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 13 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 13 of 34)
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halted close to the village of Wohardow, at a place
called Jarso, where a big weekly market is held, much
produce and merchandise changing hands between
merchants from Gojam and the people of Salali and
Metta. The headman was away, but his subordinate
arrived, and read the letter from Ras Dargee and also
the general passport from the Negus, over which he
bowed low. The head priest from the church at
Wohardow, built sixteen years ago, came over with a
present of a fowl, some bread, fodder and fuel, and
begged me to put right an American clock which
Menelik had presented to the church some time
ago, but it was worn out and beyond repair. Later
on the headman, who had returned, brought a
sheep, two jars of tej, and two of fresh milk, besides
piles of the thin cakes of bread, and bundles of
fodder and fuel. He was full of apologies for not

xviii THE BLUE NILE 193

having been present to receive me and for the smalhiess
of his gift. I gave him a drink, and was much amused
at the way he covered his head with his own burnous,
besides getting one of his men to assist with his, while
he drank. The dread of the evil eye must be great
here, for he was the first man, with the exception of the
Emperor, whom I had seen do so. .After dinner, two
Gallas appeared, and, throwing themselves on their
knees, with their foreheads touching the ground, said
they had been ordered to bring me the fuel. Would
I, in my graciousness, give them a present.^ When I
ordered them to be given a salt they wanted to crawl
up and kiss my boots I Ne.xt morning the headman
was back early, and, while the caravan started by a
circuitous route, he took me to the top of a mass of
rock that overlooked the valley of the Abbai or Blue
Nile. It was a splendid panorama that lay befort; us,
the river making its great bend, as it came from Lake
Tana in the north, away towards the \vest. To the
east Ras Dargee's summer residence, perched on the
edge of a great cliff, stood out against the sky. Away
to the north-east, so far as the eye could reach, was
the great fold in the ground in which the Blue Nile
flows ; other lesser folds -the sides sometimes jungle-
clad, sometimes standing out in naked rock — showed
where its numerous tributaries joined.

Immediately below us the ground fell away in a line
of precipitous cliffs, at whose foot there nestled — on a
narrow plateau — a little village ; below this a long, steep
stretch of jungle led to a second rampart of rock, to be
again succeeded by steep, broken ground, partlv clothed


with scrubby trees, till near the water's edge these gave
place to grand spreading giants. Just over against us
the river lay in a great silent pool : but both above and
below this it whirled tumultuously down a series of
rapids and broken water, the roar of which reached us
where we stood. To the west the eye could follow the
great valley of the river, till in the far distance it turned
again towards the north, when an intervening ridge hid
it from view. Across the river in the dim haze of the
horizon towered Mount Agiasfatra, from whose rugged
sides radiated ridge upon ridge, like spokes from a hub,
till the Abbai meeting them cut them short and bound
them like a tyre within Gojam. The guide pointed out
the valley of the Mogga, along the sides of which wound
the road I was to follow to Debra Markos, the capital of
the province. As I said good-bye to him, I slipped into
his hand a little packet of dollars, and by a steep short
cut started after my caravan.


An obstinate guide — A path only tit lor monkeys — ■' Tola "-shooting — A
devil's home — Hippopotamus-shooting — Two walk ashore, another
sinks — A busy day — Firing a mule — Fording the Abbai — Crocodile-
shooting— -A dangerous crossing — Great heat — Racing a jungle-lire
— A picturesque village — Herds of bohor — The Abyssinian wolf and

On reaching the first level yroiind beltnv the cliffs, I
was surprised to hnd the mules unloaded and my tent
partially pitched. On inquiry, my men said this had
been done because the guide had told them there was no
other place to camp ; but, being dissatisfied with this
excuse, I had the loads replaced, and gave orders that
the beasts were not to be unloaded till the river bank
was reached. I then went on ahead, the guide pro-
testing every ten minutes that we had arrived at the
last stream of water on the way. When he found this
e.\cuse of no avail, and saw that I went steadily on, he
declared that it would be impossible for the mules to
reach the river before dark. Passing through a little
village of six or eight huts, the path entered thick
scrub, in which we put up a bushbuck, but the jungle
was so thick 1 could not catch sight of it. The guide


now led us to the top of the second hne of chff, down
which the path was so bad that my men described it
as "only fit for monkeys." It was really practicable
enough for men with bare feet, but it was trying work
obtaining a foothold with boots. However, I sent the
mule back to join the others and eventually got down
safely. On the broken ground below I saw some white-





Front View of Skulls of Reedbuck.

fronted little monkeys, known as "tota," feeding on
berries, and managed to bag a couple with solid bullets,
fortunately without much damage to the skins.

