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 8 of 34)
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great hall, clicked his heels together and saluted, e.x-
claiming, "Sire, I have had great good fortune: I have
killed two elephants ! " only to be met with the chilling
reply: "How is that? 1 gave orders for you to kill
four." The courtiers smiled, and the discomfited swaggerer
turned on his heel and passed out of the hall, sans ear-
ring, sans roll of drums, and even, so unkind rumour
s;iys, sans paying the drummers.

' While I was at Adis Ababa, a French adventurer
arrived with a cinematograph. He had spent almost


his last SOU in getting his apparatus to the capital, but
he was most sanguine that, when once he had given
an exhibition before the Emperor, his fortune would
be made. He obtained the latter's sanction to erect
his machine in the Aderash, and all was nearly in order,
when, by some unlucky chance, Menelik learnt how
inflammable the films were, and, fearing for his grass-
thatched hall, ordered the apparatus to be at once dis-
mantled. At this point the unfortunate man fell ill, and
a fund was started among the European colony, in order
to tide him over his difficulties, which was eventually
done. It was while discussing this man and his affairs
that the French Consul remarked to Captain Harrington,
with a sigh : " Ah ! you only have sportsmen or capitalists
to present to the Emperor, while nearly all the French-
men that come here now are adventurers, showmen, or
vagrants seeking a fortune."

Although I saw the Emperor several times during
my stay in Adis Ababa, I caught no glimpse of the
Empress, who never receives Europeans, unless they
have some special mission. Captain Harrington, know-
ing this, asked Menelik if he would take Her Majesty
the presents Queen Victoria had sent for her, and was
rather surprised when the Emperor replied: "No, you
must present them yourself." A few days after. Queen
Taitu received him most graciously, and seemed par-
ticularly gratified with a signed portrait of our Queen,
over which she bowed low, as she received it. Her
Majesty has the name of being an extremely clever and
far-seeing woman, who, while she is quite aware of the
good that her country can derive from European capital


and commerce, suspects — and with reason — the often
repeated assurances of disinterestedness of some of the
self-styled friends of Abyssinia. When young, she is
said to have been a strikingly handsome woman, even
among the Princesses of Simien, famed for their beauty
and fairness of skin ; even now, although somewhat too
stout according to our ideas of ideal feminine propor-
tions, she still retains good features and an imperious


Markets I have seen — The market-place of Adis Ababa — The chief's
tribune — Live-stock — Jewellery — Lion skins — Swords — Cloth —
Money - changers — Butter — Beer — Knives — Bamboos — Horses —
Mules — A thief thrashed — European shops — Indian merchants — A
veteran curio dealer.

In the course of my wanderings I have seen a good
many markets, and they have always had a peculiar
attraction for me. It is in the market-place that one
has the best chance of noting the characteristics of the
middle classes of a country, and when the market you
visit is situated in a foreign land, you will, if at all
observant, be quickly able to form an opinion of the
manners and disposition of the people and the way they
are likely to receive the stranger.

I have strayed, for instance, through the lanes
of the curious annual fair held at Khajaro, among the
ruins of some of India's most famous temples. In the
native state of Chutterpur, in the Central Provinces, far
removed from the railway, I have, during the market-
week, seen hammered -iron bullets, queer- shaped axes,
elaborately ornamented shoes, and wonderful sham
jewellery for sale, side by side with the cheap European


umbrella, Birmingham padlocks, and gaudy Lancashire
kerchiefs. I have jostled my way throurjh the main
street of Leh, in Ladak, during the daily market held
in August and September, and havt! witnessed Yar-
kandis, Tibetans, Afghans, and Kashmiris rub shoulders
with the plainsmen of India, and barter wool ami gold,
numdas and silver, brick-tea and cojjper, hemp and

4RKtT. Adis Ababa

precious stones, rare skins and cjuaint tea-pots against
goods from Manchester and Birmingham, Germany and
America. I have bargained for a knife in the market-
square of Burgos and bought hobgoblin -looking toys
at a Burmese fair. I have counted cash off a string
to a Chinese market-woman, ami paid a Balti with
copper coins at two a farthing. But of all the strange
(mi[)oriums 1 have inspected, I think the great market-
place of the Emperor Menelik's capital is the most
interesting. There one obtains a truer notion of the pro-
ductive powers of the country, both in raw material and


manufactured articles, and can learn better what foreign
goods find a ready sale among the people, than in any
of the many markets I have seen in the four continents.

