Rudolf Carl Slatin.

Fire and sword in the Sudan : a personal narrative of fighting and serving the Dervishes, 1879-1895 online

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Mahdist rule, ordering them to suspend hostilities, and promising that
he would give them justice. Fearful of Osman's power, they reluctantly
complied; but Karamalla, under the pretext of making peace negotiations,
enticed their Sheikh into his zariba, and there executed him. Osman now
moved forward by forced marches, not only on account of Karamalla, but
in fear of a mutiny on the part of Sultan Yusef, who, for a long time,
had sent no consignments of horses and slaves, and was evidently
beginning to feel himself sufficiently powerful to overturn the
Khalifa's authority.

Osman's arrival at Shakka relieved Karamalla and his garrison from a
very dangerous position; he then assured the Arabs, who were clamouring
for justice, that he would settle their case as soon as he had subdued
Darfur. His total force, including Karamalla's men, now numbered some
five thousand rifles, and with these he marched against Dara. He had
previously written to Sultan Yusef, ordering him to join him, and
informing him that in the event of his refusal, he would treat him as a
rebel. To this summons he received a reply that, as he had joined his
sworn enemy, Karamalla, it was impossible to come; at the same time,
news reached him that Sultan Yusef was concentrating his forces at
Fasher. On his arrival at Dara, Osman found the place deserted; but, on
the following day, he was attacked by Said Mudda, and only succeeded in
driving him off after a very closely contested fight. A week later, he
was again attacked by the Sultan's old vizir, Hussein Ibrahim, and Rahma
Gamo, who had collected Said Mudda's people, and had received
reinforcements as well; but these also were forced to retire. Osman now
marched on El Fasher. Had Sultan Yusef attacked him with his entire
force at Dara, he would in all probability have defeated him, and Darfur
would thus have been freed forever; but he had previously divided his
army, his vizirs were hated, and his own people had lost heart after
their recent defeats. A fight took place near Wad Berag, south of
Fasher; and Osman gained an easy victory. Sultan Yusef fled, but was
overtaken at Kebkebia and killed; whilst Fasher, in which all his wives
and relations had been collected, as well as a quantity of goods
belonging to Fezzan and Wadai merchants, also numbers of women and
children, fell into Osman's hands. Thus Darfur, which had been
practically lost to the Mahdists, was re-taken by them in the same month
(January, 1888), just at the time that Abu Anga had gained his great
victory over the Abyssinians. In this short campaign the Darfurians had
shown great fidelity to their native ruler; and Osman, fearing to expose
himself to continual difficulties by supporting their dynastic
sentiments, determined that all males of royal blood should either be
put in irons, executed, or sent to Omdurman, where they were placed
amongst the Khalifa's mulazemin, and treated as slaves.

All female members of the royal family were declared to be "Khums" (a
fifth of the booty), and put at the Khalifa's disposal. Some of these he
took into his own harem; and the remainder he distributed as "Suria"
(concubines) amongst his followers. He liberated, however, the two old
sisters of Sultan Ibrahim, namely, Miriam Isa Basi and Miriam Bakhita;
the latter was the wife of Kadi Ali, who was then in Omdurman.

Whilst these momentous events were transpiring in the east and west of
the Sudan Empire, the Khalifa governed the country at Omdurman in a most
tyrannical and despotic manner. He mistrusted every one. Numbers of
spies were employed by his brother Yakub; and their duty was to tell him
of everything that went on in the city. He was kept fully informed of
the general temper of the people; and should any persons express doubt
about the truth of the Mahdi's Divine mission, they were punished with
special severity. It happened, one day, that a sailor used some
irreverent expression regarding Mahdism, and was reported to the
Khalifa. The plaintiff, who was a fanatical Baggari, had, however, no
witnesses, those who were present at the time admitting to the Khalifa
that they were too far off to hear what passed; but the latter
determined to make an example. He therefore summoned the Kadi, and
ordered him to force a confession out of the accused, at the same time
advising him how to set about it. Two persons were then sent to the
prisoner, to apprise him that witnesses had been found; but that if he
made a confession of his own free-will, and admitted that he was sorry,
before the witnesses had been questioned, the Khalifa would mitigate his
sentence, and would probably pardon him. The poor man failed to see the
trap that had been laid for him, made a confession, and begged the
Khalifa's pardon. The confession was taken down in writing, and
submitted to Abdullahi, who ordered the sentence - which was
execution - to be carried out in accordance with the Mahdi's code. The
Khalifa, in giving sentence, said that had the insult been against his
own person, he would have forgiven him; but the prisoner, having sinned
against the Mahdi, he would be committing a crime if he mitigated it in
the slightest degree.

