Richard Lepsius.

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

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fermented Durra ; it is an agreeable acid, and, especially with
sugar, has a most excellent and refreshing taste. After our
breakfiist, I went through the camp with Peney. The tents
were pitched along the river in the most picturesque variety
of groups, on a great space of ground here and there scat-
tered over with trees and thicket, and completely sur-
rounded by it. An Egyptian army, composed half of blacks
and half of whites, most of them in tatters, returning in
forced marches from a depredatory expedition against the
poor natives, presents, indeed, a verj' different aspect from
what we are accustomed to witness at home. Although the
intimidated population of Taka, for the most part innocent
of individual revolt, had already sent messengers to the
Pascha, to avert his vengeance, and moreover, on the ap-
proach of the troops, had not offered the slightest resistance,
nevertheless, several hundred unarmed men and women, who
either would not, or could not fly, were murdered by that
notorious troop of Arnauts ; and Ahmed Pascha caused a
number of other men, who were believed to have been con-
cerned in the insm-rcctiou, as they were each led before him,
to be beheaded in front of his tent. Then, after aU the
conditions that were imposed had been fulfilled, and the
heavy contributions which had been required from them
under every variety of pretext had been also correctly paid,
the Pascha caused all the Sheikhs to assemble at once, as if
for a fresh conference, but forthwith had them all put in
fetters, together with 120 other people, and led away as
prisoners. The young and strong men were to be placed


among the troops, tlie women handed over to the soldiers as
slaves ; the Sheikhs were reserved for punishment till a later

This was the glorious history of the Turkish campaign
against Taka, as it was related to me by the European eye-
witnesses. Already twelve among the forty-one Sheikhs
who were carried away, and were nearly sinking under the
fatigue of the marches, have been shot on the road. The
others were exhibited to me singly. Each of them carried
before him the stem of a tree as thick as a man's arm, about
five or six feet long, which terminated in a fork, into which
the neck was fixed. The prongs of the fork were bound
together by a cross-piece of wood, fastened with a strap.
Some of their hands, also, were tied fast to the handle of the
fork, and in this condition they remain day and night.
During the march, the soldier who is specially appointed to
overlook the prisoner, carries the end of the pole : in the
night most of them have their feet also pinioned together.
All of them had had their black curls shaven off. The
Sheikhs alone still wore their large head-dress of braids or
curls. Most of them looked very depressed and miserable ;
they had been the most distinguished of their nation, and
had been accustomed to be treated by those they com-
manded, with the greatest reverence. They almost all spoke
Arabic, beside their own language, and mentioned to me the
tribes to which they severally belonged. But the most distin-
guished of all of them was a Eakir, who was held sacred ;
his word had been regarded like that of a prophet through-
out the whole land, and, by his oracular sayings and ex-
hortations, he had been chiefly instrumental in causing the
whole revolution. He was called Sheikh Musa el Eakib,
and was of the tribe of the Mitkenabs. I found him an old,
blind, broken-down, hoary man, with a few snow-white
hairs ; his body was already more like a skeleton ; he was
obliged to be raised up by others, and was scarcely able to
hear and answer the questions which were addressed to him.
His little, shrivelled face, was incapable of any new ex-


pression corresponding to the present circumstances. He
looked forwards with a fixed and indiiFerent stare, and I was
surprised how such a shadow could have still exercised so
much influence on the minds of his fellow-countrymen as to
excite a revolution. Yet it is remarkable that, both in
Egypt and everywhere about here, blind people have an
especial reputation for sanctity, and are held in great re-
spect as Prophets.

After breakfast I had one of the captured Sheikhs, Mo-
hammed welled Hammed, brought to the tent of Osman,
that I might question him about his language, of which I
was still perfectly ignorant. He was an intelligent, well-
spoken man, who at once took advantage of the opportunity
which I readily granted him, to relate his history to Osman
Bey and Sheikh Ahmed, and to assure them of his innocence
of the revolutionary events. He belonged to the tribe of
the Halenka, from the village of Kassala. I made him give
me the lists of the forty-one Sheikhs and their tribes, and
liad them written down. Six tribes had taken part in tlie
insurrection — the Mitkenab, Halenka, Keluli, Mohammedin,
Sobeh, Sikulab, and Hadenduwa (plur. from Henduwa).