To the market-place at Adis Ababa come grains and
spices, peppers and condiments from every corner of
the kingdom, coffee from Harrar and Lake Tana, cotton
from the banks of the Blue Nile, gold from Beni
Shongul, and civet from the Galla country, while salt
from the far north of Tigre is the current change for a
dollar. Fine cotton shammas, heavy burnouses of black,
blanket- like cloth, jewellery and arms, saddlery and
ploughs, all are here. In fact here you can feel the
commercial pulse of Abyssinia, gain some insight into
the present state of her civilisation, and gather what
she wants from the foreigner and what she has to offer
in exchange.

The market-place of Adis Ababa is situated on the
upper slope of a hill, and lies opposite the palace in a
north-westerly direction. Just above it, on the crest
of the eminence, stands the Custom-house (formerly Count
Leontieff's quarters) surrounded by a jDalisade. The
market is held every day, but the largest gathering takes
place on Saturdays, and when the Emperor is resident
in the capital. The market-place is quite open, the
only permanent features being two little thatched sentry-
bo.Kes perched on poles, where the Nagadi Ras, or chief
of the merchants, and his assistants sit on market-days
to settle disputes, punish thieves, and generally super-
intend the fair, and the rows of big stones on which
the sellers squat and display their goods and which
serve as stalls.


Just as I took the photo, a dispute about a donkey
had been settled, and the successful litic;ant was striding
oH with the animal, while another case about some
grain, in which a priest in the white turban was a
witness, was being heard at the other tribune. The
photo on p. 107 shows the arrangement of the " stalls."

Havincj dismounted — for no one mav ride in the

Tribunes of the Justices of the Market.

market — and handed your beast over to the syce to
take to a particular tree, which by custom has become
the rendezvous for all the servants from the liritish
xAgency, you plunge into a busy and odoriferous crowd.
The sellers of each commodity are always to be found
congregated on the same spot ; for instance, on the
outskirts, near the Nagadi Ras, are tethered the bullocks
for draught and slaughter, milch cows, and little flocks
of sheep and goats.

In the picture on p. 1 1 1 a man who has purchased a
sheep is leading it away by a fore-leg, while the head of a
Galla girl in charge of the flock, just visible in the fore-
ground, shows how the young women dress their hair.


Towards the centre and on the north side of the sentry-
boxes is the jewellers' row, where the vendors are nearly
all women. They ride in from the villages round, very
little jewellery being made in the capital itself. The chief
commodities in this section are thick silver rings, which
are threaded on a blue string and worn round the neck,
women's ear-rings in the form of highly ornamented
solitaire studs, generally gilt, and curious ear-rings worn
only by men who have killed an elephant, which are
fashioned like elaborate finger-rings, sometimes with little
chains pendent from them. There are also hair-pins with
filigree heads, like those used for women's hats at home,
tiny ear-picks in the form of spoons with handles of
variegated shapes and patterns, bracelets and rings,
necklets of fine chain, and little charm-boxes as pendants,
as well as crosses, plain or of filigree-work. None of
these articles give evidence of great ingenuity in design
or skill in workmanship, and, if any more highly finished
article is met with, it is almost certain to be of Indian
manufacture, or to have come from Tigre. Next to the
raw-hide market, where you may usually find some leopard
skins and occasionally a lion's pelt, are established the
vendors of imported dressed and dyed leather, coloured
to bright reds and greens for the decoration of saddles,
bridles, and cartridge-belts. There also are for sale
the large, soft sleeping-skins which every Abyssinian
loves to possess, and leather sacks for holding personal
luggage while travelling by mule. In the crowded
corner devoted to the sword-sellers you may see a petty
chief, with one or two trusty followers, testing the blades
of the bi"-, straight swords taken from the Dervishes,


which fetch as much as ten to fifteen dollars. Close
by, other purchasers are examining the curve of an
Abyssinian sword in its bright red scabbard, or perhaps
choosing one from a pile of I'>ench blades made for the
Ethiopian market. 1 was lucky in picking up good
specimens of the different kinds — among them one from
a soldier of Leontieff's, who was boasting of the men
and women he had cut down with it, and another brought
by Marchand's force from the White Nile. Near bv,
at another stall, are e.xposed for sale circular conve.x
shields of black buftalo hide, those for the populace
ornamented by geometrical figures stamped on the
leather, while those carried by officers are decorated
with strips and bosses of silver, or of silver-gilt for
the higher ranks. One of these shields may be seen
in the portrait of Balambaras Giorgis on p. 1 19.

