6: From the Zayla Hills to the Marar Prairie
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I have now, dear L., quitted the maritime plain or first zone, to enter
the Ghauts, that threshold of the Ethiopian highlands which, beginning at
Tajurrah, sweeps in semicircle round the bay of Zayla, and falls about
Berberah into the range of mountains which fringes the bold Somali coast.
This chain has been inhabited, within History's memory, by three distinct
races,—the Gallas, the ancient Moslems of Adel, and by the modern Somal.
As usual, however, in the East, it has no general vernacular name.(1)
The aspect of these Ghauts is picturesque. The primitive base consists of
micaceous granite, with veins of porphyry and dykes of the purest white
quartz: above lie strata of sandstone and lime, here dun, there yellow, or
of a dull grey, often curiously contorted and washed clear of vegetable
soil by the heavy monsoon. On these heights, which are mostly conoid with
rounded tops, joined by ridges and saddlebacks, various kinds of Acacia
cast a pallid and sickly green, like the olive tree upon the hills of
Provence. They are barren in the cold season, and the Nomads migrate to
the plains: when the monsoon covers them with rich pastures, the people
revisit their deserted kraals. The Kloofs or ravines are the most
remarkable features of this country: in some places the sides rise
perpendicularly, like gigantic walls, the breadth varying from one hundred
yards to half a mile; in others cliffs and scaurs, sapped at their
foundations, encumber the bed, and not unfrequently a broad band of white
sand stretches between two fringes of emerald green, delightful to look
upon after the bare and ghastly basalt of Southern Arabia. The Jujube
grows to a height already betraying signs of African luxuriance: through
its foliage flit birds, gaudy-coloured as kingfishers, of vivid red,
yellow, and changing-green. I remarked a long-tailed jay called Gobiyan or
Fat(2), russet-hued ringdoves, the modest honey-bird, corn quails,
canary-coloured finches, sparrows gay as those of Surinam, humming-birds
with a plume of metallic lustre, and especially a white-eyed kind of
maina, called by the Somal, Shimbir Load or the cow-bird. The Armo-creeper
(3), with large fleshy leaves, pale green, red, or crimson, and clusters
of bright berries like purple grapes, forms a conspicuous ornament in the
valleys. There is a great variety of the Cactus tribe, some growing to the
height of thirty and thirty-five feet: of these one was particularly
pointed out to me. The vulgar Somal call it Guraato, the more learned
Shajarat el Zakkum: it is the mandrake of these regions, and the round
excrescences upon the summits of its fleshy arms are supposed to resemble
men's heads and faces. On Tuesday the 5th December we arose at 6 A.M.,
after a night so dewy that our clothes were drenched, and we began to
ascend the Wady Darkaynlay, which winds from east to south. After an
hour's march appeared a small cairn of rough stones, called Siyaro, or
Mazar(4), to which each person, in token of honor, added his quotum. The
Abban opined that Auliya or holy men had sat there, but the End of Time
more sagaciously conjectured that it was the site of some Galla idol or
superstitious rite. Presently we came upon the hills of the White Ant(5),
a characteristic feature in this part of Africa. Here the land has the
appearance of a Turkish cemetery on a grand scale: there it seems like a
city in ruins: in some places the pillars are truncated into a resemblance
to bee-hives, in others they cluster together, suggesting the idea of a
portico; whilst many of them, veiled by trees, and overrun with gay
creepers, look like the remains of sylvan altars. Generally the hills are
conical, and vary in height from four to twelve feet: they are counted by
hundreds, and the Somal account for the number by declaring that the
insects abandon their home when dry, and commence building another. The
older erections are worn away, by wind and rain, to a thin tapering spire,
and are frequently hollowed and arched beneath by rats and ground
squirrels. The substance, fine yellow mud, glued by the secretions of the
ant, is hard to break: it is pierced, sieve-like, by a network of tiny
shafts. I saw these hills for the first time in the Wady Darkaynlay: in
the interior they are larger and longer than near the maritime regions.
We travelled up the Fiumara in a southerly direction till 8 A.M., when the
guides led us away from the bed. They anticipated meeting Gudabirsis:
pallid with fear, they also trembled with cold and hunger. Anxious
consultations were held. One man, Ali—surnamed "Doso," because he did
nothing but eat, drink, and stand over the fire—determined to leave us:
as, however, he had received a Tobe for pay, we put a veto upon that
proceeding. After a march of two hours, over ground so winding that we had
not covered more than three miles, our guides halted under a tree, near a
deserted kraal, at a place called El Armo, the "Armo-creeper water," or
more facetiously Dabadalashay: from Damal it bore S. W. 190°. One of our
Bedouins, mounting a mule, rode forward to gather intelligence, and bring
back a skin full of water. I asked the End of Time what they expected to
hear: he replied with the proverb "News liveth!" The Somali Bedouins have
a passion for knowing how the world wags. In some of the more desert
regions the whole population of a village will follow the wanderer. No
traveller ever passes a kraal without planting spear in the ground, and
demanding answers to a lengthened string of queries: rather than miss
intelligence he will inquire of a woman. Thus it is that news flies
through the country. Among the wild Gudabirsi the Russian war was a topic
of interest, and at Harar I heard of a violent storm, which had damaged
the shipping in Bombay Harbour, but a few weeks after the event.
The Bedouin returned with an empty skin but a full budget. I will offer
you, dear L., a specimen of the "palaver"(6) which is supposed to prove
the aphorism that all barbarians are orators. Demosthenes leisurely
dismounts, advances, stands for a moment cross-legged—the favourite
posture in this region—supporting each hand with a spear planted in the
ground: thence he slips to squat, looks around, ejects saliva, shifts his
quid to behind his ear, places his weapons before him, takes up a bit of
stick, and traces lines which he carefully smooths away—it being ill-
omened to mark the earth. The listeners sit gravely in a semicircle upon
their heels, with their spears, from whose bright heads flashes a ring of
troubled light, planted upright, and look stedfastly on his countenance
over the upper edges of their shields with eyes apparently planted, like
those of the Blemmyes, in their breasts. When the moment for delivery is
come, the head man inquires, "What is the news?" The informant would
communicate the important fact that he has been to the well: he proceeds
as follows, noting emphasis by raising his voice, at times about six
notes, and often violently striking at the ground in front.
"It is good news, if Allah please!"
"Wa Sidda!"—Even so! respond the listeners, intoning or rather groaning
"I mounted mule this morning:"
"I departed from ye riding."
"There" (with a scream and pointing out the direction with a stick).
"There I went."
"I threaded the wood."
"I traversed the sands."
"I feared nothing."
"At last I came upon cattle tracks."
"Hoo! hoo!! hoo!!!" (an ominous pause follows this exclamation of
"They were fresh."
"So were the earths."
"I distinguished the feet of women."
"But there were no camels."
"At last I saw sticks"—
Then follows the palaver, wherein, as occasionally happens further West,
he distinguishes himself who can rivet the attention of the audience for
at least an hour without saying anything in particular. The advantage of
their circumlocution, however, is that by considering a subject in every
possible light and phase as regards its cause and effect, antecedents,
actualities, and consequences, they are prepared for any emergency which,
without the palaver, might come upon them unawares.
Although the thermometer showed summer heat, the air was cloudy and raw
blasts poured down from the mountains. At half past 3 P.M. our camels were
lazily loaded, and we followed the course of the Fiumara, which runs to
the W. and S. W. After half an hour's progress, we arrived at the gully in
which are the wells, and the guides halted because they descried half-a-
dozen youths and boys bathing and washing their Tobes. All, cattle as well
as men, were sadly thirsty: many of us had been chewing pebbles during the
morning, yet, afraid of demands for tobacco, the Bedouins would have
pursued the march without water had I not forced them to halt. We found
three holes in the sand; one was dry, a second foul, and the third
contained a scanty supply of the pure element from twenty to twenty-five
feet below the surface. A youth stood in the water and filled a wicker-
pail, which he tossed to a companion perched against the side half way up:
the latter in his turn hove it to a third, who catching it at the brink,
threw the contents, by this time half wasted, into the skin cattle trough.
We halted about half an hour to refresh man and beast, and then resumed
our way up the Wady, quitting it where a short cut avoids the frequent
windings of the bed. This operation saved but little time; the ground was
stony, the rough ascents fatigued the camels, and our legs and feet were
lacerated by the spear-like thorns. Here, the ground was overgrown with
aloes (7), sometimes six feet high with pink and "pale Pomona green"
leaves, bending in the line of beauty towards the ground, graceful in form
as the capitals of Corinthian columns, and crowned with gay-coloured
bells, but barbarously supplied with woody thorns and strong serrated
edges. There the Hig, an aloetic plant with a point so hard and sharp that
horses cannot cross ground where it grows, stood in bunches like the
largest and stiffest of rushes.(8)Senna sprang spontaneously on the
banks, and the gigantic Ushr or Asclepias shed its bloom upon the stones
and pebbles of the bed. My attendants occupied themselves with gathering
the edible pod of an Acacia called Kura(9), whilst I observed the view.
