13 The people have a tradition that a well of sweet water exists unseen in some part of the island. When Saad el Din was besieged in Zayla by the Hatze David, the host of El Islam suffered severely for the want of the fresh element.
EXCURSIONS NEAR ZAYLA.
We determined on the 9th of November to visit the island of Saad el Din, the larger of the two patches of ground which lie about two miles north of the town. Reaching our destination, after an hour’s lively sail, we passed through a thick belt of underwood tenanted by swarms of midges, with a damp chill air crying fever, and a fetor of decayed vegetation smelling death. To this succeeded a barren flat of silt and sand, white with salt and ragged with salsolaceous stubble, reeking with heat, and covered with old vegetation. Here, says local tradition, was the ancient site of Zayla1, built by Arabs from Yemen. The legend runs that when Saad el Din was besieged and slain by David, King of Ethiopia, the wells dried up and the island sank. Something doubtless occurred which rendered a removal advisable: the sons of the Moslem hero fled to Ahmed bin El Ashraf, Prince of Senaa, offering their allegiance if he would build fortifications for them and aid them against the Christians of Abyssinia. The consequence was a walled circuit upon the present site of Zayla: of its old locality almost may be said “periere ruinae.”
During my stay with Sharmarkay I made many inquiries about historical works, and the Kazi; Mohammed Khatib, a Harar man of the Hawiyah tribe, was at last persuaded to send his Daftar, or office papers, for my inspection. They formed a kind of parish register of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and manumissions. From them it appeared that in A.H. 1081 (A.D. 1670-71) the Shanabila Sayyids were Kazis of Zayla and retained the office for 138 years. It passed two generations ago into the hands of Mohammed Musa, a Hawiyah, and the present Kazi is his nephew.
The origin of Zayla, or, as it is locally called, “Audal,” is lost in the fogs of Phoenician fable. The Avalites2 of the Periplus and Pliny, it was in earliest ages dependent upon the kingdom of Axum.3 About the seventh century, when the Southern Arabs penetrated into the heart of Abyssinia4, it became the great factory of the eastern coast, and rose to its height of splendour. Taki el Din Makrizi5 includes under the name of Zayla, a territory of forty-three days’ march by forty, and divides it into seven great provinces, speaking about fifty languages, and ruled by Amirs, subject to the Hati (Hatze) of Abyssinia.
In the fourteenth century it became celebrated by its wars with the kings of Abyssinia: sustaining severe defeats the Moslems retired upon their harbour, which, after an obstinate defence fell into the hands of the Christians. The land was laid waste, the mosques were converted into churches, and the Abyssinians returned to their mountains laden with booty. About A.D. 1400, Saad el Din, the heroic prince of Zayla, was besieged in his city by the Hatze David the Second: slain by a spear-thrust, he left his people powerless in the hands of their enemies, till his sons, Sabr el Din, Ali, Mansur, and Jemal el Din retrieved the cause of El Islam.
Ibn Batuta, a voyager of the fourteenth century, thus describes the place: “I then went from Aden by sea, and after four days came to the city of Zayla. This is a settlement, of the Berbers 6, a people of Sudan, of the Shafia sect. Their country is a desert of two months’ extent; the first part is termed Zayla, the last Makdashu. The greatest number of the inhabitants, however, are of the Rafizah sect.7 Their food is mostly camels’ flesh and fish. 8 The stench of the country is extreme, as is also its filth, from the stink of the fish and the blood of camels which are slaughtered in its streets.”
About A.D. 1500 the Turks conquered Yemen, and the lawless Janissaries, “who lived upon the very bowels of commerce”9, drove the peaceable Arab merchants to the opposite shore. The trade of India, flying from the same enemy, took refuge in Adel, amongst its partners. 10 The Turks of Arabia, though they were blind to the cause, were sensible of the great influx of wealth into the opposite kingdoms. They took possession, therefore, of Zayla, which they made a den of thieves, established there what they called a custom-house11, and, by means of that post and galleys cruising in the narrow straits of Bab el Mandeb, they laid the Indian trade to Adel under heavy contributions that might indemnify them for the great desertion their violence and injustice had occasioned in Arabia.