That afternoon, the Khalifa gave orders for the ombe├┐a to be sounded,
while the dull beats of the great Mansura (war-drum) boomed through the
city, and he himself rode with an immense escort to the parade ground.
On his arrival, his sheepskin was spread on the ground; and on this he
sat, facing the east, whilst the Kadi and others stood behind him in a
semi-circle. He then ordered the accused to be brought before him.
Already his hands had been tied behind his back; but he showed not the
slightest signs of fear. When within a hundred paces of the Khalifa, he
was decapitated by Ahmed Dalia, the chief executioner.

Soon after this, a certain Fiki called Nur en Nebi (The Light of the
Prophet), who had collected a considerable number of disciples, preached
to them about the necessity for religious zeal, and urged them not to be
led away by innovations. Yakub reported this to the Khalifa, with the
result that the Fiki was at once arrested, and brought before the Kadi.
The necessary witnesses were procured; and the Fiki openly declared
before them that he was a good Mohammedan, but not a follower of the
Mahdi. By command of the Khalifa, the judges ordered him to be laden
with chains; his hands tied behind his back; and, under the deafening
shouts of the mob, he was dragged to the market-place, where he was
hanged on the scaffold erected there. I remember looking at the body,
whilst suspended from the gallows, and was struck by the calm and
smiling expression on the face of this man who had died for his
convictions. Several hundred houses, surrounding the abode of the
murdered man, were confiscated; their inmates arrested, bound, and
carried off to prison; but, through the intervention of Adlan, they were
subsequently liberated. The Khalifa now issued a proclamation to the
effect that all the inhabitants of the city were responsible for the
actions of their neighbours; and persons found involved in political or
religious intrigues were threatened with the most condign punishment.
On mere suspicion, several of the natives of the Nile valley were thrown
into chains, and deprived of all they possessed. Thus did he deal with
all suspected persons, and at the same time considerably enriched his

[Illustration: A Slave Dhow on the Nile.]

On another occasion, he had a meeting of the Kadis, and told them, in
confidence, that, in his opinion, all vessels on the Nile were really
"Ghanima" (booty); for, as he truthfully remarked, whilst he was in
Kordofan, the owners had, in spite of his frequent appeals, invariably
refused to assist the Mahdi's cause. They had not only failed to attack
the Government steamers on the river, but had also frequently provided
the Government stations with grain and wood. Of course the Kadis fully
concurred in his opinion; and, the following morning, they received a
letter from Ibrahim Adlan, asking them whether all vessels were not
state property. The all-powerful judges replied in the affirmative,
supporting their answer by extracts from the Mahdi's code, according to
which the owners were to be considered Mukhalafin (obstinate persons).
This pamphlet was read publicly, in the presence of the Khalifa, who
remarked, in conclusion, that those vessels alone were exempt which did
not float, or which were not built of the wood of the forests, which
were all the property of the state. These vessels, numbering upwards of
nine hundred, of from twenty to five hundred ardebs carrying capacity,
now all passed into the possession of the Beit el Mal; and, as they were
almost without exception the property of Jaalin and Danagla, who lived
on the river, the means of support of these unfortunate people was
entirely gone. The boats were now utilised by Ibrahim Adlan to carry
cargoes of grain to the Beit el Mal; or they were hired out annually at
a high rate, to persons who were considered worthy of this confidence.

