Wednesday, July 23, 2008

English Orientalist R. Burton´s Adventures near Zeyla, in Northern Somalia

Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
July 21, 2008
In four earlier articles, entitled ´Richard Burton on Sanaag – At the
Origins of the British Anti-Somali Perfidy´
(, ´Somalis and Oromos
Misrepresented by British Colonial Empire´s Foremost Explorer´
(, ´Sailing from Aden
to Zeyla – R. Burton´s Notes, Prejudices, and Misinterpretations´
(, and ´Northern
Somalia and Zeyla described by the English Explorer Richard Burton
before 150 years´ (, I
published four units (Appendix I, Diary and Observations Made by
Lieutenant Speke, When Attempting to Reach the Wadi Nogal - Chapter
IV. The Somal, Their Origin and Peculiarities - Chapter I - Departure
from Aden - Chapter II – Life in Zeyla) from the book ´First footsteps
in East Africa or, An Exploration of Harar´ of the famous English
Orientalist and explorer Richard Burton (published 1856). In this
article, I republish Chapter III of R. Burton´s book.

Preconceived ideas, misperceptions, misunderstandings and distortions
are omnipresent within this book which served as basic point of study
and reference for the formation of the English colonial policy in the
area of the Horn of Africa at the second half of the 19th century. As
criticism, refutation and commentary will be published after the
re-publication of the entire book, I welcome your comments that along
with mine will highlight the destructive role and the racist nature of
the English colonialism.

First footsteps in East Africa or, An Exploration of Harar

By Richard Burton

Chapter III. – Excursions near Zeyla

We determined on the 9th of November to visit the island of Saad el
Din, the larger of the two patches of ground which lie about two miles
north of the town. Reaching our destination, after an hour´s lively
sail, we passed through a thick belt of underwood tenanted by swarms
of midges, with a damp chill air crying fever, and a fetor of decayed
vegetation smelling death. To this succeeded a barren flat of silt and
sand, white with salt and ragged with salsolaceous stubble, reeking
with heat, and covered with old vegetation. Here, says local
tradition, was the ancient site of Zayla1, built by Arabs from Yemen.
The legend runs that when Saad el Din was besieged and slain by David,
King of Ethiopia, the wells dried up and the island sank. Something
doubtless occurred which rendered a removal advisable: the sons of the
Moslem hero fled to Ahmed bin El Ashraf, Prince of Senaa, offering
their allegiance if he would build fortifications for them and aid
them against the Christians of Abyssinia. The consequence was a walled
circuit upon the present site of Zayla: of its old locality almost may
be said "periere ruinae".

During my stay with Sharmarkay I made many inquiries about historical
works, and the Kazi; Mohammed Khatib, a Harar man of the Hawiyah
tribe, was at last persuaded to send his Daftar, or office papers, for
my inspection. They formed a kind of parish register of births,
deaths, marriages, divorces, and manumissions. From them it appeared
that in A.H. 1081 (A.D. 1670-71) the Shanabila Sayyids were Kazis of
Zayla and retained the office for 138 years. It passed two generations
ago into the hands of Mohammed Musa, a Hawiyah, and the present Kazi
is his nephew.

The origin of Zayla, or, as it is locally called, "Audal," is lost in
the fogs of Phoenician fable. The Avalites2 of the Periplus and Pliny,
it was in earliest ages dependent upon the kingdom of Axum.3 About the
seventh century, when the Southern Arabs penetrated into the heart of
Abyssinia4, it became the great factory of the eastern coast, and rose
to its height of splendour. Taki el Din Makrizi5 includes under the
name of Zayla, a territory of forty-three days´ march by forty, and
divides it into seven great provinces, speaking about fifty languages,
and ruled by Amirs, subject to the Hati (Hatze) of Abyssinia.

In the fourteenth century it became celebrated by its wars with the
kings of Abyssinia: sustaining severe defeats the Moslems retired upon
their harbour, which, after an obstinate defence fell into the hands
of the Christians. The land was laid waste, the mosques were converted
into churches, and the Abyssinians returned to their mountains laden
with booty. About A.D. 1400, Saad el Din, the heroic prince of Zayla,
was besieged in his city by the Hatze David the Second: slain by a
spear-thrust, he left his people powerless in the hands of their
enemies, till his sons, Sabr el Din, Ali, Mansur, and Jemal el Din
retrieved the cause of El Islam.

Ibn Batuta, a voyager of the fourteenth century, thus describes the
place: "I then went from Aden by sea, and after four days came to the
city of Zayla. This is a settlement, of the Berbers 6, a people of
Sudan, of the Shafia sect. Their country is a desert of two months´
extent; the first part is termed Zayla, the last Makdashu. The
greatest number of the inhabitants, however, are of the Rafizah sect.7
Their food is mostly camels´ flesh and fish. 8 The stench of the
country is extreme, as is also its filth, from the stink of the fish
and the blood of camels which are slaughtered in its streets."

About A.D. 1500 the Turks conquered Yemen, and the lawless
Janissaries, "who lived upon the very bowels of commerce"9, drove the
peaceable Arab merchants to the opposite shore. The trade of India,
flying from the same enemy, took refuge in Adel, amongst its partners.
10 The Turks of Arabia, though they were blind to the cause, were
sensible of the great influx of wealth into the opposite kingdoms.
They took possession, therefore, of Zayla, which they made a den of
thieves, established there what they called a custom-house11, and, by
means of that post and galleys cruising in the narrow straits of Bab
el Mandeb, they laid the Indian trade to Adel under heavy
contributions that might indemnify them for the great desertion their
violence and injustice had occasioned in Arabia.

This step threatened the very existence both of Adel and Abyssinia;
and considering the vigorous government of the one, and the weak
politics and prejudices of the other, it is more than probable that
the Turks would have subdued both, had they not in India, their chief
object, met the Portuguese, strongly established.

