A voyage to Abyssinia (Salt)/Chapter 8
Character of the Ras—Short sketch of his Life—Mode of spending our time at Chelicut—Some account of Kasimaj Yasous, and his sister Ozoro Mantwab—Recollections respecting Mr. Bruce in Abyssinia, by a learned man named Dofter Esther—General remarks respecting that traveller—Journey to the Tacazze—Some account of Chelika Negusta—Antálo—Cali—Agora—Character of Guebra Mehedin—Province of Avergale—Description of the Agows—Views of the mountains of Samen—Wild plains abounding in game—River Arequa—Change of climate and scenery as the party continues to descend—Arrival at the Tacazze—Shooting of the hippopotamus—Extraordinary dread of the Crocodile entertained by the Abyssinians—Return to Chelicut—Visit from the Ras—Conference held with him—Removal to Antálo—Abyssinian horsemanship—Conclusion of Lent—Feast on the following day—Amusements of the Abyssinians—Short account of the Shangalla—Parting from the Ras, on our return to Chelicut.
FROM the preceding narrative of affairs it will appear, that, on my former journey I had entertained an erroneous opinion respecting the character of the Ras; as, at that time, I conceived that he owed his elevation more "to his cunning than to his strength of character." In this I was undoubtedly mistaken; since he is distinguished still more for his intrepidity and firmness than by the policy with which he has uniformly ruled the country under his command; having been successfully engaged in upwards of forty battles, and having evinced on these occasions even too great a disregard of his own personal safety in action.
At the time of Mr. Bruce's arrival in the country, in 1770, Ras Welled Selassé was a young man of some consequence about the court; so that, considering him at that time to have been three or four and twenty, his age must, at the period of my last visit to the country, have amounted to about sixty-four; a point somewhat difficult of proof from the extreme delicacy which existed of making any inquiries of this description among his followers. The first situation he held of any importance, and which undoubtedly led to his greatness, that of Balgudda, or protector of the salt caravans, which come up from the plains of Assa Durwa; an office always conferring considerable consequence on its possessor, owing to his being entitled to a duty on every load of salt imported into the country, and from the power which it gives him of withholding this very necessary article of consumption as well as of barter, from the interior provinces. This situation he received during the short government of his father, Kefla Yasous, over the province of Tigré. On the return of Ras Michael to the command, he fled to the fastnesses bordering on the salt-plain, where he remained, carrying on a predatory warfare, until the death of "the old lion," as the former is emphatically styled in the country.
During this period, while Ras Michael was seeking his life, he challenged any two chiefs in the army opposed to him to fight on horseback; and, two men of distinguished bravery having been made choice of for the purpose, he went down into the plain to meet them, and killed both with his own hand; possessing, notwithstanding his small and delicate form, such peculiar skill in the management of two spears on horseback, that it was said in the country to be unequalled. This unexampled exploit raised his character as a warrior to the highest pitch; and the particulars of the combat still continue to form a favorite topic of conversation among his followers.
On the succession of Degusmati Gabriel to the command of the province of Tigré, Welled Selasse was induced by many insidious promises held out to him, to return to Adowa, where, in spite of the most solemn protestations to the contrary, he was thrown into irons. The day on which this occurrence took place, he has since, with a sort of religious superstition considered as the most unfortunate in his life. He did not, however, long remain in confinement; for, by the connivance of his keeper, Gueta Samuel, he shortly after made his escape and retired to the country of the Galla, who on this occasion received him with open arms.
The death of Dejus Gabriel soon followed, when he returned once again to Enderta, and being joined by some of his friends, made himself master of that province, and in the following year entered Tigré; where, having in several battles overcome Guebra Mascal, he raised himself to the high situation of Governor of all the provinces eastward of the Tacazze. Once possessed of this high power, he successively espoused the claims of Ayto Solomon, the son of Tecla Haimanot and of Tecla Georgis, his brother, whom, in spite of the combined forces of the chiefs of Amhara, he carried to Gondar and placed on the throne; being in return confirmed, by both these Emperors in the high posts of Ras and Betwudet of the empire, which last office appears to be somewhat analogous to that which Pharoah conferred upon Joseph, when he set him "over his house."
These respective monarchs, however, not being long able to retain the sovereignty (as I have related more particularly in my former journal,) the crown fell, according to the preponderance of the different provinces, into other hands, until it was at length agreed by Ras Welled Selasse and Guxo, Governor of Gojam, (who succeeded to the power of Fasil) that Ayto Egwala Sion, son of Ischias, should be placed on the throne. Some religious disputes having subsequently arisen between these powerful chieftains, it had occasioned a rupture, which, since my return, has again thrown the country into a civil war; the Emperor, in the mean time, remaining neglected at Gondar, with a very small retinue of servants, and an income by no means adequate to the support of his dignity; so that, as he possesses neither wealth, power, nor influence in the state; royalty may be considered, for a time, almost eclipsed in the country.
The duties of the Ras's situation, who may be regarded as an independent ruler, are extremely arduous, some notion of which may be formed by a reference to the map, where the extent of the country under what may be called "his personal jurisdiction," is marked out. Throughout this extensive district, all crimes, differences, and disputes, of however important or trifling a nature, are ultimately referred to his determination, all rights of inheritage are decided according to his will, and most wars are carried on by himself in person. To rule a savage people of so many different dispositions, manners, and usages as the Abyssinians, requires a firmness of mind, and a vigour of constitution, rarely united in the same individual at his advanced age; yet, whenever I have seen him in the exercise of his power, he has shewn a vivacity of expression, a quickness of comprehension, and a sort of commanding energy, that overawed all who approached him. During his continuance in power, he has made it his uniform practice to treat the different attempts at rebellion with perfect indifference; so that when those concerned in such conspiracies have, in their own imagination, brought affairs to a crisis, he has constantly expressed contempt, rather than alarm at their machinations.
After a second attempt against his life by the same persons, he has been repeatedly known to pardon, and even to permit the parties convicted to attend about his court, priding himself particularly on having never been guilty of the cruelties of Ras Michael, and being led with reluctance to the condemnation of a common culprit; while no possible provocation can induce him "to cut off a limb, put out the eyes," or commit any other of the atrocious acts which stained the character of that extraordinary leader. His common mode of punishing those who conspire against him, is, by taking away their districts; for, as I have heard him often declare, "men are only saucy when their stomachs are full;" a saying peculiarly applicable to the Abyssinians, who, when ruled with a hand of power, make admirable subjects; but when left to their own wills, become intolerably presumptuous and overbearing.
During the three weeks that we stayed at Chelicut, I generally spent a great part of each day with the Ras, being allowed free access to his presence, through a private door communicating between the gardens of our respective habitations. On these occasions I generally found him engaged in the administration of justice, or in receiving chieftains and ladies of consequence, who came from distant parts of the country to pay their duty; and when otherwise unemployed, invariably occupied in playing at chess, a game to which he appeared greatly devoted. I understood, indeed, that no surer method could be practised for attaining his favour, than that of acquiring a knowledge of this game, and when playing with him, ingeniously to contrive that he should never be the loser. Ayto Debib, who stood high in his favour, was particularly well skilled in this game. In addition, he had acquired, by playing with Mr. Pearce, a perfect knowledge of the game of drafts.
During this time our party received daily invitations to the Ras's evening repasts, and at such times, in the presence of his chiefs, he always paid us distinguished attention, constantly exhibiting, to their no small admiration, the pistols, spear, knife, and other presents which he had received from England; and the conversation generally turning on subjects in which we were principally concerned. At these meetings, a more than ordinary attention to decorum appeared to be kept up, and a much less quantity of maiz, than usual, was drank, owing to the continuance of Lent, a fast which is here observed, agreeably to the practice of some of the primitive Christians, for fifty-two days. Though every kind of flesh was excluded during this period, yet the table was plentifully served with wheaten bread, fish, dressed in different modes, and other warm dishes, made of various grains, mixed up with an immoderate quantity of garlic, which, nevertheless, the guests seemed to devour with a keen and ravenous appetite. This last circumstance could not excite much astonishment, when it was considered that this unconscionably long fast had already lasted upwards of a month, and that the Abyssinians, during its continuance, never touch a morsel of food till after sunset, so that many of the stoutest, at this time, began to look pallid, and to express an anxious desire for its conclusion.
I have before omitted to mention, that at the commencement of Lent, the priest Guebra Mariam, who attended us from Massowa, had proved of great service, owing to his having kindly absolved the whole of our party from the necessity of keeping it, a privilege which it appears the priests of the country are entitled to grant to all persons engaged in travelling, or similar pursuits. Some little difficulty had been experienced in persuading Ayto Debib to accept this indulgence; but, after seeing us eat meat for a few days, his inclination got the better of his scruples; though I subsequently observed, that he was rather ashamed of having complied with our solicitations, when any person of rank spoke to him on the subject; and I believe that the circumstance was carefully concealed from the knowledge of the Ras.
Several of the principal chieftains in the country at this time visited me, particularly Palambarus Toclu, Ayto Guebra Amlac, and Shum Michael, of Temben, which latter appeared likely to possess great weight in the country, in the event of any accident occurring to the Ras. As all these chiefs had sent me presents of cattle on my arrival, I felt it necessary to bestow upon them some trifling gifts in return, with which the seemed highly gratified. The Prince, Kasimaj Yasous, was also constant in his visits, whom I found to be very superior in accomplishments to most of the young men in the country, as he both read and wrote the Geez with unusual facility. The young men attending him, who were all natives of Gondar, appeared likewise to be more careful in their dress, and more polished in their manners, than the inhabitants of Tigré; and indeed I have reason to believe, that, in general, the latter are much ruder in their habits, and fiercer in disposition than the people of Amhara.
The Ras's wife, Ozoro Mantwab, whom I have before mentioned as the sister of the Emperor, did not, on any occasion, make her appearance in public; but she frequently sent us complimentary messages and presents of bread and maiz, besides various dishes drest in a superior style of cooker, from her own table. I was given to understand by Mr. Pearce, as well as his wife, who was a great favourite of this lady, that she made frequent enquiries respecting the English, and often expressed a great desire to converse with me: but the extreme jealousy entertained by the Ras on these points, rendered such a meeting impracticable. She afterwards, however, ingeniously contrived to afford me an opportunity of seeing her person, on my return one day from visiting the Ras, who was then busily engaged with some of his chiefs: her form, though small, was very elegant, her features were regular, and having fine teeth and coal-black hair, she might, in any country, have been esteemed handsome.
