« ZurückWeiter »
the officers and privates who composed the party are given, in a separate page, at the beginning of the first edition; after which, not a man among them is mentioned by name, from one end of the three volumes to the other; not a notion is vouchsafed us of the equipment of the expedition, of the amount and quality of the precious baggage which it conveyed to the court of Shoa, or, in short, of any of those particulars which give reality to a narrative. The Embassy is reduced as nearly as possible to a great abstraction; and we have been puzzled throughout to ascertain whether this peculiarity is the result of the Major's ideas of official duty, or his notion of fine writing.
The rainy season had already begun when the Embassy reached the banks of the Hawash, which may be considered as the frontier stream of the King of Shoa's dominions. From Mr Kirk's report, we find that this was on the 10th July; Major Harris, as usual, being too lofty to condescend to dates at all. This river, hitherto so little known, conveys the waters of the south-eastern face of the Abyssinian hills towards the Indian ocean; which, however, it does not reach even in the rainy season, being lost in lagoons near a town of the Moslem, called Aussa. It was found to be a deep volume of turbid water, covered with driftwood, which rolled at the rate of some three miles an hour, between steep clayey walls twenty'five feet in height, bounding a mere break through the mud and sand. The breadth of the channel fell short of sixty yards, and the flood was not yet at its maximum.'-(Vol. I. p. 303.) At this point, 300 miles from the sea, it was 2200 feet above the sea level. Here the Major shot a hippopotamus-a pleasing reminiscence of his former South African pursuits, which he was not destined frequently to enjoy.
Beyond the Hawash begins a belt of unwholesome country, generally well covered with vegetation, which forms the natural border between the Christian and Galla inhabitants of the hills above, and the ferocious Moslem of the low desert. Neither can pass it with impunity: the hot breath of the sands poisons the Abyssinian warrior, the blast of the mountains withers the strength of the Danakil; and few more remarkable instances are to be found of a barrier set by nature between the mutual encroachments of two hostile races. Gradually, as the Embassy advanced, the blue mountains of Abyssinia loomed nearer and nearer-rising in one unbroken terrace 8000 feet above the sea, or 6000 above the Hawash in this part of its course, with occasional peaks attaining a higher elevation. As the ascent began, the whole character of the scene rapidly changed; a populous country, thickly scattered with the habitations of a
comparatively industrious Christian people, succeeded the desert and the forest; the wild rose, the fern, the lantana, and 'the honeysuckle, smiled around a succession of highly-cul'tivated terraces, into which the entire range was broken by 'banks supporting the soil,' as Aigibbi, the first Christian village of Efat, was approached; the ascent grew more and more rugged, yet the cultivation became more European in character; they laboured through deep-ploughed fields of beans, and peas, ' and standing corn;' and lastly, ascended through a fine forest of juniper-trees, to Ankober, the capital of the Nagoos, (or King of Shoa,) Sahela Selassie, perched on the hills, 8280 feet above the level of the sea.
Abyssinia rises like a vast fortress from the burning plains with which it appears to be surrounded on every side. Whether approached from Sennaar on the north, Masuah on the northeast, or the desert of Adel on the south-east, its confines present every where a bold range of mountains to the traveller; and, as far as can be conjectured from the very uncertain accounts we possess, the same configuration prevails on its unexplored western frontier. The interior is table land or plateau,' varying from six to ten thousand feet in height, and rising here and there into peaks and ranges of no very great elevation above the table land some points in the province of Samen, according to the German traveller Rüppell, reach the limits of eternal snow, notwithstanding Bruce's assertion to the contrary. The tableland is the proper home of the Amhára nation, and of the ancient Church of Ethiopia. Many parts of it have been overrun by the pagan Galla; and these now occupy scattered districts of the country, where they live unmixed with the Christian pulation, producing much confusion in the geography. But the Moslem, who surround it on most sides, have never penetrated into the mountain country so as to make it their abode; although in the sixteenth century, the tribes of Adel, under their famous leader Mahommed Graan, overran the whole of it, and might have established a new empire, had not their leader's career been cut short by a Portuguese musket-ball. The feeling of terror inspired by that conquest is not yet worn out; and even now the Amhara do not consider themselves a match for the Danakil in equal fight.
