This journal, by the British explorer John Hanning Speke, details his journey in the Somali territory from Las Khorey to the Nugaal Valley. Speke’s intention, at the request of Richard Burton, was to reach the Wadi Nugaal where he was sent to collect specimens of flora and fauna.
From October 1954 to Feburary 1955, John Speke made an excursion from the region the locals called ‘Maakhir’ (the eastern maritime region) to the Nugaal Valley. Over a period of three months and a half, he detailed descriptions of the regions he visited and procured a valuable collection of fauna and secured rare fossils. Much time and effort has been devoted to reading, analysing and identifying the most relevant portions of the diary. Below are selected passages from John Speke’s Journal of Adventures in Somali Land.
Before proceeding further in the narrative of events as they occurred, it may be as well, perhaps, to anticipate a little, and give a general impression of the geography, ethnology, history, and other characteristics of the country under investigation — the Somali land — and the way in which it was intended that those investigations should be carried out. As will appear by the following pages, my experiences were mostly confined to the north central parts, in the highlands of the Warsingali and Dulbahanta tribes. The rest of my information is derived from conversations with the natives, or what I have read in some very interesting pages in vol. xix. of the ‘Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society,’ written by Lieutenant Cruttenden.
The Somali country is an elbow of land lying between the equator and the 11th degree of north latitude, which, from its peculiar form, might well be designated the Eastern Horn of Africa. The land is high in the north, and has a general declination, as may be seen by the river system, to the south and eastward, but with less easting as we come westward. It is separated from the main body of Africa by the river Jub, a large and fertilising stream, which, rising in the mountains of southern Abyssinia, passes between the territories of the Gallas on the west and the Somali on the east, and debouches in the Indian Ocean at the northern extremity of the Zanzibar coast.
According to Lieutenant Cruttenden’s map, there are only two other rivers besides this of any consequence in the land — the Webbe (river) Shebéli, or Haines river, which is of considerable importance, having a large flow of water, trending down a cultivable district of rich red soil, and another less important to the eastward of these two, called very unfortunately by him the Wadi Nogal. The proper specific name for this river has never, to my knowledge, been given; but the Jid Ali Tug is one of its head branches. It rises in some small hills close overhanging the north coast, and runs south-easterly into the Indian Ocean, dividing two large territories, called Ugahden, or Haud, on the west, and Nogal on the east, mouthing at Ras Ul Khylé.
My first and greater journey gave me an insight into this portion of the interior of the country south of Bunder Gori. It was very interesting, though not profitable, from its never having been visited by any Europeans before. I observed here two distinct leading features in its physical geography. The first is a narrow hill-range, about 180 miles long and 20 or more broad, which is occupied by two large tribes — the Warsingali on the east, and a branch of the Habr Gerhajis on the west. It is situated at an average distance of from 200 yards to three or four miles from the sea-shore, separated from it by a sandy flat or maritime plain, and, like the line of coast, extends from east to west. Immediately due south of Bunder Gori, the sea-face, or northern slopes of this range, are very steep and irregular, being trenched down by deep ravines, which, during the rainy season, shed their water across the maritime plain into the Gulf of Aden.
The lower folds on this side of the range are composed of brown rocks and earth, having little or no vegetation upon them, and are just as uninviting in appearance as the light-brown hills which fringe the coast of Arabia, as seen by voyagers on the Red Sea. Further up the hill, in the central folds of the range, this great sterility changes for a warm rich clothing of bush-jungle and a little grass. Gum-trees, myrrh, and some varieties of the frankincense are found in great profusion, as well as a variety of the aloe plant, from which the Somali manufacture good strong cordage. The upper part of the range is very steep and precipitous, and on this face is well clad with trees and bush-jungle. The southern side of the range is exactly the opposite, in all its characteristics, of the northern. Instead of having a steep drop of from 6000 to 7000 feet, it falls by gentle slopes to successive terraces, like a giant staircase, to scarcely half that depth, where it rests at the head of the high plateau land of Nogal, and is almost barren. Nogal, as I have said before, is also very barren, only producing trees, such as the hardy acacia and jujube, in sheltered places, in the valleys or watercourses which drain that land to the south-east. I had no means of determining it, but should judge this second great geographical feature, the plateau of Nogal, by the directions its streams lie in, to have a gradual decreasing declination, like all the rest of the interior, from the north, where it averages an altitude of from 3000 to 4000 feet, down to the level of the sea on south and by east.
Costume and Customs
Their costume is very simple. The men, who despise trousers, wear a single sheet of long-cloth, eight cubits long, thrown over the shoulder, much after the fashion of the Scotsman’s plaid. Some shave their head, leaving it bare; others wear the mane of a lion as a wig, which is supposed by them to give the character of ferocity and courage to the wearer, while those who affect the dandy allow their hair to grow, and jauntily place some sticks in it resembling the Chinaman’s joss-sticks, which, when arranging their toilette, they use as a comb, and all carry as weapons of defence a spear and shield, a shillelagh, and a long two-edged knife. The women clothe more extensively, though not much so. Fastening a cloth tightly round the body immediately under their arms, they allow it to fall evenly down to the ground, and effectually cover their legs. The married ones encase their hair in a piece of blue cloth, gathering it up at the back of the head in the fashion of English women of the present day; this is a sign of wedlock. The virgins wear theirs loose, plaited in small plaits of three, which, being parted in the centre, allows the hair to fall evenly down all round the head like a well-arranged mop. On approaching these fairs, they seductively give their heads a cant backwards, with a half side-jerk, which parts the locks in front, and discloses a pretty little smiling face, with teeth as white as pearls, and lips as red as rubies. Although they are Mussulmans, none wear the yashmac. Beads are not so much in request here as in other parts of Africa, though some do wear necklaces of them, with large rings of amber.
The system of government they maintain is purely patriarchal, and is succeeded to by order of birth generally in a regular and orderly manner, attributable, it would appear, to the reverence they feel for preserving their purity of blood. The head of each clan is called Gerad or Sultan, who would be powerless in himself were he not supported by the united influence of all the royal family. When any disturbances or great disputes arise, the sultan is consulted, who collects his elders in parliament to debate the matter over, and, through them, ascertain the people’s feelings. Petty disputes are settled by the elders without any further reference. In the administration of justice they consult the Mosaic law, as given in the Koran, taking life for life, and kind for kind.
