Page images
PDF
EPUB

UNSAFE STATE OF THE COUNTRY.

151

attention was soon diverted from the enjoyment of this scenery to a point of greater interest to ourselves. We here observed a solitary individual, in spite of the unsafe state of the country, sitting quietly at the foot of one of the palm-trees, and seemingly enjoy. ing its fruit. Now, coupling the present state of the country with the news we had just received, we could not help greatly suspecting this man to be a spy, posted here by the enemy in order to give them information of the passers-by; and I had the greatest difficulty in preventing my Méjebrí Arab, who, when there was no danger for himself, always mustered a great amount of courage, from shooting this suspicious-looking character.

Proceeding then through a very rich country, we reached, after a march of about two miles, the town of Gúlumbé, situated close to the southern border of the valley, and exhibiting extensive fields cultivated with yams and cotton. The banana constituted the chief ornament of the narrow border inclosed between the faddama on one side and the wall of the town on the other, and the gónda, or Erica Papaya, raising its feathery foliage on its slender, virginlike stem, towered proudly over the wall, as shown in the accom.. panying engraving. The town was walled, of considerable size,

[graphic][ocr errors]

and densely inhabited; but, nevertheless, the people were in such dread of the enemy that they kept up a continual beating of drums; and although, on account of the smallness of the gate, we encamped outside, in a court-yard situated between the wall and the border

of the faddama, we thought it prudent to fire a few shots, in order to apprise the people around that we were well prepared to receive them, to the great relief of the inhabitants of the town, who, delighted at the unexpected addition to their strength, treated us in a very hospitable manner. The only disturbance to our night's rest was caused by the musquitoes, which harassed us greatly and drove most of my people into the rúdu, that kind of raised hut which I have described on a former occasion, and which forms the most essential part of even the poorest dwelling in the province of Kebbi.

Monday, June 6th. After a thunder-storm accompanied by a few drops of rain, the night was succeeded by a beautiful morning; and I felt great pleasure in surveying the interesting landscape, only regretting that the insecure state of the country did not allow the natives to enjoy it in tranquillity, the war having driven thousands of people from their homes, and as many more into captivity. The fields on this side of the town, as well as on the other, where we had approached it the day before, were fenced with great care, while horses and asses were grazing on the rich pasture-grounds. After a little more than a mile and a half, we passed, on our left, a farming village called I'gené, after its master, a cheerful Púllo of advanced age, who was just inspecting the labor of his slaves in the fields. The crops hereabouts were already more than a foot above the ground; and a little farther on they reached a height of two feet. Besides sorghum, yams were cultivated to a great ex. tent; but nevertheless, on account of the insecurity of the country, dearth and famine every where prevailed.

A little farther on we passed, on our left, a considerable sheet of water, with plenty of dorówa, large kade, and sycamores. The deléb palms had ceased just beyond I'gené. A broad, flattopped mountain, called Hamári, at the eastern foot of which lies the town of Zoro, broke the uniform surface of the country.

Proceeding through this rich but distracted and unsafe district, I was greatly delighted when, near the walled town of Kardi, I fell in with a solitary and courageous pilgrim, a Jolof, from the shores of the Atlantic, carrying his little luggage on his head, and seemingly well prepared to defend it with his double-barreled gun which he carried on his shoulder, and a short sword hanging at his side, while his shirt was tossed gallantly up, and tied over the shoulder, behind the neck. In my joy at the sight of this enterprising native traveler, I could not forbear making him a small present, in order to assist him in his arduous undertaking.

SITUATION OF BI'RNI-N-KEBBI.

153

The walls of the town of Kardi, which is chiefly inhabited by the slaves of Khalílu, and which is of great importance for the supply of corn in this province, were strengthened by a thick fence of thorny bushes, which, in these regions, afford an immense advantage in the defense of any town by furnishing a secure place of retreat to the archers.

The green bottom of the wide fáddama had receded to a greater distance on our right; but we joined it again seven miles from Gúlumbé, and had here to cross it beyond a couple of hamlets which, lying close together and called, the one Häusáwa, and the other Kábáwa, gave us a slight indication as to the history of this country, where the Hausa element, as the more civilized, gradually gained the upper hand, and drove the native element, as well as the Songhay, which advanced from the west, into the background. Perhaps, if we knew more of the history of this country, the annals of these two villages might open to us a view of an interesting national struggle. The fáddama was here at present dry; and besides yams a great deal of tobacco was cultivated. We then traversed a wooded tract adorned with a violet liliacea and with the bush tsáda or bidér, the delicious cherry-like fruit of which I have mentioned repeatedly, and, slightly ascending, reached, a little before eleven o'clock, the beautiful site of the former more extensive wall of the large town of Bírni-n-Kebbi. It was founded in this commanding position by the dynasty of the Kanta, at the time when the rival Songhay empire was dashed to pieces and became the prey of foreigners and of a number of small tribes, who had once been kept in a state of insignificance

and subjection. to Under such circumstances Kebbi, besides being the seat of a

powerful kingdom, became also the centre of a considerable trade even in gold, till it was destroyed by the Fúlbe under 'Abd Alláhi, in the year of the Hejra 1221, when a great deal of gold and silver is said to have been found among the ruins. The royal palace, however (the ruins of which I visited), does not seem to have been very extensive; but this in part may be attributed to the fact that a great portion of the residence consisted of straw huts for the female department and the followers.* The walls of the present town are almost a mile distant from those of the old one, lying close to the steep slope which, with a descent of about

