A voyage to Abyssinia (Salt)/Chapter 4
Voyage across the Red Sea from Mocha—Anchorage at Rackmah—Proceedings at Ayth—Continuance of Voyage to Amphila—Intelligence received there—Failure of an attempt to communicate with Abyssinia by a messenger I had sent from Mocha—Atrocious conduct of the Nayib and Aga of Massowa—Letter sent by these chieftains to the Danákil Tribes—Its Effects—Conference with Alli Manda, a young Chief of the Tribe of Dumhoeta—His Departure with letters for the Ras Welled Selassé. Discovery of a secure Harbour in Amphila Bay—Communications with Alli Govéta, and other men of consequence on the Coast—Return of Alli Manda—Letters from Mr. Pearce—Resolutions in consequence—Conference with the principal men of the Tribes—Arrival of a messenger from Massowa—Determination to proceed to that Place—Second Dispatch to Abyssinia. Description of the Bay of Amphila—of the Coast—Manners, Dress, and Customs of the Tribes who inhabit it—Departure from Amphilas.
ON Friday, December 8th, at four in the morning, we weighed anchor from Mocha Roads, and stood over to the coast of Abyssinia, accompanied by the ship's launch, which our Captain had fitted out With schooner rigging as a tender, steering W. ¾ S. with a strong gale from the southward. The sea ran very high in mid-channel, but as we approached the Abyssinian shore, the water became smooth, and the wind more moderate, which is customary in crossing this part of the sea, however hard it may blow on the Arabian side. At nine, we found ourselves close in with Ras Béloul, and after crossing the Bay, which appears to be free from shoals, we stretched along shore, at about three leagues distance, in fifteen fathoms, until we reached Rackmah, when we rounded the point of the first island, and came to an anchor in four fathoms, hard ground. This anchorage, which will be found accurately laid down in the chart, cannot be considered as affording good shelter, even against a southerly wind, and with any other it might prove extremely dangerous. The inner harbour offers more secure holding ground, but in order to get into it, a bar with two fathoms and a half must be passed over, which renders it useless: except, in cases of necessity, for small vessels. Pliny's 'Portus Isidis,' marked by four islands, seems to answer to the description of Rackmah, and in his time myrrh was brought down to it by the Troglodytes, or Bedowee, (vide Nat. Hist. p. 143;) it is also in all probability the port often mentioned by the Portuguese, under the name of the harbour of Veila or Beila. Thermometer at mid-day 78°.
December 9th. We got under way at sun-rise, and with a cool refreshing gale continued to coast along the shore. We passed the Abaiels, and steered our course inside the southern Island of Kudaly; and at two in the afternoon came to an anchor off the village of Ayth. There scarcely can exist a worse place for anchorage than Ayth, the road lying perfectly open, and, when the wind blows from the southern quarter, a heavy sea running along the coast, which, as the ground is foul, makes the riding extremely dangerous.
Soon after our arrival we sent a boat on shore, and gained intelligence, that the gelve I had dispatched from Mocha still remained at Amphila, that Yunus was dead, (having, as was generally reported, been poisoned,) and that my messenger had failed in obtaining an intercourse with the Ras, owing to the interference of the nayib of Massowa, and that the latter had sent down two armed doors to attempt the seizure of Yunus's boat, and to prevent the English from opening a communication with Abyssinia, by the way of Amphila.
This information was given me by Wursum, the son of Yunus, who on the death of his father had succeeded, according to the customs of the Somanil, to the command of the boat. This young man had come down to Ayth, for the purpose of performing the last duties to his deceased father, who having married a woman of a Dankali tribe, belonging to this village, had, on his being taken ill, retired to her house to die. The death of this faithful Somauli considerably affected me, as the valuable services he had rendered us in the Panther, and the gratitude he had shewn for some slight favours since conferred, had given me more confidence in his attachment than in that of any other of the natives in my employ.
The village of Ayth, which consists of about forty huts only, forms the capital of a district governed by a Sheik, who, at this time, from the computation of the natives, was said to be an hundred years old. Our super-cargo, who had been on shore, described him as a most venerable old man, of mild and friendly manners. He represented the people as a stout and well featured race, but miserably poor, and he was told, that, as no grain is cultivated on the coast, and very little imported, their food consists almost entirely of fish, milk, and occasionally, though very rarely, of goat's flesh. The tribe is one of the Danákil, and said to be called Adoole, consisting of about two hundred persons, men, women and children, of whom a part resides on the islands of Dabalac, Valentia, and Howakil. The only communication which subsists between Ayth and Abyssinia lies by the way of Madir, a village situated at the bottom of the Bay of Amphila. Therm. 76, Var. 9° 50', W.
On December 10th, I sent in the morning a small present to the Sheik, and gave Wursum money to defray the expenses of his father's funeral. We afterwards weighed anchor from Ayth roads, and proceeded under easy sail round the outside of the northern Kudaly, a high and steep island, about six miles from the continent. The tender, with one of our mates, sailed within the island, by which means we ascertained that a passage exists between it and the main land, full half a mile broad, with five fathoms water. On the coast, a little to the westward of this passage, wells of fresh water are said to be found, which are much frequented by the natives who navigate this sea.
The shore from Rackrash to Ras Kussar lies flat and low, but is bounded by high mountains at no great distance in the interior. A dangerous reef of rocks projects from Bas Kussar about three miles in a north-east direction, unnoticed in Captain Court's chart: from this dangerous reef the name of "Kussar" is probably derived, as the word in Arabic signifies 'broken.' In passing it we had only four fathoms, though at the time we were full five miles from the point of land. Not being able to reach Amphila before sunset, Captain Weatherhead thought it best to put the ship under easy sail, and to lie to for the night, which, with the knowledge now existing of the coast, may here be safely ventured, On the 11th, in the morning, it became nearly calm, but as soon as the sea-breeze sprung, we made sail, and reached Amphila by twelve o'clock. We passed the first island in nine fathoms water, at about one mile distant, and came to an anchor between the second and third islands in six fathoms, in a situation sheltered from the north-west, but open to the east winds. As this anchorage lay exposed to a heavy sea, the Captain immediately proceeded to examine the bay, which had not been before surveyed, with the hope of discovering a more secure harbour, and we sent a boat on shore, which brought off Hadjee Alli in the evening.
Hadjee Alli appeared to be in a very miserable plight, and gave me a most pitiable account of the disasters which had befallen him. He told me that he had attempted to penetrate into Abyssinia, and had actually advanced one day's journey for that purpose, when a letter arrived from the Nayib Idris and the Turkish Aga stationed at Massowa, addressed to the chiefs of the country, which produced so much altercation and alarm, as to render it impossible for him to proceed. He had subsequently procured a copy of this letter from Alli Govéta, and as it affected my future proceedings, I shall here lay a literal translation of it before the reader.
To Audku brother of Ahmed sons of Aysa Mahomed, Alli Govéta son of Kácena, Mukáin Ali son of Nukeeta, Aysa, 'Nacodar,' ('master of a dow') son of Alli Kiefar, Dittah Sáleh son of Moorain Mahomed, and all intelligent men of the tribe of Dumhoeta, upon whom rest the blessing of God. Amen.
I have before written to you all and many times on the subject of your transactions with the English (Feringi) and their Wakeel Yunus Beralli. The same sentiments I now again repeat,
I understand, Yunus Beralli has lately been at Amphila with English property. I am much displeased you did not acquaint me of this in due time, and, should he ever return on a similar duty, I desire you will immediately inform me of it; as it is my intention to detach a party of soldiers to apprehend him, and bring him prisoner to Massowa.