Bartema, travelling in A.D. 1503, treats in his 15th chapter of "Zeila
in Aethiopia and the great fruitlessness thereof, and of certain
strange beasts seen there."

"In this city is great frequentation of merchandise, as in a most
famous mart. There is marvellous abundance of gold and iron, and an
innumerable number of black slaves sold for small prices; these are
taken in War by the Mahomedans out of Aethiopia, of the kingdom of
Presbyter Johannes, or Preciosus Johannes, which some also call the
king of Jacobins or Abyssins, being a Christian; and are carried away
from thence into Persia, Arabia Felix, Babylonia of Nilus or Alcair,
and Meccah. In this city justice and good laws are observed.12 ... It
hath an innumerable multitude of merchants; the walls are greatly
decayed, and the haven rude and despicable. The King or Sultan of the
city is a Mahomedan, and entertaineth in wages a great multitude of
footmen and horsemen. They are greatly given to war, and wear only one
loose single vesture: they are of dark ash colour, inclining to

In July 1516 Zayla was taken, and the town burned by a Portuguese
armament, under Lopez Suarez Alberguiera. When the Turks were
compelled to retire from Southern Arabia, it became subject to the
Prince of Senaa, who gave it in perpetuity to the family of a Senaani

The kingdom of Yemen falling into decay, Zayla passed under the
authority of the Sherif of Mocha, who, though receiving no part of the
revenue, had yet the power of displacing the Governor. By him it was
farmed out to the Hajj Sharmarkay, who paid annually to Sayyid
Mohammed el Barr, at Mocha, the sum of 750 crowns, and reserved all
that he could collect above that sum for himself. In A.D. 1848 Zayla
was taken from the family El Barr, and farmed out to Sharmarkay by the
Turkish Governor of Mocha and Hodaydah.

The extant remains at Saad el Din are principally those of
water-courses, rude lines of coralline, stretching across the plain
towards wells, now lost13, and diminutive tanks, made apparently to
collect rain water. One of these latter is a work of some art—a long
sunken vault, with a pointed arch projecting a few feet above the
surface of the ground; outside it is of rough stone, the interior is
carefully coated with fine lime, and from the roof long stalactites
depend. Near it is a cemetery: the graves are, for the most part,
provided with large slabs of close black basalt, planted in the ground
edgeways, and in the shape of a small oblong.

The material was most probably brought from the mountains near
Tajurrah: at another part of the island I found it in the shape of a
gigantic mill-stone, half imbedded in the loose sand. Near the
cemetery we observed a mound of rough stones surrounding an upright
pole; this is the tomb of Shaykh Saad el Din, formerly the hero, now
the favourite patron saint of Zayla,—still popularly venerated, as was
proved by the remains of votive banquets, broken bones, dried garbage,
and stones blackened by the fire.

After wandering through the island, which contained not a human being
save a party of Somal boatmen, cutting firewood for Aden, and having
massacred a number of large fishing hawks and small sea-birds, to
astonish the natives, our companions, we returned to the
landing-place. Here an awning had been spread; the goat destined for
our dinner—I have long since conquered all dislike, dear L., to seeing
dinner perambulating—had been boiled and disposed in hunches upon
small mountains of rice, and jars of sweet water stood in the air to
cool. After feeding, regardless of Quartana and her weird sisterhood,
we all lay down for siesta in the light sea-breeze. Our slumbers were
heavy, as the Zayla people say is ever the case at Saad el Din, and
the sun had declined low ere we awoke. The tide was out, and we waded
a quarter of a mile to the boat, amongst giant crabs who showed grisly
claws, sharp coralline, and sea-weed so thick as to become almost a
mat. You must believe me when I tell you that in the shallower parts
the sun was painfully hot, even to my well tried feet. We picked up a
few specimens of fine sponge, and coral, white and red, which, if
collected, might be valuable to Zayla, and, our pic-nic concluded, we
returned home.

On the 14th November we left the town to meet a caravan of the
Danakil14, and to visit the tomb of the great saint Abu Zarbay. The
former approached in a straggling line of asses, and about fifty
camels laiden with cows´ hides, ivories and one Abyssinian slave-girl.
The men were wild as ourang-outangs, and the women fit only to flog
cattle: their animals were small, meagre-looking, and loosely made;
the asses of the Bedouins, however, are far superior to those of
Zayla, and the camels are, comparatively speaking, well bred.15 In a
few minutes the beasts were unloaded, the Gurgis or wigwams pitched,
and all was prepared for repose. A caravan so extensive being an
unusual event,—small parties carrying only grain come in once or twice
a week,—the citizens abandoned even their favourite game of ball, with
an eye to speculation. We stood at "Government House," over the
Ashurbara Gate, to see the Bedouins, and we quizzed (as Town men might
denounce a tie or scoff at a boot) the huge round shields and the
uncouth spears of these provincials. Presently they entered the
streets, where we witnessed their frantic dance in presence of the
Hajj and other authorities. This is the wild men´s way of expressing
their satisfaction that Fate has enabled them to convoy the caravan
through all the dangers of the desert.

