A voyage to Abyssinia (Salt)/Chapter 5
Observations respecting the Coast northward of Amphila—Sarbo—Bay of Howakil—Island of the same name—Communication with its inhabitants, &c.—Excursion to Aréna—Discovery of the Opsian Stone—Visit to the Island of Buckah—Anchorage at Adjuice—Voyage to Massowa—Remarkable appearance in the Sea—Its cause—Dangerous Shoal near Valentia Island—Arrival at Massowa—Abyssinian party sent down by the Ras—Account of Mr. Coffin's journey from Amphila to Chelicut—General remarks respecting it—Interview with the Kaimakan—Alarming appearance of a fleet of dows from Jidda—Visit from Mahomed Jelani—Preparations for our journey into the Interior—Departure from Massowa—Stay at Arkeeko—Character of its Inhabitants. Departure from it.
AFTER clearing the islands of Amphila, we kept close in with the shore, which enabled me to make some useful observations respecting its shape and direction, and in a few hours we reached Sarbo, where we came to an anchor immediately under the point. In this situation we found the shelter from the southward tolerably good, though subject to a heavy swell, but, as the islands do not afford any protection in the north-west quarter, it is a place by no means to be resorted to, except as an occasional anchorage.
We dedicated the 25th to a survey of the eastern end of the Bay of Howakil. On going up Sarbo Hill for this purpose, we found some very fine plants of the balsam, and of another shrub producing a gum much resembling bdellium, of which I preserved several specimens; and from these it was ascertained on my return, that both plants belong to the genus amyris. From the top of the hill we had a fine view of the coast, with its numerous curving inlets, bays, and islands, of which I took a double set of bearings; and as the hills which we had seen at Amphila continued in sight, it connected our survey with that bay. Here I also observed the meridian altitude of the sun with an artificial horizon, which proved the latitude of the place to be in 15° 0' 48" N. Captain Weatherhead made an observation at the same time upon the extremity of the point, the result of which gave 15° 1′ 10″; the difference between these two observations very satisfactorily answered to our actual distance.
On Friday the 26th, I set out in the morning in Wursum's dow, on an expedition across the Bay of Howakil, leaving Captain Weatherhead to pass outside with the Marian, to the Island of Adjuice. We proceeded in the first instance to the long flat Island of Del'gammon, and visited a small village called by the same name, in search of a stone bearing an inscription, which is said to remain somewhere in the neighbourhood. I could not prevail upon the natives to shew it me; but, from several subsequent accounts, I am still led to believe, that such a stone does exist, with Cufic characters upon it, referring to a tradition before mentioned respecting the Persians, and I have here noticed it for the benefit of some future traveller.
From Del'gammon we took, at Wursum's desire, one of the natives on board, and proceeded to Howakil, near which we anchored, and soon afterwards landed and walked about two miles, over a flat plain, towards the village. As we approached it we perceived symptoms of alarm among the natives, several of whom were seen running away, and others with spears in their hands assembling in a body, and receding as we advanced. I sent the native of Del'gammon forward to tell them we were friends. On hearing this they stopped, drew up in a line, with an old man in the centre, and greeted us with the usual salutation "Salam Alicum," to which we answered, according to custom, "Alicum Salam." After this we touched the hand of every one of the company, each man kissing his own hand on withdrawing it, as is the common practice on the coast. After this introduction, the chief, who was distinguished only by the superior quality of his garment, commenced a regular set of enquiries, addressing himself to Wursum as our spokesman; while our respective parties continued very ceremoniously drawn up opposite to each other in perfect silence: "Kaif untah?" "how do you do?" the answer was "Tiben," "well." They then went on, "El amd u'l illah," "thanks be to God:" "Kulo tiben?" "is all well?" "Ewau tlben," "yes, well," "Muntiyu?" "where are you from?" "Min Mocha, baden, min Amphila," "from Mocha; last from Amphila." "Aish kubber?" "What news?" "Taiib kubber," "Good news." "El amd 'l illah;" "God be praised." After which followed a series of questions respecting the "news from Mocha, from Hodeida? from Amphila? and from Habesh?" to each of which Wursum replied by a detailed account of all he knew from these respective places, not forgetting in his narrative to mention the price of ghee, juwarry, cloth, &c. He also informed them of our friendship with Alli Govéta and the Danákil, on hearing which they repeatedly exclaimed, "God be praised, that's well."
Silence at length ensuing, Wursum asked if they had done; and on being answered in the affirmative, I was greatly amused to hear him formally go over in return a string of questions very similar to the preceding, only varying the places of enquiry, commencing with "Kaif untah?" "How do you do?" and ending with "what news from Jidda? Suakin? Massowa? Dahalac? and Aréna?" After they had satisfactorily answered all these interesting enquiries, and told us to a fraction of a commassi the current price of every petty article of trade, they once more offered us their hands, declared that they were highly gratified at our arrival, and then, turning about, led us forward to the village.
Trifling as the above transaction may appear, I have thought it worthy of being particularized, from its relation to a question before alluded to, of attempting a first intercourse with savages. If Wursum, a Somauli, so nearly allied in habits and manners to the Danákil, thought so much precaution necessary in a kindred place because he had not before visited it, how imperious must be the necessity where Europeans attempt to communicate with people whose colour, habits, and manners, are so perfectly dissimilar to their own? I have been led to give the original phrases as a specimen of the vulgar Arabic, from its being commonly used on the coasts of the Red Sea.
As soon as we arrived at the village of Howakil, a very neat hut was prepared for me, and as the evening was far advanced I consented to stay for the night. Nothing could exceed the kindness of these good people; a kid was killed, and a large quantity of fresh milk was brought and presented in straw baskets made of the leaves of the doom-tree, seared over with wax, a manufacture in which the natives on these islands particularly excel. On expressing a desire to retire to rest, a new mat was brought to lay upon my couch, and a quantity of Arabian silk was placed by the Sheik with his own hands, to form my pillow.