If any property belonging to the English (Feringi) should again be brought into your districts or towns, seize it and kill the persons in charge of it, and all the property you may thus obtain divide equally among yourselves.
I conclude, by again addressing the people of Bellesua and Russamo, as it is my anxious wish to renew our relations of friendship. To my former letters on this subject you have given me no reply. This grieves me exceedingly, as we are true believers in the same good faith; therefore it is sinful not to be friends.
Signed and sealed,
Copied by Hadjee Alli, from the original in the hands of Alli Govéta; which copy is now in my possession.
Though I was not surprised at the intemperate and hostile tone of this letter, yet it gave me considerable uneasiness, as it seemed probable that it might hinder my taking the two pieces of cannon with which I was charged into the country, should I be compelled to go to Massowa, if not altogether prevent my advance.
Notwithstanding what had passed, the chief of this district, Alli Govéta, still remained friendly to the English, and declared to Hadjee Alii that he was indifferent to the threats of the Nayib, "being a son of the hills, and having people enough to secure him against any attack." Hadjee Alli, however, had been to much alarmed to rely on this security, and therefore had' absolutely refused to attempt the journey a second time. It appeared from further inquiries that a quarrel had existed between him and Yunus's sons; each accusing the other of the failure Of the business on which they had been dispatched. As the blame appeared to me to rest with Hadjce, I immediately discharged him, and he returned by the first conveyance to Mocha.
On the 13th I dispatched a letter in Arabic to Alli Govéta, who was then at Aréna, one of the chief residences of his tribe, lying at the bottom of the Bay of Howakil, three days journey by land distant from Madir. In this letter I expressed my desire to see him immediately, that we might confer on the subject of my journey into Abyssinia, and I inclosed two letters for him to forward to the Ras and Mr. Pearce, written in English, for the purpose of preventing any unpleasant consequences should they by chance fall into the hands of the Nayib.
This dispatch to Alli Govéta was rendered in some degree unnecessary by the arrival on the 14th of a young chieftain, named Alli Manda, who proved to be a nephew of Alli Govéta, holding the command of a district on the mountains, over which the road lies to Abyssinia. He was a young man who possessed a strong and lively expression in his countenance, and was dressed in a striped silk garment, made after the fashion of the upper country. His manners were completely Abyssinian. He displayed the same affectation in holding his garment over the mouth, customary among the higher orders in that country, the same kind of stately reserve which on a first interview they assume, and, on being satisfied with his reception, discovered the same open and unrestrained love of conviviality which characterises that singular people.
In the course of conversation I learned that Alli Manda was the person who had accompanied Hadjee Alli on his way into the country. They had proceeded only one day's journey, when the latter grew frightened at the wild manners of the natives, and under pretence of apprehension from the Nayib, determined to return. At the same time he had refused to deliver up my letters to Alli Manda, and had written a foolish one in Arabic, which was forwarded by an inferior messenger; the young chief himself being too proud to "become a carrier," as he expressed it, "of any other than English letters." The consequence, which resulted from the arrival of this letter in the country, proved that the Ras paid no attention to its contents, as he declared, "that he could not descend to correspond with an Arab."
Alli Manda concluded his narrative by expressing great satisfaction at my arrival, and proposed to depart immediately with any letters I might wish to forward, saying "he would stake his life on delivering them safe to the Ras;" at the same time he begged that I would defer all idea of remuneration until his return. I was so much struck with the boldness and openness of his behaviour that I immediately determined to trust him, and accordingly prepared a letter for the Ras, at the top of which I drew the Abyssinian cross and characters usually prefixed to their epistles, and confided it, together with those written at Mocha, to his care. After partaking of some refreshments, and amusing himself with looking at some pictures, with which he seemed greatly delighted, he departed, accompanied, at his own desire, by Hadjee Belal, a native of Hurrur, before mentioned, whom he wished to attend him as a witness of his proceedings.
The latter subsequently proved as unequal to the undertaking as my former messenger, for on the 23d he returned alone, after having advanced only three days journey, at the end of which he was compelled by fatigue to give up the attempt. He informed me that the young chief travelled night and day "like a dromedary," so that he found it totally impracticable to keep pace with him. At parting, Alli Manda made free to borrow from the Hadjee his shield and cummerband, under pretence that he might have occasion for them, a conduct which produced so much alarm in the old man's mind, that it led him to expect assassination every step he took on his return. I could not help pitying his difficulties and disasters, though it may be observed that the Arabs bred in towns are generally feeble, and irresolute, so that it is probable these hardships were greatly exaggerated.
Since the day of our arrival at Amphila, Captain Weatherhead had been actively engaged in examining the bay and in sounding among the islands, with the hope of finding a better anchorage for the ship; and on the 13th his zeal and perseverance were rewarded by the discovery of a secure harbour, a circumstance peculiarly fortunate, from the probability of our being obliged to remain a considerable time at this station. In the afternoon of the 15th, buoys having been previously laid down to mark the passage, the ship was taken safely into the harbour, which, to our great delight, proved to be a perfect bason, and, in remembrance of our voyage, we named it English Harbour. From this time the captain and myself dedicated the greater part of our leisure to the survey of the bay, its islands, and shoals, and the result of our labours enabled me to lay down the accompanying chart. The main points were fixed by my own observations taken with a theodolite on shore; and the shoals and soundings were ascertained by Captain Weatherhead. As the subject is not interesting to the generality of readers, I shall insert further particulars relative to the navigation of the Bay in the body of the chart itself.
On Saturday the 16th, the Dola of Madir, a brother of Alli Govéta, visited me on board the ship. His first appearance did not prepossess me much in his favour. Being a thin, tall, and elderly man, with a sharp hooked nose, and an eye like that of a vulture. I saw at a glance that he might prove troublesome, and therefore, by way of securing his good will, made him a larger present than I had before intended, consisting of a remnant of broad cloth, some juwarry, coffee and coarse cloth. In the evening a large ox was sent from the shore, charged at ten dollars, which was in fine condition, and yielded 260lbs. of beef. This, as well as the rest of the cattle procured during our stay, was brought up from Aréna; the country round Madir yielding neither water nor pasturage for their support.
On Friday the 22d, in the morning, three dows appeared in sight, two from the southward, and one from the opposite direction. As our reports from Massowa had been unfavourable, the Captain thought it right to go out in the schooner to reconnoitre them; the two former proved to be from Muscat, on a trading voyage to the Dahalac Islands, and the other came from Massowa. The latter brought a report that three hundred Ascari had arrived from Jidda in armed dows, the destination of which was unknown; that another Sirdar had taken the command of the island, and that the Nayib had in consequence retired to Arkeeko, feeling an equal dread of the Sheriffe of Mecca on the one side, and of Ras Welled Selassé on the other; the latter, in consequence of the detention of some goods intended for him, which had been forwarded by Hadjee Hamood, having sent down, a short time before, the following laconic message, "Send up the goods, or in a few days I will be with you:" a threat which had occasioned considerable alarm. It appeared from the same quarter, that our arrival at Amphila was known at Massowa.
On the same day at noon I was visited by Alli Govéta and two of his people, who had arrived in the morning from Aréna. This chief appeared to be about sixty years of age; he was a large muscular man, with a heavy expression of countenance, and great affectation of gravity in his manner. After he had taken some biscuits and porter, this apparent reserve gradually wore off, though he still remained dull and consequential.
