7: From the Marar Prairie to Harar
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Early on the 23rd December assembled the Caravan, which we were destined
to escort across the Marar Prairie. Upon this neutral ground the Eesa,
Berteri, and Habr Awal meet to rob and plunder unhappy travellers. The
Somal shuddered at the sight of a wayfarer, who rushed into our encampment
in cuerpo, having barely run away with his life. Not that our caravan
carried much to lose,—a few hides and pots of clarified butter, to be
exchanged for the Holcus grain of the Girhi cultivators,—still the
smallest contributions are thankfully received by these plunderers. Our
material consisted of four or five half-starved camels, about fifty
donkeys with ears cropped as a mark, and their eternal accompaniments in
Somali land, old women. The latter seemed to be selected for age,
hideousness, and strength: all day they bore their babes smothered in
hides upon their backs, and they carried heavy burdens apparently without
fatigue. Amongst them was a Bedouin widow, known by her "Wer," a strip of
the inner bark of a tree tied round the greasy fillet.(1)We were
accompanied by three Widads, provided with all the instruments of their
craft, and uncommonly tiresome companions. They recited Koran a tort et a travers: at every moment they proposed Fatihahs, the name of Allah was
perpetually upon their lips, and they discussed questions of divinity,
like Gil Blas and his friends, with a violence bordering upon frenzy. One
of them was celebrated for his skill in the "Fal," or Omens: he was
constantly consulted by my companions, and informed them that we had
nought to fear except from wild beasts. The prediction was a good hit: I
must own, however, that it was not communicated to me before fulfilment.
At half past six A.M. we began our march over rough and rising ground, a
network of thorns and water-courses, and presently entered a stony gap
between two ranges of hills. On our right was a conical peak, bearing the
remains of buildings upon its summit. Here, said Abtidon, a wild Gudabirsi
hired to look after our mules, rests the venerable Shaykh Samawai. Of old,
a number of wells existed in the gaps between the hills: these have
disappeared with those who drank of them.
Presently we entered the Barr or Prairie of Marar, one of the long strips
of plain which diversify the Somali country. Its breadth, bounded on the
east by the rolling ground over which we had passed, on the west by
Gurays, a range of cones offshooting from the highlands of Harar, is about
twenty-seven miles. The general course is north and south: in the former
direction, it belongs to the Eesa: in the latter may be seen the peaks of
Kadau and Madir, the property of the Habr Awal tribes; and along these
ranges it extends, I was told, towards Ogadayn. The surface of the plain
is gently rolling ground; the black earth, filled with the holes of small
beasts, would be most productive, and the outer coat is an expanse of
tall, waving, sunburnt grass, so unbroken, that from a distance it
resembles the nap of yellow velvet. In the frequent Wadys, which carry off
the surplus rain of the hills, scrub and thorn trees grow in dense
thickets, and the grass is temptingly green. Yet the land lies fallow:
water and fuel are scarce at a distance from the hills, and the wildest
Bedouins dare not front the danger of foraging parties, the fatal heats of
day, and the killing colds of night. On the edges of the plain, however,
are frequent vestiges of deserted kraals.
About mid-day, we crossed a depression in the centre, where Acacias
supplied us with gum for luncheon, and sheltered flocks of antelope. I
endeavoured to shoot the white-tailed Sig, and the large dun Oryx; but the
brouhaha of the Caravan prevented execution. Shortly afterwards we came
upon patches of holcus, which had grown wild, from seeds scattered by
travellers. This was the first sight of grain that gladdened my eyes since
I left Bombay: the grave of the First Murderer never knew a Triptolemus
(2), and Zayla is a barren flat of sand. My companions eagerly devoured
the pith of this African "sweet cane," despite its ill reputation for
causing fever. I followed their example, and found it almost as good as
bad sugar. The Bedouins loaded their spare asses with the bitter gourd,
called Ubbah; externally it resembles the water melon, and becomes, when
shaped, dried, and smoked, the wickerwork of the Somal, and the pottery of
more civilized people.
Towards evening, as the setting sun sank slowly behind the distant western
hills, the colour of the Prairie changed from glaring yellow to a golden
hue, mantled with a purple flush inexpressibly lovely. The animals of the
waste began to appear. Shy lynxes(3) and jackals fattened by many sheep's
tails(4), warned my companions that fierce beasts were nigh, ominous
anecdotes were whispered, and I was told that a caravan had lately lost
nine asses by lions. As night came on, the Bedouin Kafilah, being lightly
loaded, preceded us, and our tired camels lagged far behind. We were
riding in rear to prevent straggling, when suddenly my mule, the
hindermost, pricked his ears uneasily, and attempted to turn his head.
Looking backwards, I distinguished the form of a large animal following us
with quick and stealthy strides. My companions would not fire, thinking it
was a man: at last a rifle-ball, pinging through the air—the moon was too
young for correct shooting—put to flight a huge lion. The terror excited
by this sort of an adventure was comical to look upon: the valiant Beuh,
who, according to himself, had made his preuves in a score of foughten
fields, threw his arms in the air, wildly shouting Libah! Libah!!—the
lion! the lion!!—and nothing else was talked of that evening.
The ghostly western hills seemed to recede as we advanced over the endless
rolling plain. Presently the ground became broken and stony, the mules
stumbled in deep holes, and the camels could scarcely crawl along. As we
advanced our Widads, who, poor devils! had been "roasted" by the women all
day on account of their poverty, began to recite the Koran with might, in
gratitude for having escaped many perils. Night deepening, our attention
was rivetted by a strange spectacle; a broad sheet of bright blaze,
reminding me of Hanno's fiery river, swept apparently down a hill, and,
according to my companions, threatened the whole prairie. These accidents
are common: a huntsman burns a tree for honey, or cooks his food in the
dry grass, the wind rises and the flames spread far and wide. On this
occasion no accident occurred; the hills, however, smoked like a Solfatara
for two days.