The northern Somali have no permanent villages in the interior of the country, as the ground is not cultivated; but they scatter about, constantly moving with their flocks and herds to any place within their limited districts where water is to be found, and erect temporary huts of sticks, covered with grass mats; or, when favourable, they throw up loose stone walls like the dykes in Scotland. But on the sea-coast, wherever there are harbours for shipping, they build permanent villages. Like nearly all places within the tropics, beyond the equatorial rainy zone, this country is visited by regular monsoons, or seasons in which the winds prevail constantly in one direction; consequently vessels can only come into the harbours of the northern coast when the sun is in the south, or during five months of the year, from the 15th November to the 15th April, to trade with the people; and then the Somali bring the products of their country, such as sheep, cows, ghee, mats made by the women from certain grasses and the Daum palm, ostrich feathers, and hides, and settle on the coast to exchange them in barter with the outer merchants, such as Arabs and men from Cutch, who bring thither cloths, dates, rice, beads, and iron for that purpose.
Dreading the monotony of a station life, I now volunteered to travel in any direction my commandant might think proper to direct, and to any length of time he might consider it advisable for me to be away. This proposition had its effect, as affording an extra opportunity of obtaining the knowledge desired, and instructions were drawn up for my guidance. I was to proceed to Bunder Gori, on the Warsingali frontier, to penetrate the country southwards as far as possible, passing over the maritime hill-range, and, turning thence westwards, was to inspect the Wadi Nogal.
This project settled, I at once set to work, and commenced laying in such stores as were necessary for an outfit, whilst Lieutenant Burton, who had been long resident in Aden, engaged two men to assist me on the journey. The first was a man named Sumunter, who ranked highly in his country, who was to be my Abban or protector. The duty of abbanship is of the greatest importance, for it rests entirely on the Abban’s honesty whether his client can succeed in doing anything in the country he takes him through. Arabs, when travelling under their protection, have to ask his permission for anything they may wish to do, and cannot even make a march, or purchase anything, without his sanction being first obtained. The Abban introduces the person under his protection to the chief of his clan, is answerable for all outrages committed on the way, and is the recognised go-between in all questions of dispute or barter, and in every other fashion. The second man was also a Warsingali, by name Ahmed, who knew a slight smattering of Hindustani, and acted as interpreter between us. I then engaged two other men, a Hindustani butler named Imam, and a Seedi called Farhan.
On the 18th October 1854, having got all my preparations completed, I embarked in an Arab vessel, attired in my Oriental costume, with my retinue and kit complete, and set sail that same evening at 6 P.M. The voyage, owing to light and varying breezes, was very slow and tedious. Instead of performing the whole voyage in three days, the ordinary time, it took us nine. According to the method of Arab navigation, instead of going from port to port direct, we first tracked eastward along the Arabian shore three successive days, setting sail at sunrise, and anchoring regularly at sundown. By this time we were supposed to be opposite Bunder Héis, on the Somali coast, and the Nahkoda (captain) thought it time for crossing over the Gulf. We therefore put out to sea at sunrise on the morning of the 21st, and arrived the same evening, by mistake, assisted with a stiffish easterly breeze, at a small place called Rakodah, which, by report, contained a small fort, three mat huts, and many burnt ones, a little to the westward of Bunder Héis.
28th October. — The Abban would not allow anybody to go on shore until certain parties came off to welcome us and invite us to land, such being the etiquette of the country when any big-wigs arrive. After the sun rose we were duly honoured by the arrival of many half-naked dignitaries, who tenderly inquired after the state of our health, the prosperity or otherwise of our voyage, the purpose of our coming there, and a variety of other such interesting matters. Then again they were questioned by our people as to the state of the country, whether in peace or war; how and where the Sultan Gerad Mahamed Ali was residing; if rain had lately fallen, and where; if the cattle were well in milk; — to which it was responded that everything was in the most promising order; the cattle were flourishing in the hills, where rain had lately fallen, about twenty miles distant from that place; and the sultan, with all the royal family,10 were there, revelling on milk, under the shade of favouring trees, or reposedly basking in the warm morning sun — the height of Somali bliss. The order was now given to go ashore, and we all moved off to a fort which the Abban said was his own property, in Goriat (little Bunder Gori), three miles to the westward of Bunder Gori. There were two of these little forts near, and a small collection of mat huts, like those already described, and of the same material as all Somali forts and huts.
The kit was now brought across and placed within the fort I occupied, all except the salt, which afterwards proved a bone of contention between me and the Abban, and the sultan was at once sent for. No one could move a yard inland, or purchase anything, without his sanction being first obtained.
Although Gerad Mahamed Ali was living only twenty miles distant from Goriat, it was not until repeated messages had been sent to him, and eleven days had elapsed, that he answered the summons by his presence. In the meanwhile, having nothing better to do during this tedious interval, as no people would bring cattle or anything for sale, I took walks about the plain, shooting, and killed a new variety of gazelle, called Déra by the Somali, and Salt’s antelopes, here called Sagaro, which fortunately were very abundant, though rather wild; catching fish, drawing with the camera, bathing in the sea, luxuriating on milk, dates, and rice, or talking and gossiping with the natives.
On one occasion my interpreter came to me with a mysterious air, and whispered in my ear that he knew of some hidden treasures of vast amount, which had been buried not far off, under rocky ground, in such a way that nobody had been able to dig them up, and he wished that I, being an Englishman, and consequently knowing secret arts, as well as hikmat (scientific dodges), would direct how to search for these treasures. By inquiring farther into the matter, it appeared that an old man, a miser, who had been hoarding all his life, was suddenly taken ill about forty years ago, and feared he would die. Seeing this, his relatives assembled round him to ask his blessing; and the old man, then fearing all his worldly exertions would end to no good purpose, asked them to draw near that he might tell them where his riches were hidden; but even then he would not disclose the secret, until he was in the last dying gasp, when he said, “Go to a pathway lying between two trees, and stretch out a walking-stick to the full length of your arm, and the place where the end of your wand touches is that in which my treasures are hidden.” The wretched man then gave up the ghost, and his family commenced the search; but though they toiled hard for many days and weeks, turning up the stones in every direction, they never succeeded in finding the treasure, and had now given up the search in despair. The fact was, they omitted to ask their parent on which side of the path it was concealed, and hence their discomfiture. At my request the said family came to me, corroborated the statements of the interpreter, and begged imploringly I would direct them how to search for the money; saying at the same time they would work again, if I thought it of any use; and, moreover, they would give me half if the search proved successful. I lent them some English pick-axes, and went to see the place, which certainly showed traces of very severe exertions; but the strong nature of the soil was too much for them, even when armed with tools, unless they were fortunate enough to hit upon the exact spot, which they did not, and therefore toiled in vain again.
