As the title says, the reader will find translations of tales, customs, names and dirges of the Tigre tribes. A great many of the tales refer, like those of the other Abyssinian tribes, to animals. Some of them may have come from countries farther east, lastly from India; but I believe that most of them are indigenous to the Abyssinian soil……
THE TALE OF THE TWO DONKEY-OWNERS.
Two men met each other on the road; and each of them had a donkey. Then the men greeted each other: the donkeys, also, putting their mouths together sniffed at each other. And the one man asked his fellow saying : “We have greeted each other. Why have the donkeys also put their heads together?” The other man answered him: “Doest thou not know this? The donkeys have sent a strong donkey to the Lord to enter their plaint before him, that is to say, that the Lord should free them from under [the tyranny] of men. Now they ask each other saying: ‘Has the messenger-donkey returned or not’?” And it is said that all donkeys ask each other about this matter putting their mouths together. By this tale it is seen that every creature longs for liberty.
THE TALE OF THE OX, THE SHEEP, THE CHICKEN AND THE DONKEY.
These four, the ox, the sheep, the chicken and the donkey were living together by themselves on a mountain. And while they were living there, the mountain became waste (unto them). And they sent the donkey that he should spy out for them a place of water and grass. He went and found a place of water and grass. Then after he had eaten and drunk by himself, he returned, when it grew evening: but what he had found he hid from them. And they asked him: “Hast thou perhaps found something for us?” The donkey answered: “I have not found anything.” The chicken, however, said unto him: “Show us thy mouth, please!” And when he showed it to them [opening his lips], they saw the traces of the grass that he had eaten. Then the chicken said to him: “How thou hast betrayed us!” But the donkey said: “I found a little bit of ‘grass when I was going back to you and put it into my mouth; but I did not find [a place].”
And the second time they sent the ox that he should spy out for them a place of water and grass. When the ox had found water and grass he ate and drank and returned to his company, and said to them: “I have found water and grass; come, let us go there.” And they went there and lived together. The donkey became fat and spry; and he said unto his company: “Allow me to bray one single time!” But they answered: “No, be silent, lest hearing thy bray our enemies come and destroy us!” The donkey, however, entreated them much, and because he importuned them, they said to him: “Well then, bray once, [but] softly!” The donkey, however, brayed with a loud voice. Now the fox and the leopard were together; and when the fox heard the bray, he said to the leopard: “I have heard the bray of a donkey.” But the leopard answered: “In this desert thou hast not heard the voice of an animal, thou liest.” Again the donkey having asked his company brayed another time. Then the fox and the leopard both of them heard the bray of the donkey. The leopard said to the fox: “Thou art right.” And the fox and the leopard went towards them. When they were near them, the fox said to the leopard : “There they are”; but the fox fled himself. When the four animals saw the leopard they were much frightened. But the chicken advised them: “If now the leopard jumps forward to kill us, I shall fly and pick out his ‘two eyes; thou, ox, pierce him [with thy horns]; and thou, sheep, knock him with thy head; and thou, donkey, trample him down.” The leopard jumped upon them, but they all acting according to the advice of the chicken killed the leopard. And they skinned him and took his hide; then they spread out his hide. Now the fox led the elephants to them. The four animals, however, were frightened, when they saw the elephants. But the chicken thinking “the elephants shall themselves destroy each other”, said to the elephants: “The greatest of you shall sit upon this leopard’s skin!” The elephants said: “I shall sit upon it.” “No, I shall sit upon it”, and they killed each other with [the words] “I am greater.”
The fox, then, led the hyaenas to them thinking: “Now they shall perish.” When the hyaenas came to the four animals they said unto the chicken: “Come to us, that we may hold a council!” But the chicken answered: “Let one hyaena with a load of grass upon his back come to me that I may ride upon him and come to you!” And then he said to his company: “After I shall have mounted the hyaena loaded with grass, when I say to you: ‘Give me a whip’, then give me a burning piece of wood!” And when they had brought him, the chicken mounted the hyaena loaded with grass. And he said to his company: ‘Give me a whip’; and they gave him the burning wood. And he flew away after having put the kindling wood into the grass. The hyaena, when the grass upon his back took fire, ran to his company; but his company fled from him. In this way all the hyaenas fled from them. Thereupon the chicken said to his company: “Let us go home! The ox shall join the cattle, the sheep the sheep, the donkey the donkeys: let each one of you thus join his company. But I shall gather the droppings of roast corn in my Kabasa 1 ).” And for this reason the chickens became plentiful in the land of Kabasa and live there until the present day. [This is what] they say.
THE TALE OF THE BOAR, THE FOX AND THE MAN.
A man ploughed a field, and after his field had become very fine, he made a hedge around it, lest the boar should enter it. The boar then came to the field, but he did not find any way in which he might enter it. Thereupon he went to the fox and said to him: “Advise me! At what place shall I enter this field, doest thou think? The hedge has kept me out.” The fox gave him this advise: “In the evening the owner of the field goes to the place of his meal and he leaves the way on which he goes from his field [open] without closing the door: there enter and eat!” When it grew evening, the owner of the field went out from it to go to the place of his meal; but he left the door through which he went out [open] without closing it. And according to the advice which the fox had given him the boar entered the field through the door and spent the evening eating. And when the man returned, he found the boar in the field, and he pierced the boar with his spear. And the boar went away roaring, and said to the fox: “Thou hast given me bad advice; I am dead!” But the fox said unto him: “Thy father has eaten in thy stead. What shall I do unto thee?” That is to say: “It is the sin of thy father for which thou hast paid.” And now they say as a proverb: “Thy father has eaten for thee, said the fox J ).”
Once when a man was gathering brush-wood at the bank of a river, a serpent jumped upon him. And beginning at his feet he coiled himself around him up to his head. The man, then, said to the serpent: “Go down from me!” But the serpent refused. Then the man sought to kill him, but he found no means of killing him. And while they were in this state, the fox came to them; and the man said to the fox: “This serpent has coiled himself around me, and when I told him to go down he refused, and he wishes to kill me.” The fox said to the serpent: “Go down from him; be friends!” And the serpent unrolling himself went down from him to his feet. Then the fox said to the man in a proverb: “Thy serpent is [now] under thee, Thy staff is in thy hand [now, see!].” That is to say, he told him by this hint: “With the staff in thy hand kill him, after he has got under thy feet.” And the man taking the hint killed the serpent with his staff. Thereupon said the man to the fox: “Thou hast done a good thing to me; I shall also reward thee with a good turn. Wait for me in this place, that I bring thee a kid”.
But the man took a dog with whom to kill the fox, and he hid him under his garment; and when he came to the fox, he sent him against him. And the dog ran after the fox; but when the fox saw him, he fled and saved his life. After the fox had escaped, he said, because the man had requited him with a bad turn instead of a good one: “Keep the short-ear down.”
THE TALE OF THE COUNCIL OF THE MICE.
The old enemy of the mice is the cat. Therefore, once upon a time, the mice held a council. When they all were together, they deliberated in this manner: “We perish through the cat. What shall we do ?” And some of them answered: “Let us tie a bell on the cat. And when she comes to kill us, we shall hear the sound of her bell and escape from her.” And all the mice said: “This plan is a good one; let us do this that we escape from her!” And after they had thus finished their council, they went home. The grandfather of the mice had stayed at home; now he asked them: “My children, what have you resolved?” And they said to him: “We all have resolved to tie a bell on the cat, and when she comes near us, to escape from her, because we shall hear the bell.” And he said to them: “Ye have planned well, my children ; but which then of you is it that will tie the bell on the cat?” And all the mice were frightened and said: “That is true! Who is to catch her for us?” Thus their council came to naught.
And men say as a proverb about a council that comes to naught: “It has become like the council of the mice.” Once upon a time a boar, who had got into the midst of a herd of elephants, dug into the ground and ate. And there came to the elephants a hunter, and he pointed his gun at one [of the] male[s]. When he shot, the bullet missed the elephant, but struck the boar. And the elephants said to him: “Art thou struck, boar!” He said: “If it were not an accident why should, of all these, [the bullet] have struck met” The herd fled, but the boar died on the spot. And men say as a proverb when they encounter something [evil] while in the midst of many [companions]: “It is an accident, said the boar; in the midst of a herd of elephants he was struck.”
The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum include a number of Ethiopian objects and images. Many of these are associated with a British military expedition undertaken to Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) in 1867-68, which ended with the ransacking of the Ethiopian Emperor’s fortress at Magdala. Not all of the objects, however, are straightforward products of plunder. Indeed, the stories behind the acquisition of the photographs, textiles, jewellery, religious and other artefacts held by the V&A reveal a complex web of people, places and politics brought together by conflict. This article presents the stories which lie behind some of these objects and contrasts the personal experiences of those caught up in the conflict with the way in which the ‘Abyssinian Expedition’ was presented to the British public. This article highlights just some of the objects and images associated with the Expedition which can be found in the V&A’s collections.
photograph of Prince Alamayou, 1868 (photo: Julia Margaret Cameron)
The Ethiopian Prince Alamayou was one of the casualties of the conflict. He is pictured, aged seven, in a photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron after he had been brought to England following the death of his parents. Alamayou’s sad story was reported in the British press and attracted the sympathy of many, including Queen Victoria who arranged for the state funding of his education. He was popularly cast as a romantic and melancholy figure, as is apparent in Cameron’s photograph. Alamayou’s death of pleurisy at the age of 18 was described by the Queen as ‘too sad’. His image appears in four places in the V&A’s collections; in the Cameron photograph, on two cartes de visite and in a photograph pasted into a family album.
Alamayou’s guardian in England was a British army officer and colonial official, Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy. Speedy was well-acquainted with the Prince’s homeland having travelled to Ethiopia in 1860 to assist his father, the Emperor Tewodros II (Theodore), with military training.
Captain Speedy (known as Báshá Féleke), 1868 (photo: Julia Margaret Cameron)
Whilst there Speedy developed a strong affinity with the Ethiopian people; he learned to speak Amharic and adopted native dress. In 1868 he returned to serve as civilian interpreter to the British expedition. Back in England, the six foot five, red haired and bearded Captain made an unlikely but affectionate guardian figure to the slight Prince.
Speedy appears in a photograph by Cameron in the V&A’s collections. Wearing Ethiopian dress, he stands over a reclined unidentified African man, with a spear in his hand, apparently playing out a fantasy of conquest (the photograph has been titled ‘Spear or spare’). The mount carries the handwritten caption ‘Báshá Félíka’ meaning ’speedy’; the Amharic name given to Speedy by Tewodros. Speedy’s relationship with the Ethiopian people is also reflected in a small collection of objects given to the Museum by his goddaughter in 1936. Unfortunately the stories behind how he acquired the engraved silver and iron handcrosses, silver anklets, hairpin and ornament have not been recorded although it is possible the objects may have royal connections. Further items formerly in the collection of Speedy are held by the British Museum.
Speedy was not the only European to make the acquaintance of the Ethiopian Emperor. In the years before the Expedition Tewodros had been an admirer of Europe and its technologies, particularly those used in the manufacture of arms. He had formed close associations with the British traveller John Bell, who visited Ethiopia in the early 1840s, and Walter Plowden, the first British consul to Ethiopia, who arrived in 1848. However, by the 1860s Tewodros had become frustrated by a lack of support from Europe for his campaigns against Turkish expansion on the Red Coast. In 1864, in an attempt to prompt the British and French governments into action, he took a number of Europeans hostage including the second British consul, Captain Cameron. Queen Victoria sent a letter to Tewodros seeking their release but her envoy, the civil servant Hormuzd Rassam, was also captured. Following parliamentary debate, Britain began to plan a punitive military expedition. Under the leadership of General Sir Robert Napier, in 1868 the expedition marched to Tewodros’s fortress at Maqdala and a brief battle took place nearby. Britain won the conflict, but not before the captives were released and Tewodros himself had committed suicide.
Tewodros’s suicide on the eve of the storming of his fortress left a widow, Queen Woyzaro Terunesh. She requested that her son, Prince Alamayou, and she be escorted by British forces to her native province of Semyen, in northwest Tigray. However, as the party reached Haiq Hallet on 15 May 1868, the Queen died, apparently of lung disease. A report in the British press described ‘Her funeral [which] took place next morning in the great church at Chelicut … The women of her household, showing her robe, her ornaments, her slippers and her drinking cup, beat their breasts, tore their hair, and scratched their cheeks, shedding tears of real grief as they bewailed her death’ (Illustrated London News, 1868). The Queen’s possessions, which were listed by the British political agent at Aden (Yemen), were sent on by ship to the Secretary of State for India at the India Office, London. They were given to the South Kensington Museum (later V&A) in 1869 and included two cotton robes lavishly embellished with silk embroidery; a shawl; silver bracelets, anklets and rings; two ‘amulet’ necklaces of leather, silver and amber and a silver hair pin with decorative finial.
Woman’s dress formerly in the possession of Queen Woyzaro Terunesh, 1860s.
The Queen’s possessions, the collection of Ethiopian objects formed by Captain Speedy and the photographs of Speedy and Prince Alamayou, provide a tangible link to people whose experiences of the conflict in Ethiopia strayed from the official narrative. In the British public sphere, however, these disparate experiences were written over by a unified and triumphant tale of conquest. The second part of this article reflects on the public presentation of the Abyssinian Expedition.
Given the great complexity and expense of the Abyssinian Expedition, which involved more than 13,000 men, 30,000 animals and a journey of some 400 miles, it was necessary to engage the support of the British public. This was largely achieved through recounting a patriotic tale of a great imperial power overcoming a hostile territory and ‘barbarian potentate’. Significantly, the expedition was one of Britain’s earliest military operations to be captured via the relatively new science of photography. Two sets of photographic stores and equipment were sent from England by the Royal Engineers’ Establishment and used to record the landscapes, camp scenes and leading individuals associated with the expedition.
The V&A’s collections include at least seven photographs taken by the Royal Engineers from a series of 78. Three of these are panoramas, painstakingly formed by pasting together three photographs. One records the expedition camp at Zoola (Zula). Taken from a high vantage point, it captures the huge amount of equipment and technology required for such an expedition. Feats of engineering were a particular focus for visual record and the Zoola image includes part of a British-built railway line which ran ten and a half miles inland. Another photograph in the series presents a view up the Sooroo Pass, or ‘Devil’s Staircase’ as the Assistant Field Engineer charged with forging a path through it, is said to have called it. It took four companies three months to construct a ten-foot-wide cart road up the pass.
Images such as these were disseminated through official and unofficial reports, museum displays and the British press as evidence of Britain’s military and technological powers. The Illustrated London News published numerous engravings of the Expedition. Some were based on the Royal Engineers’ photographs, others on sketches made by the newspaper’s Special Artist in the field, William Simpson. The V&A holds two Ethiopian handcrosses which were donated to the Museum by Simpson’s wife following his death. Both carry the inscription ‘Abyssinian Cross 1868 William Simpson’ and presumably fulfilled a function somewhere between medal and souvenir.
Military personnel involved in the Expedition were encouraged to make drawings and reports. On the orders of the Secretary of State for War, Major Trevenen James Holland wrote the only official account of the expedition with a military colleague, Sir Henry Montague Hozier. Record of the Expedition to Abyssinia was published in two volumes in 1870. Holland may be the vendor of several Ethiopian items to the South Kensington Museum in April 1869 including a pair of silver anklets, a ‘Galla’ (Oromo) necklace, a pair of earrings and two processional crosses.
Following the defeat of Abyssinian troops, British forces entered the Magdala fortress with the aim of collecting anything of value to be later auctioned off to raise money for the troops. They were accompanied by Richard Holmes, an assistant in the department of manuscripts at the British Museum, who removed a number of objects - manuscripts, regalia, religious antiquities and other material - from the imperial treasury and from the Church of the Saviour of the World. Holmes also made a sketch of the face of the dead Ethiopian emperor, which was reproduced in the British press and in popular print formats such as carte de visite. A golden crown and chalice initially acquired by Holmes from a soldier were deposited with the South Kensington Museum by H.M. Treasury in 1872. Recent scholarship has suggested that they were commissioned by Empress Mentewwab for a church she founded in Gondar in 1740. Today these items can be seen on display at the Museum, in a gallery which highlights the role of precious vessels of gold and silver in religious rites and ceremonies.
Today, the Abyssinian items are valued for their beauty, craft and religious significance but an 1868 display at the South Kensington Museum entitled ‘Abyssinian objects from the Emperor Theodore, Lent by the Queen, the Admiralty and others’ was clearly intended to celebrate an imperial conquest. No list of exhibits survives but an essayist in the Gentleman’s Magazine described the display as a ’show-case full of victorious trophies, “spolia opima” of our late enemy, his Majesty King Theodore’. Another noted the inclusion of a portrait of the dead Emperor’s head, presumably based on Holmes’ sketch. Even 20 years later a Guide to the South Kensington Museum noted that ‘vestments and garments’ on display had been ‘captured during the Abyssinian campaign under Lord Napier of Magdala’.
The objects and images described in this article, then, have fulfilled many different functions - religious, ceremonial, decorative, documentary and political - and their current home at the V&A represents one stopping-off point on a turbulent historical journey. In the 21st century, as in the 19th, they make a conflict distant to us in time and place more tangible and immediate. The material also challenges the idea that the ‘Abyssinian Expedition’ was a clear-cut clash between ‘them’ and ‘us’ and provides an unsettling reminder of the imperial processes which enabled British museums to acquire the cultural assets of others.
This is an account of the first mission sent by the American Government to the court of the King of Kings, 1903-1904
EGBERT P. SKINNER
COMMISSIONER TO ABYSSINIA, 1903-04 ; AMERICAN CONSUL-GENERAL ; FELLOW OF THE AMERICAN GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY ; Soci DOU FELIBRIGE
IN the following pages will be found some account of the adventures and reception of the first mission sent by the American Government to the land we call Abyssinia, but known to the inhabitants thereof as Ethiopia, together with an explanation of some of the social and political conditions there prevailing, and of which little is accurately understood. Abyssinia is merely a fragment of the ancient empire of Ethiopia; but whether the name by which we know it is derived from Habesch, son of the founder of the people, or the old Egyptian word ‘ abissi, signifying desert-surrounded nation, or from the Arabic word habesca, meaning ‘without ancestors’, no one knows. We do know that the Abyssinians, not ordinarily given to the study of etymology, and resentful of the irony with which that word passes through Moslem lips, have abandoned it in favour of the nobler designation of Ethiopian. To this word they have every historical and racial right.
The time at my disposal (I believe that the speed with which our party crossed the country, transacted its business, and returned, is still a matter of wonderment in Ethiopia) and my work as chief of the mission prevented me from undertaking any exhaustive studies while in the Emperor’s dominions. The opportunity for fruitful historical and linguistic research is a most tempting one, however, and this I hope may some day be undertaken. We devote millions to the uncovering of ancient cities dead, and we neglect an ancient civilization living, a civilization which found its inspiration in Solomon’s Court, and which, preserving its Christian faith through 1600 years, and during many centuries cut off from all contact with the outside world, hands itself down to us in all essential respects identical with that which prevailed in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
We boast of our own Christian civilization, and we are undertaking with our railroads and other Western inventions to break down a civilization virtually like that in which Christ Himself lived and moved; we boast of our law, and we send our agents to teach a land in which judges administer justice based upon precepts of the open Bible in their hand. Returning travellers have usually come back with grotesque tales, and in their own amusement have commonly forgotten the vital facts in regard to this interesting people of Caucasian ancestry. I trust that the earnest student will not be too late, for when steam has replaced the camel and the mule, the old Ethiopia will have passed away for ever.
For my part, I bring back only pleasant memories of a kind and light-hearted race, whose grave courtesy and sometimes affection I am not likely ever to forget. I rejoice over the fact that I took to these people from a great Government a message of goodwill, unembittered by a single ungenerous thought and that I had nothing to ask which they might not willingly grant.
The project of sending an American mission to Ethiopia was originally laid before President McKinley by myself in 1900. The matter received consideration, and in 1903 President Roosevelt commissioned me to negotiate a needed commercial treaty with the Emperor Menelik’s Government. The President manifested a gratifying and very encouraging interest in all that concerned the expedition, and in the Department of State every possible assistance was given in furthering the organization of the party. From the Assistant-Secretary, then Acting-Secretary of State, Mr. Francis B. Loomis, I received, not merely the official instructions which were to have been expected, but active and sympathetic co-operation in a dozen practical details which had to be considered in preparing an expedition for the heart of Africa, where we had no official or unofficial representatives, no point of contact or source of original information whatever.
For the sake of historical accuracy I may add that the Commissioner, the surgeon, Dr. Pease, and the secretary, Mr. Wales, sailed together from New York on October 8, 1903, joined the U.S. s.s. Machias at Naples, and thence proceeded to Beirut, where Admiral Cotton’s squadron was then protecting American interests. At this point a guard of marines was taken on board, officered by Lieutenant C. L. Hussey, U.S.N., who had preceded us to Djibouti, and Captain George Thorpe, U.S.M.C., who sailed with us. From Beirut the Machias sailed directly to Djibouti.
My great regret is that I dare not undertake to thank the many who, in Ethiopia and out of it, were useful to me in many ways ; but at least I may single out my official superiors in Washington and the members of my staff, whose companionship, beginning in New York and continuing until our separation in Aden, is one of the happy and imperishable souvenirs of our long journey together.
R. P. S.
Arrival at Djibouti
French creative skill
Ato Joseph offers sound advice
By rail across the desert.
VERY curious and somewhat nebulous views prevailed when the President’s intention of sending an official mission to Ethiopia was announced in the summer of 1903. In the main, comment was friendly and encouraging. It was generally agreed that Mr. Roosevelt’s Commissioner ought to have no difficulty in ensnaring and bringing home with him whatever of Ethiopian trade there might be worth having. Some thought that the principal purpose of this expedition was to carry off the Emperor in person, as a sort of willing captive, to visit our country and our Exposition at St. Louis. A London newspaper reported that ‘ big ideas lurked behind the trip,’ and, upon the alleged authority of one of the Commissioner’s colleagues at Marseilles, who was further described as ‘portentously silent,’ it saliently observed, with reckless indifference to the fact of there being no Abyssinian coast, that ‘The establishment of a point d’appui on the Abyssinian coast was not to be left out of consideration.’ Agitation was announced in Berlin as a consequence of the President’s determination, but Paris was said to be unmoved, beyond noting, with something like sarcasm, that ‘ free entry ‘ was desired by the Commissioner for presents of fabulous value, destined for the Emperor. Some thousands of papers were inspired to say something, and usually did it with such kindliness that the Commissioner set out wondering how he might possibly satisfy the expectations so confidently put forth. This is one of the disadvantages of an anticipated success. Although our Government had always deemed it important to have friendly official relations with a number of small Powers where our commerce is represented by zero, and had had none with Ethiopia, where for years we had profited by a flourishing trade, nobody seemed to be astonished that the work had never been proposed before.
