The author's motives for requesting of and writing down , his former master's narrative of Travels on the Desart when in Mogadore, together with Sidi Hamet's narrative of a journey across the great desart to Tombuctoo, and back again to Widoon, with a caravan.
From the time I had a prospect of being redeemed from slavery, I had determined (if that should ever happen) to write an account of our sufferings, which I considered greater than had ever fallen to the lot of man, and also to embody such observations as I had been enabled to make while a slave, in travelling the great desart, &c. &c. for the satisfaction of my family and the friends of my fellow-sufferers. My late master was yet in Mogadore, for he remained in the house of my deliverer about two weeks after our arrival, and he now mentioned to me that he and his brother had been thrfee times to Tombuctoo (as he had before informed Mr. Will- shire) with caravans, and had crossed the desart in almost every direction. I felt interested in making every inquiry that could suggest itself to my mind respecting the face and the extent of the desart and the countries south of it ; and although I was convinced, by ray own observations, that both he and his brother, probably in common with the Arabs of the desart, knew the courses they steered, notwithstanding they had no compass or any other instrument to direct them in their journeys, yet wishing to be fully satisfied in this particular, I took them up upon the roof of the house (wlych was flat and terraced with stones laid in lime cement, and smooth like a floor) one clear evening, and then told them that I wanted to know by what means they were enabled to find their way across the trackless desart. Sidi Hamet immediately pointed out to me the north or polar star, and the great >bear, and told me the Arabic names of the principal fixed stars, as well as of the planets, then visible in the firmament, and his manner of steering and reckoning time by the means of them. His correct observations on the stars, perfectly astonished me: he appeared to be much better acquainted with the motions of the heavenly bodies than I was, who had made it my study for a great many years, and navigated to many parts of the globe by their assistance. To convince me that he knew the cardinal points, he laid two small sticks across at right angles, one pointing directly towards the polar star—he next placed two others across, dividing the circle into eighths, and then in like manner into sixteenths, so that I was satisfied he knew the requisite divisions of the compass: and on the next day I requested him to give me a narrative of his journeyings on, and across the desart, with which he very readily complied, and related as follows;— while I sat in my room with pen, ink, and paper, and noted it down, having the Moor bel Mooden to interpret and explain to me in Spanish such parts of the narrative as I did not perfectly comprehend in Arabic. I give it to the reader as nearly as possible in the words of the narrator, and do not hold myself responsible for Sidi Hamet’s correctness, or his veracity, though for my own part I have no doubt but he meant to, and did tell the truth as near as his recollection served him, and as he had a retentive memory, and the incidents related were calculated to*impress themselves strongly on his intelligent mind, I have no doubt but his whole narrative rs substantially true.
Sidi Harriet's narrative of a journey from Widnoon across the great Desart to Tombuctoo, and back again to Widnoon.
“ The first time I set out to cross the great desart, was several years ago, (about nine or ten) being in the vicinity of Widnoon, where I had the year before been married to the daughter of Sheick Ali, (a beautiful woman, who is now my wife, and has two fine boys and one girl.) I, with my brother Seid, joined the caravan at Widnoon, by the advice of Sheick Ali: we had four camels loaded with haicks and some other goods. The whole caravan consisted of about three thousand camels and eight hundred men, with goods of almost every kind that are sold in Morocco. The men were all armed with good muskets and scimitars, and the whole under the command of Sheick ben Soleyman of Waldeleim, (Woled Deleim on the map) with four good guides. We set out from Widnoon, in Suse, which is a great place of trade, late in the fall of the year, and travelled six days to the west, when we came to the last mountain—there we stopped ten days, and let our camels feed on the bushes, while half the men were employed in getting wood from the mountain, and burning it into charcoal, which we put into bags, as* it was light, and laid it on the camels over the other goods; then setting off" for the desart, we mounted up to its level, which is a great deal higher than the country near it to the north, and travelled four days on the hard level; we then passed amongst the high sand hills, which you saw when we were coming up, in order that we might keep along by the great sea, so as to be sure of finding water: we travelled through and among these great mountains of sand, which were then very bad to pass, because the wind blew so hard, we could scarcely keep together, being almost covered up by the flying sand: it took us six days to get through them; after which the ground was smooth, and almost as hard as the floor of a house, for ten days more, when we came to a watering place, called Biblah ; there we watered our camels, for they were very thirsty, and eight of them had died and served us for food. We. stopped at that great well seven days, and afterwards kept on our journey to the S. W. twenty days, to another well, called Kibir Jibl , but there was no water in it, and we were obliged to go six days’ journey to the sea-coast, where there was a well close to the sea whose water was very black and salt: here^ve were forced to unload the camels, and get them down the bank to the water, but after drinking, they yielded us some milk, which had been almost dried up before:—we found, however, nothing for them to feed on, and had been obliged to give them of the coals to eat once a day for many days: thi§ kept them alive, but it made their milk almost as black as the coajs themselves; yet it Was good, and we were glad to get it. It took up six days to water the whole of them, when we set out again, and travelled near the sea, where we found wells about every ten days, like the one'we had already visited, but very few green leaves on the little bushes, in the few small valleys w r e saw, for no rain had fallen for a great while on that part of the desart.
“ After a journey of four moons, we came to the south part of the desart, and went down into the country of Soudain, where we found a little stream of good running water, and some bushes, and some grass, and a very large tribe of Bessebes Arabs , (Libdessebas on the map) who had plenty of barley and maize or Indian corn, of which we bought some? and made bread, and stopped here one moon. We lost on the desart more than three hundred camels* which died of fatigue, and the want of water and food, but not one man. All the tribes of Arabs we came near, took their stuff on their camels, and rode away as fast as they could, so as not to be robbed, and we did not find any party strong enough to attack us, although we saw a great many tribes, but they were very poor on the Zahar ah, or great desart.” I then asked him how the face of the de- sart looked in general, as he passed over it, taking the whole together, or if there was any material difference in different parts of it, near the sea-coast ? to which he answered:—
“ The whole extent of the desart near the sea- coast, is like that we came over in bringing you up -here, except in one place, where we travelled for nearly one moon, without meeting with so much as one valley with green bushes in it for the eamels to feed on: the whole is a trackless waste. Close by the sea we were obliged to pass mountains of sand that was blown up from the shore before the wind, but the guides always went before us, to show which way the caravan must go, and to find a place to stop in. Our camels had eaten up all the coals we had laid upon them before we got off the desart, and two of them had died, so that my brother and I had only two remaining, but we kept all our goods. After we had rested one moon, and got our camels recruited, we set off to the east on the bordei* of the desart, close by the low country, with mountains in sight to the south, most of the way, and in two moons more we came near Tombuctoo, where we stopped in a deep valley with the caravan, and went every day close to the strong walls of the city with our goods (but without our guns) to trade them off with the negroes, who had gum, and gold rings, and gold powder, and great teeth, such as are sold in Swearah, (i. e. elephants’ teeth,) and slaves, and fine turbans: they had plenty of cows, and asses, and a few sheep, and barley, corn, and rice; but the little river that runs close to the wall on the west, was quite dry, and all the people in the city were obliged to fetch water for themselves to drink, with asses, from the great river south of the city, (about one hour’s ride on a camel) and we were forced to go there to water our camels, and get our drink.
