Percy Horace Gordon Powell- Cotton.

A sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien online

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Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 10 of 34)
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At the ford at Akaki we passed a young Frenchman
dressed in a sort of uniform and mounted on a white
horse. Our attention was especially drawn to him by
the number of weapons hung about his person. These


included a ritle, a sword, and a couple of revolvers,
besides a hunting- knife ; on his saddle- were packed
innumerable wallets, bags, cooking-pots, and impedi-
menta of all sorts, so that altogether he presented a
striking appearance. We heard afterwards that he had
been an armourer in the French army, who had come
to seek his fortune in Abyssinia and hoped to be em-
ployed by the Emperor to command his artillery, but up
to the time of my departure he had met with no success.
On the face of a sheer clift", just below the ford, are
a number of cave-dwellings, which looked as if they
would repay investigation ; but ropes and ladders would
be required to get at them. That evening we camped
at Chaffe Dunsa. The night was cold with a heavy
dew, but, thanks to Captain Harrington's loan of a
coui)le of tents, we were in luxury compared with the
journey up. Next day we reached Godoburka at the
foot of lialji fiill. Here the nagadis struck, and saitl
we were overworking their animals, although they had
agreed to take us down in five days. That night was
made hideous by the growling and laughing round our
camp of numbers of hyaenas, who frequent this place in
bands and often attack both mules and donkeys. At
noon on 12th January we reached Minebella, and spent
the day under some trees. During an evening stroll,
we saw some monkeys in the valley of the Kassam.
As we were anxious to push on, we made a moonlight
march and reached Mantecura tanks at 6.10 on the
following morning. These tanks are two in number,
each some 35 yards square and 10 feet deep in the
centre. Although supplied by springs, they often run


dry. Up to ten years ago, when all this country was
thickly populated, the people round were obliged to
fetch water from the Kassam river, to fill these tanks,
when the springs gave out ; but, since the great famine of
. 1890, this custom has fallen into disuse. On our journey
up they were dry, but on our return the recent rain had
partly filled them. After breakfast H. and I pushed on
to Tadechamalca, where we found Clarke and Perks
eagerly expecting us, after our absence of seventeen days,
instead of the si.x H. had intended to be away. We
found that several of the men were suffering from fever ;
so one of my first duties was to do some doctoring.
Those in charge of the base-camp had not been idle,
for Clarke had diligently worked up the map of our
journey, and Perks had added many fresh specimens of
birds to H.'s collection. I was glad to find all my
skins in good order and free from beetle, my men having
looked after them well. The other shikaris, to my
surprise, had, according to their own version, been
doing a lot of shooting, though not with very grand
results. Clarke experienced a narrow escape from a
venomous snake, which had curled itself up on his bed
among the straps and cases of some of the instruments.
Fortunately, as he was about to pick one of them
up, it moved, and he was just in time to draw back
before it struck. During one of his surveying ascents,
he had discovered the ruins of an ancient city, known
to the natives as Hallam, where the Emperor Zaracob
was defeated by Granya. The ruins cover a large
area, and regular streets can be traced among the piles
of fallen and overgrown masonry.


Vox four days we were all hard at work iniinbering
our trophies, making the skins into bales, boiling and
taking the horns off skulls, and packing them in barrels
for transport ta the coast. In view of my new pro-
gramme for a solitary journey to the north, provisions
and stores of all sorts had to be sortc;d out tor me,

lists made, and everything repacked antl arranged in
loads of equal weights.

Although the rest and grass had much improved
the condition of many of our camels, there were still
several unfit for work ; so application was made to the
local Shum, to endeavour to procure others. One even-
ing a Galla came and offered three for sale, but H.
thought he asked too much ; however, on the following
day, the Shum arrived, bringing the identical beasts, and
said the price was half as much again as the owner had
originally demanded on the previous day, and this H.
had to pav, much against his will. We then arranged


that our second headman, Jama, accompanied by a dozen
men whom we were discharging, should take a caravan,
consisting of the three new camels, three old ones, and
twelve hired mules, with all the skins and horns of the
animals shot up to date, to the coast. I wanted to ask
for a special permit for these to pass through Harrar, but
H. thought it unnecessary. They started on the even-
ing of the 17th, but returned next morning to exchange
the three old camels, which had already broken down.
On the 1 8th I was up at 4.30, and after three hours'
wrangling with the mule-carriers, got them started, by
agreeing to pay for an extra and quite unnecessary camel.
Then came good-byes, many of the natives following me
and insisting on shaking hands many times over.