About 9 P.M. we heard voices, and I was told to discharge my rifle lest
the kraal be closed to us; in due time we reached a long, low, dark line
of sixty or seventy huts, disposed in a circle, so as to form a fence,
with a few bushes—thorns being hereabouts rare—in the gaps between the
abodes. The people, a mixture of Girhi and Gudabirsi Bedouins, swarmed out
to gratify their curiosity, but we were in no humour for long
conversations. Our luggage was speedily disposed in a heap near the kraal,
the mules and camels were tethered for the night, then, supperless and
shivering with cold, we crept under our mats and fell asleep. That day we
had ridden nearly fifteen hours; our halting place lay about thirty miles
from, and 240° south-west of, Koralay.
After another delay, and a second vain message to the Gerad Adan, about
noon appeared that dignitary's sixth wife, sister to the valiant Beuh. Her
arrival disconcerted my companions, who were too proud to be protected by
a woman. "Dahabo," however, relieved their anxiety by informing us that
the Gerad had sent his eldest son Sherwa, as escort. This princess was a
gipsy-looking dame, coarsely dressed, about thirty years old, with a gay
leer, a jaunty demeanour, and the reputation of being "fast;" she showed
little shame-facedness when I saluted her, and received with noisy joy the
appropriate present of a new and handsome Tobe. About 4 P.M. returned our
second messenger, bearing with him a reproving message from the Gerad, for
not visiting him without delay; in token of sincerity, he forwarded his
baton, a knobstick about two feet long, painted in rings of Cutch colours,
red, black, and yellow alternately, and garnished on the summit with a
ball of similar material.
At dawn on the 26th December, mounted upon a little pony, came Sherwa,
heir presumptive to the Gerad Adan's knobstick. His father had sent him to
us three days before, but he feared the Gudabirsi as much as the Gudabirsi
feared him, and he probably hung about our camp till certain that it was
safe to enter. We received him politely, and he in acknowledgment
positively declared that Beuh should not return before eating honey in his
cottage. Our Abban's heroism now became infectious. Even the End of Time,
whose hot valour had long since fallen below zero, was inspired by the
occasion, and recited, as usual with him in places and at times of extreme
safety, the Arabs' warrior lines—
"I have crossed the steed since my eyes saw light,
I have fronted death till he feared my sight,
And the cleaving of helm, and the riving of mail
Were the dreams of my youth,—are my manhood's delight."
As we had finished loading, a mule's bridle was missed. Sherwa ordered
instant restitution to his father's stranger, on the ground that all the
property now belonged to the Gerad; and we, by no means idle, fiercely
threatened to bewitch the kraal. The article was presently found hard by,
on a hedge. This was the first and last case of theft which occurred to us
in the Somali country;—I have travelled through most civilised lands, and
have lost more.
At 8 A.M. we marched towards the north-west, along the southern base of
the Gurays hills, and soon arrived at the skirt of the prairie, where a
well-trodden path warned us that we were about to quit the desert. After
advancing six miles in line we turned to the right, and recited a Fatihah
over the heap of rough stones, where, shadowed by venerable trees, lie the
remains of the great Shaykh Abd el Malik. A little beyond this spot, rises
suddenly from the plain a mass of castellated rock, the subject of many a
wild superstition. Caravans always encamp beneath it, as whoso sleeps upon
the summit loses his senses to evil spirits. At some future day Harar will
be destroyed, and "Jannah Siri" will become a flourishing town. We
ascended it, and found no life but hawks, coneys, an owl(5), and a
graceful species of black eagle(6); there were many traces of buildings,
walls, ruined houses, and wells, whilst the sides and summit were tufted
with venerable sycamores. This act was an imprudence; the Bedouins at once
declared that we were "prospecting" for a fort, and the evil report
preceded us to Harar.
After a mile's march from Jannah Siri, we crossed a ridge of rising
ground, and suddenly, as though by magic, the scene shifted.
Before us lay a little Alp; the second step of the Ethiopian Highland.
Around were high and jagged hills, their sides black with the Saj(7) and
Somali pine(8), and their upper brows veiled with a thin growth of
cactus. Beneath was a deep valley, in the midst of which ran a serpentine
of shining waters, the gladdest spectacle we had yet witnessed: further in
front, masses of hill rose abruptly from shady valleys, encircled on the
far horizon by a straight blue line of ground, resembling a distant sea.
Behind us glared the desert: we had now reached the outskirts of
civilization, where man, abandoning his flocks and herds, settles,
cultivates, and attends to the comforts of life.
The fields are either terraces upon the hill slopes or the sides of
valleys, divided by flowery hedges with lanes between, not unlike those of
rustic England; and on a nearer approach the daisy, the thistle, and the
sweet briar pleasantly affected my European eyes. The villages are no
longer moveable: the Kraal and wigwam are replaced by the Gambisa or bell-
shaped hut of Middle Africa(9), circular cottages of holcus wattle,
Covered with coarse dab and surmounted by a stiff, conical, thatch roof,
above which appears the central supporting post, crowned with a gourd or
ostrich egg.(10) Strong abbatis of thorns protects these settlements,
which stud the hills in all directions: near most of them are clumps of
tall trees, to the southern sides of which are hung, like birdcages, long
cylinders of matting, the hives of these regions. Yellow crops of holcus
rewarded the peasant's toil: in some places the long stems tied in bunches
below the ears as piled muskets, stood ready for the reaper; in others,
the barer ground showed that the task was done. The boys sat perched upon
reed platforms(11) in the trees, and with loud shouts drove away thieving
birds, whilst their fathers cut the crop with diminutive sickles, or
thrashed heaps of straw with rude flails(12), or winnowed grain by
tossing it with a flat wooden shovel against the wind. The women husked
the pineapple-formed heads in mortars composed of a hollowed trunk(13),
smeared the threshing floor with cow-dung and water to defend it from
insects, piled the holcus heads into neat yellow heaps, spanned and
crossed by streaks of various colours, brick-red and brownish-purple(14),
and stacked the Karbi or straw, which was surrounded like the grain with
thorn, as a defence against the wild hog. All seemed to consider it a
labour of love: the harvest-home song sounded pleasantly to our ears, and,
contrasting with the silent desert, the hum of man's habitation was a
Descending the steep slope, we reposed, after a seven miles' march, on the
banks of a bright rivulet, which bisects the Kobbo or valley: it runs,
according to my guides, from the north towards Ogadayn, and the direction
is significant,—about Harar I found neither hill nor stream trending from
east to west. The people of the Kutti(15) flocked out to gaze upon us:
they were unarmed, and did not, like the Bedouins, receive us with cries
of "Bori." During the halt, we bathed in the waters, upon whose banks were
a multitude of huge Mantidae, pink and tender green. Returning to the
camels, I shot a kind of crow, afterwards frequently seen.(16) It is
about three times the size of our English bird, of a bluish-black with a
snow-white poll, and a beak of unnatural proportions: the quantity of lead
which it carried off surprised me. A number of Widads assembled to greet
us, and some Habr Awal, who were returning with a caravan, gave us the
salam, and called my people cousins. "Verily," remarked the Hammal,
"amongst friends we cut one another's throats; amongst enemies we become
sons of uncles!"
