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 7 of 34)
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eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, we found that we
were seated in an apartment draped throughout in red
and blue, and decorated at intervals with gilt stars and
shields which displayed the tricolour of France. In the
centre of the straight wall, facing the semicircle in
which we sat, stood a gilt throne, raised on a kind
of platform and surmounted by a canopy flanked by
curtains. On either side, on the lower level of the
floor, a small chair was set. The whole effect — added to
the dim, religious light — was distinctly weird, and when,
after some little time, a door behind the draperies
opened, we felt almost disappointed at seeing, instead
of the e.xpected magician, a dapper little Frenchman,
in white trousers, braided tunic, and military cloak,
enter the room. After we had each been formally
presented by the Consul, the Minister, M. Lagarde (for
it was he), seated himself on a chair just in front of us.
Formerly he used to receive visitors seated on the throne,
but, since some chaffing remarks on the subject were re-
peated to him, he reserves this more majestic form of
reception for natives, and descends to the same level when
he receives Europeans. The conversation was carried on
in French, in which language B. proved much the most
proficient of us. An apology for our rough riding-
clothes led to a discussion on the state of the roads
about the capital and the best way of making the
journey to the coast, when we learnt that M. Lagarde
travels in a mule -litter, in which he can lie at full
length, and sleep or read, as he feels inclined. Whilst
sipping a glass of sweet champagne, we next chatted
on sport, of which our host is very fond. He told us


that he paid frequent visits, for the sake of small-game
shooting, to the estate which the Elmperor bestowed
on him, when he created him 1 )Lik(; of Mnlotto, and
which lies a short march from the capital. In con-
sequence of the aforesaid unusual distinction, M. Lagarde
is said to have had his visiting-cards engraved with a
ducal coronet and the words " Le due d'Entotto," but
these cards are rarities, and I tried in vain during my
sojourn in the capital to procure one.

Next morning, Messrs. Lane and Wetherall called
at the British Residency to say good-bye, on their
return to the coast. They were taking with them gold-
mining concessions, duly signed and sealed by the
Emperor, which was considered a great score for
British interests, especially as some other parties had,
from selfish motives, being doing their best to thwart
their aims.

In the afternoon we went over Trinity (Selassee)
Church. This wi: found to be a thatched, circular
building, of the usual Abyssinian pattern, surmounted
by an elaborate gilt cross. A raised, oi^en \'erandah
surrounded the sacred edifice, the wall of which was
hung with coloured chintz. Several large doors led
into the interior, the centre of which was occupied by
a square structure reaching to the roof, thus leaving
but a narrow space outside it for the worshippers.
This is the holy of holies, in which the ark containing
the holy books is kept, and may only be entered by
one of the officiating priests. The whole exterior of
this shrine was covered with highly coloured religious
prints, pinned on to the wall. Among these were two


or three European paintings on canvas and a few
specimens of native art. The most interesting portion
of the church was the vestry, situated in a sort of
crypt. Here were piled in open chests, hung on nails or
cords, or stacked in corners, the most extraordinary collec-
tion of gorgeous -coloured vestments, mitres, crutches,
umbrellas, sacred books, sistrums, drums, incense-burners,
processional crosses, and all the properties used in the
elaborate ritual of the Abyssinian church, in fact a
perfect museum of curiosities, but all apparently in
hopeless confusion. How I should have liked to spend
a week turning over and examining these treasures ! but
no such luck : the priests hustled us out, after permitting
us only a hurried glimpse at them. Later on I dis-
covered how very difficult it was to view these things,
for, although I often tried, there was but one other
occasion — at Adua — when I succeeded in getting a
sight of a similar store. In the evening Captain
Ciccodicola dined at the Agency, and we did our best
to console him for the departure of his friends, but he
was much depressed.

Next morning some of us took out three of the four
greyhounds which formed part of Queen Victoria's
present to the Emperor, and tried one or two courses
after jackals ; the dogs ran well, but the jacks were too
quick at getting to ground.