The Shaykh Ibrahim Abu Zarbay16 lies under a whitewashed dome close to
the Ashurbara Gate of Zayla: an inscription cut in wood over the
doorway informs us that the building dates from A.H. 1155=AD. 1741-2.
It is now dilapidated, the lintel is falling in, the walls are
decaying, and the cupola, which is rudely built, with primitive
gradients,—each step supported as in Cashmere and other parts of
India, by wooden beams,— threatens the heads of the pious. The
building is divided into two compartments, forming a Mosque and a
Mazar or place of pious visitation: in the latter are five tombs, the
two largest covered with common chintz stuff of glaring colours.
Ibrahim was one of the forty-four Hazrami saints who landed at
Berberah, sat in solemn conclave upon Auliya Kumbo or Holy Hill, and
thence dispersed far and wide for the purpose of propagandism. He
travelled to Harar about A.D. 143017, converted many to El Islam, and
left there an honored memory. His name is immortalised in El Yemen by
the introduction of El Kat. 17

Tired of the town, I persuaded the Hajj to send me with an escort to
the Hissi or well. At daybreak I set out with four Arab matchlock-men,
and taking a direction nearly due west, waded and walked over an
alluvial plain flooded by every high tide. On our way we passed lines
of donkeys and camels carrying water-skins from the town; they were
under guard like ourselves, and the sturdy dames that drove them
indulged in many a loud joke at our expense. After walking about four
miles we arrived at what is called the Takhushshah—the sandy bed of a
torrent nearly a mile broad19, covered with a thin coat of caked mud:
in the centre is a line of pits from three to four feet deep, with
turbid water at the bottom. Around them were several frame-works of
four upright sticks connected by horizontal bars, and on these were
stretched goats´-skins, forming the cattle-trough of the Somali
country. About the wells stood troops of camels, whose Eesa
proprietors scowled fiercely at us, and stalked over the plain with
their long, heavy spears: for protection against these people, the
citizens have erected a kind of round tower, with a ladder for a
staircase. Near it are some large tamarisks and the wild henna of the
Somali country, which supplies a sweet-smelling flower, but is
valueless as a dye. A thick hedge of thorn-trees surrounds the only
cultivated ground near Zayla: as Ibn Said declared in old times, "the
people have no gardens, and know nothing of fruits." The variety and
the luxuriance of growth, however, prove that industry is the sole
desideratum. I remarked the castor-plant,—no one knows its name or
nature20,—the Rayhan or Basil, the Kadi, a species of aloe, whose
strongly scented flowers the Arabs of Yemen are fond of wearing in
their turbans.21 Of vegetables, there were cucumbers, egg-plants, and
the edible hibiscus; the only fruit was a small kind of water-melon.

After enjoying a walk through the garden and a bath at the well, I
started, gun in hand, towards the jungly plain that stretches towards
the sea. It abounds in hares, and in a large description of
spur-fowl22; the beautiful little sand antelope, scarcely bigger than
an English rabbit23, bounded over the bushes, its thin legs being
scarcely perceptible during the spring. I was afraid to fire with
ball, the place being full of Bedouins´ huts, herds, and dogs, and the
vicinity of man made the animals too wild for small shot. In revenge,
I did considerable havoc amongst the spur-fowl, who proved equally
good for sport and the pot, besides knocking over a number of old
crows, whose gall the Arab soldiers wanted for collyrium.24 Beyond us
lay Warabalay or Hyaenas´ hill25: we did not visit it, as all its
tenants had been driven away by the migration of the Nomads.

Returning, we breakfasted in the garden, and rain coming on, we walked
out to enjoy the Oriental luxury of a wetting. Ali Iskandar, an old
Arab mercenary, afforded us infinite amusement: a little opium made
him half crazy, when his sarcastic pleasantries never ceased. We then
brought out the guns, and being joined by the other escort, proceeded
to a trial of skill. The Arabs planted a bone about 200 paces from
us,—a long distance for a people who seldom fire beyond fifty
yards;—moreover, the wind blew the flash strongly in their faces. Some
shot two or three dozen times wide of the mark and were derided
accordingly: one man hit the bone; he at once stopped practice, as the
wise in such matters will do, and shook hands with all the party. He
afterwards showed that his success on this occasion had been
accidental; but he was a staunch old sportsman, remarkable, as the
Arab Bedouins generally are, for his skill and perseverance in
stalking. Having no rifle, I remained a spectator. My revolvers
excited abundant attention, though none would be persuaded to touch
them. The largest, which fitted with a stock became an excellent
carbine, was at once named Abu Sittah (the Father of Six) and the
Shaytan or Devil: the pocket pistol became the Malunah or Accursed,
and the distance to which it carried ball made every man wonder. The
Arabs had antiquated matchlocks, mostly worn away to paper thinness at
the mouth: as usual they fired with the right elbow raised to the
level of the ear, and the left hand grasping the barrel, where with us
the breech would be. Hassan Turki had one of those fine old
Shishkhanah rifles formerly made at Damascus and Senaa: it carried a
two-ounce ball with perfect correctness, but was so badly mounted in
its block-butt, shaped like a Dutch cheese, that it always required a

On our return home we met a party of Eesa girls, who derided my colour
and doubted the fact of my being a Moslem. The Arabs declared me to be
a Shaykh of Shaykhs, and translated to the prettiest of the party an
impromptu proposal of marriage. She showed but little coyness, and
stated her price to be an Audulli or necklace26, a couple of
Tobes,—she asked one too many—a few handfuls of beads,27 and a small
present for her papa. She promised, naively enough, to call next day
and inspect the goods: the publicity of the town did not deter her,
but the shamefacedness of my two companions prevented our meeting

Arrived at Zayla after a sunny walk, the Arab escort loaded their
guns, formed a line for me to pass along, fired a salute, and entered
to coffee and sweetmeats.