On the 27th, at day-break, I went on an excursion up the mountains for the purpose of taking a general view and bearings of the islands in the bay. These mountains are picturesque in their aspect, are covered with brush-wood, and constitute a perfect amphitheatre, bounding a plain gradually sloping to the sea. The view over this plain from the first ridge of hills was extremely beautiful. The whole appeared like a verdant lawn, spotted, (if I may so term it) with mimosas, the depth of which gave a brighter lustre to the grass that luxuriantly sprung up underneath, where hundreds of the finest milch goats, with their udders distended, wandered at large with their kids. In the centre of the plain stood the village, consisting of about forty circular huts, constructed with branches of the rack-tree and the long-spreading roots of the acacia, neatly covered over with mats. Near the beach, to the northward, grew a thick grove of trees, beyond which lay the bay, with its numerous islands stretching out into the distant horizon. Happy might the natives be thought, were these islands always in so flourishing a condition; but unfortunately, the appearance of plenty is but of short duration. Soon after the rain has ceased the ground becomes parched, the supplies of water exhausted, the vegetation burnt up, and the goats, for want of food, lean and barren. This state of things continues during eight long months; at the latter period of which, if the rains do not set in, which occasionally takes place, mortality commences among the cattle, which soon extending to the children and women, makes the whole island exhibit the aspect of one scene of desolation; the men on these occasions going on excursions to Mocha, Hodeida, and northward as far as Suakin, to escape as much as possible from the misery and wretchedness prevailing at home.
The ascent of the mountain, which is very steep, proved extremely advantageous to my views, as it gave me a correct notion of the bay and of the inland country, where, at a distance, I could distinguish the hills inhabited by the Russamo and Belessua, and still further off, the high mountains of Senafé. On returning at noon to Wursum's dow, a party of the inhabitants attended us for the purpose of taking down seven goats, that I had bought for six dollars, and several young girls, dressed like those at Madir, carried down for us some skins of water. Among the latter, I observed one extremely pretty and elegantly formed; whom, on enquiry, I found to be the daughter of the Sheik, who, to my great surprise, began to jest concerning her; and, on our arriving at the dow, he frightened the girl not a little by pretending that he would sell her to me for a hundred dollars. At noon I joined the ship, which I found at anchor to the south-west of "Gezirat l'Adjuice," an Arabic appellation, which, literally translated, signifies "Old Woman's Island."
As our former researches on the coast had given reason to conjecture, that the Bay of Howakil was the one mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, celebrated for producing the Opsian stone, I determined to examine it as accurately as possible, for the purpose of ascertaining the fact; and with this view the surgeon and myself set out early in the morning of the 28th in the dow, to visit Aréna, which I understood to lie in an inner recess at the very bottom of the bay. We sailed down the track marked in the chart, and after surveying all the islands and shoals on our way, reached in about four hours the anchorage opposite the village. Wursum immediately swam on shore to prepare the way, and in a short time he returned in a small boat, bringing off a tall, fair man, who proved to be his uncle, a Somauli trader, who had only the day before arrived from a trading excursion to Massowa, from which place he brought intelligence, that accounted for the dismissal of the Jidda troops. He informed us, that there had been a violent quarrel between them and the Arkeeko Ascari; that the former had conducted themselves in an overbearing manner, and that one of them had actually killed a woman, for which, in retaliation, he had himself been slain. This event produced an open rupture; and, as the Nayib at Arkeeko had it in his power to starve Massowa, the Jidda soldiers had given up the contest, and returned home, leaving a few slaves only in attendance upon the Aga.
I soon afterwards went on shore, where I found two of the Dumhoeta Chiefs, Hamooda and Undodo, younger brothers of Alli Govéta, with a number of their followers, waiting to receive me. I also found a party of Somauli traders, who, under the direction of Yunus's brother, had established a small factory at this place for the purpose of carrying on an intercourse with the natives, an instance of enterprise strongly marking the superiority of the Somauli over all other African tribes on the coast. The chief exports consist of slaves, horses, cattle, goats, and ghee, of which latter very considerable quantities are always to be procured in the neighbourhood. On mentioning to the chiefs, that my intention in visiting them was to confirm that friendship which I had entered into with Alli Govéta, they expressed themselves highly gratified, and declared, that what their brother had sworn to should be upheld by the whole of their tribes.
After the ceremony of introduction, we made a short excursion along the coast, in pursuance of our object, and in a little time came in sight of a hill, which might be distant about ten miles, close to which, the natives say, lies the town of Zulla, belonging to the Hazorta. Near this spot I was delighted with the sight of a great many pieces of a black substance, bearing a very high polish, much resembling glass, that lay scattered about on the ground at a short distance from the sea; and I collected nearly a hundred specimens of it, most of which were two, three or four inches in diameter. One of the natives told me, that a few miles further in the interior, pieces are found of much larger dimensions. This substance has been analyzed since my return to England, and proves to be the true opsian, or obsidian, stone, which answers most exactly to the following description given by Pliny: "Among the different sorts of glass may be enumerated the obsidian, made to resemble a stone found by Obsidius in Æthiopia, of a very deep black colour, sometimes a little tranparent, (on the edges) but opaque in its general appearance, (when in a mass) and reflecting images, like mirrors, placed against a wall. Many make gems of it, and we have seen solid images of the divine Augustus cut out of this substance; who ordered four obsidian elephants to be placed, as curiosities, in the Temple of Concord, &c." It is evident from this description, that, though a fact now perfectly ascertained, it was not known to Pliny, that the obsidian stone itself is nothing more than glass thrown up by a volcano; notwithstanding that the exact resemblance between it and the manufactured glass had occasioned them, as he mentions, to be mistaken for each other; and hence it continued to retain the names of λίθος ὀψιανος in Greek, and lapis obsidianus in Latin.