The Warsingali complained to me sadly of their decline in power since the English had interfered in their fights with the Habr Teljala, which took place near Aden about seven years ago, and had deprived them of their vessels for creating a disturbance, which interfered with the ordinary routine of traffic. They said that on that occasion they had not only beaten the Habr Teljala, but had seized one of their vessels; and that prior to this rupture they had enjoyed paramount superiority over all the tribes of the Somali; but now that they were forbidden to transport soldiers or make reprisals on the sea, every tribe was on an equality with them. They further spoke of the decline of their tribe’s morals since the time when the English took possession of Aden and brought in civilisation with them. This they in most part attributed to our weak manner in prosecuting crime, by requiring too accurate evidence before inflicting punishment; saying that many a dishonest person escaped the vengeance of law from the simple fact of there being no eyewitnesses to his crime, although there existed such strong presumptive evidence as to render the accusation proved. When speaking against our laws, and about their insufficiency to carry out all governmental points with a strong and spirited hand, they never forget to laud their own sultan’s despotic powers and equity in justice.
Of course no mortal man was like their Gerad Mahamed Ali. In leading them to war he was like the English French,12 and in settling disputes he required no writing office, but, sitting on the woolsack, he listened to the narration of prosecution and defence with his head buried in his hands, and never uttering a word until the trial was over, when he gave his final decision in one word only, ay or nay, without comment of any sort. In confirmation of their statements, they gave the description of a recent trial, when a boy was accused of having attempted to steal some rice from a granary; the lad had put his hand through a chink in the door of it, and had succeeded in getting one finger, up to the second joint, in the grain; this, during the trial, he frankly acknowledged having done, and the sultan appointed that much of his finger exactly to be cut off, and no more — punishing the deed exactly according to its deserts. This, to Somali notions, seemed a punctiliousness in strict equity of judicial administration which nothing could excel, and they bragged of it accordingly.
Becoming dreadfully impatient at so much loss of precious time whilst waiting here, unable to prepare in any way for the journey, I sent repeated messages to the sultan, demanding his immediate attendance; but it was not until the 6th of November that I heard definitely of his approach, and then it was that he was coming down the hill.
On the 7th he came with a host of Akils to Bunder Gori, and put up in a Nahkoda’s hut. This indignity he was obliged to submit to, as he had not cautioned the merchants who occupied his forts of his intended approach, and now no one would turn out for him. Finding him so near me, I longed to walk over to him and settle matters personally at once; but dignity forbade it; and as he had come with such cautious trepidation, I feared any over-hastiness might frighten him away again. He seemed to observe the same punctiliousness towards me, so I split the difference by sending an embassy by my Abban, assisted by other powerful Akils, early the following morning, when they held durbar, and my intentions of travelling were fully discussed in open court. For a long time the elders on the sultan’s side were highly adverse to my seeing their country, considering no good could possibly arise from it, and much harm might follow; I might covet their country, and eventually take it from them, whereas they could gain nothing. Hearing this, the Abban waxed very wroth, and indignantly retorted he would never allow such a slur to be cast upon his honour, or the office which he held. He argued he had come there as my adviser and Abban; his parentage was of such high order, his patriotism could not be doubted. Had he not fought battles by their side, of which his scars bore living testimony? and now they wished to stigmatise him as a traitor to his country! The sultan must decide it. How could jungle-folk like them know anything of the English and their intentions?
The sultan listened silently during this discourse, which, though written in a few lines, took many hours of hot debating, by their turning and turning every little particular over and over again; and finally decided it in his usual curt and conclusive manner, by saying, “The Warsingali were on the most friendly and amicable relations with the English; and as he was desirous of maintaining it, he would give me leave to travel anywhere I liked within his dominions, and to see and examine anything I chose. But out of fear for the consequences, as the English would hold him answerable should any disasters befall me, he could not sanction my crossing over his frontier in any direction, and more especially into the Dulbahanta country, where wars were raging, and the country so unsafe that even Warsingali dare not venture there.” This announcement was brought back in high exultation by Sumunter, who thought his success complete, and at the same time announced to me the sultan’s intention of honouring me with a visit in the evening, which was duly done.
8th November. — This morning the sultan, having now recovered, came to return my salaam of the previous evening, when I opened to him the purport of my expedition in minute detail: how I wished to visit the Southern Dulbahantas, cross and inspect the Wadi Nogal, and thence proceed west to meet my friends, Stroyan and Herne, at Berbera. He listened very attentively and politely, but at the conclusion repeated the words I had already heard; adding that the Dulbahantas had intestine wars; they had been fighting many years, and were now in hot strife, dividing the government of their country. Not many days since a report had arrived that the southern portion of them, who occupied the countries about one hundred miles due south of Bunder Héis, had had a fight with the northern ones, who were living on the same meridian, immediately to their northward, and had succeeded in capturing 2000 horses, 400 camels, a great number of sheep and goats, and had wounded one man severely: it was therefore impossible I could go from the northern division to the southern, for I should be treated as an enemy; and that was the only line on which water could be found during this, the dry season. Had I come here during the monsoon, I might have travelled directly in a diagonal line, from the south of the mountain-range to the rear of this place, into their, the southerners’, country, who were the older branch, and were now governed by the hereditary and rightful chief, Gerad Mahamed Ali, who was on the most friendly terms with the Warsingali, and who, being an old chief, and well respected by his adherent subjects, might have granted me a hospitable reception.
On the other hand, the northern Dulbahantas, who were also friendly with the Warsingali, were under no control: the Gerad, by name Mahamed Ali also, was recently installed in government, and was consequently very little respected. He (the Warsingali chief) could not, therefore, give his sanction to my going amongst them, by which my life would be endangered, and he, for permitting it, would be held responsible by the English. No arguments of mine would alter the decision of the inflexible chief.