On the 24th of November I had an opportunity of seeing what a timid
people are these Somal of the towns, who, as has been well remarked,
are, like the settled Arabs, the worst specimens of their race. Three
Eesa Bedouins appeared before the southern gate, slaughtered a cow,
buried its head, and sent for permission to visit one of their number
who had been imprisoned by the Hajj for the murder of his son Masud.
The place was at once thrown into confusion, the gates were locked,
and the walls manned with Arab matchlock men: my three followers armed
themselves, and I was summoned to the fray. Some declared that the
Bedouins were "doing"28 the town; others that they were the van of a
giant host coming to ravish, sack, and slay: it turned out that these
Bedouins had preceded their comrades, who were bringing in, as the
price of blood29, an Abyssinian slave, seven camels, seven cows, a
white mule, and a small black mare. The prisoner was visited by his
brother, who volunteered to share his confinement, and the meeting was
described as most pathetic: partly from mental organisation and partly
from the peculiarities of society, the only real tie acknowledged by
these people is that which connects male kinsmen. The Hajj, after
speaking big, had the weakness to let the murderer depart alive: this
measure, like peace-policy in general, is the best and surest way to
encourage bloodshed and mutilation. But a few months before, an Eesa
Bedouin enticed out of the gates a boy about fifteen, and slaughtered
him for the sake of wearing the feather. His relations were directed
to receive the Diyat or blood fine, and the wretch was allowed to
depart unhurt—a silly clemency!

You must not suppose, dear L., that I yielded myself willingly to the
weary necessity of a month at Zayla. But how explain to you the
obstacles thrown in our way by African indolence, petty intrigue, and
interminable suspicion? Four months before leaving Aden I had taken
the precaution of meeting the Hajj, requesting him to select for us an
Abban30, or protector, and to provide camels and mules; two months
before starting I had advanced to him the money required in a country
where nothing can be done without a whole or partial prepayment. The
protector was to be procured anywhere, the cattle at Tajurrah,
scarcely a day´s sail from Zayla: when I arrived nothing was
forthcoming. I at once begged the governor to exert himself: he
politely promised to start a messenger that hour, and he delayed doing
so for ten days. An easterly wind set in and gave the crew an excuse
for wasting another fortnight.31 Travellers are an irritable genus: I
stormed and fretted at the delays to show earnestness of purpose. All
the effect was a paroxysm of talking. The Hajj and his son treated me,
like a spoilt child, to a double allowance of food and milk: they
warned me that the small-pox was depopulating Harar, that the road
swarmed with brigands, and that the Amir or prince was certain
destruction,—I contented myself with determining that both were true
Oriental hyperbolists, and fell into more frequent fits of passion.
The old man could not comprehend my secret. "If the English," he
privately remarked, "wish to take Harar, let them send me 500
soldiers; if not, I can give all information concerning it". When
convinced of my determination to travel, he applied his mind to
calculating the benefit which might be derived from the event, and, as
the following pages will show, he was not without success.

Towards the end of November, four camels were procured, an Abban was
engaged, we hired two women cooks and a fourth servant; my baggage was
reformed, the cloth and tobacco being sewn up in matting, and made to
fit the camels´ sides32; sandals were cut out for walking, letters
were written, messages of dreary length,—too important to be set down
in black and white,—were solemnly entrusted to us, palavers were held,
and affairs began to wear the semblance of departure. The Hajj
strongly recommended us to one of the principal families of the
Gudabirsi tribe, who would pass us on to their brother-in-law Adan,
the Gerad or prince of the Girhi; and he, in due time, to his kinsman
the Amir of Harar. The chain was commenced by placing us under the
protection of one Raghe, a petty Eesa chief of the Mummasan clan. By
the good aid of the Hajj and our sweetmeats, he was persuaded, for the
moderate consideration of ten Tobes33, to accompany us to the frontier
of his clan, distant about fifty miles, to introduce us to the
Gudabirsi, and to provide us with three men as servants, and a
suitable escort, a score or so, in dangerous places. He began, with us
in an extravagant manner, declaring that nothing but "name" induced
him to undertake the perilous task; that he had left his flocks and
herds at a season of uncommon risk, and that all his relations must
receive a certain honorarium. But having paid at least three pounds
for a few days of his society, we declined such liberality, and my
companions, I believe, declared that it would be "next time:"—on all
such occasions I make a point of leaving the room, since for one thing
given at least five are promised on oath. Raghe warned us seriously to
prepare for dangers and disasters, and this seemed to be the general
opinion of Zayla, whose timid citizens determined that we were tired
of our lives. The cold had driven the Nomads from the hills to the
warm maritime Plains34, we should therefore traverse a populous
region; and, as the End of Time aptly observed, "Man eats you up, the
Desert does not." Moreover this year the Ayyal Nuh Ismail, a clan of
the Habr Awal tribe, is "out," and has been successful against the
Eesa, who generally are the better men. They sweep the country in Kaum
or Commandos35, numbering from twenty to two hundred troopers, armed
with assegai, dagger, and shield, and carrying a water skin and dried
meat for a three days´ ride, sufficient to scour the length of the low
land. The honest fellows are not so anxious to plunder as to ennoble
themselves by taking life: every man hangs to his saddle bow an
ostrich36 feather,—emblem of truth,—and the moment his javelin has
drawn blood, he sticks it into his tufty pole with as much
satisfaction as we feel when attaching a medal to our shell-jackets.
It is by no means necessary to slay the foe in fair combat:
Spartan-like, treachery is preferred to stand-up fighting; and you may
measure their ideas of honor, by the fact that women are murdered in
cold blood, as by the Amazulus, with the hope that the unborn child
may prove a male. The hero carries home the trophy of his prowess37,
and his wife, springing from her tent, utters a long shrill scream of
joy, a preliminary to boasting of her man´s valour, and bitterly
taunting the other possessors of noirs faineants: the derided ladies
abuse their lords with peculiar virulence, and the lords fall into
paroxysms of envy, hatred, and malice. During my short stay at Zayla
six or seven murders were committed close to the walls: the Abban
brought news, a few hours before our departure, that two Eesas had
been slaughtered by the Habr Awal. The Eesa and Dankali also have a
blood feud, which causes perpetual loss of life. But a short time ago
six men of these two tribes were travelling together, when suddenly
the last but one received from the hindermost a deadly spear thrust in
the back. The wounded man had the presence of mind to plunge his
dagger in the side of the wayfarer who preceded him, thus dying, as
the people say, in company. One of these events throws the country
into confusion, for the vendetta is rancorous and bloody, as in
ancient Germany or in modern Corsica. Our Abban enlarged upon the
unpleasant necessity of travelling all night towards the hills, and
lying perdu during the day. The most dangerous times are dawn and
evening tide: the troopers spare their horses during the heat, and
themselves during the dew-fall. Whenever, in the desert,—where, says
the proverb, all men are enemies—you sight a fellow creature from
afar, you wave the right arm violently up and down, shouting "War
Joga! War Joga!"—stand still! stand still! If they halt, you send a
parliamentary to within speaking distance. Should they advance38, you
fire, taking especial care not to miss; when two saddles are emptied,
the rest are sure to decamp.