The learned Salmasius has ridiculed Pliny for his description of the obsidian, and has attempted to prove that he was wrong in calling it "obsidianus," or saying it was discovered by Obsidius in Æthiopia; but, with deference to such high authority, I still must think, that without better arguments than those he has given, Pliny is much more likely to be correct in his statement, especially as his description is now found to agree very accurately with the specimens of that very kind which is termed οψιανος in the Periplus; whereas the description of the stone by Salmasius is extremely inaccurate. Dr. Vincent was the first person who suspected that the opsian stone might be found near this point, but, owing to the extreme incorrectness of the charts previously to Lord Valentia's survey of the coast, he was unable to find any bay from Massowa to Béloul, answering to the one described in the Periplus. As I have since had the good fortune, to ascertain this point satisfactorily, I have done myself the pleasure of dedicating my chart of the Bay to Dr. Vincent, as a trifling testimony of friendship and of the obligation which I feel for the very candid manner in which he treated my former remarks respecting the Adulitic inscription.
The mention of the opsian stone and bay in the Periplus is as follows: "About eight hundred stadia (from Adoole) is another very deep bay, where at the entrance on the right lies a great accumulation of sand, at the bottom of which is found the opsian stone, produced only in that single spot." These eight hundred stadia, if Roman, would exceed the actual distance from Adoole; and this circumstance appears to confirm Lord Valentia's conjecture, that the Egyptian stadia were those employed by the author of this work, which was likely to have been the case, were it written, as is supposed, by an Alexandrian merchant. In the evening we returned on board the Marian.
On the 30th, the Captain and myself, for the purpose of completing our survey, went in a boat to the Island of Buckah, passing round the western side of Howakil, in the track marked in the chart. On our way we noticed a fine bason, with four and five fathoms water, but to which unfortunately we could not discover any entrance for a ship. Soon after we crossed a well-sheltered harbour, with four, five, and six fathoms, which bore the appearance, from the imperfect examination we were able to give it, of being the most secure place for anchorage in the whole Bay. The entrance, so far as we could examine it, seemed to be perfectly safe and easy of access, but it should not be attempted by a large vessel without a more accurate knowledge of the soundings than it was in our power, from the shortness of our stay, to obtain.
On the top of the high land of Buckah, which forms almost a perfect level, we measured a base of two thousand seven hundred feet, and took sets of bearings with a theodolite, from which, and others taken by similar means on the Island of Dalheit, all the main points in the chart are laid down. The high land of Buckah is composed of large masses of basaltes, of a dark, burnt, brown colour, about three feet thick, and seven or eight in diameter, piled in loose strata, occasionally presenting the appearance of ruined walls. The low grounds of all the islands in this bay are composed, like those of Amphila, of marine productions. From Buckah I computed the highest point of Howakil to rise about six hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. On our return we passed to the eastward of that island, and thus completed a circuit of about twenty-four miles, which prevented our reaching the ship until it was dark.
On the following morning we left our anchorage at Adjuice, and attempted to beat out of the Bay, but the wind being contrary we were compelled to seek shelter under the Island of Dalheit, where we were detained by a continuance of the same cause until the 7th of February, during which time we experienced dark cloudy weather, and occasionally heavy rain, with the wind as usual from N.W. to N.N.W.; the thermometer from 75 to 78.
On the 7th of February we again set sail. At one o'clock the sea, for a considerable extent round the ship, became so extremely red, that it occasioned us, on its first being observed, considerable alarm; but, on sounding, our fears immediately subsided, as we found upwards of twenty fathoms. As we were anxious to ascertain the cause of this very singular appearance, a bucket was let down into the water, by which we obtained a considerable quantity of the substance floating on the surface. It proved to be of a jelly-like consistence, composed of a numberless multitude of very small mollusca, each of which having a small red spot in the centre, formed, when in a mass, a bright body of colour, nearly allied to that produced by a mixture of red lead with water. Our sailors were so forcibly struck with the extraordinary effect it produced on the water, that they cried out, "this is, indeed, the Red Sea;" and our boatswain in his coarse way observed, "it is as red as the blood from a butcher's shambles; if we were to tell this in England we should not be believed."
In the evening, as it grew dark, the mollusca (which we had intentionally preserved) became luminous, having, when undisturbed, that kind of appearance which quick-silver assumes when spread on the back of a looking-glass; on their being agitated they emitted a bright silvery light, and being taken out with the hand and thrown on the deck, or any other object, they retained their highly luminous appearance for more than half a minute. This circumstance appears to me very satisfactorily to account for many extraordinary appearances of the sea that have been noticed in former voyages, particularly in the neighbourhood of Cape Fartak, on the coast of Arabia, of which mention has been made in several journals of our ships which have frequented that coast. The general observation has been, "that the sea looked at night as white as milk," which fact is also noticed by Agatharchides, (De mare rubro, p. 58) who remarks, that hereabouts "the sea appears white, as at the mouth of a river, exciting astonishment with respect to the cause which produces it." In the evening we came to an anchor under the south-east point of the low land of Hurtoo.
On the 8th of February we passed between Chumma and Pilot-Island, and anchored at night, close to the north-west point of Hurtoo, under a low island, affording excellent shelter against a southerly wind.
On the following morning we got under weigh, and steered towards the north-west end of Valentia Island. At noon the weather became calm, and I took the opportunity of making an excursion to a small sandy island, connected by a reef with the northern extremity of Valentia Island, which was at no great distance from the ship. In the afternoon, the sea breeze again sprung up, and we made sail. At four o'clock our schooner, which was a-head, passed over a dangerous shoal, with less than two fathoms water, which lies in the direct fair-way to Massowa. A musket was immediately fired as a signal for the ship to avoid it. This shoal lies about two miles and a half north-west from the sandy island above-mentioned. A true north-east course from Hurtoo point, clears both sand and shoal; but it is not safe to haul up for Massowa, till you have passed the sand full four miles. The examination of this shoal detained us so late, that we were not able to reach Massowa before dark, and in consequence we came to an anchor in thirty fathoms, near Ras Gidam, the weather being extremely calm.
