from the ports of Yemen, anxious to
have an opportunity of purchasing before vessels from the gulf could
arrive, hastened across, followed about a fortnight to three weeks later
by their larger brethren from Muscat, Soor, and Ras el Khyma, and the
valuably freighted Bagalas from Bahrein, Bussorah, and Graen. Lastly,
the fat and wealthy Banian traders from Porebunder, Mandavie, and Bombay,
rolled across in their clumsy Kotias(3), and with a formidable row of
empty ghee jars slung over the quarters of their vessels, elbowed
themselves into a permanent position in the front tier of craft in the
harbour, and by their superior capital, cunning, and influence soon
distanced all competitors."
"During the height of the fair, Berbera is a perfect Babel, in confusion
as in languages: no chief is acknowledged, and the customs of bygone days
are the laws of the place. Disputes between the inland tribes daily arise,
and are settled by the spear and dagger, the combatants retiring to the
beach at a short distance from the town, in order that they may not
disturb the trade. Long strings of camels are arriving and departing day
and night, escorted generally by women alone, until at a distance from the
town; and an occasional group of dusky and travel-worn children marks the
arrival of the slave Cafila from Hurrur and Efat."
"At Berbera, the Gurague and Hurrur slave merchant meets his correspondent
from Bussorah, Bagdad, or Bunder Abbas; and the savage Gidrbeersi
(Gudabirsi), with his head tastefully ornamented with a scarlet sheepskin
in lieu of a wig, is seen peacefully bartering his ostrich feathers and
gums with the smooth-spoken Banian from Porebunder, who prudently living
on board his ark, and locking up his puggree(4), which would infallibly
be knocked off the instant he was seen wearing it, exhibits but a small
portion of his wares at a time, under a miserable mat spread on the
"By the end of March the fair is nearly at a close, and craft of all
kinds, deeply laden, and sailing generally in parties of three and four,
commence their homeward journey. The Soori boats are generally the last to
leave, and by the first week in April, Berbera is again deserted, nothing
being left to mark the site of a town lately containing 20,000
inhabitants, beyond bones of slaughtered camels and sheep, and the
framework of a few huts, which is carefully piled on the beach in
readiness for the ensuing year. Beasts of prey now take the opportunity to
approach the sea: lions are commonly seen at the town well during the hot
weather; and in April last year, but a week after the fair had ended, I
observed three ostriches quietly walking on the beach." (5)
Of the origin of Berberah little is known. El Firuzabadi derives it, with
great probability, from two Himyar chiefs of Southern Arabia.(6) About
A.D. 522 the troops of Anushirwan expelled the Abyssinians from Yemen, and
re-established there a Himyari prince under vassalage of the Persian
Monarch. Tradition asserts the port to have been occupied in turns by the
Furs(7), the Arabs, the Turks, the Gallas, and the Somal. And its future
fortunes are likely to be as varied as the past.
The present decadence of Berberah is caused by petty internal feuds.
Gerhajis the eldest son of Ishak el Hazrami, seized the mountain ranges of
Gulays and Wagar lying about forty miles behind the coast, whilst Awal,
the cadet, established himself and his descendants upon the lowlands from
Berberah to Zayla. Both these powerful tribes assert a claim to the
customs and profits of the port on the grounds that they jointly conquered
it from the Gallas.(8) The Habr Awal, however, being in possession, would
monopolize the right: a blood feud rages, and the commerce of the place
suffers from the dissensions of the owners.
Moreover the Habr Awal tribe is not without internal feuds. Two kindred
septs, the Ayyal Yunis Nuh and the Ayyal Ahmed Nuh(9), established
themselves originally at Berberah. The former, though the more numerous,
admitted the latter for some years to a participation of profits, but when
Aden, occupied by the British, rendered the trade valuable, they drove out
the weaker sept, and declared themselves sole "Abbans" to strangers during
the fair. A war ensued. The sons of Yunis obtained aid of the Mijjarthayn
tribe. The sons of Ahmed called in the Habr Gerhajis, especially the Musa
Arrah clan, to which the Hajj Sharmarkay belongs, and, with his
assistance, defeated and drove out the Ayyal Yunis. These, flying from
Berberah, settled at the haven of Bulhar, and by their old connection with
the Indian and other foreign traders, succeeded in drawing off a
considerable amount of traffic. But the roadstead was insecure: many
vessels were lost, and in 1847 the Eesa Somal slaughtered the women and
children of the new-comers, compelling them to sue the Ayyal Ahmed for
peace. Though the feud thus ended, the fact of its having had existence
ensures bad blood: amongst these savages treaties are of no avail, and the
slightest provocation on either side becomes a signal for renewed
* * * * *
After this dry disquisition we will return, dear L., to my doings at
Great fatigue is seldom followed by long sleep. Soon after sunrise I
awoke, hearing loud voices proceeding from a mass of black face and tawny
wig, that blocked up the doorway, pressing forward to see their new
stranger. The Berberah people had been informed by the Donkey of our
having ridden from the Girhi hills in five days: they swore that not only
the thing was impossible, but moreover that we had never sighted Harar.