I set out on my return to the capital, carrying with
me a young oryx, which Mr. Baird's men had caught
alive ; but unfortunately it died before evening. Owing
to the fact that I was not with my mules when they
passed the Custom-house at Choba, my men were delayed
and- had to pay toll. On the morning of the fifth day
from Tadechamalca, I decided to leave my baggage
behind and push on to the capital. On my way I passed
innumerable men, women, and beasts, laden with camp
equipment and supplies of all sorts. As I saw that
many of the loads consisted of parts of the royal tents, I
knew that the Emperor was leaving the capital, so
pushed on quickly. I reached Captain Harrington's at
tea-time, and found him just recovering from an attack
of influenza and feeling very weak. I was much dis-
appointed to find that my agents had only been able to
get three mules out of the twenty-two I wanted, so that


there seemed no hope of my getting off for some time.
On the evening of my arrival, an English mail came in,
and we all sat up late, reading letters and news of the
Boer War. On the 23rd, Captain Harrington, who was
still confined to his bed, sent Mr. Beru up to the Gebi,
to ask the limperor to have the promised letters to the
Rases prepared for me, as Menelik was leaving that day.
Just after eleven o'clock Mr. Bern returned, with a
message, asking me to come up to the palace to bid
adieu. The Negus was surprised at my early start.
He had first asked if I should be in the capital on his
return in a month's time, and, when he heartl that I
wished to start as soon as possible, said he should like to
see me and say good-bye. On receiving the Emperor's
message, I hurried into dress-clothes and, mounted on
" Ambalai," cantered over to the Gebi with Mr. Beru,
escorted by two of the sowars. While I waited in the
audience hall the interpreter sought the Emperor,
whom he found giving a breakfast to his soldiers in the
Aderash, before setting out on his journey. On being
informed of my arrival, his first regret was that he
had no European dishes prepared for me, but was re-
assured on hearing that I had already breakfasted. On
my way to the great hall, I passed the Emperor's
body-guard and his mule, ready saddled, waiting to set
out directly after the entertainment. I was conducted
into the Aderash, on the floor of which some 2500
soldiers were seated in little groups round the baskets of
bread. On the dais was the Emperor, with his Rases
and chief officers grouped around him. In view of the
impending departure of the Court, the canopy and gilt


pillars were covered In dust-sheets. After greeting me
with a smile and a hearty hand-shake, the Negus signed to
me to be seated on a chair to his right, and an attendant
brought me a large tumbler of tej, covered with a silk
handkerchief The Emperor's first inquiries were about
Captain Harrington. "Was he seriously ill ? Was he
in pain ? Did I think he would soon be well ? He
must be careful not to e.xpose himself to cold." All of
these remarks he made in a voice of real concern, and
evidently not from mere politeness. I thanked the
Emperor for the passports promised me, and specially
for according me permission to cross the frontier into
Erythrea. I explained that my reasons for wishing to
leave by Massowah were, that the rains would have
commenced, and that I heard I should cross a good
country for lions and hoped to shoot some, as last
time, in Somaliland, I had only got two, and those not
very big. "But," said he, "two lions are always two
lions." Then I told him how an.xious I was to bag the
Abyssinian ibex, as great interest was taken in England
in the question whether it was the same as the Arabian
species, and that so far no complete specimen had been
brought to Europe. He replied that he believed I
should find plenty of them in Simien, but that the cold
there was very great and there would be much snow-. I
said that I had at different times shot over twenty ibex
in the Himalayas, and had spent three winters there, so
that I did not fear the cold. "On which side of the
Himalayas were you, and is the altitude greater there
than here ? " was the immediate inquiry. I replied that
I had shot on both sides of the great range, and went on


