5: From Zayla to the Hills
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Two routes connect Zayla with Harar; the south-western or direct line
numbers ten long or twenty short stages(1): the first eight through the
Eesa country, and the last two among the Nole Gallas, who own the rule of
"Waday," a Makad or chief of Christian persuasion. The Hajj objected to
this way, on account of his recent blood-feud with the Rer Guleni. He
preferred for me the more winding road which passes south, along the
coast, through the Eesa Bedouins dependent upon Zayla, to the nearest
hills, and thence strikes south-westwards among the Gudabirsi and Girhi
Somal, who extend within sight of Harar. I cannot but suspect that in
selecting this route the good Sharmarkay served another purpose besides my
safety. Petty feuds between the chiefs had long "closed the path," and
perhaps the Somal were not unwilling that British cloth and tobacco should
Early in the morning of the 27th of November, 1854, the mules and all the
paraphernalia of travel stood ready at the door. The five camels were
forced to kneel, growling angrily the while, by repeated jerks at the
halter: their forelegs were duly tied or stood upon till they had shifted
themselves into a comfortable position, and their noses were held down by
the bystanders whenever, grasshopper-like, they attempted to spring up.
Whilst spreading the saddle-mats, our women, to charm away remembrance of
chafed hump and bruised sides, sang with vigor the "Song of Travel":
"0 caravan-men, we deceive ye not, we have laden the camels!
Old women on the journey are kenned by their sleeping I
(0 camel) can'st sniff the cock-boat and the sea?
Allah guard thee from the Mikahil and their Midgans!"(2)
As they arose from squat it was always necessary to adjust their little
mountains of small packages by violently "heaving up" one side,—an
operation never failing to elicit a vicious grunt, a curve of the neck,
and an attempt to bite. One camel was especially savage; it is said that
on his return to Zayla, he broke a Bedouin girl's neck. Another, a
diminutive but hardy little brute of Dankali breed, conducted himself so
uproariously that he at once obtained the name of El Harami, or the
About 3 P.M., accompanied by the Hajj, his amiable son Mohammed, and a
party of Arab matchlockmen, who escorted me as a token of especial
respect, I issued from the Ashurbara Gate, through the usual staring
crowds, and took the way of the wilderness. After half a mile's march, we
exchanged affectionate adieus, received much prudent advice about keeping
watch and ward at night, recited the Fatihah with upraised palms, and with
many promises to write frequently and to meet soon, shook hands and
parted. The soldiers gave me a last volley, to which I replied with the
"Father of Six."
You see, dear L., how travelling maketh man banal. It is the natural
consequence of being forced to find, in every corner where Fate drops you
for a month, a "friend of the soul," and a "moon-faced beauty." With
Orientals generally, you must be on extreme terms, as in Hibernia,
either an angel of light or, that failing, a goblin damned. In East Africa
especially, English phlegm, shyness, or pride, will bar every heart and
raise every hand against you(3), whereas what M. Rochet calls "a certain
rondeur of manner" is a specific for winning affection. You should walk
up to your man, clasp his fist, pat his back, speak some unintelligible
words to him,—if, as is the plan of prudence, you ignore the language,—
laugh a loud guffaw, sit by his side, and begin pipes and coffee. He then
proceeds to utilise you, to beg in one country for your interest, and in
another for your tobacco. You gently but decidedly thrust that subject out
of the way, and choose what is most interesting to yourself. As might be
expected, he will at times revert to his own concerns; your superior
obstinacy will oppose effectual passive resistance to all such efforts; by
degrees the episodes diminish in frequency and duration; at last they
cease altogether. The man is now your own.
You will bear in mind, if you please, that I am a Moslem merchant, a
character not to be confounded with the notable individuals seen on
'Change. Mercator in the East is a compound of tradesman, divine, and T.
G. Usually of gentle birth, he is everywhere welcomed and respected; and
he bears in his mind and manner that, if Allah please, he may become prime
minister a month after he has sold you a yard of cloth. Commerce appears
to be an accident, not an essential, with him; yet he is by no means
deficient in acumen. He is a grave and reverend signior, with rosary in
hand and Koran on lip, is generally a pilgrim, talks at dreary length
about Holy Places, writes a pretty hand, has read and can recite much
poetry, is master of his religion, demeans himself with respectability, is
perfect in all points of ceremony and politeness, and feels equally at
home whether sultan or slave sit upon his counter. He has a wife and
children in his own country, where he intends to spend the remnant of his
days; but "the world is uncertain"—"Fate descends, and man's eye seeth it
not"—"the earth is a charnel house"; briefly, his many wise old saws give
him a kind of theoretical consciousness that his bones may moulder in
other places but his father-land.
To describe my little caravan. Foremost struts Raghe, our Eesa guide, in
all the bravery of Abbanship. He is bareheaded and clothed in Tobe and
slippers: a long, heavy, horn-hilted dagger is strapped round his waist,
outside his dress; in his right hand he grasps a ponderous wire-bound
spear, which he uses as a staff, and the left forearm supports a round
targe of battered hide. Being a man of education, he bears on one shoulder
a Musalla or prayer carpet of tanned leather, the article used throughout
the Somali country; slung over the other is a Wesi or wicker bottle
containing water for religious ablution. He is accompanied by some men who
carry a little stock of town goods and drive a camel colt, which by the by
they manage to lose before midnight.
My other attendants must now be introduced to you, as they are to be for
the next two months companions of our journey.
First in the list are the fair Samaweda Yusuf, and Aybla Farih(4), buxom
dames about thirty years old, who presently secured the classical
nicknames of Shehrazade, and Deenarzade. They look each like three average
women rolled into one, and emphatically belong to that race for which the
article of feminine attire called, I believe, a "bussle" would be quite
superfluous. Wonderful, truly, is their endurance of fatigue! During the
march they carry pipe and tobacco, lead and flog the camels, adjust the
burdens, and will never be induced to ride, in sickness or in health. At
the halt they unload the cattle, dispose the parcels in a semicircle,
pitch over them the Gurgi or mat tent, cook our food, boil tea and coffee,
and make themselves generally useful. They bivouack outside our abode,
modesty not permitting the sexes to mingle, and in the severest cold wear
no clothing but a head fillet and an old Tobe. They have curious soft
voices, which contrast agreeably with the harsh organs of the males. At
first they were ashamed to see me; but that feeling soon wore off, and
presently they enlivened the way with pleasantries far more naive than
refined. To relieve their greatest fatigue, nothing seems necessary but
the "Jogsi:"(5) they lie at full length, prone, stand upon each other's
backs trampling and kneading with the toes, and rise like giants much
refreshed. Always attendant upon these dames is Yusuf, a Zayla lad who,
being one-eyed, was pitilessly named by my companions the "Kalendar;" he
prays frequently, is strict in his morals, and has conceived, like Mrs.
Brownrigg, so exalted an idea of discipline, that, but for our influence,
he certainly would have beaten the two female 'prentices to death. They
hate him therefore, and he knows it.
Immediately behind Raghe and his party walk Shehrazade and Deenarzade, the
former leading the head camel, the latter using my chibouque stick as a
staff. She has been at Aden, and sorely suspects me; her little black eyes
never meet mine; and frequently, with affected confusion, she turns her
sable cheek the clean contrary way. Strung together by their tails, and
soundly beaten when disposed to lag, the five camels pace steadily along
under their burdens,—bales of Wilayati or American sheeting, Duwwarah or
Cutch canvass, with indigo-dyed stuff slung along the animals' sides, and
neatly sewn up in a case of matting to keep off dust and rain,—a cow's
hide, which serves as a couch, covering the whole. They carry a load of
"Mushakkar" (bad Mocha dates) for the Somal, with a parcel of better
quality for ourselves, and a half hundredweight of coarse Surat tobacco(6); besides which we have a box of beads, and another of trinkets,
mosaic-gold earrings, necklaces, watches, and similar nick-nacks. Our
private provisions are represented by about 300 lbs. of rice,—here the
traveller's staff of life,—a large pot full of "Kawurmeh"(7), dates,
salt(8), clarified butter, tea, coffee, sugar, a box of biscuits in case
of famine, "Halwa" or Arab sweetmeats to be used when driving hard
bargains, and a little turmeric for seasoning. A simple batterie de cuisine, and sundry skins full of potable water(9), dangle from chance
rope-ends; and last, but not the least important, is a heavy box(10) of
ammunition sufficient for a three months' sporting tour.(11) In the rear
of the caravan trudges a Bedouin woman driving a donkey,—the proper
"tail" in these regions, where camels start if followed by a horse or
mule. An ill-fated sheep, a parting present from the Hajj, races and
frisks about the Cafilah. It became so tame that the Somal received an
order not to "cut" it; one day, however, I found myself dining, and that
pet lamb was the menu.
