CHAPTER VIII. IBRAHIM's RETURN.
There are many good wild fruits, including one very similar to a walnut in its green shell; the flesh of this has a remarkably fine flavour, and the nut within exactly resembles a horse-chestnut in size and fine mahogany colour. This nut is roasted, and, when ground and boiled, a species of fat or butter is skimmed from the surface of the water: this is much prized by the natives, and is used for rubbing their bodies, being considered as the best of all fats for the skin; it is also eaten.
Among the best of the wild fruits is one resembling raisins; this grows in clusters upon a large tree. Also a bright yellow fruit, as large as a Muscat grape, and several varieties of plums. None of these are produced in Latooka. Ground-nuts are also in abundance in the forests; these are not like the well-known African ground-nut of the west coast, but are contained in an excessively hard shell. A fine quality of flax grows wild, but the twine generally used by the natives is made from the fibre of a species of aloe. Tobacco grows to an extraordinary size, and is prepared similarly to that of the Ellyria tribe.
When ripe, the leaves are pounded in a mortar and reduced to a pulp; the mass is then placed in a conical mould of wood, and pressed. It remains in this until dry, when it presents the shape of a loaf of sugar, and is perfectly hard. The tobacco of the Ellyria tribe is shaped into cheeses, and frequently adulterated with cowdung. I had never smoked until my arrival in Obbo, but having suffered much from fever, and the country being excessively damp, I commenced with Obbo pipes and tobacco.
Every tribe has a distinct pattern of pipe; those of the Bari have wide trumpet-shaped mouths; the Latooka are long and narrow; and the Obbo smaller and the neatest. All their pottery is badly burned, and excessively fragile if wet. The water jars are well formed, although the potter's wheel is quite unknown, and the circular form is obtained entirely by the hand. Throughout the tribes of the White Nile, the articles of pottery are limited to the tobacco-pipe and the water-jar: all other utensils are formed either of wood, or of gourd shells.
By observation, 1 determined the latitude of my camp at Obbo to be 4 degrees 02' N., 32 degrees 31' long. E., and the general elevation of the country 3,674 feet above the sea, the temperature about 76 degrees F. The altitude of Latooka was 2,236 feet above the sea level: thus we were, at Obbo, upon an elevated plateau, 1,438 feet above the general level of the country on the east of the mountain range. The climate would be healthy were the country sufficiently populated to war successfully against nature; but the rainfall continuing during ten months of the year, from February to the end of November, and the soil being extremely fertile, the increase of vegetation is too rapid, and the scanty population are hemmed in and overpowered by superabundant herbage. This mass of foliage, and grasses of ten feet in height interwoven with creeping plants and wild grape-vines, is perfectly impenetrable to man, and forms a vast jungle, inhabited by elephants, rhinoceros, and buffaloes, whose ponderous strength alone can overcome it. There are few antelopes, as those animals dislike the grass jungles, in which they have no protection against the lion or the leopard, as such beasts of prey can approach them unseen. In the month of January the grass is sufficiently dry to burn, but even at that period there is a quantity of fresh green grass growing between the withered stems; thus the firing of the prairies does not absolutely clear the country, but merely consumes the dry matter, and leaves a ruin of charred herbage, rendered so tough by the burning, that it is quite impossible to ride without cutting the skin from the horse's shins and shoulders. Altogether, it is a most uninteresting country, as there is no possibility of traversing it except by the narrow footpaths made by the natives.
The chief of Obbo came to meet us with several of his head men. He was an extraordinary-looking man, about fifty-eight or sixty years of age; but, far from possessing the dignity usually belonging to a grey head, he acted the buffoon for our amusement, and might have been a clown in a pantomime.
The heavy storm having cleared, the nogaras beat, and our entertaining friend determined upon a grand dance; pipes and flutes were soon heard gathering from all quarters, horns brayed, and numbers of men and women began to collect in crowds, while old Katchiba, the chief, in a state of great excitement, gave orders for the entertainment.
About a hundred men formed a circle; each man held in his left hand a small cup-shaped drum, formed of hollowed wood, one end only being perforated, and this was covered with the skin of the elephant's ear, tightly stretched. In the centre of the circle was the chief dancer, who wore, suspended from his shoulders, an immense drum, also covered with the elephant's ear. The dance commenced by all singing remarkably well a wild but agreeable tune in chorus, the big drum directing the time, and the whole of the little drums striking at certain periods with such admirable precision, that the effect was that of a single instrument. The dancing was most vigorous, and far superior to anything that I had seen among either, Arabs or savages, the figures varying continually, and ending with a "grand galop" in double circles, at a tremendous pace, the inner ring revolving in a contrary direction to the outer; the effect of this was excellent.