Frequent ant-hills gave an appearance of habitation to a desert still
covered with the mosques and tombs of old Adel; and the shape of the
country had gradually changed, basins and broad slopes now replacing the
thickly crowded conoid peaks of the lower regions.
As the sun sank towards the west, Long Guled complained bitterly of the
raw breeze from the hills. We passed many villages, distinguished by the
barking of dogs and the bleating of flocks, on their way to the field: the
unhappy Raghe, however, who had now become our protege, would neither
venture into a settlement, nor bivouac amongst the lions. He hurried us
forwards till we arrived at a hollow called Gud, "the Hole," which
supplied us with the protection of a deserted kraal, where our camels,
half-starved and knocked-up by an eight miles' march, were speedily
unloaded. Whilst pitching the tent, we were visited by some Gudabirsi, who
attempted to seize our Abban, alleging that he owed them a cow. We replied
doughtily, that he was under our sandals: as they continued to speak in a
high tone, a pistol was discharged over their heads, after which they
cringed like dogs. A blazing fire, a warm supper, dry beds, broad jests,
and funny stories, soon restored the flagging spirits of our party.
Towards night the moon dispersed the thick mists which, gathering into
clouds, threatened rain, and the cold sensibly diminished: there was
little dew, and we should have slept comfortably had not our hungry mules,
hobbled as they were, hopped about the kraal and fought till dawn.
On the 6th December, we arose late to avoid the cold morning air, and at 7
A.M. set out over rough ground, hoping to ascend the Ghauts that day.
After creeping about two miles, the camels, unable to proceed, threw
themselves upon the earth, and we unwillingly called a halt at Jiyaf, a
basin below the Dobo(10)fiumara. Here, white flocks dotting the hills,
and the scavengers of the air warned us that we were in the vicinity of
villages. Our wigwam was soon full of fair-faced Gudabirsi, mostly Loajira(11) or cow-herd boys, who, according to the custom of their class, wore
their Tobes bound scarf-like round their necks. They begged us to visit
their village, and offered a heifer for each lion shot on Mount Libahlay:
unhappily we could not afford time. These youths were followed by men and
women bringing milk, sheep, and goats, for which, grass being rare, they
asked exorbitant prices,—eighteen cubits of Cutch canvass for a lamb, and
two of blue cotton for a bottle of ghee. Amongst them was the first really
pretty face seen by me in the Somali country. The head was well formed,
and gracefully placed upon a long thin neck and narrow shoulders; the
hair, brow, and nose were unexceptionable, there was an arch look in the
eyes of jet and pearl, and a suspicion of African protuberance about the
lips, which gave the countenance an exceeding naivete. Her skin was a
warm, rich nut-brown, an especial charm in these regions, and her
movements had that grace which suggests perfect symmetry of limb. The poor
girl's costume, a coif for the back hair, a cloth imperfectly covering the
bosom, and a petticoat of hides, made no great mystery of forms: equally
rude were her ornaments; an armlet and pewter earrings, the work of some
blacksmith, a necklace of white porcelain beads, and sundry talismans in
cases of tarnished and blackened leather. As a tribute to her prettiness I
gave her some cloth, tobacco, and a bit of salt, which was rapidly
becoming valuable; her husband stood by, and, although the preference was
marked, he displayed neither anger nor jealousy. She showed her gratitude
by bringing us milk, and by assisting us to start next morning. In the
evening we hired three fresh camels(12) to carry our goods up the ascent,
and killed some antelopes which, in a stew, were not contemptible. The End
of Time insisted upon firing a gun to frighten away the lions, who make
night hideous with their growls, but never put in an appearance.
The morning cold greatly increased, and we did not start till 8 A.M. After
half an hour's march up the bed of a fiumara, leading apparently to a cul de sac of lofty rocks in the hills, we quitted it for a rude zig-zag
winding along its left side, amongst bushes, thorn trees, and huge rocks.
The walls of the opposite bank were strikingly perpendicular; in some
places stratified, in others solid and polished by the course of stream
and cascade. The principal material was a granite, so coarse, that the
composing mica, quartz, and felspar separated into detached pieces as
large as a man's thumb; micaceous grit, which glittered in the sunbeams,
and various sandstones, abounded. The road caused us some trouble; the
camels' loads were always slipping from their mats; I found it necessary
to dismount from my mule, and, sitting down, we were stung by the large
black ants which infest these hills.(13)
About half way up, we passed two cairns, and added to them our mite like
good Somal. After two hours of hard work the summit of this primitive pass
was attained, and sixty minutes more saw us on the plateau above the
hills,—the second zone of East Africa. Behind us lay the plains, of which
we vainly sought a view: the broken ground at the foot of the mountains is
broad, and mists veiled the reeking expanse of the low country.(14) The
plateau in front of us was a wide extent of rolling ground, rising
slightly towards the west; its colour was brown with a threadbare coat of
verdure, and at the bottom of each rugged slope ran a stony water-course
trending from south-west to north-east. The mass of tangled aloes, ragged
thorn, and prim-looking poison trees,(15) must once have been populous;
tombs and houses of the early Moslems covered with ruins the hills and
About noon, we arrived at a spot called the Kafir's Grave. It is a square
enceinte of rude stones about one hundred yards each side; and legends say
that one Misr, a Galla chief, when dying, ordered the place to be filled
seven times with she-camels destined for his Ahan or funeral feast. This
is the fourth stage upon the direct road from Zayla to Harar: we had
wasted ten days, and the want of grass and water made us anxious about our
animals. The camels could scarcely walk, and my mule's spine rose high
beneath the Arab pad:—such are the effects of Jilal(16), the worst of
travelling seasons in Eastern Africa.
At 1 P.M. we unloaded under a sycamore tree, called, after a Galla
chieftain(17), "Halimalah," and giving its name to the surrounding
valley. This ancient of the forest is more than half decayed, several huge
limbs lie stretched upon the ground, whence, for reverence, no one removes
them: upon the trunk, or rather trunks, for its bifurcates, are marks
deeply cut by a former race, and Time has hollowed in the larger stem an
arbour capable of containing half-a-dozen men. This holy tree was,
according to the Somal, a place of prayer for the infidel, and its ancient
honors are not departed. Here, probably to commemorate the westward
progress of the tribe, the Gudabirsi Ugaz or chief has the white canvass
turban bound about his brows, and hence rides forth to witness the
equestrian games in the Harawwah Valley. As everyone who passes by, visits
the Halimalah tree, foraging parties of the Northern Eesa and the Jibril
Abokr (a clan of the Habr Awal) frequently meet, and the traveller wends
his way in fear and trembling.
The thermometer showed an altitude of 3,350 feet: under the tree's cool
shade, the climate reminded me of Southern Italy in winter. I found a
butter-cup, and heard a wood-pecker(18) tapping on the hollow trunk, a
reminiscence of English glades. The Abban and his men urged an advance in
the afternoon. But my health had suffered from the bad water of the coast,
and the camels were faint with fatigue: we therefore dismissed the hired
beasts, carried our property into a deserted kraal, and, lighting a fire,
prepared to "make all snug" for the night. The Bedouins, chattering with
cold, stood closer to the comfortable blaze than ever did pater familias
in England: they smoked their faces, toasted their hands, broiled their
backs with intense enjoyment, and waved their legs to and fro through the
flame to singe away the pile, which at this season grows long. The End of
Time, who was surly, compared them to demons, and quoted the Arab's
saying:—"Allah never bless smooth man, or hairy woman!" On the 8th of
December, at 8 A.M., we travelled slowly up the Halimalah Valley, whose
clayey surface glistened with mica and quartz pebbles from the hills. All
the trees are thorny except the Sycamore and the Asclepias. The Gub, or
Jujube, grows luxuriantly in thickets: its dried wood is used by women to
fumigate their hair(19): the Kedi, a tree like the porcupine,—all
spikes,—supplies the Bedouins with hatchet-handles. I was shown the Abol
with its edible gum, and a kind of Acacia, here called Galol. Its bark
dyes cloth a dull red, and the thorn issues from a bulb which, when young
and soft, is eaten by the Somal, when old it becomes woody, and hard as a
nut. At 9 A.M. we crossed the Lesser Abbaso, a Fiumara with high banks of
stiff clay and filled with large rolled stones: issuing from it, we
traversed a thorny path over ascending ground between higher hills, and
covered with large boulders and step-like layers of grit. Here appeared
several Gudabirsi tombs, heaps of stones or pebbles, surrounded by a fence
of thorns, or an enceinte of loose blocks: in the latter, slabs are used
to make such houses as children would build in play, to denote the number
of establishments left by the deceased. The new grave is known by the
conical milk-pails surmounting the stick at the head of the corpse, upon
the neighbouring tree is thrown the mat which bore the dead man to his
last home, and hard by are the blackened stones upon which his funeral
feast was cooked. At 11 A.M. we reached the Greater Abbaso, a Fiumara
about 100 yards wide, fringed with lovely verdure and full of the antelope
called Gurnuk: its watershed was, as usual in this region, from west and
south-west to east and north-east. About noon we halted, having travelled
eight miles from the Holy Tree.
