First footsteps in East Africa
by Richard F. Burton
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"I now perceived that all hope of reaching Hurrur was at an end. Vexed and disappointed at having suffered so much in vain, I was obliged to resign the idea of going there for the following reasons: The Mission treasury was at so low an ebb that I had left Shoa with only three German crowns, and the prospect of meeting on the road Mahomed Ali in charge of the second division of the Embassy and the presents, who could have supplied me with money. The constant demands of Datah Mahomed for tobacco, for cloth, in fact for everything he saw, would become ten times more annoying were I left with him without an interpreter. The Tajoorians, also, one all, begged me not to remain, saying, 'Think not of your property, but only of your and your servants' lives. Come with us to Tajoorah; we will travel quick, and you shall share our provisions.' At last I consented to this new arrangement, and Datah Mahomed made no objection. This individual, however, did not leave me till he had extorted from me my best mule, all my Tobes (eight in number), and three others, which I borrowed from the caravan people. He departed about midnight, saying that he would take away his mule in the morning.

"At 4 A.M. on the 26th I was disturbed by Datah Mahomed, who took away his mule, and then asked for more cloth, which was resolutely refused. He then begged for my 'Camblee,' which, as it was my only covering, I would not part with, and checked him by desiring him to strip me if he wished it. He then left me and returned in about an hour, with a particular friend who had come a long way expressly to see me. I acknowledged the honour, and deeply regretted that I had only words to pay for it, he himself having received my last Tobe. 'However,' I continued, seeing the old man's brow darken, 'I will endeavour to borrow one from the Caffilah people.' Deeni brought me one, which was rejected as inferior. I then said, 'You see my dress—that cloth is better than what I wear—but here; take my turban.' This had the desired effect; the cloth was accepted. At length Datah Mahomed delivered me over to the charge of the Ras el Caffilah in a very impressive manner, and gave me his blessing. We resumed our journey at 2 P.M., when I joined heartily with the caravan people in their 'Praise be to God! we are at length clear of the Bedoos!' About 8 P.M. we halted at Metta.

"At half-past 4 A.M. on the 27th we started; all the people of the Caffilah were warm in their congratulations that I had given up the Hurrur route. At 9 A.M. we halted at Codaitoo: the country bears marks of having been thickly inhabited during the rains, but at present, owing to the want of water, not an individual was to be met with. At Murroo we filled our water-skins, there being no water between that place and Doomi, distant two days' journey. As the Ras el Caffilah had heard that the Bedoos were as numerous as the hairs of his head at Doomi and Keelulhoo, he determined to avoid both and proceed direct to Warrahambili, where water was plentiful and Bedoos were few, owing to the scarcity of grass. This, he said, was partly on my account and partly on his own, as he would be much troubled by the Bedouins of Doomi, many of them being his kinsmen. We continued our march from 3 P.M. till 9 P.M., when we halted at Boonderrah.

"At 4 P.M., on January 28th, we moved forward through the Waddy Boonderrah, which was dry at that season; grass, however, was still abundant. From 11 A.M. till 4 P.M., we halted at Geera Dohiba. Then again advancing we traversed, by a very rough road, a deep ravine, called the "Place of Lions." The slaves are now beginning to be much knocked up, many of them during the last march were obliged to be put upon camels. I forgot to mention that one died the day we left Murroo. At 10 P.M. we halted at Hagaioo Geera Dohiba: this was formerly the dwelling-place of Hagaioo, chief of the Woemah (Dankali), but the Eesa Somali having made a successful attack upon him, and swept off all his cattle, he deserted it. During the night the barking of dogs betrayed the vicinity of a Bedoo encampment, and caused us to keep a good look-out. Water being too scarce to make bread, I contented myself with coffee and parched grain.

"At daylight on the 29th we resumed our journey, and passed by an encampment of the Eesa, About noon we reached Warrahambili. Thus far we have done well, but the slaves are now so exhausted that a halt of two days will be necessary to recruit their strength. In this Wady we found an abundance of slightly brackish water, and a hot spring.

"Sunday, 30th January.—A Caffilah, travelling from Tajoorah to Shoa, passed by. The people kindly offered to take my letters. Mahomed ibn Boraitoo, one of the principal people in the Caffilah, presented me with a fine sheep and a quantity of milk, which I was glad to accept. There had been a long-standing quarrel between him and our Ras el Caffilah. When the latter heard that I accepted the present he became very angry, and said to my servant, Adam, 'Very well, your master chooses to take things from other people; why did he not ask me if he wanted sheep? We shall see!' Adam interrupted him by saying, 'Be not angry; my master did not ask for the sheep, it was brought to him as a present; it has been slaughtered, and I was just looking for you to distribute it among the people of the Caffilah.' This appeased him; and Adam added, 'If my master hears your words he will be angry, for he wishes to be friends with all people.' I mention the above merely to show how very little excites these savages to anger. The man who gave me the sheep, hearing that I wished to go to Tajoorah, offered to take me there in four days. I told him I would first consult the Ras el Caffilah, who declared it would not be safe for me to proceed from this alone, but that from Dakwaylaka (three marches in advance) he himself would accompany me in. The Ras then presented me with a sheep.