On Saturday the 10th, we reached the harbour of Massowa, and as we entered it, saluted the fort with three guns. Immediately after, on coming to an anchor, we had the gratification of seeing our super-cargo, and a party of Abyssinians standing on the pier. We immediately sent off a boat to the shore, and soon had the pleasure of welcoming the former, Mr. Pearce, and a young Abyssinian chief, named Ayto Debib, on board. The latter had been sent down by the Ras to attend me, and provide whatever I might want during my proposed journey and residence in Abyssinia. He was one of the young men about the court during my former visit, and a portrait of him is given in Lord Valentia's work. I found him much improved in person, and I learned from Mr. Pearce that his conduct had proved so agreeable to the Ras, that about two years before my arrival, he had reinstated him in the district, from which his father had been driven by Fit Aurari Zogo. I had always entertained a very favourable opinion of this young man's abilties, and his character was raised still higher in my estimation on learning that he had shewn a faithful attachment to Mr. Pearce, throughout all the difficulties with which he had had to contend.
I shall here introduce a short account of Mr. Coffin's journey after leaving us at Amphila on the evening of the 10th of January, until the party reached Massowa.
"He soon discovered that the characteristic description of Alli Manda, given by Hadjee Belal, "of his travelling like a dromedary," was perfectly correct; for notwithstanding that they met with an incessant fall of rain for two days, the young chief kept them constantly on the march for twelve hours each day. Their road lay in nearly a westerly direction, over barren and rugged hills, where they met with occasionally a small village or encampment of the natives, who, out of respect to Alli Manda, treated the party, in general, with civility, though the provisions which they supplied were scanty, and by no means of the best quality.
"On the 13th, in the afternoon, after having travelled nearly fifty miles, they reached a station on the edge of an extensive salt-plain, where they stopped to refresh themselves under the shade of some acacias, near some wells of fresh-water. At this place they were provided by the natives with a sort of sandals, made of the leaves of a dwarf species of palm, which are invariably used by travellers for crossing the salt. The plain above-mentioned lies perfectly flat, in a north-east and south-west direction, and is said to be four days journey in extent. The first half mile, from not being firmly crusted, was slippery and dangerous to pass, the feet sinking every step into the mud, as is usual in crossing a salt-marsh. After this, the surface became strongly crusted, hard and crystallised, resembling in appearance a rough coarse sheet of ice, which has been covered with snow, thawed and frozen again. Branches of pure salt, resembling pieces of madrepore, occasionally rose above the surface; and two small hills stood in the centre of the plain, which bore a very remarkable appearance from their singularly insulated situation.
"This plain took Mr. Coffin and his party about five hours to cross, when they reached the country of the Assa Durwa, which the Ras humorously terms his barbarian territory. On this side of the plain a number of Abyssinians were seen engaged in cutting out the salt, which they accomplish by means of a small adze, and the form of the pieces is similar to that of the whetstone used by our mowers in England. The salt lies in horizontal strata, so that when the edges are once divided, it separates without any great difficulty in flakes: that, immediately under the surface, is exceedingly hard, white, compact and pure; but as the workmen advance deeper, it becomes of a coarser quality, and of a much softer consistence, until it has been for some time exposed to the air. In some places it continues tolerably pure so deep as three feet, but in general not lower than two, below which it becomes mixed with the soil, and consequently unfit for use. From this plain the whole of Abyssinia is supplied with salt.
"On the 14th, the party proceeded over some steep and rugged passes in the mountain, until they arrived at the village of Dafo, situated in an extensive and verdant plain, inhabited by the Huttoo, a tribe of Danákil, which was conquered at an early period by the Abyssinians, and has ever since been subject to the Governor of Tigré. Here the actual influence of Alli Manda ceased, but as friends of the Ras, they continued to be treated with hospitality.
"The country beyond this was exceedingly beautiful, and game of various species appeared to be very plentiful. On the 15th, at night, they reached the foot of the mountain Senafé. At this station a Shum, or chief, resides, under the orders of the Ras, who collects a tribute, payable on all the salt imported into the country. A camel carrying two hundred pieces, pays eleven, a mule, whose load consists of eighty only, pays nine, and a loaded ass, six; while men with their burthens are permitted to pass free.
"On the 16th the party ascended Senafé, which is said to be full as high, though not so difficult to pass over, as Taranta. At the summit a complete change of seasons was experienced, and instead of continued rain and tempestuous weather, the sky became unclouded, and they found the inhabitants busily engaged in gathering in their corn. Here they stopped at a village to refresh themselves, and at three proceeded through a rich and fertile country, which at six o'clock, brought them to a large town, called Hammee, where they staid for the night.
"On the 17th they continued their journey to Dirbé, and on the 18th they reached Chelicut. Here, for a short time, they remained unnoticed on the green, Mr. Pearce being absent with the Ras at Antalo. At last one of the priests came out, and took them to a house which had belonged to Ayto Manasseh, a brother of the Ras, who died only two days before. Two or three hundred people were at this time assembled, celebrating the 'toscar' or 'feast for the dead;' and most of them had their faces torn and their heads shaven, in order to express their sorrow for the loss of the deceased. Mr. Coffin was conducted into the midst of this assemblage, and placed at the head of the room. Soon afterwards Mr. Pearce arrived from Antalo, and on the following morning, they proceeded together to that place, where Mr. Coffin had an immediate interview with the Ras.
"On the following day, my letter being read, the Ras, in compliance with its contents, ordered Mr. Pearce, Ayto Debib, and one of his chief men of business, Hadjee Hamood, to prepare for a journey to Massowa; and the two former immediately set out with Mr. Coffin on mules, by way of Amba Haramat (while the Hadjee, with about a hundred of the Ras's people, was to follow by easier stages through Adowá.) The first party had reached Massowa on the day previous to my arrival."
This journal I received verbally from Mr. Coffin immediately on his return, assisted by short notes, which he had set down on paper as the circumstances occurred. The geographical information deduced from the bearings and computed distances observed during this journey, which will be found in the map, is of considerable consequence, and being confirmed by a journey of Mr. Pearce through the same districts, may, I think, be depended upon as accurate. I have been since more fully satisfied of this, by a comparison of it with a route given by Jerome Lobo through the same country; by a reference to which it will be seen, that two centuries have produced no great alteration in the situation of affairs, though by the subsequent chain of events the natives have been broken into distinct tribes, and their consequence much depressed.
