Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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The larthest point I aimed at was a great tamarind-tree
which towered up splendidly from the lower trees and bushes,
and roimd which were fluttering a number of green and red
birds hitherto unknown to me.

On my road, I hrst came to a settlement, Kumr beta Dahela,
where the inhabitants of the vill.ige I mentioned above are
accustomed to keep their villeggiatura. They only remain
here during the dry montlis, and wander back in the begin-
ning of the rainy season to their more solidly built village on
the bank of the river. The last village that I reached is
called KoMALi, a httle above the place which is marked Seeo


on the map, and which is situated at the 13^ of north latitude.
On the hot and fatiguing road back, I was present at a burial:
silent and serious, without sound or lamentation, two corpses
wrapped in white cloths were borne by men on anqarebs, and
were laid in a grave several feet deep, in the wood, close to
the passing road. Perhaps they had died of the cholera-like
plague, which we hear has broken out with virulence in these
southern parts.

We would willingly have gone up, as far as Fazoql, into the
last province in Mohammed All's dominions, to become ac-
quainted vdth. the complete change in the character of the
country, which then again occurs, beginning at Eoseres, and
exhibiting so many phenomena, plants and animals, peculiar
to the tropics ; but our time had come to an end.

The Eais received orders to lower the sails and masts ; by
which the boat at once lost its dignified appearance,, and it
iloated down with the current of the river like a wreck.
Soon the agreeable silence in the vessel, which had hitherto
hastened on as if of its o^vn accord, was interrupted by the
shrill and discordant singing of the rowers, struggling against
the wind.

On the 4th of March we again arrived at Sennar, and
on the morning of the 8th reached Wed Medineh. This
place is almost as important as Sennar. A regiment of sol-
diers is here in garrison with the only band of music in the
Sudan, and with two cannons. "We were immediately visited
by the chief clerk of the regiment, Seid Haschim, one of the
most distinguished people of the place, with whom we had
formerly become acquainted in Chartiim.

We determined to go from this on a visit to the Sultana
Xasr (Victoria) in Soeiba, which is about an hour and a half
inland, partly to learn something of the character of the
country farther removed from the river, partly to gain some
notion of the court of an Ethiopian princess. Seid Haschim
offered his dromedaries and asses, and to accompany us him-
self on this expedition. We therefore set out with him in


the afternoon over the hot, black plain, ^\here only a few
trees were scattered here and there, and soon got over the
uninteresting ground on our active animals.

Nask is the sister of the most powerful and the richest
King (Melek) in the Sudan, the Ideis Wed (z. e. Welled,
the son or descendant of) Adlax, who now indeed is under
the supremacy of Mohammed Ali, but yet rules over several
hundred villages in the province of El Fungi ; his title is
31ak el Qulle, King of the Qulle Mountains. One of his
ancestors was called Adlan, and the whole family at present
is named after him ; his father was the same Mohammed
(Wed) Adlan, who at the period of the victorious campaign
of Ismael Pascha, appropriated to himself the greater part of
the power belonging to the legitimate but feeble Badi, King
of Sennar, but who afterwards, at the instigation of a second
Pretender, Eeg'eb, was murdered. When Ismael approached,
and Eeg'eb had fled with his adherents into the Abyssinian
mountains. King Badi joined the children and the party of
Moliainined Adlan, and submitted to the Pascha, who made
him a JSlieikh over the country, had the murderers of Mo-
hammed Adlan empaled, and bestowed great power and
riches on his children Eeg'eb and Idris Adlan. Their sister
oSasr was also treated with great respect, which was still
more increased because she was descended, on the mother's
side, from the legitimate royal house itself. On that ac-
count slie is also called Sultana, Queen. Ker first husband
was Mohammed Sandaloba, a brother of Hassan Sandaloba,
whom we had visited in Sennar. He died a long time ago,
but by him she had a daughter, Dauer (the Light), who
married a great Slieikh, Abd el Qader, but she was after-
wards separated from him, and now always resides with her
mother in Soriba. The second husband of Nasr is Mohammed
Defalla, the son of one of her father's viziers. He was just
then with Ahmed Pascha Menekle, on the campaign ( Ghazua,
out of which the French have made Razzia) in Taka. But
even when he is at home, on account of her noble birth, she
continues mistress in the house.


