Copyright
James Riley.

An authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa online

. (page 23 of 39)
Online LibraryJames RileyAn authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa → online text (page 23 of 39)
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worth six camels, and ornaments for our wives ; but
Sheick Ali was not satisfied, because I did not give
him two slaves ; so that he made war against me, and
battered down my town which I built, (it was but a
small one) and took away all I had, together with
my wife, because he said I was a bad man, and he
was stronger than me : I myself, however, escaped,
and after one year I asked him for my wife again,
and he gave her to me with all he had taken, for he
loved his daughter : but I had no house, so I re-
moved into the sultan's dominions, near the city of
Morocco, close by the iUlas mountains, and lived
there with my father and brothers two years, with-
out going forth to trade."

SECTION JI.

Sidi Hamet sets out on another journey for Tombuctoo
— the caravan is mostly destroyed for want of water,
by drifting sand, and by mutiny, &c.—~ the few that
escape, get to the south of the desart*

" About that time one of our party, when we
first went to Tombuctoo, named bel Moese, came to
see me — he was going to join the caravan at Wid-
noon again, and persuaded Seid and me to go with
him ; so we bought eight camels between us, and



I



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 321

sold off our cattle and sheep^ and bought goods and
powder, and went with him to Widnoon, and joined
the caravan. Sheick Ali came to meet me like a
friend, and gave me two camels laden with barley,
and wished me a safe journey. The Sheick who
was chosen by all the people to command the cara-
van, was named Sidi Ishrel ; he was the friend of
Sidi Ishem, who owned almost one-half of the whole
caravan, and we set out from Widnoon, with about
four thousand camels, and more than one thousand
men, all well armed. We laid in an abundant store
of barley, and had a great many milch camels, and
it was determined to go south across the desart,
nearly on a straight course for Tombuctoo, by the
way the great caravans generally travelled; though
there had been several of them destroyed on that
route, that is to say, one within every ten or twelve
years. We went to the south, around the bottom
of the great Atlas mountains, six days' journey;
then we stopped close by it, and cut wood and burn-

i ed coals for the camels, for the caravans never at-

\ tempt to cross the desart without this article : four
hundred camels out of the number were loaded

i with provisions and water for the journey, and after
having rested ten days, and given the camels plenty

i of drink, we went up on the desart, and steered off
to the south-easterly. We travelled along, and met

iwith no sand for fifteen days; it was all a smooth
surface, baked together so hard, that a loaded camel
could not make a track on it to be seen : we saw no
tracks to guide us, and kept our course by the stars,
and sun, and moon. We found only one spot in; all

t t



322 captain riley's narrative.

that time where our camels could satisfy their appe-
tites by eating the shrubs in a shallow valley, but
the great well in it was filled up with stones and
sand, so we could procure no water there ; at the
end of fifteen days, however, we came to a very fine
deep valley, with twenty wells in it; but we found
water in only six of them, because the desart was
very dry: here we watered all our camels, and re-
plenished our bottles or skins, and having rested
seven days, we departed for the south-eastward,
our camels being well filled with leaves and thorn
bushes.

" We travelled along three days on the hard

sand, and then arrived among innumerable drifts of

fine loose sand; not such coarse sand as you saw

near the sea; it was as fine as the dust on a path,

or in a house, and the camels' feet sunk in it every

step up to their knees : after travelling amongst

this sand (which in the day-time was almost as hot

as coals of fire) six days, there began to blow a

fierce wind from the south-east, called the wind of

the desart, bringing death and destruction with it :