Having undergone the usual catechising with credit, I left the thatched
hat in which my comrades were living, and proceeded to inspect my
attendants and cattle. The former smiled blandly: they had acquitted
themselves of their trust, they had outwitted the Ayyal Ahmed, who would
be furious thereat, they had filled themselves with dates, rice, and
sugared tea—another potent element of moral satisfaction—and they
trusted that a few days would show them their wives and families. The End
of Time's brow, however, betrayed an arriere pensee; once more his
cowardice crept forth, and he anxiously whispered that his existence
depended upon my protection. The poor mules were by no means so easily
restored. Their backs, cut to the bone by the saddles, stood up like those
of angry cats, their heads drooped sadly, and their hams showed red marks
of the spear-point. Directing them to be washed in the sea, dressed with
cold-water bandages, and copiously fed, I proceeded to inspect the
The "Mother of the Poor," as the Arabs call the place, in position
resembles Zayla. The town,—if such name can be given to what is now a
wretched clump of dirty mat-huts,—is situated on the northern edge of
alluvial ground, sloping almost imperceptibly from the base of the
Southern hills. The rapacity of these short-sighted savages has contracted
its dimensions to about one sixth of its former extent: for nearly a mile
around, the now desert land is strewed with bits of glass and broken
pottery. Their ignorance has chosen the worst position: Mos Majorum is
the Somali code, where father built there son builds, and there shall
grandson build. To the S. and E. lies a saline sand-flat, partially
overflowed by high tides: here are the wells of bitter water, and the
filth and garbage make the spot truly offensive. Northwards the sea-strand
has become a huge cemetery, crowded with graves whose dimensions explain
the Somali legend that once there were giants in the land: tradition
assigns to it the name of Bunder Abbas. Westward, close up to the town,
runs the creek which forms the wealth of Berberah. A long strip of sand
and limestone—the general formation of the coast—defends its length from
the northern gales, the breadth is about three quarters of a mile, and the
depth varies from six to fifteen fathoms near the Ras or Spit at which
ships anchor before putting out to sea.
Behind the town, and distant about seven miles, lie the Sub-Ghauts, a bold
background of lime and sandstone. Through a broad gap called Duss Malablay
(10) appear in fine weather the granite walls of Wagar and Gulays, whose
altitude by aneroid was found to be 5700 feet above the level of the sea.
(11) On the eastward the Berberah plain is bounded by the hills of Siyaro,
and westwards the heights of Dabasenis limit the prospect.(12)
It was with astonishment that I reflected upon the impolicy of having
preferred Aden to this place.
The Emporium of Eastern Africa has a salubrious climate(13), abundance of
sweet water—a luxury to be "fully appreciated only after a residence at
Aden"(14)—a mild monsoon, a fine open country, an excellent harbour, and
a soil highly productive. It is the meeting-place of commerce, has few
rivals, and with half the sums lavished in Arabia upon engineer follies of
stone and lime, the environs might at this time have been covered with
houses, gardens, and trees.
The Eye of Yemen, to quote Carlyle, is a "mountain of misery towering
sheer up like a bleak Pisgah, with outlooks only into desolation, sand,
salt water, and despair." The camp is in a "Devil's Punchbowl," stiflingly
hot during nine months of the year, and subject to alternations of
sandstorm and Simum, "without either seed, water, or trees," as Ibn
Batutah described it 500 years ago, unproductive for want of rain,—not a
sparrow can exist there, nor will a crow thrive,(15)—and essentially
unhealthy. (16) Our loss in operatives is only equalled by our waste of
rupees; and the general wish of Western India is, that the extinct sea of
fire would, Vesuvius-like, once more convert this dismal cape into a
After a day's rest—physical not spiritual, for the Somal were as usual
disputing violently about the Abbanship(17)—I went with my comrades to
visit an interesting ruin near the town. On the way we were shown pits of
coarse sulphur and alum mixed with sand; in the low lands senna and
colocynth were growing wild. After walking a mile south-south-east, from
present Berberah to a rise in the plain, we found the remains of a small
building about eight yards square divided into two compartments. It is
apparently a Mosque: one portion, the sole of which is raised, shows
traces of the prayer niche; the other might have contained the tomb of
some saint now obsolete, or might have been a fort to protect a
neighbouring tank. The walls are of rubble masonry and mud, revetted with
a coating of cement hard as stone, and mixed with small round pebbles.
(18) Near it is a shallow reservoir of stone and lime, about five yards by
ten, proved by the aqueduct, part of which still remains, to be a tank of
supply. Removing the upper slabs, we found the interior lined with a
deposit of sulphate of lime and choked with fine drift sand; the breadth
is about fifteen inches and the depth nine. After following it fifty yards
toward the hills, we lost the trace; the loose stones had probably been
removed for graves, and the soil may have buried the firmer portion.