By the side of the camels ride my three attendants, the pink of Somali
fashion. Their frizzled wigs are radiant with grease; their Tobes are
splendidly white, with borders dazzlingly red; their new shields are
covered with canvass cloth; and their two spears, poised over the right
shoulder, are freshly scraped, oiled, blackened, and polished. They have
added my spare rifle, and guns to the camel-load; such weapons are well
enough at Aden, in Somali-land men would deride the outlandish tool! I
told them that in my country women use bows and arrows, moreover that
lancers are generally considered a corps of non-combatants; in vain! they
adhered as strongly—so mighty a thing is prejudice—to their partiality
for bows, arrows, and lances. Their horsemanship is peculiar, they balance
themselves upon little Abyssinian saddles, extending the leg and raising
the heel in the Louis Quinze style of equitation, and the stirrup is an
iron ring admitting only the big toe. I follow them mounting a fine white
mule, which, with its gaudily galonne Arab pad and wrapper cloth, has a
certain dignity of look; a double-barrelled gun lies across my lap; and a
rude pair of holsters, the work of Hasan Turki, contains my Colt's six-
Marching in this order, which was to serve as a model, we travelled due
south along the coast, over a hard, stoneless, and alluvial plain, here
dry, there muddy (where the tide reaches), across boggy creeks, broad
water-courses, and warty flats of black mould powdered with nitrous salt,
and bristling with the salsolaceous vegetation familiar to the Arab
voyager. Such is the general formation of the plain between the mountains
and the sea, whose breadth, in a direct line, may measure from forty-five
to forty-eight miles. Near the first zone of hills, or sub-Ghauts, it
produces a thicker vegetation; thorns and acacias of different kinds
appear in clumps; and ground broken with ridges and ravines announces the
junction. After the monsoon this plain is covered with rich grass. At
other seasons it affords but a scanty supply of an "aqueous matter"
resembling bilgewater. The land belongs to the Mummasan clan of the Eesa:
how these "Kurrah-jog" or "sun-dwellers," as the Bedouins are called by
the burgher Somal, can exist here in summer, is a mystery. My arms were
peeled even in the month of December; and my companions, panting with the
heat, like the Atlantes of Herodotus, poured forth reproaches upon the
rising sun. The townspeople, when forced to hurry across it in the hotter
season, cover themselves during the day with Tobes wetted every half hour
in sea water; yet they are sometimes killed by the fatal thirst which the
Simum engenders. Even the Bedouins are now longing for rain; a few weeks'
drought destroys half their herds.
Early in the afternoon our Abban and a woman halted for a few minutes,
performed their ablutions, and prayed with a certain display: satisfied
apparently, with the result, they never repeated the exercise. About
sunset we passed, on the right, clumps of trees overgrowing a water called
"Warabod", the Hyena's Well; this is the first Marhalah or halting-place
usually made by travellers to the interior. Hence there is a direct path
leading south-south-west, by six short marches, to the hills. Our Abban,
however, was determined that we should not so easily escape his kraal.
Half an hour afterwards we passed by the second station, "Hangagarri", a
well near the sea: frequent lights twinkling through the darkening air
informed us that we were in the midst of the Eesa. At 8 P.M. we reached
"Gagab", the third Marhalah, where the camels, casting themselves upon the
ground, imperatively demanded a halt. Raghe was urgent for an advance,
declaring that already he could sight the watchfires of his Rer or tribe
(12); but the animals carried the point against him. They were presently
unloaded and turned out to graze, and the lariats of the mules, who are
addicted to running away, were fastened to stones for want of pegs(13).
Then, lighting a fire, we sat down to a homely supper of dates.
The air was fresh and clear; and the night breeze was delicious after the
steamy breath of day. The weary confinement of walls made the splendid
expanse a luxury to the sight, whilst the tumbling of the surf upon the
near shore, and the music of the jackal, predisposed to sweet sleep. We
now felt that at length the die was cast. Placing my pistols by my side,
with my rifle butt for a pillow, and its barrel as a bed-fellow, I sought
repose with none of that apprehension which even the most stout-hearted
traveller knows before the start. It is the difference between fancy and
reality, between anxiety and certainty: to men gifted with any imaginative
powers the anticipation must ever be worse than the event. Thus it
happens, that he who feels a thrill of fear before engaging in a peril,
exchanges it for a throb of exultation when he finds himself hand to hand
with the danger.
The "End of Time" volunteered to keep watch that night. When the early
dawn glimmered he aroused us, and blew up the smouldering fire, whilst our
women proceeded to load the camels. We pursued our way over hard alluvial
soil to sand, and thence passed into a growth of stiff yellow grass not
unlike a stubble in English September. Day broke upon a Somali Arcadia,
whose sole flaws were salt water and Simum. Whistling shepherds(14)
carried in their arms the younglings of the herds, or, spear in hand,
drove to pasture long regular lines of camels, that waved their vulture-
like heads, and arched their necks to bite in play their neighbours'
faces, humps, and hind thighs. They were led by a patriarch, to whose
throat hung a Kor or wooden bell, the preventive for straggling; and most
of them were followed (for winter is the breeding season) by colts in
every stage of infancy.(15)Patches of sheep, with snowy skins and jetty
faces, flocked the yellow plain; and herds of goats resembling deer were
driven by hide-clad children to the bush. Women, in similar attire,
accompanied them, some chewing the inner bark of trees, others spinning
yarns of a white creeper called Sagsug for ropes and tent-mats. The boys
carried shepherds' crooks(16), and bore their watering pails(17),
foolscap fashion, upon their heads. Sometimes they led the ram, around
whose neck a cord of white leather was bound for luck; at other times they
frisked with the dog, an animal by no means contemptible in the eyes of
the Bedouins.(18) As they advanced, the graceful little sand antelope
bounded away over the bushes; and above them, soaring high in the
cloudless skies, were flights of vultures and huge percnopters, unerring
indicators of man's habitation in Somali-land.(19)
A net-work of paths showed that we were approaching a populous place; and
presently men swarmed forth from their hive-shaped tents, testifying their
satisfaction at our arrival, the hostile Habr Awal having threatened to
"eat them up." We rode cautiously, as is customary, amongst the yeaning
she-camels, who are injured by a sudden start, and about 8 A.M. arrived at
our guide's kraal, the fourth station, called "Gudingaras," or the low
place where the Garas tree grows. The encampment lay south-east (165°) of,
and about twenty miles from, Zayla.
Raghe disappeared, and the Bedouins flocked out to gaze upon us as we
approached the kraal. Meanwhile Shehrazade and Deenarzade fetched tent-
sticks from the village, disposed our luggage so as to form a wall, rigged
out a wigwam, spread our beds in the shade, and called aloud for sweet and
sour milk. I heard frequently muttered by the red-headed spearmen, the
ominous term "Faranj" (20); and although there was no danger, it was
deemed advisable to make an impression without delay. Presently they began
to deride our weapons: the Hammal requested them to put up one of their
shields as a mark; they laughed aloud but shirked compliance. At last a
large brown, bare-necked vulture settled on the ground at twenty paces'
distance. The Somal hate the "Gurgur", because he kills the dying and
devours the dead on the battle-field: a bullet put through the bird's body
caused a cry of wonder, and some ran after the lead as it span whistling
over the ridge. Then loading with swan-shot, which these Bedouins had
never seen, I knocked over a second vulture flying. Fresh screams followed
the marvellous feat; the women exclaimed "Lo! he bringeth down the birds
from heaven;" and one old man, putting his forefinger in his mouth,
praised Allah and prayed to be defended from such a calamity. The effect
was such that I determined always to cany a barrel loaded with shot as the
best answer for all who might object to "Faranj."
