« ZurückWeiter »
range, coffee and cotton are produced, and most tropical productions might flourish. For coffee, great part of the territory would seem extremely well adapted; but, by a singular prejudice, the Christians refuse to touch it-esteeming the sober berry to savour of Mahometanism. The original patria of coffee is Caffa,' a hitherto unvisited region south-west of Shoa, where it grows wild, and is said to cover the face of the country.
The Embassy seems to have been received, in the first instance, somewhat coldly and cautiously by his Majesty the Negoos. The traders from Northern Abyssinia, who sell the sovereign glass, cloths, and fire-arms at a considerable premium, organized a powerful opposition to interlopers, who brought with them so abundant a stock of European and Indian manufactures. The Clergy took up the cry, and even threatened their monarch with excommunication, in admitting into the empire thered here'tics, who ought carefully to be shunned, since they practised 'witchcraft, and, by burning the king's bread, threatened to bring a famine upon the land;'-the last accusation resting on their suspicious conduct, in toasting the tough dough-cakes which were doled out for their maintenance. The new-comers also seem to have been long in getting over their disgust at the singularly filthy habits of the Abyssinians-the surfeits and intoxication produced by raw beef, the continual boosing of beer and hydromel, the noise, dirt, mendacity, and mendicity of the townsfolk of Ankober. As for the Moslem servants of the Embassy, they all took their departure in utter abhorrence of the country and its inhabitants, willing rather to bear the dangers and difficulties of a long journey through the inhospitable de'serts of the Adaiel, than to prolong a hateful sojourn in Abys'sinia. One-half of the number were murdered in the way 'down, and the places of all long remained empty.' But prejudice on both sides gradually vanished. Both King and subjects were seduced by silks and satins, musical boxes, detonating shells, seven-barrelled pistols, air-guns, artillery practice with a galloper-gun, which had been brought all the way from India, and Congreve rockets. Priestly enmity was overcome by the judicious administration of a few splendid Altar-cloths, and ornaments, and some still more effectual persuasives; and the beau monde of Ankober soon found it an agreeable pastime to spend the long hours, uninvited, lounging over the fire of the Europeans-drinking, boasting, getting shaved, and pestering the party for medical advice. They became at last his Majesty's favourites and daily companions, and his associates in various expeditions.
On the anniversary of Maskal,' the festival of the Discovery
of the Cross by Saint Helena, Sahela Selassie holds his chief review of the motley militia of his kingdom. On this occasion, he gets in the voluntary benevolences' of his subjects, usually bestowed in kind; and the tributes of those bound to render them two distinct sources of royal revenue in the most primitive times, as Cowper has rightly distinguished, in his version of a well-known passage in the Iliad':
By a race possess'd
Most rich in flocks and herds, who, tributes large
At the same time, honours and appointments are bestowed; and
This being also the season of retribution, the forfeited property and the household chattels of delinquent officers added to the fair-like confusion. Herds of cattle, and long files of confiscated slaves, wooden tables, rickety bedsteads, and other paltry prizes of royal seizure, crowded the bustling parade; whilst groups of shivering camels, transferred by writ of execution to an uncongenial clime, took up their miserable station on the bare cold ground, which was in a few days to receive their long scraggy bones. . . . . Most unkingly was the appearance presented by the palace at break of day, and most unprincely the confusion of the court. Dirt and filth reigned paramount in every purlieu of the royal residence-mire to the ankle obstructed every gateway-and the rods of the wearied doorkeepers were broken to splinters in their laudable endeavours to check the rush of the eager and greasy mob. . . . Twenty sallow eunuchs, acting each at one and the same time as master of the ceremonies, introduced to the royal notice the crowds of lieges, who, arrayed in most filthy garbs, came crushing together to the front. Priests, and monks, and petty governors, women, slaves, and cultivators, bore each some present to swell the imperial stores. Honey, butter, and beads, sticks, crutches, and censers, were alike received with complimentary speeches, saving in the instance of one burly knave, who presumed to come before the king with a poor bundle of grass. Of him no notice whatever was taken. The very crowd seemed ashamed of so scurvy an offering, and, an opening being spontaneously made, a few kicks and shoves sent the ill-provided vassal speedily out of sight, unrewarded by the customary "God give thee more!" from the lips of his puissant sovereign.