The usual compliments having passed, we entered into some conversation on the subject of my mission. I informed him that I had four years before visited Abyssinia by the way of Massowa. That Ras Welled Selassé had sent, through me, a letter in the name of the Emperor addressed to the King of England; and that on the delivery of this letter I had been appointed by His Majesty to take charge of an answer and of presents in return. I proceeded to represent, that, at the time I had resided with the Ras, he had informed me, that the road by Buré was preferable to the route by Massowa; and that, in conformity with this information, and a knowledge of the subsequent intercourse which had taken place between the Danákil tribes and Captain Rudland, I had determined, if he would ensure me a safe protection, to attempt a passage through their districts, otherwise I should proceed immediately to Massowa; and that I felt assured that neither the Nayib nor the Sirdar, however much they might be so inclined, would dare to molest me, at a time, when the Grand Seignor and the Sheriffe of Mecca were both at peace with the Engliah nation.
Alli Govéta having listened attentively to this speech, answered me very deliberately to the following effect: "that a considerable time had now elapsed since an Englishman (alluding to Mr. Benzoni) had come over to Madir, who had been met by another Englishman (Mr. Pearce) from Abyssinia; that in consequnce of their concurrent representations of the advantages likely to accrue to his country, he had consented to open the road, and to send a sufficient guard to secure their property up to the borders of Abyssinia. That in return, promises had been made him of considerable presents, which he had never received, and that Mr. Pearce had since been doing him great mischief with the Ras." He added, "that soon after this had occurred, he had received from the Nayib the extraordinary letter I have already given, a copy of which he had forwarded to me, and that, should he accede to my wishes, he expected that the Nayib would come up in force against him, in which case he should feel at a loss in what manner to act."
In reply I observed, that if he were dependent on the Nayib, I was far from wishing him to subject his people to such an alternative; but that I was assured he was perfectly free from any control of this nature, otherwise I should have proceeded immediately to Massowa, and have treated with the Nayib himself. He said, "it was well, he liked few words. He was under no restraint; but then, why had I sent a messenger to the Ras previously to his arrival, as he would have done it much more expeditiously than Alli Manda?" I asked him in what time he could have effected it? he answered, "in five and twenty days; it being a long distance from Antalo to Adowa, where he understood the Ras then resided." I told him that I knew the distance pretty accurately, as I had travelled it myself three different times in the space of five days. "Allah!" said he, with a look of surprise, "can it be possible!"
This gave rise to a fresh difficulty. "The Ras was at war with a tribe on the road under a chief called Subegadis." This I told him I also knew, and mentioned the particulars of the family quarrels related in my former journey into Abyssinia. My knowledge on this subject seemed to make a considerable impression upon him, and he desisted from making any further attempts to deceive.
The subject of presents was next discussed, on which point it requires an uncommon share of patience to listen, even with seeming attention, to this people. A demand for an additional piece of cloth for an attendant, payment for a bullock, which they pretended had been lost on its way to the ship, and many other such miserable subterfuges, succeeding each other for nearly two hours, protracted our coming to any arrangement. At length I had the good fortune to satisfy him with regard to these important matters, and it was finally settled, that, for adequate remuneration, he should do all in his power to promote my views.
To confirm the agreement, I consented, by the advice of Wursum, whom I found to be thoroughly acquainted with the customs of this tribe, to go through a ceremony, said to possess great effect in binding these people to their engagements, which consisted in respectively laying our hands on the Bible and the Koran, and mutually promising a lasting friendship. From this moment Alli Govéta declared, that the Dumhoeta considered themselves and the English as brothers. On his going away we saluted him with three guns, which seemed to afford great satisfaction.
On the 19th I had found it necessary to send the super-cargo of our vessel in Wursum's boat across the sea to Hodeida, for the purpose of procuring an additional supply of coarse cloth, which forms an indispensable article of barter on this coast; but on the 23d, I had the disappointment to see it return without accomplishing the object in view. After leaving us two days, the winds had been found to blow directly contrary to those we experienced; and on attempting to get across the sea from Ayth, the weather in mid-channel became so tempestuous and adverse, that the boat, owing to its being in danger of swamping, was compelled to put back.
On the 24th, I went on shore to return the visit of Alli Govéta; and on approaching the village of Madir, which consists of a few miserable huts only, the old man came out to meet me, accompanied by the Dola of the place, and about twenty savages before him, dancing and shaking their spears, by way of doing me honour, and in the midst of this rabble I was conducted to the largest of the huts. After the usual compliments, an interval of silence ensued, during which Alli Govéta dropped asleep, and the Dola busied himself in sewing up a new garment, while the natives of the place, gaping with astonishment, crowded in to catch a sight of us. I remained a short time amused with the singularity of the scene, which was as complete a burlesque on court-ceremony as can well be conceived; and on departing was presented with a bullock, as a present from the chief. The next day, being Christmas day, we dressed out the ship with all the flags we could muster, feasted on roast beef and plum-pudding, and drank a bumper to the health of all our friends in England.
Thursday 28th.—For the purpose of more conveniently receiving visitors, I pitched two tents on an island, which we called Marian, from that ship having been the first to enter the harbour. In the course of the ensuing fortnight we had constant intercourse with the shore, during which period the Dola and others annoyed us by their frequent attempts to obtain fresh presents. Alli Govéta also began to express much anxiety for the return of Alli Manda, and in this anxiety I very feelingly participated, as during the whole of this time I was under the necessity of providing for the party which had come down from Aréna, the resources of Madir being scarcely equal to its own supply.
At last, on Saturday the 6th of January, intelligence arrived of the return of Alli Manda, and shortly afterwards he came off with the Dola, bringing a packet of letters addressed to me from Mr. Pearce. An hour nearly elapsed before I could prevail upon them to deliver up these letters, the Dola striving with singular cunning to obtain a sum of money previously to their delivery, with which I peremptorily refused to comply, till at last by raising my voice, and affecting great irritation, I prevailed upon Alli Manda to give them up. These letters are written in a manner so strongly characteristic of the writer, that I shall without hesitation lay them before the reader in his own words.
"I received your letter by the hand of Alli Manda, and I can assure you that it gave me the greatest happiness to hear you are well.
"I shall now tell you the best and safest way into this country: the road you mention by Buré is impracticable for any goods or person to travel safe. It is under no government. What little baggage I brought up by that road was almost totally destroyed, and it was by the help of God that I came safe off with my life.
"The only road into this country is by Massowa, which is frequented by the cáfila. Buré was formerly the road of the cáfila, but many of the people were killed by the Arata Bedowee. The Ras has no power whatever lower than where the salt comes from, which is Upper Buré. Massowa is at present on very good terms, and the best road that can be travelled.
"The Ras desires his respect to you; and as soon as you forward the answer he will send with me all the means of conveyance that you mention in your letter.
"I am sorry to inform you that Basha Abdalla is a great rascal. He has not the least friendship with the Nayib. Hadjee Hamedthe only person who can manage things with the Nayib.
"A man from Rome came to the Ras desiring a pass to Sennaar, which he would have given, had I not persuaded him to be aware of such persons, when he ordered him to return to Massowa, where you may meet with him if you come soon.
"I send no farther particulars, as I hope by the blessing of God, before three weeks to have the happiness to meet you at Massowa, which is only six days distant from here by the new road. I am,
and humble Servant,
Chelicut, December 29th, 1809.