There also exists another and better account of this route in the Travels of the Jesuits by Tellez, written by the patriarch Alphonzo Mendez, with whom Jerome Lobo was in company. In this the serpents mentioned by Lobo to have annoyed them on their march, are omitted, which, indeed, I conceive, may have altogether arisen from a mistake of Monsieur le Grand, who made his translation from a Portuguese manuscript; the original words translated serpents, having perhaps been descriptive of the "iron stones" mentioned by Tellez, which were "like the dross that comes from the furnaces, and so sharp-pointed, that they spoilt a pair of shoes in a day." An important error in Lobo likewise occurs in the spelling of the name of the mountain, over which lies the pass to Abyssinia. It is rightly spelt by Tellez, Sanafé; but in Le Grand, Senaé, and in the English translation, Senaa. Mr. Bruce, and his late editor, have unnecessarily gone out of their way to abuse this first literary effort of Dr. Johnson: but if it be considered only as an abridgment, which it is professed to be in the preface, it will be found to contain as judicious a selection af all that is valuable in Le Grand as could well be expected, with the very circumscribed knowledge of the geography of the country which then existed.
An Abyssinian priest, named Ma-Merri Guebra Eyut, came down with the party from Abyssinia, who entertained an anxious wish to visit Jerusalem, from which intention I subsequently dissuaded him. He was a foolish good-natured fellow, though in some respects he afterwards proved of service, owing to his having gained, by his reputed sanctity, considerable influence over the minds of the people sent down by the Ras.
I found Mr. Pearce, to my great surprise, very little altered in complexion, and he spoke English almost as perfectly as when I left him. It was truly gratifying to witness his raptures at finding himself once more among Englishmen, and in an English ship. In the fulness of his heart he seemed to consider every countryman on board as a brother, and it was interesting to observe, with what respect and astonishment our sailors looked up to him in return, from the various accounts they had previously heard of the intrepidity with which he had surmounted so many dangers. He subsequently gave proofs of extraordinary activity; and his knowledge of a ship, considering how long he had been absent from every thing of the kind, was very remarkable, for, though we had several excellent sailors on board, there was not a single person that could follow him aloft, owing to the rapidity with which he darted from one point of the ship to another.
I was also glad to find that the cultivation of his mind had kept pace with the improvement of his bodily powers. To a complete knowledge of the language of Tigré, which is reckoned by the natives extremely difficult to acquire, he had added a tolerable share of the Amharic, and possessed so perfect an insight into the manners and feelings of the Abyssinians, that his assistance to me as an interpreter became invaluable.
On the 11th, Abba Yusuph and a slave were sent to me by the Kaimakan, with a present of two bullocks and fifteen sheep, accompanied by a request that my first visit might be arranged for the following day. Accordingly, on the 12th, I left the ship and proceeded to the shore, under a salute of thirteen guns from the Marian, which was returned by the discharge of an old dismounted six-pounder, lying on the beach. On landing, I was conducted by about twenty Ascari to the Divan, where all the principal people on the island were assembled. The Kaimakan, a respectable looking Turk, with somewhat of dignity in his manners, sitting in a retired corner, which had been formerly occupied by the Nayib. This chief received me very ceremoniously, ordered sherbet to be handed about, asked the few customary questions, with as much haughtiness as the Grand Seignor himself could have assumed, and then presented me with a kaftan, lined with ermine. All this passing in a wretched apartment, with a low ceiling and a mud floor, in the midst of a half-naked and dirty rabble, produced a most incongruous and ridiculous effect. I continued, however, though with no inconsiderable difficulty, to keep my countenance, endeavoured to sustain my part with all the unbending gravity I could muster, and returned, amidst a crowd of the inhabitants, who attended me with shouting and hallooing, to the shore. I observed during my visit, that the Nayib and his son kept completely in the back-ground; they paid their compliments at a distance, and looked anxious to converse with me, but were evidently too much under restraint to venture upon such a liberty, in the presence of their superior chief.
On the 13th, the Kaimakan sent to request a private conversation with me in the evening; in consequence of which I went on shore. He received me on this occasion without form, in a small upper room, in a manner very different from that which he had assumed on the preceding day. On our being seated, sherbet and rose-water were handed round, and he offered me his own hookah, which, being considered as a particular compliment, I thought it right to accept. Hamed, the Nayib's son, and some of the principal people of the place were present on my first going in, but, on a hint being given, they shortly afterwards departed, leaving a few slaves only in the room; who being always considered as mutes, upon these occasions, we entered confidentially upon business.
I detailed to the Kaimakan the nature of the mission with which I was charged, and expressed my desire to proceed immediately with his Majesty's presents up into the country. I congratulated him upon my finding Massowa once again in a flourishing condition, under a regular government, and assured him that it was chiefly on account of the letter he had written, that I had relinquished my intention of entering Abyssinia by the way of Buré. I told him, that I was of course aware, that he must be well acquainted with the violent and improper conduct of his predecessor, who, in conjunction with the Nayib, had written so unjustifiable a letter, but added, that I was willing to pass it over, in consideration of being dealt with henceforth in a fair and open manner. I then stated, that though I could not consent to the exaction of duties on his Majesty's presents, yet that I should be happy to make him some private remuneration, and, that the ship, if she discharged any part of her cargo, should pay whatever reasonable port charges might be arranged between us.
