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CHAP. LXIII. THE ME’HEDI' EXPECTED.-SOMKI. 359
among the Kél-owí, and of a tall stately figure. They behaved very friendly towards me, and one of them even embraced me very cordially; but the scale of their religious erudition was not very considerable, and I was greatly amused when El Waláti, in order to get back from them his tobacco-pouch, which they had secretly abstracted from him, suddenly seized one of my books, which happened to be “ Lander's Journey," and, on threatening them with it as if it were the Kurán, the pouch was restored without delay.
I had been questioned repeatedly on my journey respecting the Mehedi, who was expected soon to appear; but these people here were uncommonly anxious to know something concerning hiin, and could scarcely be prevented from identifying me with this expected prophet, who was to come from the East.
They were scarcely gone when a messenger arrived from the great chief Somki, whose name had already filled my imagination for so long a time; and, at El Waláti's most urgent request, who did not fail to enhance the importance of this man as much as he was able, I prepared a considerable present, worth altogether 33,000 shells, which my friend was to take to him on the following day.
Now it would not have been at all necessary to have come into any contact with this chief, as the direct road to Timbúktu led straight from here, without touching at Sarayámo, near which place Somki had formed his encampment; but my friend
represented the direct road from here to Timbúktu as leading along the encampments of several powerful chiefs, whom it would be more prudent to avoid ; and perhaps he was right, not so much from the reason stated as on account of the water-communication between Sarayámo and Timbúktu offering a great advantage. In conformity with these circumstances, on the third day of our stay here, El Waláti at length set out for the encampment of Somki, in order to obtain his protection, to enable me to pass safely through his territory; and I sent along with him my faithful servant, Mohammed el Gatróni, whom I had just cured of a severe attack of dysentery, although I could not expect that he would be able to control the proceedings of the crafty Arab, as he did not understand the language of the Tawárek. They did not return until the third day, and gave me in the meantime full leisure to study a little more accurately the relations of this place,
THE NETWORK OF CREEKS, BACKWATERS, AND LAKES BELONGING TO THE NIGER. -SARAYÁMO. -- NAVIGATION TO KÁBARA.
On my first arrival at the town of Bambara, I had not been at all aware that it formed a most important point of my journey, it being for me, as proceeding from the south-east, what that celebrated creek three days west from Timbúktu was to the traveller from the north during the middle ages, and which on this account has received the name of “Rás el má." The town of Bambara is situated on a branch, or rather a dead backwater of the river, forming a very shallow bottom of considerable breadth, but a very irregular border, and containing at that time but little water, so that the communication with the river was interrupted; but about twenty days later in the season, for about four or five months every year, during the highest state of the inundation, the boats proceed from here directly, either to Díre by way of Gálaye and Káñima, or to Timbúktu by way of Délego and Sarayámo, thus opening a considerable export of corn towards that dependent market-place, which again has to supply the whole of the nomadic tribes of A'zawád, and the neighbouring districts.
This shallow water is bordered on the west side by the hilly chain which I have mentioned before, and beyond there is another branch, which joins it towards the south. Such being the state of the water at present, there was no great activity, and two canoes only were lying here under repair, each of them being provided with two low chambers, or cabins, vaulted in with reeds and bushes, as I shall describe further on. Of course, when this basin is full of water, and navigated by numbers of canoes, the place must present quite another appearance, while at the time of my visit its shallow swampy state could not but increase the dulness of the whole neighbourhood, which had not yet been fertilised by the rainy season. I was assured by the inhabitants that only one plentiful shower had as yet fallen. This was the reason that, instigated by the absurd rumour which had preceded me that my favour with the Almighty was so great that it had some influence upon the fall of rain, all the inhabitants, although Mohammedans, assembled on the second day of El Waláti's absence, and, headed by the emir, came to me in procession, and solicited my interference in their behalf for a good shower of rain. I succeeded this time in eluding their solicitations for a direct prayer, satisfying them by expressing my fervent hope that the Almighty would have mercy upon them. But I was so favoured, that there was really a moderate shower in the evening, which did a great deal of good to the ground, although the air did not become much cooler, for it was excessively hot all
Chap. LXIV. CHARACTER OF BA'MBARA.
this time, and sometimes almost insupportable in my narrow dirty hut. I remember in particular one miserable night which I spent here, when, not being able to obtain a wink of sleep, I wandered about all night, and felt totally exhausted in the morning. Notwithstanding the swarms of mosquitoes, I after. wards preferred sleeping outside my hut, in order to inhale the slight refreshing breeze which used to spring up during the night. Unfortunately I had, to the best of my belief, long before broken my last thermometer, and was therefore unable, or rather believed myself unable, to measure the heat with accuracy, but it could certainly not be inferior to the greatest rate we had experienced in Kúkawa. The whole country round about the village is very bleak, consisting chiefly of black argillaceous soil, such as is common in the neighbourhood of large sheets of water, and scarcely a single tree offers its foliage as a shelter from the rays of the sun.
I had also sufficient leisure to pay full attention to the trading relations of the inhabitants, which, at this time of the year, are rather poor; for although a daily market is held, it is on a very small scale, and, besides sour milk and salt, very little is to be found. Even Indian corn is not brought regularly into the market, although so much agriculture is going on in the neighbourhood, and I had to buy my supply from strangers who by chance were passing through the place, while for one of my oxen I got only as much as forty sảa, or measures of corn : of rice, on the contrary, which