At 3 P.M. we pursued our way over rising ground, dotted with granite
blocks fantastically piled, and everywhere in sight of fields and villages
and flowing water. A furious wind was blowing, and the End of Time quoted
the Somali proverb, "heat hurts, but cold kills:" the camels were so
fatigued, and the air became so raw(17), that after an hour and a half's
march we planted our wigwams near a village distant about seven miles from
the Gurays Hills. Till late at night we were kept awake by the crazy
Widads: Ao Samattar had proposed the casuistical question, "Is it lawful
to pray upon a mountain when a plain is at hand?" Some took the pro,
others the contra, and the wordy battle raged with uncommon fury.
On Wednesday morning at half past seven we started down hill towards
"Wilensi," a small table-mountain, at the foot of which we expected to
find the Gerad Adan awaiting us in one of his many houses, crossed a
fertile valley, and ascended another steep slope by a bad and stony road.
Passing the home of Sherwa, who vainly offered hospitality, we toiled
onwards, and after a mile and a half's march, which occupied at least two
hours, our wayworn beasts arrived at the Gerad's village. On inquiry, it
proved that the chief, who was engaged in selecting two horses and two
hundred cows, the price of blood claimed by the Amir of Harar, for the
murder of a citizen, had that day removed to Sagharrah, another
As we entered the long straggling village of Wilensi, our party was
divided by the Gerad's two wives. The Hammal, the Kalendar, Shehrazade,
and Deenarzade, remained with Beuh and his sister in her Gurgi, whilst
Long Guled, the End of Time, and I were conducted to the cottage of the
Gerad's prettiest wife, Sudiyah. She was a tall woman, with a light
complexion, handsomely dressed in a large Harar Tobe, with silver
earrings, and the kind of necklace called Jilbah or Kardas.(18) The
Geradah (princess) at once ordered our hides to be spread in a comfortable
part of the hut, and then supplied us with food—boiled beef, pumpkin, and
Jowari cakes. During the short time spent in that Gambisa, I had an
opportunity, dear L., of seeing the manners and customs of the settled
The interior of the cottage is simple. Entering the door, a single plank
with pins for hinges fitted into sockets above and below the lintel—in
fact, as artless a contrivance as ever seen in Spain or Corsica—you find
a space, divided by dwarf walls of wattle and dab into three compartments,
for the men, women, and cattle. The horses and cows, tethered at night on
the left of the door, fill the cottage with the wherewithal to pass many a
nuit blanche: the wives lie on the right, near a large fireplace of
stones and raised clay, and the males occupy the most comfortable part,
opposite to and farthest from the entrance. The thatched ceiling shines
jetty with smoke, which when intolerable is allowed to escape by a
diminutive window: this seldom happens, for smoke, like grease and dirt,
keeping man warm, is enjoyed by savages. Equally simply is the furniture:
the stem of a tree, with branches hacked into pegs, supports the shields,
the assegais are planted against the wall, and divers bits of wood,
projecting from the sides and the central roof-tree of the cottage, are
hung with clothes and other articles that attract white ants. Gourds
smoked inside, and coffee cups of coarse black Harar pottery, with deep
wooden platters, and prettily carved spoons of the same material, compose
the household supellex. The inmates are the Geradah and her baby, Siddik a
Galla serf, the slave girls and sundry Somal: thus we hear at all times
three languages(19)spoken within the walls.
Long before dawn the goodwife rises, wakens her handmaidens, lights the
fire, and prepares for the Afur or morning meal. The quern is here unknown (20). A flat, smooth, oval slab, weighing about fifteen pounds, and a
stone roller six inches in diameter, worked with both hands, and the
weight of the body kneeling ungracefully upon it on "all fours," are used
to triturate the holcus grain. At times water must be sprinkled over the
meal, until a finely powdered paste is ready for the oven: thus several
hours' labour is required to prepare a few pounds of bread. About 6 A.M.
there appears a substantial breakfast of roast beef and mutton, with
scones of Jowari grain, the whole drenched in broth. Of the men few
perform any ablutions, but all use the tooth stick before sitting down to
eat. After the meal some squat in the sun, others transact business, and
drive their cattle to the bush till 11 A.M., the dinner hour. There is no
variety in the repasts, which are always flesh and holcus: these people
despise fowls, and consider vegetables food for cattle. During the day
there is no privacy; men, women, and children enter in crowds, and will
not be driven away by the Geradah, who inquires screamingly if they come
to stare at a baboon. My kettle especially excites their surprise; some
opine that it is an ostrich, others, a serpent: Sudiyah, however, soon
discovered its use, and begged irresistibly for the unique article.
Throughout the day her slave girls are busied in grinding, cooking, and
quarrelling with dissonant voices: the men have little occupation beyond
chewing tobacco, chatting, and having their wigs frizzled by a
professional coiffeur. In the evening the horses and cattle return home to
be milked and stabled: this operation concluded, all apply themselves to
supper with a will. They sleep but little, and sit deep into the night
trimming the fire, and conversing merrily over their cups of Farshu or
millet beer.(21)I tried this mixture several times, and found it
detestable: the taste is sour, and it flies directly to the head, in
consequence of being mixed with some poisonous bark. It is served up in
gourd bottles upon a basket of holcus heads, and strained through a
pledget of cotton, fixed across the narrow mouth, into cups of the same
primitive material: the drinkers sit around their liquor, and their
hilarity argues its intoxicating properties. In the morning they arise
with headaches and heavy eyes; but these symptoms, which we, an
industrious race, deprecate, are not disliked by the Somal—they promote
sleep and give something to occupy the vacant mind. I usually slumber
through the noise except when Ambar, a half-caste Somal, returning from a
trip to Harar, astounds us with his contes bleus, or wild Abtidon howls
forth some lay like this:—
"'Tis joyesse all in Eesa's home!