This step threatened the very existence both of Adel and Abyssinia; and considering the vigorous government of the one, and the weak politics and prejudices of the other, it is more than probable that the Turks would have subdued both, had they not in India, their chief object, met the Portuguese, strongly established.
Bartema, travelling in A.D. 1503, treats in his 15th chapter of “Zeila in AEthiopia and the great fruitlessness thereof, and of certain strange beasts seen there.”
“In this city is great frequentation of merchandise, as in a most famous mart. There is marvellous abundance of gold and iron, and an innumerable number of black slaves sold for small prices; these are taken in War by the Mahomedans out of AEthiopia, of the kingdom of Presbyter Johannes, or Preciosus Johannes, which some also call the king of Jacobins or Abyssins, being a Christian; and are carried away from thence into Persia, Arabia Felix, Babylonia of Nilus or Alcair, and Meccah. In this city justice and good laws are observed.12 ... It hath an innumerable multitude of merchants; the walls are greatly decayed, and the haven rude and despicable. The King or Sultan of the city is a Mahomedan, and entertaineth in wages a great multitude of footmen and horsemen. They are greatly given to war, and wear only one loose single vesture: they are of dark ash colour, inclining to black.”
In July 1516 Zayla was taken, and the town burned by a Portuguese armament, under Lopez Suarez Alberguiera. When the Turks were compelled to retire from Southern Arabia, it became subject to the Prince of Senaa, who gave it in perpetuity to the family of a Senaani merchant.
The kingdom of Yemen falling into decay, Zayla passed under the authority of the Sherif of Mocha, who, though receiving no part of the revenue, had yet the power of displacing the Governor. By him it was farmed out to the Hajj Sharmarkay, who paid annually to Sayyid Mohammed el Barr, at Mocha, the sum of 750 crowns, and reserved all that he could collect above that sum for himself. In A.D. 1848 Zayla was taken from the family El Barr, and farmed out to Sharmarkay by the Turkish Governor of Mocha and Hodaydah.
The extant remains at Saad el Din are principally those of water-courses, rude lines of coralline, stretching across the plain towards wells, now lost13, and diminutive tanks, made apparently to collect rain water. One of these latter is a work of some art—a long sunken vault, with a pointed arch projecting a few feet above the surface of the ground; outside it is of rough stone, the interior is carefully coated with fine lime, and from the roof long stalactites depend. Near it is a cemetery: the graves are, for the most part, provided with large slabs of close black basalt, planted in the ground edgeways, and in the shape of a small oblong. The material was most probably brought from the mountains near Tajurrah: at another part of the island I found it in the shape of a gigantic mill-stone, half imbedded in the loose sand. Near the cemetery we observed a mound of rough stones surrounding an upright pole; this is the tomb of Shaykh Saad el Din, formerly the hero, now the favourite patron saint of Zayla,—still popularly venerated, as was proved by the remains of votive banquets, broken bones, dried garbage, and stones blackened by the fire.
After wandering through the island, which contained not a human being save a party of Somal boatmen, cutting firewood for Aden, and having massacred a number of large fishing hawks and small sea-birds, to astonish the natives, our companions, we returned to the landing-place. Here an awning had been spread; the goat destined for our dinner—I have long since conquered all dislike, dear L., to seeing dinner perambulating—had been boiled and disposed in hunches upon small mountains of rice, and jars of sweet water stood in the air to cool. After feeding, regardless of Quartana and her weird sisterhood, we all lay down for siesta in the light sea-breeze. Our slumbers were heavy, as the Zayla people say is ever the case at Saad el Din, and the sun had declined low ere we awoke. The tide was out, and we waded a quarter of a mile to the boat, amongst giant crabs who showed grisly claws, sharp coralline, and sea-weed so thick as to become almost a mat. You must believe me when I tell you that in the shallower parts the sun was painfully hot, even to my well tried feet. We picked up a few specimens of fine sponge, and coral, white and red, which, if collected, might be valuable to Zayla, and, our pic-nic concluded, we returned home.