We then pushed our way through a dense, tangled
jungle to the shade of some fine trees by the edge of
the river, which was here some 70 yards wide and of a
dirty brown colour. The point we had reached lay a
little distance above the ford, which skirts the edge of
some broken water ; this being, according to the natives.


safer from crocodiles, which abound in ihis spot, than the
parts where the water is still.

While I was going up-stream towards the ])ath by
which the mules were to descend, a hippo showed his
head above water, and I fired three shots without any
apparent effect. We could sec the mules still loaded
standing under some trees in the distance, and suddenly
















I. Ccn-ica/ra tetiutua l>ohoi\

•?. ,, intermediate between C. r. bohorz'aA C. r. cottoni.

3. „ intermediate between C. r. bolwr and C. r, ivartii.

Side View of Skulls of Reeobuck.

heard two shots fired, which had the effect of disturbing
the herd of hippo, which were close to us at the time.

When I reached the caravan, 1 did a little forcible
talking to my men for disturbing the game, but they said
that they fired the .shots as signals, not knowing where
I was. After tea I walked some way up-stream and saw
numerous hippo and bushbuck tracks, but nothing else.
Late in the evening the headman of the little village we
passed on our way down, followed by a procession of


most of its Inhabitants, brought in a sheep, jars of tej
and tala, sour and sweet milk, and a mess of red pepper
which the natives eat with their thin cakes of bread.

At about nine o'clock two hippos came and snorted
opposite camp, and, as 1 saw one starting to walk ashore,
I seized the .400 and crawled down to the water's
edge, but something disturbed them and they went off.
The night was very hot, and I was glad to lie on my
bed with the tent wide open at either end. Only the
night before, at Jarso, 1 slept under eight thin blankets
and with the tent laced up ! The country I was now in
had an evil reputation. My Abyssinians said that a devil
lived here and would give them headaches, and, as a
measure of precaution, they smeared their heads with
butter. The only satisfactory feature was the total
absence of mosquitoes. Ne.vt morning, before the sun
was up, I was off down-stream past the ford, and on
rounding a bend of the river heard the snort of a
hippo and saw the head of one floating in a big pool.
Keeping out of sight among the trees on the bank, I
reached the spot and found a herd of seven or eight ;
sometimes three or four heads would be visible at once ;
then there would be a long pause, followed by one beast
after the other rising for a few seconds in quick succes-
sion, but never quite in the same place as before. There
appeared to be three or four full-grown animals, so, wait-
ing my chance, I ran across the shingle to the water's
edge and sat down. I was just ready when two came up,
and aiming for the orifice of the right ear of the largest, I
fired. The animal rolled and kicked about, churning the
water into foam all round it, sometimes making for one


bank, sometimes the other, and finally began to walk
ashore close to wiicre I was waiting-. It was rolling like
a drunken man, throwing- its head from side to side,
champing its tusks, and altogether looked such a
ferocious object, that, as soon as its body was clear of
the water, I fired again at the l)rain, and it rolled ov(-r
dead. Almost immediately after, two otht^rs rose, and

one of these I hit. It Ijehaved much as the first one
had done, but was not so violent, and when it staggered
out of the water on my side, I went up close and put a
bullet into its ear. The school had now moved a little
up-stream, and I followed. As one rose to breathe I
fired, but missed, the bullet striking the water just as it
sank. However, shortly after it showed again, and I
fired at the eye. This time it threw its head out of
water and sank at once. The two I had first killed
were soon rolled ashore, and by the lime reinforce-
ments from camp arrived, the third had lloated in mid-


