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

. (page 11 of 34)
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 11 of 34)
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whether they were klipspringer or not we could not
make out. At any rate we set off and climbed for one
and a half hours, but without seeing anything. On the
way down, an old Galla brought me a great bowl of
fresh milk and refused all payment, but, in return for his
kindness, I persuaded him to let me give his small
daughter a Menelik two-anna bit to hang round her
neck. It was amusing to see how the people standing
by examined this coin, evidently never having seen one
before, although only a day's journey from the capital :
so little does Menelik's new coinage circulate, except at
I larrar and in Adis Ababa. We then returned to the
spot where I had shot the monkeys, and, while the men
were skinning them, I spent the heat of the day under a
tree. Just as we were starting down, a goatherd came
and pointed out to me a couple of bushbuck creep-
ing about in the undergrowth, close to where his goats
were feeding. It took some time before I could make
out which was the buck, but as soon as I did so, my
first head of this Abyssinian species was rolling down-
hill. As soon as this was skinned, we began our descent,


past fine African pines, under great cotton- trees with
lichen-hung branches, through tangled undergrowth of
privet and brambles covered with blossom. Below us
was a clear, running stream, its rocky banks covered
with ferns and moss, and dotted with flowers. Orchids
hung from many a dead forest giant, which was only
kept by cable-like creepers from falling to the ground.
It was a delightful change from the endless hot dusty
plains round the capital.

Evening was coming on when we heard a bird-like
cry in the trees close to us ; Goraza, whispered my
syce. Goraza ? I repeated in astonishment ; for that
is the Abyssinian name for that rare animal the black-
and-white monkey, which I had specially come for.
"Surely," I said, "that is no monkey-call." "Yes,
for no other beast cries like it," replied my man.
Leaving the mule, I stole quietly forward, but saw
nothing, till from the top of a giant cotton-tree there
was a flash of black and white as a monkey leapt down
and disappeared in another tree. We marked one
down, and then tried to make it out as it sat motionless
watching us. Surely, I thought, an animal with a coat
of such contrasting colours should be easy enough to
see ; but the white was so like the lichen hanging from
every bough, and the black merged so well into the
deep shadows, that it was some minutes before I could
distinguish the monkey with the glasses. I then picked
it out with the rifle ; there was a crack, and a mass of
long, silky black-and-white hair crashed through the
boughs to the ground. Another little chap was so
curious to see what had happened to its companion, that


it forgot prudence and proved an easy mark. Adding
these to the mule-load, I pushed on to the foot of the
hill, well pleased at securing three fresh species for my

OF GoRAZA Monkey

bag in one day. It was now nearly dark, and as we
got clear of the trees we eagerly looked about for signs
of the camp. Some fires glimmering in the distance
caught our attention, but proved to belong to a party


of wood-cutters. After a rapid exchange of question
and answer, my men said that the caravan had gone
over there — pointing away into the blackness. A long
scramble across country ensued, we being often chal-
lenged both by man and dog ; but at last, after two and
a half hours' wandering about, we found camp, close
under a circular detached hill called Ekdo. When
questioned as to why they had gone there, the only
satisfaction we got was that my men thought they were
to go to the right, not to the left, so that they had
moved camp to a spot as far as possible from the
shooting-ground. On the 7th February, camp was
moved to the foot of Managasha, and pitched on the
edge of the great grassy plain of Turkogogo, which
stretched right away to the Hawash. Here I spent five
days hunting on the plain and in the forest. The plain
is covered with long coarse grass growing in tufts, and
divided by three little streams, which took their rise
in as many swampy places and had then cut deep
channels for themselves. Along these were thick belts
of jungle, but so much below the surface of the plain,
that at a little distance nothing showed to break the
level. In these both viadoqua (duiker) and baroufa
(reedbuck) found shelter. I tried beating them up, but
they broke so far ahead, and at such a pace, that I could
do no good, and had to give it up. By marking them
down and stalking, I got, before I left, four reedbuck and
one duiker, besides four more of the goraza (the last
two with one bullet — the first time, I believe, I have
done such a thing) and one other bushbuck, making a
total of fifteen for six days' shooting.