to describe the dcx-p snow of the Kashmir valleys, the
marches aUnio; the frozen Indus, and how, while after
Ovis amnion and yak on th(' Tibetan plateau, at 18,000
feet elevation, I had seen no running water for a month.
In all of this he seemed much interested, often turning
to his officers and asking questions, which showed his
knowledge of the geography and zoology of the countries
under discussion. " How many yak had 1 shot? What
was the size of the beast, and did the wild ones have
white tails? " These were but a few of the questions he
[)Lit to me. To my inquiry if His Majesty could tell
me anything of a beast called i>odar, which I heard was
to be found in Simien, and which from its description I
thought must be a bear, Menelik, after asking several of
those about him, remarked that he knew nothing of such
an animal, and then added, " Vou must remember that
you go to exj)lore .Simien and tell us what is there, for
the remoter parts of that country we never visit."
Then the conversation turned on weapons for game-
shooting ; Menelik asked me about the paradox gun,
one of which Captain W'ellby was sending him as a
present. I described how useful I had found it both in
India and Africa for shooting small game for the pot, as
well as big game. This led to his asking me what
countries I had visited, what was my age, how long I
had been travelling, and what part of England I came
from? It was evident that, if he could safely leave
his country, nothing would give him greater pleasure
than travelling. "Had I been in Russia?" "No," I
replied. " .Ah ! " said he, "you should go, for it must be
a great country." This seemed to open up a trcsh train


of thought, for the next question was, " Does England
allow the native princes in India to have as many
soldiers as they like of their own?" My reply was,
"Yes, and the Government does all it can to encourage
them to make them as efficient as possible." This
seemed rather to surprise him, and his astonishment was
great, when I added, that none of these Indian princes I
had seen had such large retinues continually about them
as he (Menelik) had. At this he smiled, and exclaimed,
" These are nothing, you should see one of my war
expeditions ! " I then referred to the Transvaal War and
the reverses we had suffered, as I knew these had been
made the most of in certain quarters, and was anxious to
hear what the Emperor would say. " But," said he,
" these reverses are only what are to be expected. Your
troops are far off; when you get them there it will be
different." I asked that I might be allowed to shoot on
the way to Simien. "Certainly," he said, "you may
shoot wherever there is game." I then bade adieu, the
Negus sending kind messages to Captain Harrington
and wishing me God-speed in the words, " May God
take you safely through your journey back to your own


Collecting a caravan — Passports from the Negus — An Irish resident froin
the time of Theodore — Building the Residency — The Emperor's forest
of Managasha — Lovely scenery — Bushbuck — Black and white monkeys
— Reedbuck — Duiker — Return to the capital.

For twelve days I endeavoured to collect mules for my
journey, but only succeeded in adding seven to the six
1 already possessed. Of these, two strayed while out
grazing, and one only was recovered, so the net
result was the collection of twelve mules. Meanwhile
I had been making boxes to carry stores, buying all
sorts of things for the journey, such as liquors for
Abyssinian guests, burnouses for my men, pack-saddles
and raw-hide ropes for the mules which I still hoped
to procure, leather sacks for Hour and rice, and, in
short, getting ready all my impedimenta for a start.
Five letters, prepared by the Emperor's Secretary, and
bearing the seal of the Lion of Judah, enclosed in
envelopes with the royal cypher in gold, came in from
the Emperor's camp. These documents were addressed
to King Tecla Haymanot and the Rases through whose
territory I was to pass. They stated my name and
nationality, set forth that I had the Emperor's permis-


sion to shoot in Simien, and to travel to Erythrea. The
countries I was to pass through were definitely named,
and the Rases were requested to give me guides, to
afford every assistance, and to see that I was allowed to
pass freely ; in fact I was generally commended to their
care. As there was no mention
of my being allowed to shoot
on the way, Captain Harrington
directed the interpreter to write
and point this out. By return
messenger came a general pass-
port, worded much the same as
the others, but addressed to all
Shums, and with the additional
words, " where there are wild
beasts on the way, show them
so that he may hunt." Having
got these important concessions,
I collected all the information I
could about the country I was
mcKelvie. jq p-iss through, receiving valu-