Under these circumstances, the chief of the mission found himself translated upon the Red Sea coast, and become a personage of mysterious importance. And as this personage persisted in talking about cottons, tariffs, and plain facts only interesting to plain people, and that in a land where diplomacy is writ large and wags its head sententiously, he became speedily even more incomprehensible than had been at first supposed. The remark is attributed to Bismarck that when he desired to conceal his real purposes he found the telling of the whole truth the most satisfactory method, and if the American Commissioner had had anything to conceal, his experience would have been the same as Bismarck’s.
Whatever people may have thought, they were all very polite about it. It was a politeness that began when we landed at Djibouti on November 17, and followed us until we said good-bye to the land of milk and honey. Djibouti, I should begin by explaining, is the capital of a narrow, sandy strip of territory with the somewhat difficult name of the French Somaliland Coast. The French coast begins where the Italian coast leaves off, and when it ends the British coast begins. This, again, joins another Italian coast colony, so that geographically Ethiopia is as effectually hemmed in from the sea as Switzerland.
All of these colonies had been organized in about the same way; that is, petty chiefs in need of funds had sold such lands as they held in trust for their people, thus giving to the present occupants a perfectly legal title, concerning which there can be no possible dispute, while the white man carries a repeating rifle and the African native a spear. These colonies are all administered with reference to the needs and feelings of the original inhabitants, and although occasionally critical remarks may emanate from countries without Red Sea colonies, it is just as well to recall that prior to the present status of affairs the native tribes were constantly warring with each other, and knew no higher law than that of force.
It is not perfectly well assured that they appreciate any higher law than that to-day. A very shrewd and very able Governor, upon whom these tribesmen look as a father, said to me: ‘I cannot undertake to prevent them from warring among themselves. They come to me and complain of each other, and I advise them to stop fighting and to tend their herds, but I know that my breath is wasted. I tell them that there are three things which they must not do: they must not interfere with the movement of the railroad trains; they must not cut the telegraph wires or poles; they must not murder the white inhabitants of the country. These three things they have been taught not to do, and they keep the peace without a European soldier, and with a native police force of very modest proportions.’
This respect for the railroad was not immediately obtained. When the rails were first laid across the desert, the sons of Islam looked upon the locomotive as a beast, the like of which they had never seen before, and, being brave, they occasionally stood up before the monster and persisted in their attitude, just to see what would happen. And though engineers were careful and kind, a number of missing arms and legs in French Somaliland testify to-day to the futility of these duels between man and steam. When these experiences had once been noised abroad, the Issas bowed to what they believed to be a law of fate, and the locomotives circulated thereafter with perfect security.
In the case of French Somaliland, the Danakil chiefs, and notably the Sultan Simy, sold their birthright for a price, stipulated and agreed upon, of 10,000 thalers, or, at the exchange rate of that time (March 11, 1862), 10,000 dollars. The Italian colony of Eritrea resulted from the purchase of certain territory on Assab Bay by Florio Rubattino and Company, a firm of Genoese shipowners, who there established a port of call for their steamers. In 1882 the company named ceded their rights to the Italian Government, and three years later Rear-Admiral Caimi took possession, thus proclaiming his mission: ‘The Italian Government, friends of England, of Turkey, and of Egypt, not less than of Abyssinia, have ordered me to proceed to the occupation of Massawa, which I have effected to-day.’ British Somaliland is a sort of political inheritance, from an effective Egyptian occupation dating from 1874.
It was a hot day when we landed at Djibouti, but it was the heat of mid November, which is endurable, because it ceases when the sun is low. In the summer the difference between day and night is that the nights are the warmer of the two. The booming of our ship’s guns, which regulations require to be fired in order to speed the parting guest, notified Djibouti that we had arrived, whereupon Djibouti began to dress itself in flags. Diminutive Indian tailors had begun to prepare for the event before our coming, and had produced numerous flags, whereon the number of stars and stripes depended mainly upon the material in hand or the personal taste of the tailor. Between the guns, the heat, and the flags, we might have thought that a 4th of July celebration was in progress, but for the tame leopard which paraded before the Oafs’ de FUnivers, and the shiny black Somali children, whose nakedness was not encouraging to my desire to find a market for American sheetings. We noticed that the European inhabitants walked slowly and on the shady side of the street, and that everybody wore white garments and white helmets.
Djibouti is a monument to French persistence and creative skill. It is not my affair to write about the French as colonizers. Opinions thereupon differ. But Djibouti certainly is admirable. A few years ago it did not exist. Military necessity required that a coaling port should be created, and straightway it was provided. Sea-walls were constructed, harbour lights located, and the tricolour floated from a huge and comfortable mansion. Here, under a steadily-moving punkah, kept in motion by a Somali soldier in white headgear, shaped like a brimless tall hat, the Governor told me about it as we sipped his iced champagne.
Let me drop a word of commendation for republics with sufficient regard for their own dignity and the comfort of their foreign administrators to provide them with official homes. With the public works came the railroad, and with it the French man of affairs, who erected houses of coral rock and made himself comfortable, as the Frenchman always does and always will. This was the period of the ‘boom’ for the railroad work required an army of employees, temporary shops, and much else of an ephemeral character. When the railroad had pushed its length 300 miles across the desert, Djibouti resumed its status as a port of call for numerous African steamer lines, and waited, as it is still waiting, for the great expected development of Ethiopia, which will make the French capital its natural point of contact with the modern world. Indeed, it was this expectation, and the partial completion of the railroad, that took me to Africa. Hitherto, trade in general, and American trade in particular, had drifted to Aden, thence across to any one of half a dozen ports, where camels took it up, and plodded into the interior. The railroad meant evolution and revolution; it was time for a watchful people like ours to be up and doing. Between checking up the contents of numerous black canvas bags and sundry boxes, the conversion of convenient French currency into large and invariably dirty Maria Theresa thalers, and the receiving and paying of visits which pleasure and courtesy demanded, the two days in Djibouti passed quickly.
ATTO JOSEPH OFFEES SOUND ADVICE
Among my first visitors was the Atto Joseph de Galan, representative of His Majesty Menelik II at Djibouti. The Atto Joseph speaks French fluently, has visited Europe, and he gave me always good advice, whether it related to the purchase of a mule, the selection of an interpreter, or the usages of the Court.’The Emperor will be glad to see you,’ said he, ‘very glad, and when you talk with him, as you have to me, you will find in him a friend. Those who have visited my country and have failed, have not understood human nature. They have heard that we are a slow people, seldom ready to advance a definite proposition. Therefore, they have been vague, and have talked in parables. They have heard that the new-comer must be provided with gifts, and they scatter their gifts to take the place of reasons. Thus suspicion follows upon distrust. But you take the advice of an old man speak simply, speak plainly, and be sincere. Your ways are not our ways; we shall like better to see you as you are than to see you trying to seem like ourselves.’The advice of shrewd old Ato Joseph reminded me of the counsel which he gave Hugues le Roux, the French writer and traveller, and which had stood him in good stead. ‘In Abyssinia,’ said Atto Joseph, ‘do everything in laughing.’ Very possibly the black philosopher’s belief in the efficacy of patience and good-humour is quite as applicable in America as it is in the land of the tribe of Judah.Our experiences at Djibouti ended in a blaze of glory at the ‘Government,’ where an amiable Governor and his charming wife, surrounded by The Governor-Interimaire, M. Albert Dubarry, received the party upon its arrival in Djibouti. Upon the return of the leading residents, made fete over us in the most graceful and hospitable manner possible. The next morning, when the sun rose out of the Indian Ocean, we said good-bye to Djibouti, and set forth by rail for Ethiopia.In a train of French-made cars, we crept slowly along the narrow-gauge track and across the desert, remarkable only for its brush and stones, the monotony of the journey occasionally being broken by stops at native villages. As the day grew older the landscape improved. We had now reached the second plateau, and great expanses of dry grass or forests of mimosa trees replaced the debris of the volcanic age. Occasionally groups of antelopes or graceful little dig-digs would stop to look at the moving train, and then walk leisurely into the brousse. We passed through magnificent grazing country, which evidently benefited by summer rains. Though called a desert, dry grass three feet tall carpeted the soil, and furnished excellent nourishment for numerous flocks and herds. Except where torrential rains had made crevasses in the rich soft earth, as the streams sought the watercourses, an automobile might have been directed across the smooth and limitless plain. Our train was comfortable, quite up to the usual European standard, the cars, however, having double roofs as a protection against the sun. It was dark when we arrived at the present terminus of the railroad, 308 kilometres from the coast.We had reached the land of Gush.
On the edge of Ethiopia Dire-Daouah, a ‘boom city’
The American Horse Marines Organizing the caravan.
WE had crossed the Ethiopian frontier some time before reaching Dire Daouah, but at the town named we first encountered the outward and visible sign of the orderly administration of him who signs himself ‘The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered. Menelik II., by the grace of God King of Kings of Ethiopia.’ The Somali railway guards were drawn up at attention to receive us, M. Pierre Carette presented the compliments of the railway management, and from many of those who afterwards became our good friends we received the warm welcome that goes out to the stranger always from every Ethiopian, whether his skin be white or black.It was too dark to see the evidences of the rapid growth and prosperity of this queen city of the desert, created within a twelvemonth a ‘boom city,’ as we should say in America. We knew, however, that we had left behind the blazing, trackless desert. An invigorating breeze came down from the Harar Mountains, and the evening air was cool. Across the street from the railway-station was the new hotel, and thither we walked between two rows of undressed, amiable natives, who gazed upon us with, expressions of mingled curiosity and disdain.
There was good cheer in the Hotel Petiaux that night. The next day the task of organizing an expedition began in earnest. If in no other respect, this expedition of ours was remarkable in that it had started off in a ship of State to visit a country without a seaport, and, aside from the Commissioner and his staff, consisted of marines and bluejackets, who were immediately mounted upon mules. Our party consisted of thirty Americans, later reduced to twentyeight, of whom five were officers, seventeen members of the United States Marine Corps, five enlisted men of the United States Navy, and one messenger. Every enlisted man had volunteered to go, and from the day the party left Dire-Daouah until we said good-bye to Abyssinia they gave me no anxiety and much satisfaction. They made friends of the children of the desert and admirers of the Abyssinians. The Emperor himself visited their encampment, and found more pleasure in watching Private Rossell exhibiting the mechanism of a service rifle than in any other external feature of the American invasion. The soldiers were idolized by our native servants, who imitated their ways, endeavoured to cock their old soft hats, when they had any, in the rakish manner of the marines, proudly wore their cast-off garments, and wept when they were separated. Lean, long-limbed, light-hearted, kind in thought and polite in action, the American soldiers worthily wore the uniform of their country.
Our first camp was made upon the following morning, although the officers continued to reside at the hotel during our stay in Dire-Daouah. We had in the first place to select and take charge of the mules which had been purchased for our account. The commander of the naval contingent, Lieutenant Hussey, had preceded the party in the country by a number of weeks, in order to purchase these animals and to make contracts for transportation. The mules had been well selected; but mules will be mules, and when Jack Tar took his first lesson in riding there was excitement in Dire-Daouah. The Issas and Gourgouras poured out of their native village to see the sight, squatting on their haunches in the sun, and impassively brushing their teeth with the ends of green twigs as they did so.
These mules had cost anywhere from seventeen to fifty dollars gold. We had arrived in the midst of active preparations for the campaign against the Mad Mullah, then giving the English so much trouble in British Somaliland. The Mad Mullah had written an insolent letter to the Ras Makonnen, Governor of the province of Harrar, and habitat of a large Musulman population. He had threatened to advance on Harrar within three months, and therefore an army had been organized to co-operate with the British, or at least to prevent the Mullah from crossing the border. A number of young British officers were participating in the military work, and had been buying mules at elevated prices, which were promptly applied to our own purchases also. My own particular mule, or one of them, had been bought for 150 thalers, with a pledge from the owner, who shed tears when he parted from this paragon, to buy it back, if still sound, at the close of the expedition for 100 thalers. The mule returned, sound, fat, and unscarred, but the seller had disappeared, whereupon my aristocratic mount was disposed of for 60 thalers an unimportant incident, illustrating that a horse trade is a horse trade the world over.
Finally, we had three worthy Somali soldiers, who joined us after our return from Harrar, chosen by the Ras Makonnen, and whose general instructions were to keep us on the right trail across the desert, and aid us in our relations with the various tribesmen we were sure to encounter.
The mules distributed and the saddles adjusted, applications for service were taken up from an army of youths who, attracted by the announced arrival of our party, had gathered like flies around a honey-pot, eager to take employment at only twice the normal rate of pay. Each applicant bore a certificate from a former employer, and bound himself to work at a wage rate of four dollars gold per month, food to be found, or paid for at the rate of about six cents a day, with such gratification at the end of the journey as merit might justify. It was necessary that each officer should possess a tent-boy and mule-boy, and there had to be a considerable number of similar boys to perform miscellaneous duties for the enlisted men. When our party disbanded, some of our servants were employing servants of their own, and I suppose that if we had remained long enough these servants of servants would have been doing the same thing.
I had already found an interpreter at Djibouti, young Oualdo son of Mikael, a youth who had served M. Comboul, a French engineer, in a similar capacity. With M. Comboul he had travelled throughout the empire, seeking traces of mineral wealth. Upon the death of his employer a year before our coming he had carefully preserved his papers, and had just returned from France, where he had been to deliver them to the family. The lad spoke French fluently, and half a dozen of the local languages. He possessed many admirable qualities, not the least of which was loyalty. He was a handsome little fellow, with the splendid white teeth which the Ethiopian always has, a shiny black face, and bead-like eyes. He was an excellent horseman and a good shot, and whether he wore his fresh khaki suit and riding leggings, as he did in the European settlements, or his snow-white chamma, as he did at the capital, he made a smart appearance.
I also employed one Gabre Tsadick or, reduced to English, ‘Slave of the Holy Ghost. The Slave of the Holy Ghost was of wistful countenance, wore a pair of blue overalls, a huge hat, and a red bordered chamma. He also carried a gun. The possession of the gun indicated his superiority over the other servants. He aspired to a servant to carry the gun, for no Abyssinian gentleman moves without both gun and servant, and the more of each the greater is the degree of distinction. All servants were to go on foot to the capital.
Gabre Tsadick developed a most extraordinary capacity to contract stomachache as soon as he had left civilization so far behind that his return was out of the question. Under these circumstances he produced a mule, which, unknown to me, had nevertheless attached itself to our caravan, and with similar promptness he found in our party an unattached servant, by name Debalchi, who carried his gun and discharged most of his duties. Eventually our caravan passed through Gabre Tsadick’s home, whereupon he resigned, being succeeded by Debalchi. Gabre was a worthy youth, and we parted with expressions of mutual regard but we parted.
Upon the whole our servants turned out to be a faithful and efficient, though variegated, lot of boys partly Abyssinians and partly Somalis, the presence of the two races and the two religions stimulating the representatives of each. There were disadvantages, however, about the variety, since the Somali boy could not eat meat which had been killed by the infidel, and the Christian certainly could not be expected to eat meat killed by the Moslem. As goats and sheep could not always be summoned at will, our domestics’ fidelity to religious duty involved us in frequent difficulties.
The shortest and in some respects the best route from Dire-Daouah to the capital, Addis-Ababa, follows along the base of the mountains, across Mount Asabot, usually in sight of the true desert, yet never quite upon it. This route is approximately that selected for the projected railroad line, and is practicable for camels. Usually the camel caravan conductors prefer to diverge from the mountains, leaving Mount Asabot to the left, in order to cross the great desert. Both routes from Dire-Daouah leave Harrar, the chief commercial city of the empire, well off to the south. A third route, longer but more beautiful, and passing through an orderly and civilized population, takes one from Dire-Daouah to Harrar by a circuitous mountain road, just completed, and thence across the mountains to Addis-Ababa. Mules only can be used upon this route. As contracts for transportation had been made before our arrival, involving the use of camels, the mountain route could not be considered in connection with our party. Desiring, however, to visit the Ras Makonnen, with whom I had been in correspondence, a preliminary side trip was made to Harrar and back again to Dire-Daouah before the real pilgrimage began.
In this section of the storytelling, the author uses the terminology “Galla” which was the old definition of the Oromo Falk. This shouldn’t be misunderstood and seen from the present point of view. Though we regret the circumstance, we are not entitled to change the original words of the author. We also couldn’t discard the story either because there is a lot to learn about the historical charachterstics of our country. We apologise by all of you who might feel offended by the terminology mentioned above. (The Lissan Team)
On the French road to Harrar Reception by the Eas Makonnen An elephant hunting-party Back to Dire-Daouah.
WITH sensations of pleasurable excitement we heard the bugle-call at four o’clock upon the morning of our special trip to Harrar. The camels charged with the more important of our supplies had been sent out the day before, in order that they might certainly arrive with us ; the tents were to follow. With all the enthusiasm of the novice, our small company set out at a lively canter along the excellent French road. Higher and higher we climbed among mountains as green as those of Tyrol. Brilliantly coloured birds flew about us, and upon one or two occasions we passed whole villages of monkeys. We could now look down upon the lowlands and desert spread out below us, and upon the real Abyssinia in its strong-holds above us and beyond us.
For the sake of clearness, let me now dispel the usual thought that all Abyssinia is occupied by the Abyssinians. The empire ruled over by the great Negus Menelik consists of a vast extent of territory, including numerous clearly-defined races, which are
as distinctly different from the Ethiopian as is the Tartar from the Mongolian. The Abyssinia that has never been conquered consists of a series of mountainous highlands comprising a sort of confederation of the smaller kingdoms of Godjam, Tigre, Amhara, and Choa. Under the strong direction of its present ruler, this confederacy has become in practice an autocracy. The dominant race occupying these highlands, which was driven back from the sea centuries ago, has renewed its vigour, and in recent years has acquired control of the province of Harrar and other surrounding provinces, the most of which are occupied by barbarous tribes, perpetually desiring to wage war against each other, but held in restraint by a wholesome fear of the wise man at Addis-Ababa. The Abyssinian, properly speaking, is an orderly and peaceful personage, even though he is professionally a warrior; he is not fond of work, but is capable of obtaining work from others.
We were now entering the land of the Gallas, who share the hill country around Harrar with the Ethiopians. The Gallas are a conquered race of excellent intelligence, and they are industrious farmers and safe citizens. When the fine new highway was projected between Dird-Daouah and Harrar, it became necessary to condemn the land required for its construction. The Gallas waited upon the Ras Makonnen, their Governor. Their farms would be ruined, they said; the work must not go on: they could not accept the price offered for their land.
‘But it is a good, fair price, is it not ?’ said the Ras.
‘It is not the price we complain of, most gracious lord; we don’t want our farms to be destroyed.’
The Ras ordered them out of his presence, saying that there was but one Governor of Harrar, and that he and he alone would say what might or might not be done. The road was constructed, and a guard prevented interference with the labourers. When it was all over, the Ras called the turbulent spirits before him, and telling them that he had been compelled to exert his authority in order to demonstrate his supremacy, he was now prepared voluntarily to pay them twice the value of their property, thus showing them that their Governor could be generous as well as just.
It was noon when we emerged upon the plateau, in the centre of which stands Harrar, and from an African Switzerland we now entered upon boundless plains of rich and well-cultivated lands. Sorgho, barley, teff, all the vast variety of Ethiopian crops, grew about us, and in the far distance lay a small lake, by the shores of which we lunched sumptuously upon what the French call corned beef and hard bread. Tens of thousands of waterfowl swam or flew about the lake, and the shores were black with sleek zebus. One hour’s rest was allowed, whereupon we put our weary forms once again into the saddle, determined to cover our thirty-eight miles, and to meet the Ras at four o’clock at all hazards.
Now the scenery again changed. The finished portion of the new road we left behind, and with an equatorial sun in our faces we pressed on between rows of giant euphorbia. A foot-runner met us eight miles out, and, after a hasty inspection and salutation, darted on ahead to spread the news of our coming. Three miles farther on we met the first escort, consisting of a hundred warriors on foot, commanded by a venerable gentleman with a patriarchal beard, mounted, wearing a long purple satin robe. He and I descended from our mules and shook hands, the old gentleman declaring that he and his men prostrated themselves to the ground. Incidentally, I gathered that the runner who had first met us, and the presence of the old gentleman so far out of the city, had been ordered to ascertain whether our party represented the might and majesty of the American Republic in an official sense, or whether it was merely a private commercial mission. The old gentleman remounted, and while his servant carried his shield, he himself played a wand, twelve feet long, upon the heads and shoulders of the unwary who got in our way, and as the traffic is considerable at this point, and the ambition of youth to follow the procession as strong in Ethiopia as elsewhere, my venerable friend was never without occupation.
We passed hundreds of peasants leaving or entering the city, the movement being exceptionally heavy, owing to the Ethiopian law which requires all merchandising to be done within the walled city, and making it an offence to engage in these transactions without.
We finally descended a rocky path, coming out upon a beautiful plain surrounded by coffee plantations, and with the ancient walled city of Harrar in the foreground. In the distance approaching us we saw dimly a large body of troops, which proved to be a thousand men, in the midst of whom rode the Governor or Ras of Harrar. A man of middle age he proved to be, delicate in form and feature and quiet in manner. He wore a large felt hat, rich robes, white stockings, and patent leather slippers. His hands were delicate and small, seemingly a characteristic of his race. When we met we both descended, and I was again welcomed most cordially. Dusty and weary, hot, and arrayed in khaki, our appearance was in striking contrast to that of the followers of the Ras Makonnen. Having exchanged salutations, the Governor’s troops led the cavalcade, the Ras himself riding with me, and my own escort following. As we passed under the brown city walls, a cannon upon the ramparts belched forth eleven additional welcomes, the first time, as we were told, that a mission had been thus received. We continued on through the gateway, and found ourselves in a compactly built city of low, flat-roofed houses of stone, with additional troops lining our progress through the rough and narrow streets.
During our ride the Ras explained that his new palace had been placed at our disposition, and, as the camels had not yet arrived with our tents, the offer was gladly accepted. By this time we had reached the residence of the Ras himself, who invited the entire American party to enter. After passing through a small courtyard, the officers found themselves before an unpretentious two-story building, and then, climbing a flight of stairs, in a long reception-room, in which a table laid in French fashion indicated that something was to follow. Here, in a low musical voice, the Ras, who rules the province with an arm of iron, bade us be seated. White-robed servants immediately brought forth jars of mead or tedj, the native champagne, in which we drank to the health of President and Emperor. With the same thoughtful courtesy, the Ras sent down refreshments to our tired escort waiting below. The day had been hot and long, and the tedj proved to be the most grateful and comforting thing that we had had in Ethiopia. Afterwards the Governor sent jars of it to our lodgings, as long as we remained.