In the afternoon, five Russian doctors, in gorgeous
but dingy uniforms, and all wearing Abyssinian orders
of various degrees, came to call. They are members
of the medical mission, which Russia maintains in Adis
Ababa at an expense of some £'jooo a year, as a means of


ingratiating herself with the natives, and showing how dear
is their welfare to the white Czar. They live together
in some wretched-looking tuculs and tents, in a very
untidy compound, some little distance beyond the Russian
Embassy. Among the Europeans they have not a very
high reputation for medical skill, but they have done
much useful surgical work for the natives, especially
those wounded in the late war with Italy. After them
M. Lagarde and his Consul came into the Residency.
Each party was accompanied by a crowd of armed
followers, as is usual in Abyssinia with all persons of
any consequence, whether European or native. Among
the I'lite of Adis Ababa, a person is esteemed according
to the number of his retainers, quality being quite a
secondary consideration. When Captain Harrington
first came up to the capital he decided to reverse this
order of things, so, whenever he rides out, he is only
accompanied by a couple of Indian sowars; but their
dress and accoutrements are the perfection of smartness.

In the course of the day we weighed the ivory
of eight of the elephants we had killed on the journey
up, but the total amounted to only 134 lbs. This
we sent up to the Emperor, for he is entitled to the
first tusk that touches the ground of every elephant
shot ; but it has become the recognised thing for English
sportsmen to send in all their ivory, unless the Emperor
gives them permission to keep one or two pairs of tusks.

In speaking of Selassee Church, I might have
mentioned that, a few days later, I witnessed there a
religious marriage ceremony, which, however, consisted
merely in the parties concerned taking the sacrament


together. This simple function, nevertheless, is con-
sidered binding for life, and what is more, it is the only
one that forms such a bond. At its conclusion, the
whole of the wedding-jjarty usually adjourn to the house
ot the bride's parents, where the rest of
the day is spent in banqueting, drinking
tej, singing and dancing, in all of which
diversions the priests take a prominent
Ijart. European travellers agree in

stating that religious marriages in
^.byssinia are extremely rare. Riippell
indeed goes so far as to assert that
marriage is a purely conventional
arrangement, which subsists just as long-
is both parties are satisfied with it, and
is dissolved by
mutual consent,
and without any
interference of the
authorities, as soon
as this is no longer
the case. The only
exception he allows
is in case of dis-
agreement with
regard to the parti-
tion of the common property ; but even here he does
not think that the decision of the judge appealed to
is always binding. This is, I think, going a little
beyond the facts ; and having made special inquiries
into this subject from men well acquainted with the

Censer, Bell, and Sistrums,


customs of the natives, I think the following may be
taken as a fair statement of the case.

Abyssinian marriages are but rarely religious, being
generally of a civil character. They are solemnised
before a court composed of seven elders. The inteml-
ing bridegroom having sent his father or other elderly
male relative to the girl's father to ask if the latter agrees
to the proposed union, inquiries are made into the
financial condition of both parties, b'or this purpose the
worldly possessions of the pair are lumped together and
made common property, but in the case of a wealthy
man and a girl with no dowry, the bridegroom estimates
the beauty and virtue of the bride at a certain sum, and
reserves the rest of his own fortune for himself Should
the husband subsequently wish to get rid of his wife, he
can only do so by allotting to her one half of the com-
bined fortune in the one case, or of the sum set aside as
the equivalent of her virtue and beauty in the other.
Should there be proof that the wife is unfaithful, the
injured husband can turn her out of the back door in
her dress only, stripped of her jewels and literalh- with-
out a .salt {i.e. a sou). Theoretically the wife can claim
divorce from her husband for misconduct with other
women, but generally for the Hrst offence the court
mcrel)' remonstrates with him. .Should, however, the
husband have communicated disease to his wife, the
latter is entitled to a divorce and half his fortune. In
Shoa about one quarter of the marriages are life con-
tracts ; the remainder are really annual arrangements
with concubines, the agreement being renewable year by
year for a stipulated sum. The children of either of


these unions are equally legitimate, and bear the father's
name and share his goods. However, should a man
have children by a concubine, and then marry for life,
it is usual for the bride's father to stipulate that the man
shall set aside a certain sum for the concubine's children,
and that the latter shall have no share in the remainder,
nor in the money which the bride brings into the
common fund. Daughters can have no share in their
father's land, but share equally with the sons in his
personal property. In the case of a man possessing
only land, the sons have to provide for the daughters.
Although a man can legally have only one wife or
concubine at a time, this rule is broken by officers on
active service at the front, who maintain a concubine
privately, but do not enter into any agreement before
witnesses. Of this the wife is supposed to know nothing.
A child is its mother's property till three years old, when
the father has complete control over it. In the case of
a divorce, or of a concubine's agreement having lapsed,
the father is responsible for the mother's maintenance
until a child is eighteen months old. From that age
until the child is three years old the father has to pay
for the child's food.


