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SIDI MOHAMMED'S FAMILY.
447 At length the camels arrived. They had been called back by mistake from the upper road which they were pursuing into the difficult swampy ground which we ourselves had traversed. A large comfortable dwelling of matting, or “búge,” as it is called, was erected on the sand-hills for the sheikh and his companions ; but I had my tent pitched near the fine group of date palms, and from this point I made the subjoined sketch, which will impart to the reader a tolerably correct idea of the place.
Here we remained the following day, when I was roused at a very early hour by the crowing of the cocks in Bamba, which could not but recall to my mind the fate of the enterprising but unfortunate Mungo Park, who is said by the natives to have staid here a couple of hours in order to provide himself with fowls, and thus to have given leisure to the Tawárek, lower down the river, to collect together and impede his passage; a story which is also related with regard to Gógó and some other places along the river, though it is more probable that his chief reason for making a halt near the principal places along the river was to open communication with the natives, and more particularly in order to make astronomical observations.
Rising at an early hour, while the sky was beautifully clear, I enjoyed an hour's pleasing reverie on my favorite rock of the previous day, overhanging the river. Although in full agitation the day before, this morning its surface was unruffled, and several boats were crossing over toward the island.
I afterward called upon my protector. One of his younger brothers, Sídi I'lemín, had the preceding day come to pay him a visit as he was passing through this country, and when I was ascending the sandy hill, on the slope of which their matting dwelling had been erected, he came out to meet me, and compli. mented me in a very cheerful manner. He was a respectable man, with a very pleasing countenance, and had with him his son, a most beautiful boy of seven years.
I could not help thinking what a noble family this was. They were all sons of Sídi Mohammed el Kunti, the chief who received Major Laing in A'zawad. First, Mukhtar, Bakáy's elder brother, who succeeded to his father when that chief had succumbed to an epidemic fever which raged in A'zawad, just at the time of Major Laing's arrival, and who died in 1847; then Sídi Mohammed, a man with a truly princely demeanor; then El Bakáy himself; next, 'Abidín, likewise well deserving the distinguished position
of a chief, although he differed in politics from El Bakáy; then Hámma, a man with whom I did not become personally acquainted, but who was represented by all as a noble man; Sídi I'lemín; Bábá Aʼhmed; and Sídi A'mmer. This latter is the youngest, but certainly not the least noble of the family. While on a visit to Sókoto, together with his brother, El Bakáy, he made a deeper impression upon the people and obtained their favor more generally than his elder brother. A'lawáte is the only member of this family who, with the exception of his learning, does not seem to contribute much to its honor; but, even in his case, we must take into account the customs of the country, and not judge of him according to our views of nobility.
The light dwelling which had been erected for my protector, simple as it was, was spacious and elegant, affording a very cool resting-place during the heat of the day. It was of an oblong Triin shape, measuring about 20 feet by 9, with
two doors opposite each other, a large angá.
o reb forming a comfortable resting-place. The mats of which these huts are constructed are very large and excellently woven, the huts being supported by a frame-work of slender bushes. But the hut, although very pleasant, was too crowded, and, during the hot hours of noon, I retired to a group of magnificent gerredh-trees which overshaded the cemetery, lying at the southern side of the village, and, interwoven by a dense growth of creepers, afforded a most agreeable shade, such as I had never before observed in the case of this tree.
Together with the adjoining tobacco-fields, which were just ex. hibiting their freshest green, this cemetery formed a striking contrast to the barren country farther north, which, although broken by a dhaye, or pond, of considerable size, and excellently adapted for the cultivation of rice, has neither trees nor bushes, with the exception of two or three isolated date palms surrounding the border of the pond.
We had considerable difficulty in obtaining from the inhabitants a small supply of rice and butter, as they asserted that their means were so reduced that they were sustaining themselves en. tirely on býrgu, or native grass ; but I had reason to suspect that they made this statement through fear of the Tawárek. At all events tobacco was the only article they offered for sale, the to. bacco of Bámba, called “sherikiye,” being far-famed along the Niger and much sought after, although it is not so good as the
449 “tábowé," the tobacco of E'gedesh. Of býrgu they have an unlimited supply; and I tasted here the honey-water which they prepare from it, but found it insipid, besides being slightly purgative, not unlike the maddi, or góreba water, in Háusa.