“ After staying near Tombuctoo one moon and a half, the season being far advanced, we set out again for Widnoon. I had not been in the city all the time we stopped here, because I was chosen captain of two hundred men that kept guard all the time about the caravan, to keep off the thievish Arahs and the bands of negroes that were hovering around us to carry off our camels, if any of .them strayed away; but we lost only twenty during our whole stay at Tombuctoo, and the Sheick gave me for my trouble a fine young negro girl slave, which I carried home with me, and she now lives with my wife. We set out for home from Tombuctoo in the month of Rhamadan , after the feast, and went back by the same route we had come—that is to say, we went first to the w'est, obe moon, along the border of the desart. We durst not take any thing without_pay- ing for it, because we were afraid of the inhabitants, who were a mixture of Arabs and negroes, and all of them Mohammedans, but very bad men : they had also many white men slaves. I saw sixteen or eighteen myself, and a great many blacks. These true believers have very fine horses, and they go south to the country of the rivers, and there they attack and take towns, and bring away all,the negroes for slaves, if they will not believe, in the prophet of God; and carry off all their cattle, rice, and corn, and burn their houses ; but if they will adopt the true faith, they are then exempt from slavery, and their houses are spared, upon their surrendering up one-half of their cattle, and half of their rice and corn; because, they say, God has delivered their enemies into their hands. The negroes live in small towns, fenced in with reeds or bushes, and sometimes with stones, but the Arabs live only in tents, and can move off in a minute on their horses, whilst their wives and children ride en camels and asses. Before we struck off N. W. on the desart for the sea-coast, we stopped in the hill country, and fatted our camels, and burned wood to make charcoal to carry with us: we were encamped on the bank of a little river, one day’s journey from a large town of negroes, named Jathrow. I did not go to it, but the Sheick did, and bought some corn and barley, and forty oxen for our provisions.
“ After we had prepared our coals, and laid in our provisions, we went up on to the level desart, and set off to the N. W., and in three moons and a half more we reached Widnoon again, having been gone almost a year and a half. We had lost about five hundred camels, that either died, or were killed to give us meat, and while we stayed at Tombuctoo, and were coming home, thirty-four of our men had died, and we lost eighty slaves.” I asked him what were the goods they carried down at that time ? he answered :—
“We had about one hundred camels loaded with iron and knives, and two hundred with salt; all the others carried haicks, and blue and white* cloth, and amber, and tobacco, and silk handkerchiefs, and chilly weed, ; and spices, and a great many other articles. Seid' and myself had lost two of our camels, but had got two negro slaves, and some gold dust, worth six camels, and ornaments for our wives; but' Sheick Ali was not satisfied, because I did not give him two slaves ; so that he made war against me, and battered down my town which I built, (it was but a small one) and took away all I had, together with my wife, because he said I was a bad man, and he was stronger than me : I myself, however, escaped, and after one year I asked him for my wife again, and he gave her to me with all he had taken, for he loved his daughter: but I had no house, so I removed into the sultan’s dominions, near the city of Morocco, close by the Atlas mountains, and lived there with my father and brothers two years, without going forth to trade.”
Sidi Hamet sets out on another journey for Tornbudao —the caravan is mostly destroyed for want of water , by drifting sand , and by mutiny , &c.— 4he few that escape , get to the south of the desart.
“ About that time one of our party, when we first went to Tombuctoo, named bel Moese, came to see me—he was going to join the caravan at Wid- noon again, and persuaded Seid and me to go with him; so wp bought eight camels between us, and sold off our cattle and sheep, and bought goods and powder, and went with him to Widnoon, and joined the caravan. Sheick Ali came to meet me like a friend, and gave me two camels laden with barley, and wished me a safe journey. The Sheick who was chosen by all the people to command the caravan, was named Sidi Ishrel; he was the friend of Sidi Ishem, who owned almo'st one-half of the whole caravan, and we set out from Widnoon, with about four thousand camels, and more than one thousand men, all well armed. We laid in an abundant store of barley, and had a great many milch camels, and it was determined todfo* south across the desart, I nearly on a straight course-for Tombuctoo, by the way the great caxavansrfgerrlkrally travelled; though there had been them destroyed on that route, that is to / say^oh^flithin every ten or twelve years. We went to the ; 'south, around the bottom of the great Atlas mountains, six days’ journey; then we stopped close by it, and cut wood and burned coals for the camels, for the caravans never attempt to cross the desart without this article: four hundred camels out of the number were loaded with provisions and water for the journey, and after havirig rested ten days, and given the camels plenty of drink, we w^}t up on the desart, and steered off to the south-easterly. We travelled along, and met with no sand for fifteen days; it was all a smooth surface, baked together so hard, that a loaded camel could not make a track on it to be seen: we saw no tracks to guide us, and kept our course by the stars, and sun, and moon. We found only one spot in all that time where our camels Could satisfy their appetites by eating the shrubs in a shallow valley, but the great well in it was filled up with stones and sand, so we could procure no water there; at the end of fifteen days, however, we came to a very fine deep valley, with twenty wells in it; but we found water in only six of them, because the desart was very dry: here we watered all our camels, and replenished our bottles or skins, and .having rested seven days, we departed for the south-eastward, our camels being well filled with leaves and thorn bushes. .