10th. — Cloth was at a great discount on the coast, for the men there had, by their dealings with Aden, become accustomed to handle dollars, and were in consequence inspired with that superior innate love for the precious metal over all other materials, with which all men, and especially those newly acquainted with it, become unaccountably possessed. No one would believe that my boxes could be made for any other purpose than for locking up money; and I was obliged to leave them open to inspection before they would sell anything for cloth.
The sultan now lived at Bunder Gori, and seldom showed himself, promising to come to me every day, without the least intention of doing so; and only at last, after three days’ absence, when I threatened to invade his dwelling, did he appear, bringing several camels with him: of these I purchased some good ones, and sent the rest away: this was the 15th November. He then returned home again, and promised faithfully he would bring on the morrow a sufficient number of camels to carry all my kit.
16th. — I had now eleven camels, and wanted some five more, but thought it better not to wait; for as long as I remained in a comfortable dwelling, I knew my men would not exert themselves. That day, then, packing up what I most required, I started for Bunder Gori, and unloaded, after a three miles’ march, at an old well in rear of the village, selecting as a camping-ground the least comfortable place I could find, and not allowing the tent to be pitched, though the sun-heat was 112 degrees, and the sand was blowing in perfect clouds.
17th. — I went into the town to inspect the place. There were five small forts, occupied by merchants, of whom one was a Hindi from Cutch, and a large collection of mat huts, mostly occupied by women. Instead of finding a harbour (Bunder), as the name of the village implied, the shore was a gradual shelving open roadstead, in which two buggaloes were lying at anchor, waiting for cargoes, and four small sailing-boats were preparing, with harpoon and tackle, to go porpoise-hunting for oil.
Journey To The Nugaal Valley
18th. — Having now desired the sultan, Sumunter, and Farhan to return to Goriat, and leave the rear property in safe custody with the fort-keeper, I commenced the march across the maritime plain with Ahmed, Imam, a number of Somali camel-tenders armed with spear and bow, and the sultan’s youngest son, Abdullah, to direct the way until his father and the other two should arrive, which they promised they would do by the evening. The track first led us across the maritime plain, here about two miles broad, and composed of sand overlying limestone, with boulders in the dry shallow watercourses, and with no vegetable life save a few scrub acacias and certain salsola. This traversed, we next wound along a deep ravine called Tug (river) Tura lying between the lower spurs of the mountain-range, and commenced a slight ascent up its cracked, uneven passage, until we reached a halting-place called Iskodubuk. The distance we had made was only about five miles from Bunder Gori, but the camels were so fatigued by travelling over boulders, that we were obliged to unload and stop there for the day. The sultan and Abban now overtook us to say that the rear things were in safe custody in the fort; and, leaving instructions with the young Prince Abdullah about the road we should follow on the morrow, returned nolens volens back to Bunder Gori, saying, as they went away, we might expect them at the next camping-ground as soon even as we could get there with the camels. A little after sunset, some interesting rock-pigeons — very similar to the Indian painted bird, which I found there frequenting ground much of the same nature — lit at some pools in the bed of the ravine, and enabled me to shoot and stuff several of them.
19th. — We got under way in the early morning, and commenced ascending the same ravine, when a messenger from the sultan arrived, and desired we would stop until he came. We had scarcely accomplished two miles, and the morning was yet young and cool, and I strove with every effort in my power to induce the men to go a little further forward, but without the slightest effect.
21st. — After loading in the morning, with a great deal of beating and thumping, all the camels, save two or three weakly ones, were whipped up a winding steep ridge, one of the buttresses of the mountain, to a camping-ground, six miles farther on, called Adhai. Here we were at the station originally assigned for the first day’s march, and, for the first and last time during the whole journey, I pitched the tent. The higher we ascended the hill the more abundant became the wooding, and green grass for the first time was visible amongst the stones. This freshness was attributed to a recent fall of rain. Altitude, by boiling thermometer, 4577 feet.
22d. — I sent all the freshest camels off to Goriat for the remaining property, with orders that everybody should return on the following day. At this height the temperature of the air was very delightful, the range at noon being only 79°. I spent the whole day specimen-hunting, and found the rocks were full of fossil shells. I killed a new snake or variety of Psammophis sibilans, and shot an interesting little antelope, Oreotragus saltatrix, the “klip-springer” of the Cape Colonist, as well as hyraxes and various small birds, which we duly preserved. My collections in this country were sent by Lieutenant Burton to the Asiatic Society’s Museum, Calcutta, and have been described in their journals by Mr E. Blyth, the Curator.
29th. — I had been now nine days waiting here, and had taken many walks about the hill-sides, investigating the place, and making sundry collections. The most interesting amongst these was a small lizard, a new species, afterwards named by Mr E. Blyth, the Curator of the Asiatic Society, Tiloqua Burtoni, after my commandant. The Somali brought a leopard into camp, which they said they had destroyed in a cave by beating it to death with sticks and stones. They have a mortal antipathy to these animals, as they sometimes kill defenceless men, and are very destructive to their flocks. Besides the little antelope described, I only saw the Saltiana antelope, and the tracks of two other species which were said to be very scarce. Rhinoceroses were formerly very abundant here, but have been nearly all killed down with spear and bow (they do not use firearms) by the Somali hunters, in consequence of the great demand for their skins for making shields. Amongst the bush and trees there were several gum-producing ones, of which the frankincense, I think, ranked first. These gums are usually plucked by the women and transported to Aden. The barks of various other trees are also very useful; for instance, they strip down the bark of the acacia in long slips, and chew it until only fibres remain, which, when twisted in the hand, make strong cordage. The acacia bark also makes a good tan for preserving leather; but of far greater account than this is the bark of a squat stunted tree, like the “elephant’s foot,” called by the Somali mohur, which has a smooth skin, with knotty-looking warts upon it like a huge turnip, reddish inside, with a yellowish-green exterior. It has a highly aromatic flavour, and is a powerful astringent. When making mussacks, the Somali pull a sheep or goat out of his skin; tie its legs and tail, where incisions had been made, to make it a waterproof bag, and then fill it with bits of this bark, chopped up and mixed with water. They then suspend it in a tree to dry, and afterwards render it soft and pliable by a severe course of manipulation. The taste of the bark is considered very wholesome, and a corrective to bad and fetid water. Besides possessing this quality, the mohur is useful as a poultice-when mashed and mixed with water; and the Somali always have recourse to it when badly wounded.