This stimulating beverage is manufactured from honey, of which enormous quantities are found in Ethiopia, the active agent producing fermentation being the leaves of a plant called gesho. The gesho plant is cultivated on a large scale, and sold in all public markets. Its properties are such that it might very possibly be utilized in other countries in a similar manner.
The new palace so thoughtfully placed at our disposition was not far from the residence of the Ras, and proved to be the most imposing structure that we saw during our sojourn. It is of Arab-Indian design, and contains numerous rooms of enormous size, all carpeted with Oriental rugs, and to some extent furnished with French furniture. Across the courtyard was a small Italian hotel, organized and opened on the day of our arrival, and also wholly reserved for our use. We certainly had every reasonable accommodation during our stay.
The following day the camels arrived, and camp was established just beyond the city walls. In the meantime I had formally called upon the Ras, inviting him to visit the camp, which he did the next afternoon, bringing with him his escort of a thousand men. While we were in my reception-tent a confused cry was heard outside, and as I returned with the Ras to his horse it became louder and more intense, and proceeded from thousands of the populace, who had gathered to see the unusual spectacle. I asked Oualdo son of Mikael what it meant.
‘They are crying to you to deliver back their Ras,’ said he, ‘ that he may give them justice.’
I learned that it was the custom of the people to thus assemble and cry out for attention, expecting to have their complaints examined by this great feudal chieftain, whose every hour is occupied listening to and deciding disputes brought to him upon appeal. Before I left Harrar I saw him again, and had the pleasure of presenting him with a portrait of the President, which seemed to give him great pleasure. He is one of the Emperor’s ablest lieutenants, and has travelled extensively in Italy, France, and England, profiting by his experiences. He is slow of speech, and not as ready a conversationalist as the Emperor; but he is evidently of a studious and reflective turn of mind, and has the unbounded confidence of his people.
Our lodgings at Harrar adjoined the largest school, whereof the principal soon became my friend. He was an imposing personage, by name Gabre Johannis, or ‘Slave of John.’ He could recite whole books of the New Testament by heart, but his knowledge of geography went no farther than Jerusalem and Suez. To him everything else beyond was grouped under the general head of frangi, or foreign. It gave me a singular sensation when I announced to this gentleman, who heard it for the first time, that the world was round. The statement seemed so much at variance with his own observation that he called in a number of friends to listen to the remarkable exposition of this frangi from America.
Aside from exchanging courtesies, our time in Harrar was devoted principally to visiting the market, which is extremely interesting, and some large mercantile houses, which receive coffee and other natural products of the country, exchanging them for American sheetings and other articles. The population consists of 15,000 Abyssinians, 17,500 Harrari or natives, who speak a local patois, 6,500 Gallas, and 1,000 Armenians, Greeks, Turks, and Europeans. As half the population is Moslem, it requires a firm hand and a steady head to preserve order. It may be said that the Ras Makonnen completely succeeds.
While walking along the streets one day we encountered a returning chieftain who had just succeeded in killing an elephant. He was evidently a Mohammedan, for he was followed by numerous wives, closely veiled, and a hundred or more retainers, who chanted the song of triumph with which the Abyssinian celebrates every victory of this kind. The singers seemed perfectly oblivious of everything about them, and to have worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement.
We reached Harrar on a Saturday evening, and left the following Tuesday. We arrived at DireVDaouah saddle-worn and sunburnt, but highly pleased with the excursion. The journey had been too long for both mules and men. A few of the former never wholly recovered. The next morning we found many swollen backs among our mules, some of which took care of themselves, others being reduced by the frightful Abyssinian custom of applying hot irons. We never permitted this latter treatment to be followed after that, although there seemed to be no doubt of its efficacy. Perhaps the Ethiopian mule has a constitution which differs from that of other mules, for we saw numerous instances of animals coming in with swollen backs, to which the iron was applied, the same mules starting out with a heavy load on the following day, apparently unconcerned about their treatment.
Long after my return from Harrar, it became known to the Ras Makonnen that the American Government sought to purchase in the city a few of the fine large GreVy zebras to be found only in Abyssinia. With spontaneous generosity, he forwarded a pair of these beautiful animals to me, together with a letter so polite and gracious in its terms that I reproduce it here, as its quaint language well illustrates the characteristic courtesy of a statesman since passed away, whose high qualities were proved in many ways :
‘ The Ras Makonnen, Governor of Harrar, to his honourable friend, Mr. Skinner, the American Consul-General at Marseilles.
How are you ? Myself, by the grace of God, I am well.
To respond to the desire which you have expressed to me, I send to you for your Government a male and a female zebra, through the kindly care of Mr. Guigniony, the French Consul. I pray your Government to kindly accept these animals in witness of my friendship and sympathy.
I hope that the relations of friendship which have been established between our Governments may go on developing for ever.
‘ May the All Powerful accord you long life and health!
‘Written at Harrar the fifteenth Tekemt, 1898′
(corresponding to October 25, 1905).
The lords of the desert delay progress Sali the wicked Hatching a conspiracy The party of amity and commerce threatened with war Preparations for a midnight attack.
WE were prepared to move on at once towards Addis Ababa, and, in fact, expected to do so after a day’s rest. Unanticipated difficulties now arose in reference to our transport. The terms supposed to have been made with the camel contractor before our arrival were rejected at the last moment, and with hundreds of apparently idle camels munching the thorn-bushes around Dire-Daouah, there appeared to be none for hire. After prolonged discussions, which began at dawn and never seemed to end, the difficulties were finally adjusted, thanks in large measure to the solicitude of our friends Messrs, Carette, and Jaume. We found ourselves in command of three caravans of from six to thirty-five camels each. One consisted of Abyssinian camel-drivers and animals, and was to transport supplies for use in Addis-Ababa and for the return trip directly to Addis Ababa, regardless of our personal movements. Another consisted of six fine Arab camels with as many Arab drivers, and was to transport our personal effects and to travel with us. The third consisted of Danakil camels, driven by savages from the desert, and was to transport our remaining belongings to Baltchi, the point where the real Ethiopia begins and the savage ceases to feel at home. From this point we expected to hire mules for the last stage of the journey.
Of course, there was no real reason why the third caravan should not proceed with us to Addis-Ababa, our ultimate destination, but argument is of no avail with a Danakil nobleman. It is the rule of the Danakil camelmen to carry freight to Baltchi and no further. Why discuss it ? Why should a dog of a Christian even think about such matters ? Is it not enough that the proud, if naked, Danakil consents to transport his belongings across the desert?
The details regarding these caravans were in charge of Lieutenant Hussey, of the naval escort. In addition to this variegated assortment of camels and drivers, there was assigned to us, as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend, and as chief domestic and go-between, the hero of a dozen elephant hunts, and the very man required to uphold the dignity and honour of the United States while we crossed the desert. His name was Sali.
Sali was an Arab, whose thin bare legs and emaciated body were more or less covered by fabrics of brown, yellow, and red. Upon his head he wore a huge turban, and there were rings in his ears, upon his arms and his ankles. He had lively small black eyes, and he shook hands a great deal. All our desert friends liked to shake hands much more than was necessary. It took Sali just two hours to count and recount a small stack of silver thalers, destined for the camel-men’s advance pay, upon the evening of his engagement, whereupon he ‘ isshe’d ‘ (’ it is well ‘), and backed out.
This desert chieftain would have delighted an artist’s soul, and I shall never cease to regret the failure of my camera to preserve his image for pos- terity. His duplicity was deplorable, but his picturesqueness, at the head of our procession, until his mule escaped, was undeniable. The sight of my chief domestic, his great toes stuck through his stirrup rings, his gorgeous garments fluttering in the wind, his earrings glistening, and his spear uplifted, galloping through the mimosa-trees, filled my heart with gladness, and I confess it now without shame for my weakness I would have been happy had I dared to forgive him later on, merely for the joy of looking at his person.
The delay at Dire-Daouah seemed interminable. On two different days it was announced that we were to start. Man and beast were ready, but we did not start nobody ever did know, or ever will know, why. In the meantime, the lords of the desert sat on their haunches opposite our hotel in the sunshine, zealously brushing their teeth and regarding us with scornful indifference whenever we came forth.
Finally, it was agreed that on the following morning (Sunday) we should really start. We rose at 4 a.m., and at 6 half a dozen of the Arab camels came into the hotel courtyard, and groaned, as only the camel of commerce can groan, for four hours. The Danakil habane ‘ managed to turn up at about ten o’clock, and the Abyssinian, being a contract free-lance, had gone on. We postponed our departure until after luncheon.
During the intervening hours we watched the Arab camel-drivers parcel out the ‘ charges ‘ among the animals. With great rapidity, they loaded each beast as lightly as possible and, leaving one-third of the effects assigned to them upon the ground, declared that four-legged creatures could carry no more. Oualdo son of Mikael was sent for. He straightway applied to the situation the plain common-sense which made him by far the most valuable retainer in the entire expedition, by borrowing a pair of scales. He demanded that the camels be unloaded, and after weighing every parcel and ascertaining that our total weight was well within our rights, he easily prevented further difficulty. Incidentally, we learned something about camels.
A camel-load, or ‘ charge,’ weighs, ‘ in principle,’ as the French say, 493 pounds, but in fact never more than 420 pounds.A camel-driver may place his load upon two animals if he chooses this is his affair, for he gets the same price. If speed is desired, these half ‘ charges ‘ pay the full tariff. In addition to contract terms, it is necessary to occasionally bestow a goat or sheep upon the drivers, and the end of the journey is expected to bring with it a ‘gratification.’
While waiting for the camel-drivers to load and move off, a returning traveller arrived, who had departed from Addis Ababa some weeks before. He had gone up on a prospecting tour of some kind. This gentleman very kindly supplied information about the desert route, and incidentally suggested that we had better have our guns handy and keep our powder dry. He himself had encountered a band of 500 mounted savages upon the desert, who were returning from some tribal war manifestation. The chief had noted our informant’s skill with sundry machine guns and betook himself off. Our informant said that he felt better when he had left the party well behind. With this cheering intelligence we said good-bye to Madame Brincard, of the H6tel Pe”tiaux, mounted our faithful mules, and, accompanied by the chief European residents of Dire-Daouah, who escorted us for several miles, set out for the unknown.
To the great satisfaction of all, we were at last under way, and after the nerve-stretching delays of our week at Dire-Daouah the calm of the desert was most welcome. We had moved out of Dire-Daouah at two o’clock, the sun’s direct rays being soon tempered as we entered the forest of mimosa-trees, through which we travelled for three successive days. Old Sali headed our procession, the camels had all preceded us by over an hour, and the khaki-clad soldiers of the Republic cantered on in Indian file. We made our camp that day upon a small turf-covered clearing, beside a number of wretched, all but dry wells, which barely supplied sufficient muddy water for our night and morning coffee. As for the animals, they had to be content with the fine grazing and wait until the following noon to quench their thirst.
The camp stove was promptly put into commission, and the odours of the flesh-pots of Camacho the Rich were as nothing compared with the aroma of bacon and other homely American things that floated over the Ethiopian desert. A ring of tents, upon the poles of which appeared the historic words, ‘ Santiago, Cuba,’ was formed around the stove. Within the circle the camels were brought after they had eaten their full of mimosa twigs and among them the Arabs and Danakils constructed huts of our boxed effects, thatching them with their straw pack-saddle mats. They, too, were soon at work, encouraging diminutive fires, each between three round stones, to cook their porridge of sorgho. A long rope, staked to the ground by Private Vernon, our trusty Master of the Mules, was just beyond the line of tents, and to it our live- stock was tethered.
A crescent moon rose that night, and after * taps ‘ had been sounded by our bugler, the post-guards called out the hours, and only the howling of the hyenas broke the silence.
We had supposed that, having once started out with our heterogeneous caravan, we should have no more confusion or trouble. We were mistaken. In the first place, the Danakil and the American had diametrically opposite ideas about other things than clothes. The Danakil liked to rise late. The sun warmed his marrow-bones, and the early mornings were cool. The hotter it was the better he liked it. The American idea was based upon Franklin’s advice. We were afraid of the sun. We rose before dawn, but nobody else did. Persuasion was of no avail, and we had not yet learned that the advice of our European friends to make a show of force was to be construed literally. Hence we waited. Old Sali pretended to be very busy on the morning of our second day out, ordering people about ; but they brushed him away, and it was evident that he had no authority, and never had had. The Arabs and their six camels moved off promptly, and gave us no trouble thereafter at any time. They were a merry, resourceful lot, lived up to their contract, sang at their work, cared well for their camels, and, if they forgot their prayers, would have starved rather than eat meat killed by a heretic.
The gloomy grandeur of the Danakils was superior to all appeals to hurry from our military officers. In the fatalist’s lexicon there is no such word as * hurry.’ To add to the morning’s difficulties, the two women camel-drivers came to blows concerning the disposition of a feather-weight parcel. Finally the men-folk interfered, and lodged it upon one of the two camels, whereupon the vanquished shrieked aloud in anguish, and attempted to drive a spear through her colleague’s back. Her camel wore a necklace of cockle-shells, and was clearly an object of affection.
1 pearl without price,’ she cried (so Oualdo said), the she-goat of a heretic wishes to kill thee! May the jackals get her short-legged beast! May her daughters bear no children! They have forced me to overburden thee, my beloved!’
The poor creature lashed herself into a rage, and again and again sought to send the lance through her companion. Finally the storm expended itself, and that night these same two creatures were doing some sort of domestic work together as harmoniously as though differences had never come between them.
Eventually the entire caravan moved off, each animal securely attached by a rope tightly drawn around its lower lip, and then tied with humiliating firmness to the tail of the next camel preceding. We made habitually something less than three miles an hour with our mules, but the camels rarely exceeded two miles an hour. This meant, of course, our arrival at the rendezvous a number of hours in advance of our baggage. We averaged six hours a day in the saddle. It was our aim to reach our destination about noon, but owing to the defects in our organization we rarely left camp in time to accomplish this design. Returning from Addis-Ababa we did much better.
We had scarcely proceeded eight miles on this second day’s journey when old Sali, dismounting from his mule, had the unpleasant sensation of seeing that animal disappear in a cloud of dust in the direction of Dire*-Daouah, and, to complete his discomfiture, with the old man’s slippers attached to the saddle. Discredited by ourselves, jeered at by the Arab drivers, and all but spat upon by the Danakils, the unhappy old gentleman girded his flowing robe around his loins, and carefully picked his way along the road, filled with fallen mimosa thorns and sharp pebbles. We were sitting on the grass under the shadow of some fine old trees, on the banks of Ourso Creek, when old Sali limped in, and, removing his garments, sat himself down in the bed of the stream. His ablutions terminated, it seemed to be a kind and Christianlike thing to tell Sali that his services were less valuable than had been expected, and that, whereas it was merely a walk of 20 miles back to Dire-Daouah, there were still some 260 miles between Ourso and Addis - Ababa, and very poor walking at that.
‘Sali,’ he was told, ‘you know you are a good deal of a fraud. You never killed any elephants, and you cannot even take charge of a mule, let alone a caravan. The camel-men refuse to accept your orders, and you are in the way.’
The old man was willing to concede that he was a humbug for practical purposes, but insisted that he was a ‘personage,’ that he had houses and goats at Ankober, and that, finally, being a ‘ personage,’ he could not be humiliated with impunity; however, rather than be subjected to any such mortifying experience, he would forget his moral injuries and his physical hurts, and go along with us, without wages. Only he desired that when he had piloted us across the sandy wastes we should give him a ‘ gratification.’ Incidentally he remarked that he was very hungry; he had eaten nothing for two days.
But the contract was that you were to receive and disburse the money among the camel-men, and that we were not to be responsible for your food or theirs.’
‘It is true,’ said Sali, ‘true as the Koran, your Supreme Illustriousness ; but they will have none of me and I am hungry.’
This statement being unquestionably true, with democratic simplicity Sali was offered half of a can of corned beef. The slayer of elephants looked at it with wistful eyes, smelled it, and evidently wanted to eat it.
‘Who killed it ?’ he inquired.
‘What does it matter who killed it?’ perhaps this was said a little sharply. ‘ Nobody knows. B is good.’
But the old man’s religion was stronger than his appetite, for he gave it back, and, turning himself towards Mecca, began to read the Koran.
Our caravan at this time was much scattered, and perhaps a mile long. It was quite impracticable for us to keep together, and we determined, upon leaving Ourso, to detail a rearguard to follow the camels, and to send the main body of the escort and the servants as rapidly as they could travel to each day’s rendezvous. The halting - points were fixed, naturally, by the condition of the water-supply. By following the base of the mountains we occasionally came to small streams like the Ourso, or at least wells, while farther to the north these same streams lost themselves in the sand.
On the succeeding day Sali appeared in the r61e of an arch-conspirator. He had kept counsel with himself since his deposition, but, as we learned later, he had managed to have a number of interviews with the Danakil ‘ habane.’ The division of our party into an advance- and rear-guard gave the old rascal his coveted opportunity to get even. With the marines as my escort, I had started on in advance, accompanying the faithful Arab camel-men. Hofalle’, an isolated mountain, standing apart from the main chain, and visible miles away, indicated plainly enough the direction we were to follow. Our route lay to the left of Hofalle and under its shadow. By this route we encountered vegetation most of the way and water at the rendezvous. To the right of Hofalld lay the sandy desert, and the home of the Danakil cameldrivers whom we had employed. My Somali soldier policeman, one of the three sent along by the Ras Makonnen, showed us the way, proudly wearing his chamma of American cloth, upon which he carefully preserved and exhibited the manufacturer’s mark, ‘Dwight’s Best Sheeting.’ Sali trudged along also. He said that,although dethroned, he was going as far as the Hawash, to visit one of his numerous biets, or farms.
After four hours’ going, we reached the dry bed of a stream, in the middle of which appeared to be a fairly good well. Atto Bayane, son of the Governor of Dir^-Daouah, was there in advance of us. He had come on to meet his father, then returning from Addis Ababa. We sat tinder a huge tamarind-tree and waited for the rearguard, consisting of Captain Thorpe and the bluejackets, who were following the Danakil caravan. As they did not arrive within a reasonable period, Atto Bayane suggested that possibly they had taken the trail leading to the right of Hof alle” instead of to the left, in which case we would probably find them in the bed of the same stream a number of miles below, but in the heart of the Danakil country, concerning which darksome stories had reached us.
We had been particularly warned to keep away from the Danakil habitat, where the wayfarer was sure to be long detained, and mulcted of portable property in every form. Oualdo son of Mikael had been there with his late master, M. Comboul. After making their camp, all the camels had disappeared, and likewise the drivers. The latter went to their several homes, calmly oblivious of poor M. Comboul and their contract. Then old chief Eleye, who subsequently died in jail for his sins, presented himself, insisted upon sitting in M. Comboul’s beautifully upholstered Paris chair, and reposing his buttered head upon the back thereof, while explaining in flowery language his desire for tribute. M. Comboul passed thirty days parleying with the chief, while one of the Somali soldiers escaped and carried the news to the Emperor. A regiment was at once sent to relieve the scientific explorer, and the incident caused old Eleye’ many a head of cattle and his people many huts, as the Emperor does not trifle with his Danakil subjects.
The experience of Mr. Macmillan, an American traveller from St. Louis, in the spring of 1903 in this same corner of the empire proved less wearisome, but more sanguinary. Mr. Macmillan so I was informed was accompanied by a French newspaper writer, who imprudently separated himself from the caravan, and lost his way in the bush. He encountered a Danakil and asked his way. The Danakil, instead of conducting him back to the trail, lured him farther on and brutally murdered him. The Frenchman was unarmed and could make no resistance. The Emperor was informed of the facts, and sent a regiment to the spot to demand that the murderer be given up to him. As the penalty for concealing the culprit involved confiscation of herds and destruction of their villages, the headmen finally acceded. The savage was hanged from a tree in the market-place at Addis-Ababa, where his body remained until the vultures had carried it away.
The Danakil regards the destruction of his enemies as the chief object in life, and having succeeded in making away with one, he is permitted to wear an ostrich feather in his hair. It is commonly believed, moreover, that a white man has ten times the value of a black one as a victim. As no Danakil can marry until he has killed and mutilated his man, and as the number of men thus killed has a direct bearing upon the number of wives which he may take unto himself, the ambition to kill may be the better understood.
It was a relief to our anxiety when off in the distance we perceived a solitary mule approaching at a rapid gait, mounted by my faithful interpreter. He was much excited, and said that there had been a ‘battle,’ and that our small force had won. It was more satisfactory to learn that they would shortly arrive. They did arrive, and we managed to piece out the whole story.
Old Sali had put the Danakils with our equipment, ammunition, and food-supply, up to the idea of loitering until our main party had gone far ahead, with the expectation of thereupon veering off to the right into their own territory. It was their intention to repose for a number of days in their own homes, thus compelling us, if their plan succeeded, to await their pleasure, and to submit to such extortion as their great numbers and our weakness might render possible.
They had not counted upon the alertness of Captain Thorpe and the bluejackets. When the point was reached where the trails separated and they had started to the right, Captain Thorpe noticed that our own tracks led to the left. The ‘habane’ was ordered to halt, but declined to do so on the ground that he knew the road and required no suggestions. Oualdo son of Mikael, who proved to be the hero of this adventure, drew his revolver and threatened all manner of things, * par Me’ne’lik,’ which is the final culminating explosive threat in Ethiopia, and means that, if the speaker cannot summarily get what he wants, the Emperor will find a way to accomplish the desired end. As matters now looked serious, the bluejackets, five in number, were ordered to load and prepare for hostilities, and the Somali soldier policeman with the rearguard was ordered to tie the ‘ habane’ and pack him upon a camel. While the order was being executed, the remaining Danakils left their camels and prepared to rescue their chief. Decidedly, matters were looking black for an expedition organized to promote amity and commerce. At this dramatic juncture the female camel-drivers howled and prayed for a cessation of the disorder. Between their entreaties and the grim appearance of the bluejackets, the ‘ habane ‘ was convinced of the error of his way, and promised to be good. He was thereupon untied. Upon reaching camp he declared that he now understood that we meant what we said, and knew what we wanted, and that we were his ‘ little fathers ‘ and the hope of the country, and begged that now he had decided to be good we would give him a ration of dates.
