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 16 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 16 of 34)
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the words : "As we were friends before, so let us be
now." The whole proceeding was treated with the
greatest solemnity, the oath being considered a most
sacred one. I asked afterwards, what was done with


the broken salts, and was told they were given to the
mules and donkeys, because they were bad for horses,
and that if a man ate them, his teeth would drop out.

I now heard that, on the same day I had sent
off my messenger to Menelik, Basha Kassa had sent
one to Ras Wurgay, to ask for instructions. The reply
U) this request came six days later, and was to the effect
that he could not give me permission to go off the
road, but that I could either continue my journey or
wait for a reply from the Kmpcror, in which latter case-
I was to be supplied with all 1 wanted. This I refused,
as it meant that the wretched villagers v.'ere to be
heavily taxed for my support. I said all I wanted
was that no difhculties should be put in the way of
my purchasing supplies, but, as the people made a lot
of bother, saying they would be punished lor not
carrying out the Ras's orders, I had to send away the
provisions two nights running, before I could convince
them I was in earnest.

Monday was the day appointed for the weekly
market, and a very large one it was, by far the best
I had seen since leaving Adis Ababa. At first I told
my men to remain clos)e to the tents and not to allow
too many men to collect round them, as I felt a little
uncertain what the temper of the people might be.
However, I found ihem the same good-natured, curious
crowd as they were at Debra Markos and Dembatcha,
and I and my men used to stroll about without the
slightest interference or rudeness on the part of the
villagers. There were not many mules offered for sale,
and what there were fetched high prices ; on the other


hand, plenty of good donkeys were generally to be had.
I bought four, at prices varying from 7^- to 9 dollars.
Besides grains and condiments of all sorts, butter,
honey, potatoes, cotton (both raw and woven), swords,
and shields of buffalo-hide were all to be had, of good
quality and cheap. The district is most famous for its
tanned leather, which is either left in whole skins,
for sleeping on, or made into sacks. Instead of the
empty cartridge-cases I had seen so far used as the
small change for a salt, the people here gave handfuls
of raw cotton. Among the hides e.xposed for sale
were those of roan antelope, tora, defassa, bohor, oribi,
and duiker, all of which had been recently killed.

One market-day a party of hunters returned from
the low country ; many were accompanied by their dogs
and armed only with spears. They had slain a buffalo,
the tail of which they carried stretched on a framework
of wood to dry.

The only curio I found during my visits to the
market was one of the large horn tumblers, ten inches
high, from which the people drink tej or tala.

Ten days after my messenger had left to take the
letters to Ras Mangasha, he returned. He reported
that, owing to the west side of Lake Tana being infested
with robbers, he had gone by the east bank. At Chelkar
he saw Dedjatch Cubudda, son of Ras Beettiwadad
Mangasha, who was laid up with a severe gun-shot
wound in the leg. He told my man that, while on a
shooting e.xcursion to the west, he had ridden down
and tried to capture a baby elephant ; its cries had
brouo-ht the herd back, and his men, alarmed for his


safety, fired a hurried volley, when unfortunately one
of the bullets struck, and lodged in, his left shin-bone,
lie had bt-en carried back to Dembea, where he lay
in great pain ; for they had not been able to extract
the bullet. Both Menelik's letter and my letter to the
Ras he had forwarded to Sinter, where the Ras was
staying, but without reading them, ;is they were not
addressed to him. By the hand of two of his men he
sent me a letter, asking- me, if I were a doctor, to come
to him ; if not, at all events to send him some medicine,
to get the bullet out ! My man had proved himself a
perfect fool, for not only had he returned without any
answer to the letters addressed to the Ras, but his
mule having broken down on the way, he hired a man
to helj) drag it to Chelkar, at which place he had
left it, along with a saddle I had borrowed from Falukka,
the Gondar merchant. In reply to the Dedjatch's re-
quest I sent some antiseptics and a letter, telling him
how to use them ; but for myself there was nothing to
do but wait.