Menelik's palace — The Emperor receives us — He grants us leave to travel
— A natural history book — His military power — His attention to
details — How he snubbed a braggart — English and French visitors- -
The Empress.

Friday, 5th January, was the day on which the Emperor
had consented to receive us ; but before I proceed to
describe what took place on this occasion, it w^ill be well
to make the reader acquainted with the locality and dis-
tribution of the Imperial premises. The low hill on
which the palace buildings stand is entirely surrounded by
an unclimbable stockade, consisting of a dwarf stone wall,
with upright poles built into it and laced together. The
whole of the lower part is protected with thorn bushes, in
addition to a row of sharply pointed stakes projecting
outwards. There are six principal gates, but the one to
the north-west, facing the market, is that in everyday use,
and when the Emperor is in the capital is thronged
from morning till night. The short, steep ascent to
this gate is roughly set with large blocks of slippery
stone, the door-sill consisting of a tree trunk, which
has to be climbed over ; within, a pathway paved with
flagstones runs down the middle of a narrow muddy


yard, reminding one of a street in Pekin. It is flanked
on either side by a range of low, thatched buildings,
while at the further end a narrow door gives access to
a larger yard lying to the west, and across which the
paved road runs diagonally to another door leading to
a third courtyard. After crossing this, one dismounts
and leaves one's pony and escort in the shadow of the
Hall of Justice, where the Emperor or the Affar Negus
{Lord Chief Justice) sits as supreme judge of appeal.
A doorway in the wall of the courtyard, close to this
liuilding, leads into a small, neatly kept court ; to the
right is the Saganet, or clock-tower, from the side of
which a short passage between high walls leads to the
Aderash or great hall. Facing the clock (which has
long ceased to go) is the hall of audience, the open front
of which is raised some height above the ground and
approached by two wooden staircases.

The room is about 20 feet square. Towards the back,
on the left, a private exit opens on to a flight of steps ; at
the bottom of this a path leads past several terraces,
which were being laid out with flower-beds and fountains,
to the private apartments of the palace. In general
aspect this building resembles a Swiss chalet, while the
ornamentation — more especially the wood-carving — is
distinctly Indian in style. It is of octagonal form, and
two storeys high ; round the upper one runs a partly
closed-in balcony, which, towards the east, is connected
by a covered gallery with an unfinished stone tower.
The Empress's apartments are situated on the southern
side of the main portion and include a square summer-
house, built upon an artificial mound, so as to be on the

^^ lifjI^^^B


same level as the first floor ; the privacy of this part of
the palace is ensured by high stone walls built out from
the main building.

Returning to the main entrance gate, and turning to
the north-east, we pass on the left a series of yards, in
which are situated the different workshops, including the
blacksmiths' and carpenters', also stores of all sorts ; next
these comes the brew-house, where all the tej, tala, and
araki are prepared for the royal household. Close to this
stands the largest store-house— a stone building of two
floors, roofed with tiles ; in this are kept the Emperor's
more perishable treasures. Beyond lies the woodyard,
filled with beautifully built stacks of fuel and thatching-
grass, besides piles of building timber. On the right lie
the royal gardens, containing many European fruit-trees
and vegetables of all sorts ; in these, it is said, the
Empress takes a special interest. It is, presumably,
the narrow steep paths of this garden that an imagina-
tive French writer described as the Emperor and
Empress's favourite bicycling ground ! Lying next the
woodyard is a paddock, which is entered by a gate in
the main stockade ; from its further end a lane leads
to the Emperor's private chapel.