Oualdo son of Mikael taxed Sali, who stood on the outskirts smiling grimly, with having planned the entire incident. Both were much excited, the old man drawing his long knife and Oualdo his pistol. It was by a happy chance that a real drama was averted. That night our men slept with their arms by their sides and the sentries were increased, and there was war-time excitement in the atmosphere.
Our Danakil camel-drivers were almost truculent on the following morning. They loaded promptly, but complained that their numbers were not sufficient, and that they had really desired to enter their own country in order to obtain assistance. The ‘habane’ asked for the loan of a mule in order to send to his home for the required reinforcements, which could join us tw r o days later. This seemed reasonable, and the request was granted.
We had now entered upon our fourth day, and after a long and wearisome march, camped that afternoon upon an eminence overlooking the creek of Ergotto-Momosa. Forty-eight hours had elapsed since we had had sufficient water for bathing, and it seemed as though we had reached the promised land. In the village close at hand, composed of round thatched huts, lived the provincial Governor, Hadji Mohamed, a Moslem of the best type, selected by the Emperor to keep order among his unruly Danakil subjects. He called upon us that evening, prefacing his visit by the gift of a goat. Hadji Mohamed advised firm treatment of camel-men in general and Danakil drivers in particular.
HADJI MOHAMED’S ADVICE
‘Treat them as a father would ids child,’ advised the Governor, which particular form of treatment was to be strictly upon Scriptural lines, and also in accordance with the Koran. Champagne was introduced and tendered, but Hadji Mohamed declined it, on the ground that he was fasting. He had brought with him our young Christian friend Atto Bayane, and delegated him to drink in his behalf. The Governor proved to be a plain, sensible man, who hoped that his fever and rheumatism would permit him to offer us some elephant or leopard shooting upon our return. The desert was usually healthy, he said, but in the rainy season, from July to the end of September, there was much fever, and particularly in that locality.
The following day we camped at Ellabella under some large trees near two old wells, the use of which we shared with several thousand cattle. We were still apprehensive concerning the attitude of our Danakil camel-drivers, and inclined to question our wisdom in sending one of these savages back to their home in order to bring on the needed assistance. The assistance seemed to be coming too numerously for our peace of mind. It was evident that something was brewing, for the new recruits gathered in front of my tent, and squatting themselves in a semicircle, opened their palaver. In the first place, the lame, the halt, and the blind were produced, and consigned to the tender mercies of Dr. Pease. The doctor had great success, but confessed afterwards to some fear of trouble arising on his own account upon our return, as he had presented one patient with half a dozen strong cathartic pills, with instructions to take one every day. The patient a few minutes later had reported a desire to accomplish a quick cure, and had therefore taken the six at once.
The palaver with the camel-drivers, which was long, resulted in the explanation that our camels were the property of the King of their tribe of Danakils, Eley, a child of perhaps thirteen years, and as unprepossessing a youth as an itching palm and a protruding set of upper teeth, which were sharpened like a dog’s, could make. This King Eleye’ was the son of the great King of that name who had died in prison, as I mentioned before, because of his habit of taking toll of caravans.
The son Eleye*, having heard of our arrival, had come with his followers to demand tribute of us. He said that it was the custom of the country to pay tribute to him, and the greater the traveller the greater should be the tribute. In the case of so great a person as my Hlustriousness, it was bound to be considerable.
All this was irritating. Yet later on, when I had studied out the matter, the idea of paying tribute seemed not so unjust as might at first appear. Like most customs, it was founded upon a fair claim to compensation. This boy-King’s forefathers had found the wells, and had made the water available. The land belonged to these roaming bands, who required both the land and the little water for their cattle. If the stranger passed by, and desired to avail himself of their water and their forage, why should he not pay? Water rights ever have been a source of vexation and litigation. We were all for rejecting somewhat scornfully the pretensions of the young King, advancing the historical proposition that we had millions for defence, but not a cent for tribute. In point of fact, We had 175 rounds of ammunition per man, and while it could be counted upon to a certain point, could it protect us while we retreated back to Dire-Daouah ?
When the moon rose that night, it was evident that our Danakil acquaintances were extremely dissatisfied. Oualdo son of Mikael talked gloomily about caravans that had been delayed for months for non-payment of tribute. That night the sentry on post No. 1 reported that a savage had made motions with his hands from across a dry ravine, from which he had gathered the idea that this man and eighty of his kind were coming later to engage in battle. This sounded ominous, and instructions were issued to our men to be ready for any eventuality. About two hours later, while our limited forces were soundly asleep, the sentry saw two savages approaching, and, after calling upon them to halt, fired. That one shot roused the camp to instant action. In less time than it takes to tell it, a guard had been placed by our officers around the camels and mules to prevent a stampede, another around the Danakil camel-drivers to prevent them from joining in any possibly concerted movement, and a third over wary old Sali, who was generally believed to be the author of all our troubles. Sali had consorted all that afternoon with a strange man from the desert. His general attitude had impressed us as extremely suspicious ; so he was told that in case of the slightest serious difficulty he would be the first person to be shot, whereat Sali was immediately upon his knees, protesting that he was only an old man, whose heart’s desire was to be allowed to go peacefully to Ankober, to end his few remaining days.
In case of the worst happening, we were to form a circle, face outward, and hold out as long as possible. In the meantime, with the aid of Oualdo son of Mikael explanations were sought from the alleged King and his followers, who were passing the night with our camel people. They were all shivering with fear, being quite unable to comprehend why the soldiers had been called out towards midnight to surround them. It appeared that the individual shot at was simply one of the reinforcements sent for after we had left, and that he had turned up a little later than the rest, with some rope required for the better securing of the camel loads. This proved to be a strictly correct version of the facts, but vigilance was not immediately relaxed.
By this time out from the stillness of the night we heard strange sounds as of many voices, and looking over the crest of the hill at the base of which was our camp, we could see in the moonlight many figures moving about. This new cause of alarm suggested the probability of the uprising reported as imminent by one of the sentinels early in the evening. Volunteers were called for to investigate, and as all hands responded, a detail was formed, consisting of fifteen men, to beat about the brush of the surrounding country. It was a very solemn moment when this detail disappeared in the darkness, in Indian file, and it seemed hours before they returned. Melodrama was now succeeded by comedy, for the mysterious enemy on the hilltops was found to be, not bloodthirsty savages, but an army of huge monkeys, disturbed by the sentinel’s gun-shot, and curious to know what was happening in the hollow below. It was their chattering that we had mistaken for human voices.
Royalty joins the American Mission
A steer the measure of greatness
Night journey across Mount Asabot
THE boy-King asked permission to accompany us to Derebella the next morning, and in a moment of weakness not only was lie permitted to do so, but was provided with a mule. The most vicious animal in our possession was turned over to him, probably with the expectation that he would break his neck, or the mule. Our own men had failed to do the latter. To the credit of the alleged King be it said that he stuck his great toes into the rings that served him as stirrups, and the mule acknowledged allegiance immediately.
Our route lay across beautiful prairies, upon which members of our party shot wild guinea-fowl and other winged game. Private Wurm shot a wolf, and another one of our men a fawn. A returning caravan was encountered, and when the superb black man in charge of it recognised friends among our domestics he fired his rifle in the air several times to adequately express his joy. The friends kissed each other upon the lips. On several occasions when Oualdo son of Mikael met acquaintances they always descended from their mules, bowed low as they approached, and then embraced. The conversation began with a sort of invocation to Providence and inquiries after all members of their respective families. When the Ethiopian encounters a superior, he lowers his chamma from his shoulders before speaking. A superior is always addressed in the third person, and if high respect is to be paid the plural form of the third person is employed. The superior alone may say ‘thee ‘ and ‘thou,’ and rarely to others than servants.
At Derebella we camped a long distance from the wells, and had barely sufficient water for cooking purposes. We found here a grave and highly respectable man reading the Koran in his compound. He was presented as a relative of Hadji Mohamed. He appeared not to have any other identity. The compound, or zeriba, consisted, as did most of those we saw in the desert, of two concentric circles of mimosa brush. In the middle the owner had his tent. At night the cattle were driven into this enclosure, and guarded against the incursions of wild beasts. The relative of Hadji Mohamed sent me a goat as a mark of his esteem, and then came himself with a parcel of ostrich feathers. Two of his nephews sent a quantity of milk in hemp jars. The milk, by the way, was sour, as it usually is. The natives seem only to care for it after it has curdled. At this point we took leave of the King Eleye\ who in lieu of tribute accepted twenty thalers on account, in his capacity as owner of the camels. Having thus satisfied our scruples and the avariciousness of the potentate of the desert at the same time, we parted in peace.
From Derebella to Delado we continued across arid, stony plains, succeeded by a richer grassy country, in a drenching rain. This was the only experience of the sort which we had during the entire duration of our visit. Rubber blankets, or ponchos, saved us from serious results, but the consumption of quinine that night was enormous. A spot that might by courtesy be called clean was vainly sought upon the arrival of our party at Delado. Generations of camel-drivers had camped over the ground, and we had no choice but to do likewise. There was some satisfaction in being a Commissioner that night, inasmuch as it entitled me to spread upon the ground the one canvas tent floor in our possession.
Another very large caravan, consisting of at least 100 camels, had preceded us, being piloted by the Governor of the province, as it contained goods for the Emperor. The Governor, a fine six-footer, with large rings in his earsand a fresh white toga, or charnma, draped about his person, called at once, with a gorgeous Indian, who was also in charge of the caravan. The Indian detailed his bodily woes with great minuteness, and was turned over to the doctor. Our tents had not yet been put up when the Governor called, and although he seemed not to mind the downpour, I did. Small talk languished, therefore, as he had little to say himself, and I not much more. After one of these protracted intervals of silence, during which we had regarded each other, he manifested solicitude to know how we had been received by other Governors en route. He felt his way carefully.
“I would despise the man who would give your Highness a sheep,” he said.
“Yes ?” I replied.
“I would also despise the man who would give your Highness a goat,” he added.
It may be stated here that a goat is much more highly esteemed in Ethiopia than a sheep, its flesh being more tender and more delicate.
“Yes,” I rejoined, “certainly.”
“Now, a steer I would consider a fine present.”
“A steer is about as fine a present as any man could expect.”
“You see, I am not at home here. I live over that mountain. I have some very fine steers over there.”
“Yes. I expect to send one to your Highness the day after to-morrow. Being a great chief, I must give your Highness a great present. Yes, your Highness shall have a steer.”
We camped next day at Moulu, near a large stream, and on the day following at Meso, another spot quite as attractive. The Governor, true to his word, arrived in the afternoon, followed by two servants leading a fat steer. This munificence seemed to require a prompt expression of appreciation, and the Governor was withdrawn from his retainers, in order that he might choose between a pile of twenty thalers and a watch. His Excellency chose the former, as he did not know how to use a watch. He handed the silver to a servant without looking at it, and remarked that it was one of the satisfactions of being a great chief, that they understood one another.
Ahmed, our head camel-driver, gazed longingly at the steer, and expressed the hope that it might be killed by a Moslem, as such a course would permit him to partake thereof. Oualdo son of Mikael, being a Christian and hungry, remarked :
“Ahmed, you are a glutton !”
Ahmed retorted that he was not, and added : “To eat and sleep that is life.”
Oualdo son of Mikael, at my request, asked him if he had no pleasures or ambitions; but Ahmed’s philosophy of living was simple, and he reiterated his remark. He had no pleasures or ambitions. He desired only to fight the Somalis. Why? He did not know; it had always been so, and it always would be so; it was fate.
We slept that December night under what the French call la belle etoile. No tents were erected, as our intention was to leave at 1 a.m. We had ahead of us a long and weary climb across Mount Asabot to Laga-Arba (’River of the Elephant’). There was not a drop of water, so far as we knew, between these points, distant about forty miles. When we returned we discovered a small quantity of very foul water, about midway, in the clefts of some rocks. Hot coffee was served, after rising at midnight. An Ita guide had been found for us by the Governor. He wore an ostrich feather in his hair and strode on ahead, the caravan following as best it could. Lest we might lose our way, it was agreed that there should be no separation of any portion of our caravan or of our party until dawn, and that word should be passed from the rear of the column to the head whenever a camel-load should require readjustment and impose a halt, as frequently happened. The procession was probably a mile long, and a weird procession it was in the African moonlight. It was exceedingly cold, and everybody walked, more or less. We moved at a snail’s pace, because of the gait of the camels, and to remain awake on mule-back was most difficult. The servants alone seemed to enjoy the journey, and they sang an interminable song all the way.
By dawn we were in a sparse forest of mimosa-trees. The grazing was fine, and the grass fairly alive with game. Several deer were seen, and two were shot. Dr. Pease located an interesting rock in the distance, and, calling attention to it, experienced the queer sensation of seeing it walk off. It was an elephant. It became exceedingly warm after the sun rose, and by noon, having been twelve hours in the saddle, we were all tired and thirsty. The escort was ordered to halt upon an eminence overlooking the valley of Arba; but there was no shade, and therefore no repose. Shortly after we were all encamped on the river bank not upon the spot we would have desired, but upon the one where our Arab friends unloaded their camels. These camel-drivers always seemed to be looking for the most unprepossessing places, and having found them, managed to discharge their loads and drive off their camels before they could be stopped. Still, there were large trees, and the river was at our feet.
We passed two nights upon the Arba River. The protracted rest was celebrated by making a draft upon our small stock of mineral water and our canned hash, and no delicacies of an effete civilization ever tasted better. As we feasted our thoughts went out gratefully to Chicago. We had closely adhered to our intention of drinking nothing but boiled water up to this time, and as much of it was muddy and of disagreeable taste, the mineral water was far more acceptable to the palate than would have been champagne. Of the latter we had plenty, but nothing less than a Governor brought it out. Europeans in India pretend that they are able to support the climate only by drinking regularly whisky-and-water. My own observation is that in the desert very little appetite manifests itself for alcoholic stimulants. Whisky we kept on hand for medicinal purposes, but habitually we drank strong coffee in the morning and tea at night.
The Danakil camel-drivers, who by this time were professing respect and affection for our persons, had devoted the day of rest to the rehearsal of a fantasia, or dance, which took place during the evening in front of my tent. The dancing-party formed a circle and set up a weird chanting and stamping, which promised to continue indefinitely, until the elderly man who appeared to be reciting the thread of the story dropped upon the ground with his head between his hands and refused to go on. AHasman, one of the Somali servants, who pretended to speak English, offered this explanation :
“He sing song, big chief who kill, much, much, much. He no sing more, parce que, his head burn, burn, burn. If he sing more, he go sick, sick, sick.”
Old Oria, the Somali policeman, stepped into the breach by giving a representation of a hyena robbing a grave. Oria had been a very dignified personage up to this point, and I confess to a mild regret at thus finding him out of his character. How many able men have somehow fallen in public esteem by venturing upon the recital of an amusing story, or by the delivery of a supposedly funny speech!
These Somali policemen were faithful as the day is long. There were three of them, and they had been assigned to our party by the Ras Makonnen, who said that we would have need of them in order to facilitate our dealings with the native chiefs in the desert, and that they could be relied upon for any purpose. He also told them that they were upon no account to permit any harm to befall any member of our party, and that if any harm did befall any American, the same fate would be visited upon the negligent policeman who allowed it. They never forgot for ten seconds their responsibility, and, speaking for myself, I may say that until we reached Addis-Ababa there never was a moment when there was not a Somali policeman within 100 feet of me, looking discreetly into the distance, but always knowing what was going on.
The Governor of Laga-Arba dutifully called upon me with a band of twenty stalwart men armed with spears, who stood back of him and nodded approvingly to the words of wisdom bandied back and forth. The Governor was presented with a watch, which he looked upon with interest, and then turned over to his staff, who passed it from one to another, listening in a mystified manner to its tick, and then inquiring of their chief its practical use. A small portable electric light was shown to the same Governor, and was regarded by him and his followers as little less than a work of enchantment.
The Governor, here as elsewhere, was accompanied by the sick people of his district. These poor people understand enough about foreign caravans to know that there is usually a physician, or at least supplies of medicine, with the party, and they have child-like confidence in the power of both to cure. At Laga-Arba the Governor himself desired his hearing restored. He said that an insect had crawled inside his ear, and was still there. Upon pressing the inquiry, it was ascertained that the incident mentioned had occurred fifteen years before. The Governor seemed to think that there should still be some means of removing the insect and of effecting an immediate cure.
The plains of Mount Fantall
The durgo arrives
Hospitality by law
The next morning we were off betimes across beautiful grass-covered plains, with Mount Fantall in the distance. After a march of four or five hours, we caught our first glimpse of the telephone poles which mark the road between the capital and Harrar. Five minutes later we were upon the King’s highway, out of the desert, and in Menelik’s hereditary kingdom of Shoa. When one has been for ten days cut off from every vestige of civilization and among impossible savages, the first sight of even a telephone pole evokes the joy one feels upon finding one’s self among old friends. From this point we traveled along the main road in Abyssinia, and encountered frequent caravans, usually mule caravans, laden with hides, coffee, and ivory. We had proceeded not more than five miles, when we passed under a tree from which was still suspended the head-rest and gourd which had been placed there with the body of some unfortunate malefactor who had been hanged for his sins. The vultures had done the rest.
Camp was made upon a beautiful spot on the banks of the sparkling stream of Katchinhaha. Our able- bodied secretary of the mission and most skilful sportsman, Mr. Wales, distinguished himself at this point by bringing low a very large oryx, after an exciting chase. The wounded beast, after receiving a number of balls, showed fight until the last, lowering its horns and making a final desperate dash towards its aggressors, who finally despatched it with their pistols.
The Abyssinian boys decided that Katchinhaha would be a favourable place for a fantasia of their own, which should be distinctly superior to that of the Danakils, and it was. They sang the ‘ Song of the Elephant,’ which we had heard at Harrar, with frequent alarming discharges of a rifle and energetic demonstrations with the same, even more terrifying than the explosions. It has not yet ceased to be a cause of wonderment to me that we all escaped from our adventures with no serious hurt from the unexpected discharge of fire-arms. The fantasia was very protracted, and included long recitatives, consisting of plays upon words, of which the Abyssinians are extremely fond. The Abyssinian youth can sit for hours making puns, which evoke loud outbursts of mirth from his fellow-kind ; but from such explanations as I was able to procure, these jokes seemed to be devoid of real humour.
There was now before us the longest and most trying stage of the journey. The Ha wash plain and the Fantalle’ range have an evil reputation in Ethiopia, as the sun beats down mercilessly upon an absolutely unshaded trail, and the long stretch before the Kassan River is reached is without water, except such as may sometimes be found in the crevices of certain rocks. At two hours’ distance from Katchinhaha is the Hawash River, one of the largest streams in Abyssinia. Then six hours farther on one finds an exposed rocky floor, in the crevices of which a certain amount of rainfall is retained until evaporated or consumed ; and then, again, a six hours’ journey brings one to the beautiful camping-ground called Tadechemalka, on the Kassan River.
There being no longer the slightest occasion for the party to remain together for prudential reasons, we now rode in groups, as fancy might direct. The only rule of the road seemed to be that one of the Somali policemen should lead the advance party, and that one should bring up the rear with Oualdo son of Mikael, whose powers as an interpreter were required to settle such small difficulties as might arise. We reached the Hawash River in good season, half of the party descending the steep and high banks and fording the river. Farther up there was a bridge, over which the camels and the other half of the party crossed several hours later. There are a number of such bridges in Ethiopia, constructed by European engineers, but when the streams are fordable they are usually closed to traffic by piles of mimosa brush. We had been told that the ‘ dildil,’ as bridges are called, had been closed in this way, and hence most of the men sought the ford. Many caravans experience everything short of tragedy in crossing the Hawash, and we ourselves had troubles which seemed very serious at the time, although everything turned out in good order at the end of the day.
The remainder of the stage was across the level plain. Even the dark blue spectacles which several of us wore failed to more than temper the white, blinding sunlight. We were now in the richest game country between the coast and the capital. We saw gazelles and antelopes frequently in groups of four to a dozen, and when we returned two months later to this point we saw whole regiments of antelopes within range of our trail. To the right of our route lay the huge mountain range, in the rocky fastnesses of which is hidden the ancient city of Ankober. Numerous caravans of apparently interminable length crept towards us along the Ankober trail. At another point we found a herd of from five to six thousand female camels grazing under the supervision of a few herdsmen. The female camels are very seldom used as beasts of burden, being carefully cared for and employed for breeding purposes.
Interesting as the day was in some respects, it seemed as if it would never end, and, indeed, it was five o’clock before we were all reunited on Fantalle, a few yards removed from the rocks where we found the promised water-supply. There was still a considerable quantity of shockingly foul water left over from the rainy season in the hollows of the rocks; but, bad as it was, the native servants knelt down and lapped it up from their hands eagerly. The next day more than one of them shivered and moaned in great pain, and then recovered almost as quickly. Rather more fastidious than our servants, we sought rocks above the caravan trail, and found some comparatively clean water, which, being carefully boiled and strained, was harmless, if not palatable.
As we had been climbing gradually all day long, it became very cold as soon as the sun had set. Having now reached the altitude where wood was really needed, little or none was to be found. There were to be no more generous camp-fires around which our servants could sleep, and how they stood the low temperatures was incomprehensible. They wore nothing but cotton garments, and although most of them had blankets, many had preferred to retain their blanket-money, and to keep warm as best they could. Somehow they managed to huddle together in their chammas, and turned out in the morning after an apparently refreshing and warm night’s slumber.
The ascent from the Hawash River had been so arduous that, in spite of the extremely unfavourable character of our Fantalle camping-ground, neither Arab nor Danakil felt like moving on early next morning. Before dawn the camels were driven out of the centre of the camp, where they invariably slept, ostensibly to do a little grazing before loading-time. Though the pasturage was fine, the assigned motive was only a pretext. Our Danakil friends were really trying to trick us out of starting. About breakfast-time they alleged that the camels had been ‘lost,’ and suggested that we might just as well settle down for the day. This version was allowed to pass for an hour or two, at the end of which time, at the suggestion of Oualdo son of Mikael, a little mild force was employed. There being a suppressed feud constantly on between the Abyssinian and the Danakil, three of the Abyssinian servants were only too delighted to be ordered to drag the head camel-man off in the direction where the camels were supposed to be, and in the meantime the military escort was mustered, rifles loaded, and so disposed as to seem very threatening indeed. Before this evidence of determination the Danakil drivers yielded, and ‘ found ‘ the camels as quickly and easily as they had lost them. They succeeded, however, in compelling us to travel, as usual, during the heat of the day.