"The Ras says, that every day seems like a year until he shall meet you.
"As I am anxious to dispatch your messenger, and my paper is in Antalo, I write on this coarse paper to inform you that the letter by Alli Manda is the only thing I have received, and you, say tobacco and cloth was sent, which I have not received. Alli Manda, I and Mr. Benzoni know to be a great rogue, though he has brought this letter safely to us.
"I shall now give you further advice, with respect to what you mention 'that the Nayib of Massowa will not allow the guns to pass his country, from the apprehension of their being employed against him.' The only way is to make good presents to Alli Govéta, Alli Manda, and his friends, so that they with camels and mules may bring you up one day's journey to the salt plain, where I will meet you with a thousand of the Ras's people.
"I am advised by every body not to go down, at present, until I receive your answer. I have a great many enemies in Arata, through my stubbornness when I left Mr. Benzoni, so that I myself am doubtful of that one day between me and you. If I was with you at present, I would not be afraid, as three or four good Englishmen with arms would beat the whole country of Bedowee; but I alone, what could I do, as the Ras's people are not willing to go down with me?
"If you are determined to come by this road, tell me the day that you will leave the coast, and I will be very near to you at the same time. I can assure you that the Ras is very anxious to see you, and that he would come down himself in case there was sufficient provisions and water for his cavalry and people. I am also very anxious to come down to you alone, could I be permitted by my well-wishers here.
"I think, Sir, you may be able by presents to reach the salt plain, called Arro, which is one day only from Madir. The expense of coming to this can be but little, as it is but a trifling distance, after which all you wish for shall be done. I can assure you I do every thing in my power for my country. I have written three times to Captain Rudland by Buré; but have received no answer.
"Excuse this bad paper, but it is better than delaying time.
I am, Sir, &c.
Chelicut, December 29, 1809.
P.S. "In case you are determined to come this road beware Alli Manda and his friends, as we are at great variance, and blood lies upon me in their country. Should you make friends with him, I will come down at his return; let what ever will happen."
It may readily be conceived that I did not communicate the contents of these letters to Alli Manda; though he pressed me on the subject from being perfectly aware of the enmity of Mr. Pearce. On the contrary I assured him that every thing had happened according to my wishes, and I presented him, for his services, forty dollars and ten pieces of cloth, with which he appeared tolerably well satisfied. Some spruce-beer, an additional present of tobacco, and a few flattering compliments put him into such complete good humour that he declared himself ready to undertake any other commission with which I might entrust him; and to confirm his fidelity laid his hand on the Koran, a circumstance which gave me assurance, notwithstanding the character given of him by Mr. Pearce, that he might prove a valuable assistant in promoting my future plans.
Alli Manda had found the Ras at Chelicut, who the instant he saw the cross with the Æthiopic characters at the top of my letter exclaimed, "Saul—Saul—nobody can have written this letter but Saul." He was equally delighted at its contents, and ordered a fine mule and thirty pieces of cloth to be given to the young man as a recompense for its delivery. Immediately after this Mr. Pearce wrote his first letter in answer, subsequently to which some altercation took place between him and the Ras, the former being very averse from my attempting the road by Buré, and it was in consequence of what passed on this occasion that Mr. Pearce wrote the second letter, in which he consents to attempt the passage if I should be "determined" to prefer it to that by Massowa. As this was a point which required serious consideration and a fresh interview with Alli Govéta and the other Danákil chiefs, I appointed to meet them at the tents on the following Monday.
Accordingly on that day I went on shore, but found only Alli Manda waiting to receive me. He informed me, that Alli Govéta and the other chiefs were so much incensed at his having brought my letter without their consent, that they had resolved not to meet me at the island, and had desired him to say, if I had any propositions to make, that I must come over to Madir, otherwise I was welcome to leave the place. I sent them word in answer, that I certainly should adopt the latter course, if they persisted in such a resolution. That I positively would not go to Madir, and that, unless they chose to meet me on the island, I would immediately proceed to Massowa.
Alli Manda undertook to convey this message, and said, that as the remainder of the day and probably the night might be consumed in discussing the matter, he would on the following morning either bring the refractory chiefs, or return himself and assist me in arranging my future proceedings. They, however, were not so inflexible as he had expected; for in the evening Wursum came off with an apology from the discontented party, and a promise that they would meet me at the tents by eight o'clock on the following morning. The wind having come round to the northward during the day, I dispatched Wursum's boat a second time to Mocha.
On the 9th, I went to the island, and found Alli Govéta waiting my arrival with about eighteen of the principal chiefs belonging to the neighbouring tribes. On their being seated, Alli Govéta congratulated me on my having received communications from Abyssinia, and wished to be informed what I had to propose.
I told him that my letters proved very satisfactory, that the Ras, delighted at my arrival, had expressed a strong desire that I would hasten to him as speedily as possible, and that as he entertained a great friendship for the Dumhoeta he wished me to enter Abyssinia through their territory. To facilitate my journey, he had promised, could I agree with them for a passage, to send down a thousand of his people to meet me at Durra, a station three days journey only from Madir. Before I should state, however, my intentions on the subject, I had a few observations to make to which I begged their particular attention. I was commissioned to carry a letter and presents into Abyssinia, for which my life was answerable, from one of the most powerful sovereigns in the world, whose ships covered the waters. That they must, therefore, fully understand, that should any injury be done to me or any person under my protection during our passage through their territory, certain destruction would fall on those concerned in its perpetration, as the Ras stood pledged for our security, and England was a nation which never permitted an injury done to her subjects to pass without severe retaliation. This being fully understood, I had to demand whether any of those present could pledge themselves to secure us a safe passage through the country?
Alli Govéta asked if I had done, and on being answered in the affirmative, he said very gravely, "Tabinte! (mark you!} I have sworn on the Koran to be your friend, and I will tell you the truth. We cannot give you a passage; and this is the reason. An English man came here some time ago, with goods for Abyssinia. We consented to protect them to the Ras's dominions; and we did so. We were promised an ample reward and we received nothing. Mark you! The Dumhoeta will not serve any nation on such terms."
I returned him thanks for this frank avowal. I wished only for the truth, and I was satisfied with his reply; but though we could not pass through their country, I expressed a hope that we might continue friends. Before we parted, however, I felt desirous of pointing out the difference between the station I filled and that of the person with whom he had formerly dealt. Mr. Benzoni was engaged in trade. I was not prepared to answer for his acts. I stood before them as the wakeel of a sovereign, and had simply to execute my own commission. They knew how I had rewarded Alli Manda, and I should remunerate others in proportion to their services.
The Dola immediately took up the conversation: "We are," said he, "a people consisting of many Kurreas, (tribes) and each has several head men. You now see those belonging to the Dumhoeta, besides which may be reckoned the Taieméla and the Hadarem, who have agreed with us to leave the settlement of this business to Alli Govéta and Alli Manda. Give us only a proper ashoor (duty,) and we consent to convey you, your people, and all your goods in safety to the Ras."
I replied, that with respect to presents from one sovereign to another, duties were out of the question. I could not permit any of my boxes to be opened, though I was willing to make them adequate presents. They asked, how many camels I should want, and, how soon I should require them? I replied, that I could not fix the precise number, but supposed I might want about thirty to be ready in sixteen days, for which I would engage to give them one hundred dollars. Forty to Alli Govéta, and sixty to be distributed among the tribes. And should this be agreed upon, I would either go myself, or send a person from the ship with Alli Manda, to convey the intelligence to the Ras.