Mounting our mules we then rode in a south-south-east direction towards
the Dubar Hills, The surface of the ground, apparently level, rises about
100 feet per mile. In most parts a soft sand overlying hard loam, like
work en pise, limestone and coralline; it shows evidences of inundation:
water-worn stones of a lime almost as compact as marble, pieces of quartz,
selenite, basalt, granite, and syenite in nodules are everywhere sprinkled
over the surface.(19) Here and there torrents from the hills had cut
channels five or six feet below the level, and a thicker vegetation
denoted the lines of bed. The growth of wild plants, scanty near the
coast, became more luxuriant as we approached the hills; the Arman Acacia
flourished, the Kulan tree grew in clumps, and the Tamarisk formed here
and there a dense thicket. Except a few shy antelope,(20) we saw no game.
A ride of seven or eight miles led us to the dry bed of a watercourse
overgrown with bright green rushes, and known to the people as Dubar Wena,
or Great Dubar. This strip of ground, about half a mile long, collects the
drainage of the hills above it: numerous Las or Pits, in the centre of the
bed, four or five feet deep, abundantly supply the flocks and herds.
Although the surface of the ground, where dry, was white with impure
nitre, the water tasted tolerably sweet. Advancing half a mile over the
southern shoulder of a coarse and shelly mass of limestone, we found the
other rushy swamp, called Dubar Yirr or Little Dubar. A spring of warm and
bitter water flowed from the hill over the surface to a distance of 400 or
500 yards, where it was absorbed by the soil. The temperature of the
sources immediately under the hill was 106° Fahr., the thermometer
standing at 80° in the air, and the aneroid gave an altitude of 728 feet
above the sea.
The rocks behind these springs were covered with ruins of mosques and
houses. We visited a little tower commanding the source; it was built in
steps, the hill being cut away to form the two lower rooms, and the second
story showed three compartments. The material was rubble and the form
resembled Galla buildings; we found, however, fine mortar mixed with
coarse gravel, bits of glass bottles and blue glazed pottery, articles now
unknown to this part of Africa. On the summit of the highest peak our
guides pointed out remains of another fort similar to the old Turkish
watchtowers at Aden.
About three quarters of a mile from the Little Dubar, we found the head of
the Berberah Aqueduct. Thrown across a watercourse apparently of low
level, it is here more substantially built than near the beach, and
probably served as a force pipe until the water found a fall. We traced
the line to a distance of ten yards, where it disappeared beneath the
soil, and saw nothing resembling a supply-tank except an irregularly
shaped natural pool.(21)
A few days afterwards, accompanied by Lieut. Herne, I rode out to inspect
the Biyu Gora or Night-running Water. After advancing about ten miles in a
south-east direction from Berberah, we entered rough and broken ground,
and suddenly came upon a Fiumara about 250 yards broad. The banks were
fringed with Brab and Tamarisk, the Daum palm and green rushes: a clear
sparkling and shallow stream bisected the sandy bed, and smaller branches
wandered over the surface. This river, the main drain of the Ghauts and
Sub-Ghauts, derives its name from the increased volume of the waters
during night: evaporation by day causes the absorption of about a hundred
yards. We found its temperature 73° Fahr. (in the air 78°), and our people
dug holes in the sand instead of drinking from the stream, a proof that
they feared leeches.(22) The taste of the water was bitter and nauseous.
Following the course of the Biyu Gora through two low parallel ranges of
conglomerate, we entered a narrow gorge, in which lime and sandstone
abound. The dip of the strata is about 45° west, the strike north and
south. Water springs from under every stone, drops copiously from the
shelves of rock, oozes out of the sand, and bubbles up from the mould. The
temperature is exceedingly variable: in some places the water is icy cold,
in others, the thermometer shows 68° Fahr., in others, 101°—the maximum,
when we visited it, being 126°. The colours are equally diverse. Here, the
polished surface of the sandstone is covered with a hoar of salt and
nitre.(24) There, where the stream does not flow, are pools dyed
greenish-black or rust-red by iron sediment. The gorge's sides are a vivid
red: a peculiar creeper hangs from the rocks, and water trickles down its
metallic leaves. The upper cliffs are crowned with tufts of the dragon's-
Leaving our mules with an attendant, we began to climb the rough and rocky
gorge which, as the breadth diminishes, becomes exceedingly picturesque.
In one part, the side of a limestone hill hundreds of feet in height, has
slipped into the chasm, half filling it with gigantic boulders: through
these the noisy stream whirls, now falling in small cascades, then gliding
over slabs of sheet rock: here it cute grooved channels and deep basins
clean and sharp as artificial baths in the sandstone, there it flows
quietly down a bed of pure sparkling sand. The high hills above are of a
tawny yellow: the huge boulders, grisly white, bear upon their summits the
drift wood of the last year's inundation. During the monsoon, when a
furious torrent sweeps down from the Wagar Hills, this chasm must afford a
curiously wild spectacle.