This exhibition terminated, the Embassy, on horseback, were marshalled to a gay Turkish pavilion, which had been purposely erected, below the royal inspection tower. . . . . The Negoos was already seated when his British guests cantered past, and taking off their hats, received a condescending salutation. The usual paraphernalia of silver-embossed velvet floated at the imperial feet. The chiefs of the churches, and the civil officers of state-a gorgeous band-were arranged along the platform, whilst a motley crowd of many thousand spectators stood closely packed over the plain below.'
The review commenced with the display of the body-guards, consisting entirely of fusileers. Then came Ayto Melkoo, the King's master of the horse,
With his glittering squadron of picked household cavalry-the flower of the Christian lances. He was arrayed in a parti-coloured vest, surmounted by a crimson Arab fleece, handsomely studded with silver jets. A gilt-embossed gauntlet encircled his right arm from the wrist to the elbow. His targe and horse-trapping glittered with a profusion of silver crosses and devices. . . . Whilst putting his well-broken charger through all the evolutions of Abyssinian manege, he vaunted his prowess in arms, recited the prodigies of valour performed in the service of his royal master, and proclaimed his continued good faith and future bold intentions-his followers at intervals, like the Romans of old, responding their assent by the loud clatter of lance against shield. . .
Thirteen governors clothed in spoils stripped from the lion and the leopard, with other conspicuous trophies of the chase, passed successively in order of review. Decked in emblems of blood-rings, feathers, bracelets, and gauntlets, with shining coronets and chains of silver streaming from their clotted hair, tokens all of individual prowess in hand-to-hand combat with the king's foes-the leader of each glittering cohort indulged in a long rambling harangue, ere shouting the signal for the charge. Many there were who wore the akodáma-a massive transverse beam of silver projecting across the brows, and hung with a profusion of chains and pendants, the reward for the slaughter of an Adel; several of which respectable body, including the Ras el Kafilah and his fiery coadjutor, Ibrahim Shehém, were spectators of the martial manœuvres of the Amhara troops.
Last of all came the tall martial figure of Abogaz Maretch, chief of all the tributary Galla in the south, at the head of his Abidchu legion, who closed the display of barbarian tactics. Three thousand in number, the sea of wild horsemen moved in advance to the music of the kettledrums, their arms and decorations flashing in the sunbeam, and their ample white robes and long sable braided hair streaming to the breeze. At the shrill whoop of their warlike leader, with the rushing sound of a hurricane, the glittering cohort clattered past the royal stand, and the moving forest of lances disappeared under a cloud of dust. From eight to ten thousand cavalry were present in the field, and the spectacle, which lasted from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon, was exceedingly wild and impressive.'-(Vol. ii. p. 74, 85.)
We might add, allowing for the difference between chariots and cavalry, exceedingly Homeric. There is something in the civil and martial usages of this primitive people (M. Rochet has made the same remark of their feasts) which frequently brings back the vivid pictures of the father of poetry. We can readily believe the same Frenchman when he says that, as a military spectacle, the appearance of an Amhara troop is far more brilliant and exciting than the finest display of civilized soldiery.