The jealousy which the Ras entertains with regard to his wives, and his strict notions, in general, respecting women, are circumstances so uncommon in this country, that it is difficult to account for their origin; unless they may be supposed to have been imbibed from his having, in early life, been thrown into the society of Mahomedians; yet, as he retains a very decided abhorrence of their doctrines, it is singular enough that he should have adopted this most objectionable part of their system. It has, however, produced the effect of correcting, in certain degree, the general laxity of manners in the more immediate neighourhood of the court; but, his strictness in these respects appeared to be so strongly disapproved of, at least by the younger part of the community, that I do not think it is likely in the end, either materially to affect the privileges of the ladies, or to produce any great alteration in the character of their admirers.
Among the persons who visited me most frequently at this time, was a learned man, looked up to with much respect by the country, called Dofter Esther, who not only understood the Geez language, and possessed some knowledge of the Arabic, but, by the assistance of Mr. Pearce, had made himself acquainted with the Roman characters. He besides evinced, on all occasions, an uncommon desire for gaining information respecting the English, and in return, seemed to take great pleasure in answering my enquiries. During the whole time that Mr. Bruce remained in the country, Dofter Esther resided at Gondar, engaged in the pursuit of his studies, being intimately acquainted with the former, whom he was in the habit of visiting every three or four days. As he appeared to speak in very friendly terms respecting that traveller, and to possess a more perfect recollection of the events which occurred at that time, than any other of the natives I conversed with, I shall in this place introduce the information I received from him on these subjects; which, in reality, contains a fair abstract of what is recollected in Abyssinia respecting Mr. Bruce.
When Mr. Bruce first arrived in the country, Ras Michael, who was in possession of full power, was absent from Gondar; but on receiving intelligence of Mr. Bruce's arrival, he sent for Sidee Petros, and Paulus, two Greeks, who gave so favourable an account of him and "of his religion," which they affirmed "was the same with their own," that the Ras was induced to treat him with great attention. He also gained at the same time great reputation from curing one of Ras Michael's children, and Ayto Confu, who were then ill of the small-pox. Ayto Aylo, an elderly man, who uniformly shewed himself the friend of all white men, became his patron. The Iteghe also took him under her protection, and Ozoro Esther became much attached to him. Dofter Esther had heard of a quarrel which had occurred in the king's house, between Mr. Bruce and Guebra Mascal, but he did not know the occasion of it, as it was privately made up. He declared, that Mr. Bruce did not speak the Tigré language, nor much of the Amharic; that he could read the characters in the books of the country on his first arrival, but did not possess any great knowledge of the Gees, though in this respect as well as with regard to the Amharic, he considerably improved himself during his stay in the country. An interpreter accompanied him, of the name of Michael, through whom he generally conversed, always indeed, when he (Dofter Esther) had been present; but he understood, that he occasionally spoke Arabic with the Mahomedans.
After remaining some time at Gondar, having gained the Emperor's permission, he went, under the protection of Fasil, to visit the sources of the Abaio or Nile, accompanied by a young man, (Balugani) who attended him in his travels. In the first attempt they failed, and were plundered; but in the second they succeeded, and returned back safely to Gondar. When the Acab Saat, Abba Salama, was hung for treason, Dofter Esther was present at his execution, and he affirmed that every body thought Ras Michael right in condemning him. Balugani died some time afterwards.
He described Mr. Bruce as a noble-looking man, and mentioned, that he was greatly noticed by the king, being one of the "baalomaals," or "favourites" about the court, like Mr. Pearce at Cheilcut: he also rode remarkably well, on a black horse of his own, and the king sometimes lent him one of his stud. The king had several horses called "koccob," or "star;" one was called "koccob turinge," or "star of a citron colour;" another "koccob bulla," or "bay star," and a third "koccob ammar," or "red star," all of which were kept for his own riding; but he had not at any time a body guard of horse so called. There was a corps of black horse from Sennaar, the riders of which were drest in armour; but these were commanded by Idris, a Musselmaun, and not by Mr. Bruce, the latter having never been actually engaged in war, though he was present during one battle. Ras Michael was attached to him, but seldom gave him any thing. He resided partly at Koseam, and occasionally at a house near Kedua Raphael, given him by the Emperor, to which latter he seemed much attached, and he often visited the Abuna. No "shummut," or "district" was ever given him: though he was said to have frequently asked for the government of Ras el Feel; which was at one time held by Netcho, and subsequently by Ayto Confu. After Ras Michael's disgrace, Mr. Bruce returned home by way of Sennaar.
Dofter Esther likewise assured me, that Amha Yasous, Prince of Shoa, never visited Gondar during the period of Mr. Bruce's stay; messengers sometimes were sent from Shoa and Efat, with presents of horses to the Emperor, in the same way as is now practised towards the Ras; but all further connexion had for a long time been broken off between these provinces and Gondar. The account of the Galla chief, Guanguol, he also said was strangely misrepresented: he recollected his visit to
Gondar, but he was then very appropriately dressed, like those Galla (he remarked,) whom I had seen on a visit to Ras Welled Selassé. On my enquiring respecting the story of the Worari, he said he had heard of the practice, and believed it to be true; but with regard to the living feast described by Mr. Bruce, he declared that he had never witnessed any such cruel practice, and expressed great abhorrence at the thought. He admitted the licentiousness of the higher orders to be carried to much greater lengths in Amhara than in Tigré; but that the scene narrated by Mr. Bruce was certainly greatly exaggerated, a proof of which he drew from his mention "of the company drinking the health of the party," a custom absolutely unknown throughout Abyssinia; Kefla Yasous, he added, and many other persons of rank in the country, were greatly attached to Mr. Bruce; and when he quitted Abyssinia, Dofter Esther said, that he left behind him "a great name."
I subsequently received accounts from many different quarters, which all tended in the strongest manner to corroborate the statements of Dofter Esther: he may have been mistaken upon some few immaterial points of his narrative; but upon the whole I have reason to think it extremely, correct. In this account it is to be observed, that the most material points (besides those noticed in a former part of this work) which affect Mr. Bruce's veracity, are those, of his never having received any district or command; his not having been engaged in the battles of Serbraxos—the overthrow of his pretensions to an almost intuitive knowledge of the languages of the country—his mis-statements respecting Guanguol, Amha Yasous, and the living feast, and the unpardonable concealment of the fact, that Balugani attended him on his journey to the sources of the Nile. Many of these points, however inconsistent in themselves, or however strongly they may be contradicted by the evidence which I have collected, are of such a nature, that they do not admit of any positive proof by which they may be actually set aside; but the confutation of the latter circumstance, resting upon data accessible to every one in possession of Mr. Bruce's work, is more particularly worthy of notice, as it appears to me, that there was something of cruelty so perfectly inexcusable in his whole conduct towards this young man, who very materially assisted him in his researches, that it can admit of no apology.
In March, 1770, (vide Vol. IV. p. 430-1,) Mr. Bruce remarks, "I more than twenty times resolved to return by Tigré, to which I was the more inclined by the loss of a young man (Balugani) who accompanied me, when a dysentery, which had attacked him in Arabia Felix, put an end to his life at Gondar. A considerable disturbance was apprehended from burying him in a churchyard: Abba Salama used his utmost endeavours to raise the populace and take him out of his grave; but some exertions of the Ras quieted both Abba Salama and the tumult." These events, told with such apparently minute and circumstantial fidelity, are by the evidence of Mr. Bruce's own papers completely disproved; for it appears, that Signor Balugani did not die at the period stated; but that he lived to accompany Mr. Bruce up to the sources of the Nile, and was alive on the 14th of February, 1771.
The proofs of this are as follows: first, that a regular journal of transactions, in the Italian language, kept by Signor Balugani, was found among Mr. Bruce's papers, copious extracts from which are given in the last edition; secondly, that a letter in Italian, in Sig. Balugani's hand writing, was found among Mr. Bruce's papers, written by him after their return to Gondar, addressed to an Italian nobleman; and thirdly, that there is an entry in the weather-journal, in Sig. Balugani's hand writing, so late as February 14, 1771; whence Mr. Murray, editor of the last edition of Mr. Bruce's work, infers, "that he died a few days afterwards."
This very extraordinary anachronism respecting Signor Balugani's death, might, possibly, be thought to proceed "from inattention or forgetfulness," as observed by Mr. Murray, (page cccvi, Vol. I.,) were it not for the additional and decisive contradiction which the following circumstance exhibits, that "Abba Salama," who is represented as having "attempted to raise the populace at the funeral of Signor Balugani," was executed for high treason, according to Mr. Bruce's own testimony, on the 24th of December, 1770, two months before Balugani's actual death: so that he could not by any possibility have been guilty of the outrage laid to his charge, and, in consequence, Ras Michael could never have interfered. The dilemma, therefore, to which these facts reduce the question in agitation, stands as follows; that, if the relation of this occurrence be correct as to time, then all Balugani's journal, letter, and observations in the weather-journal must be forged, since they all relate to circumstances which took place subsequently to the given period of his death; or, if these be true, and the contradiction proceed from an error in time, then the whole story respecting Abba Salama's exciting a tumult among the populace, and Ras Michael's interference must be false, since, in that case, Abba Salama must have been dead previously to Signor Balugani, and therefore neither he nor the Ras could have had any thing to do with the transaction.
Besides, if it could possibly be supposed, that from "inattention," or any other cause, Mr. Bruce could have forgotten altogether, on his return, the fact of Signor Balugani's having attended him during his whole excursion to the Nile, (a circumstance which appears to me absolutely incredible in itself) yet can it be believed for a moment, that he should not have been reminded of the fact by the frequent sight of the Italian manuscript journal, &c. written by Balugani, which is full of his own personal observations, and from which we know that Mr. Bruce, in writing his work, continually made extracts? Surely such a total loss of all the common faculties of memory is scarcely possible. But it may, perhaps, be asked, what motives Mr. Bruce could have had for such wilful deviations from the truth? The answer is plain: that he was impelled to it by an anxious and vehement desire of obtaining the sole credit of having first visited the sources of the Nile, and an aversion from his being known to have had any partner in his researches on this occasion; motives which however unworthy of an enlightened mind, are known to have operated so strongly on our author's feelings, that he has made them the ruling features in his work, as the very title, "Journey to discover the sources of the Nile," his romantic exultation on that particular point in his preface, and his continual misrepresentations respecting Lobo and Peter Paiz, for having preceded him in this hazardous enterprise, sufficiently prove.