“We travelled along three days on the hard sand, and then arrived among innumerable drifts of fine loose sand; not such coarse sand as you saw near the sea; it was as fine as,the dust on a path, or in a house, and % the camels’ feet sunk in it every step up to their knees: after travelling amongst this sand (which in the day-time was almost as hot as coals of fire) six days, there began to blow a fierce wind from the squth-east, called the wind of the desart, bringing death and destruction with it: we could not advance nor retreat, so we took the loading from off our camels, and piled it in one great heap, and made the camels lie down. The dust flew so thick that we could not see each other nor our camels, and were scarcely able to breathe—-go we laid down with our faces in the dust, and cried aloud with one voice to God—‘ great and merciful God, spare our lives!’ but the vvind blew dreadfully for the space of two days, and we were obliged to move ourselves whenever the sand got so heavy on us that it shut out all the air, and prevented us from breathing; but at length it pleased the. Most High to hear our supplications: the wind ceased to blow; all was still again, and we trawled out of the sand that had buried us for so long a time, but not all, for when the company was* numbered, three hundred were missing—all that were left having joined in thanks tt^God for his mercy in sparing our lives;— we then proceeded to dig out the camels from the sand that had busied their bodies, which, together with the reloading of them, took us two days. About two hundred of them were dead—-there was no green thing to be seen, and we were obliged to give the camels a little water from the skins, to wash their parched throats with, and some charcoal to eat: then we kept on twenty-four days as fast as we could through the dry, deep,-and hot sand, without finding any green bushes worth noticing for our camels to eat, when we came to a famous valley and watering place, called Uaherah. All our camels were almost expiring, and could not carry the whole of their loads; so we threw away a great deal of the salt before we got to Haherah , where we intended to stop twenty days to recruit our beasts, but who can conceive our disappointment and distress, when we foui^d there was no water in any of the wells of this great valley: not one drop of rain had fallen there for the last year. The caravan, that amounted to upwards of one thousand men and four thousand camels when we set out, was already reduced to about six hundred men, and thirty-five hundred camels. The authority of Shmk Ishrel could now scarcely restrain those almost desperate men ; every one was eager to save his own life and pro** perty, and separately sought the means of relief by running about the valley in a desultory manner, looking for water; this disorder continued for two days, when being convinced that nothing could be done without union, they became obedient, and joined together in great numbers in digging out the different wells. After digging five days without the smallest sign of water, all subordination was entirely at an end. The Sheick, who was a wise and a prudent man, advised and insisted that all the camels should be killed but three hundred, so that the little water,found in them, together with their blood, might keep the rest alive, as well as all the men, until, by the aid, of Providence, they should reach some place where they could find water; but the company would not hearken to this advice, though the best that could possibly be given; no one being willing to have his own property sacrificed. Sheick Ishrel , however, directed thirty of the oldest and most judicious men to pick out the three hundred camel® that were to be spared, who .accordingly selected the most vigorous ; but when they began to kill the others, a most furious quarrel and horrible battle commenced. The Sheick, though a man of God, was killed in a moment—two or three hundred more were butchered by each other in the Course of that dreadful day; and the blood of the slain was drank to allay the thirst of those who shed it.' Seid was badly wounded with a dagger in his arm: about five hundred camels were killed this day; and the others 'drank the water from their bodies, and also their blood.
“ Fearing there would be no end to this bloody conflict until all had perished, and as I had been a captain in the other caravan, and knew how to steer a course on the desart; and as both Seid and myself were very strong men, we killed four out of six ef our own camels that remained, in the first part of the night, and gave their water and blood to the other two: we saved a small package of goods, and some barley, and some meat, and persuaded thirty of our ..friends privately to do as we had done, and join us, for we meant to set off that night. This was agreed on, for to stay there was certain death, and to go back was no less so. We were all ready about midnight, and without making any noise, we moved off with our company of thirty men and thirty-two camels. The night was very cloudy and dark, and it thundered at a distance, as if the Almighty was angry with us for fighting together; but thcte,was no rain. We went towards the south-we®in the hope of reaching Tishlah, another watering-place, before our camels died: the desart was dry and hard, and as we went along, we found only now and then a little hollow, with a few prickly shrubs in it: these the camels devoured as we passed among them; but many died, so that on the twelfth day we bad only eighteen camels left; when the great God saved our lives by sending a tempest of rain, but he thundered so as to make the whole earth tremble, because of oiir sins, and we all fell upon our faces and implored his forgiveness: the rain that fell upon the ground gave plenty of water to our camels, and we filled thirty skins with it; when we steered to the south towards the borders of the desart. Nine of our company had died, and many of our camels, before we went down from the desart to the cultivated land, and we then made to the south towards a little river of fresh water, to which some Arabs whom we met with, directed us, after they had first given us some rice and some milk, for all our milch camels had died on the desart.
Sidi Harriets journeyings. His arrival on the banks of the river, called by the natives, Gozen-Zair, and at Tombuctoo—description of that city—its commerce, Wealth, and inhabitants.