I had given the Abban orders to be in readiness,—my patience being
thoroughly exhausted,—on Sunday, the 26th of November, and determined
to walk the whole way, rather than waste another day waiting for
cattle. As the case had become hopeless, a vessel was descried
standing straight from Tajurrah, and, suddenly as could happen in the
Arabian Nights, four fine mules, saddled and bridled, Abyssinian
fashion, appeared at the door.39


1 Brace describes Zayla as "a small island, on the very coast of
Adel". To reconcile discrepancy, he adopts the usual clumsy expedient
of supposing two cities of the same name, one situated seven degrees
south of the other. Salt corrects the error, but does not seem to have
heard of old Zayla´s insular position.

2 The inhabitants were termed Avalitae, and the Bay "Sinus
Avaliticus". Some modern travellers have confounded it with Adule or
Adulis, the port of Axum, founded by fugitive Egyptian slaves. The
latter, however, lies further north: D´Anville places it at Arkiko,
Salt at Zula (or Azule), near the head of Annesley Bay.

3 The Arabs were probably the earliest colonists of this coast. Even
the Sawahil people retain a tradition that their forefathers
originated in the south of Arabia.

4 To the present day the district of Gozi is peopled by Mohammedans
called Arablet, "whose progenitors", according to Harris, "are said by
tradition to have been left there prior to the reign of Nagasi, first
King of Shoa. Hossain, Wahabit, and Abdool Kurreem, generals probably
detached from the victorious army of Graan (Mohammed Gragne), are
represented to have come from Mecca, and to have taken possession of
the country,—the legend assigning to the first of these warriors as
his capital, the populous village of Medina, which is conspicuous on a
cone among the mountains, shortly after entering the valley of Robi".

5 Historia Regum Islamiticorum in Abyssinia, Lugd. Bat. 1790. [6] The
affinity between the Somal and the Berbers of Northern Africa, and
their descent from Canaan, son of Ham, has been learnedly advanced and
refuted by several Moslem authors. The theory appears to have arisen
from a mistake; Berberah, the great emporium of the Somali country,
being confounded with the Berbers of Nubia.

7 Probably Zaidi from Yemen. At present the people of Zayla are all
orthodox Sunnites.

8 Fish, as will be seen in these pages, is no longer a favourite
article of diet.

9 Bruce, book 8.

10 Hence the origin of the trade between Africa and Cutch, which
continues uninterrupted to the present time. Adel, Arabia, and India,
as Bruce remarks, were three partners in one trade, who mutually
exported their produce to Europe, Asia, and Africa, at that time the
whole known world.

11 The Turks, under a show of protecting commerce, established these
posts in their different ports. But they soon made it appear that the
end proposed was only to ascertain who were the subjects from whom
they could levy the most enormous extortions. Jeddah, Zebid, and
Mocha, the places of consequence nearest to Abyssinia on the Arabian
coast, Suakin, a seaport town on the very barriers of Abyssinia, in
the immediate way of their caravan to Cairo on the African side, were
each under the command of a Turkish Pasha and garrisoned by Turkish
troops sent thither from Constantinople by the emperors Selim and

12 Bartema´s account of its productions is as follows: "The soil
beareth wheat and hath abundance of flesh and divers other commodious
things. It hath also oil, not of olives, but of some other thing, I
know not what. There is also plenty of honey and wax; there are
likewise certain sheep having their tails of the weight of sixteen
pounds, and exceeding fat; the head and neck are black, and all the
rest white. There are also sheep altogether white, and having tails of
a cubit long, and hanging down like a great cluster of grapes, and
have also great laps of skin hanging down from their throats, as have
bulls and oxen, hanging down almost to the ground. There are also
certain kind with horns like unto harts´ horns; these are wild, and
when they be taken are given to the Sultan of that city as a kingly
present. I saw there also certain kind having only one horn in the
midst of the forehead, as hath the unicorn, and about a span of
length, but the horn bendeth backward: they are of bright shining red
colour. But they that have harts´ horns are inclining to black colour.
Living is there good and cheap".

13 The people have a tradition that a well of sweet water exists
unseen in some part of the island. When Saad el Din was besieged in
Zayla by the Hatze David, the host of El Islam suffered severely for
the want of the fresh element.

14 The singular is Dankali, the plural Danakil: both words are Arabic,
the vernacular name being "Afar" or "Afer", the Somali "Afarnimun".
The word is pronounced like the Latin "Afer", an African.

15 Occasionally at Zayla—where all animals are expensive—Dankali
camels may be bought: though small, they resist hardship and fatigue
better than the other kinds. A fair price would be about ten dollars.
The Somal divide their animals into two kinds, Gel Ad and Ayyun. The
former is of white colour, loose and weak, but valuable, I was told by
Lieut. Speke, in districts where little water is found: the Ayyun is
darker and stronger; its price averages about a quarter more than the
Gel Ad.