Before I quit this subject, I shall notice one additional instance of decided contradiction that occurs between the printed narrative and the original notes published by his late editors, which may serve to give the reader a pretty correct notion of the manner in which this author wrought up and embellished his original observations: in accomplishing which he has evinced a power of interesting the feelings that is almost unexampled. The circumstance to which I refer is Mr. Bruce's account of the discovery of King Joas's body and the events to which it gave rise. In the printed narrative Mr. Bruce relates, that "about the 10th of August, Zor Woldo, a Galla, was taken up, who confessed himself to have been concerned in the murder of the Emperor Joas, and that he pointed out the place in the church-yard of St. Raphael, where he had been buried with his clothes on: that Zor Woldo was carried to execution; that the body of Joas was raised, and exposed in a very indecent manner in the church; that on the following day he went to the church, and gave the monk a Persian carpet to lay it on, and a web of coarse muslin to cover it; and that it continued lying in the church till October, when, owing to a threat from Ras Michael, it was privately interred." After this Mr. Bruce relates in an affecting way the credit he gained throughout the country for the humane he had acted, and that Ozoro Esther one day placed him in "one of the most honourable seats, saying 'sit down, Yayoubé: God has exalted you above all in this country when he has put it in your power, though but a stranger, to confer charity upon the king of it.'"
This story in itself contains several points that render it extremely suspicious; the most material of which are the disgraceful exposure of the body, a circumstance which the extreme delicacy of the Abyssinians respecting the dead would scarcely have permitted them to allow; and the length of time (two months) which the body is said to have been kept in the church, notwithstanding that it had before lain upwards of seventeen months in the ground without any kind of covering to keep it from putrefaction. These doubts are more than confirmed by the simple statement of the transaction met with in the original memoranda; from which it appears, that when the murderer pointed out the spot where the body lay, "it was found to be shallowly covered with earth;" that "the arm was the first part that presented itself, on which was a kind of cartouche the Abesh wear on their arm to guard them from evil; by this it was known that it was the king, and the body covered, and a tent placed over it to be raised up on the Pascha day, Tuesday 21st;" and, again, in another place, that "at the church-yard they only uncovered the arm, and even the blood-stained cartouche;" and not a word is here mentioned of the exposure of the body, the carpet, or the muslin. Can any thing be more different than these two accounts? The latter too is infinitely more consistent than the former narrative; for it there appears that the Abyssinians, as they would naturally have felt, were shocked at the first circumstance which identified the body, and carefully covered it over, and abstained from disturbing it, as it already had been placed in consecrated ground. The whole chain of additional remarks, therefore, connected with the exposure of the body, and the humanity said to have been displayed on the occasion, may be considered merely as poetical embellishments.
I here beg leave to observe, that the reader who wishes to form a just estimate of the merits and faults of Mr. Bruce should carefully compare the information given in the late appendices with the original publication, and, after perusing both with attention, he will find that I have selected only a small portion of the contradictions subsisting between them; as I have been anxious to enter only so far into the question, as might tend to justify the observations I felt myself compelled to make respecting this traveller; for, had I altogether evaded the question, I might, with some justice, have been supposed to have compromised my own opinions from the dread of his numerous advocates, or from a culpable desire of sheltering myself under his acquired reputation. I am perfectly aware how much Mr. Bruce has accomplished; and no man can more truly admire his courage, his perseverance, his sagacity, or his genius than myself; and I confess that, from the pleasure I still take in reading his work, I shall never cease to regret that any weakness of character, or unfortunate vanity, should have induced him in a single instance to have swerved from the plain and manly path of sincerity and truth which lay before him: since the ground which he occupied was far too elevated for him to stand in need of any such unworthy and adventitious aid.
During the latter part of March, we experienced at Chelicut very moderate weather, and for some days a heavy fall of rain. As such an occurrence, at this season of the year, was very unusual, though extremely beneficial to the country, those very Abyssinians, whose opinions had been most against us before our arrival, now attributed the unexpected blessing to our influence. The thermometer during this time kept pretty steadily at 70.
As the continuance of Lent rendered our stay at Chelicut not particularly agreeable, I was induced to gain the Ras's permission to make a tour to the Tacazze; thinking, that by crossing this line of the provinces, I might materially improve the geography of the country, and ascertain some other points of considerable importance relative to its general history. With such views, on the 5th of April I left Chelicut, accompanied by Mr. Pearce, Mr. Coffin, Ayto Debib, and a young chief named Chelika Negusta, holding a district in the part of the country through which our road lay, and whom the Ras had appointed to attend us with an escort. I had a short time before been made acquainted with some circumstances relating to the life of this young man, which are so characteristic of the manners of the country, that I shall here mention them by way of introducing him to the knowledge of the reader.
Chelika Negusta had early in life inherited the possession of a small district in the neighbourhood of the Tacazze, on the borders of which resided a more powerful chief, who, taking advantage of the superior number of his troops, was continually in the habit of plundering the domains of his neighbour. Chelika Negusta, then a young man of only nineteen years of age, was of too proud a disposition to let such outrages pass with impunity; and, therefore, took occasion, the first time he met his opponent, personally to affront him, and, with more courage than prudence, challenged him to single combat. The elder chief, who had before been distinguished in battle, accepted the challenge, expressing, at the same time, great contempt for his antagonist; but in the contest which ensued, "as the battle is not always to the strong," he fell a just victim to his own misconduct, being killed in the first onset by the very person whom he had affected to despise.
In consequence of this act, Chelika Negusta was soon afterwards laid hold of by the more powerful relations of the deceased, and carried before the Ras. Whatever might have been the inclinations of the latter, as complete proof was adduced of the fact, he was compelled by the custom of the country (which on this point is absolute) to condemn the young warrior to death; and, according to the established rule, which is borrowed from the laws of the Mosaic institution, he was given up to the relations of the deceased, "to do with him as they pleased." The course commonly followed on these occasions is, to take the offender to the market-place, and there, in the face of the public, to dispatch him, with knives and spears: every relation and friend of the deceased making it a point of duty to strike a blow at the criminal. The young man was conducted towards the market-place, and so much violence was expressed by the relations that his fate seemed inevitable. Fortunately for Chelika Negusta, he was a particularly handsome man; which circumstance, together with the intrepidity he had displayed throughout the trial, interested all the Ozoros belonging to the court, and through their intercession, a deputation of priests was immediately sent to plead in his behalf; every lady offering to contribute her share towards commuting the punishment. The relations, however, appeared inexorable, and he was led in awful silence to the place of execution, where their spears were raised in readiness to strike the final blow, but the priests again interfering, and threatening the anger of the church if they persisted, the fear of excommunication fortunately produced its due effect, and after a long debate it was finally agreed that he should receive a pardon, though no less a sum than three hundred wakeas of gold were paid down on this occasion as the price of the blood that had been shed. Subsequently to this event, Chelika Negusta had risen highly in the general esteem, and the confidence placed in him by the Ras, in confiding us to his protection, was a sufficient testimony of his good opinion.
After leaving the vale of Chelicut, which forms one of the most delightful spots in Abyssinia, we passed two streams, running eastward, (Mai Afguol, and Mai Gulwa,) and proceeded forwards up a gradual ascent, until we reached Antálo, the capital of Enderta, which stands on the side of a mountain, commanding an extensive prospect towards the south. About twenty miles from Antálo lies the strong-hold of El Hadje, in which the state prisoners are confined; and in the same direction may be distinguished, on a clear day, the high mountains of Salowa and Bora. Here we perceived a sensible change in the atmosphere, and the thermometer at mid-day was 65°.
On the following day we left Antálo, at half past seven o'clock; and having passed through a rich and highly cultivated part of Enderta, which seemed to be well supplied with water, entered the district of Wazza. We afterwards descended two steep precipices, which brought us, in the evening, to a rude and picturesque village, called Cali, situated in a nook of the mountains, in the district of Saharti.
On the 7th we left Cali, and traversed a wild and uncultivated tract of land, abounding with game of every description. The general character of this country reminded me strongly of the scenes which I had often admired in the interior of the Cape, where a broad expanse of dark brushwood surrounds the traveller, beyond which, the tops of distant mountains are seen to rise, of a transparent purple hue, conveying the idea of an immeasurable chasm existing between them and the country over which you are passing. It was in this manner, for the first time, that we beheld the mountains of Samen, rearing their lofty summits majestically in the distant horizon. The weather now becoming intensely warm, the thermometer having risen to 80°, we stopped during the heat of the day, by the side of a stream, to refresh ourselves, near a village called Shela, where, in the course of my search after rare plants, I discovered some water cresses, which I pointed out with peculiar pleasure to Mr. Pearce, from his having long been seeking for them in vain. The Abyssinians attending us, were also much gratified by the discovery of a tree found only in this part of the country, from the bark of which they are accustomed to form matches for their fire-arms. The inner rind is the part used for this purpose, which, after being thoroughly bruised on a large stone, is twisted round a stick, and carefully dried in the sun, and this, without further preparation, makes an admirable match. The tree is a species of narrow-leaved ficus, and is called by the natives Chekumt. During its stay on this spot, the party shot no less than six brace of guinea-fowl and partridge, both of which were found in large coveys, consisting of fifty or sixty birds, and they were occasionally seen to rest on the tops of trees.
In the afternoon we entered upon a more cultivated country, where the province of Avergale commences, inhabited by the Agows: and in the course of the evening we arrived at a town called Agora, at which place a duty is collected on all salt carried into the interior. Here we took up our residence for the night, at the house of an old servant of the Ras, named Guebra Mehedin, who had come out to meet us, and at this time held command of the district. This chief was distinguished throughout the country, from his having, about two years before, killed a lion in single combat, with no other weapon than those ordinarily used by the Abyssinians; an instance of intrepidity that I can very well believe him to have shewn, from the little that I saw of his general character. His features were completely Roman: and there was a manliness in his walk, an openness in his manner, and a contempt of all artifice displayed in his conduct, strongly indicative of a brave man. Even the very horse on which he rode, seemed to partake, in a certain degree, of the same spirit which animated his master, and would not, as I understood, let any one else mount upon his back.