All the tribes of Taka speak the same language; but only
a few of them also understand the Arabic. I suspect that it
is the same as that of the Bischari tribes. It has many, and
well-distributed vowels, and is very euphonous, as it is with-
out the hard guttural sound of the Arabs. On the other
hand, it has a pecidiar alphabetical letter, which to our ear
seems to stand between r, I, and d ; 2. cerebral d, which, like
the Sanscrit, is pronounced by throwing back the point of
the tongue upwards.

After our examination of the Sheikh it had become too
late to set out again ; night would have overtaken me, and
especially on camel-back, it is impossible to avoid the dan-
gerous branches of the thorny trees. I therefore complied
with the invitation to spend the night in the camp, till the
rising of the moon ; Osmnn Bey would then at the same
time start in the opposite direction with the army. A


whole sheep was roasted on the spit, which we eat with a
hearty appetite.

I learnt from Osman Bey about many interesting customs
of the most southern provinces, as for the last sixteen years
he has been living here in the south, and has an accurate
knowledge of the country, to the extreme limits of Mo-
hammed All's government. It is still the custom in Fazoql
to hang a king who is no longer beloved, which occurred
only a few years ago to the father of the present reigning
monarch. His relatives and ministers assemble round him,
and announce to liim that as he no longer pleases the men
and women of the country, the oxen, asses, and fowls, &c.,
&c., but is detested by all, it is better that he should die.
Once upon a time, when a king did not wish to submit to
this practice, his own wife and mother made the most press-
ing remonstrances to him, not to load himself with still
greater disgrace, upon which he yielded to his fate. Dio-
dorus narrates exactly the same resignation to death in those
who in Ethiopia were to die by judicial verdict ; a person
who had been condemned, and who had at first intended to
save himself by flight, had nevertheless allowed himself to
be strangled without resistance by his mother, who had
obstructed him in his design. Osman Bey has only lately,
he assures me himself, abolished the custom there of burying
old people alive, when they become feeble. A pit used to be
dug and a horizontal passage at the end of it, and the body
laid within, like that of a dead person, firmly swathed in
cloths ; by his side they placed a bowl with merisa, fermented
Durra water, a pipe, and a hoe, to cultivate the land ; also,
according to the wealth of the individual, one or two ounces
of gold, to pay the ferryman who must convey the deceased
across the great river which flows between heaven and hell.
The entrance is then filled up with rubbish. Indeed, ac-
cording to Osman, the whole legend of Charon, even with a
Cerberus, appears still to exist here.

This custom of burying old people alive also exists, as I
afterwards heard, among the negro tribes to the south of


Kordofan. Invalids and cripples, those especially who have
an infectious malady, are there also put to death in a similar
manner. The family complains to the sick man, that be-
cause of him, no one will come near them any longer ; that
he himself is wretclied, and death would be only a gain for
him; that he would again find his relations in the other
world, and would be in health and happiness there. They
charge him with kind messages to all the deceased, and then
hwry him either as they do in Fazoql, or standing upright in
a pit. Besides merisa, bread, a hoe, and a pipe, he is there
given a sword and two pairs of sandals, for the deceased
live in the otlier world just as they do here on earth, only
in greater happiness.

The dead are buried with loud lamentations, while their
iictions and good qualities are extolled. Nothing is there
known of a river and ferryman of the lower world, but tliey
are acquainted A\-ith the old Mohammedan legend of the
invisible angel Asrael, or as he was here called Osrain. He
is commissioned by Grod, as they say, to receive the souls of
the dead, and to conduct the good to the place of reward,
the bad to that of punishment. He dwells upon a tree, el
Segerat JMohana (the Tree of Completion), which has as
many leaves as there are living men. There is a name upon
every leaf, and a new one grows whenever a child is born.
If any one sickens, his leaf fades, and should he die, Osrain
breaks it off. In former times he used to come in a visible
form to those whom he was going to carry away from the
earth, and thereby put them in a great fright. Since the
days of the Prophet he has been invisible, for when he came
to fetch the soul of Mohammed, the latter told him that it
was not good that he should terrify mankind by his visible
appearance ; they might then easily die of fright without
having previously prayed; for he himself, although very
courageous, and a man of enlarged mind, had been terrified
by his appearance. The Prophet, therefore, prayed to God
that he would make Osrain invisible, and the prayer was



Osman Bey told me that among some otber tribes in
Fazoql, the king was obliged to administer justice daily be-
neath a certain tree. If on account of sickness, or from any
other mishap, which renders him unfit, he does not make his
appearance for three whole days, he is hung up. Two razors
are placed in the noose, and when this is draAvn tight, they
cut the throat across.

