CHAPTER X. LIFE AT OBBO.
We halted to rest under some fine trees growing among large isolated blocks of granite and gneiss. In a short time the natives assembled around us: they were wonderfully friendly, and insisted upon a personal introduction to both myself and Mrs. Baker. We were thus compelled to hold a levee; not the passive and cold ceremony of Europe, but a most active undertaking, as each native that was introduced performed the salaam of his country, by seizing both my hands and raising my arms three times to their full stretch above my head. After about one hundred Fatikos had been thus gratified by our submission to this infliction, and our arms had been subjected to at least three hundred stretches each, I gave the order to saddle the oxen immediately, and we escaped a further proof of Fatiko affection that was already preparing, as masses of natives were streaming down the rocks hurrying to be introduced. Notwithstanding the fatigue of the ceremony, I took a great fancy to these poor people: they had prepared a quantity of merissa and a sheep for our lunch, which they begged us to remain and enjoy before we started; but the pumping action of half a village not yet gratified by a presentation was too much; and, mounting our oxen, with aching shoulders we bade adieu to Fatiko.
Descending the picturesque rocky hill of Fatiko, we entered upon a totally distinct country. We had now before us an interminable sea of prairies, covering to the horizon a series of gentle undulations inclining from east to west. There were no trees except the dolape palms; these were scattered at long intervals in the bright yellow surface of high grass. The path was narrow, but good, and after an hour's march we halted for the night on the banks of a deep and clear stream, the Un-y-ame; - this stream is perennial, and receiving many rivulets from Shooa, it forms a considerable torrent during the rainy season, and joins the Nile in N. lat. 3 degrees 32 minutes at the limit reached by Signor Miani, 1859, the first traveller who ever attained a point so far south in Nile explorations from Egypt. There was no wood for fires, neither dung of animals; thus without fuel we went supperless to bed. Although the sun was painfully hot during the day, the nights were so cold (about 55 degrees F) that we could hardly sleep.
For two days we marched through high dry grass, (about ten feet), when a clear night allowed an observation, and the meridian altitude of Capella gave latitude 2 degrees 45 minutes 37 seconds. In this interminable sea of prairie it was interesting to watch our progress south. On the following day our guide lost the road; a large herd of elephants had obscured it by trampling hundreds of paths in all directions. The wind was strong from the north, and I proposed to clear the country to the south by firing the prairies. There were numerous deep swamps in the bottoms between the undulations, and upon arrival at one of these green dells we fired the grass on the opposite side. In a few minutes it roared before us, and we enjoyed the grand sight of the boundless prairies blazing like infernal regions, and rapidly clearing a path south. Flocks of buzzards and the beautiful varieties of flycatchers thronged to the dense smoke to prey upon the innumerable insects that endeavoured to escape from the approaching fire.
In about an hour we marched over the black and smoking ground, every now and then meeting dead stumps of palm trees blazing; until we at length reached another swamp. There the fire had terminated in its course south, being stopped by the high green reeds, and it was raging to the east and west. Again the tedious operation had to be performed, and the grass was fired in many places on the opposite side of the swamp, while we waited until the cleared way was sufficiently cool to allow the march. We were perfectly black, as the wind brought showers of ashes that fell like snow, but turned us into Ethiopians. I had led the way on foot from the hour we left Fatiko, as, the country being uninhabited for five days' march between that place and Kamrasi's, the men had more faith in my steering by the compass than they had in the native guide. I felt sure that we were being deceived, and that the woman Bacheeta had directed the guide to take us to Rionga's. Accordingly that night, when Canopus was in the meridian, I asked our conductor to point by a star the direction of Karuma Falls. He immediately pointed to Canopus, which I knew by Speke's map should be the direction of Rionga's islands, and I charged him with the deceit. He appeared very much astonished, and asked me "why I wanted a guide if I knew the way?" confessing that Karuma Falls were "a little to the east of the star." I thanked Speke and Grant at that moment, and upon many other occasions, for the map they had so generously given me! It has been my greatest satisfaction to have completed their great discovery, and to bear testimony to the correctness of their map and general observations.
The march was exceedingly fatiguing: there was a swamp at least every half hour during the day, at each of which we had the greatest difficulty in driving the oxen, who were above the girths in mud. One swamp was so deep that we had to carry the luggage piecemeal on an angarep by about twelve men, and my wife being subjected to the same operation was too heavy, and the people returned with her as impracticable. I accordingly volunteered for service, and carried her on my back; but when in the middle of the swamp, the tenacious bottom gave way, and I sank, and remained immoveably fixed, while she floundered froglike in the muddy water. I was extricated by the united efforts of several men, and she was landed by being dragged through the swamp. We marched for upwards of ten hours per day, so great were the delays in crossing the morasses and in clearing off the grass jungle by burning.