At the house of this chief we spent one of the most agreeable days I ever recollect passing, in a company not indeed the most polished, but where so much genuine character, native worth, and real independence were displayed, that it made ample amends for the absence of more refined conversation and manners. Towards evening, the view of the mountains of Samen became exceedingly magnificent, and I sat for a long time watching the gradual descent of the sun behind the stupendous forms which these grand masses exhibited, feeling a melancholy sensation of awe stealing over my mind, that I shall not venture to describe; though in this place I cannot help observing, that, if ever I for a moment felt, that the frailty of human nature stood excused in offering up its adoration to this glorious luminary, it was when I witnessed its setting behind the mountains of Samen.
On the 8th of April we left Agora, at an early hour, and proceeded westward, about three miles, when, having arrived in one of the most picturesque scenes that can be imagined, among some rude rocks, rising by the side of the river Arequa, we left our mules in a place of security, and gave up the morning to the pursuit of the various species of game which abounded in the neighbourhood, consisting of Guinea-fowl, partridges, and deer of various kinds, of which we killed more than sufficient to supply the whole party with food for the day. The river Arequa appears, from the width of its bed, and the body of water which occasionally comes down in the rainy season, to be larger than any other existing between the coast and the Tacazze. It is said to rise at a place called Assa, about ten miles only from Antálo, whence it runs nearly in a north-west direction, through the province of Avergale, until it joins the former river in the district of Temben, so that it probably collects in its course the various small streams which water the fertile province of Enderta. This river should appear to answer, better than any other, to the Coror, in Mr. Bruce's map; but as we know that the latter is put down from single mention only of such a stream in Alvarez, it must, had it existed, have taken its origin, as I have before observed, further to the eastward, the track of the Portuguese in 1620 having certainly lain in that direction. This morning the atmosphere proving extremely clear, we could, for the first time, plainly distinguish the snow, (called by the Abyssinians Berrit,) on the top of Béyeda and Aruba Hai, the two loftiest summits of the mountains of Samen. Mr. Bruce having passed over only a lower ridge, called Lamalmon, did not believe the fact of snow having ever been seen on these mountains, though it is noticed in the very earliest account of the country, in the Adulic inscription given by Cosmas, (Καὶ Σεμηναι ἔθνος πέραν του Νείλου (the Tacazze,) ἐν δύσβατοις καὶ χιονόδεσσιν ορεσιν οἰκουντας, ἐν οἷς διαπαντὸς νιφετοὶ καὶ κρύν καὶ χιόνες βαθύτατοι, ὡς μέχρι γονάτων καταδύνειν ἄνδρα, τὸν ποταμὸν διαβὰς ὑπέταξα,) and subsequently by several of the best informed men among the Jesuits who travelled in Abyssinia.
In the afternoon we proceeded forwards to Werketarvé, a small town situated on a hill, inhabited by the Agows. To a stranger there appears to exists a slight difference only between this people and the Abyssinians, except that the Agows are, perhaps, on the whole, a stouter race of men, and, in general, not so active in their habits: their language is, nevertheless, perfectly distinct, and appeared to my ear to sound much softer and less energetic than that of Tigré, bearing a strong resemblance, when indistinctly pronounced, to some of our own country dialects. This people is distinguished by the name of the Tchertz, or Tacazze Agows, and the country they inhabit extends from Lasta to the borders of Shiré. According to tradition, the Agows were once worshippers of the Nile, but so late as in the seventeenth century they were converted to the Christian religion, and are now more particular in their attention to its duties, than most of the other natives of Abyssinia. Like the people of Dixan, they are very regular in their morning's devotion; for which purpose, the inhabitants of each village assemble before the door of their respective chiefs, at the earliest dawn, and recite their prayers in a kind of rude chorus together. A very high opinion is entertained by the Agows of their former consequence, and they declare, that they were never conquered, except by the inhabitants of Tigré. A vocabulary of their language will be found, among others, in the Appendix, (Vide No. I.)
The view from the hill on which this town was built, was, if possible, superior to that even of the preceding evening: and, in consequence, I was tempted to make a drawing of it; but I fear it will convey a very inadequate idea of the height of these stupendous mountains. The thermometer, during the whole of this day, never fell below 80° and at mid-day it was 85° in the shade.
On the 9th we left Werketarvé, and after travelling a few miles westward, turned off more to the south, in order to avoid a range of very rugged hills that interrupts the direct road, which brought us, in about two hours, to Serarwa. At this place the nature of the country began to change, and instead of rich pastures, affording nourishment to numerous droves of cattle, which we had continually met with in the course of our journey for the last three or four days, we now descended into a sandy and barren district, thickly set with thorny shrubs and mimosas, greatly resembling the scenery near the coast. The thermometer at mid-day rose as high as 88° in the shade. The sun at this moment was nearly vertical over our heads, yet, as I have before mentioned, the mountains that lay before us were covered with snow, and we could plainly distinguish it lying in large patches on their sides, while we were at the same time scorching with heat. In the evening we arrived at Guftamlo, when Mr. Pearce being taken ill, we were under the necessity of leaving him behind.
On the 10th we departed from Guftamlo, at half past five, and travelled over a sandy and parched plain, a few isolated spots alone having been cultivated with mishella, the old stalks of which were still remaining, and measured from nine to twelve feet high. As I was passing through a field of this towering grain, it brought strongly to my recollection a circumstance in Swift's "Travels in Brobdignag," and I could not help feeling myself, for a moment, in a situation similar to that of Gulliver, when lost among the ridges of corn. Near this spot I shot a very rare bird (Cursorius Europæus) which, from its colour, could with difficulty be distinguished from the soil.
After crossing this plain, we came to some irregular hills, so thickly covered with low trees and brushwood, that it was with the utmost difficulty that we could make our way, the road being as bad as can be well conceived, and every bush and tree being covered with terribly large thorns. We managed fortunately, however, to get through without any serious injury, and immediately afterwards descended into a deep sandy gully, which in the rainy season forms the bed of a torrent. This gully strongly resembled the pass from Hamhammo to Taranta, and the same species of trees were found growing in it, chiefly consisting of capers, juniper, tamarind trees, and a large species of Adansonia, called Entata, similar to the one I have before described as common at Mosambique. The fruit of the tamarind tree was in high perfection, and afforded us a grateful refreshment. After another slight descent, a broad expanse of country opened before us, and we found ourselves at a short distance only from the banks of the Tacazze.
I immediately ran forward, prompted by a sort of natural impulse, till we came to the edge of the stream, where, seated on the bank, I remained for some time contemplating with delight the smooth course of the waters gliding beneath. It would be in vain for me to attempt a description of the tumult of ideas which at this moment rushed upon my mind. The various monuments of antiquity which I had seen in Egypt, and a whole chain of classical circumstances connected with the history of the Nile were brought to my recollection, while the idea that I was sitting by a branch of the same stream, though at the distance of eleven hundred miles from its junction with the sea, added in an extraordinary degree to the interest which such feelings inspired. While my attention was absorbed by these reflections, the noise of an hippopotamus rising to the surface, and the cry of our attendants, "Gomari," "Gomari," roused me from my meditations, and the sight of so rare and stupendous an animal pretty speedily gave a new turn to my thoughts. The view we obtained of this creature was only instantaneous, and its action appeared to me at the moment greatly to resemble the rolling of a grampus in the sea.
The point on which we stood commanded a small extent only of the river; as in this part of its course it makes a considerable bend, owing to the abruptness of the rocks on its western bank, which, rising up immediately opposite, completely intercepted from our view the higher summits of the mountains. As we advanced up the line of the stream we found it interrupted by frequent overfalls, a circumstance that renders it fordable at almost every season of the year. Between these fords deep holes or pits intervene, of almost immeasurable depth, which when viewed from a height present a similar appearance to the small lochs or tarns found among our own mountains in the north: and it is in these depths that the hippopotamus chiefly delights. After proceeding a short distance, we arrived at one of the most frequented of their haunts, where several of these animals were observed, when, after partially taking off our clothes we crossed the river with our guns, for the purpose of getting a more convenient and secure situation to attack them: the eastern side, from its being flat and sandy, affording no advantage of this nature. The stream at this time might be about fifty yards across, and, at the ford over which we passed, about three feet deep, flowing with a moderate current, like the Thames at Richmond, though either side of its bed bore evident marks of the tremendous torrents which pour down in the rainy season. At this point the river divides the two districts of Avergale and Samen; so that the moment we had passed over, we might be considered as having entered the latter province.
Having soon found a place adapted to the purpose we had in view, we stationed ourselves on a high overhanging rock, which commanded the depth I have before mentioned, and had not long remained in this spot before we discovered an hippopotamus, not more than twenty yards distant, rising to the surface. At first it came up very confidently, raising its enormous head out of the water, and snorting violently in a manner somewhat resembling the noise made by a porpus. At this instant three of us discharged our guns, the contents of which appeared to strike on its forehead; when it turned its head round with an angry scowl, made a sudden plunge, and sunk down to the bottom, uttering a kind of noise between a grunt and a roar. We for some minutes entertained very sanguine hopes, that we had either killed or seriously wounded the animal, and momentarily expected to see the body float on the surface; but we soon discovered, that an hippopotamus is not so easily killed; for, shortly afterwards, it again rose up close to the same spot, with somewhat more caution than before, but apparently not much concerned at what had happened. Again we discharged our pieces, but with as little effect as at the first shot; and, though some of the party continued on their posts constantly firing at every hippopotamus that made its appearance, yet I am not sure that we made the slightest impression upon a single one of them. This can only be attributed to our having used leaden balls, which are too soft to enter the impenetrable skulls of these creatures, as we repeatedly observed the balls strike against their heads. Towards the latter part of the day, however, they began to come up with extreme wariness, merely thrusting their nostrils out of the stream, breathing hard, and spouting up the water like a fountain.