The fatted oxen bleed,
And slave girls range the pails of milk,
And strain the golden mead.
"'Tis joyesse all in Eesa's home!
This day the Chieftain's pride
Shall join the song, the dance, the feast,
And bear away a bride.
"'He cometh not!' the father cried,
Smiting with spear the wall;
'And yet he sent the ghostly man,
Yestre'en before the fall!'
"'He cometh not!' the mother said,
A tear stood in her eye;
'He cometh not, I dread, I dread,
And yet I know not why.'
"'He cometh not!' the maiden thought,
Yet in her glance was light,
Soft as the flash in summer's eve
Where sky and earth unite.
"The virgins, deck'd with tress and flower,
Danced in the purple shade,
And not a soul, perchance, but wished
Herself the chosen maid.
"The guests in groups sat gathering
Where sunbeams warmed the air,
Some laughed the feasters' laugh, and some
Wore the bent brow of care.
"'Tis he!—'tis he!"—all anxious peer,
Towards the distant lea;
A courser feebly nears the throng—
Ah! 'tis his steed they see.
"The grief cry bursts from every lip,
Fear sits on every brow,
There's blood upon the courser's flank!—
Blood on the saddle bow!
"'Tis he!—'tis he!'—all arm and run
Towards the Marar Plain,
Where a dark horseman rides the waste
With dust-cloud for a train.
"The horseman reins his foam-fleckt steed,
Leans on his broken spear,
Wipes his damp brow, and faint begins
To tell a tale of fear.
"'Where is my son?'—'Go seek him there,
Far on the Marar Plain,
Where vultures and hyaenas hold
Their orgies o'er the slain.
"'We took our arms, we saddled horse,
We rode the East countrie,
And drove the flocks, and harried herds
Betwixt the hills and sea.
"'We drove the flock across the hill,
The herd across the wold—
The poorest spearboy had returned
That day, a man of gold.
"'Bat Awal's children mann'd the vale
Where sweet the Arman flowers,
Their archers from each bush and tree
Rained shafts in venomed showers.
"'Full fifty warriors bold and true
Fell as becomes the brave;
And whom the arrow spared, the spear
Reaped for the ravening grave.
"'Friend of my youth! shall I remain
When ye are gone before?'
He drew the wood from out his side,
And loosed the crimson gore.
"Falling, he raised his broken spear,
Thrice wav'd it o'er his head,
Thrice raised the warrior's cry 'revenge!'—
His soul was with the dead.
"Now, one by one, the wounded braves
Homeward were seen to wend,
Each holding on his saddle bow
A dead or dying friend.
"Two galliards bore the Eesa's son,
The corpse was stark and bare—
Low moaned the maid, the mother smote
Her breast in mute despair.
"The father bent him o'er the dead,
The wounds were all before;
Again his brow, in sorrow clad,
The garb of gladness wore.
"'Ho! sit ye down, nor mourn for me,'
Unto the guests he cried;
'My son a warrior's life hath lived,
A warrior's death hath died.
"'His wedding and his funeral feast
Are one, so Fate hath said;
Death bore him from the brides of earth
The brides of Heaven to wed.'
"They drew their knives, they sat them down,
And fed as warriors feed;
The flesh of sheep and beeves they ate,
And quaffed the golden mead.
"And Eesa sat between the prayers
Until the fall of day,
When rose the guests and grasped their spears,
And each man went his way.
"But in the morn arose the cry,
For mortal spirit flown;
The father's mighty heart had burst
With woe he might not own.
"On the high crest of yonder hill,
They buried sire and son,
Grant, Allah! grant them Paradise—
Gentles, my task is done!"
Immediately after our arrival at Wilensi we sent Yusuf Dera, the Gerad's
second son, to summon his father. I had to compose many disputes between
the Hammal and the End of Time: the latter was swelling with importance;
he was now accredited ambassador from the Hajj to the Girhi chief,
consequently he aimed at commanding the Caravan. We then made preparations
for departure, in case of the Gerad being unable to escort us. Shehrazade
and Deenarzade, hearing that the small-pox raged at Harar, and fearing for
their charms, begged hard to be left behind: the Kalendar was directed,
despite his manly objections, to remain in charge of these dainty dames.
The valiant Beuh was dressed in the grand Tobe promised to him; as no
consideration would induce him towards the city, he was dismissed with
small presents, and an old Girhi Bedouin, generally known as Said Wal, or
Mad Said, was chosen as our escort. Camels being unable to travel over
these rough mountain paths, our weary brutes were placed for rest and
pasture under the surveillance of Sherwa: and not wishing the trouble and
delay of hiring asses, the only transport in this country, certain
moreover that our goods were safer here than nearer Harar, we selected the
most necessary objects, and packed them in a pair of small leathern
saddlebags which could be carried by a single mule.
All these dispositions duly made, at 10 A.M. on the 29th December we
mounted our animals, and, guided by Mad Said, trotted round the northern
side of the Wilensi table-mountain down a lane fenced with fragrant dog
roses. Then began the descent of a steep rocky hill, the wall of a woody
chasm, through whose gloomy depths the shrunken stream of a large Fiumara
wound like a thread of silver. The path would be safe to nought less
surefooted than a mule: we rode slowly over rolling stones, steps of
micaceous grit, and through thorny bush for about half an hour. In the
plain below appeared a village of the Gerad's Midgans, who came out to see
us pass, and followed the strangers to some distance. One happening to
say, "Of what use is his gun?—before he could fetch fire, I should put
this arrow through him!" I discharged a barrel over their heads, and
derided the convulsions of terror caused by the unexpected sound.
