CHAPTER XII. Abyssinian slave-girls - Khartoum - The Soudan under Egyptian rule - Slave-trade in the Soudan - The obstacles ahead.

A rapid march of sixteen miles brought us to Metemma or Gallabat. As we descended the valley we perceived great crowds of people in and about the town, which, in appearance, was merely a repetition of Katariff. It was market-day, and as we descended the hill and arrived in the scene below, with our nine camels heavily laden with the heads and horns of a multitude of different beasts, from the gaping jaws of hippopotami to the vicious-looking heads of rhinoceroses and buffaloes, while the skins of lions and various antelopes were piled above masses of the much-prized hide of the rhinoceros, we were beset by crowds of people, who were curious to know whence so strange a party had come. We formed a regular procession through the market, our Tokrooris feeling quite at home among so many of their brethren.

While here I visited the establishments of the various slave merchants. These were arranged under large tents formed of matting, and contained many young girls of extreme beauty, ranging from nine to seventeen years of age. These lovely captives, of a rich brown tint, with delicately formed features, and eyes like those of the gazelle, were natives of the Galla, on the borders of Abyssinia, from which country they were brought by the Abyssinian traders to be sold for the Turkish harems. Although beautiful, these girls are useless for hard labor; they quickly fade away, and die unless kindly treated. They are the Venuses of that country, and not only are their faces and figures perfection, but they become extremely attached to those who show them kindness, and they make good and faithful wives. There is something peculiarly captivating in the natural grace and softness of these young beauties, whose hearts quickly respond to those warmer feelings of love that are seldom known among the sterner and coarser tribes. Their forms are peculiarly elegant and graceful; the hands and feet are exquisitely delicate; the nose is generally slightly aquiline, the nostrils large and finely shaped; the hair is black and glossy, reaching to about the middle of the back, but rather coarse in texture. These girls, although natives of Galla, invariably call themselves Abyssinians, and are generally known under that name. They are exceedingly proud and high-spirited, and are remarkably quick at learning. At Khartoum several of the Europeans of high standing have married these charming ladies, who have invariably rewarded their husbands by great affection and devotion. The price of one of these beauties of nature at Gallabat was from twenty-five to forty dollars!

On the march from Gallabat to the Rahad River I was so unfortunate as to lose my two horses, Gazelle and Aggahr. The sudden change of food from dry grass to the young herbage which had appeared after a few showers, brought on inflammation of the bowels, which carried them off in a few hours. We now travelled for upward of a hundred miles along the bank of the Rahad, through a monotonous scene of flat alluvial soil. The entire country would be a Mine of wealth were it planted with cotton, Which could be transported by river to Katariff, and thence directly to Souakim.

I shall not weary the reader with the details of the rest of our journey to Khartoum, the capital of the Soudan provinces, at which we arrived on the 11th of June.

The difference between the appearance of Khartoum at the distance of a mile, with the sun shining upon the bright river Nile in the foreground, and its appearance upon close inspection, was equal to the difference in the scenery of a theatre as regarded from the boxes or from the stage. Even that painful exposure of an optical illusion would be trifling compared with the imposture of Khartoum. The sense of sight had been deceived by distance, but the sense of smell was outraged by innumerable nuisances, when we set foot within the filthy and miserable town. After winding through some narrow, dusty lanes, hemmed in by high walls of sun-baked bricks that had fallen in gaps in several places, exposing gardens of prickly pears and date palms, we at length arrived at a large open place, that, if possible, smelt more strongly than the landing spot. Around this square, which was full of holes where the mud had been excavated for brick-making, were the better class of houses; this was the Belgravia of Khartoum. In the centre of a long mud wall, ventilated by certain attempts at frameless windows, guarded by rough wooden bars, we perceived a large archway with closed doors. Above this entrance was a shield, with a device that gladdened my English eyes: there was the British lion and the unicorn! Not such a lion as I had been accustomed to meet in his native jungles, a yellow cowardly fellow that had often slunk away from the very prey from which I had driven him; but a real red British lion, that, although thin and ragged in the unhealthy climate of Khartoum, looked as though he was pluck to the back-bone.