The meaning of another of their customs is quite obscure.
At a certain time of the year they have a kind of car-
nival, where every one does what he likes best. Four minis-
ters of the king then bear him on an anqareb out of his
house to an open space of ground ; a dog is fastened by a long
cord to one of the feet of the anqareb. The whole popula-
tion collects round the place, streaming in on every side.
They then throw darts and stones at the dog, till he is killed,
after which the king is again borne into his house.

Amidst these and other tales and accounts of those tribes,
which were besides confirmed by the old Chief Sheikh Ahmed,
we feasted on the roasted sheep in the open air in front
of the tent. [N'ight was somewhat advanced, and the near
and distant camp-fires, with the people busy around them,
either squatting about, or walking up and down between
groups of trees, had an extremely picturesque and unique
efiect. Gradually they all became extinguished, with the
exception of the watch-fire ; the poor prisoners scattered
here and there, had their legs fastened still more tightly
together, and it became quieter in the camp.

Osman Bey is a strong, cheerful man, with natural man-
ners, and at the same time a strict and valued ofiicer. He
promised to give me a slight proof of the discipline and good
order among his soldiers, whose external appearance did not
prejudice me very much in their favour by an unexpected
reveille. I was sleeping on an anqareb in the open tent,
covered with a soldier's cloak. About three o'clock in the
morning I was awoke by a slight noise ; Osman Bey, who lay
beside me on the ground, got up, and ordered the nearest
drummer of the chief watch to beat the reveille. He made


a few, short, interrupted beats of the drum, quickly sinkiug
again into silence. These were immediately repeated at the
post of the next regiment, then at the third, fourth, and fifth, in
various, always more distant, positions of the camp ; and sud-
denly the whole mass of 5000 men rose up and stood to their
arms. Nothing was to be heard but a soft whispering and rust-
ling of the soldiers, who were rousing each otlier, and the faint
clank of the weapons, which were cautiously separated from
one another. I went through the camp with Dr. Peney,
who came across to me from the adjoining tent, and in a verv
few minutes we found the whole army under arms, arranged
in ranks, tlie officers marching up and down in front. On
our return, after we had related to Osman Bey the wonder-
fully punctual execution of his commands, he allowed the
soldiers to separate again, and did not give the signal for
the breaking up of the camp before four o'clock. That pro-
duced a very different efiect : all were quiclily in movement
and activity ; the abominable gurgling and miserable roar-
ing of the camels was heard above everything during the
packing up ; the tents were taken down, and in less than half
an hour the army marched southwards with pipe and drum.
I started in an opposite direction. The early morning
with the briglit moonlight was very refreshing ; the birds
awoke with the dawn of day, a cool wind rose, and we trotted
quickly through the thorny sont-trees. Soon after sunrise
we met a magnificent procession of well-dressed men, and
attendants, on camels and asses. It was the King Mahmud
welled Schauisch, whose father, the warlike Schauisch, King
of the Schaiqies, is well known in the conquering expedition
oi Ismael Pascha, to whom he did not submit for a long
time, and at whose house in Hellet e' Solimau, near Messele-
mieh, we had stopped a few weeks ago. He had gone with
Ahmed Pascha Menekle to Taka, and followed the army to
Halfai, where he now usually resides. About half-past nine
we again reached the Pyramids. My camel, a young one,
and very difficult to manage, shortly before, took fright in the
plain, and ran round in a circle with me as if it was mad; at


length, stumbUng over a tall bunch of grass, it fell on one
knee, and hurled me far over its head, happily without doing
me any serious injury.