Passing onwards we entered a continuation of the Wady Harirah. It is a
long valley choked with dense vegetation, through which meandered a line
of water brightly gilt by the sun's rays: my Somal remarked that were the
elephants now infesting it destroyed, rice, the favourite luxury, might be
grown upon its banks in abundance. Our road lay under clumps of shady
trees, over rocky watercourses, through avenues of tall cactus, and down
tranchees worn by man eight and ten feet below stiff banks of rich red
clay. On every side appeared deep clefts, ravines, and earth cracks, all,
at this season, dry. The unarmed cultivators thronged from the frequent
settlements to stare, and my Somal, being no longer in their own country,
laid aside for guns their ridiculous spears. On the way passing Ao
Samattar's village, the worthy fellow made us halt whilst he went to fetch
a large bowl of sour milk. About noon the fresh western breeze obscured
the fierce sun with clouds, and we watered our mules in a mountain stream
which crossed our path thrice within as many hundred yards. After six
miles' ride reaching the valley's head, we began the descent of a rugged
pass by a rough and rocky path. The scenery around us was remarkable. The
hill sides were well wooded, and black with pine: their summits were bared
of earth by the heavy monsoon which spreads the valleys with rich soil; in
many places the beds of waterfalls shone like sheets of metal upon the
black rock; villages surrounded by fields and fences studded the country,
and the distance was a mass of purple peak and blue table in long
vanishing succession. Ascending the valley's opposite wall, we found the
remains of primaeval forests,—little glades which had escaped the axe,—
they resounded with the cries of pintados and cynocephali.(22) Had the
yellow crops of Holcus been wheat, I might have fancied myself once more
riding in the pleasant neighbourhood of Tuscan Sienna.
At 4 P.M., after accomplishing fifteen miles on rough ground, we sighted
Sagharrah, a snug high-fenced village of eight or nine huts nestling
against a hill side with trees above, and below a fertile grain-valley.
Presently Mad Said pointed out to us the Gerad Adan, who, attended by a
little party, was returning homewards: we fired our guns as a salute, he
however hurried on to receive us with due ceremony in his cottage.
Dismounting at the door we shook hands with him, were led through the idle
mob into a smoky closet contrived against the inside wall, and were
regaled with wheaten bread steeped in honey and rancid butter. The host
left us to eat, and soon afterwards returned:—I looked with attention at
a man upon whom so much then depended.
Adan bin Kaushan was in appearance a strong wiry Bedouin,—before
obtaining from me a turban he wore his bushy hair dyed dun,—about forty-
five years old, at least six feet high, with decided features, a tricky
smile, and an uncertain eye. In character he proved to be one of those
cunning idiots so peculiarly difficult to deal with. Ambitious and wild
with greed of gain, he was withal so fickle that his head appeared ever
changing its contents; he could not sit quiet for half an hour, and this
physical restlessness was an outward sign of the uneasy inner man. Though
reputed brave, his treachery has won him a permanent ill fame. Some years
ago he betrothed a daughter to the eldest son of Gerad Hirsi of the
Berteri tribe, and then, contrary to Somali laws of honor, married her to
Mahommed Waiz of the Jibril Abokr. This led to a feud, in which the
disappointed suitor was slain. Adan was celebrated for polygamy even in
Eastern Africa: by means of his five sons and dozen daughters, he has
succeeded in making extensive connexions (23), and his sister, the Gisti
(24)Fatimah, was married to Abubakr, father of the present Amir. Yet the
Gerad would walk into a crocodile's mouth as willingly as within the walls
of Harar. His main reason for receiving us politely was an ephemeral fancy
for building a fort, to control the country's trade, and rival or overawe
the city. Still did he not neglect the main chance: whatever he saw he
asked for; and, after receiving a sword, a Koran, a turban, an Arab
waistcoat of gaudy satin, about seventy Tobes, and a similar proportion of
indigo-dyed stuff, he privily complained to me that the Hammal had given
him but twelve cloths. A list of his wants will best explain the man. He
begged me to bring him from Berberah a silver-hilted sword and some soap,
1000 dollars, two sets of silver bracelets, twenty guns with powder and
shot, snuff, a scarlet cloth coat embroidered with gold, some poison that
would not fail, and any other little article of luxury which might be
supposed to suit him. In return he was to present us with horses, mules,
slaves, ivory, and other valuables: he forgot, however, to do so before we
The Gerad Adan was powerful, being the head of a tribe of cultivators, not
split up, like the Bedouins, into independent clans, and he thus exercises
a direct influence upon the conterminous races.(25)The Girhi or
"Giraffes" inhabiting these hills are, like most of the other settled
Somal, a derivation from Darud, and descended from Kombo. Despite the
unmerciful persecutions of the Gallas, they gradually migrated westwards
from Makhar, their original nest, now number 5000 shields, possess about
180 villages, and are accounted the power paramount. Though friendly with
the Habr Awal, the Girhi seldom descend, unless compelled by want of
pasture, into the plains.
The other inhabitants of these hills are the Gallas and the Somali clans
of Berteri, Bursuk, Shaykhash, Hawiyah, Usbayhan, Marayhan, and Abaskul.
The Gallas(26) about Harar are divided into four several clans,
separating as usual into a multitude of septs. The Alo extend westwards
from the city: the Nole inhabit the land to the east and north-east, about
two days' journey between the Eesa Somal, and Harar: on the south, are
situated the Babuli and the Jarsa at Wilensi, Sagharrah, and Kondura,—
places described in these pages.
The Berteri, who occupy the Gurays Range, south of, and limitrophe to, the
Gallas, and thence extend eastward to the Jigjiga hills, are estimated at
3000 shields.(27) Of Darud origin, they own allegiance to the Gerad
Hirsi, and were, when I visited the country, on bad terms with the Girhi.
The chief's family has, for several generations, been connected with the
Amirs of Harar, and the caravan's route to and from Berberah lying through
his country, makes him a useful friend and a dangerous foe. About the
Gerad Hirsi different reports were rife: some described him as cruel,
violent, and avaricious; others spoke of him as a godly and a prayerful
person: all, however, agreed that he had sowed wild oats. In token of
repentance, he was fond of feeding Widads, and the Shaykh Jami of Harar
was a frequent guest at his kraal.
The Bursuk number about 5000 shields, own no chief, and in 1854 were at
war with the Girhi, the Berteri, and especially the Gallas. In this
country, the feuds differ from those of the plains: the hill-men fight for
three days, as the End of Time phrased it, and make peace for three days.
The maritime clans are not so abrupt in their changes; moreover they claim
blood-money, a thing here unknown.