Besides shooting for a few hours every day, I filled
up my time looking after and labelling my trophies,
writing up my journal, and in doctoring the natives,
who, I found, came in ever-increasing numbers as my
name as a great "medicine-man" spread, till my little
stock of drugs was being rapidly exhausted, and I
was reduced to all sorts of expedients in order to
give them something that at all events would do no
harm, and, by the exercise of faith, might even do good.
It was the hottest season of the year here, the natives
said ; and my camp being pitched on the market-place,


the flies, which were in swarms, spent their time, while
waiting for the next martcet, in attacking me and my
men. In the evenings I had long talks with Falukka,
who often came up for a glass of brandy and a chat.
He told me how the trade with the Soudan had entirely
ceased, since the Dervishes raided all the country round
Gondar. How in Ismail Pacha's time caravans were
constantly passing through here to Metemmeh, which is
only twenty days' easy marching, with water at every
stage and no dangerous rivers to cross. These caravans
would carry coHee, wax, civet, ivory, and gold, and
barter these commodities for cloth, cotton-sheeting, and
manufactured goods of all sorts ; for in tliose days none
came from the coast. A deaf uncle of Ledj Desster's was
also a frequent visitor to my tent, and a shocking old
beggar to boot. I amused the people very much once,
by telling them that in England we talked to deaf
people on our fingers, instead of seizing them by the
ear, as they were doing to the old man. One day I
secured a photo of one of the parties of beggars who
wander about the country, living on the charitable.
This group consisted of four men and a woman, all
more or less sick and sorry ; one had stumps for feet,
another was blind, and a third a mass of sores. They
carried their property on three donkeys, and were
provided with all sorts and sizes of empty calabashes
and jars, to carry off contributions of any kind. I
gave them a couple of salts, with which they seemed by-
no means satisfied.


News at last — My messenger's adventures — Robbed and [beaten — A friend
in need — Escape by night — Forced marches — His mule dies — Tramps
to Adis Ababa — Reception by MeneHk — The Emperor chastises his
secretary- — Triumphant return — The Emperor's orders — I determine
to start — More obstruction and an insolent message — How to travel
in comfort — Two oribi in one shot — We descend to the Soudan —
My escort assembling — Tlie first day's shooting — Natives hunting.

On 15th April the first rumour, since he started, reached
me regarding my messenger to Menelik. It was re-
ported the mule had died on the journey, that Ledj
Desster had gone to Debra Markos and not to the
jungle to shoot, as he had told me ; that the Emperor's
uncle, Ras Darg«^e, was dead, and consequently there
might be great delay in the answer to my letter
reaching me. This was cheerful news, after waiting
here for eighteen days! However, next morning, just
as I was superintending the packing of some skins,
Beyener rode in safe and sound, this being the nine-
teenth day since he left us. As soon as he was sighted,
there were shouts of "Beyener"! "Beyener"! and
every one in camp rushed up, embracing or shaking him
by the hand ; then he was led up to me, and we all
sat down, he and the interpreters in front, and the men


making a circle round us. As soon as ht; had answered
a few of the numerous questions asked him, he began
the story of his journey :

The day I left I let the mule graze a little at the first water, and
then pushed on till evening, passing the night at a little village near

Next morning, as I was sitting on the bank of the Futem drinking,
my rifle across my knees and my mule beside me, a party of ten men
rushed on me from behind, took away my rifle, mule, and the packet
of letters I had in my cummerbund, and led me away a prisoner.
I recognised them as some of Ras Wurgay's soldiers. After accusing
me of having fought with the Italians against them, and of now being
in the service of an Englishman, they beat me and kept me for two
hours tied up ; then, releasing me, they returned the rifle and mule, and
ordered me to go back to my master and say they had taken the
letters. I started on my way back to where I had slept on the
previous night ; there the owner of the tucul where I lodged told me
he would show me another road, which avoided Burey, Ras Wurgay's
place. So I waited till it was dark, and then set out, he guiding me
for half the night, till we reached a road I knew, when he left. As
day broke I hid myself in a patch of jungle by some water. For three
more nights I travelled like this — sometimes riding, sometimes walk-
ing, always avoiding the big villages ; but on the fourth night, when

going down a steep hill, the mule fell, and we both rolled down the
slope. On regaining my feet I found the mule had injured itself, but I
led it along to the bank of the Abbai, which I reached the night after
the accident. Here, just after the animal had a drink, it fell dead ;
so I took off the saddle and bridle and crossed the river. Once on
the other side I knew I was safe, and travelled openly, saying I carried
news from my master to Captain Harrington, and that my mule had
died on the way.