At half past three reloading we followed the course of the Abbaso Valley,
the most beautiful spot we had yet seen. The presence of mankind, however,
was denoted by the cut branches of thorn encumbering the bed: we remarked
too, the tracks of lions pursued by hunters, and the frequent streaks of
serpents, sometimes five inches in diameter. Towards evening, our party
closed up in fear, thinking that they saw spears glancing through the
trees: I treated their alarm lightly, but the next day proved that it was
not wholly imaginary. At sunset we met a shepherd who swore upon the stone(20) to bring us milk in exchange for tobacco, and presently, after a five
miles' march, we halted in a deserted kraal on the left bank of a Fiumara.
Clouds gathered black upon the hill tops, and a comfortless blast,
threatening rain, warned us not to delay pitching the Gurgi. A large fire
was lighted, and several guns were discharged to frighten away the lions
that infest this place. Twice during the night our camels started up and
rushed round their thorn ring in alarm.
* * * * *
Late in the morning of Saturday, the 9th December, I set out, accompanied
by Rirash and the End of Time, to visit some ruins a little way distant
from the direct road. After an hour's ride we turned away from the Abbaso
Fiumara and entered a basin among the hills distant about sixteen miles
from the Holy Tree. This is the site of Darbiyah Kola,—Kola's Fort,—so
called from its Galla queen. It is said that this city and its neighbour
Aububah fought like certain cats in Kilkenny till both were "eaten up:"
the Gudabirsi fix the event at the period when their forefathers still
inhabited Bulhar on the coast,—about 300 years ago. If the date be
correct, the substantial ruins have fought a stern fight with time.
Remnants of houses cumber the soil, and the carefully built wells are
filled with rubbish: the palace was pointed out to me with its walls of
stone and clay intersected by layers of woodwork. The mosque is a large
roofless building containing twelve square pillars of rude masonry, and
the Mihrab, or prayer niche, is denoted by a circular arch of tolerable
construction. But the voice of the Muezzin is hushed for ever, and
creepers now twine around the ruined fane. The scene was still and dreary
as the grave; for a mile and a half in length all was ruins—ruins—ruins.
Leaving this dead city, we rode towards the south-west between two rugged
hills of which the loftiest summit is called Wanauli. As usual they are
rich in thorns: the tall "Wadi" affords a gum useful to cloth-dyers, and
the leaves of the lofty Wumba are considered, after the Daum-palm, the
best material for mats. On the ground appeared the blue flowers of the
"Man" or "Himbah," a shrub resembling a potatoe: it bears a gay yellow
apple full of brown seeds which is not eaten by the Somal. My companions
made me taste some of the Karir berries, which in color and flavor
resemble red currants: the leaves are used as a dressing to ulcers.
Topping the ridge we stood for a few minutes to observe the view before
us. Beneath our feet lay a long grassy plain-the sight must have gladdened
the hearts of our starving mules!—and for the first time in Africa horses
appeared grazing free amongst the bushes. A little further off lay the
Aylonda valley studded with graves, and dark with verdure. Beyond it
stretched the Wady Harawwah, a long gloomy hollow in the general level.
The background was a bold sweep of blue hill, the second gradient of the
Harar line, and on its summit closing the western horizon lay a golden
streak—the Marar Prairie. Already I felt at the end of my journey. About
noon, reaching a kraal, whence but that morning our Gudabirsi Abbans had
driven off their kine, we sat under a tree and with a pistol reported
arrival. Presently the elders came out and welcomed their old acquaintance
the End of Time as a distinguished guest. He eagerly inquired about the
reported quarrel between the Abbans and their brother-in-law the Gerad
Adan. When, assured that it was the offspring of Somali imagination, he
rolled his head, and with dignity remarked, "What man shutteth to us, that
Allah openeth!" We complimented each other gravely upon the purity of our
intentions,—amongst Moslems a condition of success,—and not despising
second causes, lost no time in sending a horseman for the Abbans.
Presently some warriors came out and inquired if we were of the Caravan
that was travelling last evening up a valley with laden camels. On our
answering in the affirmative, they laughingly declared that a commando of
twelve horsemen had followed us with the intention of a sham-attack. This
is favourite sport with the Bedouin. When however the traveller shows
fright, the feint is apt to turn out a fact. On one occasion a party of
Arab merchants, not understanding the "fun of the thing," shot two Somal:
the tribe had the justice to acquit the strangers, mulcting them, however,
a few yards of cloth for the families of the deceased. In reply I fired a
pistol unexpectedly over the heads of my new hosts, and improved the
occasion of their terror by deprecating any practical facetiousness in
We passed the day under a tree: the camels escorted by my two attendants,
and the women, did not arrive till sunset, having occupied about eight
hours in marching as many miles. Fearing lions, we pitched inside the
kraal, despite crying children, scolding wives, cattle rushing about,
barking dogs, flies and ticks, filth and confinement.
I will now attempt a description of a village in Eastern Africa.
The Rer or Kraal(21)] is a line of scattered huts on plains where thorns
are rare, beast of prey scarce, and raids not expected. In the hills it is
surrounded by a strong fence to prevent cattle straying: this, where
danger induces caution, is doubled and trebled. Yet the lion will
sometimes break through it, and the leopard clears it, prey in mouth with
a bound. The abattis has usually four entrances which are choked up with
heaps of bushes at night. The interior space is partitioned off by dwarf
hedges into rings, which contain and separate the different species of
cattle. Sometimes there is an outer compartment adjoining the exterior
fence, set apart for the camels; usually they are placed in the centre of
the kraal. Horses being most valuable are side-lined and tethered close to
the owner's hut, and rude bowers of brush and fire wood protect the
weaklings of the flocks from the heat of the sun and the inclement night
At intervals around and inside the outer abattis are built the Gurgi or
wigwams—hemispheric huts like old bee-hives about five feet high by six
in diameter: they are even smaller in the warm regions, but they increase
in size as the elevation of the country renders climate less genial. The
material is a framework of "Digo," or sticks bent and hardened in the
fire: to build the hut, these are planted in the ground, tied together
with cords, and covered with mats of two different kinds: the Aus composed
of small bundles of grass neatly joined, is hard and smooth; the Kibid has
a long pile and is used as couch as well as roof. The single entrance in
front is provided with one of these articles which serves as a curtain;
hides are spread upon the top during the monsoon, and little heaps of
earth are sometimes raised outside to keep out wind and rain.
The furniture is simple as the building. Three stones and a hole form the
fireplace, near which sleep the children, kids, and lambs: there being no
chimney, the interior is black with soot. The cow-skin couches are
suspended during the day, like arms and other articles which suffer from
rats and white ants, by loops of cord to the sides. The principal
ornaments are basket-work bottles, gaily adorned with beads, cowris, and
stained leather. Pottery being here unknown, the Bedouins twist the fibres
of a root into various shapes, and make them water-tight with the powdered
bark of another tree.(22) The Han is a large wicker-work bucket, mounted
in a framework of sticks, and used to contain water on journeys. The Guraf
(a word derived from the Arabic "Ghurfah") is a conical-shaped vessel,
used to bale out the contents of a well. The Del, or milk pail, is shaped
like two cones joined at the base by lateral thongs, the upper and smaller
half acting as cup and cover. And finally the Wesi, or water bottle,
contains the traveller's store for drinking and religious ablution.
When the kraal is to be removed, the huts and furniture are placed upon
the camels, and the hedges and earth are sometimes set on fire, to purify
the place and deceive enemies, Throughout the country black circles of
cinders or thorn diversify the hill sides, and show an extensive
population. Travellers always seek deserted kraals for security of
encampment. As they swarm with vermin by night and flies by day(23), I
frequently made strong objections to these favourite localities: the
utmost conceded to me was a fresh enclosure added by a smaller hedge to
the outside abattis of the more populous cow-kraals.
On the 10th December we halted: the bad water, the noon-day sun of 107°,
and the cold mornings—51° being the average—had seriously affected my
health. All the population flocked to see me, darkening the hut with
nodding wigs and staring faces: and,—the Gudabirsi are polite knaves,—
apologised for the intrusion. Men, women, and children appeared in crowds,
bringing milk and ghee, meat and water, several of the elders remembered
having seen me at Berberah(24), and the blear-eyed maidens, who were in
no wise shy, insisted upon admiring the white stranger.
Feeling somewhat restored by repose, I started the next day, "with a tail
on" to inspect the ruins of Aububah. After a rough ride over stony ground
we arrived at a grassy hollow, near a line of hills, and dismounted to
visit the Shaykh Aububah's remains. He rests under a little conical dome
of brick, clay and wood, similar in construction to that of Zayla: it is
falling to pieces, and the adjoining mosque, long roofless, is overgrown
with trees, that rustle melancholy sounds in the light joyous breeze.