The Shaykhash, or "Reverend" as the term means, are the only Somal of the
mountains not derived from Dir and Darud. Claiming descent from the Caliph
Abubakr, they assert that ten generations ago, one Ao Khutab bin Fakih
Umar crossed over from El Hejaz, and settled in Eastern Africa with his
six sons, Umar the greater, Umar the less, two Abdillahs, Ahmed, and
lastly Siddik. This priestly tribe is dispersed, like that of Levi,
amongst its brethren, and has spread from Efat to Ogadayn. Its principal
sub-families are, Ao Umar, the elder, and Bah Dumma, the junior, branch.
The Hawiyah has been noticed in a previous chapter. Of the Usbayhan I saw
but few individuals: they informed me that their tribe numbered forty
villages, and about 1000 shields; that they had no chief of their own
race, but owned the rule of the Girhi and Berteri Gerads. Their principal
clans are the Rer Yusuf, Rer Said, Rer Abokr, and Yusuf Liyo.
In the Eastern Horn of Africa, and at Ogadayn, the Marayhan is a powerful
tribe, here it is un-consequential, and affiliated to the Girhi. The
Abaskul also lies scattered over the Harar hills, and owns the Gerad Adan
as its chief. This tribe numbers fourteen villages, and between 400 and
500 shields, and is divided into the Rer Yusuf, the Jibrailah, and the
Warra Dig:—the latter clan is said to be of Galla extraction.
On the morning after my arrival at Sagharrah I felt too ill to rise, and
was treated with unaffected kindness by all the establishment. The Gerad
sent to Harar for millet beer, Ao Samattar went to the gardens in search
of Kat, the sons Yusuf Dera and a dwarf (28) insisted upon firing me with
such ardour, that no refusal could avail: and Khayrah the wife, with her
daughters, two tall dark, smiling, and well-favoured girls of thirteen and
fifteen, sacrificed a sheep as my Fida, or Expiatory offering. Even the
Galla Christians, who flocked to see the stranger, wept for the evil fate
which had brought him so far from his fatherland, to die under a tree.
Nothing, indeed, would have been easier than such operation: all required
was the turning face to the wall, for four or five days. But to expire of
an ignoble colic!—the thing was not to be thought of, and a firm
resolution to live on sometimes, methinks, effects its object.
On the 1st January, 1855, feeling stronger, I clothed myself in my Arab
best, and asked a palaver with the Gerad. We retired to a safe place
behind the village, where I read with pomposity the Hajj Sharmarkay's
letter. The chief appeared much pleased by our having preferred his
country to that of the Eesa: he at once opened the subject of the new
fort, and informed me that I was the builder, as his eldest daughter had
just dreamed that the stranger would settle in the land. Having discussed
the project to the Gerad's satisfaction, we brought out the guns and shot
a few birds for the benefit of the vulgar. Whilst engaged in this
occupation, appeared a party of five strangers, and three mules with
ornamented Morocco saddles, bridles, bells, and brass neck ornaments,
after the fashion of Harar. Two of these men, Haji Umar, and Nur Ambar,
were citizens: the others, Ali Hasan, Husayn Araleh, and Haji Mohammed,
were Somal of the Habr Awal tribe, high in the Amir's confidence. They had
been sent to settle with Adan the weighty matter of Blood-money. After
sitting with us almost half an hour, during which they exchanged grave
salutations with my attendants, inspected our asses with portentous
countenances, and asked me a few questions concerning my business in those
parts, they went privily to the Gerad, told him that the Arab was not one
who bought and sold, that he had no design but to spy out the wealth of
the land, and that the whole party should be sent prisoners in their hands
to Harar. The chief curtly replied that we were his friends, and bade
them, "throw far those words." Disappointed in their designs, they started
late in the afternoon, driving off their 200 cows, and falsely promising
to present our salams to the Amir.
It became evident that some decided step must be taken. The Gerad
confessed fear of his Harari kinsman, and owned that he had lost all his
villages in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. I asked him point-
blank to escort us: he as frankly replied that it was impossible. The
request was lowered,—we begged him to accompany us as far as the
frontier: he professed inability to do so, but promised to send his eldest
Nothing then remained, dear L., but payer d'audace, and, throwing all
forethought to the dogs, to rely upon what has made many a small man
great, the good star. I addressed my companions in a set speech, advising
a mount without delay. They suggested a letter to the Amir, requesting
permission to enter his city: this device was rejected for two reasons. In
the first place, had a refusal been returned, our journey was cut short,
and our labours stultified. Secondly, the End of Time had whispered that
my two companions were plotting to prevent the letter reaching its
destination. He had charged his own sin upon their shoulders: the Hammal
and Long Guled were incapable of such treachery. But our hedge-priest was
thoroughly terrified; "a coward body after a'," his face brightened when
ordered to remain with the Gerad at Sagharrah, and though openly taunted
with poltroonery, he had not the decency to object. My companions were
then informed that hitherto our acts had been those of old women, not
soldiers, and that something savouring of manliness must be done before we
could return. They saw my determination to start alone, if necessary, and
to do them justice, they at once arose. This was the more courageous in
them, as alarmists had done their worst: but a day before, some travelling
Somali had advised them, as they valued dear life, not to accompany that
Turk to Harar. Once in the saddle, they shook off sad thoughts, declaring
that if they were slain, I should pay their blood-money, and if they
escaped, that their reward was in my hands. When in some danger, the
Hammal especially behaved with a sturdiness which produced the most
beneficial results. Yet they were true Easterns. Wearied by delay at
Harar, I employed myself in meditating flight; they drily declared that
after-wit serves no good purpose: whilst I considered the possibility of
escape, they looked only at the prospect of being dragged back with
pinioned arms by the Amir's guard. Such is generally the effect of the
vulgar Moslems' blind fatalism.