This proposal was debated for about three hours, with great violence, during the heat of which I went out, being insufferably incommoded by the closeness of the tent. At length, Alli Manda came to me, and told me they would agree to my proposition, if I would protract the period to twenty days, to which I consented. At the same time, he strongly recommended me not to think of going myself on this occasion, but to send some other person; as he assured me, nothing would be done, if both he (Alli Manda) and I should be absent together. On more mature consideration, I gave up the idea of going myself, though with some reluctance, as the journey might have enabled me to improve very materially the geography of this unexplored part of the country. In earnest of our agreement, I gave Alli Govéta a turban of muslin, and after feasting the whole party, returned with Alli Manda on board, for the purpose of carrying into effect the proposed plan.
I had now secured one important point, the means of again communicating with the Ras, and of giving him early information of my plans, though I own it was with great hesitation that I finally resolved upon the route it might be advisable to pursue. During my stay I had acquired sufficient insight into the character of these tribes to feel assured that I might have been enabled by great management, though with considerable risk, to accomplish my journey through their country; yet, could I even have effected it, such strong objections remained against the plan, that it appeared to me, notwithstanding any additional expense, delay, or hazard which might be incurred, that the road by Massowa ought decidedly to be preferred. Mr. Pearce's letters and my own experience had taught me, that during the unsettled state of the tribes then existing, no trade or regular intercourse could be carried on through Madir. Whereas an established intercourse was carried on with Massowa, which, though attended with occasional difficulties, and obstructed by many shameful exactions, had not for many years been actually interrupted. My passing from Madir would probably have shut up this channel for ever. The enmity of the Sirdar and Nayib would have been implacable, and it appeared not unlikely that the tribes on the coast might, on our account, have been precipitated into a war, which would have been equally destructive to themselves and to our interests; and all these consequences must have taken place without my being able to ascertain the real situation of affairs at Massowa. On the contrary by going to that place, I should be enabled at once to face all difficulties, and I saw no reason to despair, notwithstanding the hostile letter from its chiefs, of bringing them to a satisfactory termination.
On the 10th, while I was still hesitating, a gelve fortunately arrived express from Massowa, confirming the intelligence of the removal of Omar Aga from the command at that place, and of the arrival of Mustapha Aga, who had succeeded to his authority. Immediately on the arrival of the latter, he disclaimed the acts of his predecessor, and dispatched the gelve for the purpose of assuring me of his friendship for the English, and his wish to promote their views; and at the same time he forwarded a packet of letters from Captain Rudland, that had reached Massowa by a circuitous conveyance, and sent a present of goats and fowls, which he had entrusted to the care of the Dola of Dahalac, a respectable old man, with whom I had been acquainted on my former voyage, and who was evidently selected on account of his known attachment to the English.
The letters from Captain Rudland contained expressions of great alarm at the accounts which he had received respecting the hostile proceedings of the Nayib and Omar Aga. Of his assurance that Yunus had been poisoned, and of his fears for our safety; with the intelligence of a Wahabee fleet having been dispatched from Jidda, the destination of which was not satisfactorily ascertained. A dispatch was also inclosed, addressed to me from the Bombay Government, requesting my co-operation with its agent, Captain Rudland, in his commercial plans with respect to Abyssinia, and the copy of a letter, ordering him to act in concert with me.
The receipt of this packet determined my proceedings, and I finally resolved to go to Massowa as soon as I could dispatch the super-cargo of the ship to the Ras, and ascertain his having passed the borders. In pursuance of this plan I wrote a letter to Mr. Pearce, desiring him to set out with the Ras's people for Massowa immediately on the receipt of my letter, and I engaged to meet him there in fourteen days. This letter I gave to Mr. Coffin, and went with him on shore, where, after a long conference, it was agreed, that he should set out with Alli Manda at midnight. I provided him a horse which I had brought over from Mocha, and sent with him an Arab "sais," or "horse-keeper," and Wursum's brother, a young Somauli well versed in the Dankali language, as an interpreter, and ten young men belonging to Alli Govéta were selected in my presence to guard them through the country. Before I left them Alli Govéta begged that I would request the Ras to send him a mule. Alli Manda solicited another turban for his brother, and so many various demands came upon me from all quarters, that had I not retreated to the boat, I believe I might have stripped myself entirely to satisfy their insatiable demands.
To prevent any obstacles arising to Mr. Coffin's journey, I was under the unpleasant necessity of dissembling, and of leaving the Dumhoeta chiefs to suppose that I still designed to pass through their territory.
On my return from the shore I went on board the Massowa gelve, and took the Dola of Dahalac with me to the ship. The delight of the old man at seeing me was very feelingly expressed, and it was much increased on being told of the health of the "Lord Sahib" (Lord Valentia,) and Captain Court; concerning whom he made particular inquiries. While we were taking coffee together, I asked him several questions respecting my former acquaintances at Massowa and Dahalac, and found from his replies that they remained much in the same situation as when I left them, excepting the Nayib, who had been greatly mortified by the late diminution of his authority. He spoke very highly of the Kaimakan Mustapha Aga, and assured me that every thing had gone on well since the dismissal of the Jidda soldiers, a measure which had been adopted, in consequence of some serious dissensions which had arisen between them and the inhabitants. I found also that intelligence had been received respecting the English expedition against the Johassim Arabs, and the destruction of Ras el Kire, which, as the Dola informed me, had given rise to considerable alarm lest we might intend a similar expedition against Massowa. I quieted his fears on this head, but avoided giving him any insight into my future intentions, through fear that they might transpire among the natives of the coast; but I afterwards found that this precaution was needless, as the people on board the gelve did not dare to hazard the slightest communication with the shore, owing to the settled state of affairs among the tribes.
As the Dola was anxious to return to Massowa, on account of a Mahomedan festival which was at this time celebrating, I immediately prepared an answer in Arabic to Mustapha Aga, thanking him for his attentions, and stating that it was my intention to be at Massowa in fourteen days; at which time I expected the Ras's people down to meet me. The Dola departed with this letter on the eleventh.
While the gelve was getting under sail, we witnessed an extraordinary instance of skill in diving. In the attempt to weigh the anchor the cable parted, when one of the natives instantly flung himself into the water, dived, and with the utmost resolution dexterously fastened the two broken ends of the cable, a task which he completed in about two minutes, in so effectual a manner, that the anchor was immediately drawn by it out of the ground. The man after this daring exploit rose perfectly unconcerned, and without any apparent fatigue. Some of the boat's crew, before they went away, offered me a quantity of mis-shapen pearls for sale, but the sum demanded for them was very exorbitant, a circumstance arising from the price which the Muscat dealers can afford to give, owing to pearls of all shapes and descriptions bearing a high value in the Indian market.
On the 13th, I had a meeting with Alli Govéta and the Dola, who made an urgent demand for the hundred dollars agreed upon for my passage. As I wished to keep them in good humour I advanced forty, but refused to come to a final settlement until I should hear from the supercargo. Many arguments were adduced by the Dola to make me alter this determination, but I remained inflexible, and, finding that they persisted in the demand, left them, on pretence of shooting an antelope which I had lost some time before on the island, and this necessarily ended the debate. At the same meeting Wursum asked permission to leave us a few days, for the purpose "of reading the Koran, and giving a feast in memory of his deceased father." These feasts always end in a general drinking bout, and the relations are honoured in proportion to the number of days during which they can provide liquor to keep up the debauch.