Creeping in by a dwarf door or rather hole, my Gudabirsi guides showed me
a bright object forming the key of the arch: as it shone they suspected
silver, and the End of Time whispered a sacrilegious plan for purloining
it. Inside the vault were three graves apparently empty, and upon the dark
sunken floor lay several rounded stones, resembling cannon balls, and used
as weights by the more civilised Somal. Thence we proceeded to the battle-
field, a broad sheet of sandstone, apparently dinted by the hoofs of mules
and horses: on this ground, which, according to my guides, was in olden
days soft and yielding, took place the great action between Aububah and
Darbiyah Kola. A second mosque was found with walls in tolerable repair,
but, like the rest of the place, roofless. Long Guled ascended the broken
staircase of a small square minaret, and delivered a most ignorant and
Bedouin-like Azan or call to prayer. Passing by the shells of houses, we
concluded our morning's work with a visit to the large graveyard.
Apparently it did not contain the bones of Moslems: long lines of stones
pointed westward, and one tomb was covered with a coating of hard mortar,
in whose sculptured edge my benighted friends detected magical
inscriptions. I heard of another city called Ahammed in the neighbouring
hills, but did not visit it. These are all remains of Galla settlements,
which the ignorance and exaggeration of the Somal fill with "writings" and
Returning home we found that our Gudabirsi Bedouins had at length obeyed
the summons. The six sons of a noted chief, Ali Addah or White Ali, by
three different mothers, Beuh, Igah, Khayri, Nur, Ismail and Yunis, all
advanced towards me as I dismounted, gave the hand of friendship, and
welcomed me to their homes. With the exception of the first-named, a hard-
featured man at least forty years old, the brothers were good-looking
youths, with clear brown skins, regular features, and graceful figures.
They entered the Gurgi when invited, but refused to eat, saying, that they
came for honor not for food. The Hajj Sharmarkay's introductory letter was
read aloud to their extreme delight, and at their solicitation, I perused
it a second and a third time; then having dismissed with sundry small
presents, the two Abbans Raghe and Rirash, I wrote a flattering account of
them to the Hajj, and entrusted it to certain citizens who were returning
in caravan Zayla-wards, after a commercial tour in the interior.
Before they departed, there was a feast after the Homeric fashion. A sheep
was "cut," disembowelled, dismembered, tossed into one of our huge
caldrons, and devoured within the hour: the almost live food(25) was
washed down with huge draughts of milk. The feasters resembled
Wordsworth's cows, "forty feeding like one:" in the left hand they held
the meat to their teeth, and cut off the slice in possession with long
daggers perilously close, were their noses longer and their mouths less
obtrusive. During the dinner I escaped from the place of flies, and
retired to a favourite tree. Here the End of Time, seeing me still in
pain, insisted upon trying a Somali medicine. He cut two pieces of dry
wood, scooped a hole in the shorter, and sharpened the longer, applied
point to socket, which he sprinkled with a little sand, placed his foot
upon the "female stick," and rubbed the other between his palms till smoke
and char appeared. He then cauterized my stomach vigorously in six
different places, quoting a tradition, "the End of Physic is Fire."
On Tuesday the 12th December, I vainly requested the two sons of White
Ali, who had constituted themselves our guides, to mount their horses:
they feared to fatigue the valuable animals at a season when grass is rare
and dry. I was disappointed by seeing the boasted "Faras"(26)of the
Somal, in the shape of ponies hardly thirteen hands high. The head is
pretty, the eyes are well opened, and the ears are small; the form also is
good, but the original Arab breed has degenerated in the new climate. They
are soft, docile, and—like all other animals in this part of the world—
timid: the habit of climbing rocks makes them sure-footed, and they show
the remains of blood when forced to fatigue. The Gudabirsi will seldom
sell these horses, the great safeguard against their conterminous tribes,
the Eesa and Girhi, who are all infantry: a village seldom contains more
than six or eight, and the lowest value would be ten cows or twenty Tobes.(27) Careful of his beast when at rest, the Somali Bedouin in the saddle
is rough and cruel: whatever beauty the animal may possess in youth,
completely disappears before the fifth year, and few are without spavin,
or sprained back-sinews. In some parts of the country(28), "to ride
violently to your hut two or three times before finally dismounting, is
considered a great compliment, and the same ceremony is observed on
leaving. Springing into the saddle (if he has one), with the aid of his
spear, the Somali cavalier first endeavours to infuse a little spirit into
his half-starved hack, by persuading him to accomplish a few plunges and
capers: then, his heels raining a hurricane of blows against the animal's
ribs, and occasionally using his spear-point as a spur, away he gallops,
and after a short circuit, in which he endeavours to show himself to the
best advantage, returns to his starting point at full speed, when the
heavy Arab bit brings up the blown horse with a shock that half breaks his
jaw and fills his mouth with blood. The affection of the true Arab for his
horse is proverbial: the cruelty of the Somal to his, may, I think, be
considered equally so." The Bedouins practise horse-racing, and run for
bets, which are contested with ardor: on solemn occasions, they have rude
equestrian games, in which they display themselves and their animals. The
Gudabirsi, and indeed most of the Somal, sit loosely upon their horses.
Their saddle is a demi-pique, a high-backed wooden frame, like the
Egyptian fellah's: two light splinters leave a clear space for the spine,
and the tree is tightly bound with wet thongs: a sheepskin shabracque is
loosely spread over it, and the dwarf iron stirrup admits only the big
toe, as these people fear a stirrup which, if the horse fall, would
entangle the foot. Their bits are cruelly severe; a solid iron ring, as in
the Arab bridle, embracing the lower jaw, takes the place of a curb chain.
Some of the head-stalls, made at Berberah, are prettily made of cut
leather and bright steel ornaments like diminutive quoits. The whip is a
hard hide handle, plated with zinc, and armed with a single short broad
With the two sons of White Ali and the End of Time, at 8 A.M., on the 12th
December, I rode forward, leaving the jaded camels in charge of my
companions and the women. We crossed the plain in a south-westerly
direction, and after traversing rolling ground, we came to a ridge, which
commanded an extensive view. Behind lay the Wanauli Hills, already purple
in the distance. On our left was a mass of cones, each dignified by its
own name; no one, it is said, can ascend them, which probably means that
it would be a fatiguing walk. Here are the visitation-places of three
celebrated saints, Amud, Sau and Shaykh Sharlagamadi, or the "Hidden from
Evil," To the north-west I was shown some blue peaks tenanted by the Eesa
Somal. In front, backed by the dark hills of Harar, lay the Harawwah
valley. The breadth is about fifteen miles: it runs from south-west to
north-east, between the Highlands of the Girhi and the rolling ground of
the Gudabirsi Somal, as far, it is said, as the Dankali country. Of old
this luxuriant waste belonged to the former tribe; about twelve years ago
it was taken from them by the Gudabirsi, who carried off at the same time
thirty cows, forty camels, and between three and four hundred sheep and
Large herds tended by spearmen and grazing about the bush, warned us that
we were approaching the kraal in which the sons of White Ali were camped;
at half-past 10 A.M., after riding eight miles, we reached the place which
occupies the lower slope of the Northern Hills that enclose the Harawwah
valley. We spread our hides under a tree, and were soon surrounded by
Bedouins, who brought milk, sun-dried beef, ghee and honey in one of the
painted wooden bowls exported from Cutch. After breakfast, at which the
End of Time distinguished himself by dipping his meat into honey, we went
out gun in hand towards the bush. It swarmed with sand-antelope and
Gurnuk: the ground-squirrels haunted every ant-hill, hoopoos and spur-
fowls paced among the thickets, in the trees we heard the frequent cry of
the Gobiyan and the bird facetiously termed from its cry "Dobo-dogon-
guswen," and the bright-coloured hawk, the Abodi or Bakiyyah(29), lay on
wing high in the cloudless air.
When tired of killing we returned to our cow-hides, and sat in
conversation with the Bedouins. They boasted of the skill with which they
used the shield, and seemed not to understand the efficiency of a sword-
parry: to illustrate the novel idea I gave a stick to the best man,
provided myself in the same way, and allowed him to cut at me. After
repeated failures he received a sounding blow upon the least bony portion
of his person: the crowd laughed long and loud, and the pretending
"knight-at-arms" retired in confusion.
Darkness fell, but no caravan appeared: it had been delayed by a runaway
mule,—perhaps by the desire to restrain my vagrant propensities,—and did
not arrive till midnight. My hosts cleared a Gurgi for our reception,
brought us milk, and extended their hospitality to the full limits of even
Expecting to march on the 13th December soon after dawn, I summoned Beuh
and his brethren to the hut, reminding him that the Hajj had promised me
an escort without delay to the village of the Gerad Adan. To my instances
they replied that, although they were most anxious to oblige, the arrival
of Mudeh the eldest son rendered a consultation necessary; and retiring to
the woods, sat in palaver from 8 A.M. to past noon. At last they came to a
resolution which could not be shaken. They would not trust one of their
number in the Gerad's country; a horseman, however, should carry a letter
inviting the Girhi chief to visit his brothers-in-law. I was assured that
Adan would not drink water before mounting to meet us: but, fear is
reciprocal, there was evidently bad blood between them, and already a
knowledge of Somali customs caused me to suspect the result of our
mission. However, a letter was written reminding the Gerad of "the word
spoken under the tree," and containing, in case of recusance, a threat to
cut off the salt well at which his cows are periodically driven to drink.