I then wrote an English letter(29) from the Political Agent at Aden to
the Amir of Harar, proposing to deliver it in person, and throw off my
disguise. Two reasons influenced me in adopting this "neck or nothing"
plan. All the races amongst whom my travels lay, hold him nidering who
hides his origin in places of danger; and secondly, my white face had
converted me into a Turk, a nation more hated and suspected than any
Europeans, without our prestige. Before leaving Sagharrah, I entrusted
to the End of Time a few lines addressed to Lieut. Herne at Berberah,
directing him how to act in case of necessity. Our baggage was again
decimated: the greater part was left with Adan, and an ass carried only
what was absolutely necessary,—a change of clothes, a book or two, a few
biscuits, ammunition, and a little tobacco. My Girhi escort consisted of
Sherwa, the Bedouin Abtidon, and Mad Said mounted on the End of Time's
At 10 A.M. on the 2nd January, all the villagers assembled, and recited
the Fatihah, consoling us with the information that we were dead men. By
the worst of foot-paths, we ascended the rough and stony hill behind
Sagharrah, through bush and burn and over ridges of rock. At the summit
was a village, where Sherwa halted, declaring that he dared not advance: a
swordsman, however, was sent on to guard us through the Galla Pass. After
an hour's ride, we reached the foot of a tall Table-mountain called
Kondura, where our road, a goat-path rough with rocks or fallen trees, and
here and there arched over with giant creepers, was reduced to a narrow
ledge, with a forest above and a forest below. I could not but admire the
beauty of this Valombrosa, which reminded me of scenes whilome enjoyed in
fair Touraine. High up on our left rose the perpendicular walls of the
misty hill, fringed with tufted pine, and on the right the shrub-clad
folds fell into a deep valley. The cool wind whistled and sunbeams like
golden shafts darted through tall shady trees—
Bearded with moss, and in garments green—
the ground was clothed with dank grass, and around the trunks grew
thistles, daisies, and blue flowers which at a distance might well pass
Presently we were summarily stopped by half a dozen Gallas attending upon
one Rabah, the Chief who owns the Pass.(30) This is the African style of
toll-taking: the "pike" appears in the form of a plump of spearmen, and
the gate is a pair of lances thrown across the road. Not without trouble,
for they feared to depart from the mos majorum, we persuaded them that
the ass carried no merchandise. Then rounding Kondura's northern flank, we
entered the Amir's territory: about thirty miles distant, and separated by
a series of blue valleys, lay a dark speck upon a tawny sheet of stubble—
Having paused for a moment to savour success, we began the descent. The
ground was a slippery black soil—mist ever settles upon Kondura—and
frequent springs oozing from the rock formed beds of black mire. A few
huge Birbisa trees, the remnant of a forest still thick around the
mountain's neck, marked out the road: they were branchy from stem to
stern, and many had a girth of from twenty to twenty-five feet.(31)
After an hour's ride amongst thistles, whose flowers of a bright redlike
worsted were not less than a child's head, we watered our mules at a rill
below the slope. Then remounting, we urged over hill and dale, where Galla
peasants were threshing and storing their grain with loud songs of joy;
they were easily distinguished by their African features, mere caricatures
of the Somal, whose type has been Arabized by repeated immigrations from
Yemen and Hadramaut. Late in the afternoon, having gained ten miles in a
straight direction, we passed through a hedge of plantains, defending the
windward side of Gafra, a village of Midgans who collect the Gerad Adan's
grain. They shouted delight on recognising their old friend, Mad Said, led
us to an empty Gambisa, swept and cleaned it, lighted a fire, turned our
mules into a field to graze, and went forth to seek food. Their hospitable
thoughts, however, were marred by the two citizens of Harar, who privately
threatened them with the Amir's wrath, if they dared to feed that Turk.
As evening drew on, came a message from our enemies, the Habr Awal, who
offered, if we would wait till sunrise, to enter the city in our train.
The Gerad Adan had counselled me not to provoke these men; so, contrary to
the advice of my two companions, I returned a polite answer, purporting
that we would expect them till eight o'clock the next morning.
At 7 P.M., on the 3rd January, we heard that the treacherous Habr Awal had
driven away their cows shortly after midnight. Seeing their hostile
intentions, I left my journal, sketches, and other books in charge of an
old Midgan, with directions that they should be forwarded to the Gerad
Adan, and determined to carry nothing but our arms and a few presents for
the Amir. We saddled our mules, mounted and rode hurriedly along the edge
of a picturesque chasm of tender pink granite, here and there obscured by
luxuriant vegetation. In the centre, fringed with bright banks a shallow
rill, called Doghlah, now brawls in tiny cascades, then whirls through
huge boulders towards the Erar River. Presently, descending by a ladder of
rock scarcely safe even for mules, we followed the course of the burn, and
emerging into the valley beneath, we pricked forwards rapidly, for day was
wearing on, and we did not wish the Habr Awal to precede us.
About noon we crossed the Erar River. The bed is about one hundred yards
broad, and a thin sheet of clear, cool, and sweet water, covered with
crystal the greater part of the sand. According to my guides, its course,
like that of the hills, is southerly towards the Webbe of Ogadayn(32):
none, however, could satisfy my curiosity concerning the course of the
only perennial stream which exists between Harar and the coast.
In the lower valley, a mass of waving holcus, we met a multitude of Galla
peasants coming from the city market with new potlids and the empty gourds
which had contained their butter, ghee, and milk: all wondered aloud at
the Turk, concerning whom they had heard many horrors. As we commenced
another ascent appeared a Harar Grandee mounted upon a handsomely
caparisoned mule and attended by seven servants who carried gourds and
skins of grain. He was a pale-faced senior with a white beard, dressed in
a fine Tobe and a snowy turban with scarlet edges: he carried no shield,
but an Abyssinian broadsword was slung over his left shoulder. We
exchanged courteous salutations, and as I was thirsty he ordered a footman
to fill a cup with water. Half way up the hill appeared the 200 Girhi
cows, but those traitors, the Habr Awal, had hurried onwards. Upon the
summit was pointed out to me the village of Elaoda: in former times it was
a wealthy place belonging to the Gerad Adan.
At 2 P.M. we fell into a narrow fenced lane and halted for a few minutes
near a spreading tree, under which sat women selling ghee and unspun
cotton. About two miles distant on the crest of a hill, stood the city,—
the end of my present travel,—a long sombre line, strikingly contrasting
with the white-washed towns of the East. The spectacle, materially
speaking, was a disappointment: nothing conspicuous appeared but two grey
minarets of rude shape: many would have grudged exposing three lives to
win so paltry a prize. But of all that have attempted, none ever succeeded
in entering that pile of stones: the thorough-bred traveller, dear L.,
will understand my exultation, although my two companions exchanged
glances of wonder.