able help from a man named McKelvie, who has spent
thirty-five years in Abyssinia. His story, if he could
only be induced to give it in detail, would be an
interesting one. Imprisoned by King Theodore, he was
one of the Englishmen we went to Magdala to release.
No sooner was he brought safely away, than he returned
to the capital, and when, on Captain Harrington's first
arrival in Abyssinia, he was attached to the British
Agency, he was an Abyssinian in speech, habits, and
costume. So much was this the case, that at first he


could hardly recall his mother tongue. He still wears
the Abyssinian dress and prefers to travel barefoot, but
when 1 left was trying to take to boots again. Among
the natives of the country he is looked upon quite as one
of themselves, anti is very jjopular and much esteemed.
On the funeral of his late wife, an Abyssinian, many
hundreds of natives showed their sympathy by attending.

One morning he awakened me early to say Ras
Walda Giorgis had called, and that Captain Harrington,
who was still confined to his bed, wished me to receive him.
I hurried into my clothes, went over to the reception-
tent, and found awaiting me a very intelligent-looking,
middle-aged man. He inquired about Captain Har-
rington's health, and, after a little general conversation,
expressed a strong desire to see him, if possible, to
deliver some messages from the Negus. So I took him
over to Captain Harrington's tucul, where he had a talk
on affairs of state. This chief, who is Menelik's nephew,
being the son of his sister, rules the country below the

Captain Harrington, who had devoted much considera-
tion to the form in which the new Residency should be
built, was anxious to get it covered in before the heavy
rains in June. It was settled that the long, elliptical-
shaped Abyssinian hut would be the most convenient
form, but it required a number of stout timbers for the
roof and supporting pillars, which are difficult to obtain,
as they have to be carried in by men from the forest of
Managasha, over 20 miles distant. Many more than
the thirty beams already given by the Emperor would
be required for the purpose, and this would cause such


delay, that Captain Harrington decided to build the new
Residency in the form of eight large circular tncnls, con-
nected by short passages. On January 30th the founda-
tions were begun, and I was able to watch the building
and get a series of photos. These particular huts were
made larger and higher than usual, and extra strong,
but the general plan remained the same and is as

Building the British Residency.

follows: a circle, usually iS feet in diameter, having
been marked out on the ground, a narrow trench 8
Inches wide and 18 inches deep is dug, the earth being
loosened with iron-shod poles, and scraped out with the
hand. Into this are inserted, close together, split wood
poles, 18 feet high, the whole being kept together by
two bands, made of withies on the outside and of laths
of wood (torn from larger pieces with the teeth) on the
inside, lashed together with grass-rope. The reason for
the laths inside is, that they lie closer to the uprights


than vvithi(!.s. When I sni^o(-stcd that kni\-cs would do
the spUttini;- quickt:r and bctler tlian Icc^th, 1 was nic-t
witli the ri'i)!}-, " But knives cost money." The first
band is about one foot Ironi the s^ruund, the others two
feet apart, and the two topmost close together. As the
bands get higher, scaffolding on an original native plan
is erected. The poles are sawn off evenly round the top,

and a temporary post, the height of the roof, erected in
the centre of the circle, on which rests a cap of plaited
grass. The rafters are then arranged ; at first as many
as the small circumference of the cap will take are
placed in position and tied, then, as the circle grows
larger, others are inserted, till the whole conical roof
is formed of rafters fitted close together. These are
secured in the same way as the walls, with bands inside
and out well lashed together and attached to the top of
the walls, the temporary centre-pole being taken away