we could not advance nor retreat, so we took the

loading from off our camels, and piled it in one great

heap, and made the camels lie down. The dust

flew so thick that we could not see each other nor

our camels, and were scarcely able to breathe — so

we laid down with our faces in the dust, and cried

aloud with one voice to God — ' great and merciful

God, spare our lives !' but the wind blew dreadfully

for the space of two days, and we were obliged to

move ourselves whenever the sand got so heavy on



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 323

us that it shut out all the air, and prevented us from
breathing; but at length it pleased the Most High to
hear our supplications: the wind ceased to blow; all
was still again, and we crawled out of the sand that
had buried us for so long a time, but not all, for
when the company was numbered, three hundred
were missing — all that were left having joined in
thanks to God for his mercy in sparing our lives ; —
we then proceeded to dig out the camels from the
sand that had buried their bodies, which, together
with the reloading of them, took us two days.
About two hundred of them were dead— there was
no green thing to be seen, and we were obliged to
give the camels a little water from the skins, to wash
their parched throats with, and some charcoal to
eat : then we kept on twenty-four days as fast as
we could through the dry, deep, and hot sand, with-
out finding any green bushes worth noticing for our
camels to eat, when we came to a famous valley
and watering place, called Haherah. All our cam-
els were almost expiring, and could not carry the
whole of their loads; so we threw away a great deal
of the salt before we got to Haherah, where we in-
tended to stop twenty days to recruit our beasts, but
who can conceive our disappointment and distress,
when we found there was no water in any of the
wells of this great valley : not one drop of rain had
fallen there for the last year. The caravan, that
amounted to upwards of one thousand men and four
thousand camels when we set out, was already re-
duced to about six hundred men, and thirty-five hun-
dred camels. The authority of Sheick Ishrel could



224 captain riley's narrative.

now scarcely restrain those almost desperate men?
every one was eager to save his own life and pro-
perty, and separately sought the means of relief by
running about the valley in a desultory manner,
looking for water; this disorder continued for two
days, when being convinced that nothing could be
done without union, they became obedient, and
joined together in great numbers in digging out the
different wells. After digging five days without
the smallest sign of water, all subordination was en-
tirely at an end. The Sheick, who was a wise and
a prudent man, advised and insisted that all the
camels should be killed but three hundred, so that
the little water found in them, together with their
blood, might keep the rest alive, as well as all the
men, until, by the aid of Providence, they should
reach some place where they could find water ; but
the company would not hearken to this advice,
though the best that could possibly be given; no
one being willing to have his own property sacrificed.
Sheick Ishrel, however, directed thirty of the oldest
and most judicious men to pick out the three hun-
dred camels that were to be spared, who according-
ly selected the most vigorous ; but when they began
to kill the others, a most furious quarrel and horri-
ble battle commenced. The Sheick, though a man
of God, was killed in a moment — two or three hun-
dred more were butchered by each other in the
course of that dreadful day ; and the blood of the
slain was drank to allay the thirst of those who shed
it. Seid was badly wounded with a dagger in his
arm: about five hundred camels were killed this



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 325

day; and the others drank the water from their
bodies, and also their blood.

" Fearing there would be no end to this bloody
conflict until all had perished, and as I had been a
captain in the other caravan, and knew how to steer
a course on the desart; and as both Seid and myself
were very strong men, we killed four out of six of
our own camels that remained, in the first part of the
night, and gave their water and blood to the other
two : we saved a small package of goods, and some
barley, and some meat, and persuaded thirty of our
friends privately to do as we had done, and join us,
for we meant to set off that night. This was agreed
on, for to stay there was certain death, and to go
back was no less so. We were all ready about mid-
night, and without making any noise, we moved off
with our company of thirty men and thirty-two
camels. The night was very cloudy and dark, and
it thundered at a distance, as if the Almighty was
angry with us for fighting together ; but there was
no rain. We went towards the south-west, in the
hope of reaching Tishlah, another watering-place,
before our camels died : the desart was dry and
hard, and as we went along, we found only now and
then a little hollow, with a few prickly shrubs in it :
these the camels devoured as we passed among
them; but many died, so that on the twelfth day we
had only eighteen camels left ; when the great God
saved our lives by sending a tempest of rain, but he
thundered so as to make the whole earth tremble,
because of our sins, and we all fell upon our faces
and implored his forgiveness : the rain that fell upon



326 captain riley's narrative.

the ground gave plenty of water to our camels, and
we filled thirty skins with it; when we steered to
the south towards the borders of the desart. Nine
of our company had died, and many of our camels,
before we went down from the desart to the culti-
vated land, and we then made to the south towards
a little river of fresh water, to which some Arabs
whom we met with, directed us, after they had first
given us some rice and some milk, for all our milch
camels had died on the desart.

SECTION III.

Sidi Harness journey ings. His arrival on the batiks of
the river, called by the natives, Gozen-Zair, and at
Tombuctoo — description of that city — its commerce,
wealth, and inhabitants.