In order to show his veneration for the Mahdi, the Khalifa decided to
erect a monument to him, as is the custom in Egypt; but this he did
rather to satisfy his own vanity, than out of respect for his late
master. A square building was erected, some thirty feet high, and
thirty-six feet each way; and the stone for this construction, of which
the walls were upwards of six feet thick, had to be brought all the way
from Khartum. Above this a hexagonal wall fifteen feet high was built,
from which rose a dome forty feet high. On the corners of the main
building were four smaller domes. This was called Kubbet el Mahdi
(Mahdi's dome). It was furnished with ten large arched windows, and two
doors; and in the hexagonal portion were six skylights. It was
whitewashed all over, and surrounded by a trellis-work fence; the
windows and doors were made by the workmen in the Khartum arsenal; while
directly beneath the dome, and over the Mahdi's grave, a wooden
sarcophagus was erected, covered with black cloth. On the sides of the
walls, candelabra were hung; while, suspended by a long chain from the
centre of the dome, was an immense chandelier taken from the Government
palace in Khartum. The sombre appearance of the inside of the building
was relieved by some gaudy painting on the walls. A few yards from the
building is a small cistern, built of red bricks cemented together; and
this is used by the visitors for their religious ablutions. The plans
for this building were devised by an old Government official who had
been formerly employed as an architect; but, of course, public opinion
dutifully attributed the design to the Khalifa.

The ceremony of laying the foundation-stone of this building was
conducted with great unction by the Khalifa, who "turned the first sod."
Accompanied by a crowd of upwards of thirty thousand people, he
proceeded to the river bank, where the stones were heaped up, and,
lifting one of them on his shoulder, carried it to the spot, his example
being followed by every individual person in this vast assemblage; the
noise and confusion were perfectly indescribable. Numbers of accidents
happened; but those injured thought it fortunate to suffer on such an
occasion. The building was not completed till the following year, and
entailed a considerable amount of labour, though little expense; and,
during its construction, the Khalifa frequently asserted that angels
lent their assistance. An Egyptian, hearing this, and aware that many of
his compatriots were masons, was constrained to remark to them, "You are
probably the Khalifa's angels, and require neither food, drink, nor
payment." Had the Khalifa heard this, he would undoubtedly have removed
this wag's head.

[Illustration: The Mahdi's Tomb.]

As usual, I was always in close attendance on the Khalifa; and, as a
token of his good-will, he presented me with one of the Abyssinian girls
sent by Abu Anga. Her mother and brother had been killed before her
eyes; and the poor creature had been torn from their bodies, and driven
into captivity at the end of the lash. Although not treated as a slave
by my people, who did all they could to lighten her sad lot, she never
seemed bright or happy; she continually brooded over her losses and her
home, until, at length, death released her from her sufferings.
Occasionally Father Ohrwalder used to visit me secretly; but, as the
Khalifa did not approve of our meeting, his visits were few and far
between. We used to talk of our home, and of our present wretched
existence; but we never lost hope that, sooner or later, our captivity
would come to an end.

Abu Girga, who commanded at Kassala, was now ordered to proceed to Osman
Digna, and assist him in his fighting; leaving Ahmed Wad Ali as his
representative at Kassala, he was summoned to Omdurman to report to the
Khalifa on the state of the Arab tribes in the Eastern Sudan. He arrived
late one evening, and was at once received in long private audience by
the Khalifa; and, on withdrawing, hurriedly told me that he had given
him a letter from my family in Europe. A few minutes later, I was called
in, and informed that the Governor of Suakin has sent a letter to Osman
Digna, which was supposed to be from my family, and which he had sent
on. In handing me this letter, the Khalifa ordered me to open it at
once, and acquaint him with its contents. I glanced through it
hurriedly, and, to my intense grief and sorrow, saw that it was an
announcement from my brothers and sisters that my poor mother had died,
and that, on her death-bed, she had expressed an earnest hope that we
should all be re-united. The Khalifa, impatient that I took so long to
read it, again asked me who had written it, and what were its contents.
"It is from my brothers and sisters," I replied; "and I will translate
it to you." I had no reason to conceal its contents; it was merely a few
lines from distressed brothers and sisters to their distant brother. I
told him how disturbed they were about me; and how they were ready to
make any sacrifice in order that I should regain my liberty. When I came
to the part about my mother, it required all my self-control; I told him
that, owing to my absence, her death was not so peaceful as it might
have been, and that during her long illness, her constant prayer to God
had been that she might see me again. Her prayer, alas, had not been
answered; and now this letter had brought me her last greeting, and her
tender hopes for my welfare. My throat felt parched and dry, and had not
the Khalifa suddenly interrupted me, I must have broken down. "Your
mother was not aware that I honour you more than any one else," said he;
"otherwise she certainly would not have been in such trouble about you;
but I forbid you to mourn for her. She died as a Christian and an
unbeliever in the Prophet and the Mahdi, and cannot therefore expect
God's mercy." The blood rushed to my head; and, for a moment, I could
say nothing; but gradually regaining my self-control, I continued to
read on that my brother Henry was now married, and that Adolf and my
sisters were quite well. Finally, they begged me to let them know how I
could obtain my liberty, and urged me to write to them. "Write and tell
one at least of your brothers to come here," said the Khalifa, when I
had finished the letter. "I would honour him, and he should want for
nothing; but I will talk to you about this another time." He then signed
to me with his hand; and I withdrew.