“ Those of us who had escaped with our lives from the desart, only twenty-one in number, with twelve camels, out of a caravan of one thousand men and four thousand camels, stopped near a small town, called Wabilt, on the bank of a river about half as broad as from the city of Mogadore to the island, that is to say, fifty yards. We had no provisions, but the negroes seeing us in distress, came •ut and gave us some meat, and bread made from barley-corn: here we remained ten days to recruit ourselves and our camels, which were just alive. The river on whose bank we remained, was. called by those who spoke in Arabic, el Wod Tenij, and^jy the negroes, Gozen-zair. A very high ridge of mountains, great like Atlas seen from Suse, (but not capped with snow) lie to the south-westward,and at a distance. After resting ourselves and our camels for ten days, we set forward for Tombuctoo. We travelled for four days to the eastward through Soudan, a hilly country, but of a very rich soil, and much of it cultivated with the hoe.” I thee asked* him what he meant by Soudan? and-he said, “ The whole country south of the great depart from the great ocean, a great way east, and including the district of Tombuctoo, is called by the Arabs and Moors, Soudan; of which Tombuctoo is the capital. Having watered our camels again, and finding the hill country tedious to get through, by reason of the trees, we bought some barley-corn, and killed two s cows, and went northward to the border of the desart, and travelled on to the eastward for eight days, when we fell in with the great path used by the caravans, and in two days more came near to the walls of Tombuctoo. W e had seen a great many negroes near the river: they live in small towns,- fenced in with large reeds, to keep off enemies and the wild beasts in the night: they dwell in small round huts made with cane standing upright, are covered with the same materials, and daubed with mud, to fill up the openings between them. The negroes were afraid.of us when we came near their little towns, and those who were outside ran in and blocked up the passage in a minute; but finding we did not come to rob them, as the large companies of Arabs often do, but that we were poor and hungry, they were willing to exchange barley-corn and meat far some of our goods. Nearly all the few things we had were expended to keep us alive until we came near Tombuctoo, The king and the people of that city had been looking out for the caravan from Widnoon for two moons, hut *not one soul had arrived before us, and we were permitted to go into the city after delivering up our gufis, powder, and lead, to the king’s officers to keep until we should wish to depart. Tombuctoo is a very large city, five times as great as Swearah: it is built on a level plain, surrounded on all sides by hills, except on.the south, where the plain continues to the bank of the same river we had^been to before, which is wide and deep, and runs to the east; for we were obliged to go to it to water our camels, and here we saw many boats made of great trees, some with negroes in them paddling across- the river. The city is strongly walled in with stone laid in clay, like the towns and houses in Suse, onfy a great deal thicker: the house of the king is very large anck high, like the largest house in Mogadore, but built of the same materials as the.walls: there are a great many more houses in that city built of stone, with shops on one side, where they sell salt and knives, and blue, cloth, and haicks, and an abundance of other things, with many gold ornaments. The inhabitants are blacks, and the chief is a very large and gray-headed old blackman, who is called Shegar, which means sultan, or king. The principal part of the houses are made with large reeds, as thick as a man’s arm, and stand upon their ends, and are covered with small reeds first, and then with the leaves of the date trees: they are round, and the tops come to a point like a heap of stones. Neither the Shegar nor his people are Moslemins, but there is a town divided off from the principal one, in one corner, by a strong partition wall, and one gate to it, which leads from the main town, like the Jews’ town, or Mill ah in Mogadore : all the Moors or Arabs who have liberty to come into Tombuctoo, are obliged to sleep in that part of it every night, or go out of the city entirely, and no stranger is allowed to enter that Millah without leaving his knife with the gate-keeper; but when he comes out in the morning it is restored to him. The people who live in that part are all Moslemin. The negroes, bad Arabs, and Moors, are all mixed together, andi marry with each other, as if they were all of one colour: they have no property of consequence, except a few asses: their gate is shut and fastened every night at dark, and very strongly guarded both in the night and in the day-time. The Shegar or king is always guarded by one hundred men on mules, armed with good guns, and one hundred men on foot, with guns and long knives. He would not go into the Millah, and we only saw him four or five times in the two moons we stayed at Tombuctoo, waiting for the caravan: but it had perished on the desart— neither did the yearly caravan from Tunis and Tripoli arrive, for it had also been destroyed. The city of Tombuctoo is very rich as well as very large; it has four gates to it; all of them are opened in the daytime, but very strongly guarded and shut at night. The negro women are very fat and handsome, and wear large round gold rings in their noses, and flat ones in their ears, and gold chains and amber beads about their necks, with images and white fish-bones, bent round, and the ends fastened together, hanging down between their breasts: they have bracelets on their wrists afid on their ankles, and go barefoot. I had bought a small snuft-box filled with snuff in Morocco, and showed it to the women in the principal street of Tombuctoo, which is very wide: there were a great many about me in a few minutes, and they insisted on'buying my snuff and boxone made me one offer, and another made me another, until one, who wore richer onaments than the rest, told me, in broken Arabic, that she would take off all she had about her and give them to me for the box and its contents. I agreed to accept them, and she pulled off her nose-rings and ear-rings, all her neck chains, with their ornaments, and the bracelets from her wrists and ankles, and gave them to me in exchange for it: these ornaments would weigh more than a pound, and were made of solid gold at Tombuctoo, and I kept them through my whole journey afterwards, and carried them to my rvife, who now wears a part of them. Tombuctoo carries on a great trade with all the caravans' that come from Morocco and the shores of the Mediterranean sea. From Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, &c. are brought all kinds of cloths, iron, salt, muskets, powder, and lead, swords or scimitars, tobacco, opium, spices, and perfumes, amber beads and other trinkets, with a few other articles; they carry back in return elephants’ teeth, gold dust, and wrought gold, gum Senegal, ostrich feathers, very curiously worked turbans, and slaves; a great many of the latter, and many other articles of less importance: the slaves are brought in from the south-west, all strongly ironed, and are sold very cheap; so that a good stout man may be bought for a haick, which costs in the empire of Morocco about two dollars. The caravans stop and encamp about two miles from the city in a deep valley, and the negroes do not molest them : they bring their merchandise near the walls of the city, where the inhabitants purchase all their goods in exchange*for the above- mentioned articles; not more than fifty men from any one caravan being allowed to enter the city at a time, and they must go out before others are permitted to enter. This city also carries on a great trade with Wassanah, (a city far to the south-east) in all the articles that are brought to it by caravans, and get returns in slaves, elephants’ teeth, gold, &c. The principal male inhabitants are clothed with blue, cloth shirts, that reach from their shoulders down to their knees, and are very wide, and girt about their loins with a red and brown cotton sash or girdle: they also hang about their bodies pieces of different coloured cloth and silk handkerchiefs: the king is dressed in a white robe of a similar fashion, but covered with white and yellow gold and silver plates, that glitter in the sun;—he also has many other shining ornaments of shells and stones hanging about him, and wears a pair of breeches like the Moors and Barbary Jews, and has a kind of white turban on his head, pointing up, and strung with different kinds of ornaments; his feet are covered with red Morocco shoes: he has no other weapon about him than a large white staff or sceptre, with a golden Hon on the head of it, which he carries in his hand: his whole countenance is mild, and he seems to govern his subjects more like a father than a king. The whole of his officers and guards wear breeches that are generally dyed red, but sometimes they are white or blue: all but the king go bareheaded. The poor people have only a single piece of blue or other cloth about them, and the slaves a breech cloth. The inhabitants in Tombuctoo are very numerous; I think six times as many as in Swearah, besides the Arabs and other Moslemin or Mohammedans, in their Millah, or separate town; which must contain nearly as many people as there are altogether in Swearah.”
Swearah or Mogadore contains about thirty-six thousand souls ; that is, thirty thousand Moors and six thousand Jews : this may be a high estimation for Tombuctoo; making it two hundred and sixteen thousand inhabitants; yet considering the commercial importance of the place, and the fertility of the country around it, there can be no doubt but it contains a vast number of inhabitants; and I must also observe, that if it was a small town, and contained the riches attributed to it, they would require a very strong force to prevent the Arabs from the desart, together with the caravans, from taking it by surprise or by storm.