Then came the bargain for safe conduct. After much haggling, especially on
the part of the handsome Igah, they agreed to receive twenty Tobes, three
bundles of tobacco, and fourteen cubits of indigo-dyed cotton. In addition
to this I offered as a bribe one of my handsome Abyssinian shirts with a
fine silk fringe made at Aden, to be received by the man Beuh on the day
of entering the Gerad's village.
I arose early in the next morning, having been promised by the Abbans
grand sport in the Harawwah Valley. The Somal had already divided the
elephants' spoils: they were to claim the hero's feather, I was to receive
two thirds of the ivory—nothing remained to be done but the killing.
After sundry pretences and prayers for delay, Beuh saddled his hack, the
Hammal mounted one mule, a stout-hearted Bedouin called Fahi took a
second, and we started to find the herds. The End of Time lagged in the
rear: the reflection that a mule cannot outrun an elephant, made him look
so ineffably miserable, that I sent him back to the kraal. "Dost thou
believe me to be a coward, 0 Pilgrim?" thereupon exclaimed the Mullah,
waxing bold in the very joy of his heart. "Of a truth I do!" was my reply.
Nothing abashed, he hammered his mule with heel, and departed ejaculating,
"What hath man but a single life? and he who throweth it away, what is he
but a fool?" Then we advanced with cocked guns, Beuh singing, Boanerges-
like, the Song of the Elephant.
In the Somali country, as amongst the Kafirs, after murdering a man or
boy, the death of an elephant is considered the act of heroism: most
tribes wear for it the hair-feather and the ivory bracelet. Some hunters,
like the Bushmen of the Cape(30), kill the Titan of the forests with
barbed darts carrying Waba-poison. The general way of hunting resembles
that of the Abyssinian Agageers described by Bruce. One man mounts a white
pony, and galloping before the elephant, induces him, as he readily does,
—firearms being unknown,—to charge and "chivy." The rider directs his
course along, and close to, some bush, where a comrade is concealed; and
the latter, as the animal passes at speed, cuts the back sinew of the hind
leg, where in the human subject the tendon Achilles would be, with a
sharp, broad and heavy knife.(31) This wound at first occasions little
inconvenience: presently the elephant, fancying, it is supposed, that a
thorn has stuck in his foot, stamps violently, and rubs the scratch till
the sinew is fairly divided. The animal, thus disabled, is left to perish
wretchedly of hunger and thirst: the tail, as amongst the Kafirs, is cut
off to serve as trophy, and the ivories are removed when loosened by
decomposition. In this part of Africa the elephant is never tamed.(32)
For six hours we rode the breadth of the Harawwah Valley: it was covered
with wild vegetation, and surface-drains, that carry off the surplus of
the hills enclosing it. In some places the torrent beds had cut twenty
feet into the soil. The banks were fringed with milk-bush and Asclepias,
the Armo-creeper, a variety of thorns, and especially the yellow-berried
Jujube: here numberless birds followed bright-winged butterflies, and the
"Shaykhs of the Blind," as the people call the black fly, settled in
swarms upon our hands and faces as we rode by. The higher ground was
overgrown with a kind of cactus, which here becomes a tree, forming shady
avenues. Its quadrangular fleshy branches of emerald green, sometimes
forty feet high, support upon their summits large round bunches of a
bright crimson berry: when the plantation is close, domes of extreme
beauty appear scattered over the surface of the country. This "Hassadin"
abounds in burning milk, and the Somal look downwards when passing under
its branches: the elephant is said to love it, and in many places the
trees were torn to pieces by hungry trunks. The nearest approaches to game
were the last year's earths; likely places, however, shady trees and green
thorns near water, were by no means uncommon. When we reached the valley's
southern wall, Beuh informed us that we might ride all day, if we pleased,
with the same result. At Zayla I had been informed that elephants are
"thick as sand" in Harawwah: even the Gudabirsi, when at a distance,
declared that they fed there like sheep, and, after our failure, swore
that they killed thirty but last year. The animals were probably in the
high Harirah Valley, and would be driven downwards by the cold at a later
period: some future Gordon Cumming may therefore succeed where the Hajj
Abdullah notably failed.
On the 15th December I persuaded the valiant Beuh, with his two brothers
and his bluff cousin Fahi, to cross the valley with us, After recovering a
mule which had strayed five miles back to the well, and composing sundry
quarrels between Shehrazade, whose swains had detained her from camel-
loading, and the Kalendar whose one eye flashed with indignation at her
conduct, we set out in a southerly direction. An hour's march brought us
to an open space surrounded by thin thorn forest: in the centre is an
ancient grave, about which are performed the equestrian games when the
turban of the Ugaz has been bound under the Holy Tree. Shepherds issued
from the bush to stare at us as we passed, and stretched forth the hand
for "Bori:" the maidens tripped forwards exclaiming, "Come, girls, let us
look at this prodigy!" and they never withheld an answer if civilly
addressed. Many of them were grown up, and not a few were old maids, the
result of the tribe's isolation; for here, as in Somaliland generally, the
union of cousins is abhorred. The ground of the valley is a stiff clay,
sprinkled with pebbles of primitive formation: the hills are mere rocks,
and the torrent banks with strata of small stones, showed a watermark
varying from ten to fifteen feet in height: in these Fiumaras we saw
frequent traces of the Edler-game, deer and hog. At 1 P.M. our camels and
mules were watered at wells in a broad wady called Jannah-Gaban or the
Little Garden; its course, I was told, lies northwards through the
Harawwah Valley to the Odla and Waruf, two depressions in the Wayma
country near Tajurrah. About half an hour afterwards we arrived at a
deserted sheepfold distant six miles from our last station. After
unloading we repaired to a neighbouring well, and found the water so hard
that it raised lumps like nettle stings in the bather's skin. The only
remedy for the evil is an unguent of oil or butter, a precaution which
should never be neglected by the African traveller. At first the sensation
of grease annoys, after a few days it is forgotten, and at last the "pat
of butter" is expected as pleasantly as the pipe or the cup of coffee. It
prevents the skin from chaps and sores, obviates the evil effects of heat,
cold, and wet, and neutralises the Proteus-like malaria poison. The Somal
never fail to anoint themselves when they can afford ghee, and the Bedouin
is at the summit of his bliss, when sitting in the blazing sun, or,—heat
acts upon these people as upon serpents,—with his back opposite a roaring
fire, he is being smeared, rubbed, and kneaded by a companion.
My guides, fearing lions and hyenas, would pass the night inside a foul
sheepfold: I was not without difficulty persuaded to join them. At eight
next morning we set out through an uninteresting thorn-bush towards one of
those Tetes or isolated hills which form admirable bench-marks in the
Somali country. "Koralay," a terra corresponding with our Saddle-back,
exactly describes its shape: pommel and crupper, in the shape of two huge
granite boulders, were all complete, and between them was a depression for
a seat. As day advanced the temperature changed from 50° to a maximum of
121°. After marching about five miles, we halted in a broad watercourse
called Gallajab, the "Plentiful Water": there we bathed, and dined on an
excellent camel which had broken its leg by falling from a bank.
Resuming our march at 5 P.M., we travelled over ascending ground which
must be most fertile after rain: formerly it belonged to the Girhi, and
the Gudabirsi boasted loudly of their conquest. After an hour's march we
reached the base of Koralay, upon whose lower slopes appeared a pair of
the antelopes called Alakud(33): they are tame, easily shot, and eagerly
eaten by the Bedouins. Another hour of slow travelling brought us to a
broad Fiumara with high banks of stiff clay thickly wooded and showing a
water-mark eighteen feet above the sand. The guides named these wells
Agjogsi, probably a generic term signifying that water is standing close
by. Crossing the Fiumara we ascended a hill, and found upon the summit a
large kraal alive with heads of kine. The inhabitants flocked out to stare
at us and the women uttered cries of wonder. I advanced towards the
prettiest, and fired my rifle by way of salute over her head. The people
delighted, exclaimed, Mod! Mod!—"Honor to thee!"—and we replied with
shouts of Kulliban—"May Heaven aid ye!"(34) At 5 P.M., after five miles'
march, the camels were unloaded in a deserted kraal whose high fence
denoted danger of wild beasts. The cowherds bade us beware of lions: but a
day before a girl had been dragged out of her hut, and Moslem burial could
be given to only one of her legs. A Bedouin named Uddao, whom we hired as
mule-keeper, was ordered to spend the night singing, and, as is customary
with Somali watchmen, to address and answer himself dialogue-wise with a
different voice, in order to persuade thieves that several men are on the
alert. He was a spectacle of wildness as he sat before the blazing fire,—
his joy by day, his companion and protector in the shades, the only step
made by him in advance of his brethren the Cynocephali.