" Those of us who had escaped with our lives
from the desart, only twenty-one in number, with
twelve camels, out of a caravan of one thousand
men and four thousand camels, stopped near a small
town, called Wahilt, on the bank of a river about
half as broad as from the city of Mogadore to the
island, that is to say, fifty yards. We had no pro-
visions, but the negroes seeing us in distress, came
out and gave us some meat, and bread made from
barley-corn : here we remained ten days to recruit
ourselves and our camels, which were just alive. The
river on whose bank we remained, was called by
those who spoke in Arabic, el Wod Tenij, and by the
negroes, Gozen-zair. A very high ridge of moun-



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 327

tains, great like Atlas seen from Suse, (but not cap-
ped with snow) He to the south-westward,and at a dis-
tance. After resting ourselves and our camels for
ten days, we set forward for Tombuctoo. We trav-
elled for four days to the eastward through Soudan,
a hilly country, but of a very rich soil, and much of
it cultivated with the hoe." I then asked him what
he meant by Soudan? and he said, " The whole coun-
try south of the great desart from the great ocean,
a great way east, and including the district of Tom-
buctoo, is called by the Arabs and Moors, Soudan;
of which Tombuctoo is the capital. Having wa-
tered our camels again, and finding the hill country
tedious to get through, by 'reason of the trees, we
bought some barley-corn, and killed two cows, and
went northward to the border of the desart, and
travelled on to the eastward for eight days, when
we fell in with the great path used by the caravans,
and in two days more came near to the walls of
Tombuctoo. YY e had seen a great many negroes
near the river: they live in small towns, fenced in
with large reeds, to keep off enemies and the wild
beasts in the night: they dwell in small round huts
made with cane standing upright, are covered with
the same materials, and daubed with mud, to fill up
the openings between them. The negroes were
afraid of us when we came near their little towns,
and those who were outside ran in and blocked up
! the passage in a minute ; but finding we did not
| come to rob them, as the large companies of Arabs
I often do, but that we were poor and hungry, thej
-were willing to exchange barley-corn and meat for



328 captain riley's narrative.

some of our goods. Nearly all the few things we had
were expended to keep us alive until we came near
Tombuetoo, The king and the people of that city had
been looking out for the caravan from Widnoon for two
moons, but not one soul had arrived before us, and
we were permitted to go into the city after delivering
up our guns, powder, and lead, to the king's officers
to keep until we should wish to depart. Tombuctoo
is a very large city, five times as great as Swearah:
it is built on a level plain, surrounded on all sides
by hills, except on the south, where the plain con-
tinues to the bank of the same river we had been to
before, which is wide and deep, and runs to the east ;
for we were obliged to go to it to water our camels,
and here we saw many boats made of great trees,
some with negroes in them paddling across the river.
The city is strongly walled in with stone laid in
clay, like the towns and houses in Suse, only a great
deal thicker : the house of the king is very large
and high, like the largest house in Mogadore, but
built of the same materials as the walls: there are
a great many more houses in that city built of stone,
with shops on one side, where they sell «alt and
knives, and blue cloth, and haicks, and an abundance
of other things, with many gold ornaments. The
inhabitants are blacks, and the chief is a very large
and gray-headed old blackman, who is called Shegar,
which means sultan, or king. The principal part
of the houses are made with large reeds, as thick as
a man's arm, and stand upon their ends, and are
covered with small reeds first, and then with the
leaves of the date trees: they are round, and the