During my peregrinations at this place, I often dropped bits of paper about the jungle, little suspecting what would become of them; and, to my surprise, one day the interpreter came to me in some alarm, to say that several Dulbahantas had arrived at Bunder Gori, and were sharply canvassing amongst themselves the probable objects of my visit. I could not be travelling without a purpose, at so much expense; and they thought these bits of paper, which they had carefully picked up, conclusive evidence I was marking out some spots for future purposes. They abused the Warsingali for being such fools as to let me travel in their country, and said I should never cross over to them. This little incident of dropping paper, though fully explained to them, was ever afterwards brought up in accusation against me, and proved very perplexing.
30th. — Camp Habal Ishawalé. Altitude 5052 feet. — The sultan then ordered Hassan and the naughty boy Abdullah, against my wish, to accompany me on the journey; and we set off, leaving two or three loads behind to be brought up on the morrow. The march was a short one, made to relieve the one beyond; for the spring of water we were now drinking from was the last on this side the range. It led us up a gradual but tortuous ascent, very thickly clad with strong bushes, to a kraal or ring-fence of prickly acacias, which was evidently made to protect the Somali’s sheep from lions, leopards, hyenas, and freebooters suddenly pouncing on them. We remained here three days, sending the things I had brought in relays across the mountain, and fetching up the rear ones.
4th December 1854. — At noon we reloaded, and proceeded to join the camels and men sent forward on the previous day. The track first led us a mile or two across the hill-top, where I remarked several heaps of stones piled up, much after the fashion of those monuments the Tibet Tartars erect in commemoration of their Lahma saints. These, the Somali said, were left here by their predecessors, and, they thought, were Christian tombs. Once over the brow of the hill, we descended the slopes on the south, which fell gently in terraces, and travelled until dark, when we reached a deep nullah, here called Mukur, in which we found our vanguard safely encamped in a strong ring-fence of thorn bushes.
The distance accomplished was seventeen miles; the altitude 3660 feet. The two following days (5th and 6th) we halted to rest the cattle, whilst I went shooting and collecting. There were a great number of gazelles and antelopes, some bustard, many florikan and partridges, as well as other very interesting birds and reptiles. These were mostly found in ravines at the foot of the hills, or amongst acacia and jujube trees, with patches of heather in places. We now held durbar, to consult on the plan of proceeding. It was obviously impossible to march across the plateau directly upon the southern Dulbahantas, as there was not a blade of grass to be seen nor any water on the way beyond the first ten miles from the foot of the hills. To go to Berbera, then, I must perforce pass through the territories of the northern Dulbahantas; and this was fixed upon. But hearing of some “ancient Christian ruins” (left by Sultan Kin) only a day’s march to the south-eastward, I resolved to see them first, and on the 7th made a move five miles in that direction to a kraal, called Karrah, where we found a deep pool of stagnant water.
9th. — Halt. Kin’s City, or rather the ruins of it, I was told, lay to the northward of my camp, in the direction of the hills, at a distance of about two miles; so I proceeded at once to see it, hoping by this means I should be able to advance westward on the following day. After an hour’s walk I came upon those remains of which I had heard so much at first on landing in the country. The plan of the church is an oblong square, 48 by 27 feet, its length lying N.E. and S.W., whilst its breadth was directed N.W. and S.E., which latter may be considered its front and rear. In the centre of the N.W. wall there was a niche, which evidently, if built by Christians, was intended to point to Jerusalem; and this might have been conclusive evidence of its having been a Christian house of worship, and consequently of great antiquity, did it not unfortunately point likewise in the direction of Mecca, to which place all Mohammedans turn when saying their prayers. Again, I entertained some suspicion that the walls, which were in some parts ten feet high, had not sufficient decay to warrant their being four and a half or more centuries old. But one thing was remarkable at this present time — there were no springs or any water nearer than my camping place, which could not have been the case when this place was occupied; but it denoted a certain amount of antiquity, without any doubt. The walls of the church were composed of limestone rocks, cemented together with a very pure white lime.
The entrance fronted the niche, and was led up to by a street of round pebbles, protected on each side by semicircular loosely-thrown-up stone walls. There was nothing left of the village but its foundation outlines, which at once showed simplicity of construction, as well as economy of labour in building. It lay about 50 yards to the east of the church. One straight wall ran down the centre, from which, as supports, ran out a number of lateral chambers lying at right angles to it. To the northward of the church was the cemetery, in which, strange to say, if the Somali believe their own story, they even at the present time bury their dead, and erect crosses at the head of the tombs, in the same manner as we Christians do. The kiln was an artless hole in the ground, in which there was a large collection of cinders, and other debris not worth mentioning. Lastly, the fort, or rather remains of what the Somali said had been one, was situated on an eminence overlooking the village, and about 70 yards to the S.W. of the church.
11th. — Last night I shot a female spotted crocuta hyena (here called Durwa) in the act of robbing. These tiresome brutes prowl about at night, and pick up anything they can find. Their approach is always indicated by a whining sound, which had prepared me on this occasion. She was caught in the act of stealing away some leather thongs. The specimen was a fine one, but until dissected I could not, from the hermaphrodital form of these animals, determine which sex it was that I had killed. We now prepared for the march westward, when Hassan said he would go back to near the Mijjertaine frontier, where rain had lately fallen, and all the Warsingalis had migrated with their cattle, to fetch some ponies, which he would bring to me in a few days, even before I could arrive at the Dulbahanta frontier.
After travelling ten miles without seeing a single habitation or human being of any sort, we arrived at a nullah, in which there were several pools of bitter spring-water, and some Egyptian geese swimming on them. This place was called Barham. On the right or northern side of the line of our march was the hill-range, about ten miles distant, at the foot of which, in the beds of small ravines, grew some belts of the jujube-tree and hardy acacias; but to the south the land was all sterile, and stretched away in a succession of little flat plains, circumscribed by bosses or hillocks of pure white limestone rock, which appeared standing unaffected by the weathering which had worn down the plains that were lying between them. Again these little enclosed plains sank in gentle gradation to their centres, where nullahs, like the one I was encamped upon, drained the land and refuse debris to the south and eastward, possibly to join eventually the Rhut Tug.