On the 17th, I sent a messenger to the village of Duroro to gain intelligence respecting the supercargo, and learned in the evening that he had passed the salt-plain. I was also informed that Wursum, in consequence of having been guilty of great excess, was seriously ill. That Alli Govéta was dissatisfied, and wanted a fresh supply of provisions, and that many of the other chiefs had gone away, in consequence of the arrival of information that the Nayib had come down to the neighbourhood of Aréna with his troops. I attributed the desponding tone of this intelligence in a great degree to the effects produced on the minds of the natives by the heavy rains which had fallen in the three preceding days, as it is a circumstance that always occasions serious inconvenience in a place where the huts are so slightly constructed as to be unable to resist the torrents which usually pour down at this season; and on going on shore the following day, I discovered that my conjectures were well-founded; the whole village being in a deplorable state. The mats which had covered the huts were partly blown away, the rest were soaked completely through with the wet, and the inhabitants had got huddled together in the inner apartments, like cattle in a shed during a storm. Their wretched appearance strongly excited compassion, though it was not unmixed with contempt, at witnessing their extreme folly and want of precaution in not making the slightest preparation against such occasions.
On the 19th, Alli Govéta and some of his friends came off to the ship by appointment, when I communicated to them, in as conciliating a manner as I could, my intention of proceeding to Massowa, and the circumstance of my having directed Mr. Pearce to meet me at that place. I pointed out to them the necessity for my adopting this plan, in order to prove to the Nayib and Aga of Massowa the contempt in which I held their threats, and my determination to communicate with Abyssinia by whatever route I might think proper. I proceeded to declare my perfect satisfaction at the treatment I had received from the Dumhoeta during my stay at Amphila, and I promised, notwithstanding the change in my plans, to give them the whole sum which I had agreed to pay for a passage through their country, in the hope that it might render them grateful, and induce them hereafter to abide strictly by those principles of friendship for the English which they had sworn so solemnly to maintain.
Alli Govéta at first seemed sadly disappointed at my resolution, but after a time acknowledged, that my reasons for going to Massowa had great weight; though he still expressed a hope, if I could not satisfactorily arrange my journey with the chiefs of that place, that I would return to Amphila; and then he assured me, that, whatever my wishes might be, he was my brother, and would be answerable with his life for their accomplishment. On my pressing him to keep on good terms with the Nayib, he energetically replied, "I wish to have nothing to do with him: he commands in his country, and I in mine; but I have sworn friendship to you, and will be either at peace or war with him, as you may desire."
There is a native eloquence about these people which gives their speeches on such occasions a peculiar interest. I was a good deal struck with the warmth and apparent sincerity of his manner and parted from him with considerable regret, as he had risen greatly in my estimation upon a more intimate acquaintance with his character. With regard to my opinion of the Dola, it remained unaltered.
On the 20th January, Wursum's boat fortunately returned from Mocha with an ample supply of cloth, rice, and other articles, which enabled me to reward all the natives who had in any degree been of service to us; and, on the 22d, preparations were made for our departure from Amphila. Before I quit it, it may not be amiss to introduce a few general remarks, made during my stay on the spot, respecting the islands, the coast and its inhabitants.
The Bay of Amphila comprises an extent of sixteen miles along the coast, and from its outer island measures nearly twelve miles in depth, containing altogether thirteen islands, the native names of which, as far as they could be ascertained, are given in the chart.
All these islands, excepting a small one in the middle of the Bay, are composed entirely of marine alluvies strongly cemented together and forming vast and solid masses, which may not improperly be termed rock. The surface being covered in parts only, with a thin layer of soil. The larger portion of these remains consists of corallines, madrepores, echini and a great variety of sea-shells of those species which appear to be still common in this sea. The heighth of the islands often exceeds thirty feet above the level of high-water mark, a circumstance which renders it difficult to account for the process by which they have been formed.
Mr. Dalrymple's hypothesis respecting the formation of coral islands has been very generally admitted to be correct, and indeed seems to account very satisfactorily for those not elevated more than one or two feet above the level of the ocean; since the moment one point of coral rises to its surface, birds will of course resort to it, and there leave shells, bones, and other remains of their food, which in time producing vegetation, may continually accumulate until the whole mass become a solid stratum of earth. But this does not solve the present difficulty, for, on the islands I am describing, large pieces of madrepore are found, disposed in regular layers, full twenty feet above the level of high water mark, and for this circumstance no satisfactory reason, in my opinion, can be assigned, but the supposition of the sea having retired since they have been so deposited.
The small island, which I have mentioned as different from the rest, consists of a solid rock of calcareous stone, through which run veins of calcedony. On the east side of it is a large cave, used by the masters of dows, frequenting this bay, as a store-house, for laying up their goods; and from this circumstance, as we could not ascertain its native appellation, we named it Safety Island.
The shores to windward of these islands are, in general, steep; and, when the weather is foul, difficult of approach, owing to the encroachments of the sea, which have undermined the rocks, leaving in many places singular-shaped pillars and hollow caves, bearing a strong resemblance to works of art. On the leeward side, a grove of rack trees is commonly found, particularly convenient for supplying fire-wood to vessels, and the natives will permit any quantity to be cut down for a few dollars.
One of the islands named Kutto, appears at some distant time to have been inhabited, as the ruins of stone houses and a fort plainly shew; the latter was evidently intended to command the passage leading into an inner harbour, adjacent to the village of Duroro. There also exists in the centre of the same island, a connected set of four large cisterns, excavated in the shape of a cross, each of which is thirty feet long, nine broad, and seven high, all of which are lined with chunam; these, when filled, would hold, at a moderate computation, one hundred and twenty thousand gallons of water. These cisterns seem to have been constructed by the same people who formed those which I have formerly described on the Island of Dahalac. A tradition current among the natives ascribes this undertaking to the Pharsees, or Persians, who conquered Yemen from the Abyssinians early in the seventh century, and for some time held unrivalled possession of the commerce of the Red Sea. The same tradition leads to the belief, that they were at last compelled to desert the coast by a famine; but at what time this occurred is uncertain; though it probably did not take place till a considerable time after the birth of Mahomed. I should feel myself inclined to conjecture, that the works in question must have been constructed by the Turks at a much later period.
The other islands do not seem to have been at any time inhabited; but those which are accessible from the continent at low water, are sometimes visited by the natives, and the vegetation found upon them affords sustenance to a great number of camels, goats and kids, the flesh of which latter, in a wild state, is almost equal to venison.
The fishermen also, at particular seasons of the year, frequent these islands, as the numerous remains of sharks, saw-fish, and turtle, on which they had been regaling, sufficiently testified; and occasionally, as appears from a scene witnessed by Captain Weatherhead and myself, the natives come over to indulge in feasts of a still more extraordinary description. The instance to which I allude occurred on the 25th of December, during one of our excursions on the Island of Anto Sukkeer, when we met with a party, composed of three men and two women, assembled round a fire, enjoying a feast, consisting of about a dozen young eagles, of an half grown size, recently taken from their nests, and about two bushels of shell-fish, all of which, after being broiled, were ate without either bread or salt; and the natives seemed to consider it as a most delicious repast; while the screams of the parent birds hovering over their heads, furnished very appropriate music to this savage entertainment.