"We resumed our journey at 1 P.M., January 31st, passed several parties of Eesa, and at 8 P.M. halted at Burroo Ruddah.

"On February 1st we marched from 4 A.M. to 11 A.M., when we halted in the Wady Fiahloo, dry at this season. Grass was abundant. At 3 P.M. we resumed our journey. Crossing the plain of Amahdoo some men were observed to the southward, marching towards the Caffilah; the alarm and the order to close up were instantly given; our men threw aside their upper garments and prepared for action, being fully persuaded that it was a party of Eesa coming to attack them. However, on nearer approach we observed several camels with them; two men were sent on to inquire who they were; they proved to be a party of Somalis going to Ousak for grain. At 8 P.M. we halted on the plain of Dakwaylaka.

"At daylight on February the 2nd, the Ras el Caffilah, Deeni, and Mahomed accompanied me in advance of the caravan to water our mules at Dakwaylaka. Arriving there about 11 A.M. we found the Bedoos watering their cattle. Mahomed unbridled his animal, which rushed towards the trough from which the cattle were drinking; the fair maid who was at the well baling out the water into the trough immediately set up the shrill cry of alarm, and we were compelled to move about a mile up the Wady, when we came to a pool of water black as ink. Thirsty as I was I could not touch the stuff. The Caffilah arrived about half-past 1 P.M., by which time the cattle of the Bedoos had all been driven off to grass, so that the well was at our service. We encamped close to it. Ibrahim recommended that Adam Burroo of the Assoubal tribe, a young Bedoo, and a relation of his should accompany our party. I promised him ten dollars at Tajoorah. [3] At 3 P.M., having completed my arrangements, and leaving one servant behind to bring up the luggage, I quitted the Caffilah amidst the universal blessings of the people. I was accompanied by Ibrahim, the Ras el Caffilah, Deeni ibn Hamid, my interpreter, three of my servants, and the young Bedoo, all mounted on mules. One baggage mule, fastened behind one of my servants' animals, carried a little flour, parched grain, and coffee, coffee-pot, frying-pan, and one suit of clothes for each. Advancing at a rapid pace, about 5 P.M. we came up with a party consisting of Eesa, with their camels. One of them instantly collected the camels, whilst the others hurried towards us in a suspicious way. The Bedoo hastened to meet them, and we were permitted, owing, I was told, to my firearms, the appearance of which pleased them not, to proceed quietly. At 7 P.M., having arrived at a place where grass was abundant, we turned off the road and halted.

"At 1:30 A.M., on Thursday, 3rd February, as the moon rose we saddled our mules and pushed forward at a rapid pace. At 4 A.M. we halted and had a cup of coffee each, when we again mounted. As the day broke we came upon an encampment of the Debeneh, who hearing the clatter of our mules' hoofs, set up the cry of alarm. The Bedoo pacified them: they had supposed us to be a party of Eesa. We continued our journey, and about 10 A.M. we halted for breakfast, which consisted of coffee and parched grain. At noon we again moved forward, and at 3 P.M., having arrived at a pool of water called Murhabr in the Wady Dalabayah, we halted for about an hour to make some bread. We then continued through the Wady, passed several Bedoo encampments till a little after dark, when we descended into the plain of Gurgudeli. Here observing several fires, the Bedoo crawled along to reconnoitre, and returned to say they were Debeneh. We gave them a wide berth, and about 8:30 P.M. halted. We were cautioned not to make a fire, but I had a great desire for a cup of coffee after the fatigue of this long march. Accordingly we made a small fire, concealing it with shields.

"At 3 A.M. on Friday, the 4th February, we resumed our journey. After about an hour and a half arriving at a good grazing ground, we halted to feed the mules, and then watered them at Alooli. At 1 P.M. I found the sun so oppressive that I was obliged to halt for two hours. We had struck off to the right of the route pursued by the Embassy, and crossed, not the Salt Lake, but the hills to the southward. The wind blowing very strong considerably retarded our progress, so that we did not arrive at Dahfurri, our halting-place, till sunset. Dahfurri is situated about four miles to the southward of Mhow, the encampment of the Embassy near the Lake, and about 300 yards to the eastward of the road. Here we found a large basin of excellent water, which the Tajoorians informed me was a mere mass of mud when we passed by to Shoa, but that the late rains had cleared away all the impurities. After sunset a gale of wind blew.