There had been a heavy fall of rain during the
previous night, so there was every prospect of a wet
ride to the palace. Menelik usually grants audiences
at an early hour in the morning, but having heard that
Captain Harrington does not, as a rule, rise before
dawn, he now receives English visitors in the afternoon.
We were a party of six : Captain Harrington, H.B.M.'s
Agent at the court of Menelik, and Mr. IJaird, his



secretary, in spotless khaki uniform, mounted on two
fine grey ponies ; we four travellers in dress-clothes
and pumps, with felt hats and ulsters, riding four sorry
mules, which required much beating to get them along.
Accompanying us were Mr. Beru, the Abyssinian
interpreter to the Agency, and a Dr. Martin, who had
been taken as a child by our troops from Magdala after
the siege, was brought up and educated in India, and
is now a civilian surgeon in Government employ in
Burma. He had come here on leave, to see if he
could get employment in the land of his birth. Lead-
ing the wav were two smart Indian sowars, while two
more brought up the rear of the little calvacade. We
left the British Agency compound at 3.20 p.m., and,
pushing along as quickly as possible (for we were
rather late), reached the outer stockade of the Gebi
just before four o'clock. After passing through the three
muddy and untidy courtyards, filled with loafing crowds
of followers, we dismounted at the gate of the last
enclosure and left our great - coats in charge of our
servants. The day was cold and windy, and we
shivered in our thin dress - suits, but were not kept
waiting long, His Majesty having the reputation of
great punctuality. In a few minutes a court functionary
came to summon us, and following him, we entered the
inner court. When we arrived at the audience hall
described above, we filed up the left-hand staircase.
At the back of the room we now entered, we saw a dais,
that occupied about half its breadth, and was raised some
four feet above the general level. It was covered, like
the floor in front of it, with gaudil)' coloured European


carpets. On this elevation sat, or rather lounged, His
Majesty, in a half-reclining attitude, his body supported
l)y two large pink satin-covered cushions and his legs
tucked on one side under him. In the chamber there
were some twenty attendants, mostly congregated round
the door on the Emperor's right. We were each
introduced in turn, and in my case my name had to be
repeated twice, as INIenelik could not catch it at once.
To each of us the Emperor gave his hand and smiled
as he half bowed in return to our obeisance. His
Majesty does not look his fifty-eight years. His very
dark, but by no means black face, pitted with smallpox,
is full of strength and shrewdness. His features, quick
in altering expression, are lit up with a pleasant smile.
Frequently he laughs with great heartiness, displaying
a row of even, but not very white teeth. He wears a
short greyish beard and whiskers.

As I sat facing the Emperor, I noted that his head
was covered with a piece of white muslin drawn tightly
over the skull and with many folds on the forehead and
at the sides. A fine rose-cut diamond stud in the left
ear betokened that elephants had fallen to the royal
hand. This, together with a plain gipsy ring on the
little finger of the right hand, was the only jewellery
he wore. White trousers, a coat of green and yellow
striped silk, a black satin cloak with gold braid and
lined with pink, completed the Imperial costume.

After a Ww words of welcome, he asked us to be
seated on the cane chairs which had been placed for us
in a semicircle in front of him. Then, as he listened to
the interpreter, his eyes moved from one to the other,


taking in every detail of our appearance. On Captain
Harrington saying that Whitehouse was an American,
Menelik asked what part of America he came from, and
then remarked, " Ah ! you have come by far the furthest
to see my country." After we had expressed our thanks
for leave to visit his dominions and for the good sport
we had enjoyed, we asked for leave for three of us to
go to Lake Rudolf, a request which he readily granted,
and in addition promised a guide. 1 next asked for
permission to travel north for ibex, but as the inter-
preter did not know the name for ibex he described it
as a wild goat. The Emperor, however, corrected him
in a moment, saying that the Abyssinian name was
wala, and that it was only to be found in Simien.
Menelik then asked which one of us was going north,
and looked hard at me, when the interpreter said I was
going alone. He then smiled, said I could go, and
promised me letters, guides, etc. Meanwhile, he had
sent for a natural history book, and without any hesita-
tion turned up a picture of an ibex, which he showed
me and asked if that was not the animal I wanted to
shoot .'' I assented, and Butter then offered to send
the Emperor a pair of dogs, an offer which he at once
accepted, at the same time jestingly asking, " Who would
1 be his guarantee ? " according to Abyssinian custom.'
To this Captain Harrington j-eplied that Englishmen
required none, their word being as good as their bond ;
which was followed by more chaff and repartee, the
king laughing heartily. He next asked when we pro-

' For in Abyssinia it is a universal custom, when a man gives a promise of this

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 7 of 34)