Returning from a toilsome climb, we found some of the Ayyal Ahmed building
near the spot where Biyu Gora is absorbed, the usual small stone tower.
The fact had excited attention at Berberah; the erection was intended to
store grain, but the suspicious savages, the Eesa Musa, and Mikahil, who
hold the land, saw in it an attempt to threaten their liberties. On our
way home we passed through some extensive cemeteries: the tombs were in
good preservation; there was nothing peculiar in their construction, yet
the Somal were positive that they belonged to a race preceding their own.
Near them were some ruins of kilns,—comparatively modern, for bits of
charcoal were mixed with broken pieces of pottery,—and the oblong tracery
of a dwelling-house divided into several compartments: its material was
the sun-dried brick of Central Asia, here a rarity.
After visiting these ruins there was little to detain me at Berberah. The
town had become intolerable, the heat under a mat hut was extreme, the
wind and dust were almost as bad as Aden, and the dirt perhaps even worse.
As usual we had not a moment's privacy, Arabs as well as the Somal
assuming the right of walking in, sitting down, looking hard, chatting
with one another, and departing. Before the voyage, however, I was called
upon to compose a difficulty upon the subject of Abbanship. The Hammal had
naturally constituted his father-in-law, one Burhale Nuh, of the Ayyal
Gedid, protector to Lieut. Herne and myself. Burhale had proved himself a
rascal: he had been insolent as well as dishonest, and had thrown frequent
obstacles in his employer's way; yet custom does not permit the Abban to
be put away like a wife, and the Hammal's services entitled him to the
fullest consideration. On the other hand Jami Hasan, a chief and a doughty
man of the Ayyal Ahmed, had met me at Aden early in 1854, and had received
from me a ring in token of Abbanship. During my absence at Harar, he had
taken charge of Lieut. Stroyan. On the very morning of my arrival he came
to the hut, sat down spear in hand, produced the ring and claimed my
promise. In vain I objected that the token had been given when a previous
trip was intended, and that the Hammal must not be disappointed: Jami
replied that once an Abban always an Abban, that he hated the Hammal and
all his tribe, and that he would enter into no partnership with Burhale
Nuh:—to complicate matters, Lieut. Stroyan spoke highly of his courage
and conduct. Presently he insisted rudely upon removing his protege to
another part of the town: this passed the limits of our patience, and
decided the case against him.
For some days discord raged between the rivals. At last it was settled
that I should choose my own Abban in presence of a general council of the
Elders. The chiefs took their places upon the shore, each with his
followers forming a distinct semicircle, and all squatting with shield and
spear planted upright in the ground. When sent for, I entered the circle
sword in hand, and sat down awaiting their pleasure. After much murmuring
had subsided, Jami asked in a loud voice, "Who is thy protector?" The
reply was, "Burhale Nuh!" Knowing, however, how little laconism is prized
by an East-African audience, I did not fail to follow up this answer with
an Arabic speech of the dimensions of an average sermon, and then
shouldering my blade left the circle abruptly. The effect was success. Our
wild friends sat from afternoon till sunset: as we finished supper one of
them came in with the glad tidings of a "peace conference." Jami had asked
Burhale to swear that he intended no personal offence in taking away a
protege pledged to himself: Burhale had sworn, and once more the olive
waved over the braves of Berberah.
On the 5th February 1855, taking leave of my comrades, I went on board El
Kasab or the Reed—such was the ill-omened name of our cranky craft—to
the undisguised satisfaction of the Hammal, Long Guled, and the End of
Time, who could scarcely believe in their departure from Berberah with
sound skins.(25) Coasting with a light breeze, early after noon on the
next day we arrived at Siyaro, a noted watering-place for shipping, about
nineteen miles east of the emporium. The roadstead is open to the north,
but a bluff buttress of limestone rock defends it from the north-east
gales. Upon a barren strip of sand lies the material of the town; two
houses of stone and mud, one yet unfinished, the other completed about
thirty years ago by Farih Binni, a Mikahil chief.
Some dozen Bedouin spearmen, Mikahil of a neighbouring kraal, squatted
like a line of crows upon the shore to receive us as we waded from the
vessel. They demanded money in too authoritative a tone before allowing us
to visit the wells, which form their principal wealth. Resolved not to
risk a quarrel so near Berberah, I was returning to moralise upon the fate
of Burckhardt—after a successful pilgrimage refused admittance to Aaron's
tomb at Sinai—when a Bedouin ran to tell us that we might wander where we
pleased. He excused himself and his companions by pleading necessity, and
his leanness lent conviction to the plea.