“ The women are clothed in a light shirt or under-dress, and over it a green, red, or blue covering, from their breasts to below their knees—the who]^ girt about their waists with a red girdle; they stain their cheeks and foreheads red or yellow on some occasions, and the married women wear a* kind of hood on their heads, made of blue cloth, or silk, and cotton handkerchiefs of different kinds and colours, and go barefooted. The king and people of Tom- buctoo do not fear and worship God, like the Mosle- mins, but like the people of Soudan, they only pray one time in twenty-fourhours, when they see the moon, and when she is not seen they do not pray at all:
" they cannot read or write, but are honest, and they circumcise their children like the Arabs: they have no mosques, but dance every night, as the Moors and Arabs pray. The Shegar or king had collected about one thousand slaves, some gums, elephants’ teeth, gold dust, &c. to be ready for the yearly caravans; but as three moons had passed away, since the time they dught to have arrived, he gave them up for lost, and concluded to send a caravan with part of his goods that came across the desart; viz. some salt, iron, cloths, &c. to a large city at a great distance from Tombuctoo: and having formed a body of about three thousand men, well armed with muskets, long knives, and spears, and three thousand asses, and about two hundred camels, which were all loaded with heavy goods, such as iron, salt, tobacco, &c., he hired my brother Seid and myself (with ten more of our companions) to carry loads on our two camels to Wassanah, for which hg was to give us, when we came back, two haicks each and some gold. As we were completely in his power, we did not dare to refuse to go, and he putus under the care of his brother, whose name was Shelbaa, who had command of the whole caravan. It was in the month of Shual (-) when we departed from Tombuctoo for a place we had never before heard of. We had in the company about two hundred Moslemin, but the master of the caravan would not permit us, Moslemin, to keep our guns, for fear we * should turn against him, if he was obliged to fight”
Sidi Jlamet sets out for Wassanah—his arrival there, and description of that city, the country , and its inhabitants -—of the great river which runs near it, and of his return to Tombuctoo—containing also the author s geographical*opinions, founded on this narrative, on the sources of the river JYiger—its length , course, and outlet, into the Atlantic ocean.
“ All being prepared, we went from Tombuctoo, about two hours^ride, towards the south, to the bank of the river, which is called at that place Zolibib, and was wider than from Mogadore to the island; (i. e. about five hundred yards;) here was a miserable village, built with canes, and mudded over: it had about two hundred small houses in it, but no walls: we then setoff near the side of the river,and travelled on in a plain even country for six days, eVtery day within sight of tljp river, which was on our right hand, and running the same way we travelled, and our course was a littje to the south of east; when we came to a small town, called Bimbinah, walled in with canes and thorn-bushes, and stopped two days near it, to get provisions and rest our beasts: here the river turned more to the south-eastward, because there was a very high mountain in sight to the eastward : we then went from the river side, and pursued our journey more southwardly, through a hilly and woody country, for fifteen days, when we came to the same river again. Every night we were obliged to make up large fires all around the caravan, to keep off the wild beasts, such as lions, tigers, and others, which made a dreadful howling. Here was a small town of black people belonging to another nation, who were enemies to the king of Tombuctoo, but were friendly to the king of Wassanah; and not being strong, they did not molfest us, but furnished us with what corn we wanted, and twenty oxen. We saw a large number of armed black men, nearly naked,on the other side of the river, who seemed to be hostile, but they could not get across to attack us: we also saw two very large towns, but walled in like tha others we had passed: we stopped here, and rested our camels and asses five days, and then went onward again in about a S. E. direction, winding, as the river ran, for three days; and then had to climb over a very high ridge of mountains, which took up six days, and whfB we were on the top of them, we could see a large chain of high mountains to the westward: those we passed were thickly covered With very large trees, and it was extremely difficult to get up and down them; but we could not go any other way, for the river ran against the steep side of the mountain ; so having gotten over them, we came to the river’s bank again, where it was very narrow and full of rocks, that dashed the water dreadfully: then finding a good path, we kept on to the S. E. winding a little every day, sometimes more to the east, then to the south again: we kept travelling this way for twelve days after leaving the mountains, during which time we had seen the river nearly every day on our right hand, and had passed a great many small streams that empty into it: it was now very wide, and lool&d .deep—here we saw many trees dug out hollowflike the boats at Tombuctoo, and they were used to carry negroes across the river, and were pushed along with flat pieces of wood: we also saw the high mountains on the west side of the great river, very plainly. Having rested seven days at the ferrying-place, we then travelled on for fifteen days, most of the time in sight of the river. When we $aroe close to the walls of the city of Wassanah, thje 'king came out lyith a great army, consisting of all his soldiers, to m6et us, but finding we had only come to trade By the orders of, and with the goods of, his friend Shegar of Tombuctoo, lie invited the chief, and the whole of the caravan, to abide within a square enclosure, near the walls of the city: here we remained two moons, exchanging our goods for slaves, gold, elephants’ teeth, &c.
“ The city of Wassanah is builf v near the bank of the river, which runs past it nearly feoutb, between high mountains on both sides, though not very close to the river, which is so wide there that we could hardly see a man across it on the other side: the people of Tombuctoo call it Zolibib, and those of Wassanah call it Zadi. The walls of the city are very large, and made of great stones, laid up like the stone fences in the province of Hah Hah, in Morocco, but without any clay or mud amongst them: they are very thick and strong, and much higher than the walls of Tombuctoo. I was permitted to walk round them in company with six negroes, and it took me one whole day: the walls are built square, and have one large gate on each side. The country all around the city is dug up, ant has barley, corn, and other vegetables planted on it; and close by the side of the river, all the land is cotered with rice, and there are a great many oxen, and cows, and asses, belonging to the city, but no camels, nor^ horses, mules, sheep, nor goats, but all about an$in the city, speckled fowls abound, and there are plenty of eggs. The people of the caravan were allowed to enter the city, but only twenty at a time, and they were all obliged to go out again before night.