He answered me, in reply, that "he had been at Stombole, (Constantinople) and in Shām, (Syria) and that he well knew the character of the English. He admired our plain dealing. It was consonant with his own practice. His heart was open, and he would tell me his sentiments without disguise. He was stationed here under the Sheriffe, it was true, but it was by a right which his family held from the Grand Seignor. The Aga, whom I had before seen at Suakin, he informed me, was a slave belonging to him, and so also was Omar Aga, who had commanded at Massowa previously to his own assumption of the government. He had disapproved, he assured me, of the conduct of the latter, and in consequence had removed him. With respect to presents from sovereigns, he fully admired the privileges to which they were entitled; and, therefore, if I would pledge my word to the fact, he did not hesitate to declare, that, whatever they might be, I should be at liberty to take them into the country; but, he added, that he should wish to have a sight of a part, that he might be able to send a satisfactory account respecting them to the Sheriffe of Mecca."
To this reasonable proposition I immediately assented, and, at the same time, to convince him of my acting without reserve, mentioned to him the circumstance of my having two small pieces of cannon to be carried into the country. To my great surprise, he raised no objection to this undertaking, and, in every thing else, appeared extremely willing to furnish me with every accommodation to facilitate my views. He soon afterwards, in a jesting tone, remarked, that he could not imagine the reason, why our king should send presents to infidels; for, at Massowa, they would not allow the Abyssinians to be Christians. I observed, in reply, that this was a subject upon which I did not feel inclined to enter; I had received my instructions, and by those I must abide. "Aye," said he, "you are in the same predicament as myself; I am here acting under the command of my superiors, you of yours; let us both do our duty, and be friends." I paid him some compliments in return for this good-natured sally; and then seized the opportunity to mention, that I had to request his acceptance of a small present which I would send in any way most agreeable to him. He told me, that Currum-chund, the Banian, and a slave belonging to him, should accompany me to the ship to receive it, expressing, at the same time, great obligations for my kindness. Nothing can be more insinuating than the manners of a Turk when he has any particular point to carry; yet, satisfactory as his conduct appeared throughout the whole of this interview, I own I thought it too conciliating to prove finally sincere.
On my arrival at the ship I selected a valuable pair of pistols, a blunderbuss with a spring bayonet, and a rich piece of satin, and I made out an order upon the Banian for two hundred dollars; all of which I forwarded, as a present to the Kaimakan, by the person whom he had appointed to convey them. I made his present on this occasion handsome, from my knowledge of the character of persons of his description, and from a private intimation sent me by the Nayib, that, if I acted in this manner, all would go on well.
The 14th and 15th were busily employed in preparations for our journey, and nothing very particular occurred till the 17th, when we were considerably alarmed by the appearance of a fleet of armed dows, standing into the harbour, carrying the green flag of the Sheriffe of Mecca. They bore down in regular order, and each fired a salute of three guns on passing the fort, immediately after which they all came to an anchor in a regular line, a-head of our vessel, across the mouth of the harbour. As the Banian happened to be on board at the time, I instantly dispatched him to the Kaimakan, to gain intelligence respecting the destination of these vessels; and, in the mean time, Captain Weatherhead made every possible preparation for resistance, should their design prove to be of a hostile nature, which, from Captain Rudland's letters and other communications, appeared by no means improbable. The wind blowing into the harbour, which is a perfect cûl de sac, prevented every possibility of escape, and the weakness of our numbers, which altogether amounted to no more than seventeen fighting men, promised very slender hopes of a successful opposition; as every one of the dows carried at least eighty men. Our principal dependance rested on a strong boarding-netting, and, for greater security, the Captain carried out a kedge anchor from the stern, to bring the ship's broadside to bear, and give us the full advantage of her guns. During these transactions several boats full of armed men were seen passing to and from the dows, and a general bustle animated the natives on shore. At this time I confess, that a strong suspicion of treachery on the part of the Kaimakan darted across my mind, on account of his extraordinary, and, as I thought, over-acted civilitles: in this, however, I did him great injustice; for, after three hours painful suspense, the Banian returned, and informed me, from the Kaimakan himself, that the vessels belonged to the Sheriffe, Ibrahim Jelani, and other merchants at Jidda, the professed destination of which was to fetch coffee from Loheia; and that they had put into Massowa merely from the want of water. This subsequently I found to be correct.
I learned also, on inquiry, that the brother of Ibrahim Jelani was on board one of the vessels, as agent to superintend the concern, and I soon after received a complimentary message from him, with a request that I would permit him to pay me a visit; to which, out of respect to his brother whom I had known at Jidda, I consented, on condition of his not bringing more than two attendants. Accordingly in the afternoon he came on board attended by two of his slaves only, richly dressed. After the usual salutations had passed, he inquired particularly respecting Lord Valentia and Captain Court, expressed great delight at his reception, and remained more than an hour talking over former transactions. It appeared from his account that the Sheriffe Gualib was at this time acting a double part. He had been compelled by circumstances to profess himself a Wahabee on shore, and in conformity with the orders of Shorood, to wage war with Sheriffe Hamood of Loheia, and the Imaum of Sana. While, at sea, he pretended to continue on the best possible terms with the later, and wished it to be understood that in reality he was averse from the Wahabee doctrines. I found, that he still affected friendship for the English, which I knew he would persist in so long only as it should tend to his interests, while in his heart he was firmly attached to the French cause, and had, even latterly treated their agents with distinguished attention.
The punishment inflicted a short time before on the Johassim Arabs by the English had produced, I found, the most beneficial result throughout the Red Sea, and, I believe, that we in a great measure owed our safety to this event being known; as the Arabs began to think, that we really dared to resist their insolent proceedings; a circumstance which the unaccountable forbearance of the Bombay government had hitherto given them but too much reason to doubt. Nothing but the most resolute measures will make an impression upon Mahomedans; for, as Jerome Lobo justly observes: "ils sont d'un si mauvais naturel que si on a la moindre complaisance pour eux, ils deviennent bien-tôt insolens et insuportables, et qu'on ne peut les réduire à la raison, ni être bien servi, qu'en agissant avec eux à toute rigueur et les menant le bâton haut."
Previously to the departure of Mahomed Jelani, I made him a present of a telescope and a small piece of broad cloth, in token of friendship, and I entrusted him with a letter for Captain Rudland, that I might put an end to his anxiety for our safety.