At the bottom of the bay, on the main land, lie the two villages of Madir and Duroro, the latter of which is considerably the larger, and more conveniently situated for traffic, as it lies scarcely half a mile removed from the port in which the dows usually anchor. From this point we made several excursions mounted upon mules, which we hired from the Dola of the place. The country over which we travelled on these occasions, consisted of an extensive plain, covered with brushwood, and bounded by a range of mountains, forming a kind of natural amphitheatre, at about fifteen miles distant in the interior, lying in a north-west and south-east dircetion, fronting the coast. To the northward of this range passes the road to Abyssinia, and beyond, in the same line, on a clear day, part of the still loftier chain of mountains extending from Senafé to Taranta, may be plainly distinguished.
As the rains had only just commenced, the vegetation appeared to be very scanty, and we consequently met with but little game, though, during the fertile season, large herds of deer are said to come down from the upper country, a circumstance not unlikely, from the number of horns which we found lying scattered among the hills. A small species of hare, greatly resembling, a rabbit, which delights in frequenting dry and desert situations, seemed to be common on the coast. Among the birds worthy of observation, a large and fine species of bustard, and several species of lapwing were most conspicuous, all of which, upon an examination of the contents of their stomachs, appeared to feed chiefly on locusts, with which the neighbourhood was at this time much infested.
During our stay in this quarter, a large flight of these insects came over to one of the islands, and in a few days destroyed nearly half the vegetation upon it, not sparing even the bitter leaves of the rack-tree. These locusts are called Jerād in Yemen, and Anne in Dankali, and are commonly used as food by the wandering tribes of both these nations, who, after broiling them, separate the heads from the bodies, and devour the latter in the same manner as Europeans eat shrimps and prawns.
The main land, towards the sea, is every where skirted with a thick jungle, (if I may so express it) of the rack-tree, much frequented by a species of fox, called by the natives 'wobit,' which comes down regularly to the sea-side, on the fall of the tide, to seek for shell-fish and other marine substances, on which it principally feeds. This circumstance was early noticed by Pliny, who calls the fox, a small dog, and the rack, "an olive-tree." "In mari vero rubro sylvas vivere, laurum maxime et olivam ferentem baccas:"—"caniculis refertas vix ut prospicere è navi tutum sit, remos plerunque ipsos invadentibus." It is worthy of observation, that the leaves of the rack, though exceedingly bitter and acrid to the taste, form the chief support of the numerous droves of camels kept on the coast, which, from this circumstance, are esteemed more stout and capable of bearing fatigue, than any others fed in a different manner.
The supply of water on this coast depends upon a number of wells, rudely hollowed out by the natives. Those immediately in the neighbourhood of the villages are fit for use only during a short time after the rains have fallen, being at other periods dry or impregnated with salt water. The best wells are found on Amphila Point, about six miles east by south from the harbour, which afford a sufficient quantity of water for the supply of a fleet; but they are not very convenient, on account of their lying at the distance of nearly three-quarters of a mile from the beach. These reservoirs are excavated to the depth of twelve and fourteen feet from the surface, but we never observed the water in them to rise more than one foot from the bottom; so that in filling a large cask it often became exhausted, and occasioned a delay until a fresh supply had trickled in again from the sides.
It frequently happened that the water was salt in one well, and fresh in another, though not lying more than ten or twelve yards asunder. This variation in the quality of the water seemed to depend in a great measure upon the height of the tide, as it was found that the salt water predominated at the flowing of the spring, and the fresh water during the prevalence of the neap tides. This circumstance favours the supposition, that the sea, when at its highest elevation, rises above the level of some of the springs by which the wells are supplied; and, hence, finding its way through the sands, renders the water at such times brackish. The natives on the coast, as well as the Arabs, do not term the water, when so impregnated, salt water, but call it by a name implying "bitter water," and it may have proceeded from this cause that the term, which is used in the Scriptures, derived its origin.
Near the wells a number of troughs made of clay are placed for watering the camels that are brought down every morning by the natives, who generally occupy the place from eight to ten o'clock. Our watering parties found these people uniformly civil, though, on the following occasion, a circumstance ridiculous in itself had nearly produced very unpleasant and serious consequences. One of our sailors, named Robinson, during the absence of the mate, wantonly took a piece of fat pork, and rubbed it over the head and neck of a native who had been sent to attend the party. This incensed the man so highly, that, though old and feeble, he caught up his shield and spear, and swore by the Prophet that he would have revenge. At this threat the sailor with some reason became alarmed, when the rest of the party were obliged to interfere and get him off as speedily as possible to the boat. By this time the mate, who had been wandering a short distance only with his gun, fortunately returned, and by kind words and a present of tobacco succeeded in appeasing the old man's anger; but the affair was not finally arranged till a regular complaint had been laid before me by the chief of the tribe, when it was settled with some difficulty, by the payment of twenty dollars.
I have been induced to dwell more particularly on this occurrence on account of the many fatal accidents which have ensued from the misconduct of individuals on similar occasions, in palliation of which it has been too much the practice to cast hasty imputations of barbarity upon the natives of different countries, whose conduct, were the facts impartially examined, might not only prove justifiable, but possibly meritorious, from the due chastisement they had inflicted on the rude invaders of their rights. A captain of a ship ought never to permit a boat to go ashore on a strange coast, without sending, if possible, an interpreter with the party, and even then he should be particularly cautious in selecting for the service a steady officer, of mild conduct and conciliating manners, who would consider that, in seeking water merely, he was asking for an indulgence which, though apparently trifling in his estimation, might be of infinite importance to those with whom he had to communicate, while the men should at the same time be strictly enjoined not to stir from the side of their officer, nor to attempt laying their hands on the slightest article until some agreement should have been entered into with the natives, or some interchange of presents should have taken place. Were these circumstances more minutely attended to, and the peculiar prejudices and customs of the people more generally respected, I feel convinced, that the inhabitants of most countries would, in the first instance, be naturally inclined to treat strangers with hospitality; and accidents like those alluded to would prove of much rarer occurrence. These sentiments I have imbibed from frequent observation on the thoughtless and unguarded conduct of our seamen, and from remarking the extreme care and caution used by the natives of Africa themselves in opening a communication with tribes to which they had before been strangers; a particular instance of which I shall have occasion to describe in a subsequent visit to the Island of Howakil.
The country round Amphila forms part of an extensive tract formerly termed the kingdom of Dankali, the sovereign of which was engaged at an early period in the wars carried on by the Kings of Hurrur and Adaiel against Abyssinia. The inhabitants are nearly allied by their habits and language to the Adaiel, and their respective territories lay contiguous, till the great inroad of the Galla, who, by advancing to the coast in the neighbourhood of Asab, completely separated them. Both the district and the people inhabiting it still retain the name of Dankali, but the latter is now subdivided into a great number of petty tribes, each ruled by its own peculiar chief. The tribe of greatest consequence is that of the Dumhoeta, who hold possession of the coast from Béluol to Aréna, besides considerable districts in the interior: the number of their fighting men may be computed at one thousand. Next to these may be reckoned the two tribes of the Taieméla and the Hadarem, each of which can bring two hundred men into the field; both having their residence among the mountains in the neighbourhood of the salt plain. Adjoining them to the northward dwell the Belessua, partly dependent on the Taieméla, while to the southward at Ayth, and in its immediate neighbourhood, reside the small tribes of Adoole and Modeto, who are chiefly employed in a sea-faring life, and are connected, as I have before remarked, with the old settlers on the islands lying off the coast. The remaining tribes are termed Adalhu, Aisamalhu, Kedimto, Weéma, Mushiek, and the Assamominto; the last of which is ruled by a brother of Alli Govéta, dwelling in the neighbourhood of Aréna. To the north-west of these, lies another tribe, completely independent, called Russamo, which is generally at variance with all its neighbours.