We were detained four days at Agjogsi by the nonappearance of the Gerad
Adan: this delay gave me an opportunity of ascending to the summit of
Koralay the Saddleback, which lay about a mile north of our encampment. As
we threaded the rocks and hollows of the side we came upon dens strewed
with cows' bones, and proving by a fresh taint that the tenants had lately
quitted them. In this country the lion is seldom seen unless surprised
asleep in his lair of thicket: during my journey, although at times the
roaring was heard all night, I saw but one. The people have a superstition
that the king of beasts will not attack a single traveller, because such a
person, they say, slew the mother of all the lions: except in darkness or
during violent storms, which excite the fiercer carnivors, he is a timid
animal, much less feared by the people than the angry and agile leopard.
Unable to run with rapidity when pressed by hunger, he pursues a party of
travellers stealthily as a cat, and, arrived within distance, springs,
strikes down the hindermost, and carries him away to the bush.
From the summit of Koralay, we had a fair view of the surrounding country.
At least forty kraals, many of them deserted, lay within the range of
sight. On all sides except the north-west and south-east was a mass of
sombre rock and granite hill: the course of the valleys between the
several ranges was denoted by a lively green, and the plains scattered in
patches over the landscape shone with dull yellow, the effect of clay and
stubble, whilst a light mist encased the prospect in a circlet of blue and
silver. Here the End of Time conceived the jocose idea of crowning me king
of the country. With loud cries of Buh! Buh! Buh! he showered leaves of a
gum tree and a little water from a prayer bottle over my head, and then
with all solemnity bound on the turban.(35) It is perhaps fortunate that
this facetiousness was not witnessed: a crowd of Bedouins assembled below
the hill, suspecting as usual some magical practices, and, had they known
the truth, our journey might have ended abruptly. Descending, I found
porcupines' quills in abundance(36), and shot a rock pigeon called Elal-
jog—the "Dweller at wells." At the foot a "Baune" or Hyrax Abyssinicus,
resembling the Coney of Palestine(37), was observed at its favourite
pastime of sunning itself upon the rocks.
On the evening of the 20th December the mounted messenger returned, after
a six hours' hard ride, bringing back unopened the letter addressed by me
to the Gerad, and a private message from their sister to the sons of White
Ali, advising them not to advance. Ensued terrible palavers. It appeared
that the Gerad was upon the point of mounting horse, when his subjects
swore him to remain and settle a dispute with the Amir of Harar. Our
Abbans, however, withdrew their hired camels, positively refuse to
accompany us, and Beuh privily informed the End of Time that I had
acquired through the land the evil reputation of killing everything, from
an elephant to a bird in the air. One of the younger brethren, indeed,
declared that we were forerunners of good, and that if the Gerad harmed a
hair of our heads, he would slaughter every Girhi under the sun. We had,
however, learned properly to appreciate such vaunts, and the End of Time
drily answered that their sayings were honey but their doings myrrh. Being
a low-caste and a shameless tribe, they did not reply to our reproaches.
At last, a manoeuvre was successful: Beuh and his brethren, who squatted
like sulky children in different places, were dismissed with thanks,—we
proposed placing ourselves under the safeguard of Gerad Hirsi, the Berteri
chief. This would have thrown the protection-price, originally intended
for their brother-in-law, into the hands of a rival, and had the effect of
altering their resolve. Presently we were visited by two Widad or hedge-
priests, Ao Samattar and Ao Nur(38), both half-witted fellows, but active
and kindhearted. The former wore a dirty turban, the latter a Zebid cap, a
wicker-work calotte, composed of the palm leaf's mid-rib: they carried
dressed goatskins, as prayer carpets, over their right shoulders dangled
huge wooden ink bottles with Lauh or wooden tablets for writing talismans(39), and from the left hung a greasy bag, containing a tattered copy of
the Koran and a small MS. of prayers. They read tolerably, but did not
understand Arabic, and I presented them with cheap Bombay lithographs of
the Holy Book. The number of these idlers increased as we approached
Harar, the Alma Mater of Somali land:—the people seldom listen to their
advice, but on this occasion Ao Samattar succeeded in persuading the
valiant Beuh that the danger was visionary. Soon afterwards rode up to our
kraal three cavaliers, who proved to be sons of Adam, the future Ugaz of
the Gudabirsi tribe: this chief had fully recognized the benefits of
reopening to commerce a highway closed by their petty feuds, and sent to
say that, in consequence of his esteem for the Hajj Sharmarkay, if the
sons of White Ali feared to escort us, he in person would do the deed.
Thereupon Beuh became a "Gesi" or hero, as the End of Time ironically
called him: he sent back his brethren with their horses and camels, and
valorously prepared to act as our escort. I tauntingly asked him what he
now thought of the danger. For all reply he repeated the words, with which
the Bedouins—who, like the Arabs, have a holy horror of towns—had been
dinning daily into my ears, "They will spoil that white skin of thine at
At 3 P.M., on the 21st December, we started in a westerly direction
through a gap in the hills, and presently turned to the south-west, over
rapidly rising ground, thickly inhabited, and covered with flocks and
herds. About 5 P.M., after marching two miles, we raised our wigwam
outside a populous kraal, a sheep was provided by the hospitality of Ao
Samattar, and we sat deep into the night enjoying a genial blaze.
Early the next morning we had hoped to advance: water, however, was
wanting, and a small caravan was slowly gathering;—these details delayed
us till 4 P.M. Our line lay westward, over rising ground, towards a
conspicuous conical hill called Konti. Nothing could be worse for camels
than the rough ridges at the foot of the mountain, full of thickets, cut
by deep Fiumaras, and abounding in dangerous watercourses: the burdens
slipped now backwards then forwards, sometimes the load was almost dragged
off by thorns, and at last we were obliged to leave one animal to follow
slowly in the rear. After creeping on two miles, we bivouacked in a
deserted cow-kraal,—sub dio, as it was warm under the hills. That
evening our party was increased by a Gudabirsi maiden in search of a
husband: she was surlily received by Shehrazade and Deenarzade, but we
insisted upon her being fed, and superintended the operation. Her style of
eating was peculiar; she licked up the rice from the hollow of her hand.
Next morning she was carried away in our absence, greatly against her
will, by some kinsmen who had followed her.
And now, bidding adieu to the Gudabirsi, I will briefly sketch the tribe.
The Gudabirsi, or Gudabursi, derive themselves from Dir and Aydur, thus
claiming affinity with the Eesa: others declare their tribe to be an
offshoot from the Bahgoba clan of the Habr Awal, originally settled near
Jebel Almis, and Bulhar, on the sea-shore. The Somal unhesitatingly
stigmatize them as a bastard and ignoble race: a noted genealogist once
informed me, that they were little better than Midgans or serviles. Their
ancestors' mother, it is said, could not name the father of her child:
some proposed to slay it, others advocated its preservation, saying,
"Perhaps we shall increase by it!" Hence the name of the tribe.(40)
The Gudabirsi are such inveterate liars that I could fix for them no
number between 3000 and 10,000. They own the rough and rolling ground
diversified with thorny hill and grassy vale, above the first or seaward
range of mountains; and they have extended their lands by conquest towards
Harar, being now bounded in that direction by the Marar Prairie. As usual,
they are subdivided into a multitude of clans.(41)
In appearance the Gudabirsi are decidedly superior to their limitrophes
the Eesa. I have seen handsome faces amongst the men as well as the women.
Some approach closely to the Caucasian type: one old man, with olive-
coloured skin, bald brow, and white hair curling round his temples, and
occiput, exactly resembled an Anglo-Indian veteran. Generally, however,
the prognathous mouth betrays an African origin, and chewing tobacco mixed
with ashes stains the teeth, blackens the gums, and mottles the lips. The
complexion is the Abyssinian cafe au lait, contrasting strongly with the
sooty skins of the coast; and the hair, plentifully anointed with rancid
butter, hangs from the head in lank corkscrews the colour of a Russian
pointer's coat. The figure is rather squat, but broad and well set.
The Gudabirsi are as turbulent and unmanageable, though not so
bloodthirsty, as the Eesa. Their late chief, Ugaz Roblay of the Bait
Samattar sept, left children who could not hold their own: the turban was
at once claimed by a rival branch, the Rer Abdillah, and a civil war
ensued. The lovers of legitimacy will rejoice to hear that when I left the
country, Galla, son of the former Prince Rainy, was likely to come to his
The stranger's life is comparatively safe amongst this tribe: as long as
he feeds and fees them, he may even walk about unarmed. They are, however,
liars even amongst the Somal, Bobadils amongst boasters, inveterate
thieves, and importunate beggars. The smooth-spoken fellows seldom betray
emotion except when cloth or tobacco is concerned; "dissimulation is as
natural to them as breathing," and I have called one of their chiefs "dog"
without exciting his indignation.