* Kálgo, at the northern foot of the mountain, lies southwest from here, and the town of Gurma, at present destroyed, northeast beyond the valley.

250 feet, goes down here into the large green valley or fäddama which intersects the whole of Kebbi from E.N.E. to W.S.W., and is at this part almost three miles in breadth, affording the richest ground for cultivation, but at present plunged in a state of the utmost insecurity. Even then it was full of cattle, at least its southerly part; but they had to be carefully watched by the natives from above the slope, for the whole of the country on the other side, the hilly chains and cones of which are clearly seen, is in the hands of the A’zena, that is to say, those native inhabitants of Kebbi who, since the death of the more energetic 'Atíku, are successfully struggling for their religious and political inde. pendence. On the very brink of the slope a market was held, where we bought some necessaries before entering the town; and I willingly lingered a few moments, as the whole presented a very novel sight, increased by a picturesque spur or promontory which juts out into the valley a few miles to the west, and is a remarkable feature in the landscape. We then entered the town, which is rather thickly inhabited, but is far from presenting that cheerful aspect which is peculiar to most of the towns in those regions, as it is almost bare of trees. I myself was quartered in an excellent hut, belonging to a newly married couple, and possessing all the comforts of which these simple dwellings are capable—the floor and walls of the hut being neatly polished, and the background or “nanne” being newly sprinkled with snow-white sand; but the whole of the courtyard was extremely narrow, and scarcely afforded space for my horses and camels.

There are two great men in the town, 'Othmán Lowel and 'Oth. mán Záki; but the former is the real governor of the place, bear. ing the pompous but rather precarious title of serkí-n-Kebbi-for even he, at the present time, possesses such limited authority that it was rather out of my respect for historical connections than for his real power* that I made him a considerable present. He is a man of simple manners, without pretensions, and almost blind. IIis residence was distinguished by its neatness. The other great man, 'Othmán Záki, who was many years ago governor of Núpe, and knew Clapperton, although I did not pay him a visit, showed his friendship for me by very hospitable treatment. He has since returned to Núpe, and is rebuilding Rabba. We had a long conversation in the afternoon with the more respectable inhabitants,

* For a statement of the few facts which have come to my knowledge, with regard to the history of this kingdom, sce Appendix.

[blocks in formation]

on the subject of our journey, and most of the people thought that I should not succeed in reaching the Niger, the country being in such a turbulent state; but they advised me to address myself to the governor of Zogírma, who was the only man, they said, able to assist me in my endeavors to traverse that part of the country with some degree of security.

Tuesday, June 7th. In the morning we left the town in the company of a son of 'Othmán, a person of manly bearing and a rather European expression of countenance; and traversing the fields, which were quite dry and as yet without any preparation for cultivation, we directed our march straight for a pass in the mountain spur which I have mentioned above, and which is called Dúko; but we found it too narrow for our heavily-laden camels to pass through, the path being cut into the sandstone like a gutter, so that I was obliged to send my train round the southern slope of the promontory. We thus descended almost to the level of the faddama; but having traversed a richly-wooded vale with a variety of trees, such as dynnia, mádachi, and fresh kadé, we had another mountain spur on our left, while on our right the exuberant savanna of the valley became visible. The place was enlivened by cattle, and occasionally by a sheet of water at times fringed with a rich border of vegetation, among which also isolated specimens of the deléb palm, besides dorowa, were not wanting.

Thus we reached the foot of a rocky eminence, on the top of which the walled town of Kóla is situated in a very strong position, commanding the whole passage of the valley. It is the seat of a governor who bears the title of serkí-n-Záromé, and who is said to have as many as seventy musketeers under his command; so that, as he was an officer of much importance in this turbulent country, it did not seem advisable to pass him unnoticed, and we therefore determined to take up our quarters here, although it was still early in the morning. He has a large house or palace, but it is somewhat in decay. Having made him a small present, I was hospitably treated both by himself and his sister, who sent me an excellent goose, which afforded a very pleasant change in my diet. He accompanied me the following morning to the boundary of his little territory.

Our road lay through fine corn-fields, shaded by beautiful dorówa-trees, along the border of this fertile valley, which was formerly surrounded on both sides by an uninterrupted line of large walled towns. But most of them are now deserted and destroyed,

« PreviousContinue »