The next acquaintance which the Embassy made with the
chivalry of Amhara, we are sorry to say, was by no means of an equally innocent description. Although Sahela Selassie has contrived, by no ordinary prudence and sagacity, to keep the scourge of war away from his hereditary dominions, his power is only maintained by exercising his singular hordes in continual conflict, on a small scale, with neighbouring enemies. Thrice a-year he assembles his militia, each man coming with twenty-one days' provision at his back, either for the purpose of chastising insurrection among the subjugated usurpers of portions of the 'ancient empire of Ethiopia, or of asserting his unstable authority ' over some neighbouring tribe, that may heretofore have suc'ceeded in maintaining their independence.' The Amhara do not pass for a brave race, individually; they are hardly reputed a match for the Galla, or the murderous Adaiel. Sahela Selassie, indeed, frankly confessed as much. In Geshe they have large shields, and fight hand to hand. The country of the Adel ' is difficult of access, and unfortunate for the Amhara. It is an 'old dependency of the empire of my ancestors, but the men are brave, and stand firm in battle; they will not run away.' The Monarch's great skill consists in keeping well in hand his untameable rabble of soldiers, and letting them loose, at the right moment, and in the right quarter, with irresistible superiority. For this purpose, his plans are concerted with secresy and decision; nor is it known, until the last moment, on the head of what refractory family of Galla, or dilatory governor in arrear with tribute, the storm is about to burst. When once let loose, slaughter and destruction, in the most hideous form, attends the blow struck by Sahela Selassie. The peculiar ferocity of the Abyssinians in war is kept up by a point of honour, which prevails among these Christians, more unnaturally savage than the worst practices of the American Indians. The right to wear the green sprig of asparagus, attainable by mutilating an enemy, in their own peculiarly savage manner, excites a perfect frenzy of ambition, in every one capable of bearing arms. As in most similar cases, the badge conveys the honour; the mode of acquiring it is scarcely regarded. Triumph attends the return of the Christian warrior from battle, in proportion to the number of lives he bears upon his arm; and for each enemy slain, he is entitled to some conspicuous personal badge, which forms his greatest pride. A ring, a gauntlet, or a bracelet, though gained at the expense of acts the most dastardly, raises him equally in the estimation of relatives and companions in arms, and signal success generally paves the way to royal preferment. Children in arms are massacred equally with grown men, when the desire of obtaining slaves does not overcome the thirst for distinction; for their lives
count as well as others. There are not wanting instances, as Major Harris mentions in common with other travellers, where Abyssinians have treacherously mutilated their own servants or relations, in order to be able to show the bloody badge of triumph. A monster of this description was publicly executed by order of Sahela Selassie.
Such was the character of an expedition which, if we are to take Major Harris literally at his word, the Embassy honoured with their presence, as they would have done any other spectacle. The interests of geography were the motives. The opportunity now offered was gladly embraced of acquiring important infor'mation relative to the mode of Amhara warfare, while visiting regions hitherto unknown.' The whole account of this expedition is so vague in point of dates and names, and so highly wrought up with rhetorical flourishes, that we were at some loss to make out whether Major Harris is actually relating what he and the Embassy saw, or dressing up a picturesque narrative as an illustration of Abyssinian manners. But we perceive from the Major's defence of his proceedings, in his second edition, that the former is the fact. The victims in this case were a small Galla tribe, inhabiting a lovely district a few days' march west of Ankober, who had been guilty of divers rebellious acts. The work, it must be admitted, was thoroughly done. So well was the secret of the King's purpose preserved, that not until the army had reached the very confines of the devoted valley was its destination known. Twenty thousand warriors, covering many miles of country, were held in the leash until the moment arrived for executing the royal will. Preceded by the holy ark of St 'Michael, veiled under its scarlet canopy, the King still led the van, closely attended by the father confessor, and by a band of priests, with whom having briefly conferred, he turned towards 'the expectant army, and pronounced the ominous word, which 'was the well-known signal for carrying fire and sword through 'the land-"May the God who is the God of my forefathers 'strengthen and absolve!"'
On rushed the motley host of subjects and tributaries
Some calling on the Trinity, some calling on Mahoun.' Enemies there were none to resist; and a few hours sufficed to turn a smiling little province into ashes and desolation. The poor Galla, accustomed no doubt to such inroads, contrived for the most part to escape with their bare lives to mountain fastnesses; but numbers were speared, old and young alike, in their own court-yards. 'Children of three and four years old, who had been placed in the trees with the hope that they might escape observation, were pitilessly shot in the