The larger well lies close to the eastern wall of the dwelling-house: it
is about eighteen feet deep, one third sunk through ground, the other two
thirds through limestone, and at the bottom is a small supply of sweet
clear water, Near it I observed some ruined tanks, built with fine mortar
like that of the Berberah ruins. The other well lies about half a mile to
the westward of the former: it is also dug in the limestone rock. A few
yards to the north-east of the building is the Furzeh or custom-house,
whose pristine simplicity tempts me to describe it:—a square of ground
surrounded by a dwarf rubble enclosure, and provided with a proportional
mosque, a tabular block of coralline niched in the direction of Meccah. On
a little eminence of rock to the westward, rise ruined walls, said by my
companions to have been built by a Frank, who bought land from the Mikahil
and settled on this dismal strand.
Taking leave of the Bedouins; whose hearts were gladdened by a few small
presents, we resumed our voyage eastwards along the coast. Next morning,
we passed two broken pyramids of dark rock called Dubada Gumbar Madu—the
Two Black Hills. After a tedious day's sail, twenty miles in twenty-four
hours, the Captain of El Kasab landed us in a creek west of Aynterad. A
few sheep-boats lay at anchor in this "back-bay," as usual when the sea is
heavy at the roadstead; and the crews informed us that a body of Bedouins
was marching to attack the village. Abdy Mohammed Diban, proprietor of the
Aynterad Fort, having constituted me his protector, and remained at
Berberah, I armed my men, and ordering the Captain of the "Reed" to bring
his vessel round at early dawn, walked hurriedly over the three miles that
separated us from the place. Arrived at the fort, we found that Abdy's
slaves knew nothing of the reported attack. They received me, however,
hospitably, and brought a supper of their only provision, vile dates and
dried meat. Unwilling to diminish the scanty store, the Hammal and I but
dipped our hands in the dish: Long Guled and the End of Time, however,
soon cleared the platters, while abusing roundly the unpalatable food.
After supper, a dispute arose between the Hammal and one of the Habr Tul
Jailah, the tribe to whom the land belongs. The Bedouin, not liking my
looks, proposed to put his spear into me. The Hammal objected that if the
measure were carried out, he would return the compliment in kind. Ensued a
long dispute, and the listeners laughed heartily at the utter indifference
with which I gave ear. When it concluded, amicably as may be expected, the
slaves spread a carpet upon a coarse Berberah couch, and having again
vented their hilarity in a roar of laughter, left me to sleep.
We had eaten at least one sheep per diem, and mutton baked in the ship's
oven is delicious to the Somali mouth. Remained on board another dinner, a
circumstance which possibly influenced the weak mind of the Captain of the
"Reed." Awaking at dawn, I went out, expecting to find the vessel within
stone's throw: it was nowhere visible. About 8 A.M., it appeared in sight,
a mere speck upon the sea-horizon, and whilst it approached, I inspected
Aynterad, an inconsiderable place lying east-north-east of, and about
forty miles from, Berberah, is a favourite roadstead principally on
account of its water, which rivals that of Siyaro. The anchorage is bad:
the Shimal or north wind sweeps long lines of heavy wave into the open
bay, and the bottom is a mass of rock and sand-reef. The fifty sunburnt
and windsoiled huts which compose the settlement, are built upon a bank of
sand overlying the normal limestone: at the time when I visited it, the
male population had emigrated en masse to Berberah. It is principally
supported by the slave trade, the Arabs preferring to ship their purchases
at some distance from the chief emporium. (26) Lieut. Herne, when he
visited it, found a considerable amount of "black bullion" in the market.
The fort of Aynterad, erected thirty years ago by Mohammed Diban, is a
stone and mud house square and flat-roofed, with high windows, an attempt
at crenelles, and, for some reason intelligible only to its own Vitruvius,
but a single bastion at the northern angle. There is no well, and the mass
of huts cluster close to the walls. The five guns here deposited by
Sharmarkay when expelled from Berberah, stand on the ground outside the
fort, which is scarcely calculated to bear heavy carronades: they are
unprovided with balls, but that is a trifle where pebbles abound.
Moreover, Abdy's slaves are well armed with matchlock and pistol, and the
Bedouin Tul Jailah(27) find the spear ineffectual against stone walls.
The garrison has frequently been blockaded by its troublesome neighbours,
whose prowess, however, never extended beyond preliminaries.
To allay my impatience, that morning I was invited into several huts for
the purpose of drinking sour milk. A malicious joy filled my soul, as
about noon, the Machiavellian Captain of the "Reed" managed to cast
anchor, after driving his crazy craft through a sea which the violent
Shimal was flinging in hollow curves foam-fringed upon the strand. I stood
on the shore making signs for a canoe. My desires were disregarded, as
long as decency admitted. At last, about 1 P.M., I found myself upon the
"Dawwir el farman,"—shift the yard!—I shouted with a voice of thunder.
The answer was a general hubbub. "He surely will not sail in a sea like
this?" asked the trembling Captain of my companions.
"He will!" sententiously quoth the Hammal, with a Burleigh nod.