On the 14th November we left the town to meet a caravan of the Danakil14, and to visit the tomb of the great saint Abu Zarbay. The former approached in a straggling line of asses, and about fifty camels laiden with cows’ hides, ivories and one Abyssinian slave-girl. The men were wild as ourang-outangs, and the women fit only to flog cattle: their animals were small, meagre-looking, and loosely made; the asses of the Bedouins, however, are far superior to those of Zayla, and the camels are, comparatively speaking, well bred.15 In a few minutes the beasts were unloaded, the Gurgis or wigwams pitched, and all was prepared for repose. A caravan so extensive being an unusual event,—small parties carrying only grain come in once or twice a week,—the citizens abandoned even their favourite game of ball, with an eye to speculation. We stood at “Government House,” over the Ashurbara Gate, to see the Bedouins, and we quizzed (as Town men might denounce a tie or scoff at a boot) the huge round shields and the uncouth spears of these provincials. Presently they entered the streets, where we witnessed their frantic dance in presence of the Hajj and other authorities. This is the wild men’s way of expressing their satisfaction that Fate has enabled them to convoy the caravan through all the dangers of the desert.
The Shaykh Ibrahim Abu Zarbay16 lies under a whitewashed dome close to the Ashurbara Gate of Zayla: an inscription cut in wood over the doorway informs us that the building dates from A.H. 1155=AD. 1741-2. It is now dilapidated, the lintel is falling in, the walls are decaying, and the cupola, which is rudely built, with primitive gradients,—each step supported as in Cashmere and other parts of India, by wooden beams,— threatens the heads of the pious. The building is divided into two compartments, forming a Mosque and a Mazar or place of pious visitation: in the latter are five tombs, the two largest covered with common chintz stuff of glaring colours. Ibrahim was one of the forty-four Hazrami saints who landed at Berberah, sat in solemn conclave upon Auliya Kumbo or Holy Hill, and thence dispersed far and wide for the purpose of propagandism. He travelled to Harar about A.D. 143017, converted many to El Islam, and left there an honored memory. His name is immortalised in El Yemen by the introduction of El Kat. 17
Tired of the town, I persuaded the Hajj to send me with an escort to the Hissi or well. At daybreak I set out with four Arab matchlock-men, and taking a direction nearly due west, waded and walked over an alluvial plain flooded by every high tide. On our way we passed lines of donkeys and camels carrying water-skins from the town; they were under guard like ourselves, and the sturdy dames that drove them indulged in many a loud joke at our expense. After walking about four miles we arrived at what is called the Takhushshah—the sandy bed of a torrent nearly a mile broad19, covered with a thin coat of caked mud: in the centre is a line of pits from three to four feet deep, with turbid water at the bottom. Around them were several frame-works of four upright sticks connected by horizontal bars, and on these were stretched goats’-skins, forming the cattle-trough of the Somali country. About the wells stood troops of camels, whose Eesa proprietors scowled fiercely at us, and stalked over the plain with their long, heavy spears: for protection against these people, the citizens have erected a kind of round tower, with a ladder for a staircase. Near it are some large tamarisks and the wild henna of the Somali country, which supplies a sweet-smelling flower, but is valueless as a dye. A thick hedge of thorn-trees surrounds the only cultivated ground near Zayla: as Ibn Said declared in old times, “the people have no gardens, and know nothing of fruits.” The variety and the luxuriance of growth, however, prove that industry is the sole desideratum. I remarked the castor-plant,—no one knows its name or nature20,—the Rayhan or Basil, the Kadi, a species of aloe, whose strongly scented flowers the Arabs of Yemen are fond of wearing in their turbans.21 Of vegetables, there were cucumbers, egg-plants, and the edible hibiscus; the only fruit was a small kind of water-melon.
After enjoying a walk through the garden and a bath at the well, I started, gun in hand, towards the jungly plain that stretches towards the sea. It abounds in hares, and in a large description of spur-fowl22; the beautiful little sand antelope, scarcely bigger than an English rabbit23, bounded over the bushes, its thin legs being scarcely perceptible during the spring. I was afraid to fire with ball, the place being full of Bedouins’ huts, herds, and dogs, and the vicinity of man made the animals too wild for small shot. In revenge, I did considerable havoc amongst the spur-fowl, who proved equally good for sport and the pot, besides knocking over a number of old crows, whose gall the Arab soldiers wanted for collyrium.24 Beyond us lay Warabalay or Hyaenas’ hill25: we did not visit it, as all its tenants had been driven away by the migration of the Nomads.