Near the top of the hill one long alley is devoted
to cotton goods from America, India, and Manchester.
Lancashire, I regret to say, supplies by fiir the smallest
quantity, for the English manufacturer will neither make
the quality nor supply the lengths required in Abyssinia.
The money-changers' quarter is perhaps one of the
most striking, for instead of piles of copper coin and
cowries, as in India, one sees here little stacks of amole
— the Abyssinian currency. These are bars of crystallised
salt, some 10 inches long by rather more than 2 inches
square in the centre, with slightly tapering ends bound
round by a band of rush. In the capital, four of them are
equivalent to the dollar, but their value varies in different
parts of the country. Further north it gradually de-
creases, till at Adua 1 obtained fifteen for a dollar.


Changing a dollar is not the work of a moment ; each
bar has to be examined and sounded, for if it be not
of the right size, or is chipped or cracked, or does not
ring true, the first person to whom it is offered will be
as indignant as a London cabby when tendered a bad
shilling. These crystallised salts come from Assal, a
salt lake in the north of Tigre. The red pepper and

the butter bazaars were not places in which to linger,
the former on account of the particles getting into one's
eyes and nostrils and acting like pungent snuff, and the
latter on account of the strong, rancid smell. The Shoa
woman was bargaining for the butter in the little gourd
ornamented with shells on the ground before the Salla
peasant when I snapped the photograph. Before I had
finished fitting out the caravan for my journey north I
knew every corner of this wonderful market, and whether
I required a burnous (a black, blanket-like cloak with a


hole for the head and red leather edges), a native rope
for the mule-loads, an iron sickle, matches, or native
cooking-pots, I could go straight to the place where each
was to be obtained. Besides all the commodities I
have named, there were to be found, each in its own
market, coffee-beans, sugar, wax and honey, tej and tala
(mead and beer), stored in great jars called gombos,
large shawls called shammas, iron ploughshares, knives
and spear-heads, rhinoceros-hide whips, bamboos for
tent-poles, bundles of split wood lo feet long for building
huts, little bundles of long, tough grass for thatching or
larger ones for fodder, overgrown faggots for fuel,
tobacco for chewing and in the form of snuff (for the
Abyssinian does not smoke), every kind of grain for
bread, and condiments for flavouring. (Jn a llat stretch
of ground on the southern side of the market is the mule-
and horse-fair; here may be seen horses galloped by
wild-looking men, with their shammas streaming behind
them and the cruel rhinoceros -hide whip in full play.
Presently the owner espies a likely purchaser, and
instantly the horse is stopped and thrown back on his
haunches by the terrible bit. Mules are being e.\-
amined for traces of old sore backs, and the air is
filled with the shouting, wrangling, and bargaining
inseparable from the buying or selling of a horse. The
Abyssinians have an e.xcellent rule, that, before a
bargain is complete, the vendor and the purchaser
must together lead their beast before an official, who
registers their names, witnesses the paying over of the
money, and exacts a fee from both parties to the con-
tract. No horse may be sold for more than fifty dollars.


but a mule may go up to three hundred. In doing my
marketing, my usual plan was to ride down with
Mr. Beru, and, with his assistance, hunt for curios or
whatever I wanted, while taking snapshots of any-
thing that struck me as characteristic of the market,
my camera often e.xciting a good deal of curiosity. One
girl, I remember, when her attention was drawn to the
fact that I was taking her portrait, called out, as she
ducked her head out of sight, " By the Holy Trinity, tell
me, what is he doing .-* "

In purchasing mules, after my men had selected such
as appeared to be suitable animals, we used to go over
and see them tried, and then arrange the price. Then
we crossed to the meeting-tree, where the head syce
would report his purchases for the stable, and the head
woman show us the stores she had bought for feeding
the numerous retinue. All around the rendezvous were
piled up fuel, forage, and provisions for a week's
consumption at the Agency, all of which had to be
loaded on mules and carried the five miles to the