"It blows wind—" remonstrated the Rais.
"And if it blew fire?" asked the Hammal with the air goguenard, meaning
that from the calamity of Frankish obstinacy there was no refuge.
A kind of death-wail arose, during which, to hide untimely laughter, I
retreated to a large drawer, in the stern of the vessel, called a cabin.
There my ears could distinguish the loud entreaties of the crew vainly
urging my attendants to propose a day's delay. Then one of the garrison,
accompanied by the Captain who shook as with fever, resolved to act
forlorn hope, and bring a feu d'enfer of phrases to bear upon the
Frank's hard brain. Scarcely, however, had the head of the sentence been
delivered, before he was playfully upraised by his bushy hair and a handle
somewhat more substantial, carried out of the cabin, and thrown, like a
bag of biscuit, on the deck.
The case was hopeless. All strangers plunged into the sea,—the popular
way of landing in East Africa,—the anchor was weighed, the ton of sail
shaken out, and the "Reed" began to dip and rise in the yeasty sea
laboriously as an alderman dancing a polka.
For the first time in my life I had the satisfaction of seeing the Somal
unable to eat—unable to eat mutton. In sea-sickness and needless terror,
the captain, crew, and passengers abandoned to us all the baked sheep,
which we three, not being believers in the Evil Eye, ate from head to
trotters with especial pleasure. That night the waves broke over us. The
End of Time occupied himself in roaring certain orisons, which are reputed
to calm stormy seas: he desisted only when Long Guled pointed out that a
wilder gust seemed to follow as in derision each more emphatic period. The
Captain, a noted reprobate, renowned on shore for his knowledge of erotic
verse and admiration of the fair sex, prayed with fervour: he was joined
by several of the crew, who apparently found the charm of novelty in the
edifying exercise. About midnight a Sultan el Bahr or Sea-king—a species
of whale—appeared close to our counter; and as these animals are infamous
for upsetting vessels in waggishness, the sight elicited a yell of terror
and a chorus of religious exclamations.
On the morning of Friday, the 9th February 1855, we hove in sight of Jebel
Shamsan, the loftiest peak of the Aden Crater. And ere evening fell, I had
the pleasure of seeing the faces of friends and comrades once more.
(1) I cannot guess why Bartema decided "Barbara" to be an island, except
that he used "insula" in the sense of "peninsula." The town is at very
high tides flooded round, but the old traveller manifestly speaks of the
(2) These are the four martello towers erected, upon the spot where the
town of huts generally stands, by the Hajj Sharmarkay, who garrisoned them
with thirty Arab and Negro matchlockmen. They are now in ruins, having
been dismantled by orders from Aden.
(3) The former is an Arab craft, the latter belongs to the Northern Coasts
of Western India.
(4) A turban.
(5) The wild animals have now almost entirely disappeared. As will
afterwards be shown, the fair since 1848 has diminished to one third its
(6) This subject has been fully discussed in Chap. IV.
(7) The old Persians.
(8) Especially the sea-board Habr Gerbajis clans,—the Musa Arrah, the Ali
Said, and the Saad Yunis—are interested in asserting their claims.
(9) Yunis and Ahmed were brothers, children of Nuh, the ninth in descent
from Ishak el Hazrami. The former had four sons, Hosh Yunis, Gedid Yunis,
Mahmud Yunis, and Shirdon Yunis; their descendants are all known as the
Ayyal or progeny of Yunis. The Ayyal Ahmed Nuh hold the land immediately
behind the town, and towards the Ghauts, blend with the Eesa Musa. The
Mikahil claim the Eastern country from Siyaro to Illanti, a wooded valley
affording good water and bad anchorage to wind-bound vessels.
(10) In the centre of the gap is a detached rock called Daga Malablay.
(11) It was measured by Lt. Herne, who remarks of this range that "cold in
winter, as the presence of the pine-tree proves, and cooled in summer by
the Monsoon, abounding in game from a spur fowl to an elephant; this hill
would make an admirable Sanitarium." Unfortunately Gulays is tenanted by
the Habr Gerhajis, and Wagar by the Eesa Musa, treacherous races.
(12) This part of Somali land is a sandy plain, thinly covered with thorns
and bounded by two ranges, the Ghauts and Sub-Ghauts. The latter or
maritime mountains begin at Tajurrah, and extend to Karam (long. 46° E.),
where they break into detached groups; the distance from the coast varies
from 6 to 15 miles, the height from 2000 to 3000 feet, and the surface is
barren, the rock being denuded of soil by rain. The Ghauts lie from 8 to
40 miles from the sea, they average from 4000 to 6000 feet, are thickly
covered with gum-arabic and frankincense trees, the wild fig and the
Somali pine, and form the seaward wall of the great table-land of the
interior. The Northern or maritime face is precipitous, the summit is
tabular and slopes gently southwards. The general direction is E. by N.
and W. by S., there are, however, some spurs at the three hills termed
"Ourat," which project towards the north. Each portion of the plain
between these ranges has some local name, such as the "Shimberali Valley"
extending westwards from the detached hill Dimoli, to Gauli, Dinanjir and
Gularkar. Intersected with Fiumaras which roll torrents during the
monsoon, they are covered with a scrub of thorns, wild fig, aloe, and
different kinds of Cactus.