1 Brace describes Zayla as “a small island, on the very coast of Adel.” To reconcile discrepancy, he adopts the usual clumsy expedient of supposing two cities of the same name, one situated seven degrees south of the other. Salt corrects the error, but does not seem to have heard of old Zayla’s insular position.
2 The inhabitants were termed Avalitae, and the Bay “Sinus Avaliticus.” Some modern travellers have confounded it with Adule or Adulis, the port of Axum, founded by fugitive Egyptian slaves. The latter, however, lies further north: D’Anville places it at Arkiko, Salt at Zula (or Azule), near the head of Annesley Bay.
3 The Arabs were probably the earliest colonists of this coast. Even the Sawahil people retain a tradition that their forefathers originated in the south of Arabia.
4 To the present day the district of Gozi is peopled by Mohammedans called Arablet, “whose progenitors,” according to Harris, “are said by tradition to have been left there prior to the reign of Nagasi, first King of Shoa. Hossain, Wahabit, and Abdool Kurreem, generals probably detached from the victorious army of Graan (Mohammed Gragne), are represented to have come from Mecca, and to have taken possession of the country,—the legend assigning to the first of these warriors as his capital, the populous village of Medina, which is conspicuous on a cone among the mountains, shortly after entering the valley of Robi.”
5 Historia Regum Islamiticorum in Abyssinia, Lugd. Bat. 1790.  The affinity between the Somal and the Berbers of Northern Africa, and their descent from Canaan, son of Ham, has been learnedly advanced and refuted by several Moslem authors. The theory appears to have arisen from a mistake; Berberah, the great emporium of the Somali country, being confounded with the Berbers of Nubia.
7 Probably Zaidi from Yemen. At present the people of Zayla are all orthodox Sunnites.
8 Fish, as will be seen in these pages, is no longer a favourite article of diet.
9 Bruce, book 8.
10 Hence the origin of the trade between Africa and Cutch, which continues uninterrupted to the present time. Adel, Arabia, and India, as Bruce remarks, were three partners in one trade, who mutually exported their produce to Europe, Asia, and Africa, at that time the whole known world.
11 The Turks, under a show of protecting commerce, established these posts in their different ports. But they soon made it appear that the end proposed was only to ascertain who were the subjects from whom they could levy the most enormous extortions. Jeddah, Zebid, and Mocha, the places of consequence nearest to Abyssinia on the Arabian coast, Suakin, a seaport town on the very barriers of Abyssinia, in the immediate way of their caravan to Cairo on the African side, were each under the command of a Turkish Pasha and garrisoned by Turkish troops sent thither from Constantinople by the emperors Selim and Sulayman.
12 Bartema’s account of its productions is as follows: “The soil beareth wheat and hath abundance of flesh and divers other commodious things. It hath also oil, not of olives, but of some other thing, I know not what. There is also plenty of honey and wax; there are likewise certain sheep having their tails of the weight of sixteen pounds, and exceeding fat; the head and neck are black, and all the rest white. There are also sheep altogether white, and having tails of a cubit long, and hanging down like a great cluster of grapes, and have also great laps of skin hanging down from their throats, as have bulls and oxen, hanging down almost to the ground. There are also certain kind with horns like unto harts’ horns; these are wild, and when they be taken are given to the Sultan of that city as a kingly present. I saw there also certain kind having only one horn in the midst of the forehead, as hath the unicorn, and about a span of length, but the horn bendeth backward: they are of bright shining red colour. But they that have harts’ horns are inclining to black colour. Living is there good and cheap.”
13 The people have a tradition that a well of sweet water exists unseen in some part of the island. When Saad el Din was besieged in Zayla by the Hatze David, the host of El Islam suffered severely for the want of the fresh element.
14 The singular is Dankali, the plural Danakil: both words are Arabic, the vernacular name being “Afar” or “Afer,” the Somali “Afarnimun.” The word is pronounced like the Latin “Afer,” an African.
15 Occasionally at Zayla—where all animals are expensive—Dankali camels may be bought: though small, they resist hardship and fatigue better than the other kinds. A fair price would be about ten dollars. The Somal divide their animals into two kinds, Gel Ad and Ayyun. The former is of white colour, loose and weak, but valuable, I was told by Lieut. Speke, in districts where little water is found: the Ayyun is darker and stronger; its price averages about a quarter more than the Gel Ad.