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA, 329

tops come to a point like a heap of stones. Neither
the Shegar nor his people are Moslemins, but there
is a town divided off from the principal one, in one
corner, by a strong partition wall, and one gate to
it, which leads from the main town, like the Jews'
town, or Millah in Mogadore : all the Moors or
Arabs who have liberty to come into Tombuctoo,
are obliged to sleep in that part of it every night,
or go out of the city entirely, and no stranger is
allowed to enter that Millah without leaving his
knife with the gate-keeper ; but when he comes out
in the morning it is restored to him. The people
who live in that part are all Moslemin. The negroes,
bad Arabs, and Moors, are all mixed together, and
marry with each other, as if they were all of one
colour: they have no property of consequence, ex-
cept a few asses : their gate is shut and fastened
every night at dark, and Yery strongly guarded both
in the night and in the day-time. The Shegar or
king is always guarded by one hundred men on mules 9
armed with good guns, and one hundred men on foot,
with guns and long knives. He would not go into
the Millah, and we only saw him four or five times
in the two moons we stayed at Tombuctoo, waiting
for the caravan : but it had perished on the desart —
neither did the yearly caravan from Tunis and Tri-
poli arrive, for it had also been destroyed. The city
of Tombuctoo is very rich as well as very large ; it
has four gates to it; all of them are opened in the day-
time, but very strongly guarded and shut at night.
The negro women are very fat and handsome, and
wear large round gold rings in their noses, and flat

■ ii



330 CAPTAIN RILEY 8 NARRATIVE.

ones in their ears, and gold chains and amber beads
about their necks, with images and white fish-bones,
bent round, and the ends fastened together, hanging
down between their breasts: they have bracelets on
their wrists and on their ankles, and go barefoot.
I had bought a small snuff-box filled with snuff in
Morocco, and Showed it to the women in the princi-
pal street of Tombuctoo, which is very wide : there
were a great many about me in a few minutes, and
they insisted on buying my snuff and box ; — one made
me one offer, and another made me another, until one,
who wore richer onaments than the rest, told me, in
broken Arabic, that she would take off all she had
about her and give them to me for the box and its
contents. I agreed to accept them, and she pulled off
her nose-rings and ear-rings, all her neck chains, with
their ornaments, and the bracelets from her wrists
and ankles, and gave them to me in exchange for it :
these ornaments would weigh more than a pound,
and were made of solid gold at Tombuctoo, and I
kept them through my whole journey afterwards,
and carried them to my wife, who now wears a pari
of them. Tombuctoo carries on a great trade with
all the caravans that come from Morocco and the
shores of the Mediterranean sea. From Algiers
Tunis, Tripoli, &c. are brought all kinds of cloths
iron, salt, muskets, powder, and lead, swords or scim
itars, tobacco, opium, spices, and perfumes, ambei I
beads and ether trinkets, with a few other articles
they carry back in return elephants' teeth, gold dust i
and wrought gold, gum Senegal, ostrich feathers I
very curiously worked turbans, and slaves; a grea I



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA* 331

many of the latter, and many other articles of less
importance : the slaves are brought in from the
south-west, all strongly ironed, and are sold very
cheap; so that a good stout man may be bought for
a haick, which costs in the empire of Morocco about
two dollars. The caravans stop and encamp about
two miles from the city in a deep valley, and the ne-
groes do not molest them : they bring their merchan-
dise near the walls of the city, where the inhabitants
purchase all their goods in exchange for the above-
mentioned articles ; not more than fifty men from
any one caravan being allowed to enter the city at a
time, and they must go out before others are permit-
ted to enter. This city also carries on a great trade
with Wassanah, (a city far to the south-east) in all
the articles that are brought to it by caravans, and
get returns in slaves, elephants' teeth, gold, &c.
•The principal male inhabitants are clothed with blue
j cloth shirts, that reach from their shoulders down to
j their knees, and are very wide, and girt about their
loins with a red and brown cotton sash or girdle :
they also hang about their bodies pieces of different
coloured cloth and silk handkerchiefs: the king is
dressed in a white robe of a similar fashion, but
covered with white and yellow gold and silver plates,
that glitter in the sun; — he also has many other shin-
ing ornaments of shells and stones hanging about
i trim, and wears a pair of breeches like the Moors
ind Barbary Jews, and has a kind of white turban
Ion his head, pointing up, and strung with different
< kinds of ornaments ; his feet are covered with red
Morocco shoes : he has no other weapon about him



332 captain riley's narrative.

than a large white staff or sceptre, with a golden
lion on the head of it, which he carries in his hand :
his whole countenance is mild, and he seems to go-
vern his subjects more like a father than a king.
The whole of his officers and guards wear breeches
that are generally dyed red, but sometimes they are
white or blue : all but the king go bareheaded.
The poor people have only a single piece of blue or
other cloth about them, and the slaves a breech cloth.
The inhabitants in Tombuctoo are very numerous;
I think six times as many as in Swearah, besides the
Arabs and other Moslemin or Mohammedans, in
their Miilah, or separate town; which must contain
nearly as many people as there are altogether in
Swearah."