My comrades, who had already heard that a letter had arrived for me,
were very inquisitive, and asked me all manner of questions; but I
answered them only briefly, and, as soon as the Khalifa had retired to
rest, I went home. I flung myself down on my angareb, and my servants,
much concerned, asked me what was the matter; but I told them to leave
me. "Poor mother, then it was I who made your last hours so unhappy!" My
brothers and sisters had written her last words: "I am ready to die; but
I should have loved to see and embrace my Rudolf once more. The thought
that he is in the hands of his enemies makes my departure from this
world very difficult for me." How well I remembered her words when I
left for the Sudan: "My son, my Rudolf, your restless spirit drives you
out into the world! You are going to distant and almost unknown lands. A
time, perhaps, will come when you will long for us, and a quiet life."
How true had been her words, - poor mother! How much trouble I must have
given her! And then I cried and cried, - not about my position, but for
my dear mother, who could never be replaced.

The next morning, the Khalifa sent for me, and again made me translate
the letter to him; and he ordered me to reply at once that I was
perfectly happy in my present position. I did as I was told, and wrote a
letter praising the Khalifa, and saying how happy I was to be near him;
but I put inverted commas against many words and sentences, and points
of exclamation, and wrote at the bottom of the letter that all words and
sentences thus marked should be read in exactly the opposite sense. At
the same time, I asked my brothers and sisters to write a letter of
thanks to the Khalifa in Arabic, and to send him a travelling-bag, and
to me two hundred pounds, and twelve common watches, suitable for
presents; as, on certain seasons of the year, the Emirs attended the
feasts in Omdurman, and would greatly appreciate them. I also asked them
to send me a translation of the Kuran in German, and advised them not to
worry for the present; but that I hoped to find some means of being
re-united to them. I told them to send the things, through the Austrian
Consul-General in Cairo, to the Governor of Suakin, by whom they would
be forwarded to Osman Digna. I handed this letter to the Khalifa, who
gave it to some postmen who were going to Osman Digna with instructions
to send it to Suakin.

About a month before I received the sad news of my mother's death, I had
to deplore the loss of one of my comrades in captivity, Lupton. He had
been working in the dock-yard at Khartum until recently; but the feeble
state of his health had obliged him to ask to be relieved from this
position. He had then returned to Omdurman, and had suffered great want;
but, to his relief, Saleh Wad Haj Ali, with whom he was on very friendly
terms, returned from Cairo, and brought him some money which he had
received from Lupton's family. Haj Ali naturally tried to make as much
money out of the transaction as he could. He had advanced a sum of a
hundred dollars to Lupton as a loan, receiving from him, in return, a
bill on his brother for two hundred pounds, which had been cashed on his
arrival in Cairo; and, returning again to Omdurman, had paid Lupton two
hundred dollars, keeping the remainder, about eight hundred dollars, for
himself. In spite of this robbery, this small sum delighted poor Lupton,
and helped him, for a short period, to stave off the miseries of living
like a beggar. He also rejoiced that a medium of communication had been
found with his relatives, whereby he eventually hoped to regain his
freedom. These hopes, alas, were not to be realised.

