THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY
From Damer, Burckhardt proceeded to Shendy, where he passed a month, during which time no one suspected him to be an infidel. Shendy had grown in importance since Bruce's visit, and now consisted of about a thousand houses. Considerable trade was carried on—grass, slaves, and cattle taking the place of specie. The principal marketable commodities were gum, ivory, gold, and ostrich feathers.
According to Burckhardt, the number of slaves sold yearly at Shendy amounts to 5000; 2500 of these are for Arabia, 400 for Egypt, 1000 for Dongola and the districts of the Red Sea.
The traveller employed his time during his stay at Sennaar in collecting information about that kingdom. Amongst other curious things, he was told that the king having one day invited the ambassador of Mehemet Ali to a cavalry review, which he considered rather formidable, the envoy in his turn begged the king to witness part of the Turkish artillery exercises. But at the outset of the performance—at the discharge of two small mounted guns—cavalry, infantry, spectators, courtiers, and the king himself, fled in terror.
Burckhardt sold his wares, and then, worn out by the persecutions of the Egyptian merchants who were his companions, he joined the caravan at Suakin, intending to traverse the unknown district between that town and Shendy. From Suakin he meant to set out for Mecca, hoping to find the Hadji useful to him in the realization of his projects.
"The Hadji," he says, "form one powerful body, and every member is protected, because if one is attacked the whole number take up arms." The caravan which Burckhardt now joined consisted of 150 merchants and 300 slaves. Two hundred camels were employed to convey heavy bales of "danmour," a stuff manufactured in Sennaar, and cargoes of tobacco.
The first object of interest to the travellers was the Atbara, a tributary of the Nile, whose banks, with their verdant trees, were grateful to the eye after the sandy desert. The course of the river was followed as far as the fertile district of Taka. During the journey the white skin of the pretended sheik Ibrahim (it will be remembered that this was the name assumed by Burckhardt) attracted much attention from the female population, who were little accustomed to the sight of Arabs.
"One day," relates the traveller, "a girl of the country, of whom I had been buying onions, offered to give me an extra quantity if I would remove my turban, and show her my head. I demanded eight more onions, which she immediately produced. As I removed my turban, and exposed my white and close-shaven head to view, she sprang back in horror and dismay. I asked her jokingly if she would not like a husband with a similar head, to which she replied with much energy, and many expressions of disgust, that she would prefer the ugliest slave ever brought from Darfur."
Just before Goz Radjeh was reached, Burckhardt's attention was attracted to a building, which he was told was either a church or temple, the same word having the two meanings. He at once proceeded in that direction, hoping to examine it, but his companions stopped him, saying, "It is surrounded by bands of robbers; you cannot go a hundred steps without danger of attack."
Burckhardt was unable to decide whether it was an Egyptian temple, or a monument of the empire of Axum.
At last the caravan entered the fertile district of Tak or El Gasch, a wide watered plain, whose soil is wonderfully fertile, but which for two months in the year is uninhabited. Grain is plentiful and is sold in Jeddah for twenty per cent. more than the best Egyptian millet.
The inhabitants, who are called Hadendoa, are treacherous, dishonest, and bloodthirsty; and their women are almost as degraded as those of Shendy and Berber.
Upon leaving Taka, the road to Suakin and the shores of the Red Sea lay over a chain of chalk hills. At Schenterab granite is found. The hills presented few difficulties, and the caravan reached Suakin in safety upon the 26th May. But Burckhardt's troubles were not yet at an end. The Emir and Aga combined to plunder him, and treated him as the lowest of slaves, until he produced the firman which he had received from Mehemet Ali and Ibrahim Pasha. This changed the face of affairs. Instead of being thrown into prison the traveller was invited to the Aga's, who offered him a present of a young slave. M. Vivien de Saint Martin writes of this expedition, "This journey of from twenty to twenty-five days, between the Nile and the Red Sea, was the first ever undertaken by a European. The observations collected, as to the settled or nomad tribes of these districts are invaluable for Europe. Burckhardt's narrative is of increasing interest, and few can compare with it for instruction and interest."
Upon the 7th of July Burckhardt succeeded in embarking in a boat, and eleven days later he reached Jeddah, which serves as a harbour to Mecca. Jeddah is built upon the sea-shore, and is surrounded by a wall, which, insufficient as it would be against artillery, protects it perfectly from the attacks of the Wahabees, who have been nicknamed the "Puritans of Islamism." These people are a distinct sect, who claim to restore Mahomedanism to its primitive simplicity.
"The entrance to the town, upon the side nearest the sea," says Burckhardt, "is protected by a battery which overlooks the entire fort, and is surmounted by one enormous piece of artillery capable of discharging a five-hundred pound shot, which is so renowned throughout the Arabian Gulf, that its reputation alone is enough to protect Jeddah."