We spent our day in the hut after the normal manner, with a crowd of
woolly-headed Bedouins squatting perseveringly opposite our quarters,
spear in hand, with eyes fixed upon every gesture. Before noon the door-
mat was let down,—a precaution also adopted whenever box or package was
opened,—we drank milk and ate rice with "a kitchen" of Kawurmah. About
midday the crowd retired to sleep; my companions followed their example,
and I took the opportunity of sketching and jotting down notes.(21) Early
in the afternoon the Bedouins returned, and resumed their mute form of
pleading for tobacco: each man, as he received a handful, rose slowly from
his hams and went his way. The senior who disliked the gun was importunate
for a charm to cure his sick camel: having obtained it, he blessed us in a
set speech, which lasted at least half an hour, and concluded with
spitting upon the whole party for good luck.(22) It is always well to
encourage these Nestors; they are regarded with the greatest reverence by
the tribes, who believe that
"old experience doth attain
To something like prophetic strain;"
and they can either do great good or cause much petty annoyance.
In the evening I took my gun, and, accompanied by the End of Time, went
out to search for venison: the plain, however, was full of men and cattle,
and its hidden denizens had migrated. During our walk we visited the tomb
of an Eesa brave. It was about ten feet long, heaped up with granite
pebbles, bits of black basalt, and stones of calcareous lime: two upright
slabs denoted the position of the head and feet, and upon these hung the
deceased's milk-pails, much the worse for sun and wind. Round the grave
was a thin fence of thorns: opposite the single narrow entrance, were
three blocks of stone planted in line, and showing the number of enemies
slain by the brave. (23) Beyond these trophies, a thorn roofing, supported
by four bare poles, served to shade the relatives, when they meet to sit,
feast, weep, and pray.
The Bedouin funerals and tombs are equally simple. They have no favourite
cemeteries as in Sindh and other Moslem and pastoral lands: men are buried
where they die, and the rarity of the graves scattered about the country
excited my astonishment. The corpse is soon interred. These people, like
most barbarians, have a horror of death and all that reminds them of it:
on several occasions I have been begged to throw away a hut-stick, that
had been used to dig a grave. The bier is a rude framework of poles bound
with ropes of hide. Some tie up the body and plant it in a sitting
posture, to save themselves the trouble of excavating deep: this perhaps
may account for the circular tombs seen in many parts of the country.
Usually the corpse is thrust into a long hole, covered with wood and
matting, and heaped over with earth and thorns, half-protected by an oval
mass of loose stones, and abandoned to the jackals and hyenas.
We halted a day at Gudingaras, wishing to see the migration of a tribe.
Before dawn, on the 30th November, the Somali Stentor proclaimed from the
ridge-top, "Fetch your camels!—Load your goods!—We march!" About 8 A.M.
we started in the rear. The spectacle was novel to me. Some 150 spearmen,
assisted by their families, were driving before them divisions which, in
total, might amount to 200 cows, 7000 camels, and 11,000 or 12,000 sheep
and goats. Only three wore the Bal or feather, which denotes the brave;
several, however, had the other decoration—an ivory armlet.(24) Assisted
by the boys, whose heads were shaved in a cristated fashion truly
ridiculous, and large pariah dogs with bushy tails, they drove the beasts
and carried the colts, belaboured runaway calves, and held up the hind
legs of struggling sheep. The sick, of whom there were many,—dysentery
being at the time prevalent,—were carried upon camels with their legs
protruding in front from under the hide-cover. Many of the dromedaries
showed the Habr Awal brand(25): laden with hutting materials and domestic
furniture, they were led by the maidens: the matrons, followed, bearing
their progeny upon their backs, bundled in the shoulder-lappets of cloth
or hide. The smaller girls, who, in addition to the boys' crest, wore a
circlet of curly hair round the head, carried the weakling lambs and kids,
or aided their mammas in transporting the baby. Apparently in great fear
of the "All" or Commando, the Bedouins anxiously inquired if I had my
"fire" with me(26), and begged us to take the post of honour—the van. As
our little party pricked forward, the camels started in alarm, and we were
surprised to find that this tribe did not know the difference between
horses and mules. Whenever the boys lost time in sport or quarrel, they
were threatened by their fathers with the jaws of that ogre, the white
stranger; and the women exclaimed, as they saw us approach, "Here comes
the old man who knows knowledge!"(27)
Having skirted the sea for two hours, I rode off with the End of Time to
inspect the Dihh Silil(28), a fiumara which runs from the western hills
north-eastwards to the sea. Its course is marked by a long line of
graceful tamarisks, whose vivid green looked doubly bright set off by
tawny stubble and amethyst-blue sky. These freshets are the Edens of Adel.
The banks are charmingly wooded with acacias of many varieties, some
thorned like the fabled Zakkum, others parachute-shaped, and planted in
impenetrable thickets: huge white creepers, snake-shaped, enclasp giant
trees, or connect with their cordage the higher boughs, or depend like
cables from the lower branches to the ground. Luxuriant parasites abound:
here they form domes of flashing green, there they surround with verdure
decayed trunks, and not unfrequently cluster into sylvan bowers, under
which—grateful sight!—appears succulent grass. From the thinner thorns
the bell-shaped nests of the Loxia depend, waving in the breeze, and the
wood resounds with the cries of bright-winged choristers. The torrent-beds
are of the clearest and finest white sand, glittering with gold-coloured
mica, and varied with nodules of clear and milky quartz, red porphyry, and
granites of many hues. Sometimes the centre is occupied by an islet of
torn trees and stones rolled in heaps, supporting a clump of thick jujube
or tall acacia, whilst the lower parts of the beds are overgrown with long
lines of lively green colocynth.(29) Here are usually the wells,
surrounded by heaps of thorns, from which the leaves have been browsed
off, and dwarf sticks that support the water-hide. When the flocks and
herds are absent, troops of gazelles may be seen daintily pacing the
yielding surface; snake trails streak the sand, and at night the fiercer
kind of animals, lions, leopards, and elephants, take their turn. In
Somali-land the well is no place of social meeting; no man lingers to chat
near it, no woman visits it, and the traveller fears to pitch hut where
torrents descend, and where enemies, human and bestial, meet.
We sat under a tree watching the tribe defile across the water-course:
then remounting, after a ride of two miles, we reached a ground called
Kuranyali (30), upon which the wigwams of the Nomads were already rising.
The parched and treeless stubble lies about eight miles from and 145° S.E.
of Gudingaras; both places are supplied by Angagarri, a well near the sea,
which is so distant that cattle, to return before nightfall, must start
early in the morning.
My attendants had pitched the Gurgi or hut: the Hammal and Long Guled
were, however, sulky on account of my absence, and the Kalendar appeared
disposed to be mutinous. The End of Time, who never lost an opportunity to
make mischief, whispered in my ear, "Despise thy wife, thy son, and thy
servant, or they despise thee!" The old saw was not wanted, however, to
procure for them a sound scolding. Nothing is worse for the Eastern
traveller than the habit of "sending to Coventry:"—it does away with all
manner of discipline.
We halted that day at Kuranyali, preparing water and milk for two long
marches over the desert to the hills. Being near the shore, the air was
cloudy, although men prayed for a shower in vain: about midday the
pleasant seabreeze fanned our cheeks, and the plain was thronged with tall
pillars of white sand.(31)
The heat forbade egress, and our Wigwam was crowded with hungry visitors.