12th. — At 9 A.M. we were again in motion on our westward course, rising by a gentle incline to about half-way between Rhut Tug and a second Wadi Nogal farther on, called Yubbé Tug. Here, at the water-parting between these two large watercourses, was the tomb of the great founder of these mighty nations, Darud bin Ismail, and an excavated tumulus. There were also several bitter springs in the neighbourhood, with stone enclosures and numerous flocks of sheep tended by Somali.On passing the tomb I scarcely remarked it, so insignificant did it appear, whilst the Somali paid no homage to it whatever. But the tumulus excited more attention, and I was requested to examine it. Six years ago, the interpreter said, a Somali who wished to bury his wife in it, broke through its exterior, and found a hollow compartment propped up by beams of timber, at the bottom of which, buried in the ground, were several earthenware pots, some leaden coins, a ring of gold such as the Indian Mussulman women wear in their noses, and various other miscellaneous property.
I was very much struck with the sleekness of the sheep, considering there appeared nothing for them to live upon; but I was shown amongst the stony ground here and there a little green pulpy-looking weed, an ice plant called Buskàlé, succulent, and by repute highly nutritious. It was on this they fed and throve. These Dumba sheep — the fat-tailed breed — appear to thrive on much less food, and can abstain longer from eating, than any others. This is probably occasioned by the nourishment they derive from the fat of their tails, which acts as a reservoir, regularly supplying, as it necessarily would do, any sudden or excessive drainage from any other part of their systems.
After crossing over this high land we began descending to the westward, and at the completion of the twelfth mile dropped into a nullah tributary to the Yubbé Tug, made a kraal for protection against hyenas close to a pool of water, and spent the night. This plain was called Libbahdilé (the haunt of lions).
13th. — Gradually we descended into a broad valley, down the centre of which meandered the Yubbé Tug, or the second Wadi Nogal of my acquaintance. This formed a natural boundary-line, separating the Warsingali from the northern Dulbahanta frontiers. Where we first came upon the nullah it was deep and broad, with such steep perpendicular sides that camels could not cross it. We therefore turned suddenly northward, and followed up its left bank till we turned its head, which begins abruptly, and marched five miles to the Yubbé Kraals. Had this valley been blessed with a moderate quantity of rain, there is no doubt it would have been available for agricultural purposes; and as it was, there were more trees growing in the hollow here than in any other place I had seen, and several flocks and herds were congregated in it. Whilst travelling to-day the interpreter narrated the circumstances of a fight which the Warsingali had with the Dulbahantas about ten years ago in this valley, in which it appeared the Dulbahantas were the aggressing party, having sent a foraging-party over their frontier to lift some cattle. The Warsingali, seeing this, mustered their forces and repelled the enemy; but would not follow them up, preferring rather to tease them into submission than to engender a bloody contest. This they effected by exposing all their flocks and herds to the view of the Dulbahantas on the bank of the impassable nullah, whilst they guarded its head and protected their flank by stationing a strong party of warriors there. The Dulbahantas, tantalised at this tempting yet aggravating sight, for they had not strength enough to cope with the Warsingali in full force, waited covetously gazing across the nullah for some time, and then retired in such great disgust, they have never attempted to steal again.
When once ensconced in the new camp, the Abban came to me with an air of high importance, to announce that we were now on the Dulbahanta frontier, and that, if I wished to see their land, I must allow him to precede me, and pave the way, taking the young prince Abdullah with him to magnify the purport of his mission, as the Dulbahantas were governed, not like the Warsingalis, by an old and revered chief, but by a young sultan whom nobody listened to. Moreover, the Dulbahantas had sent word to say they had heard of my marking the Warsingali country out with paper, and would not admit me on any consideration. Besides which, it was a custom in the country that strangers should ask permission to enter through the medium of an abban, and as I had acted on that custom in the Warsingali country, so also must I do it here.
I was kept at this station eight days. The Dulbahantas could not conceive my motive for wishing to travel in their land; no peddling Arab, even, had ever ventured there, so why should I desire to go? Fortunately I had a good deal of employment with my gun; for, besides gazelles, antelopes, a lynx, florikans, and partridges, I shot many very beautiful little honey-birds, as well as other small birds. Of these former the most beautiful was the Nectarinia Habessinica. It has an exceedingly gaudy plumage, that glistens in metallic lustre as the rays of light strike upon its various-coloured feathers. This is the more remarkable on a warm sunshiny day, when the tiny bird, like a busy humble-bee, bowing the slender plant with its weight, inserts his sharp curved bill into the flower-bells to drink their honey-dew, keeping its wings the whole time in such rapid motion as to be scarcely distinguishable.
It was very remarkable to see the great length of time animals in this country can exist, even under hard work, without drinking water. In an ordinary way, the Somali water camels only twice a-month, donkeys four times, sheep every fourth day, and ponies only once in two days, and even object to doing it oftener, when the water is plentiful, lest the animals should lose their hardihood. I do not think antelopes could possibly get at water for several months together, as every drop of water in the country is guarded by the Somali. We were now in “the land of honey,” and the Somali nomads constantly came to me to borrow my English pickaxe for digging it out of the ground; for the bees of this country, instead of settling in the boughs of trees, as they do in England, work holes in the ground like wasps, or take advantage more generally of chinks or fissures in the rocks to build their combs and deposit their wax. It was a great treat to get a little of this sweet nutriment, to counteract the salts which prevail in all the spring waters of the interior. When out shooting specimens, I often saw the Somali chasing down the Salt’s antelopes on foot.
I killed many of them myself right and left, when running like hares, with common shot, much to the astonishment of the Somali, for they are too small a mark for their bow-and-arrow shooting. The little creatures cannot stand travelling in the mid-day sun, and usually lie about under favouring trees which line the watercourses. Knowing this weakness, the cunning Somali hunter watches him down from feeding to his favourite haunts, and, after the sun shines strong enough, quietly disturbs him; then, as he trots away to search for another shady bush, they follow gently after to prevent his resting. In the course of an hour or so, the terrified animal, utterly exhausted, rushes from bush to bush, throwing itself down under each in succession, until at length it gets captured.