He had come home one Tuesday morning from the mosque with me, and was
consulting me as to whom he should entrust what remained of his two
hundred dollars, so as to obtain small sums when he required them, as it
was necessary for him to be most careful not to attract attention to
himself by spending large sums, and thus endanger his communication with
Egypt. We talked of home and of our present situation; and he seemed
more cheerful than usual, but complained of pains in his back, and of a
general feeling of indisposition. I left him about midday; and, on the
following Tuesday, he sent his servant to me, begging me to go and see
him, as he felt very ill. In reply to my question, the man told me that
his master was in a high fever, and had been in bed for three days. I
promised to come as quickly as possible, and, that evening, asked the
Khalifa's permission to go and see him. The next morning, having
obtained leave to spend that day with the invalid, I at once went to his
house, and found him in a dying condition. He was suffering from typhus
fever; and already the illness had reached such a stage that he scarcely
recognised me, and, in a few broken words, begged me to take care of his
daughter. He then said something about his father and mother; but he was
almost incoherent, and, at times, became quite unconscious. I
understood, however, that he was begging me to be the bearer of his
dying messages, should I ever succeed in escaping. On Wednesday, the 8th
May, 1888, he passed away at midday, without having recovered
consciousness. We washed him, wrapped him in a shroud, and, according to
the usual custom, carried him to the mosque, where the prayers for the
dead were recited; and then we buried him in a cemetery near the Beit el
Mal. Father Ohrwalder, the majority of the Greek colony, and a number of
natives who had learnt to love and respect his noble and unassuming
character, were present.

I obtained the Khalifa's permission to see to his household, and handed
over his money to a Greek merchant to take charge of for his daughter
Fanny, and thus save her from want. I also succeeded in getting a
situation at the arsenal for one of his Black boys whom he had educated,
and who receives pay up to the present time. Fanny's mother, Zenoba,
married, two years later, an Egyptian doctor named Haasan Zeki; and,
although I made frequent efforts to send her daughter to Europe to be
educated, my plans were always frustrated by the reluctance of mother
and daughter to separate. Under such circumstances, it can readily be
understood that the girl fell into a thoroughly Sudanese mode of life,
adopting their ways and customs, and looking upon herself as a native.
Had she gone to Europe, - and she could only have been sent there by
force, - the effort to lead a life to which she was utterly unsuited, and
away from her Black mother, would have made her miserable.

At this period of my narrative, the Khalifa was in a peculiarly good
humour. After the re-conquest of Darfur, he had given orders that
everything should be done to induce the Arab tribes to undertake
pilgrimages to Omdurman, and, if necessary, to force them to do so.
Osman Wad Adam had sent notice that the Khalifa's entire tribe, - the
Taaisha, - consisting of upwards of twenty-four thousand warriors, with
their wives and families, had decided to immigrate to Omdurman, and that
several of them had already reached El Fasher. Thus, at length, the
ardent wish of his heart - to gather his own tribe and relatives about
him, and make them masters of the situation - was accomplished.

Nejumi was now in Dongola with instructions to undertake offensive
operations against Egypt; but the final orders to move forward with the
main body were frequently postponed. His army, however, was increased,
from time to time, by the arrival of Emirs whom the Khalifa was anxious
to remove from Omdurman; and thus a fairly considerable force was
gradually accumulating on the northern frontier of the Mahdist Empire.

Osman Wad ed Dekeim, the brother of Yunes, was now sent to Berber, which
had hitherto been administered by a representative of the late Mohammed
Kheir; and, reinforced by six hundred cavalry, he took over the reins of
government. Thus another district fell under the sway of one of the
Khalifa's own relatives.



Battle of Gallabat - Death of King John - The Revolt of Abu
Gemmaiza - Defeats of the Mahdists - Death of Abu
Gemmaiza - Preparations for the Invasion of Egypt - Execution of
Sixty-seven Batahin Arabs - More Letters from Home - My Family
send the Khalifa a Dressing-bag from Vienna - Immigration of the
Taaisha Tribe - They settle in the Nile Valley - Nejumi advances
into Egypt - Battle of Toski - Incidents during the Great
Famine - The Fall of Ibrahim Adlan - His Execution - The Khalifa
mistrusts me - I fall into Serious Danger - I become the Unwilling
Recipient of the Khalifa's Favours.

It was not, however, to be supposed that the Mahdist victories in the
east and west would remain entirely undisputed. King John, who had been
carrying on a war in the interior, now determined to avenge the attack
on Gondar, and therefore resolved to march against Gallabat, and utterly
destroy the enemies of his country and religion. On Abu Anga's death,
the Khalifa appointed one of his former subordinates, Zeki Tummal of the
Taaisha tribe, to take the command and to complete the fortifications of