Stream, just forty minutes after being shot. In spite of
the crocodiles wliich the blood had attracted, the men
swam out to the carcase, and soon towed and rolled it
ashore. I took some good photos of the landing of the
three beasts, which proved to be a bull and two cows,
all full-grown. The bull was curiously marked with
white, especially about the legs and feet, several of the
toe-nails being cream-colour. We all worked hard and
by four o'clock had the head-skin and jawbones, besides
two feet, the tail, and some skin for a shield, taken off
the bull ; while 1 took the whole skull of one of the
others and the tusks and tail of the third. 1 was much
pleased with the day's shooting, for three hippos shot in
twenty minutes, and all recovered within the hour, is as
good a result as any one can wish for. In each case we
found the brain-pan smashed to atoms, while, except for
minute pieces of nickel, no trace was lett of the solid
.256 bullets. 1 think it is therefore pretty certain that,
if the bullet is fairly placed in the brain, the animal Avill
tioat within the hour ; if this does not take place it is
the shooting which is at fault.

On Sunday, i ith March, we were busy boiling skulls,
cleaning and drying the feet and bits of hide, repairing
camp-kit, etc. During the day we saw hundreds of
people, who had been attending the Saturday market,
ford the river on their return to Gojam. The men for
the most part stripped and tied their clothes round their
necks in a bundle, while the women shortened their
skirts and then waded across, the water coming up to
their waists as they crossed over hand in hand or cling-
ing to one another's clothes.


Two of the mules had rubbed backs, and as a great
swelling had appeared above the withers, I decided to
"fire" them. In this operation the beast is thrown, his
legs tied together, and, while he is held down, five or
six strips, 9 inches to a foot long, are burnt with a
specially made iron deeply into the tlcsh on either side,
close up to the backbone. The operaticjn is a nasty
one to watch, the smell of the burning flesh being
especially repulsive. I do not think the animal suffers
very much ; at all events nine mules out of ten, directly
they are released, trot off to their companions and begin
feeding. Moreover, the process is generally successful,
the swelling disappearing and the wounds rapidly healing
up. In one case, however, in which the animal sweated
terribly under the operation, and afterwards swelled up
all over, it never recovered, and died a few days later.
At dusk we saw a hippo land on the other side of the
river, a little below camp, and walk along the shingle
with its nose close to the ground, just like a huge pig.
I took a rifle and went down, but darkness came on
before I could locate it among the scrub on the opposite

Xe.xt morning, as we had to cross the river, I turned
out at 4.30, and by 6.30, three-quarters of an hour after
daybreak, every load was ready, strapped as high as
possible on the mules' backs. Half an hour saw the
whole caravan safely over, our only loss being a skin of
honey, which had been carelessly tied and come undone,
covering the rest of the load with its sticky sweetness.
The water, which had fallen a little in the night, was
3 feet deep in the centre. An hour's journey along


the bank of the river brought us opposite the carcases
of the three hippos, by which a number of crocodiles
were basking, having gorged themselves on the flesh.
Two shots with the telescopic sight, and one of them
gave a convulsive shiver and then lay still, while
another snapped his jaws, but had apparently lost the
power of moving his body. While the caravan went
on, I and four men started to cross the river to secure
one of the skins. The water was swift and came above
the waist, while the stones in the river-bed were very
slippery. Being unaccustomed to go barefooted, I
suffered considerably, continually damaging my feet in
my efforts to prevent myself being swept away, and,
had it not been for my men's assistance, I should never
have got across without swimming. The thought of
those dozens of crocodiles a little way off did not add to
my ease of mind. However, we all got over safely, and,
after spreading out most of my clothing to dry, soon
had the beast dragged into the shade. It was 9 feet
long and just about as much as the four men could lift.
While we were skinning it, some little animal attacked
the felt cover of my water-bottle and devoured a great
patch of it. Having secured the crocodile, we recrossed
the river and set out after the caravan. We crossed
the Mogga, a finely wooded side -nulla, with a stream
of clear water 5 yards wide, the whole place a network
of hippo-tracks. The heat was great, and after walking
for an hour, we halted under the shade of some trees.
While we were lying here half asleep a man passed,
with all his clothes carried in a bundle on his head.
Behind him came a cow and a calf, driven by another


man whose sole article of attire (if it could be so called)
was a parasol. They halted just bc)oiul us, and, after
putting on some clothes, came and had a lon;^'- gcxssip.