A fine and comfortable camping - ground was reached well after mid-day on the banks of the Kassan River. The place was called Tadechemalka. There was no town there rarely is in Ethiopia; the names merely represent definite points on the route. Tadechemalka has the reputation of being malarial, but we experienced no difficulty under that head. As a matter of fact, we were travelling during the most favourable season. A month earlier, or three months later, we would not have escaped so easily.
Atto Paulos, Governor of Baltchi, a town still several days ahead, happened to be camping near by, and called in the evening, with four sheep and as many goats, and renewed his visit in the morning, when he brought several jars of tallo, or native beer. It was our first opportunity to drink beer, and all agreed in thinking it less palatable than mead or ‘tedj’. Atto Paulos was extremely polite, saying that, having entered the kingdom of Choa, we were now the guests of the Emperor, and that orders had been issued to all the chiefs to receive us with the traditional hospitality of the kingdom. It seemed as though we had been receiving hospitality everywhere along the route, and the promise of the ‘ traditional hospitality ‘ of the kingdom sounded formidable, as it proved indeed to be. It meant that, aside from civilities and courtesies, the right of durgo had been extended in our favour. This is an essentially Ethiopian custom, and merits explanation.
There are no hotels in the empire other than the few created by Europeans in two or three prominent centres, and as there are very few markets, the traveller would fare ill without some special provision of law for his benefit. Having entered the kingdom as guests of the Emperor, we had now the right in law to demand supplies and provisions of the inhabitants, who in turn obtained some slight concession of the tax-gatherers when able to show that they had obeyed the law enjoining hospitality. It is frequently the case that the right to durgo is absolutely essential to the welfare of travellers, and it must be said that inhabitants respond to appeals with much more alacrity than might be expected. In our own case we had come provided with abundant supplies for our men, and really required little or nothing. The daily arrival of the ‘hospitality’ was, nevertheless, an event of much solemnity, and the occasion of great rejoicings among the servants, who gorged themselves on the food which we were utterly unable to consume. In the rich agricultural provinces a procession of as many as forty people would arrive towards sundown, leading steers, sheep, and goats, and carrying baskets of eggs, bread, barley, and jars of mead, curdled milk, and beer, and in the treeless regions bundles of fagots. Elsewhere the choum, or headman of the village, would bring a single sheep or goat, with a thousand apologies for his inability to do more. Etiquette and law required that something should be brought, and a scarcely less inexorable law imposed upon the stranger the necessity of recognising the gift in a tangible manner. The exchange of gifts, a custom handed down through the ages, is always accompanied by many polite expressions on both sides. The Abyssinians are an extremely ceremonious people, possessed of an innate courtesy which in many aspects is most admirable.
It was to no purpose that we sometimes protested against receiving this largess ; the grave and polite headman invariably said that the law enjoined the delivery of food to the nation’s guests, and the law must be obeyed. After a time we resigned ourselves to this overflowing kindness, accepting whatever came to hand, and doing as best we could. When we left Addis-Ababa we had, if my memory is not at fault, ten steers and fifty sheep and goats that we had not needed, and were obliged to give away. Indeed, our compound at Addis-Ababa bore some faint resemblance at all times during our stay to the Chicago stock-yards.
Our first experience with the durgo occurred at Choba, which we reached after a hard and long climb from Tadechemalka. It was reported that certain reservoirs of water existed here for the benefit of thirsty travellers, but the only one we saw was dry, and the nearest river was three miles away. A few jars of the precious liquid, enough for cooking purposes, were brought to us, and when more was wanted it was found that the jar itself, which had journeyed several times to the river, had been cracked. Sancho Panza said that, whether the well goes to the jar or the jar to the well, the jar always comes home with a broken nose. The broken jar in Ethiopia is rather more serious. There was plenty of tedj, however! When the hospitality arrived, in charge of a brother of Atto Paulos, it included gallons of this beverage, sheep and goats, and native bread in the form of thin cakes of teff meal. The bread resembled gigantic buck-wheat cakes, and if one can imagine a cold and very sour buck-wheat cake, the taste of this bread can be approximated in imagination. The director of the customs then appeared with several loaves of wheat bread, made of whole-wheat flour ground in a mortar. The director of the telephone-station brought barley for the mules. These gifts were duly inspected, pronounced good, and turned over to the men. Everything was regulated according to the protocol of Oualdo son of Mikael. The proprieties required that the hospitality should be received, together with an accurate statistical return thereof, and that servants should be on hand to take immediate charge of the objects brought and to remove them from sight. Anything short of this might be construed as a lack of appreciation. It took a number of days before we could get our protocol into working order.
As this was the first telephone-station on our route, it was decided to send a few messages to inquiring friends. It was December 13, and we had been out of touch with the great world for two weeks. The telephone director was amiability itself. He ‘allooed’ vigorously in our behalf, but M. Michael, the very capable gentleman in charge at Harrar, was absent, it being Sunday, and communication could not be established. Expedients were proposed, but as the director could read neither English, French, nor Amharic, it was only possible to give him the message by word of mouth, in the hope that he would retain it, and transmit it on the following day. The Ethiopian memory was not as good as the Ethiopian intention, for the pleasant little man forgot entirely all that he had been charged to say. A month later, when we were returning, he was reminded of his remissness, whereupon he offered to send the message immediately if it were repeated to him.
We next entered the fertile and magnificent province of Mindjar. Vast expanses of well-cultivated fields, which yield two and three crops per year, spread out before us, and there were sleek cattle and prosperous-looking villagers everywhere. Some of the thrashing scenes were most picturesque. In some cases the straw is strewn about a small area, and beaten with flails, but the usual process seemed to be to drive cattle over it in a circle.
After Choba, we stopped at Minnebella, at a point a little off from the highway, and by the side of a large reservoir filled with water of fair quality. Corporal Wood was bitten by a spider at this spot, and caused no end of anxiety. Steward Fearnley aroused Dr. Pease shortly after midnight, and between the two by morning the gravest danger was averted. The sick man remained behind for several hours, joining us at Baltchi in the afternoon. The country people gathered in large numbers to see our departure from Minnebella ; among others, a local minstrel, who accompanied himself on a one-stringed lute. I understand that he sang a song in our praise, announcing that the Americans had come to conquer the world with their kindness, repeating the theme with many variations. As music it was unspeakably bad, and as the expected reward was not forthcoming, the troubadour amended his praises, first converting them into lamentations, and, as we rode off in the distance, execrating us as cordially as he had lauded us at the beginning. These minstrels are frequently encountered, and, like the beggar children of Europe, know perfectly well that they are public nuisances, and expect to be bribed into giving their victims peace.
Not far from Minnebella we passed the first church we had seen since leaving Harrar. It looked something like the picture of the Chinese pagoda upon the willow-pattern plate. It was round in form, as are all the Abyssinian churches, which tradition says are constructed with some sort of resemblance to Solomon’s temple. Either the resemblance must be poor, or the popular impression respecting Solomon’s temple is far astray. All of our Abyssinian servants bowed reverently when we passed the church, some of them kissing the soil and some the wooden gateway.
In the distance the mountain of Baltchi loomed up before us, and seemed to recede as we advanced. A village of the same name occupies a plateau upon the top of the mountain which is 2,000 feet above its approach from the Harrar side. The mountain itself constitiites a natural fortification apparently impregnable. How such a stronghold could be stormed successfully is difficult to understand. True, Lord Napier in the early sixties found a way to Magdala, where the Emperor Theodore made his last stand, but the defenders of that period were scarcely capable of making an effective resistance. An invading army to-day would find all the difficulties which the British encountered in the Transvaal, multiplied many fold by the mountainous conditions. Recently there has been one small example of protracted fighting on the part of the Mad Mullah in Somaliland. This individual, with a half-organized and indifferently-armed army, defied the best efforts of a strong British force, aided by an Abyssinian division. To reach Ethiopia to-day an invading army would have first to cross 400 miles of desert, taking chances of finding water en route, and then, in a probably depleted and worn-out state, would have to fight laboriously along mountain trails which, are found and followed with difficulty in times of peace. To administer such an empire, which has enjoyed thousands of years of independence, would be even more difficult. I once commented on these physical facts to the Ras Makonnen, who agreed with me, and added significantly : ‘ We have had our independence a long time : we shall keep it.’
A stream of water flows around the base of Mount Baltchi ; and, as usual, our caravan people desired to stop here, rather than climb to the height above, where we would be able to secure a good start in the morning. We had insisted upon having our own way in this case, and were tranquilly toiling along the precipitous route, when a horseman appeared upon the plain below, trying to overtake us, and frantically waving at us. He eventually overtook us, and announced that he came as the representative of the Governor, who had been caught napping, and had allowed us to get by his frontier without knowing that we had done so. It seems that Baltchi is in one province, ruled over by Atto Paulos, our friend of Tadechemalka, and the country below in another. The Governor of the lowland had been ordered to receive us royally, and now we had crossed over the line into the territory of his colleague. ‘He says,’ urged the courier, ‘ that you cannot go on; that by the Emperor’s orders you are to camp below ; that, therefore, you must camp below ; that if you go on the ” hospitality ” will be ruined.’
I appreciated the difficulties of the Governor. He had his constituents and his public opinion to face too. He had doubtless spent days gathering barley, bread, tedj, and eggs from his people for our subsistence, and here we were, going right through his dominions.
Excuses and thanks were sent back to the Governor. It was impracticable that, we should camp below ; to do so meant the loss of a day. As a happy compromise, it was suggested that, if the ‘hospitality’ must be delivered, it might be sent up to Baltchi, and presented with that probably being organized by
Atto Paulos. This idea was accepted, and declared quite as remarkable as that of Columbus in putting an egg on end. Joy was painted on the countenances of our Ethiopian friends, whose chief, Atto Hugo, arrived later in state, and solemnly presented two hundred disks of bread, carried by five men, five jars of milk, four jars of beer, two chickens, twenty eggs, and five goats.
Conferring an American decoration
A province where silver and gold do not circulate
Foiling another conspiracy.
Scarcely had the Atto Hugo been received and dismissed than the ‘hospitality ‘ of Baltchi appeared, consisting of 366 disks of bread, 67 eggs, 7 chickens, 5 bales of barley, 5 bales of straw, and 5 bundles of wood. Finally came the personal gifts of Atto Paulos himself, consisting of 32 disks of bread, 6 chickens, and 10 eggs. The bearers of these presents arrived about sunset, laid them down at equal distances apart, and when Oualdo son of Mikael had transmitted the thanks of the mission, they bowed to the ground and disappeared.
Earlier in the afternoon Atto Paulos had paid a protracted visit, and talked in a lively manner about his country. He was in favour of progress, he said, but on the condition that it did not result in the loss of national independence. The strangers were becoming too numerous to altogether suit him, and were tending to corrupt the people, who were simple in character and easily deluded. Friendship was sealed by the presentation on my part to the Atto Paulos of a large American flag. The Governor seemed much touched, and after being told what the forty-five stars and thirteen stripes stood for, he said, bowing to the earth as he did so: ‘I appreciate this more than anything you could give me. It is the proudest decoration I could possibly own. I shall ask the Emperor for the right to accept it, as we cannot accept anything of this sort without authorization, and he will say “yes.” Then I shall wear it about my shoulders every feast-day.’
The forefathers thought, I suppose, when they wrote the American Constitution, that then, for the first time, organic law prevented the acceptance of honours and titles from abroad without the consent of the governing power ; but as a matter of fact the ancient empire of Abyssinia has been doing the same thing for a thousand years, more or less.
At Baltchi communication by telephone was had with M. Le’on Chefneux, the able foreign adviser or Counsellor of State of the Emperor. M. Chefneux’s cordial manner increased our desire to hurry on to the capital. It was agreed that we should camp, after leaving Baltchi, at Chaffee Dunsa and Akaki, and thence proceed to Shola a spring just this side of Addis-Ababa, where M. Chefneux himself and the receiving party would come out to meet us.
Having now reached Baltchi, our contract with the Danakil camel-men terminated of itself, and they were paid off. These poor creatures called us their fathers and brothers, vowed eternal friendship, and offered to await our return. They would have spared us much inconvenience had they been willing to go on to the capital, as did the Arabians. They suffer so from cold in these rare regions, and the camels do so poorly, that in almost every case, as in our own, it is necessary to make a new contract for the short remaining journey with the local mule-men.
It was the business of Atto Paulos to find a contractor capable of moving our chattels on to the capital; but although ample notice had been given of our intended arrival, he had great difficulty in arranging matters. There were plenty of mules and plenty of men, and there was no dispute about terms, but there were a thousand reasons why we must not think of going at once. Poor Atto Paulos was in great distress of mind. He knew that the Emperor expected us on Friday, and that if we were prevented from arriving, he would certainly be held responsible, not only by ourselves, but by his imperial master. At eleven o’clock, when it seemed that we were farther from a settlement than ever, he came to me and advised my departure. This would have the effect of bringing the men to their senses. Furthermore, he would pledge his word that our effects would arrive at Chaffee Dunsa that night.
The word of Atto Paulos was made good, but it was seven o’clock before the final load was laid at Chaffee Dunsa. Our property came over the rolling prairies in picturesque disorder. Now it was a camel loaded with rattling tin cracker boxes, now a mule almost hidden under piles of canvas, or perhaps a little ass struggling with a cast-iron soldier’s stove. Occasionally men bearing bundles of tent-poles would pass along. It was wonderful that with this extreme variety of man and beast charged with our possessions, and under no particular contract, we should come into our own and extract order out of chaos. But we did. Nothing was ever stolen that was of the slightest consequence. Good old-fashioned honesty is the rule in the empire of the King of Kings. We had ridden all day across wonderfully rich country, well watered, but not particularly interesting.
The sun shone fiercely it seemed to me even more so than in the desert lowlands and the flies were maddening in their numbers and persistency. Up to this point we had had very little difficulty either with flies or other representatives of the insect tribes, but our troubles now began in earnest, and continued until the homeward journey was well under way. Those of us who had head-nets wore them, but it was a question which was the more disagreeable to endure the attacks of the flies or the annoying obstruction of the head-nets. Towards evening it became very cold, which was not surprising, since we were now at an altitude of 7,386 feet, having steadily mounted since leaving Baltchi, which has itself the very respectable altitude of 5,828 feet. We camped at a short distance from the nearest village. The evening * hospitality,’ when it arrived, contained everything except what we needed most firewood. I gave the Slave of the Holy Ghost a thaler, and sent him out to buy fuel at any price. He returned, followed by some villagers, carrying bundles of sticks enough to cook our evening meal ; but he handed back the thaler, which had no purchasing power in that country. On the plains of Chaffee Dunsa the coin of the realm is unknown, their circulating medium being cartridges for small purchases and bars of salt for large ones.
The recognised medium of exchange in the centres of Abyssinia is the Maria Theresa thaler of 1780, or the thaler of Menelik. The Maria Theresa thaler circulates generally throughout Africa, and is minted in Austria in considerable quantities for this trade, the new coins always bearing the old date. It is only within the last few years that Menelik has succeeded in bringing into common use coins bearing his own effigy, stamped for him in Paris, from the silver representing the war indemnity paid by the Italians a number of years ago. Even at this time the ordinary Abyssinian scrutinizes his Maria Theresa thaler with great care, declining it if the minute pearls in the necklace are worn, and looking even more askance at the coins of his own country. The domestic coin is making its way, however, its circulation being encouraged by the Government, which regards its use as good public policy, tending to unify the empire. The subsidiary coinage consists of halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths of a thaler. All these coins have been introduced by the Emperor Menelik, and are much less commonly circulated than the thalers. Even in Addis-Ababa bars of salt and cartridges represent the divisions of the thaler. The amouli, or salt bar, is accepted at the rate of one-third to one-fifth of the thaler, and the cartridges at one-sixteenth. The thaler itself fluctuates in value from frs. 2′30 to frs. 2 ‘45, the higher price prevailing at the greater distance from the sea. While the fluctuations are controlled by the silver market of the world, there is also a rapidily-varying domestic fluctuation, caused by crop movements and similar causes. All of our native servants carried well-filled cartridge belts, whether they happened to possess a gun or revolver or not. We at first deemed this to be a sort of vanity, but it was the recognised way of carrying a currency always sure to circulate.
A cold, uncomfortable night at Chaffee Dunsa was further disturbed by the capers of a regiment of monkeys which seemed not merely to be talking us over, but to be jumping about from tent to tent. We were glad when the sun rose on the following morning, and we could set forth again upon the monotonous plains. En route a messenger met us. He had come all the way from the capital with a note from M. Chefneux, confirming the arrangements respecting the reception the next day, for which preparations were then making.
After a hard day’s work we reached a deep ravine, and failing to see the bridge a short distance below, forded a rather swift stream and camped upon the opposite side. Midway above our heads the rocks jutted out from the rich earth and were pierced by caves, in which, at certain periods of the year, the shepherds live. We encamped upon the domain of the Empress Taitu, so we were told when the ‘ hospitality ‘ arrived. We had been expected to camp on the other side.
‘But it shall make no difference,’ explained the chief of the ‘ hospitality ‘ reassuringly. ‘You shall get your supplies just the same.’
The details concerning the ‘ hospitality ‘ were discussed by our Ethiopian friends from the hilltops of the opposite sides of the valley, a distance of probably half a mile. The carrying power of the Ethiopian voice, and the desire of the owner of the organ to exercise it at long range, are something remarkable. The voices in themselves seem not especially resonant. The approved method of conversation is to begin at a low register, and gradually to work up, culminating each long-distance sentence with a final falsetto shriek.
There was a general overhauling of clothing at Akaki that night, for we were to say farewell to khaki, and appear before the Emperor on the morrow.
When we rose on Friday morning, December 18, there seemed to be every prospect of a rainy day. Providence smiled upon us, as usual, however, and our mending, burnishing, and polishing went on. Even the servants tingled with pleasurable excitement, and from bags and bundles which we had not supposed in their possession drew forth fresh white chammas, or other signs of Abyssinian elegance. Alassman came out in a new khaki suit, with a tall white collar, which he wore outside his coat, and upside-down. One Abto Salasse had treasured his wide-brimmed felt hat to such an extent that upon his 300-mile tramp he had carefully protected it by placing thereupon the pasteboard box in which the hatter had packed it. He laid aside the box this day, and wore the hat alone. He also wore a short seersucker vest, and an immense scimitar, with which he cut grass in the evenings for his mules. Our own men put on their blue clothes, pipe-clayed their white helmets, and polished their brass buttons. The jack-tars created the greatest sensation by donning for the first time their blue sailor clothes, flat hats and ribbons. We civilians reserved ourselves until later in the day. We had but a short run ahead of us, one or two hours, so the start was deferred until almost ten o’clock. Scarcely had we reached the plain above our camping-place than we saw in the far distance the shining roofs of Addis-Ababa. The scenery was grand ; high mountains were on both sides and ahead of us, and we marched between fields of waving grain.
A disturbing incident now occurred. Until a day or two before, a young Abyssinian had been travelling with us, profiting by the security which our numbers afforded in order to cross the desert. He had been particularly polite, and we all liked him. Shortly before reaching Akaki he had ridden on ahead, saying that he was impatient to see his family, and that he would return to escort us into the city. We now saw him return, as he had promised. After exchanging salutations, he said that we should by all means camp where we were.
‘The reception is not to take place to-day, after all he said. ‘The Emperor has left the city, to select mules for the army. I saw him last night myself, and he told me to let you know informally as soon as possible. You must camp here. If you should go on to Shola, you would be in sight of the capital, and to remain there and not to be received might seem to be a way of reproving His Majesty.’
It was a great disappointment to learn that the reception had been postponed, but the statement of the young Abyssinian was so circumstantial and plausible that we all accepted it as true. Fortunately, his advice to go on no further was not heeded. Inasmuch as I had a definite engagement to meet M. Chefneux at Shola, which had not been countermanded, I determined under no circumstances to fail him. We pressed on, therefore, and, as events proved, the young Abyssinian’s story was simply a tissue of untruths. His real purpose was never disclosed, but his object clearly was to induce us to break our engagement to be at Shola at noon, and consequently to fail to be received by a waiting Emperor. The latter, very naturally, would have been angered against guests who could use him with so little consideration.
We are received by the Emperor
The Abyssinian band plays ‘Hail, Columbia’
The palace of the Kas Oualdo Gorghis.
The caravan proceeded to Shola, where an excellent spring, a large tree, and a beautiful prairie combined to make an ideal camping-ground. We had been somewhat disconcerted by the news brought by the little Abyssinian gentleman, but determined to await developments. Orders were issued to erect two tents only, for reception and dining room purposes, with the expectation of then pressing on to the city, unless the reports concerning the Emperor’s intention not to receive us that day should be confirmed. The work of organizing a camp had scarcely been commenced, when M. Le’on Chefneux, Counsellor of State to the Emperor, was announced. M. Chefneux came with a considerable escort of fine-looking Ethiopians; he himself was in the conventional garb of a Parisian. He immediately dispelled all our illusions with respect to the reception. There was no question of adjourning the ceremony at all. His Majesty awaited us with impatience, and the formal entry into the capital would take place at two o’clock.
In regard to the personality of M. Chefneux, it is enough to say, for the moment, that he enjoys with M. Alfred Ilg, at that time in Europe, the honour of being the Emperor’s adviser in foreign affairs. M. Chefneux remained to lunch with me, explaining in the meantime the nature of the coming reception, and stating that the palace of the Ras Oualdo Gorghis had been put in order, and was ready for our occupancy. It seemed that every detail respecting our welfare had been considered by our imperial host, whose fore- thought was such that if any lingering doubt remained concerning the warmth of the welcome awaiting us it was immediately laid aside.
I remitted my credentials to M. Chefneux, whose unaffected simplicity of manner and unfailing kindness manifested themselves then, as they did thereafter. In an empire permeated with the spirit of intrigue it was a satisfaction to be in the presence of a man of affairs, accustomed to dealing with a business proposition in a businesslike way. I told M. Chefneux during our first interview how long we could remain in the capital, and still meet our engagement to be at the coast in January, and he at once assiired me, and made good the assurance, that no unnecessary delay would attend the negotiations. We had been warned previously by Europeans that the Ethiopian Government, even though animated by the best of intentions, would detain us, on one pretext or another, for months, and that we might as well resign ourselves to the situation first as last. It is worth while noting that our mission was accomplished in nine days, or in one day less than the maximum period which we had allowed ourselves for this purpose.