NOTE BY THE AUTHOR.

Swearah or Mogadore contains about thirty-six
thousand souls ; that is, thirty thousand Moors and
six thousand Jews : this may be a high estimation for
Tombuctoo; making it two hundred and sixteen thou-
sand inhabitants; yet considering the commercial im-
portance of the place, and the fertility of the country
around it, there can be no doubt but it contains a vast
number of inhabitants ; and I must also observe, that
if it was a small town, and contained the riches attri-
buted to it, they would require a very strong force to
prevent the Arabs from the desart, together with the
caravans, from taking it by surprise or by storm,

" The women are clothed in a light shirt or un-
der-dress, and over it a green, red, or blue covering,



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 333

from their breasts to below their knees—the whole
girt about their waists with a red girdle; they stain
their cheeks and foreheads red or yellow on some
occasions, and the married women wear a kind of
hood on their heads, made of blue cloth, or silk, and
cotton handkerchiefs of different kinds and colours,
and go barefooted. The king and people of Tom-
buctoo do not fear and worship God, like the Mosle-
mins, but like the people of Soudan, they only pray
one time in twenty-four hours, when they see the moon,
and when she is not seen they do not pray at all:
they cannot read or write, but are honest, and they
circumcise their children like the Arabs : they have
no mosques, but dance every night, as the Moors
and Arabs pray, The Shegar or king had collected
about one thousand slaves, some gums, elephants'
teeth, gold dust, &c. to be ready for the yearly cara-
vans ; but as three moons had passed away since
the time they ought to have arrived, he gave them
up for lost, and concluded to send a caravan with
part of his goods that came across the desart; viz.
some salt, iron, cloths, &c. to a large city at a great
distance from Tombuctoo : and having formed a body
of about three thousand men, well armed with mus-
kets, long knives, and spears, and three thousand
asses, and about two hundred camels, which were all
loaded with heavy goods, such as iron, salt, tobacco,
&c, he hired my brother Seid and myself (with ten
more of our companions) to carry loads on our two
camels to- Wassanah, for which he was to give us,
when we came back, two haicks each and some gold.
As we were completely in His power, w T e did



334 captain riley's narrative.

not dare to refuse to go, and he put us under the care
of his brother, whose name was Shelbaa, who had
command of the whole caravan. It was in the

month of Shual ( ) when we departed from

Tombuctoo for a place we had never before heard
of. We had in the company about two hundred
Moslemin, but the master of the caravan would not
permit us, Moslemin, to keep our guns, for fear we
should turn against him, if he was obliged to fight."

SECTION IV.

Sidi Harriet sets out for Wassanah — his arrival there, and
description of that city, the country, and its inhabitants
— of the great river which runs near it, and of his return
to Tombuctoo — containing also the authors geographi-
cal opinions, founded on this narrative, on the sources
of the river Niger — its length, course, and outlet, into
the Atlantic ocean.

" All being prepared, we went from Tombuctoo,
about two hours' ride, towards the south, to the bank
of the river, which is called at that place Zolibib, and
was wider than from Mogadore to the island ; (i. e.
about five hundred yards ;) here was a miserable
village, built with canes, and mudded over: it had
about two hundred small houses in it, but no walls:
we then setoff near the side of the river, and travelled
on in a plain even country for six days, every day
within sight of the river, which was on our right hand,
and running the same way we travelled, and our
course was a little to the south of east ; when we



OBSERVATIONS ON AFRICA. 335

came to a small town, called Bimbinak, walled in with
eanes and thorn-bushes, and stopped two days near
it, to get provisions and rest our beasts : here the
river turned more to the south-eastward, because
there was a very high mountain in sight to the east-
ward : we then went from the river side, and pursued
our journey more southwardly, through a hilly and
woody country, for fifteen days, when we came to the
same river again. Every night we were obliged to
make up large fires all around the caravan, to keep
off the wild beasts, such as lions, tigers, and others,



Online LibraryJames RileyAn authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa → online text (page 23 of 39)