A great preference for the female sex seems to have been a
very universal custom since ancient times in these southern
countries. We must recollect how frequently we find reign-
ing Queens of Ethiopia mentioned. In the campaigns of
Petronius, Candace is well known, a name which, according
to Pliny, was given to all the Ethiopian Queens ; according
to others, only to the mother of the King. In the pictures
at Meroe, also, we sometimes see very warlike, and doubtless
reigning, Queens represented. According to Makrizi, the
genealogies of the Beg'as, who I consider to be the direct
descendants of the Meroitish Ethiopians, and the ancestors
of the present Bischaris, were not counted by the men, but by
the women ; and the inheritance did not go to the son of the
deceased, but to the son of the sister, or of the daughter of
the deceased. In like manner, according to Abu-Sela, among
the Nubians, the sister's son always had the preference of his
own sou in the succession to tlie throne ; and, according to
Ibn Batuta, the same custom existed among the Messofites,
a negro people lying to the west. Even now the household
and chief offices belonging to the courts of several southern
princes are wholly filled by women. Ladies of distinction
are in the habit of allowing their nails to grow an inch long,
as a sign that their duty consists in commanding, and not in
working ; a custom we have lately seen in the representations
of the unshapely and corpulent Queens of Meroe.

When we arrived in Soeiba, we stepped through a pecu-
liar gate-house into the great square court-yard, which passes
round the principal building, and then into an open lofty
hall, the roof of which rested on four pillars, and four
pilasters. The narrow beams of the ceiling jut out several
feet above the simple architrave, and form the immediate
support of the flat roof; the whole entrance reminded
me much of the open fa9ades of the tombs of Beni-
hassan. In the hall there stood some beautiful furniture of
Indian work in ebony, some broad anqarebs, with frames
for the fly-nets. Magnificent coverlets were immediately
brought in, and sherbet, cofiee, and pipes handed round ; the

S^LTA^'^A XASE. 179

vessels were made of gold and silver. Black slave girls in
light white dresses, which are fastened round the hips, and
drawn over the bosom and shoulders, handed the refresh-
ments, and looked most strange with their half-braided, half-
combed wigs. The Queen did not however appear ; perhaps
she shrank from showing herself to Christians ; we were only
able to see some women who were standing behind a half-
opened door, which re-closed, and to whom we ourselves might
have been an object of curiosity. I therefore sent word to
the Sultana, through Seid Haschim, that we had come to pay
a yisit to herself, and we now begged we might be permitted
to pay our respects to her. Upon which, soon afterwards, a
strong wooden door, cased with metal, which led from the
inner chambers to the hall, opened wide, and Nasr, with free
and dignified steps, walked in. She was wrapped in long,
finely-woven linen, with coloured borders, and underneath
she wore -wide, party-coloured trousers of a darker hue.
Tlie female household followed her, eight or ten girls in white
dresses, bordered with red, and ornamented sandals. Nasr
sat down before us in a friendly and natural manner ; she
only sometimes drew her dress before her mouth and the
lower part of her face, an Oriental custom which is universal
in Egvpt among women, but which is less practised in this
countrv. She replied to the salutations which I addressed to
her through the Dragoman, with an agreeable voice, but only
remained a short time with us, and then again retired through
the same door.

We were now permitted to see the interior of the house,
with the exception of her own apartments, which were in a
small adjoining house ; and we got upon the roof to have a
view over the village. We afterwards took a walk through
the place, saw the well, which is lined w^ith bricks to the
depth of 60 feet, and supplies a lukewarm water, which is
more insipid than that of the Nile, from which Nasr always
has her own drinking water fetched. We then turned back,
intending to start, but Nasr invited us to spend the night in
Soriba, as it was already too late to return to Wed Medineh



bj daylight. "We accepted the invitatiou, and immediately
a repast of cooked food was brought in, which was only a
preparation for the magnificent supper. The Sultana, how-
ever, did not allow herself to be seen again the whole evening.
"We remained in the hall, and slept on the same cool cushions
which had served us during the day as a divan. The next
morning, however, we were invited to \dsit her in her own
rooms. She was more willing to talk to-day than yesterday,
had European chairs placed for us, while her attendants and
slave girls squatted down round us. "We told her about her
name-sister, the Sultana Nasr of England, and exhibited her
portrait to her on an English gold coin, which she regarded
with much curiosity. Nevertheless, she showed very little
desire to see with her own eyes that distant world beyond
the northern ocean.