It appears from what we witnessed, that the hippopotamus cannot remain more than five or six minutes at a time under water, being obliged to come up to the surface in the course of some such intervals for the purpose of respiration. One of the most interesting parts of the amusement was to observe the ease with which these animals quietly dropped down to the bottom; for the water being very clear, we could distinctly see them so low as twenty feet beneath the surface. I should conceive, that the size of those that we saw did not exceed sixteen feet in length, and their colour was a dusky brown, like that of the elephant.
While we were thus engaged, we occasionally observed several crocodiles, called by the natives agoos, rising at a distance to the surface of the river: they appeared to be of an enormous size and of a greenish colour. The natives of Abyssinia in general seem to entertain more than usual dread of this animal; for, if any one goes to the Tacazze even to wash his hands, he takes a companion with him to throw stones into the water for the purpose of keeping off the crocodile; and in crossing a ford, it is usual with the natives to carry their spears and to make as much noise as possible, though these animals are seldom known to frequent the shallower parts of the stream: while the very thought of bathing in the river seemed to strike them all with horror. The thermometer in the neighbourhood of the Tacazze rose as high as 95 in the shade.
I shall not attempt to discuss the question, whether this river were the Astaboras or Astapus of the ancients, which are said to have partly encircled the Island of Meroe; since this appears to me a subject that has been already sufficiently handled, until further discoveries shall have been made, which may throw some new light upon the subject. If the account given by Ptolemy be correct, that celebrated island must have been situated very far eastward, between the Tacazze and the Mareb, since he includes the city of Axum within its limits; but this so totally contradicts the accounts given by more correct writers, that I think little doubt can be entertained that he was mistaken. Strabo observes, that Meroe was distant fifteen days journey for a messenger from the Red Sea, (Vol. II. p. 771,) and that the island of Meroe is formed by two rivers coming from the east, which flow into the Nile: the most southern of which is the Astapus. If this be correct, the Island of Meroe must lie, as Mr. De Lisle and Mr. Bruce have conjectured, between the Nile and the Tacazze; a circumstance that would be strongly confirmed, could we depend upon the account of the ruins described by Mr. Bruce, near the confluence of the two streams.
After our day's excursion in pursuit of the hippopotamus, we returned towards our encampment under a large tree in the neighbourhood, where we intended to remain for the night. Upon arriving at the spot, I found only one of our attendants, walking up and down, watching the arms, saddles and bridles that had been left behind. In the evening, as the night was clear, I obtained a meridian altitude of one of the stars, which proved the latitude of this plain to be 13° 12' N., by means of which, together with the bearings and distance that I had carefully computed as we went along, I was enabled to lay down the track of our journey, which will be found in the map.
On the following morning we set out on our return, and passing through the jungle before describe, a little to the northward of our former course, in about two hours reached a town called Missada, which we entered amidst the wild acclamations of the inhabitants. Ras Welled Selassé some time before had kindly put a part of this district under the command of Dejus Gabriel of Samen. It would have been no great matter had he given him the whole; for the country for some miles around exhibited a complete bed of sandy rock, scarcely admitting of cultivation. Some laudable attempts appeared to have been made by the natives towards clearing a few spots on the sides of the hills, but their labours had not produced any very favourable effects; the little soil with which the rock was covered possessing all the bad qualities belonging to that in the Nayib of Massowa's territory, yielding nothing, except stones, weeds, thorny bushes and acacias. I was informed, that the most valuable produce of the country consists of cotton, a considerable quantity of which is raised in the neighbourhood of the river; and as this article commands a good price at Adowa, it makes up in some degree for the want of grain, under which the district labours; In the course of the day, we passed a village called Adellet, and in the evening reached Gorura, where we were presented with a cow, and were otherwise treated with hospitality.
On the 13th, Mr. Pearce rejoined us, and having again crossed the Arequa, we proceeded by way of Agora and Cali to Chelicut, where we arrived on the 16th of April. I computed the extent of our journey into the country to have amounted to about sixty miles in a due west direction. On our return we experienced precisely the reverse of those changes in the thermometer, which are mentioned to have occurred in our descent to the Tacazze.
The Ras received me on my return with great cordiality, and on the following day did me the greatest honour which it was in his power to confer, by paying me a visit at my own house. I was engaged at the moment in finishing one of my drawings, when I heard a great bustle below, and Mr. Pearce almost at the name instant came running, out of breath, to acquaint me that the Ras was coming to the house. I immediately went down to receive him, and found him looking at the European vegetables in the garden, and making many inquiries respecting their use. He stood supported at this time by Mr. Pearce and Ayto Debib, having no one else with him except one of his Shangalla slaves, who carried his state sword. On seeing me, he smiled, and, pointing to the cabbages, said, are they good? and then turning round, laid his hand on my shoulder, and walked with me to the house. Here he continued for more than an hour, looking at some drawings of our buildings, carriages, ships, and other curiosities, which I brought forward to amuse him; and, conversing with me in the most familiar manner respecting the English customs. Mr. Pearce was exceedingly delighted at this visit, and I understood afterwards that it made a great noise throughout the country, as, for some years before, he had not paid a similar compliment to any other person, except the high priest, and some of his nearer relations. Nothing afforded me greater pleasure on this, and other occasions, than my being able to confirm the accounts which Mr. Pearce had before given, respecting the superiority of the English in the mechanical arts. The Ras was particularly shrewd in his questions on these subjects, and often, when I explained any thing more than usually extraordinary, turned round to Mr. Pearce, and said, "You used to tell me this before; but I did not then know how to believe you."
There was at this time a Greek at Antalo, called Nus'r Alli, who about two years previously to my arrival, had come into the country, and for a time done Mr. Pearce serious mischief by declaring, that "England was a petty state under the rule of the Turks," and, that "all the manufactures we had sent were made by the Greeks!" The inconceivable effrontery with which he asserted these things, had made it difficult for Mr. Pearce to prove the contrary; and on one or two occasions he had been so much enraged by such insinuations, that, as the Ras told me, it had been found exceedingly difficult to keep him quiet. Latterly, however, he had contrived so effectually to frighten Nus'r Alli, who was not very remarkable for his courage, that he had kept with great caution out of his way. This man, on my arrival in the country, was completely abashed, and for some time did not dare to shew his face; but, as I discovered afterwards that he was really an ingenious fellow, and was in some respects to be pitied, I persuaded Mr. Pearce to make it up with him, and they were afterwards very good friends.
On the morning of the 20th, notice was given of the near approach of a cafila which had been for some days expected from the salt-plain, and in the afternoon we had the pleasure of witnessing its arrival in the town. It consisted of several hundred mules and asses with their loads, which had been escorted from Assa Durwa by Ayto Hannes, a nephew of the Ras, who held at this time the important office of Balgudda, and had gone down for the purpose with about two hundred of his followers. As they descended into the valley, the inhabitants of Chelicut went out to receive them, and greeted them with the same joyful acclamations with which they honour their warrior's when they return from battle. The service of escorting these cafilas may be considered indeed as extremely hazardous; the whole neighbourhood of the plain, from which the salt is procured (which has been before described,) being infested by a cruel race of Galla, who make it a practice to lie in wait for the individuals engaged in cutting it. These poor fellows, who are generally of the lowest order of natives, are said, in the absence of the Balgudda and his parties, to be compelled to lie down flat on the surface, when working, that they may escape the observation of their barbarous enemies, and, on the approach of a stranger, they are described as running away with great alarm to the mountains. Even when the Balgudda and his soldiers are present, frequent skirmishes take place between them and the savage borderers, in which the Galla, however, are generally the sufferers. On the present expedition, six only had been killed; and this number was considered as unusually small: the soldiers who had shewn their prowess in these actions, wearing small pieces of red cloth on their spears by way of an honourable badge of distinction. Soon after their arrival, the Ras went up into the balcony in front of his house to receive them, where they passed before him in review, dancing, shouting and exulting, as is practised at the Mascal.
As the time now approached when it became necessary for me to think of returning, I had several long conferences with the Ras on the subject of my mission. In one of these he gave me an account of the violent conduct of many of his chiefs on the death of his brother Ayto Manasseh, and of the strong objections which they had started against our coming into the country. One of these, named Balgudda Hannes, had gone so far as openly to advise, that we should be enticed into the country and afterwards murdered. The priests at Axum had also endeavoured to raise an outcry against us, and were actually said to have ordered the doors of the churches to be locked, for the purpose of keeping out any unlucky spells that we might wish to set upon them. They likewise repeatedly urged the Ras to be careful of his life, as they were assured, that "our object was to kill him, and get possession of his country;" "I was not fool enough to regard these extravagancies;" (he observed,) "for if God had not been on my side, how should I so long have continued my command over the unruly people I have had to govern. Besides, as I told them, what can four or five people do?" "Some few (he added) even still remain inimical to you; but the greater part feel convinced of your friendly intentions." He concluded with saying, "as to myself, I shall never cease to pray for your king; and, if God spare me, I will before long, with the guns he has sent me, establish the Emperor in his rights at Gondar, and settle the religion of the country. We all say this is right, and the other is right in religious matters; but, as Alika Barea has told me, I believe we shall only wander about in the dark until we receive a lesson from you." This he spoke very earnestly. Shortly afterwards, he requested that I would permit one of the Englishmen attending me to stay with Mr. Pearce, assigning as a reason for the request, the necessity of having some one to manage the guns, for, as he remarked, "my enemies have all heard of their arrival, and have already expressed great alarm at the intelligence: but, unless some one remain to direct them, they (knowing our ignorance in such matters,) will soon get over their fears; leave me only another 'jagonah' like Mr. Pearce, and they will never dare to meet me in the field."
I was perfectly aware, at the time this conversation took place, to whom it referred; as Mr. Coffin had before spoken to me on the subject, expressing a wish that he might be permitted to stay with Mr. Pearce. In consequence of this, I told the Ras, that if any one of those belonging to me felt inclined to remain in the country, I should certainly not endeavour to dissuade him from it; at the same time I took the opportunity of explaining to him, that the personal freedom which British subjects enjoy, left every man perfectly at liberty to act as he might think proper on such occasions. During this interview, it was settled that our party on its return should visit Axum, a circumstance which I had been anxious to secure, for the purpose of once more examining its ruins.