In the palpitating life and varied scenes of the
market one might see more of the people and their
ways of life in one morning than in a week's wandering
about the capital. There were to be seen the Galla
girls staggering under loads of wood or grass ; the
priests in their white caps (like a tall hat with the
brim cut off), and carrying in one hand a grass- plaited
umbrella to shield them from the sun, and in the other
a fly-whisk of short horse-hair dyed red ; women of the
better class muffled up to the eyes and attended by their


maids, often Soudanese slaves with their bosoms half
bare ; officers, with diminutive slave-boys carrying- their
shields and rifles. All these sights helped to make a
picture of such interest that one foro'ot the heat, the
tlies, and the smell.

One day we heard much shouting in the market, and
saw the people flocking in one direction. Pushing our
wa\- through the crowd, we beheld a thief, caught red-
h.mded, taken Ijcfore the Xagadi Ras, who sentenced
him to a dozen lashes on the bare back, and then to be
thrashed through the market. The culprit, with his
hands tied in front of him, holding the salt he had
stolen, was held by a rope round his neck, while his
jailer flicked him with a long lash, the thief shouting
out meanwhile, " See, I have stolen this salt and am
being punished for it." After he had made the circuit
of the entire market-place, the salt was taken from him,
and he was set at liberty.

We were much disappointed with the European
shops, where we had been led to believe we could
purchase many things we required. There are four or
five French merchants in the capital, their doyen being
M. Savoure, who has been many years settled in Adis
Ababa, and undertakes most of the Emperor's com-
missions lor Europe. The greater part of the ivory
export trade also passes through his hands. He seems
to have been fairly successful, judging from the fine
new house he had just completed for himself, and the
style in which he and his family set out for the coast,
shortly before I left for the north.

Among other nationalities, there are a good many


Greeks, but with one notable exception to be mentioned
presently, these deal chiefly in liquors and scents. The
foreign traders also included a few Armenians (one of
whom is a baker) and a Swiss watchmaker.

The latest arrivals are several Indian firms from
Harrar, who followed Captain Harrington here. Owing
to their thrifty habits they are rapidly taking the trade
from both French and Greeks, and are finding a ready sale
for articles for which it was thought there would be no
demand. Instead of sending cash to the coast they lay
it out in ivory, civet, and gold, and so secure a double

Hitherto there has been so little demand for goods
by Europeans, that all these merchants get their stock
simply with a view to supplying Abyssinian wants,
and such articles as wine and spirits, sugar, scent, soap,
swords, rifles and ammunition, wide-brimmed felt hats,
cotton cloth, silk burnouses and scarfs, cheap watches
and clocks, can be bought in any quantity. But when,
in view of my solitary journey north, I wanted a kettle,
a pair of pliers, a thick suit or cloth from which to
make it, woollen underclothing, a cap, and such-like
things, all of which would be readily procurable in any
fair-sized Indian bazaar, none could be got for love or

Soon after my arrival in Adis Ababa, I was intro-
duced to the only curio-dealer in the capital, namely,
Balambaras Giorgis, a most picturesque old Greek, with
a long, flowing white beard. He had served in
Menelik's army with distinction, and was the only
European who fought with the Ethiopian forces in the


biittle of Adiia, where th(; Italians were so disastrously
defeated. I {xiid several \'isits tn his house, and
jjersuaded him to let me take his ph()too;raph in
Abyssinian military dress, wearing- the cloak which
denoted his rank of Balambaras (commandant of a
fortress), and on his let't wrist
the silver-gilt armlet presented
to him for valour in the field. . '-

Although the best part of his
stock had been bought up by
the various Europeans on thc;ir
way home, he still had a num-
ber of interesting curios left.
Amongst other things I bought
several Galla weapons and orna-
ments, a curious shield, much
larger and of a ditterent patttn'n
to the Shoan buckler, ivory
bracelets weighing several
pounds each, a straight, double-edged sword with an
ivory handle, like an ancient Roman gladius, a spear
with a very long and tapering head, hair-pins and combs
of bone, and wooden pillows differing in shape from
these used by the Somalis. He had also several illus-
trated books, but as these were not very good specimens,
and I was told I should be able to get much better
copies in Gondar and Tigre, I did not buy an\-. This
I much regretted afterwards as, although I tried my
utmost throughout my journey, I did not succeed in
finding a single illustrated book for sale. Once I was
told of one, and waited some hours while it was being

Balambaras Giorgis.


brought to me, but found on inspection that its illus-
trations consisted of a small coloured print stuck inside
the cover.