“We had been there more than amobn, when it came to my turn to go in. I found almost the whole of the ground inside qfthgtfWls was covered with huts made of stones piled uptwithout clay, and some reeds, laid across the tops uj covered over with the large leaves ofjthe date orlpalm tree, or of another tree which looMvery Hipm like a date tree, and bears a fruit as larjjas my^lead, which has a white juice in it sweeter than milk! the inside is hard, and very good to eaii the tre esjh at bear this big fruit, grow in abundance in this country, and their fruit is very plenty their huts have narrow passages between them: the king or chief is called Oleeboo, which means, in the negro talk, good sultan: he is a very tall, and quite a young man; his house is very large, square, and high, made of stone, and the chinks filled up with something white like lime, but' not so hard: they would not let me go into his house, and told me he had one hundred and fifty wives, or more, and ten thousand slaves : he dresses in a white shirt, that looks like the one .worn by Mr. Wiltshire, and long trowsers made like them you have on, and coloured like an orange." Those I then had on, were common wide sailor's trowsers. “ He has over his shirt a caftan or robe with sleeves to it, made of red cloth, tied about with a girdle that goes from his breast to his hips, made of silk handkerchiefs of all colours, and has slips of fine coloured silk tied round his arms and legs: his hair is also tied in small bunches, and he wears on his head a very high hat made of canes, coloured very handsomely, and adorned with,Wine feathers : he has sandals on his feet, bound up with gold chains, and a great gold chain over his shoulder, with a bunch of ornaments mafje of bright stones and shells, that dazzle the eyes, hanging on his breast, and wears a large dagger by his side in a gold case. He rides on the back of a huge beast, called Ilfement, three times as thick as my great camel, and a great deal higher, with a very long nose and great teeth, and almost as black as the negroes: he is so strong, that he can kill an hundred men in a minute when he is mad — this is the animal that the teeth grow in which we bring from Tombuctoo to Widnoon, which you call elephants’ teeth, and this was the only one of the animals I ever saw, but they told me these creatures were very plenty down the river from Wassanah.” This answers to the description of, and no doubt is, the elephant.
“The king of Wassanah has a guard of two hundred negroes on foot, one hundred of them armed with muskets, fifty with long spears, and fifty with great bows and arrows, with long knives by' their sides: they always attend him when he goes out on his beast; he has al^t a JBfc^large army: they fight with guns, spears, aHHH^and arrows. The city has twice as many lWaoitants in it as Tombuctoo, and we saw a great many towns near it on the other side of the river, as well as several small settlements on the same side below. The king nor the people do not pray like the Moslemins, but they jump about, fall down, tear their faces as if they were mad when any of their friends die, and every time they see the new moon, they make a great feast, and dance all night to music made by singing and beating on skins tied across a hollow stick, and shaking^little stones in a bag or shell^but they do not read nor write, and are heathens. Though the free people in this place, do not steal, and are very hospitable, yet I hope the time is near when the faithful, and they that fear God and his prophet, will turn them to the true belief, or drive them away from this goodly land.
“ The principal inhabitants of Wassanah are dressed in shirts of white or blue cloth, with short trow- sers, and some with a long robe over the whole, tied about with a girdle of different colours: the free females are generally very fat, and dress in blue of white coverings tied about their waists with girdles of all colours: they wear a great many ornaments of gold, and beads, and shells, hanging to their ears and noses, necks, arms, ankles, and all over their hair; but the poorer sort are only covered about their loins by a cloth which grows on the tree that bears the big fruit I have told you about before.” This fruit, I imagine, must be the cocoa-nut, and I have often in the West Indies, and elsewhere, observed the outer bark of this singular palm-tree : it is woven by nature like cloth, each thread being placed exactly over and under the others. It appears like regular wove coarse bagging, and is quite strong: it loosens and drops from the trunk of the tree of its own accord, as the tree increases in size and age. I had long before considered that this most singular bark must have suggested to man the first idea of cloth, and taught him how to spin, and place the threads so as to form it of other materials that have since been used for that purpose, and this first hint from nature has been improved into our present methods of spinning and weaving.
“ The male slaves go entirely naked, but the women are allowed a piece of this cloth to cover their nakedness with: they are very numerous, and many of them kept chained: they are obliged to wofk the earth round about the city. The inhabitants catch a great many fish: they have boats made of great trees, cut off and hollowed out, that will hold ten, fifteen, or twenty negroes, and the brother of the king told one of my Moslemin companions who could understand him, (for I could not,) that he was going to set out in a few days with sixty boats, and to carry five hundred slaves down the river, first to the southward, and then to the westward, where they should come to the great water, and sell them to pale people who came there in great boats, and brought muskets, and powder, and tobacco, and blue cloth, and knives, &c.—he said it was a great way, and would take him three moons to get there, and he should be gone twenty moons before he could get back by land but he should be very rich.” I then asked him how many boats he supposed there were in the river at Wassanah ? he said :—“ A great many, three or four hundred, I should think; but some of them are very small: we saw a great many of these people who had been down the river to see the great water, with slaves and teeth, and came back again : they said, the pale people lived in great boats, and had gun^ as big as their bodies," that made a noise like thunder, and would kill all the people in a hundred negro boats, if they went too near them: we saw in the river and on the bank a great number of fish, with legs and large mouths, and these would run into the water in a minute, if any man went near them, but they told us they would catch children, and sometimes men, when in the boats : (these are, no doubt, crocodiles or hippopotamus’,) the negroes are very kind, and would always give us barley, corn, or ice, milk or meat, if we were hungry, though we could not speak a language they understood. While we stopped at Wassanah, it rained almost every day. Having traded away all the goods we carried there, Shelbar took three hundred slaves and a great many teeth, dazzling stones, and shells, and gold; with these we set off again, and went the same way back to Tombuctoo, which took us three moons, and we were gone from the time we left it, to the time we returned, eight moons. On my arrival at Tombuctoo, we were paid by the chief of the caravan according topromise, and a few days afterwards a caravan arrived here from Tunis, which we joined to return to our own country.”