On my return I occupied myself, without interruption,
with the Pyramids and their inscriptions. I had several
more chambers excavated, and made an exact description of
each individual Pyramid. Altogether, I have found about
thirty different names of Ethiopian kings and queens. I
have certainly not yet been able to bring them into any
chronological order, but from a comparison of the different
inscriptions, I have learnt much about the manner of the suc-
cession, and form of government. The King of Meeoe (whose
name in one of the most southern Pyramids is written Meetj,
or Meetja,) was at the same time first Priest of Amnion ; if
his consort survived him, she succeeded him in the govern-
ment, and the male heirs to the throne only took the second
place beside her ; if the reverse happened, the son, as it
appears, succeeded, who, even in the lifetime of his father,
bore the royal shields and titles, and was second Priest of
Ammon. Thus we still see here the domination of the
priests, which is spoken of by Diodorus and Strabo, and the
pre-eminence of the worship of Ammon, which is even men-
tioned by Herodotus.

The inscriptions on the P>Tamids show that, at the period
of their erection, the hieroglyphic writing was no longer
perfectly understood, and that the hieroglyphic signs were
often only added as a customary ornament, without wishing to
express anything by them. Even the kings' names are
thereby rendered uncertain, and this for a long time pre-
vented me from recognising the three royal personages who
built the chief temples in Naga, Ben Naga, and in "Wadi
Temed, and who undoubtedly belonged to one of the most
brilliant periods of the Merbitic Monarchy. I am now con-
vinced that the Pyramids with Eoman arched ante-chambers,
in the brick- work of which Eerlini found the treasure con-
cealed, in spite of slight alterations in the name, belonged to
the same mighty and warlike queen who appears in Naga


with her rich decorations, and her pointed nails almost an
inch long. By the circumstance of their liaving belonged to
a well-known, and, as it appears, the greatest of all the queens
of Meroe, who built almost all the temples still in tolerable
preservation on the island, Ferlini's jewels become infinitely
more valuable for the history of Ethiopian art, in which
they now occupy a fixed position. The purchase of that
remarkable discovery is a most important acquisition to our

An Etldopian-demotic writing was more in use at that
period, and more generally understood than hieroglyphics.
It was similar to the Eg}'ptian-demotic in its characters,
although consisting of a very limited alphabet of between
twenty-five and thirty signs. The writing, like the latter, is
read from right to left, but is distinguished by a constant
separation of the words by two strongly-marked points. I
have already found six-and-twenty similar demotic inscrip-
tions ; some of them on steles and libation-tablets ; some of
them in the ante-chambers of the Pyramids, over the persons
belonging to the processions, who usually go to meet the
deceased king with palm-branches; some of them on the
smooth surfaces of the Pyramids ; and indeed always in such
a state, that they are clearly proved to have belonged ori-
ginally to the representations, and not to have been added at
a later period. On a closer examination of this writing, it
will not perhaps be difficidt to decipher, and we should then
obtain the first certain sounds of the Ethiopian language
spoken here at that period, and could decide on its true
relation to the Egyptian language, while the almost perfect
agreement between the Ethiopian and Egyptian hierogly-
phics have hitherto yielded no conclusive evidence that there
is an equal accordance between the two languages. It seems,
on the contrary, and with respect to the later Meroitic period
may be safelv affirmed, that the hieroglyphics, as the sacred
monumental writing, were adopted from Egypt without altera-
tion, but also without being perfectly understood. The few
signs which constantly recur, prove that the Ethiopian-demotic


writing is purely alphabetic, wliich must very much facilitate
the deciphering of it. The separation in the words has per-
haps been borrowed from the Eoman writing. But its
analogy with the Egyptian development of writing went still
further; for next to this Ethiopian-demotic writing there is
an EtJiiopian- Greek, at a later period, which may be per-
fectly compared with the Coptic, and it has borrowed certain
letters directly from it. It is found in the inscriptions of
Soba, and in some others on the walls of the temple-ruins of
"Wadi e' Sofra. We have therefore now, as in the case in
Egypt, two modes of writing, which no doubt sprang up one
after the other, and really cojitain the actual Ethiopian dialect
of the country. It is now usual to call the ancient Abys-
sinian Geez language the Ethiopian, which, with the charac-
teristics of a Semetic language that has immigrated from
Arabia, has only a local, but no ethnographic claim on our
attention. A Geez inscription, which 1 have found in the
chamber of a Pyramid, htis evidently been written down at a
later period.