I was much pleased at finding the black-and-white
monkeys in such splendid coat, since, besides being rare,
they are iMily found in special and widely-separated
localities; for in all my long journey through Abyssinia
and Erythrea, I only saw or heard of them in one other
place, and there they seemed but very few.

Close to my camp was a shapeless pile of lichen-
covered, squared stones, whiK; many others were lying
about. What they were 1 could not make out, nor
did any of the inhabitants seem to know anything
about them.

On Monday, 12th February, we returned to Adis
Ababa in one march. My mule bolted with me on the
way, and both of us came a cropper down a steep bank,
but beyond a few bruises no damage was done.


Collecting dollars — A sick mule and a natixe vet — Entotto the old capital
— St. Mariam's — The ruined fort — St. Raguel's — An angry priest —
Curious pictures — A thunderstorm — The tent wrecked — Compound
swamped — Loss of life.

Ox my arrival in the capital I found that Captain Har-
rington had quite recovered, and with Mr. Baird had
been training the polo ponies. Nasser had collected
eleven useful-looking mules, so that at last I had enough
animals to start with, but now another serious difficulty
presented itself. I had calculated that I must take at
least I 500 dollars with me for the journey, and this sum
could not be collected. There is never a large supply
of coin in the capital, but now there was even less than
usual, as the various Europeans who had lately started
for the coast, including M. Ilg, the Russian minister and
doctors, M. Savoure, the French merchant, and others,
had between them carried away a large sum. Moreover
Captain Harrington needed all his spare cash, as his
weekly expenses for building operations were heavy.
Although Captain Harrington and Captain Ciccodicola
both enlisted the services of the chief merchants to
collect dollars for me, the absence of the Emperor and


all the great ofificers and their followings made this very
difficult. Meanwhile I was not idle, as I filled up the
time by mending the stock of my .400, which I found
had been cracked, cleaning the skulls of the game I
had shot, and packing up the trophies ami the curios
I had collected in readiness to go down to the coast
with Captain Harrington on his return to England. I
was also able to puzzle out the putting together of the
steel safe and some stoves, the manufacturers of which
had neglected to enclose any instructions. I likewise
spent a day in the hills behind the compound, but only
saw a wild cat, which I missed.

To add to my ve.xations, one of the mules fell sick,
apparently through eating some poisonous weed, and we
tried doctoring him, but without effect. One night he
broke out of his stable and was found rolling in a mud-
hole. While leading him home past some soldiers, one
of them came up and said he knew a man who had
some medicine which would cure the beast at once.
" \^ery well," I said, "let him bring it, and if he cures
it he shall have a handsome present." While the mule
was being cleaned, the medicine-man arrived, and with
great care undid a little bit of cotton-cloth and look out
what looked like a thin shaving of wood. 1 asked how-
it was to be administered, and was solemnly informed
that it was to be tied round the mule's neck with a bit
of cotton. The man seemed hurt at my laughter, and
proceeded to tell us of the number of cures he had
effected by this remedy. Evidently my men quite
believed in it, so it was tied on, and we made the poor
beast as comfortable as we could for the nisht. Ne.xt


morning it was dead : so possibly my unbelief had
prevented the charm from working. 1 have heard of
such cases in England.

On Sunday, i8th February, Mr. Baird and I rode
up to Entotto, the old capital abandoned in 1892, to see
the churches. The way lay past the French Embassy,
and along the old main road from the hills to the plain.
The track, which wound up the steep face of the hill,
was in places worn deeply into the red rock, which was
very slippery from the recent rain. On reaching the
summit, after pausing to look back on the new capital
below us, with far-off Zoquala rising in the distance, we
crossed a short stretch of nearly level ground to the
gatehouse in the outer wall of St. Mariam's. Just out-
side was a little cluster of poor huts, the sole remains
of what, not ten years ago, was a populous city. The
gatehouse, the usual evil-smelling, dark tunnel-like build-
ing, was guarded by strong doors and provided with
recesses on either side, the abode of mendicant priests,
who beg of the worshippers. In the churchyard, rank
grass and a few stunted trees flourished. The Abys-
sinians seem to have no idea of a tombstone ; to bury
their dead within the wall surrounding the church, where
the grave is safe from the prowling hyjena, is all they
seem to wish for, and only in rare cases is any special
mark set to indicate the spot. The church was of the
usual circular form, built on a raised platform of rather
roughly laid stones, between which and the steps leading
to them the grass was allowed to grow, and, now that
there were but few feet to tread on it, flourished luxuri-
antly. The windows were originally filled with little