The main kingdom of Northern Abyssinia underwent, after that conquest, a long period of decay and revolutions, and fell at last to pieces, amidst the feuds of its barbarous Pagan and Christian satraps, (of whom Bruce's hero, Ras Michael, was the most renowned,) in the latter part of the last century. Since that period, it has presented nothing but continual scenes of intestine war, rapine, and anarchy. The three independent poten
VOL. LXXX. NO. CLXI
tates who now divide it between them-if such a title can be given to chieftains whose power rests only on military success, and is overthrown by a defeat-are Ras Ali, who governs in the name of the dethroned descendants of Solomon, in the old provinces of Amhara, the head of the monarchy; Dejaj Aligas Farès, in Lasta; and Dejaj Oubich, the savage tyrant of Tigré. But the form is still retained, of placing the crown upon the brows of a descendant of the ancient line of Solomon, who is 'content to be a mere puppet in the hands of the temporary 'minister; and enjoying a stipend of 300 dollars per annum, and 'the paltry revenues accruing from the tolls of the hebdomadal (weekly?) market in the capital, he remains a prisoner upon 'parole in his palace at Gondar.'-(Vol. iii. p. 10.) The whole region is fast becoming desolate, under the incessant ravages of war, accompanied with the horrible Abyssinian practice of mutilating all male prisoners. Rüppell estimates the entire population of Northern Abyssinia, east of the Tacazzé, at half a million; west of that river, at a million more.
The destinies of Shoa, or the Kingdom of Shoa and Efat,' have been more favourable. The former province was the refuge of the royal line of Solomon, when the Princess Esther (styled by the Amhara Issat, which signifies Fire) usurped the Abyssinian throne in the tenth century. Within its confines Tekla Haimanout, the monastic hero of Abyssinia, founded Debra Libanos, the chief Monastery of the country, in the sixteenth century; and obtained at the same period the cession of one-third of the territory of the state to the clergy. After the invasion of Mahommed Graan, this portion of the empire was overrun by Galla tribes; from whom it was gradually reconquered by a line of independent princes, descended through females from the royal family.
In the last century and half, these sovereigns have been in general both able and fortunate. They have subdued, one by one, numerous tribes of pagan Galla, and of the neighbouring Moslem, and brought them into tributary dependence on their crown. While the rest of Abyssinia has suffered the worst of calamities, Shoa has remained scarcely touched by civil or foreign war. The present monarch, Sahela Selassie, the Clemency of the Trinity,'-(the seventh in succession who has borne the name of Menilek, being that which Abyssinian legend gives to the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,)—reigns over a still more extended dominion than any of his predecessors. He has a million of Christian subjects, and an unknown number of Mahommedan and Pagan tributaries. Without having much pretension to the character of a great warrior, he has been almost uniformly successful in his foreign affairs. He has fright
ened or brought over most of the powerful Galla chieftains, within an extensive circle, round the centre of his dominions; and has subjugated, in addition, several mighty chieftainesses of the same race, by the most pleasing method of conquest;-carrying on the Austrian or matrimonial policy at a great advantage, by reason of the unlimited polygamy which the Church allows to the House of Solomon.* The Christian provinces, the kernel of his strength, furnish a most gratifying contrast in their appearance to the rest of Abyssinia. Shoa is a small province, astride (to use the French phrase) on the ridge of basalt and trachyte, which divides the waters of the Blue Nile and the Hawash; and this important height of land, which continues, in a geographical point of view, the supposed range of the Mountains of the Moon, instead of a rude mass of primeval rocks, displays a terrace covered with towns and villages, and smiling with the richest cultivation. The Amhara are agriculturists by predilection-the Galla, cattle-feeders.