Raghe, urged thereto by his tribe, became importunate, now for tobacco,
then for rice, now for dates, then for provisions in general. No wonder
that the Prophet made his Paradise for the Poor a mere place of eating and
drinking. The half-famished Bedouins, Somal or Arab, think of nothing
beyond the stomach,—their dreams know no higher vision of bliss than mere
repletion. A single article of diet, milk or flesh, palling upon man's
palate, they will greedily suck the stones of eaten dates: yet, Abyssinian
like, they are squeamish and fastidious as regards food. They despise the
excellent fish with which Nature has so plentifully stocked their seas.
(32) "Speak not to me with that mouth which eateth fish!" is a favourite
insult amongst the Bedouins. If you touch a bird or a fowl of any
description, you will be despised even by the starving beggar. You must
not eat marrow or the flesh about the sheep's thigh-bone, especially when
travelling, and the kidneys are called a woman's dish. None but the
Northern Somal will touch the hares which abound in the country, and many
refuse the sand antelope and other kinds of game, not asserting that the
meat is unlawful, but simply alleging a disgust. Those who chew coffee
berries are careful not to place an even number in their mouths, and
camel's milk is never heated, for fear of bewitching the animal.(33) The
Somali, however, differs in one point from his kinsman the Arab: the
latter prides himself upon his temperance; the former, like the North
American Indian, measures manhood by appetite. A "Son of the Somal" is
taught, as soon as his teeth are cut, to devour two pounds of the toughest
mutton, and ask for more: if his powers of deglutition fail, he is derided
On the next day (Friday, 1st Dec.) we informed the Abban that we intended
starting early in the afternoon, and therefore warned him to hold himself
and his escort, together with the water and milk necessary for our march,
in readiness. He promised compliance and disappeared. About 3 P.M. the
Bedouins, armed as usual with spear and shield, began to gather round the
hut, and—nothing in this country can be done without that terrible
"palaver!"—the speechifying presently commenced. Raghe, in a lengthy
harangue hoped that the tribe would afford us all the necessary supplies
and assist us in the arduous undertaking. His words elicited no hear!
hear!—there was an evident unwillingness on the part of the wild men to
let us, or rather our cloth and tobacco, depart. One remarked, with surly
emphasis, that he had "seen no good and eaten no Bori(34) from that
caravan, why should he aid it?" When we asked the applauding hearers what
they had done for us, they rejoined by inquiring whose the land was?
Another, smitten by the fair Shehrazade's bulky charms, had proposed
matrimony, and offered as dowry a milch camel: she "temporised," not
daring to return a positive refusal, and the suitor betrayed a certain
Hibernian velleite to consider consent an unimportant part of the
ceremony. The mules had been sent to the well, with orders to return
before noon: at 4 P.M. they were not visible. I then left the hut, and,
sitting on a cow's-hide in the sun, ordered my men to begin loading,
despite the remonstrances of the Abban and the interference of about fifty
Bedouins. As we persisted, they waxed surlier, and declared that all which
was ours became theirs, to whom the land belonged: we did not deny the
claim, but simply threatened sorcery-death, by wild beasts and foraging
parties, to their "camels, children, and women." This brought them to
their senses, the usual effect of such threats; and presently arose the
senior who had spat upon us for luck's sake. With his toothless jaws he
mumbled a vehement speech, and warned the tribe that it was not good to
detain such strangers: they lent ready ears to the words of Nestor,
saying, "Let us obey him, he is near his end!" The mules arrived, but when
I looked for the escort, none was forthcoming. At Zayla it was agreed that
twenty men should protect us across the desert, which is the very passage
of plunder; now, however, five or six paupers offered to accompany us for
a few miles. We politely declined troubling them, but insisted upon the
attendance of our Abban and three of his kindred: as some of the Bedouins
still opposed us, our aged friend once more arose, and by copious abuse
finally silenced them. We took leave of him with many thanks and handfuls
of tobacco, in return for which he blessed us with fervour. Then, mounting
our mules, we set out, followed for at least a mile by a long tail of
howling boys, who, ignorant of clothing, except a string of white beads
round the neck, but armed with dwarf spears, bows, and arrows, showed all
the impudence of baboons. They derided the End of Time's equitation till I
feared a scene;—sailor-like, he prided himself upon graceful
horsemanship, and the imps were touching his tenderest point.
Hitherto, for the Abban's convenience, we had skirted the sea, far out of
the direct road: now we were to strike south-westwards into the interior.
At 6 P. M. we started across a "Goban" (35)which eternal summer gilds
with a dull ochreish yellow, towards a thin blue strip of hill on the far
horizon. The Somal have no superstitious dread of night and its horrors,
like Arabs and Abyssinians: our Abban, however, showed a wholesome mundane
fear of plundering parties, scorpions, and snakes. (36) I had been careful
to fasten round my ankles the twists of black wool called by the Arabs
Zaal(37), and universally used in Yemen; a stock of garlic and opium,
here held to be specifics, fortified the courage of the party, whose fears
were not wholly ideal, for, in the course of the night, Shehrazade nearly
trod upon a viper.
At first the plain was a network of holes, the habitations of the Jir Ad
(38), a field rat with ruddy back and white belly, the Mullah or Parson, a
smooth-skinned lizard, and the Dabagalla, a ground squirrel with a
brilliant and glossy coat. As it became dark arose a cheerful moon,
exciting the howlings of the hyenas, the barkings of their attendant
jackals (39), and the chattered oaths of the Hidinhitu bird.(40) Dotted
here and there over the misty landscape, appeared dark clumps of a tree
called "Kullan," a thorn with an edible berry not unlike the jujube, and
banks of silvery mist veiled the far horizon from the sight.
We marched rapidly and in silence, stopping every quarter of an hour to
raise the camels' loads as they slipped on one side. I had now an
opportunity of seeing how feeble a race is the Somal. My companions on the
line of march wondered at my being able to carry a gun; they could
scarcely support, even whilst riding, the weight of their spears, and
preferred sitting upon them to spare their shoulders. At times they were
obliged to walk because the saddles cut them, then they remounted because
their legs were tired; briefly, an English boy of fourteen would have
shown more bottom than the sturdiest. This cannot arise from poor diet,
for the citizens, who live generously, are yet weaker than the Bedouins;
it is a peculiarity of race. When fatigued they become reckless and
impatient of thirst: on this occasion, though want of water stared us in
the face, one skin of the three was allowed to fall upon the road and
burst, and the second's contents were drunk before we halted.
At 11 P.M., after marching twelve miles in direct line, we bivouacked upon
the plain. The night breeze from the hills had set in, and my attendants
chattered with cold: Long Guled in particular became stiff as a mummy.
Raghe was clamorous against a fire, which might betray our whereabouts in
the "Bush Inn." But after such a march the pipe was a necessity, and the
point was carried against him.
After a sound sleep under the moon, we rose at 5 A.M. and loaded the
camels. It was a raw morning. A large nimbus rising from the east obscured
the sun, the line of blue sea was raised like a ridge by refraction, and
the hills, towards which we were journeying, now showed distinct falls and
folds. Troops of Dera or gazelles, herding like goats, stood, stared at
us, turned their white tails, faced away, broke into a long trot, and
bounded over the plain as we approached. A few ostriches appeared, but
they were too shy even for bullet.(41) At 8 P.M. we crossed one of the
numerous drains which intersect this desert—"Biya Hablod," or the Girls'
Water, a fiumara running from south-west to east and north-east. Although
dry, it abounded in the Marer, a tree bearing yellowish red berries full
of viscous juice like green gum,—edible but not nice,—and the brighter
vegetation showed that water was near the surface. About two hours
afterwards, as the sun became oppressive, we unloaded in a water-course,
called by my companions Adad or the Acacia Gum(42): the distance was
about twenty-five miles, and the direction S. W. 225° of Kuranyali.