To the Arabian traveller nothing can be more annoying than these Somali camels. They must be fed four hours during the day, otherwise they cannot march. They die from change of food or sudden removal to another country. Their backs are ever being galled, and, with all precautions, a month’s march lays them up for three times that period. They are never used for riding, except in cases of sickness or accidents.
The Somali ass is generally speaking a miserable animal. Lieut. Speke, however, reports that on the windward coast it is not to be despised. At Harar I found a tolerable breed, superior in appearance but inferior in size to the thoroughbred little animals at Aden. They are never ridden; their principal duty is that of carrying water-skins to and from the walls.
16 He is generally called Abu Zerbin, more rarely Abu Zarbayn, and Abu Zarbay. I have preferred the latter orthography upon the authority of the Shaykh Jami, most learned of the Somal.
17 In the same year (A.D. 1429-30) the Shaykh el Shazili, buried under a dome at Mocha, introduced coffee into Arabia.
18 The following is an extract from the Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. xii. No. v. Nov. 1. 1852. Notes upon the drugs observed at Aden Arabia, by James Vaughan, Esq., M.R.C.S.E., Assist. Surg., B.A., Civil and Port. Surg., Aden, Arabia.
“Kat [Arabic], the name of a drug which is brought into Aden from the interior, and largely used, especially by the Arabs, as a pleasurable excitant. It is generally imported in small camel-loads, consisting of a number of parcels, each containing about forty slender twigs with the leaves attached, and carefully wrapped so as to prevent as much as possible exposure to the atmosphere. The leaves form the edible part, and these, when chewed, are said to produce great hilarity of spirits, and an agreeable state of wakefulness. Some estimate may be formed of the strong predilection which the Arabs have for this drug from the quantity used in Aden alone, which averages about 280 camel-loads annually. The market price is one and a quarter rupees per parcel, and the exclusive privilege of selling it is farmed by the government for 1500 rupees per year. Forskal found the plant growing on the mountains of Yemen, and has enumerated it as a new genus in the class Pentandria, under the name of Catha. He notices two species, and distinguishes them as Catha edulis and Catha spinosa. According to his account it is cultivated on the same ground as coffee, and is planted from cuttings. Besides the effects above stated, the Arabs, he tells us, believe the land where it grows to be secure from the inroads of plague; and that a twig of the Kat carried in the bosom is a certain safeguard against infection. The learned botanist observes, with respect to these supposed virtues, ‘Gustus foliorum tamen virtutem tantam indicare non videtur.’ Like coffee, Kat, from its acknowledged stimulating effects, has been a fertile theme for the exercise of Mahomedan casuistry, and names of renown are ranged on both sides of the question, whether the use of Kat does or does not contravene the injunction of the Koran, Thou shalt not drink wine or anything intoxicating. The succeeding notes, borrowed chiefly from De Sacy’s researches, may be deemed worthy of insertion here.
“Sheikh Abdool Kader Ansari Jezeri, a learned Mahomedan author, in his treatise on the use of coffee, quotes the following from the writings of Fakr ood Deen Mekki:—‘It is said that the first who introduced coffee was the illustrious saint Aboo Abdallah Mahomed Dhabhani ibn Said; but we have learned by the testimony of many persons that the use of coffee in Yemen, its origin, and first introduction into that country are due to the learned All Shadeli ibn Omar, one of the disciples of the learned doctor Nasr ood Deen, who is regarded as one of the chiefs among the order Shadeli, and whose worth attests the high degree of spirituality to which they had attained. Previous to that time they made coffee of the vegetable substance called Cafta, which is the same as the leaf known under the name of Kat, and not of Boon (the coffee berry) nor any preparation of Boon. The use of this beverage extended in course of time as far as Aden, but in the days of Mahomed Dhabhani the vegetable substance from which it was prepared disappeared from Aden. Then it was that the Sheik advised those who had become his disciples to try the drink made from the Boon, which was found to produce the same effect as the Kat, inducing sleeplessness, and that it was attended with less expense and trouble. The use of coffee has been kept up from that time to the present.’