The commerce of these wild regions is at present in a depressed state:
were the road safe, traffic with the coast would be considerable. The
profit on hides, for instance, at Aden, would be at least cent. per cent.:
the way, however, is dangerous, and detention is frequent, consequently
the gain will not remunerate for risk and loss of time. No operation can
be undertaken in a hurry, consequently demand cannot readily be supplied.
What Laing applies to Western, may be repeated of Eastern Africa: "the
endeavour to accelerate an undertaking is almost certain to occasion its
failure." Nowhere is patience more wanted, in order to perform perfect
work. The wealth of the Gudabirsi consists principally in cattle,
peltries, hides, gums, and ghee. The asses are dun-coloured, small, and
weak; the camels large, loose, and lazy; the cows are pretty animals, with
small humps, long horns, resembling the Damara cattle, and in the grazing
season with plump, well-rounded limbs; there is also a bigger breed, not
unlike that of Tuscany. The standard is the Tobe of coarse canvass; worth
about three shillings at Aden, here it doubles in value. The price of a
good camel varies from six to eight cloths; one Tobe buys a two-year-old
heifer, three, a cow between three and four years old. A ewe costs half a
cloth: the goat, although the flesh is according to the Somal nutritive,
whilst "mutton is disease," is a little cheaper than the sheep. Hides and
peltries are usually collected at and exported from Harar; on the coast
they are rubbed over with salt, and in this state carried to Aden. Cows'
skins fetch a quarter of a dollar, or about one shilling in cloth, and two
dollars are the extreme price for the Kurjah or score of goats' skins. The
people of the interior have a rude way of tanning(42); they macerate the
hide, dress, and stain it of a deep calf-skin colour with the bark of a
tree called Jirmah, and lastly the leather is softened with the hand. The
principal gum is the Adad, or Acacia Arabica: foreign merchants purchase
it for about half a dollar per Farasilah of twenty pounds: cow's and
sheep's butter may fetch a dollar's worth of cloth for the measure of
thirty-two pounds. This great article of commerce is good and pure in the
country, whereas at Berberah, the Habr Awal adulterate it, previous to
exportation, with melted sheep's tails.
The principal wants of the country which we have traversed are coarse
cotton cloth, Surat tobacco, beads, and indigo-dyed stuffs for women's
coifs. The people would also be grateful for any improvement in their
breed of horses, and when at Aden I thought of taking with me some old
Arab stallions as presents to chiefs. Fortunately the project fell to the
ground: a strange horse of unusual size or beauty, in these regions, would
be stolen at the end of the first march.
(1) Every hill and peak, ravine and valley, will be known by some striking
epithet: as Borad, the White Hill; Libahlay, the Lions' Mountain; and so
(2)The Arabs call it Kakatua, and consider it a species of parrot. The
name Cacatoes, is given by the Cape Boers, according to Delegorgue, to the
Coliphymus Concolor. The Gobiyan resembles in shape and flight our magpie,
it has a crest and a brown coat with patches of white, and a noisy note
like a frog. It is very cunning and seldom affords a second shot.
(3) The berries of the Armo are eaten by children, and its leaves, which
never dry up, by the people in times of famine; they must be boiled or the
acrid juice would excoriate the mouth.
(4) Siyaro is the Somali corruption of the Arabic Ziyarat, which,
synonymous with Mazar, means a place of pious visitation.
(5)The Somal call the insect Abor, and its hill Dundumo.
(6)The corrupted Portuguese word used by African travellers; in the
Western regions it is called Kelder, and the Arabs term it "Kalam."
(7)Three species of the Dar or Aloe grow everywhere in the higher regions
of the Somali country. The first is called Dar Main, the inside of its
peeled leaf is chewed when water cannot be procured. The Dar Murodi or
Elephant's aloe is larger and useless: the Dar Digwen or Long-eared
resembles that of Socotra.
(8)The Hig is called "Salab" by the Arabs, who use its long tough fibre
for ropes. Patches of this plant situated on moist ground at the foot of
hills, are favourite places with sand antelope, spur-fowl and other game.
(9)The Darnel or pod has a sweetish taste, not unlike that of a withered
pea; pounded and mixed with milk or ghee, it is relished by the Bedouins
when vegetable food is scarce.
(10)Dobo in the Somali tongue signifies mud or clay.
(11) The Loajira (from "Loh," a cow) is a neatherd; the "Geljira" is the
man who drives camels.
(12) For these we paid twenty-four oubits of canvass, and two of blue
cotton; equivalent to about three shillings.
(13)The natives call them Jana; they are about three-fourths of an inch
long, and armed with stings that prick like thorns and burn violently for
a few minutes.
(14) Near Berberah, where the descents are more rapid, such panoramas are
(15)This is the celebrated Waba, which produces the Somali Wabayo, a
poison applied to darts and arrows. It is a round stiff evergreen, not
unlike a bay, seldom taller than twenty feet, affecting hill sides and
torrent banks, growing in clumps that look black by the side of the
Acacias; thornless, with a laurel-coloured leaf, which cattle will not
touch, unless forced by famine, pretty bunches of pinkish white flowers,
and edible berries black and ripening to red. The bark is thin, the wood
yellow, compact, exceedingly tough and hard, the root somewhat like
liquorice; the latter is prepared by trituration and other processes, and
the produce is a poison in substance and colour resembling pitch.
Travellers have erroneously supposed the arrow poison of Eastern Africa to
be the sap of a Euphorbium. The following "observations accompanying a
substance procured near Aden, and used by the Somalis to poison their
arrows," by F. S. Arnott, Esq., M.D., will be read with interest.
"In February 1853, Dr. Arnott had forwarded to him a watery extract
prepared from the root of a tree, described as 'Wabie,' a toxicodendron
from the Somali country on the Habr Gerhajis range of the Goolies
mountains. The tree grows to the height of twenty feet. The poison is
obtained by boiling the root in water, until it attains the consistency of
an inspissated juice. When cool the barb of the arrow is anointed with the
juice, which, is regarded as a virulent poison, and it renders a wound
tainted therewith incurable. Dr. Arnott was informed that death usually
took place within an hour; that the hairs and nails dropped off after
death, and it was believed that the application of heat assisted its
poisonous qualities. He could not, however ascertain the quantity made use
of by the Somalis, and doubted if the point of an arrow would convey a
sufficient quantity to produce such immediate effects. He had tested its
powers in some other experiments, besides the ones detailed, and although
it failed in several instances, yet he was led to the conclusion that it
was a very powerful narcotic irritant poison. He had not, however,
observed the local effect said to be produced upon the point of
"The following trials were described:—
"1. A little was inserted into the inside of the ear of a sickly sheep,
and death occurred in two hours.
"2. A little was inserted into, the inside of the ear of a healthy sheep,
and death occurred in two hours, preceded by convulsions.
"3. Five grains were given to a dog; vomiting took place after an hour,
and death in three or four hours.
"4. One grain was swallowed by a fowl, but no effect produced.
"5. Three grains were given to a sheep, but without producing any effect.
"6. A small quantity was inserted into the ear and shoulder of a dog, but
no effect was produced.
"7. Upon the same dog two days after, the same quantity was inserted into
the thigh; death occurred in less than two hours.
"8. Seven grains were given to a sheep without any effect whatever.
"9. To a dog five grains were administered, but it was rejected by
vomiting; this was again repeated on the following day, with the same
result. On the same day four grains were inserted into a wound upon the
same dog; it produced violent effects in ten, and death in thirty-five,
"10. To a sheep two grains in solution were given without any effect being
produced. The post-mortem appearances observed were, absence of all traces
of inflammation, collapse of the lungs, and distension of the cavities of
Further experiments of the Somali arrow poison by B. Haines, M. B.,
assistant surgeon (from Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society
of Bombay. No. 2. new series 1853-1854.)
"Having while at Ahmednuggur received from the secretary a small quantity
of Somali arrow poison, alluded to by Mr. Vaughan in his notes on articles
of the Materia Medica, and published in the last volume of the Society's
Transactions, and called 'Wabie,' the following experiments were made with
"September 17th. 1. A small healthy rabbit was taken, and the skin over
the hip being divided, a piece of the poisonous extract about the size of
a corn of wheat was inserted into the cellular tissue beneath: thirty
minutes afterwards, seems disinclined to move, breathing quicker, passed *
*: one hour, again passed * * * followed by * * *; has eaten a little: one
hour and a half, appears quite to have recovered from his uneasiness, and
has become as lively as before. (This rabbit was made use of three days
afterwards for the third experiment.)
"2. A full-grown rabbit. Some of the poison being dissolved in water a
portion of the solution corresponding to about fifteen grains was injected
into an opening in the peritoneum, so large a quantity being used, in
consequence of the apparent absence of effect in the former case: five
minutes, he appears to be in pain, squeaking occasionally; slight
convulsive retractions of the head and neck begin to take place, passed a
small quantity of * *: ten minutes, the spasms are becoming more frequent,
but are neither violent nor prolonged, respiration scarcely perceptible;
he now fell on his side: twelve minutes, several severe general
convulsions came on, and at the end of another minute he was quite dead,
the pulsation being for the last minute quite imperceptible. The chest was
instantly opened, but there was no movement of the heart whatever.