Farm-steadings and dwelling-houses repose secure from predatory bands or hostile neighbours; and although thickly inhabited, the country is unburdened by any over population. On the elevated plateaux, a succession of gentle undulations of pasture and arable land, intersected by green meadows, and bare-banked rivulets, rise in endless continuation to the view, undisturbed by a solitary tree. Villages and farm houses proclaim a country which has long enjoyed the blessings of peace. The craggy mountains rise in magnificent ranges from the centre, divided each by a thousand chasms, in whose depths run clear gushing rills. Tangled bushes and evergreen shrubs diversify the cliffs, many of which are covered with magnificent woods. In every nook and coigne of 'vantage," are to be seen and scented, the myrtle, the eglantine, and the jessamine. The intervening slopes, which form the most desirable sites of residence, are clothed in luxuriant crops, and in herbage fed by the oozing streams from above; and, at the foot of the range, repose the rich and smiling valleys, hid in all the luxuriance of tropical foliage, from the gigantic sycamore, beloved of the heathen Galla, and measuring upwards of forty feet in circumference, to the light and elegant acacia, which distils the much-prized gum.'-(Vol. iii. p. 269-272.)
To descend from the Major's poetic heights to plain matter of fact, it appears that the table land of Shoa produces two crops in the year; that there are seventy-eight different varieties of grain cultivated in a circuit of five miles from Ankober, of which twenty-four are of wheat. This great number appears to result from the fancy of the husbandmen for providing new varietiesa fancy which speaks volumes for the security, and the comparatively advanced state of their industry, however rude their pro
* Is Major Harris correct here? M. Rochet says the king can have only one wife, but is unlimited in the article of concubines.
cesses may appear. The highland pastures of the Galla are luxuriant with clover and trefoil. The forests have almost disappeared in Shoa. The wild beasts have been driven from the cultivated districts, and Major Harris's unerring rifle was doomed to inactivity, or inglorious warfare against monkeys, hornbills, and vultures. So completely have they vanished, that the Amhara now live in considerable fear of some very insignificant mammalia. My children have never seen the Devil's sheep,' observed his Majesty to the Embassy during one of their excursions. They live in holes in the rocks under the great waterfall, and 'have long snouts. My people are afraid. Take guns in the morning, and the pages shall show you the road.' The devil's sheep, on personal inspection, turned out to be nothing more than badgers.
The climate of this Ethiopian paradise is however by no means paradisiacal, yet healthy and elastic. It is certainly a very singular phenomenon. The height of the table land is not more than seven or eight thousand feet above the sea. Our principal knowledge of the climate of similar plateaux in the torrid zone, is derived from Humboldt's observations in America. But in equinoctial America, the climate, even at a still greater elevation, appears to be both drier and warmer than that of Shoa, which seems to resemble that of the north of Ireland, or the Hebrides-still more closely, perhaps, that of Terra del Fuego, for at least two-thirds of the year. In twelve months, at Ankober, the thermometer never rose above 69° Fahrenheit-the lowest degree noticed by Major Harris, is 41; but both he and Rochet observed the pools coated with ice on some mornings. The rain of bounty' falls in February and March; the 'rain of covenant' pours down with extreme violence from the end of June to that of September-in the second winter of the embassy's sojourn, it continued till December. The Blue Nile, therefore, in Abyssinia, begins to rise in June, but in Sennaar its flood commences in April or May. It is clear, therefore, that the geography even of this inferior branch of the Nile is as yet imperfect; and that it is joined somewhere in its course by a large unexplored river or rivers from the south. Cold fogs and driving blasts, or heavy tropical showers, envelope the capital of Sahela Selassie during the greater part of the year; while, by the strangest of contrasts, the sulphureous plains of the Adaiel are visible below, whenever the curtain of mist is withdrawn, in which the heat is 90°, and the drought excessive. The province of Efat lies somewhat lower, on the eastern slope of the mountains. The grassy plains of the Galla are chiefly to the westward, on the high continuation of the table land, and towards the Blue Nile, (the Abai of the Abyssinians.) Deep in the valleys, and close at the foot of the