when this is completed. The inside bands are often
covered with coloured cotton, red, white, and blue, which
gives the ceilings an artistic appearance. The rafters are
then sawn off even all round, and the roof thatched with
bundles of fine grass tied to the rafters and finished at
the apex with a bunch. The thatching is much thinner
than what we should consider necessary, being not over
6 inches thick, but when well done, and at a good pitch,
it is wonderfully waterproof. Then comes the fitting of
the door and window frames. The walls, inside and
out, are daubed with a mixture of puddled mud and
chopped grass. The great secret in preparing this is to
have it made some time before and left in a pit to
ferment. It used to amuse me to see the workmen
carrying little pats, not over five or six pounds in weight,
of this compound over 200 yards from the pit, hand it
over to the "dauber" and leisurely saunter back. It
reminded me of the pleasing nonchalance with which the
British workman sets about his task at home. This
mixture was then daubed on both sides of the wall, till
the bands were covered, and the surface left quite
smooth. A hut built in this way would last twelve
to fifteen years, but required repairs after each rainy
season. In the picture on page 155 may be seen what
the completed hut looks like. While some men were
building, others were bringing in piles of grass-rope,
withies, thatching grass, and little bundles of the split-
match-like poles, so that the compound presented a busy
scene all day long.

On the evening of the last day of January Mr. Baird
rode in, having left Zoquala at early dawn. He told me


that on the clay I had left Tadechamalca, one of the
shikaris had suddenly gone mad, but was luckily secured
before he had done any damage, put in charge of a
relative, and sent with Jama to the coast. On the way
round to the H awash the caravan had visited the ruins
of Hallam, but I could gather no additional information
to what Clarke had already told me. They had seen a
good deal of game, but travelled too quickly to spend
much time in shooting. Mr. Baird had, however,
bagged oryx, reedbuck, klipspringer, and oribi. The
Gallas on the way proved friendly, and had done their
best to show the party sport, besides selling them
sheep and curios. While the caravan halted a day's
march below Zoquala they went up to see the monastery,
also the sacred lake which fills an extinct crater
on the top of the mountain. Although interesting, it
seemed hardly to have come up to their expectations.
The final letters and instructions, with presents for
different chiefs, sent down by Captain Harrington, having
safely reached them, Messrs. Harrison, Whitehouse, and
Butter had, I was informed, set out for their journey to
Lake Rudolf.

On 5th February, finding it hopeless to try and
collect sufficient mules in the capital, I determined to
go off on a short shooting expedition, while I sent
my Abyssinian headman, Nasser, to the neighbouring
villages, to see what animals he could get there. It
took over three hours to load nine mules, for no sooner
were two or three loaded up than they set to work and
kicked the lot off again. My road lay nearly due west.
Leaving the palace on the left and the market-place on


the right, I struck across a ford close to the only fair-sized
bridge near the capital. This I found blocked up with
thorn trees, for it is only allowed to be used when the
water is too deep to wade. After mounting three
ridges, I arrived at a place called Jumo in the evening,
and found that my four Somalis and six Abyssinians
had only just begun to arrange the camp. They had
been continually repacking thrown loads all the way, the
result being a good deal of damaged property and much
delay. Next morning, while the caravan proceeded
through a gap in the hills, I struck off straight for the
range, and in a couple of hours was skirting the base of
the forest of Managasha itself. From the jungle which
covers these hills all the wood-supply for Adis Ababa is
drawn. The waste of timber is so great that not 25
per cent of the trees felled ever reach the market, and
although some measures have now been taken to mend
matters a great quantity is still lost. The forms of timber
that fetch the largest price are the poles 25 feet long by
6 inches diameter, with a fork at the end, employed as
roof-timbers, and the split spars 7 feet long used for the
walls. The former are cut from the straightest young
trees of the required thickness, while for the latter the
finest conveniently situated tree is selected, and a notch
cut some four feet from the ground and enlarged, till the
tree falls, damaging much good timber, and as likely as
not splitting itself A lo-foot length is then chopped
off the butt end, in which operation 2 or 3 feet are lost in
chips. The next process is to drive in wedges to split
the wood, and, if this does not come out evenly, the
whole piece of timber is abandoned, and another tree


felled. Even if it proves a straight-grained tree, all the
rest of the trunk and limbs are left to rot where they lie,
for suitable trees are now only found so deep in the forest,
that it does not pa\- to carry the wooel awa\- for fuel.

On some cultivated ground at the edge of the jungle
we came on a big band of monkeys, and, as I wished
to secure specimens of all the animals I met with, I
shot a couple of males. Just after this a man came on
the scene, and was most anxious for me to accompany
him up a rocky hill -top to shoot some beasts, but

Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 10 of 34)