About eight o'clock we rode back to "Wed Medineh. Soon
after our arrival Se'id Haschim received a letter from Kasr,
in which she asked him confidentially whether I would
accept a little slave girl from her, as a gift to the stranger.
I sent a message to inform her that this was contrary to our
customs, but that there would be no difiiculty if, instead of
a slave girl, she would select a slave boy ; and, after the re-
moval of some scruples, as this seemed to her less becoming,
she really sent a little slave boy, who was brought to me in
our boat.

He had been the playmate of the Sultana's little grandson,
the son of her daughter Dauer, and was handed over to me
with the name of Eehan (the Arabic designation for the
sweet-scented basilicum) . I was also informed that he was
born in the district of Makadi, on the frontier of Abyssinia,
which generally furnishes the most intelligent and faithful
slaves. This district is imder Christian domination, and is
inhabited both by Christians and Mohammedans, who are
separated into difierent villages. The former call themselves
jS'azara (Nazarenes), or Amhara (Amharic Christians) ; the
latter Giberta. Amongst the latter, children of their own
race, or that of their neighbours, are frequently stolen and


sold to Arabian slave-dealers; for in the central parts of
Abyssinia the slave trade is strictly interdicted. However,
this account of the boy has since proved incorrect, and per-
haps was only meant to remove the obstacle which some
might find in offering me a Christian boy, while on the other
hand it would appear still more doubtful to hand over to me
a native Mohammedan. The boy himself first communicated
to our Christian cook, and afterwards to myself, that he was
born of Christian parents, that he had here for the first time
received the name of Eehan, and that his real name was
Gabre Mariam, i. e. in Abyssinian, " the slave of Mary."
He was bom near Gondar, the capital of Amhara. He ap-
pears to have belonged to a family of some distinction, for
the place called Bamba, which is stated by Bruce to be in
the neighbourhood of Lake Tzana, by his accounts belonged
to his grandfather ; and his father, who now is dead, pos-
sessed many herds, which the boy often drove, mth others,
to the pasture. One day, above three or four years ago,
when on such an expedition, at a considerable distance from
his dwelling-place, he was stolen by some mounted Bedouins,
carried oft* to the village of Waldakarel, and then sold to
King Idris Adlan ; by him he was afterwards presented to his
sister IVasr. He is a pretty boy, very dark, and may be now
between eight and nine years old ; but much more advanced
than a child of this age would be with us. The girls here
marry from eight years old upwards. He wears his hair in a
peculiar manner, in innumerable little braids ; these must,
at least once every month, be re-braided and daubed with
grease, by a woman skilled in the art ; and his body also
must from time to time be well rubbed with grease. His
entire clothing consists in a great white cloth, w^hich he
binds round his hips, and throws upwards over the shoulders.
I call him now by his Christian name, and shall take him to
Europe with me.

Seid Haschim did all in his power to keep us some days
longer in AVed Medineh. The first evening he invited us to
his house, with the Turks of most distinction, and had a


number of dancing-girls to show us tlie national dances in
these parts ; they chiefly consist in contortions of the upper
part of the body and the arms, similar to what are repre-
sented on the Egyptian monuments ; but differ from the
Egyptian dances of the present day, which are chiefly limited
to very ungraceful gestures.

A good-natured and very comical old man led on the
dances, while he at the same time sang some Arabic songs,
with a piercing but not disagreeable voice, which had refer-
ence to the assembled company, or to persons of repute, such
as Nasr, Idris iVdlan, Mak (i. e. Melek), Badi, &c. ; and with
his left hand touched the chords of a five-stringed lyre,
passing the plectrum over them in time with his right. His
instrument only embraced six tones of the octave. The first
string on the right hand had the highest tone, C, to be
struck with the thumb, the string immediately succeeding, the
lowest tone, E; then followed the third, F ; the fourth, A;
the fifth, B. The instrument is called Eababa, and the per-
former on it Eebabi. This man had been instructed by an
old celebrated Eebabi in Schendi ; he had made his instru-
ment himself, after the model of that belonging to his master,
and had also acquired from him his talent for making verses,
and tluis became the favourite black bard of AVed Medineh.
All the poetry of his songs had been composed by himself;
they were sometimes improvised, and whoever disobliged
him or his patrons, would probably be made the object of his