On the 18th I went on shore to visit the Kaimakan, and had another conversation with him, in private, from which it appeared to me, that he perfectly comprehended the political situation and interests of the states bordering on the Red Sea. He assured me that the Sheriffe was really averse from the Wahabee; that the latter were at present weak, and that in all probability a more favourable opportunity would never occur for forming a league against them, which, indeed, he knew was already in agitation between the Imaum of Sana, Sheriffe Hamood, and Sheriffe Gualib, under the sanction probably of the Pacha of Egypt; and he concluded by asking Government might prove useful. He then enquired respecting our intentions with regard to Persia, observing, that he understood we had taken possession of Cush, the country of the Banians, bordering on the Sind (Indus.) I answered that I had received no such intelligence; but that I believed it was true, that we had an army stationed on the borders of the Indus, to guard against the proceedings of the French in that quarter.whether I thought the English might not be induced to assist them. I told him, that they were anxious not to interfere; but at the same time hinted, that, at such a moment, a letter from the Sheriffe to the Bombay
I afterwards adverted to the order of blockade recently issued by Admiral Bertie against the Isles of France, which at that time greatly occupied the attention of the Arabs. He acknowledged that it had made a great impression at Jidda, and expressed his surprise that such a measure had not been resorted to at an earlier period; adding with a strong emphasis—"how can it have happened, that you so long have permitted the Arabs to buy under your very nose (taakt el' amph,) the ships which the French have captured from you: and by this means to become masters of a trade which was before exclusively your own? Formerly, all Arabia, Egypt, and the countries of Africa were furnished by your ships with Indian commodities; they are now supplied by vessels belonging to Arabian merchants!" The truth of the first remark, and the justice of the censure were too palpable to admit of a reply; for had the measures ultimately adopted against the Isles of France been carried into effect at the commencement of the war, how many human lives, and how much treasure might have been saved!
On the following morning I received the unpleasant intelligence from Arkeeko, that one of Mr. Pearce's servants, named Tekeli, an Abyssinian, who had been stationed there to take care of the mules, was at the point of death. As I happened to be particularly engaged at the time, I requested Mr. Pearce, and our surgeon, to go down to Arkeeko to enquire into the affair, and if he were dead, to see him decently interred. On their arrival (as Mr. Smith informed me) they found him still alive, though suffering under the violent delirium which commonly attends the last stage of a putrid fever. He had been most injudiciously treated, and was chained, with his face downwards on a couch, so that his body was bruised, and his skull almost fractured, by the vain efforts he had made to release himself. Soon after Mr. Smith's arrival, he became to a certain degree sensible, asked for Mr. Coffin's gun, with which he had seen him shoot a few days before, and on seeing it became more composed, eat a few dates which were offered him, and begged his surrounding companions to take care of the money tied up in his cloth and give it to his master, telling them "to divide his clothes among themselves." He then called for something to drink, but before it could be brought expired in a violent convulsion.
These are the fevers which so often attack strangers who come down from the interior, and which produce in the minds of the Abyssinians that great dread and horror of the coast which they generally entertain. After death the body was carefully washed, sewed up in a new sheet, which I had sent for the purpose, and decently buried in a spot of ground allotted to the Abyssinians for that purpose. So far indeed did the Mahomedans lay aside their bigotry on this occasion, that two of the Nayib's own people were appointed to superintend the funeral. To secure the grave from the hyænas a trough was first dug, resembling a common grave, on one side of which a kind of shelving vault was excavated, which, as soon as the body was deposited in it, was closed in with thorny branches and heavy stones, and afterwards the first opening was filled with solid earth. The Abyssinian priest who came down with the party, recited the psalms and prayers appointed for such occasions, which are much the same as those used by our own church, and Mr. Smith particularly observed the ceremony of throwing a portion of earth into the grave, when they came to the last solemn farewell, "we here commit his body to the ground, dust to dust and ashes to ashes, in hopes of a joyful resurrection," which seemed to make a strong impression on all who were present. I may be permitted to observe, in this place, that the attention paid to this poor boy gained us not only the good will of the Christians from Abyssinia, but the respect of all the higher classes of Mahomedans. The latter are, in general perhaps, more observant of religious rites than Europeans, and any apparent want of attention shewn to such ceremonies, injures us materially in their good opinion.
On the 19th, I went on shore with Captain Weatherhead, and, after a long conference with the Kaimakan, came to a satisfactory arrangement respecting the duties to be paid by the ship, which were settled at seven per cent. ad valorem, and seventy dollars were agreed to be paid for anchorage. This agreement was considered by both parties as applicable only to the present transaction; neither the Kaimakan nor myself possessing any authority to come to a final nor general settlement on the subject. Should this ever prove desirable, it must be decided at Jidda with the Sheriffe.
On the following day, in the morning, our long expected cafila from Abyssinia came down, under the care of Hadjee Hamood, who brought with him thirty-five baggage mules, and about sixty bearers. As the means of supplying such a party with provisions might have proved very difficult on the coast, we were under the necessity of using great expedition in landing and arranging the conveyance of our baggage. The light packages and boxes were soon allotted to the respective bearers, and in the course of two days all the mules were laden; the gun carriages being taken to pieces and divided into separate lots: while, for the conveyance of the heavier articles, as well as that of the guns, as far as Taranta, we hired camels from the Nayib.
During this time the difficulty of satisfying all the various parties concerned was inconceivably great. One complained that his load was not heavy enough, another wanted his changed, merely because his neighbour's burthen weighed half a pound lighter; some were sick, others lame; one discontented with the form of his package, it was sharp-cornered and hurt his own or his mule's back, others grumbled that their's were too loosely packed; and in this manner they continued to torment us, from earliest dawn till the final close of day. During this period, we had to endure a thousand impertinences, besides, from the Kaimakan's slaves and soldiers, each of whom in his turn gave us all possible trouble, in hopes at last of being bribed; and to complete our distress, we suffered all this on a sandy beach, under a broiling sun. At length, what with coaxing, menacing and bribing, every thing, except a few of the heavy packages which were to be carried in a boat to Arkeeko, was satisfactorily adjusted, and I formally delivered the whole over in charge to Ayto Debib and Hadjee Hamood, the Ras's agents. On the evening of the 22nd, the Kaimakan sent me a parting letter to solicit another hundred dollars, which I positively refused, at the same time to soften my non-compliance, I made the messenger, Abba Yusuph, a present of twenty dollars.