I must here beg the reader’s indulgence for a moment, in which to make some remarks, and a few geographical observations that this part of the narrative has suggested. This narrative I, for my own part, consider strictly true and correct, as far as the memory and judgment of Sidi Hamet vrere concerned, whose veracity and intelligence I had before tested: In? had not the least inducement held out to him for giving this account, further *than my own and Mr. Willshire’s curiosity; and his description of Tombuctoo agrees in substance with that given by several Moors, (Fez merchants) who came to Mr. Willshire’s house to buy goods while Sidi Hamet was there, and who said they had known him in Tombuctoo several years ago. From these considerations combined, and after examining the best maps extant, I conclude that I have strong grounds on which to found the following" geographical opinions, viz. 1st, That the great Desart is much higher land, on its southern side (as I had proved it to be on the north by my own observations) than the surrounding country, and consequently that its whole surface is much higher tharr the land near it that is susceptible of cultivation. 2dly, That the river which Sidi Hamet and his companions came to within fourteen days ride, and west of Tombuctoo, called by the Arabs el Wod Tenij , and by the negroes, Gozen-Zair , taJgJs rise in the mountains south of, and bordiefiffg^m, Mthe, great Desart, being probably the northern PflMichpf that extensive ridge in which the Sene gal, ^Gambia, and Niger rivers, have their sources; ana that this river is a branch of the Niger, which runs eastwardly for several hundred miles to Tombuctoo, near which city, many branches, uniting in one great stream, it takes the name of Zolibib , and continues to run nearly east, about two hundred and fifty miles from Tombuctoo; when meeting with high land, it is turned more south-eastwardly, and running in that direction in a winding course, about five hundred miles, it has met with some obstructions, through which it has foroed its way, and formed a considerable fall: for Sidi Hamet, having spent six days in passing the mountains, came again near the river, which was then filled with broken rocks, and the water was foaming and roaring among them, as he observed, “ most dreadfully.” This must be a fall or rapid. 3dly, That from these falls, it runs first to the south-eastward, and then more to the south, till it reaches Wassanah, about six hundred miles, where it is by some called Zolibib , and by others Zadi. 4thly, That as the inhabitants of Wassanah say they go first to the southward, and then to the westward, in boats to the great water; this I conceive must be the Atlantic Ocean, where they have seen pale men and great boats, &c. These I should naturally conclude were Europeans, with vessels; and that it takes three moons to get there, (about eighty-five days) at the rate of thirty miles a day, which is the lejstigm can give them with so strong a current,; it mgkes^^stance from thence to the sea of about twoithousafcd t five hundred miles: in computing this distance, one-third or more should be allowed for its windings, so that the whole length of the river is above four thousand miles, and is probably the longest and largest on the African continent. 5thly, That the waters of this river in their passage towards the east, have been obstructed in their course by high mountains in the central regions of this unexplored continent, and turned southwardly: that they are borne along to the southward, between the ridges of -mountains that are known to extend all along the western coast, from Senegal to the gulf of Guinea, and to round with that gulf to the south of the equator: that they are continually narrowed in and straitened by that immense ridge in which the great river Nile is known to have its sources; and which mountains lie in the equatorial region: that this central river receives, in its lengthened course, all the streams that, water and fertilize the whole country, between the two before-mentioned ridges of mountains: the waters thus accumulated and pent up, at length broke over their western and most feeble barrier, tore it down to its base, and thence found and forced their way to the Atlantic Ocean, forming what is now known as the river Congo. In corroboration of this opinion, some men of my acquaintance, who have visited the Congo, and traded all along the coast between it and thft Senegal, affirm, that the Congo discharges more water into the Atlantic, taking the whole year together, than all the streams to tl^J||rthward of it, between its mouth and Cape dejVeit^H^
Sidi Hamel's journey from Tombuctoo to Morocco, by the eastern route—his description of the Desart , and of the country on both sides of it. Of a dreadful battle with the wandering Arabs. Sidi Hamet takes his leave' and sets out to join his family.
“ The caravan we joined at Tombuctoo, was a very large one, belonging to Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Fez, four united together. They remained near that city two moons, and bought two thousand slaves, besides a great deal of gold dust, and teeth, and turbans, and gold rings, and chains, and gum; but Seid and I had only our two camels, and they were but partly loaded with gum, for account of Ben JYassar, the Sheick of the Tunissian part of the caravan, for there were three Sheicks in it. When every thing was ready, we set off from Tombuctoo, and travelled east-northerly, twenty days through the hilly country, crossing a great many little streams of water that ran to the south and west towards the great river, it having rained very hard almost every night whilst we were at Tombuctoo. . •
When we were going amongst the hills and trees, we saw a great many small towns, or cities, most of them fenced in with good stone walls, but sogie with cane and thorn bushes. The land of that country is very gooch^^Lplenty of corn grows on it, and some rice aqff dafes7 and we saw some oxen, sheep, and asses, and horses. The inhabitants are Moors and Amos mixed with the negroes, and almost as black as the latter; all of our own religion: they are very stout fierce men, but they did not attempt to molest us, and sold us every thing we wanted at a cheap rate : they wear no clothing but a strip of cloth about their middles, and a ring of bone or ivory round the women’s ankles and wrists, and some beads in their hair; they are peaceable people, and never attack the caravans unless the latter attempt to rob them: they are armed with muskets and with long knives, and with bows and arrows. When they are forced to fight, they do it with the greatest fury; and never take prisoners or receive quarter, and only defend their rights. Some of the people in our caravan told us, that a few years ago a caravan, going from Tombuctoo to Tunis, Algiers, &c. in passing through this country, surprised and stole about four hundred of the inhabitants for slaves, and a great number of cattle and much com, and went towards the desart; but these people assembled a large host, and came up with them in the night near the edge of the desart, and cut the whole of them to pieces, though they were more than two thousand men strong, and well armed ; only about fifty of the people of the caravan escaped and got back to Tunis to tell the new?, and they only by riding qn the swiftest camels- without any loads. After having refreshed our camels for ten days in a beautiful valley, where* there was a good stream of water for them to drink, and filled the sacks with coals, we mounted up to thedesart, and steered on the flat level away to the nor.tQ^As we went along we came, to some smalflv*feyp, where the Arabs feed their camels and live d^ffheir milk, and think themselves the most learned, virtuous, and religious people in the world, and the most happy too, though they have neither bread, nor meat, nor honey, nor any clothing but a rag tied round their waist, and live in tents, wandering about. We steered about north for eighteen days, when we came to the usual' watering-place, called Weydlah; here was a great deal of water in a pond, but it was black and quite salt, like the water in the wells close by the great sea;—it was very dead and stinking and tasted of sulphur;—it is in a very deep pit and difficult to get