This was the English Consulate. The consul was absent, in the hope of meeting Speke and Grant in the upper Nile regions, on the road from Zanzibar, but he had kindly placed rooms at our disposal.

For some months we resided at Khartoum, as it was necessary to make extensive preparations for the White Nile expedition, and to await the arrival of the north wind, which would enable us to start early in December. Although the north and south winds blow alternately for six months, and the former commences in October, it does not extend many degrees southward until the beginning of December. This is a great drawback to White Nile exploration, as, when near the north side of the equator, the dry season commences in November and closes in February; thus the departure from Khartoum should take place by a steamer in the latter part of September. That would enable the traveller to leave Gondokoro, lat. N. 4 "degrees" 54', shortly before November. He would then secure three months of favorable weather for an advance inland.

Khartoum is a wretchedly unhealthy town, containing about thirty thousand inhabitants, exclusive of troops. In spite of its unhealthiness and low situation, on a level with the river at the junction of the Blue and White Niles, it is the general emporium for the trade of the Soudan, from which the productions of the country are transported to Lower Egypt, i.e. ivory, hides, senna, gum arabic, and beeswax. During my experience of Khartoum it was the hotbed of the slave-trade. It will be remarked that the exports from the Soudan are all natural productions. There is nothing to exhibit the industry or capacity of the natives. The ivory is the produce of violence and robbery; the hides are the simple sun-dried skins of oxen; the senna grows wild upon the desert; the gum arabic exudes spontaneously from the bushes of the jungle; and the bees-wax is the produce of the only industrious creatures in that detestable country.

When we regard the general aspect of the Soudan, it is extreme wretchedness. The rainfall is uncertain and scanty; thus the country is a desert, dependent entirely upon irrigation. Although cultivation is simply impossible without a supply of water, one of the most onerous taxes is that upon the sageer or water-wheel, with which the fields are irrigated on the borders of the Nile. It would appear natural that, instead of a tax, a premium should be offered for the erection of such means of irrigation, which would increase the revenue by extending cultivation, the produce of which might bear an impost. With all the talent and industry of the native Egyptians, who must naturally depend upon the waters of the Nile for their existence, it is extraordinary that for thousands of years they have adhered to their original simple form of mechanical irrigation, without improvement.

The general aspect of the Soudan is that of misery; nor is there a single feature of attraction to recompense a European for the drawbacks of pestilential climate and brutal associations. To a stranger it appears a superlative folly that the Egyptian Government should have retained a possession the occupation of which is wholly unprofitable, the receipts being far below the expenditure malgre the increased taxation. At so great a distance from the sea-coast and hemmed in by immense deserts, there is a difficulty of transport that must nullify all commercial transactions on an extended scale.

The great and most important article of commerce as an export from the Soudan is gum arabic. This is produced by several species of mimosa, the finest quality being a product of Kordofan; the other natural productions exported are senna, hides, and ivory. All merchandise both to and from the Soudan must be transported upon camels, no other animals being adapted to the deserts. The cataracts of the Nile between Assouan and Khartoum rendering the navigation next to impossible, camels are the only medium of transport, and the uncertainty of procuring them without great delay is the trader's greatest difficulty. The entire country is subject to droughts that occasion a total desolation, and the want of pasture entails starvation upon both cattle and camels, rendering it at certain seasons impossible to transport the productions of the country, and thus stagnating all enterprise. Upon existing conditions the Soudan is worthless, having neither natural capabilities nor political importance; but there is, nevertheless, a reason that first prompted its occupation by the Egyptians, and that is, THE SOUDAN SUPPLIES SLAVES.