On my leaving him, he presented me with one of his favourite mules, richly caparisoned with trappings of red velvet, and the skin of a black leopard, which is extremely rare, and worn only by governors of provinces. He also gave me two small manuscripts, one of which he assured me contained the true doctrines of the faith, as believed by the orthodox part of the Abyssinians, which I have since found to be a pastoral letter, addressed by the patriarch of Alexandria to the Abyssinian church. This treatise, on my return to England, was translated by the Reverend Mr. Murray, the late editor of Mr. Bruce's works, for the benefit of the British and Foreign Bible Society, which is at present engaged in printing a portion of the Scriptures in Ethiopic. The writing, as might be expected, is extremely diffuse, and in some parts obscure; but contains, on the whole, a fair abstract of the Abyssinians' tenets, and a considerable portion of curious matter respecting the absurd disputes which have latterly taken place in their church. The other manuscript contains an account of his last campaign against the Galla, written by a scribe at the court, which is filled more with adulatory compliments than facts. Parts of this were occasionally read in the Ras's presence, and it seemed to afford him no small portion of gratification; the Abyssinians, indeed, generally possessing an anxious desire of having their names handed down to the admiration of succeeding ages.
On the 25th of April, which, according to the Abyssinian reckoning, was the last day of Lent, the Ras very early in the morning informed us, that it was his intention to remove his residence to Antálo, and expressed a desire that we should accompany him to that place, with which request we complied. Accordingly, at day-light, he sent three of his best horses for our use, one of which, named Shummut, had for many years been his favourite, and the two others had lately been sent as presents from Liban, the chief of the Galla. The Ras himself had already set out; but on our arriving at a plain, near the village of Afguol, we found him waiting to receive us, surrounded by about two hundred slaves and attendants, and about forty chiefs on horseback, who were galloping about and skirmishing with each other, after the manner of the country. Their style of riding differs materially from that of the Arabs, owing, in a great measure, to their using long stirrups, and to their taking a larger sweep for their manœuvres. Their horses are generally strong, of a beautiful make, and in very high condition; but the latter part of the description could not be very correctly applied to the riders, who, from the long continuance of the fast, looked, for the most part, terribly thin and emaciated. The Abyssinians, in general, are well skilled in horsemanship, and exceedingly graceful in their movements, managing their arms with great dexterity, and at the same time never for an instant losing the perfect command of their horses. The lightness of their accoutrements is particularly advantageous, and gives them such a scope for the free exercise of their limbs, as would, in my opinion, render them superior to an equal number of Arabs. Their bridle, called "legaum," consists of a coarse Mameluke bit, a plain headstall, and a neatly-wrought chain, answering the purpose of reins. The saddle is very simple in its form, but of an excellent construction, consisting of two thin pieces of wood, fastened together by thongs of leather, with a high pommel in front, and a kind of back to lean against; the whole of which is covered with an ornamental piece of red leather, manufactured in the country in imitation of morocco; under this is placed a 'marashut,' or 'cloth of quilted stuff,' which is doubled in front, in order more particularly to preserve the shoulders of the horse: the whole of these accoutrements being exceedingly light and strongly fastened on the animal by a girth, a broad breast-band, and a crupper, which is not, like ours, sustained by the tail only, but, from being fastened to the two sides of the saddle, passes round the whole of the hinder part of the animal. By way of ornament round the neck of their horses, the Abyssinians place a collar, made of the Zebra's mane, together with chains of jingling brass, and occasionally a small bell. The whole of this equipage is so decidedly different from that of their neighbours, the Arabs, that it affords, among others, a strong argument against their customs being derived from the same origin.
The persons attached to my party also exhibited their skill in riding, much to the satisfaction of the Ras, who particularly expressed his delight on finding that we were so well skilled in this their favourite exercise. After amusing ourselves in this manner for some hours, we proceeded forward to Antálo, where, on our arrival, we were met by a deputation of the priests, splendidly dressed out for the occasion, who, after paying their compliments to the Ras, turned round and marched before us, vociferously singing psalms, and tinkling a number of small bells, which they carried for this purpose in their hands. In the evening a repast of fish, &c. was served up for the last time during the season, of which a great number of the first people in the country partook; and one of the head priests, when it was over, pronounced a blessing on all those who had properly observed the holy institution of Lent.
On the 26th we were called up early in the morning to attend a feast, celebrated in honour of the day, at which no less than five cows were killed by the Ras, and so large a quantity of brind was consumed both by priests and laity, as clearly evinced that they were determined to make up as speedily as possible for the restraint which had so long been laid upon their appetites. The Ras himself was in excellent spirits, and in the course of the entertainment presented me with his own brulhé to drink out of, filled with red wine, which was considered as so very singular a favour, that it seemed to astonish all the chiefs who were present. Among these, were Baharnegash Yasous, Baharnegash Subhart, and Kantiba Socinius, who had, I found, all been expressly sent for by the Ras, for the purpose of securing their good behaviour on my return. To each of these, as well as to our own party, a cow, and a large quantity of maiz was sent in the course of the day by the Ras, in order to regale our respective followers: and, in consequence, towards evening, as might well be expected, scarcely an Abyssinian was to be found throughout the town, who was not considerably affected by the quantity of liquor he had drunk during the celebration of the festival.
I afterwards understood, that preparations had been making for this feast for full three weeks, and that followers of the Ras had been sent out to a considerable distance, in different directions, to collect a sufficient quantity of "sadoo," (the bitter root with which the maiz is impregnated,) for the occasion. This kind of feasting and holiday-making lasted for several days. In the course of this time the Ras received a visit from some of the chiefs of the Assubo Galla from the south, residing near Muntilli, in the neighbourhood of the salt-plain, where formerly a mart of great consequence was held by the traders, who had been accustomed to assemble there from the most distant parts of the country. These Galla wore garments similar to those of the Abyssinians: and their heads were liberally greased and powdered, most of them exhibiting on their arms ivory bracelets, and trophies, according to the number of enemies they had killed; many of them displaying nine of these badges, and none of them less than two. I learnt with surprise, that it was extremely probable that most of these insignia had been acquired by the slaughter of subjects belonging to the Ras, with whom they were at this moment at war; yet, notwithstanding this circumstance, so great was their confidence in his honour, that they were not afraid to come singly even into his presence. I found that the object of their visit on this occasion, was to bring him a present of some Sanga, or oxen, with the hope of prevailing upon him to interfere with the chief of Wojjerat, in order to prevent his making incursions into their territory. This very chief was also present at the time: and it was curious to remark, the affected mildness with which the parties behaved towards each other; though an angry glance would occasionally escape them, that very intelligibly bespoke their real feelings. These Galla made no scruple about eating food from the Ras's table; which was, however, served out to them in separate dishes, from a prejudice entertained by the Abyssinians against eating with any except Christians. At the conclusion of the entertainment, I invited one of the Galla to pay me a visit, to which he consented, though I had great difficulty in persuading him to stay long enough to enable me to complete a sketch of his figure; which I could accomplish only by stealth, while Mr. Pearce kept him amused in conversation; as, in a former instance, when I had made a similar attempt, the man, having perceived what I was about, ran away in great alarm, through fear of a spell being laid upon him. Perhaps it may be worthy of remark, that these Galla, on observing the red hair of one of our party, were so much delighted with it, that they called him, "Moti," a name equivalent to that of Ras, in the Abyssinian language. The Abyssinians, on the contrary, made the light colour of our hair, and the pale complexion of our features, an occasional subject of ridicule.
On one of these festive days a circumstance happened, which, though extremely ludicrous in its consequences, might have produced very unpleasant effects. I am, therefore, induced to mention it by way of caution to other travellers, though I cannot altogether excuse myself from somewhat of imprudence in having inadvertently given occasion to the occurrence. Among other presents which I had taken up into the country, a quantity of artificial fire-works had been selected, chiefly consisting of serpents, small wheels, and crackers, which at different times had afforded the Ras and his chiefs much amusement; the former taking great delight in lighting them himself, and in throwing them among his attendants. Several Galla chiefs, whom I have before mentioned, and other strangers being present at the time, the Ras expressed a desire that I would let Mr. Pearce exhibit some of the best of these compositions; which were accordingly produced. On this occasion, I have to observe, that the room in which we sat was about sixty feet long by thirty broad, filled with guests who were all habited after the fashion of their respective countries, in loose flowing cotton garments. Without considering this circumstance, or taking into account the nature of the composition to be exhibited, I requested Mr. Pearce to let off one of the largest of our fire-works, labelled "a flower-pot." Some little time was occupied in preparing it; and on its being placed nearly in the centre of the room, eager expectation sat on the countenances of all who were present.
At length the match was brought and the fuse lighted, when such a deluge of sparks and fire balls were almost instantaneously showered down upon us, that its effects struck the whole party with consternation. Several of the chiefs cried out, that "the destruction had come upon them which they had expected to ensue from our arrival in the country;" others, more alarmed, crept under the couches; and some ran, frightened and screaming, into the corners of the room: while the Ras and a few only of the more resolute kept quietly on their seats. At the instant that I perceived the confusion which was likely to be produced by this exhibition, I jumped from my couch, stood immediately before the Ras, and, with open arms, kept off the sparks of fire that fell towards him; assuring him, most solemnly, at the same time, that no danger could be apprehended. His natural courage was strongly displayed on this occasion; for he sat perfectly collected, smiling at the alarm of his followers, and, though several of their garments afterwards caught fire and the uproar continued to increase, did not evince the slightest agitation. Fortunately, his own dress was one of the few that escaped unsinged, which was considered as a good omen, especially as that of Kasimaj Yasous, the King's brother, did not meet with the same good fortune. At length, to my great relief, the shower of sparks began to abate, and when it had all subsided, the face of things took a different turn; the Ras expressing himself greatly delighted with the exhibition, turning the whole affair into ridicule, and rallying most unmercifully those chiefs who had expressed their fears on the occasion; though he afterwards observed, apart to me, "that for the future it would be better to exhibit these things when we were by ourselves." In this manner the affair terminated, which, though it appeared likely to have taken a serious turn in the first instance, was nevertheless mixed with such a portion of the ridiculous, as afterwards to afford our party a constant subject of merriment, and a celebrated jester at the Ras's court subsequently worked it up into a very amusing representation.