On the third day after crossing the Abbai, I reached Adis Ababa
at noon, but found on arrival at the PJritish Agency that Mr. Beru was
away and McKelvie ill. I went on to the Italian Embassy, and thence
on to M. Savoure, the French merchant, hoping to find him, but did
not catch him till he returned to the Agency, when I told him all I
knew. He at once took me to Captain Harrington, who, when he had


heard my story, was very angry, saying : " Is this the way EngUshmen
are treated, after I have obtained permission for them to travel in the
country ! " He told me he would write down my story and send it to
the Emperor, and that I must tell the exact truth, and not two different
tales. Next morning, Mr. Beru took me to the Gebi, and after Captain
Harrington's letter had been read to the Emperor, I was taken before
him. He asked me if I was the man who had been lobbed of his
letters, and then inquired how my master had been treated at Debra
Markos. I told liim King Tecla Haymanot and the Queen were away
when he was in their town, but that the Fitauraris had given us plenty
of food and supplied us with guides to Ras Wurgay, who had received
my master with every honour and given him lots of provisions. I
added that, when we left, the guide, who was a Basha, continually told
us that there was plenty of shikar ahead, till my master got tired of
these empty promises and said that he had not gone there to hear lies.
Then they told him that he would only be allowed to shoot at Simien,
and nowhere else, whereupon my master said he would go no further,
and forthwith wrote letters and told me to take them quickly to
Janhoi. Menelik then asked me how it was that his letters had not
been obeyed, and I told him that the people said that the letters
ordered that my master was only to shoot at Simien, and on the road
there, but not off it. At this the Emperor grew very angry and asked
me many questions. The Secretary who wrote the letters was next
sent for, and Janhoi asked him how he dared write letters about
which there could be any mistake ; and, pulling tlie man towards him,
boxed his ears. He then ordered that a general letter should be
written in such terms that no one dare disobey it, and prepared another
order to Ras Wurgay, both of which were to be ready on the next
day, for me to take back to my master. I told the Emperor that,
having been roljbed and beaten once, I feared the Ras's soldiers might
again molest me, and that I should be left to return to my master
empty-handed. The Emperor replied, " Do not fear ; you too shall
have a letter to show, and the man who stops you or does not feed
you on the way shall answer for it." Next day Mr. Beru bought
another mule for me, and gave me the three promised letters. I
heard it reported that the one to Ras Wurgay had many bad words in
it, asking how it was that his man had disobeyed the Emperor's
commands, and ordering tliat the culprit was to be sent in chains
to Adis Ababa for punishment. I left the capital eight mornings



ago, and although many people stopped me, I only had to show the
order with the Emperor's seal, when they not only brought food for
myself and mule, but hurried me on my journey, for fear any ill
befell me while in their district.

As my messenger finished his story, he unbound his
cummerbund and took out a packet containing the letter
from the Emperor, others from Captain Harrington.
Mr. Baird, and from home, besides the packet for Ras
Wurgay, which, despite MeneHk's orders, he had feared
to dehver. I sent for Falukka and got him to read to
Basha Kassa my letter from Janhoi. It was evident that
it made a great impression on all who heard it, and, as it
was market-day, the news soon spread far and near,
doubtless with many embellishments. I then handed
Basha Kassa the letter for his master, Ras Wurgay, but
he at first refused it, saying that it had been given to my
man to deliver. I .said, " Quite so, but your master's
men have beaten and robbed my man once, and I do
not intend sending any one near him again." Putting
the letter in his hand, I called every one to witness that
he had it, and that on the morrow I started for the low-
country to shoot. He then begged and prayed me to
send some one else with it, saying, if one of his men
took it, and it contained a reprimand from the Emperor,
the messenger would probably lose his hand. I refused,
and I believe some unfortunate villager carried it, but
what reception he met with I never heard. It was
most amusing to see my men, with their best shanimas
on, and their rifles well polished, swaggering about the
market; little groups of villagers collecting around them


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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 16 of 34)