The luncheon at Shola concluded, there was another furbishing of uniforms on the part of those who had them, the civilian Commissioner and his staff putting themselves into dress clothes. Some well-meaning friends had previously suggested the effectiveness of a self-assumed uniform as properly befitting this occasion ; indeed, precedents were quoted. However, the shadow of Benjamin Franklin loomed up before us, and we adhered rigidly to the spirit and the letter of the statute. Old Atto Joseph’s advice at Djibouti was good: ‘We prefer to see you as you are, rather than trying to be like ourselves.’ Indeed, after a brief experience among Oriental people, fond of display in every form, I am fully convinced that the old American doctrine in favour of dignity without ostentation can be made to respond to any public service as satisfactorily, if not more so, than belated attempts to imitate the gawdy externals to which our laws and traditions are equally opposed. Indeed, I am not sure that our shiny silk hats were not more effective than any other article of costume worn that day. They were certainly a novelty in Addis-Ababa. During our sojourn at the capital I was told that one of the provincial Kings had requested of a distinguished European traveller, as the most precious gift which he could receive, the silk hat which the latter had brought from Paris. The King wore the hat thereafter on State occasions, but only after having sent it to the Court jeweller, who surrounded the rim with a row of emeralds.
We mounted our mules at two o’clock, and moved slowly in the direction of the city. Before much progress had been made, a large escort of cavalry and foot soldiers could be discerned in the distance coming towards us. When the two parties met, the Dedjazmatch, or General in command, dismounted, and introductions followed. The escorting troops then wheeled and moved on in advance, giving us an opportunity to inspect them at leisure. Dr. Pease, who had been the year before at Cairo, remarked that the gorgeous splendour of the procession which started with the sacred carpet to Mecca was as nothing compared to this. Our escorting column grew rapidly as we approached the city, so that before we reached the ravine, which seems to mark the entrance to the capital proper, we were preceded by an army of 3,000 men.
They marched in most extraordinary confusion surrounding their chiefs, suddenly performing some evolution, sometimes walking their horses and sometimes galloping. One could readily comprehend that the disorder was apparent and not real, that at the word of command these men could be controlled absolutely. No picture and no description can do justice to the beauty of the spectacle. No two costumes were alike. Saddles and bridles were decorated with gold and silver fringe, bucklers of burnished gold and silver were carried, and from the shoulders of these warriors flew mantles of leopard and lion skins, of silk, satin, and velvet. They were picked men, riding well, their chammas flying in the wind. Only the bright rifle barrels marked the difference between these Ethiopians and the army of their forbears who followed the Queen of Sheba when she went down into Judea. We were spellbound by this moving mass of colour, across which floated the weird music of a band of shawm-players, playing now as they had played when Jericho fell. With the probable emotions of the Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, we approached the throne of the King of Kings.
Having entered the outskirts of the city, we now found ourselves travelling over one of the smooth and well-built roads with which Menelik is introducing modern civilization. In the city we found many miles of these roads. The crowds became much denser as we neared the palace. We climbed steadily higher, as the Emperor’s palace occupies the crest of a hill and dominates the whole city. The Guebi, as the group of imperial buildings is called, is surrounded by a thatched stone wall, and everything about the premises conveys an impression of order and thrift. The palace and garden surprised us by their great superiority to anything which we had previously seen in the way of native construction. We passed through a number of courtyards, then across a spacious campus, in the background of which a troop of artillerymen stood by the guns captured from the Italians during the recent war, whence they saluted us. A Swiss officer was in command of this troop, who, after saluting in military fashion, removed his cap and bowed to the ground. His men wore uniforms of dark brown cotton cloth, and constitute the only body of regularly European-trained troops in the Ethiopian army. Upon reaching the wide doorway of Indian design, we dismounted and prepared to enter.
Once within, we discovered the aderach, or audience-hall, to be a large, half church-like structure, the roof of which was supported by pillars of timber, the cathedral-like aspect of which was enhanced by the presence of the throne at the opposite end. The floor was completely carpeted with Oriental rugs, incongruously mixed with the products of French and German looms. Back of the lines formed by the pillars on either side were massed hundreds of the chief people of Addis-Ababa, garbed like the soldiers in many-coloured raiment, and waiting in respectful silence.
In the farther end of the chamber sat the Emperor upon his divan, or throne. The divan was placed upon a platform extending entirely across the audience-hall and under a canopy supported by four gilded columns, the gift of the French Republic. On each side of the throne stood two young Princes holding guns, and back of it, and extending on both sides until they merged into the crowds waiting in the aisles, stood the Ministers, judges, and officers of the Court. A subdued light softened the colours and blended them harmoniously. Our small column, both officers and men, advanced halfway across the wide and empty space, where the officers bowed. In complete silence the procession continued on to the elevation upon which the throne stood. Here the party, other than the Commissioner, halted, the latter stepping forward to shake hands in the most friendly and informal manner with the Emperor, who held out his own hand and smiled cordially. M. Sourvis, the official interpreter and private secretary of the Emperor, facilitated the exchange of conversation. His Majesty wore the costume familiar to us from photographs. He sat in Oriental fashion, his legs crossed and his arms supported on two cushions. He wore a red velvet mantle, barely disclosing the snowy white under-garments, and around his head a white handkerchief was closely bound. He also wore diamond eardrops, and several rings upon both hands. His face was full of intelligence, and his manners those of a gentleman as well as a King. Distinctly, the first impression was agreeable.
After a short formal address, the Commissioner presented his Commission from the President, which the Emperor scrutinized with polite indifference, laying it aside at once and replying to my address in a few words. He spoke in the Amharic language, all the other conversations and translations being in French. He talked in a low conversational tone, and made no pretence whatever of taking into his confidence the large number of subjects listening on every hand. The officers of the mission were then presented, whereupon it became the Commissioner’s pleasant privilege, as the first public act consequent upon the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, to present an invitation to the Emperor to participate in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. For this purpose, Governor Francis, President of the Exposition Company, had had prepared a handsome silver salver of large size, in the centre of which was engraved a form of invitation. The Emperor was evidently surprised and pleased, though not too much so to accept the invitation immediately, saying that the details could be discussed later on. Someone had told me at DireVDaouah that the Emperor was a man of quick decision, but I scarcely anticipated such prompt action as this. It was characteristic of him, however, as during subsequent interviews he was equally rapid in seizing a point and determining his own line of action. I deeply regretted, as did the Emperor, I think, that in the end the time at his disposition made it materially impossible to organize a satisfactory exhibit at St. Louis.
The first formalities concluded, all the officers were asked to take chairs, and to engage in as much friendly conversation as was possible with 2,000 spectators looking on with undisguised curiosity. His Majesty had that quality of responsiveness, however, which contributes to a flow of talk in spite of the most unfavourable surroundings, and I should not have believed that we had remained in the imperial presence forty minutes, if Dr. Pease had not insisted that it was so. The Emperor told us of the arrangements made for our comfort, and seemed especially solicitous that we should lack for nothing under this head. We separated with his promise to fix in writing an hour for a first private audience on the next day to be sent to our headquarters. The entire company assembled on this occasion waited with true Oriental courtesy until we had retired before dispersing. As we left the aderach, the captured cannon roared out twenty-one guns, and the band of the native musicians played 1 Hail, Columbia,’ and then the ‘ Marseillaise.’ They played the ‘Marseillaise’ later on when they serenaded me. I have an idea that it was considered particularly appropriate, in view of my official residence in Marseilles.
The same immense escort which had led us into the city, headed by the same shawm-players, and augmented by the trained artillerymen and the Emperor’s band, now led us down the mountainside, along the French road, and then across rough and stony tracks to the doorway of our temporary home. The generals, judges, and colonels, who had been so courteous to us all the afternoon, entered with the officers, and together we inspected the quarters of the Ras Oualdo Gorghis.
The Ras Oualdo Gorghis, an uncle of the Emperor and ruler of an outlying province, had erected this palace for his own comfort, when he should have occasion to visit the capital and pay homage to his suzerain. An adobe wall, such as they build in Mexico, surrounded the large park, which was subdivided into numerous compounds. In the central compound stood the palace. The palace was probably 100 feet long by 80 feet wide, one story high, and divided into two rooms. The external walls were made of sun-dried bricks, such as we saw in process of manufacture as we approached from the Guebi. To produce these bricks, a round hole in the ground is excavated and filled with clay and water. A number of native labourers next enter it and tramp around in the muddy mass, working in a small quantity of hay, until it arrives at the proper consistency. Thereupon the bricks are moulded by hand, and laid out in the sun to dry.
Our palace was oval in shape. There were several large doors and two windows in each room. The windows had solid wooden shutters, but no glass. Upon the floor were laid numerous Oriental rugs, and in the front-room was a divan, or throne, a long table, and many chairs. Portraits of the Emperor and of the Patriarch of Alexandria were upon the walls. After our tent life it all seemed quite sumptuous. The generals, judges, and colonels were as amiable as possible, and we became very good friends. Word had gone forth, in that mysterious manner by which news is carried in Africa, that this expedition had come with disinterested motives to exchange trade and to establish friendship. Frequently some of our most humble acquaintances would interject some comment about ‘ an alliance of friendship,’ with favourable comment upon the absence from this alliance of any discussion of frontiers or protectorates. I feel very sure that the real cordiality of the welcome which was extended to us in many obvious ways quite apart from the external official demonstrations arose from the popular conviction that American friendship had no dangers, and would be a source of moral strength to the nation.
The tired sailors and marines had a camp to make after the departure of our visitors. The tents were put up in the yard in front of the palace, and the flag was raised over ‘ Camp Roosevelt.’ A large number of spectators had found their way into the grounds, and the soldiers’ labours were beguiled by the music of the Emperor’s band. A Russian political prospector, Count Leontieff, had brought the instruments out from Europe, and a European instructor had educated the musicians up to their present state of efficiency.
We had a late dinner that evening, and then, by the light of our ‘ fanous,’ or candlesticks, read the papers which the courier had brought up from the coast. There we learned of the uprising in Panama, of the imminence of war in the Orient, and the results of the elections.
The officers made their sleeping quarters in the second room of the palace, where, well pleased with the welcome, and fatigued by the long and active day, they found greatly-needed rest.
The strenuous life Language peculiarities Official society and its charms
THE second day at the capital was almost as strenuous as the first. The Emperor had given me an appointment for ten o’clock for the purpose of talking over business matters informally. M. Chefneux came to escort me to the Guebi, and half of the guard accompanied us. The proprieties in Abyssinia require that every gentleman, native or foreign, shall never leave his quarters without an armed escort. It is the most onerous condition of life in the capital, but should certainly be encouraged by the manufacturers of firearms. The informal audience took place in a small chamber, approached by a broad flight of stairs, enclosed on three sides. A divan awaited its royal occupant, who entered quietly and promptly, accompanied by a number of doubtless important personages. The latter disappeared at a given signal, when the details of the proposed treaty were broached.
The Emperor was amazed when I handed him a project of treaty written in his own language by Professor Littmann, of Princeton University. Professor Littmann is probably the only man in the United States familiar with Amharic. At that time he had not visited the country, but as this book goes to press, has just returned from a protracted scientific mission to Axum. A few days later I was able to present the Emperor with a copy of Professor Littmann’s edition of the Amharic chronicle of the reign of Theodorus. The project of treaty served its purpose, as it enabled the Emperor to grasp our intentions immediately, without the intervention of an interpreter. He said that it was remarkable that a man who had had only the opportunities for study afforded by books should have such a command of the language as Professor Littmann. Eventually the treaty was recast and couched in shorter terms, but the original draft was perfectly clear and grammatically correct, except as to one or two points which illustrate the limitations of the Amharic language. For example, Professor Littmann had translated literally the English phrase, ‘This treaty shall remain in force.’ The word ‘ force’ as here used conveys in Amharic only the impression of power. It is an exceedingly literal tongue.
In speaking of this Amharic draft of the treaty, Professor Littmann had previously said to me : ‘ There are many terms in the English original which are not to be found in the Amharic dictionaries. I have tried to circumscribe them as best I could. Now, it is likely that some of them do not exist in the Amharic language as used in Abyssinia itself, and that synonymous expressions not exactly the same as given in my translation are actually used. I would therefore advise you to test whether the Amharic expressions are really understood by the Abyssinians as the English prototypes.’
To return to my interview with the Emperor Menelik. He knew of our war with Spain, he knew something of our war with Great Britain, and he had a realization, though vague, of our might and power. His thirst for information is phenomenal. Europeans in the East, where newspapers are scarce and slow in coming, fall back upon a very useful institution called ‘Renter’s.’ Renter’s is a news-gathering concern, whose brief telegrams are sent out to those able to afford this luxury. They come in typewritten sheets, and are usually to be seen at the hotels and clubs of the sea-coast cities. When a week’s despatches have accumulated, they are sent by the mail-boat from Aden to Djibouti, whence they are reforwarded to Dire-Daouah. Here all the English is put into French, and the important facts are immediately telephoned to Addis-Ababa, the longer despatches following by courier, to be translated into Amharic for the delectation of the Emperor.
His Majesty speaks no language but Amharic, unless, perhaps, one or two of the local dialects. He doubtless recognises a number of the commonly-used French expressions, and on the day when we left the city he paid us a delicate compliment by saying in English, ‘How do ?’ He has always at hand a very competent interpreter, who is also his private secretary, M. Sourvis, a Greek gentleman who speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and English. Our conversations were invariably carried on in French as between the interpreter and myself ; indeed, French is the only foreign tongue one hears much in Ethiopia. It was surprising to find in a country where English political influence was so predominant so little of that language. There are no English merchants in the empire, although there are hundreds of Frenchmen scattered throughout the country. Many of the natives have a smattering of French, and servants seem to pick it up more readily than they do English. Either business interviews with the Emperor himself or exchanges of views with his responsible Ministers took place daily. In the meantime these meetings afforded me several opportunities to talk with His Majesty about many things. He had heard, evidently, a good deal about the President, whose personality interested him much. He knew him to be a sportsman, and hoped that he would one day visit Ethiopia. He wanted to know his age, and how he had come to be President. He wanted to know the length of our great rivers, the altitude of our cities, and he seemed to classify the great variety of facts which he has the habit of thus absorbing, and to bring them out again whenever occasion required.
I have read frequently that Menelik regards the presence of European legations in Addis-Ababa as an indirect acknowledgment of a sort of overlordship on his part, just as the Chinese are presumed to regard the presence of Ministers in the Flowery Kingdom as a public recognition of their superior civilization. This belief is quite unfair to the Ethiopian and to the Emperor. It is doubtful whether any practical statesman, certainly none labouring under the disadvantages of the Emperor Menelik, has any keener appreciation of the relative forces of the earth. He has heard of Japan, and in his own way is trying to emulate that striking example. The new railroad, the new highways, the bridges, the telephones all these things he probably cares very little for in themselves, but he realizes that nations must advance or they must fall. He wishes to lift his people up to the point of being able to comprehend and utilize these modern improvements and inventions, and to turn them to their own advantage, for the defence of their country and their national liberty.
The entire American mission, in gala attire, devoted that first Saturday afternoon to making a round of calls which inclination and propriety required to be made. First there were the Italian, Russian, French, and British Legations to be visited ; then the Abouna, or head of the Church ; Dedjazmatch Abata, the General who had escorted us into the city ; M. Chefneux, the Counsellor of State ; and M. Sourvis, the Emperor’s secretary. After making several of these calls, and groping with difficulty homeward in the darkness of the Abyssinian night, with no friendly moon to show the way, we appreciated that Washington could no longer be called the city of magnificent distances.
Addis-Ababa is a new city, not more than a dozen years old. The former capital was the ancient city of Gondar. It has a permanent population of some 50,000 souls, including probably 200 Europeans. Aside from the Emperor’s palace, the Legations and the homes of a few Europeans, all the buildings are decidedly primitive. They consist, as a rule, of a round lattice-work frame, against which mud is thickly plastered, and of thatched roofs. The Legations have all been object-lessons of the greatest value to the community, for the builders, instead of undertaking to erect European structures, have produced glorified forms of the native architecture.
In the absence of Captain Harrington, Major Ciccodicola, who has been in Ethiopia since the war of 1896, is dean of the diplomatic corps. His Legation grounds are approached by an excellent macadamized road, which extends far beyond his official premises. The Italian colours float from a tall mast, and a native guard uniformed in Italian cloaks and Piedmontese hats salute arriving visitors. The house is large and comfortable, consisting of a series of main buildings connected by galleries, which we were not enabled to enter upon this occasion, as the Minister was at the Russian Legation.
Better fortune awaited us at the home of the head of the Church. The Abouna, or spiritual head of the Church, is an Egyptian. He is always named by the Patriarch of Alexandria, who receives a present of 12,000 thalers each time he nominates a new Abouna. The Abouna is doomed to pass his remaining days in Abyssinia, unless specially dispensed by the Emperor. This has occurred in the case of the present ecclesiastical chief, who was permitted by Menelik to visit Russia a year or two ago. It appears to be the policy of the Government to maintain the Church in all its vigour, and to this end to contribute to the prestige of the Abouna. The distinguished Church-man was in his garden, under a red silk umbrella, and wearing a large broad-brimmed hat, when we called, but he returned to his reception-room to receive us, seated upon a divan not unlike a throne. He wore a purple silk robe, and was a man of distinguished face and figure. Turkish coffee was served, and we spoke of many things, after which the garden was visited, one of the finest in the country. I have no doubt that the American seeds which we afterwards sent to the Abouna have long since contributed to his success as a horticulturist.
The Russian and British Legations are a long distance from the city, and very attractive when once reached. To arrive, however, is an experience quite as exciting in its way as a chase after the hounds. Diplomatic society had been celebrating the saint’s day of the Emperor of all the Russias when we arrived, and though most of the guests had departed, we were still in time to drain a glass to the Czar, and to M. Leschine his Minister, whose personal cordiality and hospitality left ineffaceable impressions upon our minds. The Russian establishment in Addis-Ababa is the most considerable of all the foreign undertakings. Aside from the Legation proper, it includes a free hospital, pharmacy, and staff of physicians and trained nurses. The utility of this work to the native population is very real, and to the few European residents the mere knowledge of the existence of this splendid institution is very reassuring. The influence obtained by Russian diplomacy operating along medical lines is necessarily immense. A small guard of Cossacks gives the touch of the picturesque required to make the Legation as interesting as it is useful.
Having encountered Mr. Clerk, the British Charge d’Affaires, at the Russian Legation, our visit to his official home was deferred until Christmas, which was celebrated with all the traditional dishes, from turkey and roast beef to plum-pudding. Minister Harrington was absent, as I have before mentioned, but was then on his way to his post.
We found our General, or Dedjazmatch, of the day before in the midst of a camp of several thousand small white tents, not far from the Russian Legation. We paid him our compliments and hurried on, as night was rapidly overtaking us, and we had still the Legation of France and the homes of M. Chefneux and M. Sourvis to visit. But, alas for good intentions, we were too late. M. Roux, the French Charge’ d’Affaires, and the other gentlemen we had to meet on another day and under other circumstances. M. Lagarde, the French Minister, was in France during our sojourn in the capital, reaching Djibouti a day or two after we had sailed.
What our diplomatic friends may have thought of the American mission considered politically may have been favourable or unfavourable ; in any event they certainly contributed memorably to the personal pleasure of our visit by a boundless hospitality which ceased only when we went away, and after having assembled us as guests under the flag of every nation represented officially in Ethiopia. We ate caviare and drank vodka with M. Leschine, macaroni and Asti spumanti with Major Ciccodicola, foie gras and champagne with M. Roux, and roast beef and port with Mr. Clerk. It filled us with a new respect for diplomacy as a profession and fine art to discover how these gentlemen had surrounded themselves with comfort and even luxury in that far-away spot.
We met much the same friends on all of these festal occasions, and learned to like them better from day to day. It is surprising how quickly new friendships can form, and how soon the formality of purely official acquaintance can break down, near the equator, and 300 miles from a railroad.
I learned with sorrow in 1906, while revising these pages, of the death of the Russian Minister, M. Leschine, in his far-away post, where he served his country honourably and well.
Ethiopian politics Bole of America
Italy, France, Great Britain, and Russia
The Ambassadors of civilization and their railroad
THE role of the various Legations in Addis-Ababa is purely political. The American mission was the only one based upon purely commercial considerations which Menelik had received up to the date of our arrival. Of course, numerous private and semi-official missions have visited him, with certain specific objects in view; but America was the first country to establish diplomatic relations for the avowed purpose of protecting and extending commerce, and without a political issue of any character to discuss. It will be said, perhaps, that the ultimate aim of all the European Powers is to promote commerce, and that it is only for the purpose of promoting commerce that colonies are established and official relations maintained. This may be perfectly true in principle, but in practice, at least, the matter of frontiers, balance of power, and kindred questions, are so far in the foreground that the ultimate commercial ambition is entirely overshadowed. The purposes and interests of the United States in Ethiopia are so patent without definition that they may be dismissed with a few words.
Waiving all regard for the probably important future of Ethiopia as a consuming nation, we had enjoyed for years a trade in certain of our goods, notably cottons, more valuable than any other import trade in the empire. To reach these customers of ours, our merchandise had to cross either British, French, or Italian soil. The frequently abused missionary had gone into Africa many years before present political conditions prevailed, and had introduced some of our honest American cotton goods with the success above stated. This was a trade in which no American houses were directly engaged, but the benefits thereof were no less directly enjoyed by the American farmers and working men. Then came the partition of Africa by the European Powers into spheres of influence, the creation of Custom-houses, and all those administrative measures whereby trade is made to follow the flag. The French took hold of Madagascar, and as abruptly as Napoleon announced that the House of Braganza no longer reigned in Europe, our long-enjoyed cotton trade ceased to be. In the Congo Free State, where cotton sheetings are still known as ‘American!’, the merchandise was now coining in fact from Belgium. Then our British friends, whose shibboleth is Free Trade, had in fact extended special privileges to their own manufactures in many of their colonies, creating conditions which made American transactions difficult of accomplishment. The methods by which this had been done were no doubt perfectly legitimate, but none the less effectual for all that. There remained to our credit, however, in spite of the unfavourable conditions which had gradually been created elsewhere, the coveted export business in cottons, known as the ‘ Red Sea trade.’ The greater part of this was in Abyssinia, where it amounted to a monopoly.