panes of glass (here a rare and costly article, which had
to be brought hundreds of miles on mule-back) ; but
now many of them were boarded u|), and only a few of
the remaining panes were whole. The roof, however,
had been newly thatched, and in fact was hardly yet
completed. It was crowned by a fine specimen of the
Ethiopian cross. Before the great doors of the entrance
to the Holy of Holies were spread some rugs, and on


■s. Entotto.

these were what I took to be three low seats, until
the priest raised the covers and we then saw that they
were the sacred drums, such as had been used at the
Christmas festival. One was of wrought silver, partly
gilt, the other two of pierced silver-work, shining beneath
which were portions of red and green coloured wood.
These drums are barrel-shaped, about 30 inches long, one
end being generally rather larger than the other. The
doors, as well as the walls of the inner enclosure, were


covered with pictures, some Italian, others evidently done
by natives after European copies, but the majority and
the most curious were of purely Abyssinian design. Of
the Italian, the two best examples were the Descent from
the Cross and the Mount of Olives. These works
were on canvas, and were presented to the church in
the days when Italy and Abyssinia were friendly, and
when many valuable Italian gifts found their way to
Ethiopia. The native pictures are done in water-colour
on coarse cotton-cloth, pasted to the walls. They may
be divided into two classes. Scriptural and historical.
Of the former, martyrdom is the favourite subject, such
as the beheading of John the Baptist, while the deeds
in battle and in the hunting-field of the monarch in
whose reign the picture was painted, or portraits of
his assembled courtiers, are the usual type of the
historical works. In this church is a large picture of the
Court of Menelik the first, son of the Queen of Sheba
and Solomon.

Three-quarters of a mile further on, along the ridge
to the south, stands the church of St. Raguel, which
shared with St. ]\Iariam's the honour of being the chief
place of worship of Entotto. Going from the one to
the other, we passed the ruins of the old capital, for
the most part shapeless heaps of stones, all the wood-
work having long since been removed. The fort alone
still had many of its massive walls standing, and gave
one an idea of its ability to withstand all attacks except
those of artillery. Surrounding it was a deep trench,
cut out of the solid rock, nearly 20 feet wide, now partly
filled with rubble, which must have been a formidable


obstacle to any besieging army. The path seemed to
lie along the top of a ruined wall, and we climbed down
from it into the churchyard, wh(;re wc fcnind a few fine
trees growing.

1 saw no other church in Abyssinia exactly like this
one in shape, resembling as it did a very large squat
octagonal pagoda, four stories in height. Apparently
the Holy of Holies had been built first, with a window
piercing each face close up under the eaves. Outside
this came the main wall of the church in a larger octagon,
not carried quite so high as the sanctuary, which reared
itself above the roof This wall had also one little
window far up on each side. Surrounding this again,
was a still larger octagon, formed by two tiers of open
arched cloisters, the roof starting from below the windows
of the church and overhanging a stout wooden gallery,
which ran completely round the building above the first
story. The priest and the small crowd of hangers-on
who accompanied us round St. Mary's having left us,
we could find no one to let us into this church.
After shouting for some time with no result, we sent
off two of our men to hunt some one up, and ascended
the broad stone steps leading to the first story, which
was apparently used as stables and fuel and fodder-
stores. Some outside wooden steps, much out of repair,
took us to the gallery, which was in a very dirty state
from the number of pigeons and birds of all sorts that
nested among the timbers of the overhanging roof
Entering the outer passage of the church by one of the
open arches, we found one of the double doors ajar,
and were able to go in and wander round, looking


at the pictures on the outer wall of the innermost

Shortly after this the priest arrived, apparently in a
towering passion, and, so far as I could make out,
accused us of church-breaking. IMcKelvie, who was
with us, took up our defence very vigorously, and it
looked as if they would shortly come to blows, but the
present of a dollar soon smoothed things over, and the
irate priest led us round the building and e.xplained the
subjects of the various pictures. My m.en were chiefly
impressed with one of the present Emperor and his
Court, and they carried on quite an animated debate with
the priest as to the identity of some of the personages.
I was most struck with a quaint picture of -St. George
and a wonderful dragon. It is only during one or two
festivals in the year that these churches are crowded by
worshippers from Adis Ababa ; at other times they are
almost deserted.