"At 1 A.M. on the 5th February, the wind having decreased we started. Passing through the pass of the Rer Essa, the barking of dogs caused us some little uneasiness, as it betrayed the vicinity of the Bedoo, whether friend or foe we knew not. Ibrahim requested us to keep close order, and to be silent. As day broke we descended into the plain of Warrah Lissun, where we halted and ate the last of the grain. After half an hour's halt we continued our journey. Ibrahim soon declared his inability to keep up with us, so he recommended me to the care of the Bedoo and Deeni, saying he would follow slowly. We arrived at Sagulloo about 11 A.M., and Ibrahim about two hours afterwards. At 3 P.M. we resumed our march, and a little before sunset arrived at Ambaboo.

"The elders had a conference which lasted about a quarter of an hour, when they came forward and welcomed me, directing men to look after my mules. I was led to a house which had been cleaned for my reception. Ibrahim then brought water and a bag of dates, and shortly afterwards some rice and milk. Many villagers called to pay their respects, and remained but a short time as I wanted repose: they would scarcely believe that I had travelled in eighteen days from Shoa, including four day's halt.

"Early on the morning of the 6th February I set out for Tajoorah, where I was received with every demonstration of welcome by both rich and poor. The Sultan gave me his house, and after I had drunk a cup of coffee with him, considerately ordered away all the people who had flocked to see me, as, he remarked, I must be tired after so rapid a journey.

"It may not be amiss to mention here that the British character stands very high at Tajoorah. The people assured me that since the British had taken Aden they had enjoyed peace and security, and that from being beggars they had become princes. As a proof of their sincerity they said with pride, 'Look at our village, you saw it a year and a half ago, you know what it was then, behold what is now!' I confessed that it had been much improved."

(From Tajoorah the traveller, after awarding his attendants, took boat for Zayla, where he was hospitably received by the Hajj Sharmarkay's agent. Suffering severely from fever, on Monday the 14th February he put to sea again and visited Berberah, where he lived in Sharmarkay's house, and finally he arrived at Aden on Friday the 25th February, 1842. He concludes the narrative of his adventure as follows.)

"It is due to myself that I should offer some explanation for the rough manner in which this report is drawn up. On leaving Shoa the Caffilah people marked with a jealous eye that I seemed to number the slaves and camels, and Deeni reported to me that they had observed my making entries in my note-book. Whenever the Bedoos on the road caught sight of a piece of paper, they were loud in their demands for it. [4] Our marches were so rapid that I was scarcely allowed time sufficient to prepare for the fatigues of the ensuing day, and experience had taught me the necessity of keeping a vigilant watch. [5] Aware that Government must be anxious for information from the 'Mission,' I performed the journey in a shorter space of time than any messenger, however highly paid, has yet done it, and for several days lived on coffee and parched grain. Moreover, on arrival at Aden, I was so weak from severe illness that I could write but at short intervals.

"It will not, I trust, be considered that the alteration in my route was caused by trivial circumstances. It would have been absurd to have remained with the Bedoos without an interpreter: there would have been daily disputes and misunderstandings, and I had already sufficient insight into the character of Datah Mahomed to perceive that his avarice was insatiable. Supposing I had passed through his hands, there was the chief of Bedar, who, besides expecting much more than I had given to Datah Mahomed, would, it is almost certain, eventually have forwarded me to Tajoorah. Finally, if I can believe the innumerable reports of the people, both at Tajoorah and Zalaya, neither I myself nor my servants would ever have passed through the kingdom of Hurrur. The jealousy of the prince against foreigners is so great that, although he would not injure them within the limits of his own dominions, he would cause them to waylaid and murdered on the road."


[1] Thus in the original. It may be a mistake, for Captain Barker is, I am informed, a proficient in conversational Arabic.

[2] This chief was the Emir Abubakr, father of Ahmed: the latter was ruling when I entered Harar in 1855.

[3] As the youth gave perfect satisfaction, he received, besides the ten dollars, a Tobe and a European saddle, "to which he had taken a great fancy."

[4] In these wild countries every bit of paper written over is considered to be a talisman or charm.

[5] A sergeant, a corporal, and a Portuguese cook belonging to Captain Harris's mission were treacherously slain near Tajoorah at night. The murderers were Hamid Saborayto, and Mohammed Saborayto, two Dankalis of the Ad All clan. In 1842 they seem to have tried a ruse de guerre upon M. Rochet, and received from him only too mild a chastisement. The ruffians still live at Juddah (Jubbah ?) near Ambabo.


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