To the Arabian traveller nothing can be more annoying than these
Somali camels. They must be fed four hours during the day, otherwise
they cannot march. They die from change of food or sudden removal to
another country. Their backs are ever being galled, and, with all
precautions, a month´s march lays them up for three times that period.
They are never used for riding, except in cases of sickness or

The Somali ass is generally speaking a miserable animal. Lieut. Speke,
however, reports that on the windward coast it is not to be despised.
At Harar I found a tolerable breed, superior in appearance but
inferior in size to the thoroughbred little animals at Aden. They are
never ridden; their principal duty is that of carrying water-skins to
and from the walls.

16 He is generally called Abu Zerbin, more rarely Abu Zarbayn, and Abu
Zarbay. I have preferred the latter orthography upon the authority of
the Shaykh Jami, most learned of the Somal.

17 In the same year (A.D. 1429-30) the Shaykh el Shazili, buried under
a dome at Mocha, introduced coffee into Arabia.

18 The following is an extract from the Pharmaceutical Journal, vol.
xii. No. v. Nov. 1. 1852. Notes upon the drugs observed at Aden
Arabia, by James Vaughan, Esq., M.R.C.S.E., Assist. Surg., B.A., Civil
and Port. Surg., Aden, Arabia.

"Kat [Arabic], the name of a drug which is brought into Aden from the
interior, and largely used, especially by the Arabs, as a pleasurable
excitant. It is generally imported in small camel-loads, consisting of
a number of parcels, each containing about forty slender twigs with
the leaves attached, and carefully wrapped so as to prevent as much as
possible exposure to the atmosphere. The leaves form the edible part,
and these, when chewed, are said to produce great hilarity of spirits,
and an agreeable state of wakefulness. Some estimate may be formed of
the strong predilection which the Arabs have for this drug from the
quantity used in Aden alone, which averages about 280 camel-loads
annually. The market price is one and a quarter rupees per parcel, and
the exclusive privilege of selling it is farmed by the government for
1500 rupees per year. Forskal found the plant growing on the mountains
of Yemen, and has enumerated it as a new genus in the class
Pentandria, under the name of Catha. He notices two species, and
distinguishes them as Catha edulis and Catha spinosa. According to his
account it is cultivated on the same ground as coffee, and is planted
from cuttings. Besides the effects above stated, the Arabs, he tells
us, believe the land where it grows to be secure from the inroads of
plague; and that a twig of the Kat carried in the bosom is a certain
safeguard against infection.

The learned botanist observes, with respect to these supposed virtues,
´Gustus foliorum tamen virtutem tantam indicare non videtur´. Like
coffee, Kat, from its acknowledged stimulating effects, has been a
fertile theme for the exercise of Mahomedan casuistry, and names of
renown are ranged on both sides of the question, whether the use of
Kat does or does not contravene the injunction of the Koran, Thou
shalt not drink wine or anything intoxicating. The succeeding notes,
borrowed chiefly from De Sacy´s researches, may be deemed worthy of
insertion here.

"Sheikh Abdool Kader Ansari Jezeri, a learned Mahomedan author, in his
treatise on the use of coffee, quotes the following from the writings
of Fakr ood Deen Mekki:—´It is said that the first who introduced
coffee was the illustrious saint Aboo Abdallah Mahomed Dhabhani ibn
Said; but we have learned by the testimony of many persons that the
use of coffee in Yemen, its origin, and first introduction into that
country are due to the learned All Shadeli ibn Omar, one of the
disciples of the learned doctor Nasr ood Deen, who is regarded as one
of the chiefs among the order Shadeli, and whose worth attests the
high degree of spirituality to which they had attained. Previous to
that time they made coffee of the vegetable substance called Cafta,
which is the same as the leaf known under the name of Kat, and not of
Boon (the coffee berry) nor any preparation of Boon.

The use of this beverage extended in course of time as far as Aden,
but in the days of Mahomed Dhabhani the vegetable substance from which
it was prepared disappeared from Aden. Then it was that the Sheik
advised those who had become his disciples to try the drink made from
the Boon, which was found to produce the same effect as the Kat,
inducing sleeplessness, and that it was attended with less expense and
trouble. The use of coffee has been kept up from that time to the