"September 20th. 3. The rabbit used for the first experiment was taken and
an attempt was made to inject a little filtered solution into the jugular
rein, which failed from the large size of the nozzle of the syringe; a
good deal of blood was lost. A portion of the solution corresponding to
about two grains and a half of the poison was then injected into a small
opening made in the pleura. Nine minutes afterwards: symptoms precisely
resembling those in number two began to appear. Fourteen minutes:
convulsions more violent; fell on his side. Sixteen minutes, died.
"4. A portion of the poison, as much as could be applied, was smeared over
the square iron head of an arrow, and allowed to dry. The arrow was then
shot into the buttock of a goat with sufficient force to carry the head
out of sight; twenty minutes afterwards, no effect whatever having
followed, the arrow was extracted. The poison had become softened and was
wiped completely off two of the sides, and partly off the two other sides.
The animal appeared to suffer very little pain from the wound; he was kept
for a fortnight, and then died, but not apparently from any cause
connected with the wound. In fact he was previously diseased.
Unfortunately the seat of the wound was not then examined, but a few days
previously it appeared to have healed of itself. In the rabbit of the
former experiment, three days after the insertion of the poison in the
wound, the latter was closed with a dry coagulum and presented no marks of
inflammation around it.
"5. Two good-sized village dogs being secured, to each after several
hours' fasting, were given about five grains enveloped in meat. The
smaller one chewed it a long time, and frothed much at the mouth. He
appeared to swallow very little of it, but the larger one ate the whole up
without difficulty. After more than two hours no effect whatever being
perceptible in either animal, they were shot to get rid of them. These
experiments, though not altogether complete, certainly establish the fact
that it is a poison of no very great activity. The quantity made use of in
the second experiment was too great to allow a fair deduction to be made
as to its properties. When a fourth to a sixth of the quantity was
employed in the third experiment the same effects followed, but with
rather less rapidity; death resulting in the one case in ten, in the other
in sixteen minutes, although the death in the latter case was perhaps
hastened by the loss of blood. The symptoms more resemble those produced
by nux vomica than by any other agent. No apparent drowsiness, spasms,
slight at first, beginning in the neck, increasing in intensity, extending
over the whole body, and finally stopping respiration and with it the
action of the heart. Experiments first and fourth show that a moderate
quantity, such as may be introduced on the point of an arrow, produced no
sensible effect either on a goat or a rabbit, and it could scarcely be
supposed that it would have more on a man than on the latter animal; and
the fifth experiment proves that a full dose taken into the stomach
produces no result within a reasonable time.
"The extract appeared to have been very carelessly prepared. It contained
much earthy matter, and even small stones, and a large proportion of what
seemed to be oxidized extractive matter also was left undisturbed when it
was treated with water: probably it was not a good specimen. It seems,
however, to keep well, and shows no disposition to become mouldy."
(16)The Somal divide their year into four seasons:—
1. Gugi (monsoon, from "Gug," rain) begins in April, is violent for forty-
four days and subsides in August. Many roads may be traversed at this
season, which are death in times of drought; the country becomes "Barwako
"(in Arabic Rakha, a place of plenty,) forage and water abound, the air is
temperate, and the light showers enliven the traveller.
2. Haga is the hot season after the monsoon, and corresponding with our
autumn: the country suffers from the Fora, a violent dusty Simum, which is
allayed by a fall of rain called Karan.
3. Dair, the beginning of the cold season, opens the sea to shipping. The
rain which then falls is called Dairti or Hais: it comes with a west-
south-west wind from the hills of Harar.
4. Jilal is the dry season from December to April. The country then
becomes Abar (in Arabic Jahr,) a place of famine: the Nomads migrate to
the low plains, where pasture is procurable. Some reckon as a fifth season
Kalil, or the heats between Jilal and the monsoon.
(17) According to Bruce this tree flourishes everywhere on the low hot
plains between, the Red Sea and the Abyssinian hills. The Gallas revere it
and plant it over sacerdotal graves. It suggests the Fetiss trees of
Western Africa, and the Hiero-Sykaminon of Egypt.
(18) There are two species of this bird, both called by the Somal,
"Daudaulay" from their tapping.
(19)The limbs are perfumed with the "Hedi," and "Karanli," products of
the Ugadayn or southern country.
(20)This great oath suggests the litholatry of the Arabs, derived from
the Abyssinian and Galla Sabaeans; it is regarded by the Eesa and Gudabirsi
Bedouins as even more binding than the popular religious adjurations. When
a suspected person denies his guilt, the judge places a stone before him,
saying "Tabo!" (feel!); the liar will seldom dare to touch it. Sometimes a
Somali will take up a stone and say "Dagaha," (it is a stone,) he may then
generally be believed.
(21)Kariyah is the Arabic word.
(220)In the northern country the water-proofing matter is, according to
travellers, the juice of the Quolquol, a species of Euphorbium.
(23)The flies are always most troublesome where cows have been; kraals of
goats and camels are comparatively free from the nuisance.
(24)Some years ago a French lady landed at Berberah: her white face,
according to the End of Time, made every man hate his wife and every wife
hate herself. I know not who the fair dame was: her charms and black silk
dress, however, have made a lasting impression upon the Somali heart; from
the coast to Harar she is still remembered with rapture.
(25) The Abyssinian Brindo of omophagean fame is not eaten by the Somal,
who always boil, broil, or sun-dry their flesh. They have, however, no
idea of keeping it, whereas the more civilised citizens of Harar hang
their meat till tender.
(26)Whilst other animals have indigenous names, the horse throughout the
Somali country retains the Arab appellation "Faras." This proves that the
Somal, like their progenitors the Gallas, originally had no cavalry. The
Gudabirsi tribe has but lately mounted itself by making purchases of the
Habr Gerhajis and the Habr Awal herds.
(27)The milch cow is here worth two Tobes, or about six shillings.
(28)Particularly amongst the windward tribes visited by Lieut.
Cruttenden, from whom I borrow this description.
(29)This beautiful bird, with a black and crimson plume, and wings lined
with silver, soars high and seldom descends except at night: its shyness
prevented my shooting a specimen. The Abodi devours small deer and birds:
the female lays a single egg in a large loose nest on the summit of a tall
tree, and she abandons her home when the hand of man has violated it. The
Somal have many superstitions connected with this hawk: if it touch a
child the latter dies, unless protected by the talismanic virtues of the
"Hajar Abodi," a stone found in the bird's body. As it frequently swoops
upon children carrying meat, the belief has doubtlessly frequently
(30)The Bushman creeps close to the beast and wounds it in the leg or
stomach with a diminutive dart covered with a couch of black poison: if a
drop of blood appear, death results from the almost unfelt wound.
(31)So the Veddahs of Ceylon are said to have destroyed the elephant by
shooting a tiny arrow into the sole of the foot. The Kafirs attack it in
bodies armed with sharp and broad-head "Omkondo" or assegais: at last, one
finds the opportunity of cutting deep into the hind back sinew, and so
disables the animal.
(32) The traveller Delegorgue asserts that the Boers induce the young
elephant to accompany them, by rubbing upon its trunk the hand wetted with
the perspiration of the huntsman's brow, and that the calf, deceived by
the similarity of smell, believes that it is with its dam. The fact is,
that the orphan elephant, like the bison, follows man because it fears to
be left alone.
(33) An antelope, about five hands high with small horns, which inhabits
the high ranges of the mountains, generally in couples, resembles the musk
deer, and is by no means shy, seldom flying till close pressed; when
running it hops awkwardly upon the toes and never goes far.
(34)These are solemn words used in the equestrian games of the Somal.
(35) Sometimes milk is poured over the head, as gold and silver in the
Nuzzeranah of India. These ceremonies are usually performed by low-caste
men; the free-born object to act in them.
(36) The Somal call it Hiddik or Anukub; the quills are used as head
scratchers, and are exported to Aden for sale.
(37) I It appears to be the Ashkoko of the Amharas, identified by Bruce
with the Saphan of the Hebrews. This coney lives in chinks and holes of
rocks: it was never seen by me on the plains. The Arabs eat it, the Somal
generally do not.
(38) The prefix appears to be a kind of title appropriated by saints and
(39) These charms are washed off and drunk by the people: an economical
proceeding where paper is scarce.
(40) "Birsan" in Somali, meaning to increase.
(41) The Ayyal Yunis, the principal clan, contains four septs viz.:—
1. Jibril Yunis.
2. Nur Yunis.
3. Ali Yunis.
4. Adan Yunis.
The other chief clans are—
1. Mikahil Dera.
2. Rer Ugaz.
4. Rer Mohammed Asa.
5. Musa Fin.
6. Rer Abokr.
8. Bahabr Hasan.
9. Abdillah Mikahil.
10. Hasan Mikahil.
11. Eyah Mikahil
12. Hasan Waraba.
 The best prayer-skins are made at Ogadayn; there they cost about
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