On the 23d, the Ras's people left the coast and proceeded to Arkeeko, and on the same day, at eight o'clock in the morning, after having parted with Captain Weatherhead, I took leave of the Marian under a salute, and proceeded on shore, to pay my farewell visit to the Kaimakan. He received me at the public Divan, a circumstance of which I endeavoured to avail myself, in the hope of escaping all further notice of the letter he had sent me on the preceding evening. He was not however to be so eluded, for he openly asked if I had considered its contents. I answered, "fully; and as I had already exceeded my orders in making him presents, it was impossible for me to comply with his request." After he had ascertained, by a few additional questions, that I was in earnest, he desisted, and said, very good humouredly, "it is well, let it not alter our friendship?" From the Kaimakan's house, I went for the first time to pay a visit to the Nayib, at which he was evidently much pleased, as it was a compliment he did not expect; and agreeably to my request he consented to depart immediately for Arkeeko.
A few hours carried us down to this dreadful place, where we encountered a second series of plagues, which rendered the annoyance we had suffered on the two preceding days comparatively trifling, when put in competition with what we had now to endure. At Arkeeko the Nayib continued in full power, the Kaimakan having only a deputy there, called the Kiya, who possessed as little influence as the Nayib when residing at Massowa. It now remained for me to satisfy the Nayib, his two brothers, his sons, the Kiya, the head men of the Hazorta tribe, who were to be our guides, the camel-drivers and the Ascari, all of whom in turn begged for themselves and for each other; and, among this tribe of locusts, I was compelled to distribute nearly five hundred dollars, before I could get clear of the place, with any probability of passing in safety with his Majesty's presents to the mountains.
25th.--With a pleasure somewhat similar to that expressed by Gil Blas, when he escaped from the robbers' cave, we quitted Arkeeko, and at twelve had the gratification of mustering all our cafila, at a station about four miles south from that, I had almost said, accursed town. Among all the descriptions of men I have ever met with, the character of the half-civilized savages found at Arkeeko is the most detestable. As they have ingeniously contrived to lose all the virtues of the rude tribes to which they belonged, without having acquired any thing, except the vices of their more refined neighbours. At Massowa even, where the better sort of townsmen are scarcely equal to the worst of the Arabs, they entertain such a dread of the inhabitants of Arkeeko, that they will not, on any account, stay a night in the place; so that the scale of degradation to which these last are reduced cannot very well descend lower, The only description I recollect that would particularly suit them, may be found in Mr. Bruce's very energetic account of the inhabitants of Sennaar. From this sweeping, though just, condemnation, I must except the Nayib and his two sons, who, laying aside their excessive rapacity in endeavouring to extort presents, were very obliging to us, and seemed to possess many valuable qualities, particularly the eldest Hamed, whose conduct with regard to his family appeared to be very exemplary.
I may here take occasion to mention a circumstance I have before omitted. During our short stay at Arkeeko, we received a visit from two respectable looking Greeks, returning from Abyssinia to their native country. One of them proved to be the brother of Abba Marcorius, an elderly man, who had, in the course of the preceding year, been commissioned by the Patriarch of Alexandria to fill the office of Abuna, or High Priest, of the Church of Abyssinia. Unfortunately for the country, he had scarcely reached his destination, when he was carried off by an epidemical disorder. His death occasioned great regret throughout Abyssinia, and his followers were at this time proceeding to Egypt, in the hope of persuading the Patriarch to appoint another in his stead. I have not subsequently heard of their success in this undertaking. I was also informed that an Abyssinian Ozoro, of some rank, was travelling in company with these Greeks, on her way to Jerusalem, and I have since had reason to believe that she arrived there in safety, where she intends to reside during the remainder of her life.
- In genere vitri et obsidiaua numerantur, ad similitudinem lapi, dis quem in Æthiopia invenit Obsidius, nigerrimi coloris, aliquando et translucidi, crassiore visu, atque in speculis parietum pro imagine umbras reddente. Gemmas multi ex eo faciunt: vindimusque et solidas imagines divi Augusti, capti materia hujus crassitudinis: dicavitque ipse pro miraculo in Templo Concordiæ obsidianos quatuor elephantos. Remisit et Tiberius Cæsar Heliopolitarum ceremoniis repertam ibi in hæreditate ejus qui præfuerat Ægypto, obsidianam imaginem Menelai. Ex quo apparet antiquior materiæ origo, nunc vitri similitudine interpollata.
- Vide "The voyage of Nearchus, and the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, translated from the Greek, by Dr. Vincent, p. 118, 119, Oxf. 1809."
- Καὶ απὸ ϛαδίων ὡσεὶ ὀκτακοσίων κόλπος ἕτερος βαθύτατος, oὗ κατα την ειςβολην ἐν δεξιοῖς αμμος ἐϛὶν πολλη κεχυμένη, καθ' ης ἐν βαθει κεχοσμένος εὑρίσκεται ὀψιανὸς λίθος, ἐν ἐκείνη μόνη τοπικως γεννωμενος
- There is a village on the Island of Adjuice, which the Captain visited; he found the natives very civil, and procured from them seven goats, for the use of the ship, for five dollars.
- Vide Voyage to Abyssinia by Jerome Lobo, English translation, p. 34, et seq.
- Vide the Travels of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, Book I. p. 224, et seq.
- Vide p. 226 of the Travels of the Jesuits.
- They are naturally of so evil disposition that if you treat them with the least complaisance, they become at once insolent and insupportable; and they cannot be reduced to reason, or better served, than acting towards them with rigour and holding the rod over their heads.