« PreviousContinue »
separate small bodies, from the centre and each flank, kept charging rapidly towards us, to within a few feet of our horses' heads, without checking the speed of their own until the moment of their halt, while the whole body moved onwards. These parties were mounted on small but very perfect horses, who stopped, and wheeled from their utmost speed with great precision and expertness, shaking their spears over their heads, exclaiming," Barca! barca ! Alla hiakkum cha, alla cheraga !-Blessing! blessing! Sons of your country! Sons of your country!" and returning quickly to the front of the body, in order to repeat the charge. While all this was going on, they closed in their right and left flanks, and surrounded the little body of Arab warriors so completely, as to give the compliment of welcoming them very much the appearance of a declaration of their contempt for their weakness. I am quite sure this was premeditated; we were all so closely pressed as to be nearly smothered, and in some danger from the crowding of the horses and clashing of the spears. Moving on was impossible; and we therefore came to a full stop: our chief was much enraged, but it was all to no purpose, he was only answered by shreiks of Welcome!" and spears most unpleasantly rattled over our heads expressive of the same feeling. This annoyance was not however of long duration ; Barca Gana, the sheikh's first general, a negro of a noble aspect, clothed in a figured silk robe, and mounted on a beautiful Mandara horse, made his appearance; and, after a little delay, the rear was cleared of those who had pressed in upon us, and we moved on, although but very slowly, from the frequent impediment thrown in our way by these wild equestrians.
The Sheikh's negroes, as they were called, meaning the black chiefs and favourites, all raised to that rank by some deed of bravery, were habited in coats of mail composed of iron chain, which covered them from the throat to the knees, dividing behind, and coming on each side of the horse: some of them had helmets, or rather skullcaps, of the same metal, with chin-pieces, all sufficiently strong to ward off the shock of a spear. Their horses heads were also defended by plates of iron, brass, and silver, just leaving sufficient room for the eyes of the animal.
'At length, on arriving at the gate of the town, ourselves, BooKhaloom, and about a dozen of his followers, were alone allowed to enter the gates; and we proceeded along a wide street completely lined with spearmen on foot, with cavalry in front of them, to the door of the sheikh's residence. Here the horsemen were formed up three deep, and we came to a stand: some of the chief attendants came out, and after a great many "Barca's! Barca's !" retired, when others performed the same ceremony. We were now again left sitting on our horses in the sun: Boo-Khaloom began to lose all patience, and swore by the bashaw's head, that he would return to the tents if he was not immediately admitted; he got, however, no satisfaction but a motion of the hand from one of the chiefs, meaning
"wait patiently ;" and I whispered to him the necessity of obeying, as we were hemmed in on all sides, and to retire without permission would have been as difficult as to advance. Barca Gana now again appeared, and made a sign that Boo-Khaloom should dismount: we were about to follow his example, when an intimation that BooKhaloom was alone to be admitted again fixed us to our saddles. Another half hour at least passed without any news from the interior of the building; when the gates opened, and the four Englishmen only were called for, and we advanced to the skiffa (entrance,) Here we were stopped most unceremoniously by the black guards in waiting, and were allowed, one by one only, to ascend a staircase; at the top of which we were again brought to a stand by crossed spears, and the open flat hand of a negro laid upon our breast. Boo-Khaloom came from the inner chamber, and asked "If we were prepared to salute the sheikh as we did the bashaw?" We replied, "Certainly;" which was merely an inclination of the head, and laying the right hand on the heart. He advised our laying our hands also on our heads, but we replied, "the thing was impossible! we had but one manner of salutation for any body, except our own sovereign.