As I am now upon the holiday sports of the Abyssinians, it may not be amiss to give some account of this man. Torre Máze, for such was his name, was one of the cleverest mimicks I have ever seen; the command which he possessed over his features almost equalling that which was displayed on the boards of our own theatres by Suet; an actor to whom he bore considerable resemblance. One of his chief acquirements consisted in the singular art of making other people (particularly strangers, who had not been apprized of his intention) imitate the contortions of his own features, a power which I repeatedly saw him exercise with success, and which, on one occasion, drew me into the same kind of ridiculous situation, without my being conscious of the changes in my countenance, until I was roused by a friendly hint from the Ras, who let me into the secret of what he was about. He afterwards performed, at the Ras's request, some finished pieces of acting that evinced very extraordinary native talent.
One of these consisted in the imitation of the behaviour of a chief in battle, who had not been remarkable for his courage. At first he came in very pompously; calling out in an overbearing manner to his soldiers, and vaunting what he would do when the enemy approached. He then mimicked the sound of horns heard from a distance, and the low beating of a drum. At hearing this, he represented the chief as beginning to be a little cautious, and to ask questions of those around him, whether they thought the enemy were strong. This alarm he continued to heighten in proportion as the enemy advanced, until at last he depicted the hero as nearly overcome by his fears; the musquet trembling in his hand, his heart panting, and his eyes completely fixed, while, without being conscious of it, his legs began to make a very prudent retreat. This part of his acting excited among the spectators its due share of contempt, when, dexterously laying hold of the circumstance, he affected to be ashamed of his cowardice, mustered up his whole stock of courage, and advanced, firing his matchlock at the same moment in a direction exactly contrary to that in which the enemy was supposed to stand, when, apparently frightened at the noise of his own gun, he sank down on his knees, and begged for mercy: during this time the expression of his face was inimitable, and, at the conclusion, the whole of the spectators burst into a shout of admiration.
In another representation, he imitated the overstrained politeness of an Amharic courtier, paying a first visit to a superior. On coming in, he fell on his face and kissed the ground, paying most abject compliments to the chief, and, on being invited to sit down, placed himself with well-feigned humility close to the threshold of the door. Shortly afterwards, on the supposition of a question being asked him by the chief, he arose, and still carrying on the farce, prostrated himself the second time, and gave an answer couched in very polite and artful phrases, advancing cautiously at the same time into the middle of the room. In this manner he continued to take advantage of the attentions paid to him, gradually stealing along, till he got close to the side of the chief, when he assumed an extraordinary degree of familiarity, talked loudly, and, to complete the ridiculous effect of the whole scene, affectedly shoved his nose almost in contact with the other's face. This species of satire afforded great delight to the Tigrians; as they pretend on all occasions to despise the submissive and effeminate manners of the people of Amhara, whom they invariably describe, as "possessing smooth tongues and no hearts."
In addition to his other representations, Totte Máze gave a most admirable imitation of the mincing step and coquettish manners of the women of Amhara, and of their extreme affectation in answering a few of the most common questions. In all these representations, the tones of his voice were so perfectly adapted to the different characters, and his action so thoroughly appropriate, that it gave me very unexpected gratification.
The following instance may be related, as a specimen of the wit usually practised by the jesters of this country; who, like the fools of old times, exercise their ingenuity upon persons of every description, without regard to rank or station. He had, one day, so much offended the Ras by some liberties that he had taken with him, that he ordered him never again to set foot upon his carpet, (which, it may be noticed, extends about half way down the room.) On the following day, however, to the great surprise of the company, the jester made his appearance, mounted on the shoulders of one of his attendants, in which ludicrous situation he advanced close up to the Ras, and with a very whimsical expression of features, cried out, "you can't say that I am on your carpet now." The Ras, who, like most of his countrymen, delights in humour, could not refrain from smiling, which insured the jester's forgiveness. Several other anecdotes were related to me, that displayed much originality, but they were of a description that the reader will probably forgive me for omitting.
The chief amusement of the lower class of the community during this season of festivity, consists in playing at a game called 'kersa,' which is precisely similar to the common English game of 'bandy.' Large parties meet for this purpose; the inhabitants of whole villages frequently challenging each other to the contest. On these occasions, as might be expected, the game is violently disputed, and when the combatants are pretty equally matched, it sometimes takes up the greater part of the day to decide. The victors afterwards return shouting and dancing to their homes, amidst the loud acclamations of their female friends. I also occasionally observed, at Antálo, that the vanquished were received with similar honours: and we often heard them challenging their opponents, in a friendly way, to renew the sport, though at other times, the parties engaged in these contests, fell into a violent rage, both men and women uttering the most terrible menaces, and pouring forth torrents of abuse; so that, as frequently happens in our own country, that which was begun in jest ended in blows; but, even in such cases, they are never known to attack each other with any other weapon than the sticks, or bandies, which they employ in the game. Mr. Pearce mentioned an instance which occurred in his presence, where one-half of the town of Moculla was so hotly engaged against the other, that at last the combat became very alarming, and the Ras himself was obliged to interfere, but did not succeed in parting them, till several men had been laid dead in the field. The Ras received an accidental blow in the fray, notwithstanding which, he would not, from a feeling of humanity, which is the distinguishing feature of his character, permit Mr. Pearce to use his pistols, which he had drawn out for the occasion.
In a country like Abyssinia, where the natives possess so lively and active a character, it may be readily conceived, that every marriage, birth, or other important event, is attended with great festivity and rejoicing, all of which, however, they celebrate so much in the same way, that it will not be necessary to enter further into description of them. I shall merely observe, that at the commencement of such meetings, nothing can be more agreeable than to witness the gaiety, mutual harmony, and mirth which is displayed, and it is remarkable, that, even during the scenes of intoxication, which almost variably ensue, the higher ranks are very rarely known to quarrel, no single instance of any one of them drawing his knife on such an occasion having ever fallen under my own observation.
On the 27th of April, I had a public audience given me by the Ras, at which, he delivered into my hands a letter written in the Ethiopic language, which he requested me to deliver to His Majesty, or his minister, and at the same time he presented to me a gold chain, with a medallion suspended to it, on which were engraved the armorial bearings of the Abyssinian emperors, which he begged me to accept, as the highest honour that it was in his power to confer. At this conference, I was also requested by the Ras, to take with me Ayto Debib, as his envoy to England, that he might express more particularly the Ras's sentiments to His Majesty's government, which offer I felt myself under the necessity of declining. He likewise mentioned, that he had two small lions, which he wished me to carry as a present to His Majesty; but the distance which I had to return, rendered their conveyance totally impracticable. One of these animals was occasionally brought by his keeper into the room where we sat: but during the course of my stay he became so fierce and intractable, that it became necessary to confine him, and in a short time afterwards he died.
On the following night, the Ras, as a distinguishing mark of attention, had us called up at midnight to partake of a small repast. We found him seated, as usual, on his couch, by the side of an excellent fire, attended by some of his confidential people, and a few Shangalla slaves. In the course of the short period that the repast occupied, two applications were made at his gateway for justice, the parties crying out, "Abait, abait!" Master, master! which is the usual mode in which supplicants address their chiefs on such occasions. Immediately on his hearing this appeal, he ordered the applicants to be admitted, and after listening to their complaints, and enjoining secrecy, desired them to appear before him in public on a particular day. By these, and similar means, he obtains so accurate a knowledge of the events that occur in the different districts, that the chiefs, however distantly removed from his immediate control, dare not commit any very flagrant act of injustice, from the dread of its coming to his knowledge.
I have often had occasion to mention the Shangalla, who are in attendance on the Ras, and I shall therefore proceed to give the reader a short account of them. It appears, that the name of Shangalla, or Shankalla, is a generic term applied by the Abyssinians, without distinction, to the whole race of "Negroes," in the same way as they apply the words Taltal, and Shiho, to the various tribes on the coast. All those Shangalla with whom I conversed would not acknowledge the appellation, but had distinct names for their own tribes, the greater part of them having been taken captives in the neighbourhood of the lower part of the Tacazze, or in the wild forests northward of Abyssinia; while some of the others had been brought by the traders from countries beyond the Nile, and even from so great a distance as the neighbourhood of the Bahr el Abiad. I received from one of the latter the following account of the nation to which he belonged. "The tribe, of which he had been a member, was called Dizzela, inhabiting a district named Dahanja, three days journey beyond the Nile, in a country bearing the general appellation of Damitchequa. He mentioned, that his countrymen entertain a very imperfect notion of God, whom they call Mussa-guzza. The only species of adoration they offer up to the deity, is during a great holiday, called kemoos, when the whole people assemble to sacrifice a cow, which is not killed in the usual way, by having its throat cut, but by being stabbed in a thousand places.
They have neither priests, nor rulers, all men being looked upon as equals, though considerable respect is shewed to age; an old man being always allowed to drink first, and to enjoy the privilege of keeping two wives, while the younger are obliged to content themselves with one. When a young man is desirous of marrying, it is customary for him to give his sister to another man, and to take his in return; or, if he have no sister, he will go to war for the purpose of taking a female prisoner, who is immediately adopted as his sister, and formally exchanged; no other dower on either side being ever required. They do not marry so early as the Abyssinians, but wait till they are seventeen or eighteen years of age, yet no such thing as connection between the sexes is said to be ever known to take place till after marriage. Adultery is punished with death. The women, besides taking care of the house, assist the men in ploughing, and are entitled to an equal share of the produce of the land. When a child is born, the father gives it a name, which is generally derived from some circumstance connected with its birth, or an accidental mark on its body. The name of my informant was Oma-zéna, on account of his being, born with a wart on his hand; others were called "Im-magokwa," "born in the night," "wokéa," "born while making booza," "wunnéa," "born on the ground;" "magokwa," signifying "night," "kéa," "booza," and "ennea," "dust." When a man dies, he is buried without ceremony in his clothes: and the relations kill and feast on the cattle he leaves behind him, the wife having for her share, the household furniture which her husband may have possessed, and the sons inheriting his arms, implements of agriculture, and land. The favourite occupation of the men is hunting; and they indiscriminately eat the flesh of the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, deer, snake, rat, or whatever else they can procure. The rhinoceros of this country has invariably two horns.