"D´Herbelot states that the beverage called Calmat al Catiat or
Caftah, was prohibited in Yemen in consequence of its effects upon the
brain. On the other hand a synod of learned Mussulmans is said to have
decreed that as beverages of Kat and Cafta do not impair the health or
impede the observance of religious duties, but only increase hilarity
and good-humour, it was lawful to use them, as also the drink made
from the boon or coffee-berry. I am not aware that Kat is used in Aden
in any other way than for mastication. From what I have heard,
however, I believe that a decoction resembling tea is made from the
leaf by the Arabs in the interior; and one who is well acquainted with
our familiar beverage assures me that the effects are not unlike those
produced by strong green tea, with this advantage in favour of Kat,
that the excitement is always of a pleasing and agreeable kind. [Note:
"Mr. Vaughan has transmitted two specimens called Tubbare Kat and
Muktaree Kat, from the districts in which they are produced: the
latter fetches the lower price. Catha edulis Forsk., Nat. Ord.
Celastraceae, is figured in Dr. Lindley´s Vegetable Kingdom, p. 588.
(London, 1846). But there is a still more complete representation of
the plant under the name of Catha Forskalii Richard, in a work
published under the auspices of the French government, entitled,
´Voyage en Abyssinie execute pendant les annees 1839-43, par une
commission scientifique composee de MM. Theophile Lefebvre, Lieut. du
Vaisseau, A. Petit et Martin-Dillon, docteurs medecins, naturalistes
du Museum, Vignaud dessinateur´. The botanical portion of this work,
by M. Achille Richard, is regarded either as a distinct publication
under the title of Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, or as a part of the
Voyage en Abyssinie. M. Richard enters into some of the particulars
relative to the synonyms of the plant, from which it appears that Vahl
referred Forskal´s genus Catha to the Linnaean genus Celastrus,
changing the name of Catha edulis to Celastrus edulis. Hochstetter
applied the name of Celastrus edulis to an Abyssinian species
(Celastrus obscurus Richard), which he imagined identical with
Forskal´s Catha edulis, while of the real Catha edulis Forsk., he
formed a new genus and species, under the name of Trigonotheca serrata
Hochs. Nat. Ord. Hippocrateaceae. I quote the following references
from the Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, vol. i. p. 134.: ´Catha
Forskalii Nob. Catha No. 4. Forsk. loc. cit, (Flor. AEgypt. Arab. p.
63.) Trigonotheca serrata Hochs. in pl. Schimp. Abyss. sect. ii, No.
649. Celastrus edulis Vahl, Ecl. 1. 21.´ Although In the Flora
Aegyptiaco-Arabica of Forskal no specific name is applied to the Catha
at p. 63, it is enumerated as Catha edulis at p. 107. The reference to
Celastrus edulis is not contained in the Eclogae Americanae of Vahl,
but in the author´s Symbolae Botanicae (Hanulae, 1790, fol.) pars i.
p. 21. (Daniel Hanbury signed.)]

19 This is probably the "River of Zayla", alluded to by Ibn Said and
others. Like all similar features in the low country, it is a mere
surface drain.

20 In the upper country I found a large variety growing wild in the
Fiumaras. The Bedouins named it Buamado, but ignored its virtues.

21 This ornament is called Musbgur.

22 A large brown bird with black legs, not unlike the domestic fowl.
The Arabs call it Dijajat el Barr, (the wild hen): the Somal
"digarin", a word also applied to the Guinea fowl, which it resembles
in its short strong fight and habit of running. Owing to the Bedouin
prejudice against eating birds, it is found in large coveys all over
the country.

23 It has been described by Salt and others. The Somal call it Sagaro,
the Arabs Ghezalah: it is found throughout the land generally in
pairs, and is fond of ravines under the hills, beds of torrents, and
patches of desert vegetation. It is easily killed by a single pellet
of shot striking the neck. The Somal catch it by a loop of strong
twine hung round a gap in a circuit of thorn hedge, or they run it
down on foot, an operation requiring half a day on account of its
fleetness, which enables it to escape the jackal and wild dog. When
caught it utters piercing cries. Some Bedouins do not eat the flesh:
generally, however, it is considered a delicacy, and the skulls and
bones of these little animals lie strewed around the kraals.

24 The Somal hold the destruction of the "Tuka" next in religious
merit to that of the snake. They have a tradition that the crow,
originally white, became black for his sins. When the Prophet and
Abubekr were concealed in the cave, the pigeon hid there from their
pursuers: the crow, on the contrary, sat screaming "ghar! ghar!" (the
cave! the cave!) upon which Mohammed ordered him into eternal
mourning, and ever to repeat the traitorous words.

There are several species of crows in this part of Africa. Besides the
large-beaked bird of the Harar Hills, I found the common European
variety, with, however, the breast feathers white tipped in small
semicircles as far as the abdomen. The little "king-crow" of India is
common: its bright red eye and purplish plume render it a conspicuous
object as it perches upon the tall camel´s back or clings to waving

25 The Waraba or Durwa is, according to Mr. Blyth, the distinguished
naturalist, now Curator of the Asiatic Society´s Museum at Calcutta,
the Canis pictus seu venaticus (Lycaon pictus or Wilde Honde of the
Cape Boers). It seems to be the Chien Sauvage or Cynhyene (Cynhyaena
venatica) of the French traveller M. Delegorgue, who in his "Voyage
dans l´Afrique Australe", minutely and diffusely describes it. Mr.
Gordon Cumming supposes it to form the connecting link between the
wolf and the hyaena. This animal swarms throughout the Somali country,
prowls about the camps all night, dogs travellers, and devours every
thing he can find, at times pulling down children and camels, and when
violently pressed by hunger, men. The Somal declare the Waraba to be a
hermaphrodite; so the ancients supposed the hyaena to be of both
sexes, an error arising from the peculiar appearance of an orifice
situated near two glands which secrete an unctuous fluid.

26 Men wear for ornament round the neck a bright red leather thong,
upon which are strung in front two square bits of true or imitation
amber or honey stone: this "Mekkawi", however, is seldom seen amongst
the Bedouins. The Audulli or woman´s necklace is a more elaborate
affair of amber, glass beads, generally coloured, and coral: every
matron who can afford it, possesses at least one of these ornaments.
Both sexes carry round the necks or hang above the right elbow, a
talisman against danger and disease, either in a silver box or more
generally sewn up in a small case of red morocco. The Bedouins are
fond of attaching a tooth-stick to the neck thong.