Somali, from their roving habits of life, are as keen and cunning sportsmen as any in the world. They told me of many dodges they adopted for killing elephants, ostriches, and gazelles, which they do as follows:— If an elephant is ever seen upon the plains, a large body of men assemble on foot, armed with spears, bows, and sharp double-edged knives, with one man mounted on a white horse, to act as teaser. This man commences by riding in front of the animal, to irritate and absorb his entire attention by riding in repeated circles just in front of him. When the huge beast shows signs of distress by fruitlessly charging on his nimble adversary, the footmen rush in upon him from behind, and hamstring him with their knives, and then with great facility soon despatch him with their arrows and spears.
Ostriches, again, are killed in two ways; the more simple one is by finding out what places they usually resort to in search of food, and then throwing down some tempting herb of strong poisonous properties, which they eagerly eat and die from. The other method adopted in catching them is not so easy, but is managed with great effect. The ostrich is, as is generally known, a remarkably shy bird, and is so blind at night it cannot feed. Again, the Somali pony, though wonderfully hardy and enduring, is not swift; therefore, to accommodate existing power to knowledge of these various weaknesses, the Somali provides himself with a pony, and provisions for two or three days, and begins his hunt by showing himself at such a considerable distance from the birds he has formed his design upon, that they quietly stalk off, and he, at the same rate, follows after, but never draws near enough to scare them out of sight of him. At night, the birds stop in consequence of the darkness, but cannot feed. He, on the other hand, dismounts to rest and feed with his pony, and resumes the chase the following day. After the second or third day, when he and the pony are as fresh as ever, the ostriches, from constant fasting, become so weak, he is able to ride in amongst them, and knock down one by one as many as may be in the flock. The flesh is eaten, and the feathers are taken to the sea-coast for transportation to the Aden market. I once saw a donkey-load of feathers carried to market that had been taken in this way.
There are two methods, also, of killing gazelles; the more usual one is effected by two men walking into a bushy ground to search for them, and when discovered, walking in such large circles around them as will not scare them; gradually they draw their circles in, until a favoured bush, down wind, is found, which the herd is most likely, when once moved, to pass by, and behind this one of the men stops, with his bow and arrows, whilst the second one, without ever stopping to create alarm, continues drawing in the circles of circumvention until he induces the gazelles to walk up to the bush his friend is concealed in, when one or more may be easily shot. The other plan for killing them is extremely artful, and is done on horseback, and therefore on the open plain. Fleet animals, like antelopes and gazelles, always endeavour to head across their pursuers, no matter in which direction they go. The Somali, therefore, taking advantage of this habit, when they wish to catch them on ponies, which are not half so swift as the gazelles in fair open chase, economise their strength by directing their animals’ heads towards the leading gazelle, and thus inducing the herd, as they continue heading on, to describe double the circumference of ground their ponies have to traverse. In process of time, the gazelles, by their extra exertions, begin to flag and drop, and the hunters rush in upon them, and cut them up in detail.
20th. — To-day the young prince, Abdullah, returned to say the Dulbahantas had been conferred with, and had shown the strongest objections to my seeing their country, enumerating at the same time all their reasonings, such as I had already heard; but added, as a great concession on their part, as a particular favour they wished to show to my Abban, that I might be permitted to advance a little way to the next valley; but then only on condition that I would surrender to them the whole of my remaining property.
I now heard more particulars of the Dulbahantas’ fights, and the manner in which they first originated. For full thirteen years they had been disputing amongst themselves, and many cabals had sprung out of it. Whilst these intrigues were gaining ground, a minor chief, named Ali Haram, with a powerful support in connections, about five years ago determined on alienating himself from the yoke of the government, which was headed by an old Gerad, called Mahamed Ali, the rightful and hereditary chief. Since then the original kingdom has been divided into two portions, called the Northern and Southern Dulbahantas; but although the northerners declare themselves independent, the chief of the south still fights for his lawful rights, and at this present time had driven the northerners, with all their cattle and stock, to Jid Ali Tug, the next valley beyond this, which I was now desirous of visiting. Ali Haram was an old man, and consequently incapacitated from taking an active part in these tumultuous filibusterings; he had therefore, since his first accession to power, deputed a son called Mahamed Ali Gerad to act as Regent in his stead, and this was the man of whom the Warsingali spoke to me at Bunder Gori so disparagingly.
22d. — As before, I had many conferences about the THE WADI NOGAL, which Lieutenant Burton had desired me to investigate, but could obtain no satisfactory information. They said there were many wadis in Nogal, but the largest one was in the Mijjertaine country, where its waters were deep and large, with extensive forest around it, frequented by numerous herds of elephants. Those in advance of my line of march, on the road to Berbera, were all mere nullahs, like Yubbé Tug, or Jid Ali Tug, and were not used for agricultural purposes. However, in the southern Dulbahanta country, south by west of this, at a distance of five or six marches, there was a nullah, with many springs in it, which united in certain places, and became a running stream. This I now, from subsequent inquiries and inspection of Lieut. Cruttenden’s map, suspect is the watercourse set down in my instructions as the Wadi Nogal. This watercourse, I was assured, bounded the Nogal or white stony country on the west, and divided it from the Haud or red stoneless country, which is occupied in most part by the southern Dulbahantas, who have “the finest grazing-grounds in the world, and possess incalculable numbers of camels and horses (meaning ponies), and cows, sheep, and goats; whilst the game which roamed about there covered the ground like flocks of sheep.” Of these the largest were giraffes, rhinoceroses, and lions, elephants being confined to the Mijjertaine country, the Koolies hills to the south of Berbera, and the Webbé Shebéli, or Haines River.
3d January 1855. — During these three days I visited a ruined musjid and a cemetery, which, though much resembling the one at Rhut in every respect, was said to be of more recent origin, and built by Mohammedans. On my walking amongst the tombs, and inspecting the crosses at their heads, the interpreter rebuked me for sacrilegious motives, and desired me to come away, lest the Dulbahantas should find it out, and be angry with me.
The Return To Las Khorey
21st. — The Abban slipped away on the 19th, when I was out specimen-hunting, and would not come again till to-day, and then even returned to give his wife a last salute, permitting me to advance to a watercourse called Hanfallal, whilst he would join me on the following day. This day we accomplished ten miles, and made a kraal about four miles north of our old line of march.