Our business in Abyssinia had grown up under shadowy political arrangements, when the Abyssinians had claimed an outlet upon the sea, and which the Egyptians had contested with them by force of arms. In our time the Abyssinians had been forced back, land-locked like Switzerland, with Italy, France, and England standing guard upon the Red Sea. Our trade filtered across the Gulf of Aden, and thence by caravan across British Somaliland and into Ethiopia. Then came the active occupation of the French possession by the keen-witted Gaul, the creation of the port of Djibouti, and the building up of the railroad from that point into Ethiopia. The line was put into operation during the summer of 1903. Plainly, the camel could not compete as a common carrier with the French locomotive. It seemed perfectly well assured that the trade route to Abyssinia over British soil from Aden to Zeilah, and thence to Harrar, must give way ultimately to the more advantageous one from Djibouti into the interior. No spirit of prophecy seemed necessary to perceive that the forces now at work for the development of Ethiopia were, at least, not being created for the furtherance of American commercial ambition. It seemed a perfectly obvious business proposition that the United States Government should look into this field, where we had an actual interest of no mean importance, and defend it by the simple process of procuring a treaty which should guarantee to our people equal treatment in respect to trade conditions. We wanted to get more trade if we could, but by all means, and with no matter how much reasonable effort, to retain for ourselves such trade as we had. We had had no official relations with the empire of Ethiopia ; it remained the one spot upon the globe where a powerful government exercised authority over some millions of subjects recognised as free and independent, and had absolutely no point of contact with our own. It is difficult to find any large centre of international trade in these times where the American Government has not at least a consular agent to whom we may look for assistance and information. It was an incongruous and irregular condition, and one which required correction. To investigate and report upon the trade possibilities of Ethiopia, to safeguard our existing interest by the negotiation of a commercial treaty these were the motives which had prompted the organization of the American mission, and concerning our policy we had nothing more to disclose, and nothing whatever to conceal.
The Italians have been represented in one way and another in Ethiopia for many years. The early history of Italian-Abyssinian diplomacy is very complicated reading. War broke out between the two Powers in 1896, and after the disaster to Italian arms, Major, then Captain, Ciccodicola was entrusted with the delicate and difficult mission of recreating Italian prestige. No one who has visited Ethiopia has failed to note the success attending Major Ciccodicola’s efforts. At the time of our visit he was directing the building of a telegraph line between Addis-Ababa and Massowah, the capital of the Italian coast colony. We had passed several immense camel trains, bringing up bridge trusses and other steel building material forwarded from Milan these are among the tangible evidences of the vigorous efforts of the Italian Minister to worthily represent his country. He is a perfect guide-book upon Ethiopia, and has offered many valuable suggestions bearing upon its present development. Major Ciccodicola told me of his attempt to replace American cottons with Italian sheetings. ‘But while your people grow nearly all the world’s cotton,’ said he, ‘how can we Italians expect to force you out?’
The French Legation has been directed for many years by M. Léon Lagarde, the first Governor of French Somaliland, and as such familiar with every political development in North -East Africa during the last twenty years. The French material interest in Ethiopia is more apparent than that of any other nation, and it concerns mainly at the present time the completion and operation of the railroad from the coast. Other international claims and pretences are more or less vague and remote ; but the very patent fact is that, against all political opposition, financial difficulties, and the passive resistance of the lowland tribes, the railroad exists, and crosses French territory into Abyssinia. It is equally the fact that French business men are scattered throughout the Empire to a considerable extent. The growth of Djibouti as a port of transit depends directly upon the growth and development of Ethiopia. It is not necessary to inquire why the French settled themselves upon the Red Sea coast in order to perceive why they are very greatly concerned with the progress of Ethiopia to-day.
The British interests are in charge of Sir John L. Harrington, a young man, who has come up from the lower grades of administrative work in East Africa, notably as the agent of his Government in British Somaliland. Two-thirds of the Ethiopian frontier border upon British territory or Egyptian territory, and it is easy to comprehend how these long imaginary lines may give rise to complicated questions requiring a strong hand and a steady head. British commercial interest in Ethiopia has not yet manifested itself strikingly, except in the form of considerable importations from British India, and in the presence in the country of numerous Indian traders, who are among the most active and successful business men of the empire.
We come now to the most interesting mission in Ethiopia, because it is the least comprehensible by the ordinary rules of interest which govern international relations. Our Russian friends have no apparent stake in Ethiopia or at least that which modern society regards as such. There are no Russians in Ethiopia other than official Russians. There is no Russian trade in the country, and there are no Russian frontiers nearer than Turkestan. Yet the Russian mission presided over by the accomplished M. Leschine, the Minister, included a hospital and dispensary, together with doctors, nurses, and everything else, all of which Ethiopia enjoys without money and without price. It is said that some very strong sympathy exists between the Russian and the Ethiopian Churches. The Abouna was permitted to appear in the Russian Church as an ecclesiastic, and there is no doubt an analogy, if not akinship, between the two religions. I fear that Europeans are somewhat sceptical, however, when it comes to regarding the religious bond as one which unites these two peoples diplomatically. If Ethiopia possessed a coast-line, it would be exceedingly easy to assume that Russia hoped sooner or later to obtain a Red Sea port ; but in the actual state of affairs no such ambition can be entertained, except by the somewhat fanciful method of exchanging Russian influence in Ethiopia with some interested European Power in a position to give to the Czar’s Government the presumably coveted Red Sea outlet. The real inwardness of Russian diplomatic effort in Ethiopia is a never- ending source of conversation in the empire, and many ingenious theories are spun regarding it, one of which is as valuable as another. Probably in what Pascal calls ‘ the research of the intention ‘ the amateur in politics misses the true cause, in order to spin out theories which only the next forty years, or perhaps century, can demonstrate. Let us be reasonable, then, and assume that, Ethiopia being a Christian Power, now important, and likely to become more important, and ruled by wise men, it is a safe policy for Russia, as for any other great nation, both as a measure of prudence and a measure of courtesy, to maintain cordial relations with this Power. May not the mysteries of diplomacy, here as elsewhere, consist largely in the fact that there are no mysteries ?
There are two other diplomats in Ethiopia, Ministers, not of European Powers, but of the greatest power upon the earth modern civilization. These two Ministers are also official counsellors of the Emperor himself, and without some account of them no report concerning Ethiopia would be complete. These two men are Alfred Ilg and Le’on Chefneux. The first is a Swiss and the second a Frenchman. Both have lived many years in the country, both have had faith in Menelik and sympathy with his people. M. Ilg I knew slightly from an acquaintance formed in France, and I regretted his absence on the occasion of our visit. He came into the country about 1877, with two of his compatriots, having just left the famous polytechnical school of Zurich. The Emperor had sent for three competent men through a Swiss correspondent at Aden. At that time the Ethiopians were inclined to believe that Western superiority in the arts and trades resulted from certain formulae or inexplicable cleverness rather than in consequence of patient scientific effort. M. Hg was commanded to make His Majesty a pair of shoes. A wise man in his generation, and a Swiss, this able gentleman took apart an old pair of shoes for purposes of study, and succeeded in gratifying the Emperor’s wish. The story goes that the Emperor thereupon desired to know if a rifle could be made from the resources of the country then and there.
‘What is the use of trying ?’ replied M. Ilg. ‘ It would cost far more than a fine European rifle, and would be necessarily crude.’
The curiosity of the Emperor was persistent, and M. Ilg made the rifle. These were the awakenings of Menelik to an adequate conception of modern progress. With his extraordinary assimilative powers, he absorbed from the graduate of Zurich the education which has stood him in good stead in handling the ship of State. M. Ilg acquired his status as adviser and Minister, not alone by intelligence and zeal, but by an affectionate and appreciative loyalty to his chief.
M. Chefneux came into the country about the same time as M. Ilg. A French merchant, having been granted a concession for the agricultural exploitation of the Hawash valley, advertised for men capable of carrying on the enterprise. The company went to pieces before M. Chefneux, then a very young man, had gotten farther than Obock on the coast. About this time another Frenchman, Paul Soleillet, sent down a cargo of arms, and finding young Chefneux upon the point of penetrating the country, proposed that he take a sample of the rifles to Menelik, then only the King of Choa. M. Chefneux took four rifles, armed as many natives, travelled by night and hid by day, and thus crossed the dangerous coast belt. Menelik agreed to purchase the cargo, and sent a caravan of ivory to the coast to pay for the shipment. Soleillet’s principals thereupon refused to make delivery, and young Chefneux went on to Paris, where he procured from other sources the arms required. From that beginning he remained at the elbow of the Emperor, making common cause with M. Ilg for the aggrandizement of the Emperor’s power and the development of his people.
An interregnum of Italian influence followed the first ten years of M. Chefneux’s friendship. Thereafter both MM. Chefneux and Ilg, who had lost ground, were recalled to explain the meaning of the political conditions then existing. When the breach with Italy occurred, these two men, loyal to their adopted country, contributed immensely to the Emperor’s fortunes, and have ever since remained his tried and true friends.
Next to the war with Italy, the most important modern event in Abyssinian history is the construction of the railroad from Djibouti to Dir^-Daouah. It is the conception of both MM. Ilg and Chefneux. It was in- evitable that two such intensely practical men should regard the connection of the inaccessible empire with the outer world as necessary, not only as an economical venture abundantly justified by the hidden riches of Ethiopia, but as essential to the political salvation of the country, which must advance or which must fall, as have fallen all other empires whose rulers were unable to justify their lease of power. The Emperor followed them in their reasoning, and granted a concession for a period of ninety-nine years, commencing from the date of the first exploitation. The essential provision of the concession is that it carries with it the right to collect an ad valorem duty of 10 per cent, upon all merchandise entering or leaving the country, this tax to be reduced one-half whenever the net profits of the company shall amount to 2,500,000 francs, and to cease to exist when they attain 3,000,000 francs. It is further provided that when the company’s net profits exceed 3,000,000 francs annually, the surplus above shall be divided between the company and the Ethiopian Government.
The railroad projectors met with every conceivable embarrassment in the construction of the first section of the line from Djibouti to Dire-Daouah. Indifference in France for the railroad had to traverse the French colony active opposition from the savage Issas of the desert, and chronic need of funds these were the trials which would have discouraged any men less resolutely determined than Leon Chefneux and Alfred Hg. Eventually, when private capital seemed to hesitate, it became necessary for the French Government to guarantee the bonds of the company.
The railroad was opened on January 1, 1903, from Djibouti to Dire-Daouah, a distance of 310 kilometres. The line is built upon a 1-metre gauge, with bridges and viaducts of iron and steel, and rolling-stock equal to that employed on European railroads of a secondary order, and the traffic is said to be increasing from month to month. The company made what American railway managers would regard as a capital error in establishing at first exceedingly high freight rates. In a country where commerce, except in a very limited sense, does not exist, and where the ultimate success of the railroad as a business proposition must depend upon the creation of a non-existent trade, it was very necessary that the freight rates should be put down to a low level. Instead of so doing, the traffic managers established tariffs not seriously lower than those for which freight could be transported by camel. Under these circumstances, the up-country merchants found little encouragement, and the volume of business failed to increase in the .proportions desired. Better counsels have prevailed, and even while the Americans were in Ethiopia the then prevailing traffic tariffs were materially modified, with beneficial results, and it is altogether probable that this enlightened policy will be put into effect to a still more marked degree as time goes on.
It will require three or four years to connect Addis-Ababa with the line already built, a distance of probably 300 miles. When this great enterprise is accomplished, Ethiopia will be in a position to convert her vast treasures of natural wealth into money, and to join her sister trading nations of the world. Until the completion of this enterprise she must remain interesting commercially only in anticipation, and politically as a remarkable historical fact. When the railroad is completed, we may reasonably expect to see the quickening to modern methods of a population of first-rate intelligence, intrinsically capable of meeting the competition of the Western world.
I once suggested to the Emperor that he send some of his young men to our American schools and colleges.
‘Yes, that will come,’ said he; ‘our young men must be educated. We have much to do. We are a very primitive people.’
The remark was not without its significance. It showed a desire to see education spread, and it showed an entire absence of that self-sufficiency attributed by some writers to the Abyssinian nation. A recent English writer upon Abyssinia has said, speaking of their attributed immodesty : ‘It is no doubt remarkable that a nation of niggers possessing three hundred thousand rifles should take a tone different from that of niggers who are not permitted to possess any.’ This is a very harsh and unsympathetic way of dismissing a great people, but it reflects the spirit in which a large proportion of recent travellers have visited the country. The word ‘ nigger,’ in its English sense, is bereft of that half-affectionate swing which it acquires in America, and it is meant to stamp with the seal of contempt the person to whom it is applied. In the case of the writer quoted, it showed an unwillingness to understand, and an inability to sympathize with, a race of men who have asked nothing of the world save to be left alone with their independence and their old civilization.
Though this may be the national aspiration, it has been fully recognised, I think, that further enlightenment is necessary to a perpetuation of that independence. If Menelik lives, he will very probably stimulate his young men to take an active interest in education, and to fit themselves for carrying on the work which he has begun. To-day the great obstacle to the education of Ethiopian youths in foreign colleges is the almost complete lack of proper rudimentary training. Exceedingly few persons are able to read or write. The schools seem unable to get beyond instruction in the Gospels, and to find proper material for an intellectual uplifting it will be necessary for students to take long preliminary courses in the most elementary studies.
‘It will come,’ said M. Chefneux, ‘but it will come slowly.’
The Ethiopian Problem.
THE concession under which the railroad from Djibouti to DireVDaouah has been built was obtained when to the world at large Ethiopia was scarcely more than a mildly interesting geographical fact. It was dated March 9, 1894, prior to the disaster to Italian arms, prior to the victory of Kitchener at Omdurman, and before there was any general realization of the strategic or economic importance of the empire. The concession was granted to Alfred Dg, who was authorized to organize a company under the name of the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia. It was provided that the system of railways in view should consist of three sections : The first from Djibouti to Harrar, the second from Harrar to Entoto, the third from Entoto to the White Nile. The first section is now built, and is in operation. It extends from Djibouti to Dir^-Daouah, however, a new town one day’s journey distant from Harrar. It is of capital importance to remember that the contract as signed, while it gave the concessionnaires the ultimate right to build and exploit the three lines described, stated in explicit terms that the immediate right to build extended only to the line from Djibouti to Harrar, and added that ‘no other company would be authorized to construct competing lines.’ It was clearly the intention of the Emperor to have the first section, extending from the sea across French Somaliland, built and in operation before he should lay down the conditions for the completion of the other lines across his own territory. These facts have enabled rival interests to prevent the extension of the existing lines beyond Dire’-Daouah, and have given rise to what is called the Abyssinian problem. The original concession has been confirmed several times, but for prudential reasons the Emperor has thus far failed to signify the conditions under which construction might proceed, and if from a legal point of view he may be regarded as free to establish these conditions, the actual cause of delay is the inability of the European Powers represented at Addis-Ababa to agree upon a practical plan of procedure.
If Messrs. Ilg and Chefneux had been in control of abundant means from the inception of the enterprise, it is altogether probable that their complete plans would have been carried out several years ago, to the great material advantage of the territory involved. Their fate has been that of many other strong-willed men, balked, but not defeated, by the timidity of others. They attacked their problem fearlessly; they found money, and they began to build across the desert long before diplomatic circles thought or cared about the subject. In fact, so indifferent were Governments, and particularly the French Government, which had most at stake, that when the . original capital controlled by Messrs. Hg and Chefneux had been absorbed, and when French capital hesitated, a British group, known as the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and Construction Company, took shares and debentures to such an extent that it was feared for a time that control would pass by simple commercial process from French to British hands. Probably there would have been no great objection in France to such a transfer of interest, but for the underlying fear that, with French stockholders in the minority, the Anglicized company would build a short connecting - line from Dire’-Daouah to Zeilah or Berbera in British Somaliland, thereby developing either of those ports at the expense of Djibouti. To defeat any such possibility, a campaign in the French newspapers and before French Chambers of Commerce followed, with the immediate object of securing from the French Treasury the financial support necessary to prevent the passing of control to British financiers. The pressure thus brought to bear effected the desired end. I think it is rather conceded now that the exigency which induced prompt action in France resulted in a convention which failed to take into consideration the point of view of the Emperor of Ethiopia. The convention referred to was signed on February 6, 1902, by officers of the Ethiopian Railway Company and the French colonial officers of the Somali coast. The contract provides that ‘the Protectorate of the French Somaliland accords to the Imperial Ethiopian Railway Company a subvention of 500,000 francs, payable annually during fifty years from July 1, 1902. This subvention will be devoted exclusively to the guarantee of the loans to be obtained by the company for the payment of expenses limited by Article X. of the present convention. In consequence, the company constitutes as a gage to future creditors or lenders to assure payment of interest and sinking fund the annual credits acquired by the company in virtue of the present convention.’
The financial assistance thus sought and obtained was granted in return for certain enumerated rights, which the railroad company had no power to confer, and which may be summarized thus:
Article V., paragraph 8, provides that neither the temporary nor definite cession of all or part of the lines conceded to the company between Djibouti and the Hawash valley, either by sale, lease, or otherwise, can take place except with the consent of the French Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs and Finance.
Article VI., paragraph 2, provides that no branch lines connecting with the main system between Djibouti and the Hawash valley may be constructed except with the authorization of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. This provision is intended to prevent any possible connection with Zeilah or Berbera, and to guarantee that all Abyssinian commerce shall be drained through Djibouti.
Article IX., paragraph 3, provides that the French Legation in Ethiopia shall have control of measures looking to security and good order upon the lines exploited in Ethiopian territory.
Article XIV., paragraph 2, provides that upon the expiration of the concessionary period of ninety-nine years the French colony shall become automatically proprietor of the lines from Djibouti to Dire”-Daouah, a considerable portion of which is on Ethiopian soil.
Article XV., paragraph 1, provides that after January 1, 1920, the French colony may acquire the concession covering lines from Djibouti to the Hawash valley.
Article XVI., paragraph 3, provides that upon the expiration of the concession, the lines from Djibouti to the Hawash valley shall be confiscated.
The inability of the railway company to confer these privileges was tacitly recognised by Article XVIII., which declares that the paragraphs above shall be applicable ‘ under reserve as to an understanding between the French and Ethiopian Governments for the lines situated beyond French territory.’ As before stated, the first branch of the railroad, from Djibouti to DireVDaouah, is in operation to-day, and it is in operation because of the timely help of the French Government, and the company’s concession or exclusive right to build the other branches is still perfectly valid. In the meantime the existing line, while a great convenience, is of comparatively little commercial importance, and this condition must persist until extensions are constructed into the rich producing regions of Abyssinia. From the point of view of the Ethiopian Government it is undesirable to permit the extension of the existing line by the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia, while that company is bound down by a contract whereby a foreign Power seeks to obtain contingent rights in a large part of the empire, and absolute control of the means of transportation. Therefore the Emperor has steadfastly refused to formulate the limitation clauses regarding the building of the additional lines, or to come to the understanding referred to in Article XVIII. above, and in this position is sustained by other Powers with political interests at stake.
Efforts have been made, and probably are now being made, to secure from France a waiver of the exclusive rights thus far acquired, and the substitution of some form of international control, but so far without definite results. In the meantime the Emperor would very much like to see the railroad built. The Colonial Dispatch of May 18, 1905, in a report which I fully credit, declares that on April 11, 1905, the Emperor summoned the foreign representatives and railroad concessionnaires, to whom he complained that since three years work had ceased on the railroad, and that he could obtain no proposal reconciling international interests. He then threatened to put an end to the conflict by undertaking to construct the lines across the empire himself, ‘ without asking or accepting assistance from anyone.’ The Emperor also said at this meeting that he was obliged to express his regrets at the continued existence of a convention into which the French company had entered in 1902 with the French Government, and in which his own supremacy was threatened. He had always looked upon the construction of the railroad as a commercial enterprise, and never expected it to become a political instrument in foreign hands. He spoke of his astonishment and displeasure when this agreement was submitted to him, and added that he had charged the French Minister to inform his Government that he disproved of this convention.
The accuracy of the foregoing is largely confirmed in a report to the French Chamber of Deputies published in Annexe No. 2,661 of Parliamentary Documents for 1906, in which the following statements are made: ‘After three years of effort the railroad company saw itself obliged to sell a large portion of shares upon the London market, and at the same time engaged a part of its bonds to guarantee loans proffered by British houses. Immediately the British holders syndicated themselves with the intention of substituting themselves for the French company, and did not hesitate to avow that they pursued above all a political end. The President of the Trust, Lord Chesterfield, declared without subterfuge, to a general assembly, that his idea was to replace the French management by a British management, as this would result in the ruin of our port of Djibouti, and to the advantage of the neighbouring port of Berbera, situated in British Somaliland. Opinion in France becoming alarmed by this prospect, the public powers commenced to preoccupy themselves with the situation. Therefore, Parliament voted in February 1, 1902, a convention by which the Somaliland Protectorate was authorized to provide the railway company with a subvention of 500,000 francs during twenty-five years, and on its side the railway company undertook to disinterest foreign creditors, and to conform to certain prescribed conditions in the contract that is to say, effective control by the State, right of preemption on the part of the French Government in case of cession or liquidation, etc. Unhappily, certain articles of the convention voted by Parliament aroused the suspicion of the Ethiopians. While a definite solution is being awaited, the railway company, which is in a precarious condition, continues to provide itself on the British markets, and the lenders increase their exigencies in proportion as the amount of their credits advances. Thus they have reached the point of dictating their will to the French group, and demand of the French society itself the internationalization of the railroad.
* The period here named should read fifty years, according to the text of the official convention signed by the French Government. R P. S. *
The railroad cannot remain French except by an accord with our rivals, to whom it should be easy for us to offer compensations, because they also possess in Ethiopia interests which we might contest. England desires to delimit the frontiers on the north-west, west, and south, and also desires the acquisition of a passage upon the high Ethiopian plateau for the railroad from the Cape to Cairo, which under the authorization of 1902 would follow the marshy low-lands. Italy desires to lose nothing of her economic advantages in the region, and should act willingly in accord with us when certain that we will respect those interests. Therefore there is nothing to prevent an understanding with our rivals, and even that we should give them a place in the management of the railroad provided that the administrative council of the company contains a French majority/
In spite of the cheerful optimism of this report, the internationalization and the desired understanding with the Emperor’s Government have not been realized as I revise these lines in May, 1906. The Emperor has, on the other hand, taken a first step in execution of his threat to build the line himself if the international agreement could not be brought about, as I have been advised by several correspondents in Ethiopia that a large number of workmen are now being employed, and that the grading has been completed for a considerable distance from Addis-Ababa, the work proceeding towards Dird-Daouah. The Emperor himself is providing the labourers, and the work is proceeding under the general direction of the railroad company, presumably with the expectation that an eventual settlement will be had, which will enable that company to take over the portion of the line for which the Emperor is now furnishing the funds.
Certainly every well-wisher of Ethiopia must hope that this misunderstanding, which is retarding material progress, will soon be cleared up, and that the line may be completed under conditions which will safeguard the independence of the Ethiopians themselves, with reasonable recognition of the efforts and sacrifices of the Europeans who have already devoted their time and their money to this great enterprise.
In July, 1906, the press despatches announced an accord between France, Italy, and Great Britain as imminent, adding that no convention would be signed, however, until it could be referred to the Emperor Menelik for his approval.