I made him come to me the following morning, and,
through Jussuf, write down four of his poems in Arabic :
one on Mohammed, the son of Mak Mesa'd, who resides in
Metammeh ; one upon King Nimr, who burnt Ismael
Pascha, and is still living in Abyssinia ; a third on jN"asr ;
and lastly, a song of homage to pretty girls.* It is impos-
sible to render these melodies in our notes. I have only

* The pnems contain many unusual grammatical forms and ex-
pressions, and are composed in a very free, and, as it appears, in some
measure, incorrect style.


written down a small portion of tliem, which in some mea-
sure approaches our mode of singing. They are generally
half recited, half carried do^vn, with qiiivering tones, from the
highest notes to a deep and long-sustained tone. These are
their most peculiar characteristics, but they are quite incapable
of being noted down. Each verse contains four rhymes ; the
voice is retained lightly on each of them, on the second more
than on the first and third ; but longest on the last rhyme.
The music always sinks at this point, and the same deep
tone recurs, wliich gives a certain character to the progress-
ing soDg. A particular recurrence of the melody may, in-
deed, also be noticed, but this is impossible for a European
ear to remember. I purchased the instrument from the
good-natured old man. He gave it unwillingly, although I
let him name his own price ; and several times after he had
taken the money, and had laid down his instrument for it, an
air of anxious sorrow came over his expressive countenance.
The following day I bid him come to me again. He was de-
pressed, and told me his wife had given him a sound beating
for having given his instrument away. Here it is no dis-
grace for a man to be beaten by his wife, but it is so perhaps
in the reverse case. A woman who has been beaten goes at
once to the Cadi to complain ; she then generally obtains
justice, and the husband is punished.

In Wed Medinch we were also present at a funeral cere-
mony, which seemed a strange enough one to us. A woman
liad died three days before ; the day succeeding her death,
the third, the seventh, and several days afterwards are pecu-
liarly solemnised. In front of the house, an hour before sun-
set, above a hundred women and children had collected, and
more were constantlv coming in, and cowered down beside
the others. Two daughters of the deceased were present,
whose richly ornamented and grease-hesm eared heads they
had already strewed with ashes, and had rubbed the whole of
the upper part of their bodies white with them, so that their
eyes and mouths alone shone forth clean, and, as it were, set
into the white mask. The women wore long cloths round

184 WED :medixeh.

their Lips ; the young girls and children the Eahat, a girdle
composed of five strips of leather, hanging down close to-
gether ; this is usually bound round the loins by a cord,
prettily ornamented with shells and pearls, and it falls half-
way do^vn the leg. There was a great wooden bowl with
ashes, which was repeatedly filled again with fresh ones.
Female musicians cowered down close on either side of the
door uttering shrill screams, which pierced our ears ; they
now clapped their hands together in time ; now struck the
sounding DAEA-srKA (a kind of hand kettle-drum, called
here in the Sudan Daluka) ; and now beat with sticks on
some hollow gourds floating in tubs of water. The two
daughters, about eighteen or twenty years of age, and the
nearest relations, began, two and two, to move at first
slowly towards the door in a narrow passage between the
constantly increasing crowds ; then suddenly shrill screams,
clapping of hands, and loud shrieks burst from them all
at once ; whereupon they turned round, and began their
fearfully contorted dancing. Bending the upper part of
their body in convulsive and strained twistings and turnings,
and slowly balancing themselves, they moved their feet for-
wards, then suddenly threw their breasts upwards with vio-
lence and their heads back on their shoulders, which they
stretched out in all directions, and thus, with half-closed
eyes, gradually glided forwards. In this manner they went
down a slight incline of fifteen and twenty paces, where they
threw themselves on the ground, covered themselves with
dust and earth, and tui'ned back again to re-commence the
same dance. The younger of the two daughters had a beau-
tiful slight figure, with wonderful elasticity, and when she
stood quietly erect, or was lying on the ground with her
sunken head, her regular and gentle, though inanimate fea-
tures, even during the dance, and the classical form of her
body, was exactly like an antique statue. This dancing pro-
cession was repeated over and over again. Each of the
moiuners is compelled at least to go through this once, and
the nearer the relationship so much the more frequently is it