(13) The climate of Berberah is cool during the winter, and though the sun
is at all times burning, the atmosphere, as in Somali land generally, is
healthy. In the dry season the plain is subject to great heats, but lying
open to the north, the sea-breeze is strong and regular. In the monsoon
the air is cloudy, light showers frequently fall, and occasionally heavy
storms come up from the southern hills.
(14) I quote Lieut. Cruttenden. The Berberah water has acquired a bad name
because the people confine themselves to digging holes three or four feet
deep in the sand, about half-a-mile from high-water mark. They are
reconciled to it by its beneficial effects, especially after and before a
journey. Good water, however, can be procured in any of the Fiumaras
intersecting the plain; when the Hajj Sharmarkay's towers commanded the
town wells, the people sank pits in low ground a few hundred yards
distant, and procured a purer beverage. The Banyans, who are particular
about their potations, drink the sweet produce of Siyaro, a roadstead
about nineteen miles eastward of Berberah.
(15) The experiment was tried by an officer who brought from Bombay a
batch of sparrows and crows. The former died, scorbutic I presume; the
latter lingered through an unhappy life, and to judge from the absence of
young, refused to entail their miseries upon posterity.
(16) The climate of Aden, it may be observed, has a reputation for
salubrity which it does not deserve. The returns of deaths prove it to be
healthy for the European soldier as London, and there are many who have
built their belief upon the sandy soil of statistics. But it is the
practice of every sensible medical man to hurry his patients out of Aden;
they die elsewhere,—some I believe recover,—and thus the deaths caused
by the crater are attributed statistically to Bombay or the Red Sea.
Aden is for Asiatics a hot-bed of scurry and ulcer. Of the former disease
my own corps, I am informed, had in hospital at one time 200 cases above
the usual amount of sickness; this arises from the brackish water, the
want of vegetables, and lastly the cachexy induced by an utter absence of
change, diversion, and excitement. The ulcer is a disease endemic in
Southern Arabia; it is frequently fatal, especially to the poorer classes
of operatives, when worn out by privation, hardship, and fatigue.
(17) The Abban is now the pest of Berberah. Before vessels have cast
anchor, or indeed have rounded the Spit, a crowd of Somal, eager as hotel-
touters, may be seen running along the strand. They swim off, and the
first who arrives on board inquires the name of the Abban; if there be
none he touches the captain or one of the crew and constitutes himself
protector. For merchandise sent forward, the man who conveys it becomes
The system of dues has become complicated. Formerly, the standard of value
at Berberah was two cubits of the blue cotton-stuff called Sauda; this is
now converted into four pice of specie. Dollars form the principal
currency; rupees are taken at a discount. Traders pay according to degree,
the lowest being one per cent., taken from Muscat and Suri merchants. The
shopkeeper provides food for his Abban, and presents him at the close of
the season with a Tobe, a pair of sandals, and half-a-dozen dollars.
Wealthy Banyans and Mehmans give food and raiment, and before departure
from 50 to 200 dollars. This class, however, derives large profits; they
will lend a few dollars to the Bedouin at the end of the Fair, on
condition of receiving cent. per cent., at the opening of the next season.
Travellers not transacting business must feed the protector, but cannot
properly be forced to pay him. Of course the Somal take every advantage of
Europeans. Mr. Angelo, a merchant from Zanzibar, resided two months at
Bulhar; his broker of the Ayyal Gedid tribe, and an Arab who accompanied
him, extracted, it is said, 3000 dollars. As a rule the Abban claims one
per cent. on sales and purchases, and two dollars per head of slaves. For
each bale of cloth, half-a-dollar in coin is taken; on gums and coffee the
duty is one pound in twenty-seven. Cowhides pay half-a-dollar each, sheep
and goat's skins four pice, and ghee about one per cent.
Lieut. Herne calculates that the total money dues during the Fair-season
amount to 2000 dollars, and that, in the present reduced state of
Berberah, not more than 10,000l. worth of merchandize is sold. This
estimate the natives of the place declare to be considerably under the
(18)The similarity between the Persian "Gach" and this cement, which is
found in many ruins about Berberah, has been remarked by other travellers.
(19) The following note by Dr. Carter of Bombay will be interesting to
"Of the collection of geological specimens and fossils from Berberah above
mentioned, Lieut. Burton states that the latter are found on the plain of
Berberah, and the former in the following order between the sea and the
summits of mountains (600 feet high), above it—that is, the ridge
immediate behind Berberah.