There is one man in the market who makes church
brass- work, and sometimes has some old pieces for
sale ; from him I got an incense-burner, a bell, a
processional cross, and a crutch for the head of the
wands which the priests carry. But curios are hard to
find, as directly anything good is for sale it is snapped
up by one or other of the foreign embassies.

An Officer's Shield.


The Emperor — Gorgeous vestments — Dancini; before the Ark — The
Emperoi-'s courtesy — The private chapel -The audience chamber —
The great hall — A royal lunch — 12,000 guests — Mighty drinking-
horns — An Al)yssinian band.

SrMiA\-, 7th January, the second day of the Abyssinian
Christmas, was the day on which we were invited to
lunch with the Emperor. We left the British Agency
compound at 8.15 in the morning under a dull, cloudy
sky. Captain Harrington in infantry levee kit and Mr.
Baird in full diplomatic dress, while we four travellers
were in evening dress, muffled up in wraps and coats,
for the air was raw after heavy rain. We had been
invited to lunch at the Gebi at ten (or, as the Abyssinians
reckon time, at four o'clock), but Captain Harrington,
knowing the Emperor's great punctuality, decided to be
there an hour earlier.

After half an hour's ride, during which we crossed
several gullies and streams, we were approaching the
plain at the foot of Selassee Hill, when we saw the
I'^mperor coming from the palace enclosure, surrounded
by his officers and a large following. Mounted men,
blowing shawms, preceded his immediate body-guard, the


members of which carried their rifles in red cloth bags.
We at once dismounted and saluted, but were uncertain
whether to follow him or not, as we had not been invited
to any function except the lunch. But our doubts were
soon set at rest by a master of the ceremonies, who
approached, and, making a way through the crowd,
conducted us, past a large circular tent pitched on
the plain, to the Emperor, who received us with a
gracious smile and placed us on his left, next to the
Chief Justice, who, owing to gout, was seated on a rug
on the ground.

The Emperor was installed in a small state-chair,
with a carpet spread at his feet. He was dressed in
white trousers, brown, clocked socks, very large patent-
leather dress-shoes without laces, a long coat of green
silk with yellow stripes, and a black satin burnous
embroidered with gold down the front and the hood
lined with pink silk. In the left ear he wore a rose-cut
diamond stud. His head was bound with a piece of
white muslin, drawn tightly across the scalp, with the
edges rolled up and tied behind. On the top of this was
placed a large -crowned, broad-brimmed straw hat,
covered with gold leaf, the band dotted round with rubies
and sapphires. On the little finger of his left hand
gleamed a gipsy - set diamond ring and another set
with a miniature watch. Over the Emperor was held a
red silk umbrella, heavily embroidered and fringed with
gold. On his right was seated the Abuna (archbishop)
Mathios, dressed in a black burnous, over whom an
attendant held a plain, red silk umbrella, which later on
was replaced by one much the same as the Emperor's,

Nil GORGEOUS ]-/:ST.\rK.\'lS 123

lua iiKuivc in colour. Next him was Petros, ihc Abuna
in the; linn; of the lunperor John, attired in a splendid
black velvet robe thickly embroidered in gold, the gift of
that Kmperor ; over him glittered a magnificent red
silk and gold umbrella. Most of his time he spent
playing with the large amber beads of his rosary. Those
taking part in the ceremony were now arranged in the
form of a square, of which the tent already referred to
formed the south side. The Emperor, ourselves, and
the principal spectators filled the east side ne.xt to
it, while the remaining sides were kept by a line of
priests and their acolytes, holding long sticks with
crutch-shaped heads of brass. Just before the com-
mencement of the ceremonial, a messenger arrived in
hot haste with a chair for Captain Harrington, who, in
addition to the Emperor and the two Abunas, was the
only person seated during the ceremony. The proceed-
ings commenced by a group of some sixteen priests and

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 8 of 34)