I hope that we shall obtain many important results from
studying the native inscriptions, as well as the present living
languages. The Ethiopian name comprehended much that
was dissimilar among the ancients. The ancient population
of the whole Nile valley as far as Chartum, and perhaps,
also, along the Blue River, as well as the tribes of the desert
to tiie east of the Nile, and the Abyssinian nations, were in
former times probably more distinctly separated from the
Negroes than now, and belonged to the Caucasian race. The
Ethiopians of Meroe (according to Herodotus, the parent-
state of all Ethiopia) were a red-brown people, similar to the
Egyptians, but darker, as they are at the present day. The
monuments also prove this, on which 1 have more than once
found the red colour of the skin in the kings and queens pre-
served. In Egypt, especially in the Old Monarchy, before
the mixture with the Ethiopian race, at the period of the
llvksos, the women were always painted yellow; and the
Egyptian women even now, who are blanched in the harem,

MARtJGA. 209

incline to the same colour. But red women appear even
after the 18th Dynasty, and the Ethiopian women were
always so represented. It appears that much Ethiopian
blood is mingled with the nation of the so-called Barabras,
so widely distributed at the present day, and this perhaps
will also one day appear still more distinctly from their lan-
guage. This, no doubt, is the ancient Nubian, and has been
still retained in somewhat distant regions to the south-west
under tliis name; for the Nuba languages in and round
Kordofan, as can be proved, are partly related to the Berber
language. I have also found indications in the local names
that this last, which is only now spoken from Assuan to Dar
Schaiqieh, south of Dongola, in the Nile valley, predomi-
nated for a long while also in the province of Berber, and
still higher up.

Maruga, Danqeleh, and e' Sue, are close to the ruins of
the city of Meroe, and are situated along the river from
south to north ; all three are comprehended under the name
of Begerauieh, so that we scarcely ever hear anything but
this last name mentioned. Five minutes to the north of
e' Sur lies the village of Qala, and ten minutes farther on
El Gues, both of which are comprehended under the name of
Gliabine. One hour down the river there are two other
villages, not far apart, called Maruga, which were deserted
even before the conquest of the country ; and still more to
the north, close to the Omarab Mountains, which project
towards the river on the eastern bank, there is a third village
called Gebel (mountain village) inhabited only by Fukaras.
Cailliaud knew only the most southern of the three Marugas,
situated near the largest temple-ruins. He was struck by
the name, on account of its similarity with that of Meroe.
The similarity becomes still more evident when it is known
that the real name is Maru, since -ga is only the universal
termination to names, and is always either added or omitted,
according to the grammatical combination, for it does not
belong to the root of the word. In the dialect of Ken us and
Dongola this termination is -Gi; in the dialect of Mahass


210 2fAGA.

and Sukkot it is -ga. When I ran over the different Local
names of the upper countries with one of our Berber servants,
I learnt that in one dialect maro or marogi, in tlie other
maru or maruga, means "mounds of ruins," "destroyed
temples ;" thus, for example, the ruins of ancient Syene, or
those on the island of Philse, are called marogi. There is
another Berber word quite distinct from this, merua, which
is also pronounced meraui, by which all white rocks, white
stones, are designated ; as, for example, such a rock as occurs
in the neighbourhood of Assuan, on the eastern side of the
Nile, at the village of El Gezii-et. By this it is evident that
the apellation Maruga has nothing to do with the name of
Meroe, as a town would not be called when first founded " ruin
city." On the other hand, the name of Merua, Meraui (in
German, Weissenfels, white rock), would be very appropriate
for a towTi, if its local position gave occasion to it, as at
Mount Barkal, but which, again, is not really the case here.


Keli, opposite Meroe, the 29th April.
Ebanke did not return from his expedition to Ben Naga
before the 23rd instant. He brought the altar here, on a
boat, in sixteen blocks. All the stones taken together, which
we must carry along with us on the difficult journey of six
or seven days across the desert, form a load for about twenty
camels, so that our train will be considerably longer than
before. Unfortunately, on account of the difficulty of the

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 18 of 54)