at, there being only one place by which we could lead the camels, down to the water: it is said to be very deep in the middle, and was never known to be dry: it was almost covered over by a thick green scum;—we could see the tracks of wild beasts, such as tigers and lions, near the water. We had seen a great many of these animals in our travels to Wassanah, and when we were coming from Tombuctoo to the eastward. Our caravan consisted of about fifteen hundred men, most of us well armed with double-barrelled guns and scimitars, and we had about four thousand camels. It was a long journey to the next Well; so we stopped here six days peaceably, having encamped in a valley a little distance west of the pond or lake. We had always made the camels lie down in a circle, placing the goods in the centre, and the men between the camels and the. goods: we had two hundred men on guard, and always ready for any emerfltfguy. In the night of the sixth day, about two howBftef midnight, we were attacked, by a very large group of wandering Arabs: they had got to within a few yards of us before they were discovered, and poured in a most destructive fire of musketry, at the same time running in like hungry tigers, with spears and scimitars in their hands, with dreadful yellings:—they threw the whole caravan into confusion for a moment ; but we were in a tight circle, formed by the camels, which with the guards kept them off for a short time, till the whole of our men seized their arms and rallied. The battle now raged most furiously : it was cloudy and very dark; the blaze of the powder making only a faint light, whilst the cracking of musketry, the clashing of swords, the shouts of the combatants, and the bel- lowings of the wounded and frightened camels, together with the groans of the wounded and dying m3n, made the most dreadful and horrid uproar that can be conceived: the fight continued for about two hours, hand to hand and breast to breast, when the assailants gave way and ran off, leaving their dead and wounded on the field of battle. We remained with our arms in our hands all night. I was wounded with a ball in my thigh, and Seid with a dagger on his breast.” They then showed me their scars. “ In the morning we numbered our men, and found that two hundred and thirty were killed, and about one hundred wounded: three Hundred of the camels were either slain or so badly wounded, that they could not walk, and s3 we killed them. We found seven hundred of our enemies lying on the ground, either dead or wounded;—those that were badfy\wounded, we killed, to put them out of pain, and^carried the others that could walk along with us for slaves; of these there were about one hundred. As the enemy fled, they took all their good camels with them, for they had left ‘them at a distance, so that we only found about fifty poor ohes, which we killed; but we picked up two hundred and twenty good double-barrelled guns from the ground. The gun which Seid now uses is one of them;—we got also about four hundred scimitars or long knives. We were told by the prisoners that the company who attacked us was upwards of four thousand strong, and that they had been preparing for it three moons. We were afraid of another attack, and went off the same day, and travelled nil the night, steering to the N. E. (out of the course the caravans commonly take) twenty-three days’ journey, when we came to a place called the Eight Wells, where we found plenty of good water. Fifty of our men had died, and twenty-one of the slaves. We remained near these good wells for eleven days; our camels feeding on the bushes in the valleys near them, when we again travelled to the north-westward ten days to Twati, a good watering place. For the last three days we waded through deep sands, like those we passed among while going from Widnoon.— We rested here two days, and then went down north, into the country of dates, and came to the town of Gujelah, a little strong place belonging to Tunis—there we found plenty of fruit and good water, and meat and milk; we stopped there ten days, and then the part of the caravan going to Tripoli left us and went towards the east, by the mountains, and the rest went on‘•to the north-easterly twelve days to Tuggurtah , close by a mountain near the river Tegsah , that is said to go to the sea near Tunis 1 -here we stopped twentv-iive days, and the caravan for Tunis left us. Tuggurtah is a very large city, with high and thick walls, made tight, and has a great many people in it, all of the true religion, and a vast number of black slaves, and a few white ones. After stopping here twenty-five days, we set off to the north-westward through a very fine country, full of date and fig-trees, and cattle, and goats, camels, sheep, and asses;—we then travelled ten days to the high mountains, where the caravan for Algiers parted fromus,and we remained with about twohundred camels and eighty men going to Fez. We then travelled over the great mountain, which we were told belongs to the same ridge we see close to Morocco and in Suze; (the Atlas;) and in two moons more we passed through Fez , where what remained of the caravan stopped, and we returned to our father’s house and our families, on the side of the Atlas mountains, near the city of Morocco, having been gone more than two years. We brought back only one camel, and a small load of merchandise, out of the eight camels richly loaded when we set out; yet We thanked God for having preserved our lives; for the whole caravan with which we started had perished on the desart, and out of the twenty-eight men who left it with us, only four reached their homes, and they on foot, and entirely destitute of property. I found my wife and all my children and my father’s family in good health. Sheick Ali came fo see me as soon as he got the news of my arrival, and after staying with me one moon, he invited me and Seid to go with him to his place, which invitation we accepted, and he furnished us with one camel and some haicks amj blue .cloth, and advised us to go up on to the desart and trade them away for ostrich-feathers, to sell in Morocco or Swearah: sobeingpoor, we accepted his offer; bought his goods and his camel, and he was to have been paid when we came back. We set off for the desart, and had passed a great many tribes of Arabs without finding any feathers of consequence, when the great God directed our steps to your master’s tent, and 1 saw you. I was once as bad a' man as Seid, but I had been in distress and in a strange land, and had found friends to keep me and restore me to my family, and when I saw you naked and a slave, with your skin and flesh burnt from your bones by the sun, and heard you say you had a wife and children, I thought of my own former distresses, and God softened my heart, and I became your friend. I did all I could to lighten the burden of your afflictions: I have endured hanger, thirst, and fatigues, and have fought for your sake, and have now the high pleasure of knowing I have done some good in the world; and may the great and universal Father still protect you: you have been true and kind to me, and your friend has fed hie with milk and honey; and I will always in future do what is in my power to redeem Christians from slavery.”
Here Sidi Hamet finished his narration: he then said he wished to go and see his wife and children, and that as soon as he had rested for' a few days, he would set off again with a large company to seek after the rest of my men. The next morning I made him a small present, and Mr. Willshire also gave him some £ne powder and many other small articles. After he was prepared to go, he swore by his right hand, he would bring up the remainder of my crew if they were to be found alive, and God spared his life: he then took his leave of me by shaking hands, and of all my companions, wishing us a happy sight of our friends, and set off for his home.. I did not part with him without feelings of regret, and shedding tears; for he had been a kind master to me, and to him I owed, under God, my life and deliverance from slavery; nor could I avoid reflecting on the wonderful means employed by Providence to bring about my redemption, and that of a part of my late unfortunate crew.
Return to the Sufferings In Africa Summary Return to the James Riley Library