We spread our couches of cowhide in the midst of a green mass of tamarisk
under a tall Kud tree, a bright-leaved thorn, with balls of golden gum
clinging to its boughs, dry berries scattered in its shade, and armies of
ants marching to and from its trunk. All slept upon the soft white sand,
with arms under their hands, for our spoor across the desert was now
unmistakeable. At midday rice was boiled for us by the indefatigable
women, and at 3 P.M. we resumed our march towards the hills, which had
exchanged their shadowy blue for a coat of pronounced brown. Journeying
onwards, we reached the Barragid fiumara, and presently exchanged the
plain for rolling ground covered with the remains of an extinct race, and
probably alluded to by El Makrizi when he records that the Moslems of Adel
had erected, throughout the country, a vast number of mosques and
oratories for Friday and festival prayers. Places of worship appeared in
the shape of parallelograms, unhewed stones piled upon the ground, with a
semicircular niche in the direction of Meccah. The tombs, different from
the heaped form now in fashion, closely resembled the older erections in
the island of Saad El Din, near Zayla—oblong slabs planted deep in the
soil. We also observed frequent hollow rings of rough blocks, circles
measuring about a cubit in diameter: I had not time to excavate them, and
the End of Time could only inform me that they belonged to the "Awwalin,"
or olden inhabitants.
At 7 P.M., as evening was closing in, we came upon the fresh trail of a
large Habr Awal cavalcade. The celebrated footprint seen by Robinson
Crusoe affected him not more powerfully than did this "daaseh" my
companions. The voice of song suddenly became mute. The women drove the
camels hurriedly, and all huddled together, except Raghe, who kept well to
the front ready for a run. Whistling with anger, I asked my attendants
what had slain them: the End of Time, in a hollow voice, replied, "Verily,
0 pilgrim, whoso seeth the track, seeth the foe!" and he quoted in tones
of terror those dreary lines—
"Man is but a handful of dust,
And life is a violent storm."
We certainly were a small party to contend against 200 horsemen,—nine men
and two women: moreover all except the Hammal and Long Guled would
infallibly have fled at the first charge.
Presently we sighted the trails of sheep and goats, showing the proximity
of a village: their freshness was ascertained by my companions after an
eager scrutiny in the moon's bright beams. About half an hour afterwards,
rough ravines with sharp and thorny descents warned us that we had
exchanged the dangerous plain for a place of safety where horsemen rarely
venture. Raghe, not admiring the "open," hurried us onward, in hope of
reaching some kraal. At 8 P.M., however, seeing the poor women lamed with
thorns, and the camels casting themselves upon the ground, I resolved to
halt. Despite all objections, we lighted a fire, finished our store of bad
milk—the water had long ago been exhausted—and lay down in the cold,
clear air, covering ourselves with hides and holding our weapons.
At 6 A.M. we resumed our ride over rough stony ground, the thorns tearing
our feet and naked legs, and the camels slipping over the rounded waste of
drift pebbles. The Bedouins, with ears applied to the earth, listened for
a village, but heard none. Suddenly we saw two strangers, and presently we
came upon an Eesa kraal. It was situated in a deep ravine, called Damal,
backed by a broad and hollow Fiumara at the foot of the hills, running
from west to east, and surrounded by lofty trees, upon which brown kites,
black vultures, and percnopters like flakes of snow were mewing. We had
marched over a winding path about eleven miles from, and in a south-west
direction (205°) of, Adad. Painful thoughts suggested themselves: in
consequence of wandering southwards, only six had been taken off thirty
stages by the labours of seven days.
As usual in Eastern Africa, we did not enter the kraal uninvited, but
unloosed and pitched the wigwam under a tree outside. Presently the elders
appeared bringing, with soft speeches, sweet water, new milk, fat sheep
and goats, for which they demanded a Tobe of Cutch canvass. We passed with
them a quiet luxurious day of coffee and pipes, fresh cream and roasted
mutton: after the plain-heats we enjoyed the cool breeze of the hills, the
cloudy sky, and the verdure of the glades, made doubly green by comparison
with the parched stubbles below.
The Eesa, here mixed with the Gudabirsi, have little power: we found them
poor and proportionally importunate. The men, wild-looking as open mouths,
staring eyes, and tangled hair could make them, gazed with extreme
eagerness upon my scarlet blanket: for very shame they did not beg it, but
the inviting texture was pulled and fingered by the greasy multitude. We
closed the hut whenever a valuable was produced, but eager eyes peeped
through every cranny, till the End of Time ejaculated "Praised be Allah!"
(43) and quoted the Arab saying, "Show not the Somal thy door, and if he
find it, block it up!" The women and children were clad in chocolate-
coloured hides, fringed at the tops: to gratify them I shot a few hawks,
and was rewarded with loud exclamations,—"Allah preserve thy hand!"—"May
thy skill never fail thee before the foe!" A crone seeing me smoke,
inquired if the fire did not burn: I handed my pipe, which nearly choked
her, and she ran away from a steaming kettle, thinking it a weapon. As my
companions observed, there was not a "Miskal of sense in a Maund of
heads:" yet the people looked upon my sun-burnt skin with a favour they
denied to the "lime-white face."
I was anxious to proceed in the afternoon, but Raghe had arrived at the
frontier of his tribe: he had blood to settle amongst the Gudabirsi, and
without a protector he could not enter their lands. At night we slept
armed on account of the lions that infest the hills, and our huts were
surrounded with a thorn fence—a precaution here first adopted, and never
afterwards neglected. Early on the morning of the 4th of December heavy
clouds rolled down from the mountains, and a Scotch mist deepened into a
shower: our new Abban had not arrived, and the hut-mats, saturated with
rain, had become too heavy for the camels to carry.
In the forenoon the Eesa kraal, loading their Asses(44), set out towards
the plain. This migration presented no new features, except that several
sick and decrepid were barbarously left behind, for lions and hyaenas to
devour. (45) To deceive "warhawks" who might be on the lookout, the
migrators set fire to logs of wood and masses of sheep's earth, which,
even in rain, will smoke and smoulder for weeks.
About midday arrived the two Gudabirsi who intended escorting us to the
village of our Abbans. The elder, Rirash, was a black-skinned, wild-
looking fellow, with a shock head of hair and a deep scowl which belied
his good temper and warm heart: the other was a dun-faced youth betrothed
to Raghe's daughter. They both belonged to the Mahadasan clan, and
commenced operations by an obstinate attempt to lead us far out of our way
eastwards. The pretext was the defenceless state of their flocks and
herds, the real reason an itching for cloth and tobacco. We resisted
manfully this time, nerved by the memory of wasted days, and, despite
their declarations of Absi(46), we determined upon making westward for
At 2 P.M. the caravan started along the Fiumara course in rear of the
deserted kraal, and after an hour's ascent Rirash informed us that a well
was near. The Hammal and I, taking two water skins, urged our mules over
stones and thorny ground: presently we arrived at a rocky ravine, where,
surrounded by brambles, rude walls, and tough frame works, lay the wells—
three or four holes sunk ten feet deep in the limestone. Whilst we bathed
in the sulphureous spring, which at once discolored my silver ring,
Rirash, baling up the water in his shield, filled the bags and bound them
to the saddles. In haste we rejoined the caravan, which we found about
sunset, halted by the vain fears of the guides. The ridge upon which they
stood was a mass of old mosques and groves, showing that in former days a
thick population tenanted these hills: from the summit appeared distant
herds of kine and white flocks scattered like patches of mountain quartz.
