THE EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION OF AFRICA, I

The caravan soon reached the gates of Kouka, where, after a journey extending over two months and a half, they were received by a body of cavalry 4000 strong, under perfect discipline. Amongst these troops was a corps of blacks forming the body-guard of the sheikh, whose equipments resembled those of ancient chivalry.

Member of the body-guard of the Sheikh of Bornou
Member of the body-guard of the Sheikh of Bornou.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

They wore, Denham tells us, suits of chain armour covering the neck and shoulders. These were fastened above the head, and fell in two portions, one in front and one behind, so as to protect the flanks of the horse and the thighs of the rider. A sort of casque or iron coif, kept in its place by red, white or yellow turbans, tied under the chin, completed the costume. The horses' heads were also guarded by iron plates. Their saddles were small and light, and their steel stirrups held only the point of the feet, which were clad in leather shoes, ornamented with crocodile skin. The horsemen managed their steeds admirably, as, advancing at full gallop, brandishing their spears, they wheeled right and left of their guests, shouting "Barca! Barca!" (Blessing! Blessing!).

Surrounded by this brilliant and fantastic escort, the English and Arabs entered the town, where a similar military display had been prepared in their honour.

They were presently admitted to the presence of Sheikh El-Khanemy, who appeared to be about forty-five years old, and whose face was prepossessing, with a happy, intelligent, and benevolent expression.

The English presented the letters of the pacha, and when the sheikh had read them, he asked Denham what had brought him and his companions to Bornou.

"We came merely to see the country," replied Denham, "to study the character of its people, its scenery, and its productions."

"You are welcome," was the reply; "it will be a pleasure to me to show you everything. I have ordered huts to be built for you in the town; you may go and see them, accompanied by one of my people, and when you are recovered from the fatigue of your long journey, I shall be happy to see you."

Reception of the Mission
Reception of the Mission.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

The travellers soon afterwards obtained permission to make collections of such animals and plants as appeared to them curious, and to make notes of all their observations. They were thus enabled to collect a good deal of information about the towns near Kouka.

Kouka, then the capital of Bornou, boasted of a market for the sale of slaves, sheep, oxen, cheese, rice, earth-nuts, beans, indigo, and other productions of the country. There 100,000 people might sometimes be seen haggling about the price of fish, poultry, meat—the last sold both raw and cooked—or that of brass, copper, amber and coral. Linen was so cheap in these parts, that some of the men wore shirts and trousers made of it.

Beggars have a peculiar mode of exciting compassion; they station themselves at the entrance to the market, and, holding up the rags of an old pair of trousers, they whine out to the passers-by, "See! I have no pantaloons!" The novelty of this mode of proceeding, and the request for a garment, which seemed to them even more necessary than food, made our travellers laugh heartily until they became accustomed to it.

Hitherto the English had had nothing to do with any one but the sheikh, who, content with wielding all real power, left the nominal sovereignty to the sultan, an eccentric monarch, who never showed himself except through the bars of a wicker cage near the gate of his garden, as if he were some rare wild beast. Curious indeed were some of the customs of this court, not the least so the fancy for obesity: no one was considered elegant unless he had attained to a bulk generally looked upon as very inconvenient.

Some exquisites had stomachs so distended and prominent that they seemed literally to hang over the pommel of the saddle; and in addition to this, fashion prescribed a turban of such length and weight that its wearer had to carry his head on one side.

These uncouth peculiarities rivalled those of the Turks of a masked ball, and the travellers had often hard work to preserve their gravity. To compensate, however, for the grotesque solemnity of the various receptions, a new field for observation was open, and much valuable information might now be acquired.

Denham wished to proceed to the south at once, but the sheikh was unwilling to risk the lives of the travellers entrusted to him by the Bey of Tripoli. On their entry into Bornou, the responsibility of Boo-Khaloum for their safety was transferred to him.

So earnest, however, were the entreaties of Denham, that El-Khanemy at last sanctioned his accompanying Boo-Khaloum in a "ghrazzie," or plundering expedition against the Kaffirs or infidels.

The sheikh's army and the Arab troops passed in succession Yeddie, a large walled city twenty miles from Angoumou, Badagry, and several other towns built on an alluvial soil which has a dark clay-like appearance.

They entered Mandara, at the frontier town of Delow, beyond which the sultan of the province, with five hundred horsemen, met his guests.