Without the White Nile trade Khartoum* would almost cease to exist; (* This was written about twenty years ago, and does not apply to the Khartoum of to-day. In 1869 The Khedive of Egypt despatched an expedition under Sir Samuel Baker to suppress slavery in the Soudan and Central Africa. To the success of that expedition, and to the efforts of Colonel (now General) Gordon, who succeeded to the command of the Soudan, was owing the suppression of the traffic in slaves. Within the last few weeks, under the stress of circumstances, General Gordon has been forced to promise the removal of this prohibition of slavery. - E. J. W.) and that trade is kidnapping and murder. The character of the Khartoumers needs no further comment. The amount of ivory brought down from the White Nile is a mere bagatelle as an export, the annual value being about 40,000 pounds.

The people for the most part enraged in the nefarious traffic of the White Nile are Syrians, Copts, Turks, Circassians, and some few EUROPEANS. So closely connected with the difficulties of my expedition is that accursed slave-trade, that the so-called ivory trade of the White Nile requires an explanation.

Throughout the Soudan money is exceedingly scarce and the rate of interest exorbitant, varying, according to the securities, from thirty-six to eighty per cent. This fact proves general poverty and dishonesty, and acts as a preventive to all improvement. So high and fatal a rate deters all honest enterprise, and the country must lie in ruin under such a system. The wild speculator borrows upon such terms, to rise suddenly like a rocket, or to fall like its exhausted stick. Thus, honest enterprise being impossible, dishonesty takes the lead, and a successful expedition to the White Nile is supposed to overcome all charges. There are two classes of White Nile traders, the one possessing capital, the other being penniless adventurers. The same system of operations is pursued by both, but that of the former will be evident from the description of the latter.

A man without means forms an expedition, and borrows money for this purpose at 100 per cent. after this fashion: he agrees to repay the lender in ivory at one-half its market value. Having obtained the required sum, he hires several vessels and engages from 100 to 300 men, composed of Arabs and runaway villains from distant countries, who have found an asylum from justice in the obscurity of Khartoum. He purchases guns and large quantities of ammunition for his men, together with a few hundred pounds of glass beads. The piratical expedition being complete, he pays his men five months' wages in advance, at the rate of forty-five piastres (nine shillings) per month, and he agrees to give them eighty piastres per month for any period exceeding the five months for which they are paid. His men receive their advance partly in cash and partly in cotton stuffs for clothes at an exorbitant price. Every man has a strip of paper, upon which is written, by the clerk of the expedition, the amount he has received both in goods and money, and this paper he must produce at the final settlement.

The vessels sail about December, and on arrival at the desired locality the party disembark and proceed into the interior, until they arrive at the village of some negro chief, with whom they establish an intimacy.

Charmed with his new friends, the power of whose weapons he acknowledges, the negro chief does not neglect the opportunity of seeking their alliance to attack a hostile neighbor. Marching throughout the night, guided by their negro hosts, they bivouac within an hour's march of the unsuspecting village doomed to an attack about half an hour before break of day. The time arrives, and, quietly surrounding the village while its occupants are still sleeping, they fire the grass huts in all directions and pour volleys of musketry through the flaming thatch. Panic-stricken, the unfortunate victims rush from their burning dwellings, and the men are shot down like pheasants in a battue, while the women and children, bewildered in the danger and confusion, are kidnapped and secured. The herds of cattle, still within their kraal or "zareeba," are easily disposed of, and are driven off with great rejoicing, as the prize of victory. The women and children are then fastened together, and the former secured in an instrument called a sheba, made of a forked pole, the neck of the prisoner fitting into the fork, and secured by a cross-piece lashed behind, while the wrists, brought together in advance of the body, are tied to the pole. The children are then fastened by their necks with a rope attached to the women, and thus form a living chain, in which order they are marched to the head-quarters in company with the captured herds.

This is the commencement of business. Should there be ivory in any of the huts not destroyed by the fire, it is appropriated. A general plunder takes place. The trader's party dig up the floors of the huts to search for iron hoes, which are generally thus concealed, as the greatest treasure of the negroes; the granaries are overturned and wantonly destroyed, and the hands are cut off the bodies of the slain, the more easily to detach the copper or iron bracelets that are usually worn. With this booty the TRADERS return to their negro ally. They have thrashed and discomfited his enemy, which delights him; they present him with thirty or forty head of cattle, which intoxicates him with joy, and a present of a pretty little captive girl of about fourteen completes his happiness.