Riding in advance, we traversed the stony ridge, fell into another ravine,
and soon saw signs of human life. A shepherd descried us from afar and ran
away reckless of property; causing the End of Time to roll his head with
dignity, and to ejaculate, "Of a truth said the Prophet of Allah, 'fear is
divided.'" Presently we fell in with a village, from which the people
rushed out, some exclaiming, "Lo! let us look at the kings!" others,
"Come, see the white man, he is governor of Zayla!" I objected to such
dignity, principally on account of its price: my companions, however, were
inexorable; they would be Salatin—kings—and my colour was against claims
to low degree. This fairness, and the Arab dress, made me at different
times the ruler of Aden, the chief of Zayla, the Hajj's son, a boy, an old
woman, a man painted white, a warrior in silver armour, a merchant, a
pilgrim, a hedgepriest, Ahmed the Indian, a Turk, an Egyptian, a
Frenchman, a Banyan, a sherif, and lastly a Calamity sent down from heaven
to weary out the lives of the Somal: every kraal had some conjecture of
its own, and each fresh theory was received by my companions with roars of
As the Gudabirsi pursued us with shouts for tobacco and cries of wonder, I
dispersed them with a gun-shot: the women and children fled precipitately
from the horrid sound, and the men, covering their heads with their
shields, threw themselves face foremost upon the ground. Pursuing the
Fiumara course, we passed a number of kraals, whose inhabitants were
equally vociferous: out of one came a Zayla man, who informed us that the
Gudabirsi Abbans, to whom we bore Sharmarkay's letter of introduction,
were encamped within three days' march. It was reported, however, that a
quarrel had broken out between them and the Gerad Adan, their brother-in-
law; no pleasant news!—in Africa, under such circumstances, it is
customary for friends to detain, and for foes to oppose, the traveller. We
rode stoutly on, till the air darkened and the moon tipped the distant
hill peaks with a dim mysterious light. I then called a halt: we unloaded
on the banks of the Darkaynlay fiumara, so called from a tree which
contains a fiery milk, fenced ourselves in,—taking care to avoid being
trampled upon by startled camels during our sleep, by securing them in a
separate but neighbouring inclosure,—spread our couches, ate our frugal
suppers, and lost no time in falling asleep. We had travelled five hours
that day, but the path was winding, and our progress in a straight line
was at most eight miles.
And now, dear L., being about to quit the land of the Eesa, I will sketch
The Eesa, probably the most powerful branch of the Somali nation, extends
northwards to the Wayma family of the Dankali; southwards to the
Gudabirsi, and midway between Zayla and Berberah; eastwards it is bounded
by the sea, and westwards by the Gallas around Harar. It derives itself
from Dirr and Aydur, without, however, knowing aught beyond the ancestral
names, and is twitted with paganism by its enemies. This tribe, said to
number 100,000 shields, is divided into numerous clans(47): these again
split up into minor septs(48) which plunder, and sometimes murder, one
another in time of peace.
A fierce and turbulent race of republicans, the Eesa own nominal
allegiance to a Ugaz or chief residing in the Hadagali hills. He is
generally called "Roblay"—Prince Rainy,—the name or rather title being
one of good omen, for a drought here, like a dinner in Europe, justifies
the change of a dynasty. Every kraal has its Oddai (shaikh or head man,)
after whose name the settlement, as in Sindh and other pastoral lands, is
called. He is obeyed only when his orders suit the taste of King Demos, is
always superior to his fellows in wealth of cattle, sometimes in talent
and eloquence, and in deliberations he is assisted by the Wail or Akill—
the Peetzo-council of Southern Africa—Elders obeyed on account of their
age. Despite, however, this apparatus of rule, the Bedouins have lost none
of the characteristics recorded in the Periplus: they are still
"uncivilised and under no restraint." Every freeborn man holds himself
equal to his ruler, and allows no royalties or prerogatives to abridge his
birthright of liberty.(49) Yet I have observed, that with all their
passion for independence, the Somal, when subject to strict rule as at
Zayla and Harar, are both apt to discipline and subservient to command.
In character, the Eesa are childish and docile, cunning, and deficient in
judgment, kind and fickle, good-humoured and irascible, warm-hearted, and
infamous for cruelty and treachery. Even the protector will slay his
protege, and citizens married to Eesa girls send their wives to buy goats
and sheep from, but will not trust themselves amongst, their connexions.
"Traitorous as an Eesa," is a proverb at Zayla, where the people tell you
that these Bedouins with the left hand offer a bowl of milk, and stab with
the right. "Conscience," I may observe, does not exist in Eastern Africa,
and "Repentance" expresses regret for missed opportunities of mortal
crime. Robbery constitutes an honorable man: murder—the more atrocious
the midnight crime the better—makes the hero. Honor consists in taking
human life: hyaena-like, the Bedouins cannot be trusted where blood may be
shed: Glory is the having done all manner of harm. Yet the Eesa have their
good points: they are not noted liars, and will rarely perjure themselves:
they look down upon petty pilfering without violence, and they are
generous and hospitable compared with the other Somal. Personally, I had
no reason to complain of them. They were importunate beggars, but a pinch
of snuff or a handful of tobacco always made us friends: they begged me to
settle amongst them, they offered me sundry wives and,—the Somali
Bedouin, unlike the Arab, readily affiliates strangers to his tribe—they
declared that after a few days' residence, I should become one of
In appearance, the Eesa are distinguished from other Somal by blackness,
ugliness of feature, and premature baldness of the temples; they also
shave, or rather scrape off with their daggers, the hair high up the nape
of the neck. The locks are dyed dun, frizzled, and greased; the Widads or
learned men remove them, and none but paupers leave them in their natural
state; the mustachios are clipped close, the straggling whisker is
carefully plucked, and the pile—erroneously considered impure—is removed
either by vellication, or by passing the limbs through the fire. The eyes
of the Bedouins, also, are less prominent than those of the citizens: the
brow projects in pent-house fashion, and the organ, exposed to bright
light, and accustomed to gaze at distant objects, acquires more
concentration and power. I have seen amongst them handsome profiles, and
some of the girls have fine figures with piquant if not pretty features.
Flocks and herds form the true wealth of the Eesa. According to them,
sheep and goats are of silver, and the cow of gold: they compare camels to
the rock, and believe, like most Moslems, the horse to have been created
from the wind. Their diet depends upon the season. In hot weather, when
forage and milk dry up, the flocks are slaughtered, and supply excellent
mutton; during the monsoon men become fat, by drinking all day long the
produce of their cattle. In the latter article of diet, the Eesa are
delicate and curious: they prefer cow's milk, then the goat's, and lastly
the ewe's, which the Arab loves best: the first is drunk fresh, and the
two latter clotted, whilst the camel's is slightly soured. The townspeople
use camel's milk medicinally: according to the Bedouins, he who lives on
this beverage, and eats the meat for forty-four consecutive days, acquires
the animal's strength. It has perhaps less "body" than any other milk, and
is deliciously sweet shortly after foaling: presently it loses flavour,
and nothing can be more nauseous than the produce of an old camel. The
Somal have a name for cream—"Laben"—but they make no use of the article,
churning it with the rest of the milk. They have no buffaloes, shudder at
the Tartar idea of mare's-milk, like the Arabs hold the name Labban(50) a
disgrace, and make it a point of honor not to draw supplies from their
cattle during the day.
The life led by these wild people is necessarily monotonous. They rest but
little—from 11 P.M. till dawn—and never sleep in the bush, for fear of
plundering parties, Few begin the day with prayer as Moslems should: for
the most part they apply themselves to counting and milking their cattle.
The animals, all of which have names (51) , come when called to the pail,
and supply the family with a morning meal. Then the warriors, grasping
their spears, and sometimes the young women armed only with staves, drive
their herds to pasture: the matrons and children, spinning or rope-making,
tend the flocks, and the kraal is abandoned to the very young, the old,
and the sick. The herdsmen wander about, watching the cattle and tasting
nothing but the pure element or a pinch of coarse tobacco. Sometimes they
play at Shahh, Shantarah, and other games, of which they are passionately
fond: with a board formed of lines traced in the sand, and bits of dry
wood or camel's earth acting pieces, they spend hour after hour, every
looker-on vociferating his opinion, and catching at the men, till
apparently the two players are those least interested in the game. Or, to
drive off sleep, they sit whistling to their flocks, or they perform upon
the Forimo, a reed pipe generally made at Harar, which has a plaintive
sound uncommonly pleasing. (52) In the evening, the kraal again resounds
with lowing and bleating: the camel's milk is all drunk, the cow's and
goat's reserved for butter and ghee, which the women prepare; the numbers
are once more counted, and the animals are carefully penned up for the
night. This simple life is varied by an occasional birth and marriage,
dance and foray, disease and murder. Their maladies are few and simple
(53); death generally comes by the spear, and the Bedouin is naturally
long-lived. I have seen Macrobians hale and strong, preserving their
powers and faculties in spite of eighty and ninety years.