The arms of these savages consist of spears, shields, bows and arrows, and the tribe is continually engaged in war with the people of Metikul and Banja, who frequently invade the country for the express purpose of procuring slaves. When the Dezzela take any prisoners, they tie their legs, and employ them either in making cloth or manufacturing iron; and, if incapable of work, they kill them. A strong people called Dippura resides in the interior of the Dabanja country. My informant spoke familiarly of the Duggala mountains; and said they were on the opposite side from Darfoor, and mentioned a mountain called Yiba Hossa, to which his countrymen are accustomed to retire, when pressed by an enemy. Several rivers, called Quoquea, Púsa, Kuōssa, and Popa, flow through these districts, which are all said to run in the same direction as the Bahr el Abiad. It is three days journey from the last mentioned river to the Kuōssa, and one from the Kuōssa to Púsa; the other lying still farther in the interior.
The only musical instruments in use among them are trumpets, made of the horn of the agazen, pipes formed of bamboo, and a kind of lyre with five strings, called "junqua." The man who gave me this information said, that the music of a large junqua was delightful, and seemed quite exhilarated at the bare recollection of its harmony. A copious vocabulary of the language of this people is given in the Appendix, as I conceive, that it is more likely to be connected with some of the western or southern dialects of the Negroes than any other I had the means of obtaining.
The tribe of Shangalla that resides near the Tacazze, has been very ably described by Mr. Bruce. It pears to be a perfectly different people in every respect but colour and form, from that of Dabanja; the language of the two tribes being also entirely distinct. Two little boys belonging to the Tacazze Shangalla, who a short time before had been taken prisoners, much amused me, at Antalo, with their playful antics; dancing and singing in a manner peculiar to their nation: one of their songs, which they had been taught in their infancy, had something extremely affecting in the tune as well as in the words, and it was translated to me nearly as follows:
"They come, and catch us by the waters of the
Tacazze: they make us slaves.
Our mothers with alarm flee to the mountains;
and leave us alone in strange hands."
Generally speaking, however, the slaves in Abyssinia are very happy; and several of those I conversed with, who had been captured at an advanced period of life, preferred their latter mode of living to that which they had led in their native wilds; a circumstance which, in a great measure, may be attributed to the docility of their character which allows them soon to become naturalized among strangers. The situation of slaves, indeed, is rather honourable than disgraceful throughout the East; and the difference between their state and that of the western slaves is strikingly apparent. They have no long voyage to make, no violent change of habits to undergo, no outdoor labour to perform, and no "white man's scorn" to endure; but, on the contrary, are frequently adopted, like children, into the family, and, to make use of an Eastern expression, "bask in the sunshine of their master's favour."
On the 2d of May, in consequence of my having acceded to Mr. Coffin's desire of remaining in the country, the Ras assembled at midnight four of the chief priests of Antalo, and declared before them his intentions respecting both him and Mr. Pearce. He promised, that he would always treat them with kindness; would supply their wants; and, whenever they might choose it, would do all in his power to facilitate their return home. In compliance with a wish that I had expressed, that the primary object of maintenance might be left without dispute, he agreed, that they should be allowed three interlaams (or twenty-four bushels) of corn per month, besides provender for two horses, thirty pieces of salt weekly, and a gumbo of maiz every day, with other articles in proportion; and, he added, that if Mr. Pearce continued faithful to him, he would in a short time settle upon him an ample provision. This agreement being concluded, a prayer, as usual, was recited by the priests to give a sanctity to the act; after which they retired. We then proceeded to take our "nightly repast," which consisted of a curried fowl and a quantity of cakes made with peas and teff.
During the following day, while preparations were making for our departure, the Ras appeared to be much depressed, wished me to keep continually near him, and often fixed his eyes upon me with a sorrowful expression, repeatedly inquiring, "if I should ever again return to the country." To which I answered, with some degree of reluctance, that "I believed, I should never again undertake, the voyage." I found, that a dream, which he had had a few nights before, had left a strange impression respecting me, upon his mind. He fancied that he was sitting on the brow of a hill, and, that he saw me, in a plain below, passing along and sowing grain with both hands, and that the corn sprung up instantaneously round me in great profusion; while, at the same instant, he perceived, that his lap was full of gold. It is astonishing what an effect trifling circumstances of this description produce in a country where the minds of the inhabitants are deeply tinged with superstition and a love of scriptural lore.
In the course of the ensuing night, we paid our last visit to the Ras: he was much affected, and the parting was painful on both sides. During the visit, he again expressed, in the strongest terms, his gratitude to our Sovereign, for regarding the welfare of so remote a country; and expressed his most anxious wish to encourage, by every means in his power, an intercourse with Great Britain; at the same time, expressing with great sincerity his fears, that the country which he commanded might not be able to supply any quantity of valuable commodities sufficient to recompense our merchants for engaging in so precarious a trade; more especially as the Abyssinians were not much acquainted with commercial transactions, and the unsettled state of the provinces prevented the usual circulation of gold and other articles which are brought from the interior. Could any plan, however, be arranged for obviating these difficulties, he assured me, that he would most readily concur in carrying it into effect, though, he observed, it would be useless for him to interfere with the Mahometans on the coast, so long as they had a naval superiority in the Red Sea. There was so much good sense in these remarks, and they so exactly corresponded with my own views of the subject, that they did not admit of any reply; except the declaration, that I would never lose sight of the interests of Abyssinia, and that I was disposed to think, that his Majesty’s ministers would find a pleasure in doing their utmost to promote the welfare of his country. This and similar conversation had engaged us from two o’clock A. M. till daylight, when we rose to take our leave. The old man, on this occasion, got up from his couch, and attended us to the door of his hall, where he stood watching us, with tears running down his face, until we were fairly out of sight.
- Vide Vol. III. of Lord Valentia's Travels, p. 155.
- Vide Mr. Bruce's Travels, Vol. IV. p. 430.
- The following anecdotes respecting this extraordinary man may prove acceptable to every reader, who admires the very ably drawn character given of him by Mr. Bruce. On one occasion, when playing at chess, he hastily made out an order for five thousand dollars to be given to a chief, for some service he had performed, instead of five hundred, which was the usual allowance: and, on the circumstance being mentioned to him by his steward he turned round quickly and answered, 'I have said it,—let it be so,—the angel Michael hath sent it to him.'" "A chief of some note having confessed to a priest that he had committed a murder; the latter, in hopes of receiving a reward, disclosed it to the relations, and, in consequence, the former was seized and taken before Michael. What is the evidence? said the Ras. The priest stepped forward, and declared that he had repeatedly confessed the fact to him. Ras Michael, without hesitation, gave the order, 'take him to his death.' The relations immediately laid hold of the chief, and were in the act of forcing him away, when the old man, with one of his terrible looks, cried out, 'not that man, but the priest, who has dared to reveal the secrets disclosed to him in confession,' and he was instantly led out to execution." Ras Michael had so poor an opinion of what the priests could do for a man in his last moments, that he said, when on his death bed, "Let not a priest come near me; if a man cannot make up his own account, how shall weak men like these do it for him?"
- The common abbreviation of Degusmati used in conversation.
- Both this lady and her brother. Kasimaj Yasous, have since my return fallen victim to the small-pox.
- Dofter, or Doughter, in the Abyssinian, seems to be the same word as our doctor, signifying a person who has dedicated his time to learned pursuits. These men wear the habits of priests, but do not bind themselves by any vows. I am not aware by what means the word can have crept into the language.
- This circumstance is corroborated by the original memoranda of Mr. Bruce, page 69, Vol. VII. last edition, where no mention of his being concerned in these battles is found; but on the 24th of March, an observation is made, that "I got leave from the king to see this battle," which is supposed to be the second battle of Serbraxos, there being various mistakes in the whole of the dates from May, 1770, till December, 1771, in Mr. Bruce's work, (Vide Mr. Murray's observations, p. 75, Vol. VII.) who adds, "no cause can "be assigned for that confusion, except the extreme indolence with "which Mr. Bruce composed his work, about sixteen years after the events which are the subjects of it. It could answer no purpose of vanity or interest, to place the fall of Michael in May, rather than in March. But in the latter part of his days he seems to viewed the numerous adventures of his active life as in a dream, not in their natural state as to time and place, but under the pleasing and arbitrary change of memory melting into imagination."
- These observations of Dofter Esther are strongly confirmed by the fact, that no account of the visit of Amha Yasous is to be found in Mr. Bruce's original memoranda, (vide appendix, Vol. VII.) and the story of the book, said to have been received from Debra Libanos, by means of this prince, is very suspicious; as he is mentioned to have only arrived at Gondar early in February; and yet, by the 17th of the same month, a messenger is sent to and from Debra Libanos, who brings the book back with him, which making altogether a distance of nearly five hundred miles, seems to render the whole story incredible, especially as the priests were not likely to have sent the original; and to have had it copied in so short a time was impossible.
- Mr. Bruce mentions Sig. Balugani only three times in his work: the first is in the preface, where he slightly notices his being engaged; the second is in Vol. IV. p. 431, where he antedates his death, and the third is in Vol. VII. p. 248, where he makes some additional remarks respecting him, and again mentions his death.
- Vide Vol. V. p. 438.
- Vide Vol. I, p. ccciii.
- Vide Vol. VI. p. 51.
- Vide Vol. VII. p. 50.
- This date is fixed both from the printed work and the original memoranda, which in this circumstance perfectly agree.
- Vide Vol. V. p. 164, et seq. and Vol. VI. p. 64, &c.
- Vide Vol. III. p. 313. From the following expression made use of by Mr. Bruce, in another part of his work, it appears, that he did not believe in the possibility of so light a substance lying on the top of a mountain under the tropics. "It is said, that snow has been seen to lie on the mountains of Caffa, &c.; but this I do not believe. Hail has probably been seen to lie there, but I doubt much whether this can be said of a substance of so loose a texture as snow." Vide Mr. Bruce's Travels, Vol. III. p. 329.
- The Abyssinian name for the hippopotamus.
- During my stay, he was busily ended in making a horse-mill for grinding corn: his success was not very great, but the attempt excited great admiration among the Abyssinians.
- He was the father of Ayto Hannes before mentioned, and his sudden death, which happened only a month after that of Ayto Manasseh, had a strong effect on the minds of the Abyssinians; as they considered it to be a judgment upon him for his meditated treachery.
- One being from "Mata," "head," in Galla, and the other from "Raz," "head," in the Geez, as our own word "captain," from "caput."
- Vide Vol. IV. p. 28, et seq.