22d. — As the Abban did not keep his promise, and none of us knew the road, I now tried to prevail on his mother Awado, who was tending her flocks close by, to be my guide, which she readily consented to do, as she was anxious herself to go to Bunder Gori. The water found here was in a circular cleft of limestone, sixty feet below the surface, which was so small, only one person at a time could descend to it; and the supply was so limited, I was obliged to keep my men down there all night, to be the first for drawing in the morning. Gazelles were very abundant, and in the evening we were visited by a very singular-looking canine animal, which unfortunately I could not get a shot at. It was a little less in size than the Crocuta hyena, but inclined rather more, in its general shape, to a wolf than a hyena. The body was a pure black, like the black Tibet wolf, but the tail was tipped with white. I am not aware that this animal has ever been described.
24th. — We started early in the morning, ascending the hill-range by a steep winding footpath up one of its ridges, which, in respect to its barrenness and soil, resembled the descent I had from Yafir. After completing eleven miles’ march, the caravan crested the hill opposite Ras Galwéni, travelled a short way on the flat of the summit, and encamped in the evening amongst some thick jungle on its north or seaward side, at a kraal called Gobamiré.
Immediately on reaching the top of this range, a most interesting and novel sight was presented to our view. We stepped in one instant from constant sunshine into constant clouds, and saw what accounted for the dense verdure of the north, as well as the extreme barrenness of the south side of the hills. For two months we had not seen the vestige of a cloud, or felt a drop of rain, and now we were at once launched into the middle of the “Dairti” or north-east monsoon, which had been pouring for some time previously against the north face of the mountain, and was arrested there by it. It reminded me at once of that marked phenomenon with which all travellers in the Himalaya Mountains, who spend their “hot-weather” season at Chini, on the banks of the Sutlege river, to escape rain, must be acquainted, when the clouds of the great Indian monsoon envelop all the mountain-range for months together on the weather or south-west side, and hang suspended on the top of a high hill in sight of that place, but never pass over, looking as if the mountain was too high to be surmounted by them, when trying to reach the dry plateaux of Tibet. The clouds were rolling in thick successive volumes at our feet, and obscured the view below us.
26th and 27th. — During these two days we descended by a tortuous winding footpath under no mean difficulties, and finally arrived, after twelve miles’ marching, at a place called Hundurgal, situated in the hollow of a watercourse which divides the Warsingali from the Habr Gerhajis frontiers, and transmits its waters to the Gulf at Ras Galwéni. During the journey the Somali pointed out some of their richest gum-trees, of which the finest in order is a species of frankincense, called by them Falafala, or Luban Maiti. The gum of this tree is especially valued by the Somali women for fumigating purposes, which they apply to their bodies by sitting over it, when ignited, in the same manner as Cashmeres sit over their little charcoal-pots to keep themselves warm when resting on their travels. They enshroud themselves in a large wrapper, place a pot with the burning gum between their legs, and allow the perfume to rise to every portion of their body simultaneously.
29th. — This day we completed our journey by marching into Gori, when I again took occupation of the old fort.
The buggalow in which I came from Aden was now anchored in Bunder Gori. We chartered a vessel for thirty-five dollars, twelve times the fare I paid for coming over, with the whole vessel to myself; and embarked with eight camels and five ponies on the 15th February 1855. After five days’ sailing we anchored in Aden harbour.
After the first greetings were over, and I had delivered for report all my sketch-notes of the journey, as well as maps and collections, which latter were sent to the public museum in Calcutta.
A kind friend (Lieutenant Dansey of the Bombay army, late Assistant Political Agent of Aden, who knew the characters of all the Somali well) offered to procure me a man as guide and interpreter who had formerly performed, during the time of his appointment, some political service in the Somali country, with great credit both to his mission and himself. In consequence of this he was nicknamed El Balyuz, or the Ambassador.
Balyuz was a clever Hindostani scholar, and, as I ultimately found, possessed such honesty of purpose and straightforwardness of character, as rendered him a perfect rara avis amongst all Somali. He was of the Mijjertaine tribe. Travelling in his company, after my experiences with Sumunter and Ahmed, was verily a luxury. I parted with him at the termination of the expedition with pure feelings of affection.
Lieutenant Burton now conceived the idea of suppressing the system of Abbanship, thinking that, as the Somali had access to Aden without any impost, Englishmen ought to enjoy a corresponding freedom to travel in Somali Land. This perhaps was scarcely the right time to dictate a policy which would be distasteful as well as injurious (in a monetary sense) to the people among whom we were about to travel, and with whom it was highly essential to our interest to be on the most friendly terms.
I now applied to the Government for some Somali policemen, but unfortunately there were then too few hands present to carry on the duties of the office, and I could not have them. I therefore engaged, by the orders of Lieutenant Burton, a dozen men of various races (Egyptians, Nubians, Arabs, and Seedis), to form an escort, and armed them with my sabres and muskets. They were all raw recruits, and unaccustomed to warfare. Still we could get no others. With a little practice they learned to shoot at a mark with tolerable accuracy.
Seven of these men, together with the eight camels I brought across from Bunder Gori, were despatched direct to Berbera, whilst the remaining five, and some ponies I purchased in Aden, remained with me. I then took a bag of dollars for purchasing camels; some dates and rice for the consumption of the party; and with the Balyuz and the old servants, Imam the butler and Farhan the gamekeeper, all was ready for my second adventure on the 20th March 1855.
*Akil, plural Okál — chief or elder.
*The sultan (Gerad Mahamed Ali) has four sons.
*In talking of white men or Europeans, the Somali always say English French, those two branches of the European community being all they are acquainted with.
*Tobe, properly thobe — the dress used by Somali of both sexes. It consists of a white cloth, eight cubits long, frequently adorned with gaily-coloured edges; by the men it is worn loosely round the body with the end thrown over the shoulder, very much like the Roman toga. The women gather it in folds round the waist, where it is confined by a string, and both ends are fastened in a knot across the breast.
*Tug, in the Somali language, signifies a periodical river, or water-course, the same as Wadi in Arabic, and Nullah in Hindustani.
*Durbar — Eastern Court.
*Lions, as well as other large animals, are said to come into the Nogal during the rainy season, when water and grass are abundant.
*For the advancement of future investigations, I would here notice the reported existence of a large reptile like the armadillo — probably a Manis — which the Somali think a very remarkable animal. It is said by them to be common in Haud, is very slow in motion, has a hard scaly exterior coating, invulnerable to their spears, and capable of supporting the weight of a man without any apparent inconvenience to the creature who bears it.
*Ras means point or headland.