Another parley now took place, but in a minute or two he returned, and we were ushered into the presence of this Sheikh of Spears. We found him in a small dark room, sitting on a carpet, plainly dressed in a blue tobe of Soudan, and a shawl turban. Two negroes were on each side of him, armed with pistols, and on his carpet lay a brace of these instruments. Fire-arms were hanging in different parts of the room, presents from the bashaw and Mustapha L'Achmar, the sultan of Fezzan, which are here considered as invaluable. His personal appearance was prepossessing, apparently not more than forty-five or forty-six, with an expressive countenance, and a benevolent smile. We delivered our letter from the bashaw; and after he had read it, he inquired "what was our object in coming?" We answered, "to see the country merely, and to give an account of its inhabitants, produce, and appearance; as our sultan was desirous of knowing every part of the globe. His reply was, "that we were welcome! and whatever he could show us would give him pleasure; that he had ordered huts to be built for us in the town; and that we might then go, accompanied by one of his people, to see them; and that when we were recovered from the fatigue of our long journey, he would be happy to see us. With this we took our leave. pp. 62-66.
Let us now take a general view of the kingdom of Bornou, surveyed for the first time by an European eye. European eye. Major Denham assigns to it five degrees of latitude and six of longitude; but this is a very wide and loose estimate, including every territory to which it makes any sort of pretension. It is directly inconsistent, indeed, with his own statement of the boundaries, which will allow only about two hundred miles in each direc tion.
The Tchad, which forms the chief physical feature,
may be about two hundred miles in length, and 150 in breadth. It thus forms one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, though it cannot rival the mighty inland seas of Asia. Its dimensions vary in an extraordinary manner according to the season. An extent of many miles, usually dry, is submerged during the rains. This inundated tract, covered with impenetrable thickets, and with rank grass twice the human height, is unfit for the residence of men, and becomes a huge den of wild beasts; elephants of enormous dimensions, beneath whose reclining bodies large shrubs, and even young trees were seen crushed; lions, panthers, leopards, large flocks of hyænas, and snakes of monstrous bulk. It is a disastrous era when the returning waters dislodge these monsters of the wood, and drive them to seek their prey among the habitations of men. period travellers, and the persons employed in watching the harvests, often fall victims; nay, the hyænas have been known to carry walled towns by storm, and devour the herds which had been driven into them for shelter.
This tract excepted, the soil of Bornou, watered by the tropical rains, and often partially inundated, is very fertile. On being scratched with a hoe by the female slaves, and the seed scattered rather than sown, it yields very considerable crops. The population is reckoned at five millions. There are cities of from ten to thirty thousand inhabitants, chiefly along the shores of the lake, besides numerous walled towns. The markets present a most crowded scene, the principal one at Angornou being said to attract no less than a hundred thousand visitors. Yet there is perhaps no instance of a people so considerable, and with a population so dense, who have remained so entirely strangers to all the refined arts, and to every form of intellectual existence. We should be very little disposed to estimate a nation by its progress in the culinary art; yet when those who, strangers to any higher enjoyment, make no attempts to improve even this, there seems fair ground to infer a peculiar mental sluggishness. In this fine climate, there is not a vegetable raised except the onion, and that very sparingly; there is not a fruit, except a few limes in the garden of the Sheikh. They have neither bread, the most solid and valuable basis of human food, nor salt, regarded every where else as a necessary condiment. Instead of the finer grains of wheat or rice, they raise gussub, a species of small grain, or rather seed, which, being boiled to a paste, and melted fat poured over it, the ne plus ultra of Bornou cookery is produced. Working in iron, among nations whose chiefs at least are martial, has usually got a start beyond other arts. But when Hillman the English carpenter
undertook to repair a small field-piece, and obtained for that purpose the assistance of the best Bornou workmen, he was kept in a state of perpetual agony by the clumsiness with which they handled their tools. The only manufacture in which they have attained to any kind of excellence, is that of cotton cloth dyed blue with their fine indigo, the tobes or pieces of which are the current coin of the realm; and yet in this staple fabric of Central Africa, they are much excelled both by the people of Soudan, and those to the south. The bare necessaries of life, however, exist in abundance. The cattle are bred in vast herds by an Arab tribe called Shouaas, who have transported into Bornou all the pastoral habits of their nation. They are here described as deceitful, arrogant, and cunning, pretending to a gift of prophecy, and bearing a great resemblance to gypsies: But this impression was probably derived from what was observed near the great towns; for, elsewhere, we shall find a much more favourable picture drawn of them. The produce of their farms is driven to town on bullocks, upon the top of which sits the owner, guiding the animal by a leather thong passed through
'Sometimes the daughter or the wife of a rich Shouaa will be mounted on her particular bullock, and precede the loaded animals ; extravagantly adorned with amber, silver rings, coral, and all sorts of finery, her hair streaming with fat, a black rim of kohol, at least an inch wide, round each of her eyes, and I may say, arrayed for conquest at the crowded market. Carpets or tobes are then spread on her clumsy palfrey she sits jambe deçà jambe delà, and with considerable grace guides her animal by his nose. Notwithstanding the peaceableness of his nature, her vanity still enables her to torture him into something like caperings and curvetings.' p. 321.