The valley of the river was more conhned here.
The red - coloured cliffs were 600 to 800 yards apart
and 30 feet high. Immediately below them lay sohk;
150 yards of steep, rock-strewn ground, thinly cU)th(tl
with sun-baked jungle, then a slope of 30 yards, bordered
by fair-sized trees. A drop of 10 yards on one side
brought us to the water's edge, while on the opposite
bank a sloping stretch of shingle 40 yards wide separ-
ated the trees from the river. The water averaged 6 feet
deep or a little more, and 50 yarils in breadth. The
lower line of rocks was brown, and the shingle com-
posed of large brown and white stones. Having learned
from our friends with the cow that we had overshot
our path, we turned back and then climbed up the steep
side of the valley. Although the path was shaded, the
heat was oppressive and the rocks too hot to touch. At
the top we passed along a narrow path through dense
jungle, and then up another slo[)e. Haifa mile to our
left, fanned by the breeze which blew towards us, was
a great belt of flame, e.xtending from the edge of the
cliff above the river to the top of the second slope. As
evening came on, this jungle fire was a grand sight —
the flames, as they seized on some dry i)atch of under-
wood, shooting u[) in masses with a triumj^hant roar,
w^hile every now and then, as a larger tree fell, a shower
of sparks would be thrown in the air and blown towards
us. At one time it seemed doubtful if we should out-
tlank it, before it overtook us. Our way lay over rocky


terraces, covered with a deposit of lime. It gave one
the impression that a great caldron on the hill-top had
boiled over and the contents had trickled down the side,
leaving behind the little furrows of scintillating crystals,
which at this moment caught and reflected the glow of
the flames. In other places one might imagine that
miniature waves of cream had been turned to stone. We
were all tired, and the air, filled with sparks and dust,
was stifling. However, pushing on as hard as we could,
we at last had the satisfaction of seeing the flames
behind us instead of at the side, and an hour after dark
reached camp at Dedgem. This was a little village of
a dozen huts or so perched on the steep side of the
valley of the Mogga, and only remarkable as being the
first village on the Gojam side of the Abbai.

Next morning, our road still led us uphill past a most
picturesque little village crowning an almost isolated
bluff, the top of which was so tiny and the sides so steep,
that it looked as though any inhabitant who had indulged
in a little too much tej might easily fall out of the village
into eternity ! Close to the side of the road was an out-
crop of pentagonal shafts of stone, averaging 6 inches in
diameter. An hour and three-quarters brought us to the
plateau, which had the usual great stretches of grass,
interspersed with patches of cultivation. Soon after, the
guide from Jarso wanted me to camp, as we were enter-
ing another Shum's district, and the next water was quite
half a day's journey oft". But I went on, till a watchman
came up and asked to see my passport. After satisfying
myself that he was entitled to make this request, I
l)roduced Menelik's letter, before taking which the man


bowed till he touched the ground, and then again, as he
opened it. .\ft(;r he had read it, I apparently went up
considerahly in his estimation, and no difficult)- was made
in finding me a guide to continue my journey at once.

We pitched camp close to the rocky head of the
Betket Nullah, a little tributary of the Abbai. Just as I
had finished lunch, my men reported reedbuck close by. I
pulled on my boots and had just left camp when a thunder-
storm broke, wetting my khaki clothing through in a few
minutes. Nearly all the grass had just been burned, and
there was no cover, so, when I reached the reedbuck, I
tried the old dodge of slowly walking round the beast in
a narrowing circle ; but he was much too wide-awake to
be taken in by such a simple trick, and I had to try a long
shot, which missed him clean. I then discovered a
gentle sloping valley, where the new grass had just
begun to show, dotted with bohor in every direction.
At one time over thirty were in view, and I decided
to try for four, feeding on ground which looked
fairly easy of approach. On getting up to them I
wounded one badly, which Omer ran down. Leaving
the men to skin it, I started after another herd, when
suddenly a fine old buck came dashing through some
long grass by the stream straight towards me. It
apparently saw me, but only slackened its pace, and
turned a little to one side. I stood quite still, till it was
almost past me, when I fired, the bullet tearing a great
hole just over its heart. To my surprise it walked on
into a patch of reeds, as if nothing was wrong. We
afterwards found it lying down, and after a short chase
secured it.