THE DESERT.-COUNTRY ALONG THE BORDER OF THE RIVER.
GREATEST NARROWING.-SOUTHEASTERLY BEND. A SLIGHT fall of rain, and then a thunder-storm, which, however, passed over our heads without discharging itself, delayed our departure in the afternoon, and, the camels having been sent to a great distance for a little pasture, it was past five o'clock when we left our camping-ground. A numerous crowd of Rumá, Songhay, and I'móshagh having assembled to witness my departure, I distributed a good many small presents among them, reserving the few articles of value which I still possessed for mightier chiefs.
Having crossed, after a march of two miles, a backwater much overgrown with grass, and at present almost dry, we had the fáddama or bot-há of the river close on our right, while the open water was at about an hour's march distance. Here a considerable amount of cultivation was seen, a good many grounds for corn and tobacco being laid out and connected with the river by channels, through which the water, during the highest state of the inundation, approached closely, and rendered irrigation very easy; but, unfortunately, a heavy thunder-storm, rising in a tremendous bat. tery of clouds, and enveloping the whole country in a dense mass of sand, did not allow of any exact observations being made. The many channels which here intersected our road proved a disagreeable hinderance in our hurried march, and although the clouds passed by without bringing any rain, yet darkness set in before we had reached our destination, and, to my great disappointment, prevented my noticing the whole character of the district.
But the inconvenience soon increased when we entered upon the swampy, grassy border of the river; for, although a small fire, on the dry shore to our left, held out to my companions, who were traveling almost without supplies, the prospect of a rather poor supper, a long line of fires in the midst of the river promised them better fare. Without regarding, therefore, the difficulties of the
ground and the darkness of the night, we made straight for them. My friends were not even deterred when we reached a narrow dike scarcely fit for one horse, and in great decay, and which the guide declared to be the only path leading through a sheet of water separating us from the encampment. Thus we boldly entered upon this dike, but we had only proceeded a few hundred yards when it was pronounced, even by these people, so well accustomed to an amphibious life, to be totally impracticable, so that we were obliged to retrace our steps. While engaged in this most dangerous proceeding, my servant, the Gatróni, met with a serious accident, falling, with his horse, down the dike into the water; and although, with his native agility, he succeeded in extricating him. self, with a few contusions, from his unpleasant situation, we had great difficulty in getting the horse out from the hollow into which it had fallen, my companions asserting that it was dead, and wanting to leave it behind. At length we got away from the dike, and, finding a ford through the water, we reached the encampment, which was pitched on a narrow neck of grassy land, and completely dazzled us with the glare of its many fires, coming, as we did, out of the darkness. From the opposite side of the river, two hamlets of Songhay, called Inzámmen and Takankámte, were visible likewise by their fires.
The encampment belonged to some Kél e' Súk, who manifested a rather thievish disposition; and, although not altogether inhospitable, they were unable to treat my companions well, as in the swampy lowland there was an entire want of fire-wood. It was one of those encampments which contributed in a great measure to ruin my health, partly in consequence of the heavy dew which fell during the night. Meanwhile my servant, who was a most faithful person, was searching the greater part of the night for his pistols, which in his fall he had lost in the swamp.
Friday, May 26th. While my companions still lagged behind in order to indemnify themselves for their lost supper by a good breakfast, I set off at a tolerably early hour, in order to get out of the swampy ground; and, fearing lest we might again be entangled in these interminable low grounds, we kept at a considerable distance from the river, over the gentle sandy downs, bare at first, but afterward clad with a considerable quantity of dry grass. But some of our companions who overtook us would not allow us to pursue our northeasterly direction, and led us back again to the border of a broad swampy sheet of water, which is called Terárart,