Spurring our mules we advanced at a long trot, when Mad Said stopped us to
recite a Fatihah in honor of Ao Umar Siyad and Ao Rahmah, two great saints
who repose under a clump of trees near the road. The soil on both sides of
the path is rich and red: masses of plantains, limes, and pomegranates
denote the gardens, which are defended by a bleached cow's skull, stuck
upon a short stick(33) and between them are plantations of coffee,
bastard saffron, and the graceful Kat. About half a mile eastward of the
town appears a burn called Jalah or the Coffee Water: the crowd crossing
it did not prevent my companions bathing, and whilst they donned clean
Tobes I retired to the wayside, and sketched the town.
These operations over, we resumed our way up a rough tranchee ridged
with stone and hedged with tall cactus. This ascends to an open plain. On
the right lie the holcus fields, which reach to the town wall: the left is
a heap of rude cemetery, and in front are the dark defences of Harar, with
groups of citizens loitering about the large gateway, and sitting in chat
near the ruined tomb of Ao Abdal. We arrived at 3 P.M., after riding about
five hours, which were required to accomplish twenty miles in a straight
Advancing to the gate, Mad Said accosted a warder, known by his long wand
of office, and sent our salams to the Amir, saying that we came from Aden,
and requested the honor of audience. Whilst he sped upon his errand, we
sat at the foot of a round bastion, and were scrutinised, derided, and
catechized by the curious of both sexes, especially by that conventionally
termed the fair. The three Habr Awal presently approached and scowlingly
inquired why we had not apprised them of our intention to enter the city.
It was now "war to the knife"—we did not deign a reply.
(1) It is worn for a year, during which modest women will not marry. Some
tribes confine the symbol to widowhood, others extend it to all male
relations; a strip of white cotton, or even a white fillet, instead of the
usual blue cloth, is used by the more civilized.
(2)Cain is said to repose under Jebel Shamsan at Aden—an appropriate
(3)This beast, called by the Somal Jambel, closely resembles the Sindh
species. It is generally found in the plains and prairies.
(4)In the Somali country, as in Kafirland, the Duwao or jackal is
peculiarly bold and fierce. Disdaining garbage, he carries off lambs and
kids, and fastens upon a favourite friandise, the sheep's tail; the
victim runs away in terror, and unless the jackal be driven off by dogs,
leaves a delicate piece of fat behind it.
(5) The Somal call the owl "Shimbir libah"—the lion bird.
(6) The plume was dark, chequered with white, but the bird was so wild
that no specimen could be procured.
(7)The Arabs apply this term to tea.
(8)The Dayyib of the Somal, and the Sinaubar of the Arabs; its line of
growth is hereabouts an altitude of 5000 feet.
(9) Travellers in Central Africa describe exactly similar buildings, bell-
shaped huts, the materials of which are stakes, clay and reed, conical at
the top, and looking like well-thatched corn-stacks.
(10) Amongst the Fellatahs of Western Africa, only the royal huts are
surmounted by the ostrich's egg.
(11) These platforms are found even amongst the races inhabiting the
regions watered by the Niger.
(12)Charred sticks about six feet long and curved at the handle.
(13) Equally simple are the other implements. The plough, which in Eastern
Africa has passed the limits of Egypt, is still the crooked tree of all
primitive people, drawn by oxen; and the hoe is a wooden blade inserted
into a knobbed handle.
(14)It is afterwards stored in deep dry holes, which are carefully
covered to keep out rats and insects; thus the grain is preserved
undamaged for three or four years.
(15) This word is applied to the cultivated districts, the granaries of
(16) "The huge raven with gibbous or inflated beak and white nape," writes
Mr. Blyth, "is the corvus crassirostris of Ruppell, and, together with a
nearly similar Cape species, is referred to the genus Corvultur of
(17) In these hills it is said sometimes to freeze; I never saw ice.
(18) It is a string of little silver bells and other ornaments made by the
Arabs at Berberah.
(19) Harari, Somali and Galla, besides Arabic, and other more civilized
(20)The Negroes of Senegal and the Hottentots use wooden mortars. At
Natal and amongst the Amazulu Kafirs, the work is done with slabs and
rollers like those described above.
(21) In the Eastern World this well-known fermentation is generally called
"Buzab," whence the old German word "busen" and our "booze." The addition
of a dose of garlic converts it into an emetic.
(22) The Somal will not kill these plundering brutes, like the Western
Africans believing them to be enchanted men.
(23) Some years ago Adan plundered one of Sharmarkay's caravans; repenting
the action, he offered in marriage a daughter, who, however, died before
(24)Gisti is a "princess" in Harari, equivalent to the Somali Geradah.
(25) They are, however, divided into clans, of which the following are the
1. Bahawiyah, the race which supplies the Gerads.
2. Abu Tunis (divided into ten septs).
3. Rer Ibrahim (similarly divided).
6. Rer Muhmud.
7. Musa Dar.
8. Rer Auro.
9. Rer Walembo.
10. Rer Khalid.
(26) I do not describe these people, the task having already been
performed by many abler pens than mine.
(27)They are divided into the Bah Ambaro (the chief's family) and the
(28)The only specimen of stunted humanity seen by me in the Somali
country. He was about eighteen years old, and looked ten.
(29) At first I thought of writing it in Arabic; but having no seal, a
sine qua non in an Eastern letter, and reflecting upon the consequences
of detection or even suspicion, it appeared more politic to come boldly
forward as a European.
(30) It belongs, I was informed, to two clans of Gallas, who year by year
in turn monopolise the profits.
(31) Of this tree are made the substantial doors, the basins and the
porringers of Harar.
(32)The Webbe Shebayli or Haines River.
(33)This scarecrow is probably a talisman. In the Saharah, according to
Richardson, the skull of an ass averts the evil eye from gardens.
(34) The following is a table of our stations, directions, and
From Zayla to Gudingaras
| S.E. 165°
|| S.E. 145°
|| S.E. 205°
|To El Arno
||S. E. 190°
|To Halimalah (the Holy Tree
about half way)
||S. E. 192°
||7 -- 91 miles.|
||S. E. 245°
||S. E. 165°
||S. E. 260°
||-- 111 miles|
|Total statute miles
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