An attack or razzia, such as described, generally leads to a quarrel with the negro ally, who in his turn is murdered and plundered by the trader - his women and children naturally becoming slaves.

A good season for a party of a hundred and fifty men should produce about two hundred cantars (20,000 lbs.) of ivory, valued at Khartoum at 4,000 pounds. The men being paid in slaves, the wages should be NIL, and there should be a surplus of four or five hundred slaves for the trader's own profit - worth on an average five to six pounds each.

The amiable trader returns from the White Nile to Khartoum; hands over to his creditor sufficient ivory to liquidate the original loan of 1,000 pounds, and, already a man of capital, he commences as an independent trader.

Such was the White Nile trade when I prepared to start from Khartoum on my expedition to the Nile sources. Every one in Khartoum, with the exception of a few Europeans, was in favor of the slave-trade, and looked with jealous eyes upon a stranger venturing within the precincts of their holy land - a land sacred to slavery and to every abomination and villainy that man can commit.

The Turkish officials pretended to discountenance slavery; at the same time every house in Khartoum was full of slaves, and the Egyptian officers had been in the habit of receiving a portion of their pay in slaves, precisely as the men employed on tile White Nile were paid by their employers. The Egyptian authorities looked upon the exploration of the White Nile by a European traveller as an infringement of the slave territory that resulted from espionage, and every obstacle was thrown in my way.

To organize an enterprise so difficult that it had hitherto defeated the whole world, required a careful selection of attendants, and I looked with despair at the prospect before me. The only men procurable for escort were the miserable cut-throats of Khartoum, accustomed to murder and pillage in the White Nile trade, and excited not by the love of adventure, but by the desire for plunder. To start with such men appeared mere insanity.

There was a still greater difficulty in connection with the White Nile. For years the infernal traffic in slaves and its attendant horrors had existed like a pestilence in the negro countries, and had so exasperated the tribes that people who in former times were friendly had become hostile to all comers. An exploration to the Nile sources was thus a march through an enemy's country, and required a powerful force of well-armed men. For the traders there was no great difficulty, as they took the initiative in hostilities, and had fixed camps as "points d'appui;" but for an explorer there was no alternative, but he must make a direct forward march with no communications with the rear. I had but slight hope of success without assistance from the authorities in the shape of men accustomed to discipline. I accordingly wrote to the British consul at Alexandria, and requested him to apply for a few soldiers and boats to aid me in so difficult an enterprise. After some months' delay, owing to the great distance from Khartoum, I received a reply inclosing a letter from Ismail Pacha (the present Viceroy), the regent during the absence of Said Pacha, REFUSING the application.

I confess to the enjoyment of a real difficulty. From the first I had observed that the Egyptian authorities did not wish to encourage English explorations of the slave-producing districts, as such examinations would be detrimental to the traffic, and would lead to reports to the European governments that would ultimately prohibit the trade. It was perfectly clear that the utmost would be done to prevent my expedition from starting. This opposition gave a piquancy to the undertaking, and I resolved that nothing should thwart my plans. Accordingly I set to work in earnest. I had taken the precaution to obtain an order upon the Treasury at Khartoum for what money I required, and as ready cash performs wonders in that country of credit and delay, I was within a few weeks ready to start. I engaged three vessels, including two large noggurs or sailing barges, and a good decked vessel with comfortable cabins, known by all Nile tourists as a diahbiah.

On December 18th, 1862, we left Khartoum. Our course up the river was slow and laborious. At times the boats had to be dragged by the men through the high reeds. It is not surprising that the ancients gave up the exploration of the Nile, when they came to the countless windings and difficulties of the marshes. The river is like an entangled skein of thread, and the voyage is tedious and melancholy beyond description. We did not reach Gondokoro until February 2d. This was merely a station of the ivory traders, occupied for two months during the year, after which time it was deserted, the boats returning to Khartoum and the expeditions again departing to the interior.