The Bornouese are characterised by simplicity, good nature, and ugliness. They have in excess the thick lips, face sloping backwards, and other characteristics of the negro. Almost their only amusements are wrestling and gaming. The former is performed like the feats of the Roman gladiators, and with equal fury, by slaves from the neighbouring countries of Begharmi and Musgouy. Their masters exhibit them, as our jockies do their race-horses, for the pride of victory. A powerful wrestling slave will sell at a very high price, but a defeat being here never forgotten, will cause his value in one day to fall from a hundred dollars to four or five. Their game is a species of rude chess, played with beans and holes in the sand, and at which they are very skilful. Of their literary and intellectual state, nothing is said, and we presume it is a total blank. There does not appear to be any reading, even of the Koran, unless among a very few of the great men, and of professed fighis or doctors. The Sheikh
of Bornou indeed is famed over Africa as 6 an eminent writer;' but as his works consist only of saphies, or charms, destined to blunt the weapons of his enemies, and secure victory to himself, they cannot tend much to illuminate the public mind. The principle of speculative curiosity is one to which they are not only strangers, but which they cannot at all conceive as capable of swaying the human mind. When the travellers stated this as their motive for visiting Africa, they were met by universal scepticism. Even the Sheikh of Bornou, a man of enlarged and active mind, assured them that he alone, of all his subjects, believed what they said,-and he, only from having found them always men of their word, not from any power he had of viewing this as a conceivable principle of conduct.
When the first accounts of Bornou were transmitted to the Association, that empire had acquired a decided predominance in Central Africa; and Kassina, before accounted the first, had sunk into a secondary state. A complete reaction has lately been produced by the nation, or race of the Felatahs, whose capital is situated far to the west, at Sackatoo. They have completely overrun both Kassina and Bornou, and in the latter especially committed most dreadful ravages. They reduced to ashes the capital, and many of the principal towns, carrying all the inhabitants into slavery. The present Sheikh, however, then a mere private individual in the neighbouring territory of Kanem, dared to raise the fallen standard. Uniting to military and political talents the power of acting on the national superstition, he pretended a celestial vision, hoisted the green flag of the prophet, and assumed the sole title of the Servant of God.' The people flocked round him in crowds, and, being fortunate in his first exploits, he in ten months drove the Felatahs out of Bornou. They have not since reentered it, nor has El Kanemy, as he is called, invaded Soudan. A sort of dormant hostility, however, still prevails between the two parties, The Sheikh has directed his arms chiefly against the Begharmis, a warlike people on the other side of the lake, whom he boasts of having conquered; yet, in all the transactions witnessed by the mission, the Begharmis appeared as the assailants, though on one occasion most completely beaten,
The force of Bornou Proper consists almost entirely of cavalry, mounted on small but active horses, which they manage with a skill equal to that of the Moors. Many of them are defended by coats of mail composed of iron chains, by helmets, and by metal-plates enclosing their horses' heads. They would form one of the finest bodies of cavalry in the world, if