(1)By this route the Mukattib or courier travels on foot from Zayla to
Harar in five days at the most. The Somal reckon their journeys by the
Gedi or march, the Arab "Hamleh," which varies from four to five hours.
They begin before dawn and halt at about 11 A.M., the time of the morning
meal. When a second march is made they load at 3 P.M. and advance till
dark; thus fifteen miles would be the average of fast travelling. In
places of danger they will cover twenty-six or twenty-seven miles of
ground without halting to eat or rest: nothing less, however, than regard
for "dear life" can engender such activity. Generally two or three hours'
work per diem is considered sufficient; and, where provisions abound,
halts are long and frequent.
(2) The Mikahil is a clan of the Habr Awal tribe living near Berberah, and
celebrated for their bloodthirsty and butchering propensities. Many of the
Midgan or serviles (a term explained in Chap. II.) are domesticated
(3) So the Abyssinian chief informed M. Krapf that he loved the French,
but could not endure us—simply the effect of manner.
(4)The first is the name of the individual; the second is that of her
(5)This delicate operation is called by the Arabs Daasah (whence the
"Dosch ceremony" at Cairo). It is used over most parts of the Eastern
world as a remedy for sickness and fatigue, and is generally preferred to
Takbis or Dugmo, the common style of shampooing, which, say many Easterns,
loosens the skin.
(6)The Somal, from habit, enjoy no other variety; they even showed
disgust at my Latakia. Tobacco is grown in some places by the Gudabirsi
and other tribes; bat it is rare and bad. Without this article it would be
impossible to progress in East Africa; every man asks for a handful, and
many will not return milk for what they expect to receive as a gift. Their
importunity reminds the traveller of the Galloway beggars some generations
ago:—"They are for the most part great chewers of tobacco, and are so
addicted to it, that they will ask for a piece thereof from a stranger as
he is riding on his way; and therefore let not a traveller want an ounce
or two of roll tobacco in his pocket, and for an inch or two thereof he
need not fear the want of a guide by day or night."
(7) Flesh boiled in large slices, sun-dried, broken to pieces and fried in
(8)The Bahr Assal or Salt Lake, near Tajurrah, annually sends into the
interior thousands of little matted parcels containing this necessary.
Inland, the Bedouins will rub a piece upon the tongue before eating, or
pass about a lump, as the Dutch did with sugar in the last war; at Harar a
donkey-load is the price of a slave; and the Abyssinians say of a
millionaire "he eateth salt."
(9) The element found upon the maritime plain is salt or brackish. There
is nothing concerning which the African traveller should be so particular
as water; bitter with nitre, and full of organic matter, it causes all
those dysenteric diseases which have made research in this part of the
world a Upas tree to the discoverer. Pocket filters are invaluable. The
water of wells should be boiled and passed through charcoal; and even then
it might be mixed to a good purpose with a few drops of proof spirit. The
Somal generally carry their store in large wickerwork pails. I preferred
skins, as more portable and less likely to taint the water.
(10)Here, as in Arabia, boxes should be avoided, the Bedouins always
believe them to contain treasures. Day after day I have been obliged to
display the contents to crowds of savages, who amused themselves by
lifting up the case with loud cries of "hoo! hoo!! hoo!!!" (the popular
exclamation of astonishment), and by speculating upon the probable amount
of dollars contained therein.
(10)The following list of my expenses may perhaps be useful to future
travellers. It must be observed that, had the whole outfit been purchased
at Aden, a considerable saving would have resulted:—
Passage money from Aden to Zayla............................ 33
Presents at Zayla...........................................100
Price of four mules with saddles and bridles................225
Price of four camels........................................ 88
Provisions (tobacco, rice, dates &c.) for three months......428
Price of 150 Tobes..........................................357
Nine pieces of indigo-dyed cotton........................... 16
Minor expenses (cowhides for camels, mats for tents,
presents to Arabs, a box of beads, three handsome
Abyssinian Tobes bought for chiefs).....................166
Expenses at Berberah, and passage back to Aden.............. 77
Total Cos. Rs. 1490 = L149
(12) I shall frequently use Somali terms, not to display my scanty
knowledge of the dialect, but because they perchance may prove serviceable
to my successors.
(13) The Somal always "side-line" their horses and mules with stout stiff
leathern thongs provided with loops and wooden buttons; we found them upon
the whole safer than lariats or tethers.
(14)the Jinns. Some say that the musician's mouth is not to be
purified for forty days; others that Satan, touching a man's person,
causes him to produce the offensive sound. The Hejazis objected to
Burckhardt that he could not help talking to devils, and walking about the
room like an unquiet spirit. The Somali has no such prejudice. Like the
Kafir of the Cape, he passes his day whistling to his flocks and herds;
moreover, he makes signals by changing the note, and is skilful in
imitating the song of birds.
(15)In this country camels foal either in the Gugi (monsoon), or during
the cold season immediately after the autumnal rains.
(16)The shepherd's staff is a straight stick about six feet long, with a
crook at one end, and at the other a fork to act as a rake.
(17)These utensils will be described in a future chapter.
(18)The settled Somal have a holy horror of dogs, and, Wahhabi-like,
treat man's faithful slave most cruelly. The wild people are more humane;
they pay two ewes for a good colley, and demand a two-year-old sheep as
"diyat" or blood-money for the animal, if killed.
(19) Vultures and percnopters lie upon the wing waiting for the garbage of
the kraals; consequently they are rare near the cow-villages, where
animals are not often killed.
(20) They apply this term to all but themselves; an Indian trader who had
travelled to Harar, complained to me that he had always been called a
Frank by the Bedouins in consequence of his wearing Shalwar or drawers.
(21)Generally it is not dangerous to write before these Bedouins, as they
only suspect account-keeping, and none but the educated recognise a
sketch. The traveller, however, must be on his guard: in the remotest
villages he will meet Somal who have returned to savage life after
visiting the Sea-board, Arabia, and possibly India or Egypt.
(22)I have often observed this ceremony performed upon a new turban or
other article of attire; possibly it may be intended as a mark of
contempt, assumed to blind the evil eye.
(23)Such is the general form of the Somali grave. Sometimes two stumps of
wood take the place of the upright stones at the head and foot, and around
one grave I counted twenty trophies.
(24) Some braves wear above the right elbow an ivory armlet called Fol or
Aj: in the south this denotes the elephant-slayer. Other Eesa clans assert
their warriorhood by small disks of white stone, fashioned like rings, and
fitted upon the little finger of the left hand. Others bind a bit of red
cloth round the brow.
(25)It is sufficient for a Bedouin to look at the general appearance of
an animal; he at once recognises the breed. Each clan, however, in this
part of Eastern Africa has its own mark.
(26)They found no better word than "fire" to denote my gun.
(27) "Oddai", an old man, corresponds with the Arab Shaykh in etymology.
The Somal, however, give the name to men of all ages after marriage.
(28) The "Dihh" is the Arab "Wady",—a fiumara or freshet. "Webbe" (Obbay,
Abbai, &c.) is a large river; "Durdur", a running stream.
(29)I saw these Dihhs only in the dry season; at times the torrent must
be violent, cutting ten or twelve feet deep into the plain.
(30) The name is derived from Kuranyo, an ant: it means the "place of
ants," and is so called from the abundance of a tree which attracts them.
(31) The Arabs call these pillars "Devils," the Somal "Sigo."
(32) The Cape Kafirs have the same prejudice against fish, comparing its
flesh, to that of serpents. In some points their squeamishness resembles
that of the Somal: he, for instance, who tastes the Rhinoceros Simus is at
once dubbed "Om Fogazan" or outcast.
(33) This superstition may have arisen from the peculiarity that the
camel's milk, however fresh, if placed upon the fire, breaks like some
(34) "Bori" in Southern Arabia popularly means a water-pipe: here it is
used for tobacco.