All the tribes above-mentioned speak the same language, and may be considered as Danákil: their united forces are said to amount to full six thousand men.
These tribes profess the religion of Mahomed, of which, however, they know little more than the name; they have neither priests nor mosques in their country. In their manners they are rude and uncultivated, leading a wandering life among the hills, and shifting about as occasion requires, from station to station, in search of pasture for their cattle. Each tribe is perfectly independent; though all are ready at a short warning to unite for a common cause; and being daring, resolute, and active, their numbers would render them a formidable enemy were it not for their want of arms, their poverty not allowing more than one in ten to possess a spear, a knife, or any other weapon of offence.
The women on the coast possess very pleasing and agreeable features, and whenever we entered their huts were very civil in offering us a seat, and in affording us a draught of water, which was the only refreshment their poverty could supply. Of every other article of sustenance an extreme scarcity prevails throughout the country. Indeed, no people in the world is more straitened with respect to the necessaries of life. A little juwarry bread, a small quantity of fish, an inadequate supply of goats and camels milk, and a kid on very particular occasions constitutes the whole of their subsistence. In the interior they live a little better, and possess large droves of cattle, which, during the rainy season yield abundance of milk. As there did not appear to be any cultivation of the ground in practice among this people, it may be strictly termed a pastoral nation. All the natives, both men and women, have an extraordinary craving after tobacco: they smoke it, take it in the form of snuff, and are in the habitual practice of chewing it, which, in a certain degree, I imagine, satisfies the calls of hunger. The dress of the men consists of a single piece of Arabian or Abyssinian cloth loosely wrapped round the body, and their hair, which is crisped, is curiously dressed out, frizzed, powdered with brown dust, and covered with grease in a similar way to that practised by the Hazorta and other tribes on the coast. The dress of the women is somewhat more modest than that of the men, though not very appropriate to their sex, part of it being formed of a close covering resembling a species of drawers, the edges of which are variously ornamented with kowries and other shells. Their hair is plaited in small ringlets, and their arms and legs are adorned with bracelets of ivory and silver. The drudgery of the house, such as grinding corn, baking the bread, and fetching the water, is as usual allotted to the females; while the males pass their time in tending their cattle, or more frequently in smoking and idleness.
Their huts are constructed in the shape of the wig-wams of the American Indians, and are covered with mats formed out of the leaves of the doom-tree. Each hut is generally divided into two or three compartments, and their only furniture consists of a few rude couches, some cooking utensils, and a large jar for holding water. When a marriage takes place, at which time great rejoicings are made, an intoxicating kind of liquor called booza is supplied by the friends, and the foot of a kid is cut off, and hung up in the house of the chief, to serve as a rude kind of calendar to mark the event.
It is a singular fact, worthy of particular notice, that the Danákil, as well as the Adaiel and Somauli, entertain a peculiar prejudice against common fowls, the flesh of which is held among them in a kind of abhorrence: this may perhaps lead to the idea of these tribes being sprung from an Egyptian origin. I remarked also another circumstance, strongly in favour of this conjecture, which is that of their tombs being covered with monuments of a pyramidal structure. We had remained a considerable time on the coast before I could get a sight of their burying grounds; but at length I accidentally discovered one in a secluded spot, between the two hills, termed in our chart the Sister Hills. The tombs were rudely constructed, in the exact shape of pyramids, with stones cemented together with chunam, and some of these piles were entirely covered with the latter material: the base of one of them occupying a space of full ten feet square. A vocabulary of the Dankali language will be found in the Appendix. (Vide No. I.)
The thermometer during our stay at Amphila generally stood at noon as high as at 77-8 and 9° the shade, with the wind from about E. to E. S. E.; but in the latter part of December, with a "shummall," or "northwest wind," the thermometer fell as low as 72°, at which time we had cloudy weather, and occasional showers, while on shore the rain appeared to be almost incessant. Previously to the approach of a shummall, the air became always extremely heavy, and the atmosphere hazy, from being apparently loaded with sand, which the force of partial gusts of wind had carried up in the shape of pillars, and these were constantly observed sweeping in different directions across the plain. I never heard of any accident occurring from these "moving pillars of sand," nor did the natives appear to entertain any particular dread of them. I have myself been enveloped in a portion of one of them, the effects of which were exceedingly unpleasant, making the whole of my skin feel parched and dry; but I experienced no actual suffering from it, either at the time or afterwards.
Besides the birds before noticed, I may here take occasion to mention, that the shoals and islands were frequented by large flights of sea-fowl, such as pelicans, herns of a large size and of many different species, flamingos, spoon-bills, gulls, curlews, snipes, and sand-larks. I also shot upon the coast a very beautiful species of bird, which was supposed by Dr. Latham at first sight to be nearly allied to the Ardea pondiceriana; but it has since been thought to form a new and distinct genus, from its having the bill of an ardea, while the feet are deeply webbed, and more nearly allied to those of the avoset. Specimens of both male and female are now in the possession of Lord Stanley, to whom I presented them on my return to England. I discovered likewise a new species of lark, which is very common on all the islands, and which, from its colour and habits, may be aptly termed the desert lark. A list of these birds, arranged according to their proper genera and species, will be given, along with others found in Abyssinia, in the Appendix.
On the 23d we took leave of Alli Govéta and his friends at Amphila, and set sail for Massowa. In attempting to get out of the harbour, the wind veered suddenly round to the eastward, which compelled us to come to an anchor in five fathoms, in the mid-channel. In consequence of this delay, the captain, the surgeon and myself, went on shore to Harbour Island, and spent the day under the shade of a grove of mimosa-trees, which were thickly interspersed with climbing shrubs. Nothing can be imagined more agreeable than these partial spots of scenery on the islands, at this particular season of the year. In the evening we made a large fire. It was a beautiful moonlight night; and as our tent was distant only about an hundred yards from the sea, it altogether produced a most delightful effect. On the following morning at day-break we went on board, and finally set sail.
- I found on subsequent inquiry, that the name of 'Alli' was a title given to most of the chiefs on this coast; expressing the same thing as 'Ayto' in the Abyssinian, 'Sydee' in Arabic, and 'Sir' or 'Mr.' in the English language.
- This man proved to be a Frenchman. He returned viâ Suakin. H.S.
- This letter was written on cartridge paper.
- The circumstances to which this alludes will be related in Mr. Pearce's Journal.
- This was the appellation by which I was generally known in Abyssinia on my first visit.
- This word is very frequently introduced in all their speeches; a mode of exciting attention, common also among the North American Indians.
- Kurrea is a tribe. Kabela is a people.
- This is probably the "benat el wau," respecting which the 38th question is proposed by Michælis. Vide Recueil de Questions, &c. p. 81. I have seen the footsteps also of the hyæna close to the sea-side.
- This appears to me a complete answer to the 74th question proposed by Michælis.
- Dankali is singular, Danákil plural.
- As this word appears to be different in its character from any other on the coast, I cannot help suspecting, that it may prove a corruption from the "Ἀντιφίλȣ λιμην," mentioned by Strabo. Vide Strabonis Geograph. Vol. II. p. 771.