ruNEEAL cere:m:o:>'y. 185

repeated. Wlioever cannot immediately force her way up
to the vessel of ashes, takes them from the head of her
neighbour to strew it on her own head. In front of this
squatting assembly some women are cowering, who under-
stand how to sob loudly and to shed profuse tears, which
leave long black streaks on their white-rubbed cheeks. The
most striking, and the most repelling, part of this spectacle
is, that nothing is done from unrestrained sorrow, but all
with deliberation, with a degree of pathos, and evidently
studied; children as young as four and five years old are
placed in the procession, and if they perfonn the difficult and
unnatural movements well, their mothers, who are cowering
behind, call out to them taih, taih — i. e. bravo ! well done !
In the second act, however, of this ceremony, rendered pecu-
liarly stunning by its continual clapping, screaming, and
shrieking, all the dancers throw themselves into the dust,
and tumble down the hill ; but this they also do slowly, and
with deliberation, carefully drawing up their knees to their
bodies, to hold their dresses with them, and also crossing
their arms ; they then roll down, over knees and back. This
ceremony begins one hour before sunset, and lasts till night.

The unnatural feeling pervading the whole proceeding
makes an indescribable impression, which is rendered still
more disagreeable by seeing nothing in all of it but an in-
herited and perverted custom, an empty spectacle ; not a
trace of individual truth and natural sentiment can be per-
ceived in the persons who participate; and yet the com-
parison between this and certain descriptions and repre-
sentations of similar festivals among the ancients, teaches us
to understand much, of which judging by our own manner of
life, we can never form a correct notion, till we have once
seen with our eyes such caricatures of metamorphoses as are
here and there exhibited in the East.

The following day we visited the hospital, which we found
very cleanly, and in good order ; it holds a hundred patients,
but there were then only eight-and-twenty within it. "We
then went to the barracks, in the large court-yard of which


the men are exercised. The commanding officer ordered out
the band of music, and they played several pieces before us.
The first was the Parisienne, which sounded most strangely
in this country, as well as the succeeding pieces, most of them
French, and known to me ; they were, however, tolerably
well executed. The musicians performed almost solely on
European instruments, and have also admitted the name of
our trumpet into their Arabic musical language, but have
transferred it to the drum, which they call trumheta^ while
for the trumpet they have a peculiar name of their own, nafir ;
they call their great flute siimdra, the small one sufdra, and
the great drum tabli. There were only twelve hundred
soldiers present belonging to the regiment, which consists of
four thousand men, almost all negroes, whose black faces
staring out of their white linen uniform and red-tasselled
caps, made them look like dressed-up monkeys, only much
more unhappy aud oppressed. The negroes are incapable of
any military discipline and regular exertion, and generally
sink beneath the imposed yoke. "NYe did not, however,
suspect that these same people would two days afterwards
rebel in a body, and set off to their hills.

Emin Pascha was expected hourly. But on the 13th I
received in the morning a letter from him, from Messeleraieh,
between four and five hours distant from this place, in which
he wrote that he should not come to Wed Medineh before
the following day, and hoped to find us still there. He at
the same time informed me that the war in Taka was over,
and that all had submitted. Several hundred natives had
been killed in skirmishes ; the morning before the chief battle,
all the Sheikhs of the tribes from Taka had come to the
Pascha to sue for pardon, which he had granted them, on
condition that no fugitive should venture to remain in the
great wood, which was their chief place of refuge. The
following morning he had the wood searched, and as nobody
was discovered in it, he had it set on fire, and entirely burnt
to the ground. On his journey back, he intends to pa&s
through the eastern districts to Katarif, on the Abyssinian


frontier, and thence to go to tlie Blue Eiver. We had
scarcely read this news from Taka, when we heard the sound
of cannon in front of tlie barracks announcing the victorious
message to tlie population round.

In another letter, which had gone to Emin Pascha instead
of me, Herr von ^^agner gave me the pleasing intelligence

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 16 of 54)