(35) "Goban" is the low maritime plain lying below the "Bor" or Ghauts,
and opposed to Ogu, the table-land above. "Ban" is an elevated grassy
prairie, where few trees grow; "Dir," a small jungle, called Haija by the
Arabs; and Khain is a forest or thick bush. "Bor," is a mountain, rock, or
hill: a stony precipice is called "Jar," and the high clay banks of a
(36) Snakes are rare in the cities, but abound in the wilds of Eastern
Africa, and are dangerous to night travellers, though seldom seen by day.
To kill a serpent is considered by the Bedouins almost as meritorious as
to slay an Infidel. The Somal have many names for the reptile tribe. The
Subhanyo, a kind of whipsnake, and a large yellow rock snake called Got,
are little feared. The Abesi (in Arabic el Hayyeh,—the Cobra) is so
venomous that it kills the camel; the Mas or Hanash, and a long black
snake called Jilbis, are considered equally dangerous. Serpents are in
Somali-land the subject of many superstitions. One horn of the Cerastes,
for instance, contains a deadly poison: the other, pounded and drawn
across the eye, makes man a seer and reveals to him the treasures of the
earth. There is a flying snake which hoards precious stones, and is
attended by a hundred guards: a Somali horseman once, it is said, carried
away a jewel; he was pursued by a reptile army, and although he escaped to
his tribe, the importunity of the former proprietors was so great that the
plunder was eventually restored to them. Centipedes are little feared;
their venom leads to inconveniences more ridiculous than dangerous.
Scorpions, especially the large yellow variety, are formidable in hot
weather: I can speak of the sting from experience. The first symptom is a
sensation of nausea, and the pain shoots up after a few minutes to the
groin, causing a swelling accompanied by burning and throbbing, which last
about twelve hours. The Somal bandage above the wound and wait patiently
till the effect subsides.
(37) These are tightened in case of accident, and act as superior
ligatures. I should, however, advise every traveller in these regions to
provide himself with a pneumatic pump, and not to place his trust in Zaal,
garlic, or opium.
(38) The grey rat is called by the Somal "Baradublay:" in Eastern Africa
it is a minor plague, after India and Arabia, where, neglecting to sleep
in boots, I have sometimes been lamed for a week by their venomous bites.
(39) In this country the jackal attends not upon the lion, but the Waraba.
His morning cry is taken as an omen of good or evil according to the note.
(40) Of this bird, a red and long-legged plover, the Somal tell the
following legend. Originally her diet was meat, and her society birds of
prey: one night, however, her companions having devoured all the
provisions whilst she slept, she swore never to fly with friends, never to
eat flesh, and never to rest during the hours of darkness. When she sees
anything in the dark she repeat her oaths, and, according to the Somal,
keeps careful watch all night. There is a larger variety of this bird,
which, purblind daring daytime, rises from under the traveller's feet with
loud cries. The Somal have superstitions similar to that above noticed
about several kinds of birds. When the cry of the "Galu" (so called from
his note Gal! Gal! come in! come in!) is heard over a kraal, the people
say, "Let us leave this place, the Galu hath spoken!" At night they listen
for the Fin, also an ill-omened bird: when a man declares "the Fin did not
sleep last night," it is considered advisable to shift ground.
(41) Throughout this country ostriches are exceedingly wild: the Rev. Mr.
Erhardt, of the Mombas Mission, informs me that they are equally so
farther south. The Somal stalk them during the day with camels, and kill
them with poisoned arrows. It is said that about 3 P.M. the birds leave
their feeding places, and traverse long distances to roost: the people
assert that they are blind at night, and rise up under the pursuer's feet.
(42) Several Acacias afford gums, which the Bedouins eat greedily to
strengthen themselves. The town's people declare that the food produces
nothing but flatulence.
(43) "Subhan' Allah!" an exclamation of pettishness or displeasure.
(44) The hills not abounding in camels, like the maritime regions, asses
become the principal means of transport.
(45) This barbarous practice is generally carried out in cases of small-
pox where contagion is feared.
(46) Fear—danger; it is a word which haunts the traveller in Somali-land.
(47) The Somali Tol or Tul corresponds with the Arabic Kabilah, a tribe:
under it is the Kola or Jilib (Ar. Fakhizah), a clan. "Gob," is synonymous
with the Arabic Kabail, "men of family," opposed to "Gum," the caste-less.
In the following pages I shall speak of the Somali nation, the Eesa
tribe, the Rer Musa clan, and the Rer Galan sept, though by no means
sure that such verbal gradation is generally recognised.
1. Rer Wardik (the royal clan). 6. Rer Hurroni.
2. Rer Abdullah. 7. Rer Urwena.
3. Rer Musa. 8. Rer Furlabah.
4. Rer Mummasan. 9. Rer Gada.
5. Rer Guleni. 10. Rer Ali Addah.
These are again subdivided: the Rer Musa (numbering half the Eesa), split
up, for instance, into—
1. Rer Galan. 4. Rer Dubbah.
2. Rer Harlah. 5. Rer Kul.
3. Rer Gadishah. 6. Rer Gedi.
(49) Traces of this turbulent equality may be found amongst the slavish
Kafirs in general meetings of the tribe, on the occasion of harvest home,
when the chief who at other times destroys hundreds by a gesture, is
abused and treated with contempt by the youngest warrior.
(51) For instance, Anfarr, the "Spotted;" Tarren, "Wheat-flour;" &c. &c.
(52) It is used by the northern people, the Abyssinians, Gallas, Adail,
Eesa and Gudabirsi; the southern Somal ignore it.
(53) The most dangerous disease is small-pox, which history traces to
Eastern Abyssinia, where it still becomes at times a violent epidemic,
sweeping off its thousands. The patient, if a man of note, is placed upon
the sand, and fed with rice or millet bread till he recovers or dies. The
chicken-pox kills many infants; they are treated by bathing in the fresh
blood of a sheep, covered with the skin, and exposed to the sun. Smoke and
glare, dirt and flies, cold winds and naked extremities, cause ophthalmia,
especially in the hills; this disease rarely blinds any save the citizens,
and no remedy is known. Dysentery is cured by rice and sour milk, patients
also drink clarified cows' butter; and in bad cases the stomach is
cauterized, fire and disease, according to the Somal, never coexisting.
Haemorroids, when dry, are reduced by a stick used as a bougie and allowed
to remain in loco all night. Sometimes the part affected is cupped with a
horn and knife, or a leech performs excision. The diet is camels' or
goats' flesh and milk; clarified butter and Bussorab dates—rice and
mutton are carefully avoided. For a certain local disease, they use senna
or colocynth, anoint the body with sulphur boiled in ghee, and expose it
to the sun, or they leave the patient all night in the dew;—abstinence
and perspiration generally effect a cure. For the minor form, the
afflicted drink the melted fat of a sheep's tail. Consumption is a family
complaint, and therefore considered incurable; to use the Somali
expression, they address the patient with "Allah, have mercy upon thee!"
not with "Allah cure thee!"
There are leeches who have secret simples for curing wounds. Generally the
blood is squeezed out, the place is washed with water, the lips are sewn
up and a dressing of astringent leaves is applied. They have splints for
fractures, and they can reduce dislocations. A medical friend at Aden
partially dislocated his knee, which half-a-dozen of the faculty insisted
upon treating as a sprain. Of all his tortures none was more severe than
that inflicted by my Somali visitors. They would look at him, distinguish
the complaint, ask him how long he had been invalided, and hearing the
reply—four months—would break into exclamations of wonder. "In our
country," they cried, "when a man falls, two pull his body and two his
legs, then they tie sticks round it, give him plenty of camel's milk, and
he is well in a month;" a speech which made friend S. groan in spirit.
Firing and clarified butter are the farrier's panaceas. Camels are cured
by sheep's head broth, asses by chopping one ear, mules by cutting off the
tail, and horses by ghee or a drench of melted fat.
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