The Emperor invites 3,000 friends to banquet with us
The Ethiopian cuisine Souvenirs for His Majesty
The Emperor returns our call Testing Abyssinian sang-froid
Being now launched into the business for which we had come, and introduced to Ethiopian diplomatic and local society, the Emperor proposed a luncheon in our honour on Sunday morning. We had heard of these Pantagruelesque banquets, and we had regretted to learn, shortly before reaching the capital, that none would probably take place during our visit, since the Emperor, as head of the Church, had entered upon the fasting period preceding Christmas. Every foreigner who visits the country hears of these feasts, and desires to be present at one, as the culminating social experience of his stay. The Negus, doubtless anticipating this wish, very considerately determined to suspend the fast, in order to give us this pleasure before our departure.
M. Chefneux told us to be ready to leave for the Guebi at nine o’clock, and the American party, including officers, marines, sailors, and servants, excluding only a sufficient number to look after our goods and chattels, filed out of the palace of the Ras Oualdo Gorghis at about that hour. We foregathered in the small audience-hall of the Guebi, where had also assembled the gentlemen of the diplomatic corps, resplendent in their most brilliant raiment. Here again we waited. Various generals and colonels, masters of the household, the ‘ Mouth of the King of Kings,’ and smaller fry, joined the party, and there was a spirit of good-humour and prevalence of small talk which spoke well for the Ethiopian faculty of relieving a State function of unnecessary stiffness. Finally, a procession was formed, and we traversed numerous courts into the same aderach, or large hall, where our first reception had taken place some days before. We entered through a side door, and felt much as though we had penetrated behind the scenes of a theatre. A large curtain separated the platform upon which we stood from the body of the chamber. The Emperor was upon his throne, with a small table before him, and a long table laid in the conventional manner, with twelve covers, had been placed to the left of the throne. The Emperor greeted us in the most unaffected way, shaking hands and smiling upon everybody. Thereupon we took the chairs assigned to us, and unfolded our snowy-white napkins embroidered with the Emperor’s arms in red, the royal colour. The soldiers and sailors in the meantime had been taken to another portion of the building, and were there served with the same excellent menu which had been prepared for us. An unoccupied chair at the head of our table indicated where Majesty constructively sat.
‘You see,’ explained M. Chefneux, who pointed out to us the prominent persons present, and all the in- teresting incidents, ‘when the presence of a diplomatic corps made it necessary to the Emperor to entertain his guests in the French manner, he desired to show them every courtesy possible. As His Majesty prefers the Ethiopian dishes and method of serving them, he lighted upon the expedient of providing a cover for himself at the European table. By a polite fiction which we maintain he sits with his guests and presides. In fact, he is upon his throne, as you can very well see.’
The luncheon was served, and was accompanied by wines from a very well stocked cellar. The delightful picturesqueness of the occasion was helped out by the white-robed vassals, who followed the ancient custom of pouring a drop or two from every bottle into the palms of their hands, and drinking them first, as a demonstration of good faith. His Majesty was surrounded by the highest dignitaries of the empire, most of them old men with fine bronzed features. They did not eat while the Emperor was being served. Only the greatest and most faithful may witness the Emperor in the act of eating, and none may eat in his presence. This rule is relaxed in favour of the diplomatic corps and such foreigners as are sometimes asked to luncheon, on the ground that they represent the persons of His Majesty’s equals.
We were all very gay, even to the Emperor himself. Frequently he would send over for our delectation one of his Ethiopian dainties. These dishes were invariably seasoned with some sort of concentrated fire which seemed to race through the system and scarify the whole alimentary tract. The Emperor nodded cheerfully over our difficulties, and recommended copious drafts of a fine musty old tedj to relieve the situation. One or two of his special dishes seasoned for our effete palates were indeed good. There was a dried fish, for example, served with rice, which I found excellent. The chef-d’oeuvre of the Ethiopian cuisine proved to be small pieces of steak grilled on both sides and served hot. These are called teps. Then there was goinmen, consisting of forced meat cooked with chopped cabbage, and ovat, a sort of ragout of meat and red pepper. As explained before, these native dishes were merely incidental to a thoroughly good European breakfast, and were sent over to us in order that we might have a full knowledge of the most notable products of the most eminent cook in Ethiopia. At each of our places we found both French rolls and native ingeras, or bread in the form of round, flat cakes, such as had been delivered to us with the durgo at numerous encampments. When Major Ciccodicola had initiated me into the proper manner of eating these ingeras, by folding them twice and breaking off morsels from the small end of the now fan-shaped cake, these morsels being then dipped into a meat sauce, I found them very palatable.
We had done valiant service through thirteen courses, when it became evident that both the Emperor and his guests were nearing the end, and when the communicative warmth of the banquet and the generous provision of champagne suggested toasts. The Minister of Italy performed the agreeable task, on behalf of his brethren, of drinking to the health of the Emperor, including in his eloquent effort some very friendly expressions in regard to the United States. The Emperor nodded approvingly, and drank back to peace and progress as represented at his board. The good wishes of the Western for the Eastern world were then voiced by the American representative, after which the speech-making was over. Oratory ordinarily lias very little vogue in Abyssinia. Now a silver ewer and basin were brought before the throne, the imperial hands touched the water and were dried, and it was time for the general banquet to begin.
The curtain was drawn back, and while the distinguished guests drank coffee and smoked, the audience - hall slowly filled with the more lowly invitees, who took their places around small tables, or tabourets, seating themselves upon the floor. A band of shawm-players entered, and continued their melancholy music throughout the feast. There must have been 1,200 guests around these little tables, and there were as many more to come when the first lot had eaten their fill. A most impressive feature of this banquet was the extraordinary order which prevailed. The guests consisted of functionaries, military officers, and prominent subjects all men who knew their places, and who very quietly took them. Nobody was in a hurry.
Presence at this and similar functions is the Ethiopian equivalent to being presented at Court; it is the hall-mark of respectable station. M. Chefneux mentioned the number of sheep and goats required to set forth a feast of this description. The figures were enormous, but have slipped from memory. Serving-men with large baskets kept the good things going, and others passed tall blue enamelled drinking-cups filled with tedj. In the good old days the drinking-cups were of horn, but modernism ‘ made in Germany ‘ has obliterated at last this vestige of the Biblical civilization of Ethiopia. So great was the demand for tedj that a pump concealed without the aderach forced it through a pipe, under the end of which one cup replaced another, as soon as the one preceding was full.
We watched this interesting scene until almost three o’clock, when, with the Emperor’s permission, all the European and American guests withdrew. The Emperor himself remained, so we were told, until five o’clock, in the meantime patiently and watchfully communicating with his subjects. It was not hard to see that, under circumstances like these, he must certainly keep in close touch with his people in more respects than one. Every Sunday morning at Addis-Ababa, except during fast seasons, the Emperor gives one of these banquets for his subjects, and when foreigners whom he wishes to honour are in the city they are invited to assist.
Much stress has been laid by all returning travellers upon the presumed fact that nothing can be accomplished in Ethiopia of an official character without a judicious distribution of presents. It would be untrue to say that small gifts of money are not extremely necessary at times in Addis-Ababa, as they are in other parts of the world. To add to the natural and inherited covetousness of mankind, Europeans have been overbidding each other in Africa for so many years that unhealthy expectations respecting the generosity of new arrivals have been formed, which is not surprising. It would be equally unjust to charge this situation, which has been immensely exaggerated in most available accounts, to the special venality of the Ethiopian people. They are not time and lip servers merely ; on the contrary, their cheerful willingness to perform small services out of innate courtesy was a matter of daily occurrence in our own experience, from the time we left the coast until we returned. A capital is a capital, however, the world over, and Europeans have to blame themselves if they have gradually increased the difficulties of their own situation as regards gratuities and gifts.
To assume that the Emperor’s favour can be virtually bought by presents, or that he esteems the giving of presents as in the nature of tribute, is likewise grossly unfair to him. The Abyssinian tradition requires that the stranger shall bring gifts, as the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child 2,000 years ago; but the value of the gift resides in the intention of the giver, a distinction which should be constantly borne in mind.
It is scarcely necessary to observe that the American Republic is not addicted to gift giving or receiving. We therefore brought no elephant the King of England had sent a trained elephant to the Emperor just before our arrival but we had brought with us a number of souvenirs for His Majesty, which were presented informally a few days after our arrival, and which appeared to give him much pleasure. The signed portrait of President Roosevelt excited his liveliest interest. He studied the face for a number of minutes, and then passed it to a group of generals, who took equal interest in scrutinizing it. The President’s book on ‘ North American Big Game ‘ was likewise received with great respect. I fear that His Majesty will never be able to read it. He thought it remarkable that so young a man had accomplished so much.
When these objects had been laid aside, a beautiful American writing-machine, which the manufacturers had asked to have offered, was brought into the imperial presence, and regarded with polite interest. The practical mind of the Emperor developed the question immediately: ‘Why can’t we have an Amharic typewriter?’
M. Chefneux replied that, whereas we had only 26 letters in our alphabet, it would require 251 characters to represent the Amharic language, and the construction of a machine containing so many figures presented practical difficulties.
The typewriter was carried away, and a magazine rifle of the latest model, a most beautiful arm, with burnished barrel and gold-plated mountings, bearing a special inscription, was presented. Now the imperial eyes brightened with evident pleasure. Mr. Wales, who had a similar rifle, illustrated the method of loading and firing, whereupon the Emperor followed his movements, and with the instant appreciation of the connoisseur, nodded approvingly. Interest in the new American gun was so intense that Mr. Wales was required to fire through an open doorway at a blank wall. The ten shots rang out with startling rapidity. Generals, judges, colonels, and understrappers crowded about the doorway. The consequences were so satisfactory that His Majesty determined to try his own rifle himself, and, very slightly concerned for his generals and judges, raised the weapon to the proper angle, without changing his posture upon the throne, and aimed through the same open doorway. There was immediately a wild stampede for cover on the part of the satellites while the imperial hand pulled the trigger. The Emperor’s eyes showed that he appreciated the humour of the situation.
A few days later, while visiting our encampment, a much more amusing incident of the same sort occurred. A private had been showing off the regulation army gun, and the Emperor expressed a desire to handle one himself. Again he fired through an open doorway, and as the cartridges were blank, no possible harm could have resulted, though the panic was no less great than before. Blank cartridges are practically unknown in Ethiopia, and when Menelik had ascertained that we used them for saluting purposes, he intimated a wish to receive a few.
‘I am going to my country place at Addis Alem next week,’ he said, ‘and I shall be accompanied by many officers. I expect to amuse myself with these cartridges. I shall be able to teach some of my officers to show courage under fire.’ All the Emperor’s friends bear testimony to his general good-humour and love of joking.
The audience at which our few gifts were offered terminated with the presentation of a well-selected lot of American garden seeds, which was the most modest and yet the most highly-valued gift of all. These seeds had been sent to me by some of the officers of the Department of Agriculture. I was told afterwards that they had been distributed by the Emperor himself, with great care, among his own farmers, and that he was intensely interested in the results. He regards agriculture as the basis of all true wealth, and his great ambition is to develop a love of farming among his people.
We did not meet the Empress. Nothing in the way of public ceremonial occurred during our stay in which her presence was involved, and we departed too soon to have the pleasure of seeing her in private. She is said to be a woman of great force of character, and, in her youth, one of striking beauty. She is now fortyseven years of age. The Empress Taitu is the daughter of a former Ras of Gondar, and one of the hereditary Princesses of the now absorbed kingdom of Siemen, the inhabitants of which are reputed for their white skins. She has been several times married, and became the wife of the present Emperor in 1883. They have no children. This fact raises the question of the succession in the mind of everyone visiting the empire. It is fully believed by those who have interests in the country that when, in the course of Nature, the shrewd and great Emperor Menelik shall have been gathered to his fathers, it will be found that he had made provision for an orderly transfer of power to other hands.
Fortunately for Ethiopia and the peace of the world, the Emperor bids fair to resist for many a year the ravages of time. His vigorous manhood is attributed to a knowledge of ‘ the science of proper living, the benefits of temperance in all things, and the healthful influence of a balanced mind, from which all worries are expelled and few gain entrance.’
The Emperor returned our visit to the palace in state one fine morning, accompanied by the huge escort which follows and precedes him everywhere. We put on purple and fine linen in honour of this event. The officers of the escort effected wonders as decorative artists with our small stock of flags, which we draped about the portrait of the President in the reception tent. The entire escort awaited the arrival of royalty outside the compound, giving the Emperor a salute of twenty-one guns as he entered. His Majesty was all amiability and smiles, and the American Idea was illustrated for his benefit to the extent of our resources. He walked slowly around the enclosure, criticising with a soldier’s quick eye the sailors’ canvas hammocks, the haversacks and their contents, and particularly the hospital tent, with its compact case of medicines and simple instruments. He said that he thought it all very nice and comfortable, but not quite so easy of transportation as the Ethiopian equipment. In this he was perfectly right, since the Ethiopian equipment consists of a small and very light wall tent with bamboo poles, and a gun.
The promenade over, the escort, under Captain Thorpe, performed a great variety of gymnastic exercises, which the Emperor had never before witnessed, and which he applauded vigorously. These exercises concluded, His Majesty, with twenty or more chieftains who accompanied him, consented to enter the palace of the Ras Oualdo Gorghis, where refreshments were served. It became necessary for the Emperor to again suspend the fasting period prescribed by the Church, in order to permit of a general exchange of toasts. It was during these gaieties that Menelik was instructed in the mechanism of our regulation rifle, as previously described.
We were told afterwards that the Emperor had made an exceptionally long visit, and I trust that it was so. He was a most agreeable and appreciative guest. He came just after the treaty had been virtually agreed upon, and he seemed to feel quite as contented as we ourselves with the commercial alliance just contracted. When farewells had been exchanged, he crossed our first courtyard on foot, mounted his brilliantly-caparisoned mule, and rode away, followed by the friendly regards of all whom he left behind.
Bede J. F. Bentley and his good and faithful friend and mechanician Reginald G. Wells drove all the way from Djibouti to Addis Ababa with a motor-car, going through many adventurous experiences on their route. They took this journey to present this new technology of that era to the Emperor Menilik.
This section of the story is taken from the book “TO MENELEK IN A MOTOR-CAR” by Clifford Halle in 1913.
To Menelik in a Motor-Car
…Menelek, they were informed, was awaiting them in the Hall of Audience, and therefore, leaving the car at the door in charge of Wells and as many of the escort as could crowd into the still vacant spaces in the courtyards, the Ministers and Bentley were formally led into the presence of the King of Kings.
The Emperor was seated in state. In the agitation of the moment Bentley had only time to note that he had a shrewd and kindly black face ; that he wore, evidently with the intention of going out presently, quite the most enormous clergyman’s hat he had ever seen, black robes of rich silk set off with red, and brilliant purple silk socks on shoeless feet, while beside him, rather spoihng the picture, was a pair of enormous ” jemimas,” by which name Bentley had learnt in his youth to designate the spring-side boots dear to old ladies.
Emperor Menelik laughs at the simplicity of the drip feed lubricator. British and Russian Ministers in back of car.
The presentation was made in due form, and after a few kindly words of praise for Bentley’s achievement, through the medium of an interpreter, Menelek intimated that it was his pleasure to at once inspect the car.
Attendant slaves inserted his feet into the ” jemimas,” and he got up—a tall and commanding figure in his rich robes and enormous hat, in spite of the incongruous footgear.
They walked in procession to the porch of the Palace, and there Bentley gave a short lecture as to the working of a motor-car. Menelek proved an attentive and intelligent listener, not allowing a single part to be left until he fully comprehended its functions.
At length, when everything had been explained, Menelek suddenly remarked to Mr. Hohler, ” Yes, yes. He does not look like an anarchist who has come all this way to kill me; and the machine does not seem so very dangerous, as I have been told.”
Bentley could only stare in astonishment when this was interpreted to him, and he began to have visions of himself minus arms and legs, which, from the number of cripples about, seemed to be a favourite form of punishment in the country; but he was reassured by the gleam of amusement in the Emperor’s eyes. “Yes,” continued Menelek, “I have been told almost daily for the past month, that the moment I sat in the car I should be blown up. When I said I thought that was foolish, for those in the car would be blown up with me, I was told that perhaps, instead of blowing me up, I should be driven over a precipice, and that those who drove the car had practised jumping off at the last moment.” The old man placed his hand in a friendly fashion on Bentley’s shoulder and told him that he did not think he looked as though he contemplated doing any of those dreadful things.
Bentley, through the medium of Mr. Hohler, responded with a flowery speech, and then, while the Emperor was again bending over the car, Mr.Hohler whispered hurriedly in his ear, ” Bet you five pounds you don’t get the old man to take a drive.”
” Done,” said Bentley promptly, and he asked Mr. Hohler to suggest that perhaps the Emperor would like to see the car in action.
Menelek nodded, and Bentley suggested that he should be accompanied by two members of the Court. Menelek nodded again, and intimated to two dignitaries that they might have the honour.
The two chosen ones did not absolutely rush for their seats. In fact, their ascent into the car might be described as careful and gingerly.
Bentley intimated that he proposed running down to the market-place and back, and asked the Emperor how long it generally took a man on a mule to do the double journey.
The market-place was about two miles off, and the road thereto was an excellent one and in sight of the Palace all the way. Menelek produced a watch to match his hat—he evidently liked large things and said that half an hour, there and back, was considered very good going. He also said that, as a token that he had really been there, Bentley could bring him a httle basket of fruit from the shop at the end of the market.
Bentley suggested that, as he was anxious to go rather quickly, it would be as well if some of the crowds were removed. Then it was seen that Menelek was indeed Emperor. He said one or two short, sharp words and, in less time than it takes to write the fact, the road to the market-place began to clear, and as though by magic the teeming multitudes disappeared into side streets, leaving an absolutely clear road to their destination.
Wells turned the car in the courtyard, and as he did so, Bentley, who sat beside him, whispered in his ear, ” Wells, I want to do two things: Get back as quickly as ever we can and incidentally frighten the souls of these two gentlemen behind out of their cases.”
” Right, sir,” said Wells, as usual. They went. There is no mistake about it that they went to that market-place, for the car was nicely tuned up, the road was excellent, and Wells had been unable to reheve his feehngs for some time.
There was also no mistake as to the feelings of the dignitaries inside the car. Their faces paled as much as the colour would allow, while they clutched nervously at the sides of the car and at each other absolutely speechless from fright.
As has been said, the car was nicely tuned up, and they were presently doing a comfortable fifty miles an hour, and by this time the dignitaries were limp lumps of wabbling flesh, allowing themselves to be bumped about helplessly, their eyes staring into vacancy and nearly starting out of their sockets.
When at length the car drew up at the marketplace, after what really was less than a three-minutes’ run, but which to them no doubt appeared a few centuries, with simultaneous promptitude each dignitary alighted from his own door, and when he reached terra firma ejaculated something which was no doubt the Amheric equivalent of “Thank God!”
But Bentley was not out to lose time. He bought his little basket and made a sign to Wells, and without more ado, each bundled a dignitary back into the car, slammed the door to, and before they had time to protest, much less get out again. Wells was in his seat, Bentley beside him, and they were off again, a little quicker perhaps than they had come, for the road was now, if anything, down-hill.
This time the dignitaries fairly howled, and held on to each other like two affrighted children. They were both big men, and gorgeously attired, and no doubt, in ordinary circumstances, brave enough, but all sense of self-respect fled from them on that return journey.
Going, they had held on to their feelings as much as they possibly could, which was not a very large amount ; coming back, they were simply pitiable objects, their eyes streaming, their mouths gibbering, and their beautiful robes one mass of dust.
“Keep her going. Wells, as long as you dare,” said Bentley, “I want the old man to get a good view of the pretty Punch and Judy show we’ve got in the back.”
Wells obeyed, and had to use the brakes pretty sharply as he swung into the first courtyard, just past the Emperor, who had walked to the entrance to watch.
Bentley stepped out and handed his basket to the Emperor, who was delighted, and pointed to his watch to show that they had been gone under the six minutes. He then said with one of his roguish smiles, “I see that you have frightened my poor Ministers a good deal,” for those two worthies were still sitting in the car, too paralysed to move.
Bentley signed to Wells to help them out, which he did, and while they were slowly crawling up to the Emperor, Bentley, speaking loud, said to Mr. Hohler, “Tell the Emperor I say that all the populace having seen the terror of his Ministers, what an opportunity for His Majesty to show that he has no fear.”
No sooner had Mr. Hohler translated, than the old man (Menelik) jumped at the idea. He chaffed his Ministers unmercifully when they came up, and announced that he himself was going for a drive.
The Ministers almost prostrated themselves before him in their agonized endeavours to protect him from the ordeal they had just been through. To them it seemed impossible that such a thing could happen twice without deadly harm coming to everybody in the car.
The more they pleaded, the more Menelek laughed, and he walked straight up to the car and seated himself beside Wells.
Mr. Hohler and Bentley at once got into the back and Menelek signed to Wells to start slowly.
It is the custom that whenever Menelek moves, he is escorted by an army of soldiers, both cavalry and infantry, as a duty, while any few odd thousands who happen to be about join as volunteers. Therefore, as soon as Wells let in the clutch one or two regiments of cavalry and some battalions of infantry lined up as escort.
Even at the slow pace that Wells kept up at first, the infantry were soon left behind, although they struggled manfully to, at any rate, keep in sight of the car.
Presently, however, the Emperor turned to Mr. Hohler and said that he would Hke to go a little faster, so Wells was told to gradually put on speed.
The old man had much sounder nerves than his Ministers, for, as the speed increased, he began to laugh like a boy, and was soon urging Wells to go faster and faster.
Wells, nothing loath, responded with full-speed ahead, and presently they were flying along on top speed, for Wells, watching the august presence beside him with one eye, to see how much he could stand, gradually let the car out to full throttle, and the old Emperor sat laughing and puffing for breath, with his goggleless eyes streaming, as happy as a schoolboy, while the now galloping escort was left somewhere on the horizon.
After a splendid run of about ten miles, Menelek bethought him of his people and laid his hand gently on Wells’ arm as a signal to pull up, and with a comical grimace at Mr. Hohler, through the thick coating of dust that made his black face almost white, suggested that perhaps they had better return.
They went back at the same flying pace, and as they drew near the town they heard above the hum of the car a sort of long-drawn wail as of a nation howling in unison.
By and by they met the cavalry, still galloping madly on nearly-spent horses. They pulled up at the first sight of the car, and the men jumped from their horses and prostrated themselves in the dust at the sight of their Emperor, still alive and happy.