Before leaving the ridge, McKelvie pointed out the
road to the north I should have to follow, which went
past Salali to the Blue Nile and Gojam. W'e were now
in the midst of the winter, or light, rains, which com-
menced when we first came to the capital.

On the evening of 20th February we had a very
heavy storm, an amusing account of which, written by a
member of the Embassy, and wherein he makes merry at
my expense, gives an excellent idea of what we went
through, though of course one must allow for a little
picturesque exaggeration.


The Light Raixs at Adis Ahaba

1-ast night at 6.15 we wtre sitting, tiiree of us, in the large Cawn-
pore recejjtion-tent, reading by the last few minutes of light. The
usual evening thunderstorm raged round tlie neighbouring hills, but
seemed disposed to pass to the south of us. Suddenly the wind, which
had been blowing from the east, changed round to due south, bringing
with it torrents of rain. The usual " light rains," we thought, which
at this time of the year fall daily at Adis Ababa ; but this time more
than usually disagreeable, as the doors of our tents and tuculs are
turned to the south, to avoid the prevailing east or north-east wind.
The Honorary Attache was told off to hold the tent-door together,
until the lightning increased and struck so near, that Harrington feared
the pole might be struck, and the staff diminished in consequence.
The door was tied together as well as possible, and we sat in the
darkness and waited. The wind continued to increase and the rain
turned into hail ; water streamed under the walls of the tent, the trench
proving insufficient to carry it off, and the floor became a crimson
marsh, all the colour coming out of the carpet at once.

From time to time the Honorary Attache shot anxious glances
through the door at his small green tent, which was pitched at the far
end of the compound. Some light-hearted persons had last night
loosened the pegs, and it was held by one corner, waving like a green
pocket-handkerchief in the storm.

'I'he thunder, which now crashed and rumbled without intermission,
added to the noise made by the hailstones — the size of pigeon-eggs —
driven by the terrific wind against the canvas, produced a deafening din.
Every second the lightning flashed, and we kept well away from the
tent-poles, wondering which would go first, and where. The Honorary
Attache — a militiaman, and consequently military minded — explained
to us that the upper part of a broken tent-pole, falling with jagged end
to the earth, impelled by the weight of a tight wet tent, would be, if it
hit you, almost as pleasant as a bursting shell. Presently the end pole
toppled over, without however cracking, so that we were still forced to
only imagine its similarity to a bursting shell. Harrington and I rushed
to support the centre - pole, which was tottering. The Honorary
Attach(5 had disappeared. Presently frantic yells arose from out the
tangled mass of waving wet canvas which filled the upper end of the


tent, where the fallen pole had originally stood, the mass seemed to be
convulsed by a strong extra gust, and the damp and dishevelled
militiaman crawled out of the debris, where he had gallantly dived to the
rescue of a new cookery book. We then decided that it would be
useless to stop till the other two poles fell ;. it was better to bolt
through the hail and flood to my tucul, which stood some 20 yards
behind the tent. So piling the books and papers on the chairs, we
accordingly did so, getting soaked to the skin on our journey. After
banging at the door, we were let in by my Egyptian servant, Abdel Aal,
tarbouchless and bootless, with some slight indication of surprise on his
India-rubber face, who was engaged in baling out my bedroom. Here
the water was coming through, as if there was no sign of roof ; on
the floor a large canvas ground-sheet with turned up edges had been
spread, and here a lake was formed, some 18 inches deep. It was
only by constant baling that the water was prevented from overflowing
and filling the main tucul. In this part of the building there were only
a few legitimate leaks, considering the downpour, and these were easily
kept in hand with buckets, baths, and basins, spread on the floor.