That night we had heavy rain, and next day, all the
tents being wet through, we made a late start. On the
way, I saw a solitary bohor, and, after a long crawl over
the stubble of burnt grass interspersed with sharp stones,
wounded him with a long shot and dropped him with

Abyssinian Wolf.

one still longer. He proved an old, very heavy beast,
with horns much worn down. The same day I shot a
duiker and a " cuberow " or Abyssinian wolf, a handsome,
chestnut-coloured animal, which lives on field-rats. This
animal was first discovered by the German naturalist
Riippell during his travels in 1835, since which date
little or nothing has been heard of it. A specimen
procured by Riippell is in the British Museum, but
since that, I believe, no skins have reached Europe,


except those I have been tortiinale enough to bring
back. This was the first time I had seen these beasts ;
they are most amusing to watch, wlien liunting. Ihe
rats, wliich are brown, with short tails, live in big
colonies and dart from burrow to burrow, whili- the
cuberovv stands motionless till one of them shows, when
he makes a pounce for it. If he is unsuccessful, he seems
to lose his temper, and starts digging violently ; but
this is only lost labour, as the ground is honeycombed
with holes, and every rat is yards away before he has
thrown ujj a pawful.

I did not reach camp till five that evening. During
the da\- we crossed a steep ridge and three wide grassy
valleys. In the evening two men, whom I had left behind
at Jarso to buy mules and donkeys, turned up with only
a couple of the latter, having, they said, missed me in
some way.


Debra Markos, capital of Gojam— The market— We excite much interest

My men are feasted — I visit the palace — Italian cannon — The

governor of the city — A relative of the king calls — Freed captives
from Khartoum — I resume my journey — A friendly high-priest — A
beautiful valley — Dembatcha, capital of Damot — A picturesque town
— Duiker-shooting.

Next day the guide said we should reach Debra Markos,
more often marked on the maps as Moncorer, the
capital of the province of Gojam and the headquarters of
King Tecla Haymanot. Four hours' march over a series
of grassy valleys and across a narrow, but deep, muddy
stream, brought us in sight of the town, which crowns a
ridge running from north to south and about a mile and
a half long. The palace buildings are at the north end
and consist of six principal tuculs and innumerable smaller
huts, the whole enclosed by a fine stone wall, ten feet
high and two feet thick. The whole of the eastern slope
of the hill on which the capital is built is covered with
huts and little enclosures, and the buildings being much
less scattered than at Adis Ababa, the place looks more
like a town than does Menelik's capital. After crossing
a small stone bridge (or rather a stone dam pierced with



water channels), which spans the stream running at the
foot of the hill, we were met by two or three men, who came
to conduct us to the camping-ground, which was fairly level
and close to a water-hole. Taking five of my servants
with me, I went straight to the market, which is held
every Thursday on a large open space to the south of the
town. We got there at one, just as it was in full fling,
and were at once surrounded by a good-natured crowd,
which must soon have numbered a couple of hundred or
so. The guide kept the small boys from getting too
near, and the older people always made way when I
wanted to move, but my men were kept busy explaining
that I was an Englishman who had come to shoot, and
that I had nothing to sell. Before I left Adis Ababa, I
had been warned that I should probably have to put up
with derisive shouts of " Ali," and that as I got further
from Shoa, I might even be greeted with mud and stones.
It seems that " Ali " is the name the Italian soldiers gave
to the Abyssinians, and, after the defeat at Adua, the
victors used to shout it mockingly at their white prisoners.
The custom soon grew, till every European was called
" Ali " by the common people. When the British
Mission visited Menelik in 1897, it was a common
occurrence for the members to be assailed with cries of
" Ali," but now the custom has quite died out in the
capital. Having these warnings in my mind, I was
rather surprised to find that the crowds of buyers and
sellers at Debra Markos received me so well. One man
came up, and bowing, said, "Salaam Ali"; I glanced

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 13 of 34)