“D’Herbelot states that the beverage called Calmat al Catiat or Caftah, was prohibited in Yemen in consequence of its effects upon the brain. On the other hand a synod of learned Mussulmans is said to have decreed that as beverages of Kat and Cafta do not impair the health or impede the observance of religious duties, but only increase hilarity and good-humour, it was lawful to use them, as also the drink made from the boon or coffee-berry. I am not aware that Kat is used in Aden in any other way than for mastication. From what I have heard, however, I believe that a decoction resembling tea is made from the leaf by the Arabs in the interior; and one who is well acquainted with our familiar beverage assures me that the effects are not unlike those produced by strong green tea, with this advantage in favour of Kat, that the excitement is always of a pleasing and agreeable kind. [Note: “Mr. Vaughan has transmitted two specimens called Tubbare Kat and Muktaree Kat, from the districts in which they are produced: the latter fetches the lower price. Catha edulis Forsk., Nat. Ord. Celastraceae, is figured in Dr. Lindley’s Vegetable Kingdom, p. 588. (London, 1846). But there is a still more complete representation of the plant under the name of Catha Forskalii Richard, in a work published under the auspices of the French government, entitled, ‘Voyage en Abyssinie execute pendant les annees 1839-43, par une commission scientifique composee de MM. Theophile Lefebvre, Lieut. du Vaisseau, A. Petit et Martin-Dillon, docteurs medecins, naturalistes du Museum, Vignaud dessinateur.’ The botanical portion of this work, by M. Achille Richard, is regarded either as a distinct publication under the title of Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, or as a part of the Voyage en Abyssinie. M. Richard enters into some of the particulars relative to the synonyms of the plant, from which it appears that Vahl referred Forskal’s genus Catha to the Linnaean genus Celastrus, changing the name of Catha edulis to Celastrus edulis. Hochstetter applied the name of Celastrus edulis to an Abyssinian species (Celastrus obscurus Richard), which he imagined identical with Forskal’s Catha edulis, while of the real Catha edulis Forsk., he formed a new genus and species, under the name of Trigonotheca serrata Hochs. Nat. Ord. Hippocrateaceae. I quote the following references from the Tentamen Florae Abyssinicae, vol. i. p. 134.: ‘Catha Forskalii Nob. Catha No. 4. Forsk. loc. cit, (Flor. AEgypt. Arab. p. 63.) Trigonotheca serrata Hochs. in pl. Schimp. Abyss. sect. ii, No. 649. Celastrus edulis Vahl, Ecl. 1. 21.’ Although In the Flora AEgyptiaco-Arabica of Forskal no specific name is applied to the Catha at p. 63, it is enumerated as Catha edulis at p. 107. The reference to Celastrus edulis is not contained in the Eclogae Americanae of Vahl, but in the author’s Symbolae Botanicae (Hanulae, 1790, fol.) pars i. p. 21. (Daniel Hanbury signed.)]
19 This is probably the “River of Zayla,” alluded to by Ibn Said and others. Like all similar features in the low country, it is a mere surface drain.
20 In the upper country I found a large variety growing wild in the Fiumaras. The Bedouins named it Buamado, but ignored its virtues.
- ► January (25)
- The Gadabursi 21 Elder Clan Council dynasty of Sul...
- BOQORTOYADA BIMAAL DIR QEYBTII 1
- THE BIMAAL REVOLT SLAVERY IN SOMALIA AND ITALIAN C...
- MADOOBE DIR OF DJIBOUTI NOTES ON CULTURE
- MADOOBE DIR OF DJIBOUTI NOTES ON CULTURE
- ENO ON XAWA TAKO AXMED GUREY AND OTHERS
- GENEALOGICAL TABLE OF SOMALI CLANS
- Richard Burton on ANCIENT CITY OF ZAILA Gadabuur...
- ZAR OF SOMALIA AND OTHER BELIEFS
- CITY OF HARAAR A PAPER
- A DISCUSSION ON DIR CLAN BY SOUTHERN DIR AND DIR F...
- Taariikhdii Innaga iyo Xabashi - Qaybta 1aad
- ▼ May 14 (12)
- ► September (80)
- ▼ May (125)
- ► February (89)
- ► May (96)
- ► June (37)
- ► July (51)
- ► August (90)
- ► September (11)
- ► October (21)
- ► November (43)
- ► August (67)