"1. Country along the coast consists of a coralline limestone, (tertiary
formation,) with drifts of sand, &c. 2. Sub-Ghauts and lower ranges (say
2000 feet high), of sandstone capped with limestone, the former
preponderating. 3. Above the Ghauts a plateau of primitive rocks mixed
with sandstone, granite, syenite, mica schiste, quartz rock, micaceous
"The fawn-coloured fossils from his coralline limestone are evidently the
same as those of the tertiary formation along the south-east coast of
Arabia, and therefore the same as those of Cutch; and it is exceedingly
interesting to find that among the blue-coloured fossils which are
accompanied by specimens of the blue shale, composing the beds from which
they have been weathered out, are species of Terebratula Belemnites,
identical with those figured in Grant's Geology of Cutch; thus enabling us
to extend those beds of the Jurassic formation which exist in Cutch, and
along the south-eastern coast of Arabia, across to Africa."
(20) These animals are tolerably tame in the morning, as day advances
their apprehension of man increases.
(21) Lieut. Cruttenden in considering what nation could have constructed,
and at what period the commerce of Berberah warranted, so costly an
undertaking, is disposed to attribute it to the Persian conquerors of Aden
in the days of Anushirwan. He remarks that the trade carried on in the Red
Sea was then great, the ancient emporia of Hisn Ghorab and Aden prosperous
and wealthy, and Berberah doubtless exported, as it does now, ivory, gums,
and ostrich feathers. But though all the maritime Somali country abounds
in traditions of the Furs or ancient Persians, none of the buildings near
Berberah justify our assigning to them, in a country of monsoon rain and
high winds, an antiquity of 1300 years.
The Somal assert that ten generations ago their ancestors drove out the
Gallas from Berberah, and attribute these works to the ancient Pagans.
That nation of savages, however, was never capable of constructing a
scientific aqueduct. I therefore prefer attributing these remains at
Berberah to the Ottomans, who, after the conquest of Aden by Sulayman
Pacha in A.D. 1538, held Yemen for about 100 years, and as auxiliaries of
the King of Adel, penetrated as far as Abyssinia. Traces of their
architecture are found at Zayla and Harar, and according to tradition,
they possessed at Berberah a settlement called, after its founder, Bunder
(22) Here, as elsewhere in Somali land, the leech is of the horse-variety.
It might be worth while to attempt breeding a more useful species after
the manner recommended by Capt. R. Johnston, the Sub-Assistant Commissary
General in Sindh (10th April, 1845). In these streams leeches must always
be suspected; inadvertently swallowed, they fix upon the inner coat of the
stomach, and in Northern Africa have caused, it is said, some deaths among
the French soldiers.
(23) Yet we observed frogs and a small species of fish.
(24) Either this or the sulphate of magnesia, formed by the decomposition
of limestone, may account for the bitterness of the water.
(25) They had been in some danger: a treacherous murder perpetrated a few
days before our arrival had caused all the Habr Gerbajis to fly from the
town and assemble 5000 men at Bulhar for battle and murder. This
proceeding irritated the Habr Awal, and certainly, but for our presence,
the strangers would have been scurvily treated by their "cousins."
(26) Of all the slave-dealers on this coast, the Arabs are the most
unscrupulous. In 1855, one Mohammed of Muscat, a shipowner, who, moreover,
constantly visits Aden, bought within sight of our flag a free-born Arab
girl of the Yafai tribe, from the Akarib of Bir Hamid, and sold her at
Berberah to a compatriot. Such a crime merits severe punishment; even the
Abyssinians visit with hanging the Christian convicted of selling a fellow
religionist. The Arab slaver generally marries his properly as a ruse, and
arrived at Muscat or Bushire, divorces and sells them. Free Somali women
have not unfrequently met with this fate.
(27)7he Habr Tul Jailah (mother of the tribe of Jailah) descendants of
Ishak el Hazrami by a slave girl, inhabit the land eastward of Berberah.
Their principal settlements after Aynterad are the three small ports of
Karam, Unkor, and Hays. The former, according to Lieut. Cruttenden, is
"the most important from its possessing a tolerable harbour, and from its
being the nearest point from Aden, the course to which place is N. N. W.,—consequently the wind is fair, and the boats laden with sheep for the
Aden market pass but one night at sea, whilst those from Berberah are
generally three. What greatly enhances the value of Kurrum (Karam),
however, is its proximity to the country of the Dulbahanteh, who approach
within four days of Kurrum, and who therefore naturally have their chief
trade through that port. The Ahl Tusuf, a branch of the Habertel Jahleh,
at present hold possession of Kurrum, and between them and the tribes to
windward there exists a most bitter and irreconcileable feud, the
consequence of sundry murders perpetrated about five years since at
Kurrum, and which hitherto have not been avenged. The small ports of
Enterad, Unkor, Heis, and Rukudah are not worthy of mention, with the
exception of the first-named place, which has a trade with Aden in sheep."
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