27 Beads are useful in the Somali country as presents, and to pay for
trifling purchases: like tobacco they serve for small change. The kind
preferred by women and children is the "binnur", large and small white
porcelain: the others are the red, white, green, and spotted twisted
beads, round and oblong. Before entering a district the traveller
should ascertain what may be the especial variety. Some kind are
greedily sought for in one place, and in another rejected with

28 The Somali word "Fal" properly means "to do;" "to bewitch," is its
secondary sense.

29 The price of blood in the Somali country is the highest sanctioned
by El Islam. It must be remembered that amongst the pagan Arabs, the
Korayah "diyat," was twenty she-camels. Abd el Muttaleb, grandfather
of Mohammed, sacrificed 100 animals to ransom the life of his son,
forfeited by a rash vow, and from that time the greater became the
legal number. The Somal usually demand 100 she-camels, or 300 sheep
and a few cows; here, as in Arabia, the sum is made up by all the near
relations of the slayer; 30 of the animals may be aged, and 30 under
age, but the rest must be sound and good. Many tribes take less,—from
strangers 100 sheep, a cow, and a camel;—but after the equivalent is
paid, the murderer or one of his clan, contrary to the spirit of El
Islam, is generally killed by the kindred or tribe of the slain. When
blood is shed in the same tribe, the full reparation, if accepted by
the relatives, is always exacted; this serves the purpose of
preventing fratricidal strife, for in such a nation of murderers, only
the Diyat prevents the taking of life.

Blood money, however, is seldom accepted unless the murdered man has
been slain with a lawful weapon. Those who kill with the Dankaleh, a
poisonous juice rubbed upon meat, are always put to death by the
members of their own tribe.

30 The Abban or protector of the Somali country is the Mogasa of the
Gallas, the Akh of El Hejaz, the Ghafir of the Sinaitic Peninsula, and
the Rabia of Eastern Arabia. It must be observed, however, that the
word denotes the protege as well as the protector; In the latter sense
it is the polite address to a Somali, as Ya Abbaneh, O Protectress,
would be to his wife.

The Abban acts at once as broker, escort, agent, and interpreter, and
the institution may be considered the earliest form of transit dues.
In all sales he receives a certain percentage, his food and lodging
are provided at the expense of his employer, and he not unfrequently
exacts small presents from his kindred. In return he is bound to
arrange all differences, and even to fight the battles of his client
against his fellow-countrymen. Should the Abban be slain, his tribe is
bound to take up the cause and to make good the losses of their
protege. El Taabanah, the office, being one of "name", the eastern
synonym for our honour, as well as of lucre, causes frequent quarrels,
which become exceedingly rancorous.

According to the laws of the country, the Abban is master of the life
and property of his client. The traveller´s success will depend mainly
upon his selection: if inferior in rank, the protector can neither
forward nor defend him; if timid, he will impede advance; and if
avaricious, he will, by means of his relatives, effectually stop the
journey by absorbing the means of prosecuting it. The best precaution
against disappointment would be the registering Abbans at Aden; every
donkey-boy will offer himself as a protector, but only the chiefs of
tribes should be provided with certificates. During my last visit to
Africa, I proposed that English officers visiting the country should
be provided with servants not protectors, the former, however, to be
paid like the latter; all the people recognised the propriety of the

In the following pages occur manifold details concerning the
complicated subject, El Taabanah.

31 Future travellers would do well either to send before them a trusty
servant with orders to buy cattle; or, what would be better, though a
little more expensive, to take with them from Aden all the animals

32 The Somal use as camel saddles the mats which compose their huts;
these lying loose upon the animal´s back, cause, by slipping backwards
and forwards, the loss of many a precious hour, and in wet weather
become half a load. The more civilised make up of canvass or "gunny
bags" stuffed with hay and provided with cross bars, a rude
packsaddle, which is admirably calculated to gall the animal´s back.
Future travellers would do well to purchase camel-saddles at Aden,
where they are cheap and well made.

33 He received four cloths of Cutch canvass, and six others of coarse
American sheeting. At Zayla these articles are double the Aden value,
which would be about thirteen rupees or twenty-six shillings; in the
bush the price is quadrupled. Before leaving us the Abban received at
least double the original hire. Besides small presents of cloth,
dates, tobacco and rice to his friends, he had six cubits of Sauda
Wilayati or English indigo-dyed calico for women´s fillets, and two of
Sauda Kashshi, a Cutch imitation, a Shukkah or half Tobe for his
daughter, and a sheep for himself, together with a large bundle of

34 When the pastures are exhausted and the monsoon sets in, the
Bedouins return to their cool mountains; like the Iliyat of Persia,
they have their regular Kishlakh and Yaylakh.

35 "Kaum" is the Arabic, "All" the Somali, term for these raids.

36 Amongst the old Egyptians the ostrich feather was the symbol of
truth. The Somal call it "Bal," the Arabs "Rish;" it is universally
used here as the sign and symbol of victory. Generally the white
feather only is stuck in the hair; the Eesa are not particular in
using black when they can procure no other. All the clans wear it in
the back hair, but each has its own rules; some make it a standard
decoration, others discard it after the first few days. The learned
have an aversion to the custom, stigmatising it as pagan and
idolatrous; the vulgar look upon it as the highest mark of honor.

37 This is an ancient practice in Asia as well as in Africa. The
Egyptian temples show heaps of trophies placed before the monarchs as
eyes or heads were presented in Persia. Thus in 1 Sam. xviii. 25.,
David brings the spoils of 200 Philistines, and shows them in full
tale to the king, that he might be the king´s son-in-law. Any work
upon the subject of Abyssinia (Bruce, book 7. chap, 8.), or the late
Afghan war, will prove that the custom of mutilation, opposed as it is
both to Christianity and El Islam, is still practised in the case of
hated enemies and infidels; and De Bey remarks of the Cape Kafirs,
"victores caesis excidunt [Greek: tu aidoui], quae exsiccata regi

38 When attacking cattle, the plundering party endeavour with shoots
and noise to disperse the herds, whilst the assailants huddle them
together, and attempt to face the danger in parties.

39 For the cheapest I paid twenty-three, for the dearest twenty-six
dollars, besides a Riyal upon each, under the names of custom dues and
carriage. The Hajj had doubtless exaggerated the price, but all were
good animals, and the traveller has no right to complain, except when
he pays dear for a bad article.


Picture: Richard Burton

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