The storm showed no sign of abating. Harrington made a dash
for his tucul, and the Honorary Attache (his head tied up in a towel),
for the spot where his green tent was last seen waving in the wind.
Abdel Aal continued to bale, and I sat over an oil-lamp. Presently
Harrington and the Honorary Attache returned, drenched. Harring-
ton's tucul was leaking at every point, and his bed was sopping. The
Honorary Attache's tent hung by one peg, and a stream, 6 inches deep,
rushed through it. Having piled his rifles inside the bed, seized a suit
of khaki, and tilted his boxes on one end, he waded back to my

Here we all waited till 7.30, when the rain stopped, and we went
out to survey the ilamage. The partially fallen tent stood as we left it
with a large rent in the roof, through which the middle pole projected.
The large mess-tent mercifully had stood firm ; its fall would have been
a serious catastrophe, for there were stored the whole of the plate, glass,
and crockery. This had no doubt been saved to a great e.xtent by the
permanent house in course of construction immediately in front of it.
The half-finished building had suffered little ; it only looked a little
more grotesque than before, a collection of matchwood Martello

We got out a dozen boys and had the tent-pegs driven in, and the

RA INS A T A />/S A HA ISA 1 7 3

fallen tent partly put up. Then we visited the stables. Only two
horses had got wet, but the Honorary Attache's mules stood outside in
nearly a foot of water. We made room for them under cover.

It was during the hammering of the tent-pegs, and the setting up of
the fallen tent, that we were struck with the usefulness of Powell-Cotton,
and decided to add him to the staff. Assuming a commanding attitude,
a lamp in one hand, and the other waving like a semaphore, tirelessly,
he issued his orders in a firm, sharp English voice, to a crowd of
shivering .^byssinians ; the words they did not all understand, but the
attitudes, the Je ne sais qiioi of the militiaman on the job, left no


1 ■ •^i*;«art^^rtrL^in'.-~^^

■• •^wvf.-.VA' ■ ■-.


.^*p,^^*«e :^-,:,.\- ■■■

The British Agency, Adis Ababa.

Photo !>>■ I.ieut.-Col. Harrington.

doubt in the minds of the poor savages as to the intentions of the
terrible officer, should they fail to carry out his orders quickly.

The kitchen fires had, of course, been put out, and a pond, inches
deep, held the place of the floor. One of the store-room doors,
padlocked through an iron hasp, had been blown in by the force of the
gale. The whole compound had become a swamp.

At nine o'clock we dined off tinned soup, sardines, and cold plum-
pudding. Afterwards we assembled in my tucul, and consoled our-
selves with hot toddy. Five grains of quinine were served out to all
hands. By this time the storm was over, but the roofs continued to
drip, and outside all was marsh.

This morning we heard that the following casualties occurred : —

Two men who tried to cross on mule-back a small trickle, which
separates the palace from Mons. Ilg's, were carried away and drowned,
mules and all complete.


One of our workmen, returning home, was struck by lightning and
instantly killed. A woman was struck in her house, and now lies
partially paralysed.

These were merely the "light rains," nothing at all, a mere shower,
compared with what happens during the real raius in June, July, August,
and September.

Adis Auaba, zisl Fcbniaiy 1900.


Abyssinian tents — Pack-saddles — The trade-dollar of Africa — Letters to
the Governor of Erythrea — A lieutenant of Leontieff's — News of
the IJoer War — The Russian Legation are refused permission to
travel to Massowah — "Intelligence" of Abyssinia 77V? Europe — My
caravan, its composition — I leave the Agency and set out on my
journey north.

Tin-: day after the storm was spent in spreading things
out to dry and repairing the damage. The reception-
tent was badly torn and had to be struck and patched.
Aly Abyssinian servants were busy making little pent-
shaped tents for themselves and the Sonialis, and others,
in which to shelter the stores. These were made of
double coarse cotton-cloth called " Americana " in Somali,
and "Abu Jadid" in Amharic, and were quicklv run
together. The ridge has a short sleeve put in at either
end for ventilation, and through this a stout bamboo
passes to support the tent, this being held up by two
slighter sticks which ht into notches cut in the thick ridge-
pole. Round the bottom are sewn loops of cloth, which are
pegged down, leaving a gap of five or six inches between

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 11 of 34)