Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1821-1890
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First Footsteps in East Africa; or, An Exploration of Harar. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1856. From the library of N. M. Penzer, author of the Annotated Bibliography of Sir Richard Burton, K. C. M. G. (1923). [Rare Books Division]

I doubt not there are many who ignore the fact that in Eastern Africa, scarcely three hundred miles distant from Aden, there is a counterpart of ill-famed Timbuctoo in the Far West. . . . The bigoted ruler and barbarous people threatened death to the Infidel who ventured within their walls. . . . It is, therefore, a point of honour with me . . . to utilise my title of Haji by entering the city, visiting the ruler, and returning in safety, after breaking the guardian spell. [pp. 1-2]

“The Hammal”

I will now introduce you to my companions. The managing man is one Mohammed Mahmud, generally called El Hammal or the porter: he is a Havildar or sergeant in the Aden police. . . . The Hammal is a bull-necked, round-headed fellow of lymphatic temperament, with a lamp-black skin, regular features, and a pulpy figure,—two rarities amongst his countrymen, who compare him to a Banyan. An orphan in early youth, and becoming, to use his own phrase, sick of milk, he ran away from his tribe, the Habr Gerhajis, and engaged himself as a coaltrimmer with the slaves on board an Indian war-steamer. After rising in the rank to the command of the crew, he became servant and interpreter to travellers, visited distant lands—Egypt and Calcutta—and finally settled as a Feringhee policeman. He cannot read or write, but he has all the knowledge to be acquired by fifteen or twenty years, hard “knocking about”: he can make a long speech, and, although he never prays, a longer prayer; he is an excellent mimic, and delights his auditors by imitations and descriptions of Indian ceremony, Egyptian dancing, Arab vehemence, Persian abuse, European vivacity, and Turkish insolence. With prodigious inventiveness, and a habit of perpetual intrigue, acquired in his travels, he might be called a “knowing” man, but for the truly Somali weakness of showing in his countenance all that passes through his mind. This people can hide nothing: the blank eye, the contracting brow, the opening nostril and the tremulous lip, betray, despite themselves, their innermost thoughts. [pp. 6-8]

“Harar, from the Coffee Stream”

At 2 p.m. we fell into a narrow fenced lane and halted for a few minutes near a spreading tree, under which sat women selling ghee and unspun cotton. About two miles distant on the crest of a hill, stood the city, — the end of my present travel,—a long sombre line, strikingly contrasting with the white-washed towns of the East. The spectacle, materially speaking, was a disappointment: nothing conspicuous appeared but two grey minarets of rude shape: many would have grudged exposing three lives to win so paltry a prize. But of all that have attempted, none ever succeeded in entering that pile of stones: the thorough-bred traveller, dear L. [James Grant Lumsden, to whom Burton had dedicated the book], will understand my exultation, although my two companions exchanged glances of wonder. . . . About half a mile eastward of the town appears a burn called Jalah or the Coffee Water: the crowd crossing it did not prevent my companions bathing, and whilst they donned clean Tobes I retired to the wayside, and sketched the town. [pp. 291-92]

“H. H. Ahmed Bin Akibakr, Amir of Harar”

The Amir, or, as he styles himself, the Sultan Ahmad bin Sultan Abibakr, sat in a dark room with whitewashed walls, to which hung—significant decorations— rusty matchlocks and polished fetters. His appearance was that of a little Indian Rajah, an etiolated youth twenty-four or twenty-five years old, plain and thin-bearded, with yellow complexion, wrinkled brows and protruding eyes. His dress was a flowing robe of crimson cloth, edged with snowy fur, and a narrow white turban tightly twisted round a tall conical cap of red velvet, like the old Turkish headgear of our painters. His throne was a common Indian Kursi, or raised cot, about five feet long, with back and sides supported by a dwarf railing: being an invalid he rested on his elbow upon a pillow, under which appeared the hilt of a Cutch sabre. Ranged in double line, perpendicular to the Amir, stood the “court,” his cousins and nearest relations, with right arms bared after fashion of Abyssinia. . . . The Amir Ahmed’s health is infirm. Some attribute his weakness to a fall from a horse, others declare him to have been poisoned by one of his wives. I judged him consumptive. [pp. 298-99, 332]

“Costumes of Harar”

The Somal say of the city that it is a Paradise inhabited by asses: certainly the exterior of the people is highly unprepossessing. Amongst the men, I did not see a handsome face: their features are coarse and debauched; many of them squint, others have lost an eye by small-pox, and they are disfigured by scrofula and other diseases: the bad expression of their countenances justifies the proverb, “Hard as the heart of Harar.” Generally the complexion is a yellowish brown, the beard short, stubby and untractable as the hair. . . . The dress is a mixture of Arab and Abyssinian. They shave the head, and clip the mustachios and imperial close, like the Shafei of Yemen. Many are bareheaded. . . . The body-garment is the Tobe, worn flowing as in the Somali country or girt with the dagger-strap round the waist: the richer classes bind under it a Futah or loin-cloth, and the dignitaries have wide Arab drawers of white calico. Coarse leathern sandals, a rosary and a tooth-stick rendered perpetually necessary by the habit of chewing tobacco, complete the costume: and arms being forbidden in the streets, the citizens carry wands five or six feet long. The women, who, owing probably to the number of female slaves, are much the more numerous, appear beautiful by contrast with their lords. They have small heads, regular profiles, straight noses, large eyes, mouths approaching the Caucasian type, and light yellow complexions. Dress, however, here is a disguise to charms. A long, wide, cotton shirt, with short arms as in the Arab’s Ara, indigo-dyed or chocolate-coloured, and ornamented with a triangle of scarlet before and behind—the base on the shoulder and the apex at the waist—is girt round the middle with a sash of white cotton crimson-edged. Women of the upper class, when leaving the house, throw a blue sheet over the head, which, however, is rarely veiled. The front and back hair parted in the centre is gathered in two large bunches below the ears, and covered with dark blue muslin or network, whose ends meet under the chin. . . . [T]hey bring water from the wells in large gourds borne on the head.  . . . [pp. 325-27, 328]

The Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Picture of Exploration. 2 vols. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860. [Rare Books Division]

There is indeed little in the physical features of this portion of the great peninsula to excite the attention of the reader beyond the satisfaction that ever accompanies the victory of truth over fable, and a certain importance which in these “travelling times,”—when man appears rapidly rising to the rank of a migratory animal,—must attach to discovery. . . . Eastern and central inter-tropical Africa also lacks antiquarian and historic interest, it has few traditions, no annals, and no ruins, the hoary remnants of past splendour so dear to the traveller and to the reader of travels. [Vol. 1, p. 106]

"Zanzibar Town from the Sea"

At noon, on the 16th of June, 1857, the corvette Artémise, after the usual expenditure of gunpowder which must in Eastern lands announce every momentous event, from the birth of a prince to the departure of a bishop, slowly gliding out of Zanzibar harbour, afforded us a farewell glance at the whitewashed mosques and houses of the Arabs, the cadjan-huts, the cocoa-grown coasts, and the ruddy hills striped with long lines of cloves. Onwards she stole before a freshening breeze, the balmy breath of the Indian Ocean, under a sun that poured a flood of sparkling light over the azure depths and the bright green shallows around, between the "elfen isles" of Kumbeni, with its tall trees, and Chumbi, tufted with dense thickets, till the white sandstrip mingled with the blue ocean, the gleaming line of dwarf red cliff and scaur dropped into the water's edge, the land faded from emerald to brown, and from brown to hazy purple, the tufts of the trees seemed first to stand out of, then to swim upon, the wave, and as evening, the serenest of tropical evenings, closed over sky, earth, and sea, a cloud-like ridge, dimly discernible from our quarter, was all that remained of Zanzibar. [Vol. I, pp. 1-2]

“A Town on the Mrima”

As usual throughout these lands, where comprehensive geographical names are no longer required, there is no modern general word for East Africa south of the equator. The term “Sawahil,” or “the shores” in present parlance is confined to the strip of coast beyond the half-Somali country, called from the various ports,—Lamu, Brava, and Patta,—Barr el Banadir or Harbour Land. The “Sawahil” extend southwards to Mombasah, below which the coast suddenly falling flat, is known as Mrima or the Hill, and its people as Wamrima, the “hill-men.” . . . The Wamrima are of darker complexion, and are more African in appearance, than the coast Arabs. The popular colour is a dull yellowish bronze. The dress is a fez, or a Surat-cap; a loin-cloth, which among the wealthy is generally an Arab check or an Indian print, with a similar sheet thrown over the shoulders. Men seldom appear in public without a spear, a sword, or a staff; and priding themselves upon the possession of an umbrella, they may be seen rolling barrels, or otherwise working upon the sands, under the luxurious shade. The women wear a tobe, or long cloth, wrapped tightly round the body. . . . Their favorite necklace is a string of shark’s teeth. They distend the lobes of the ears to a prodigious size, and decorate them with a rolled-up strip of variously-dyed cocoa-leaf, a disk of wood, a plate of chakazi or raw gum-copal, or, those failing, with a betelnut or with a few straws. The left wing of the nose is also pierced to admit a pin of silver, brass, lead, or even a bit of manioc-root. [Vol. 1, pp. 29-30, 33-34]

"Explorers in East Africa"

"The East Africa Ghauts"

On the 7th August, 1857, the Expedition left Zungomero. We were martyred by miasma; my companion and I were so feeble, that we could scarcely sit our asses, and weakness had almost deprived us of the sense of hearing. It was a day of severe toil. . . .From Central Zungomero to the nearest ascent of the Usagara Mountains is a march of five hours. . . . About noon we diverged a few yards from the Mgeta, and ascended the incline of the first gradient in Usagara, rising about 300 feet from the plains below. This, the frontier of the second region, or ghauts, and the debris encumbering the lowest escarpment, is called Mzizi Mdogo, or the "Little Tamarind," to distinguish it from the "Great Tamarind" section which lies beyond. . . . There was a wondrous change of climate at Mzizi Mdogo; strength and health returned as if by magic . . . Truly delicious was the escape from the nebulous skies, the fog-driving gusts, the pelting rain, the clammy mists veiling a gross growth of fetor, the damp raw cold, rising as it were from the earth, and the alternation of fiery and oppressive heat; in fact, from the cruel climate of the river-valley, to the pure sweet mountain-air, alternately soft and balmy, cool and reviving, and to the aspect of clear blue skies, which lent their tints to the highland ridges well wooded with various greens. Dull mangrove, dismal jungle, and monotonous grass, were supplanted by tall solitary trees, amongst which the lofty tamarind rose conspicuously graceful, and a card-table-like swamp, cut by a network of streams, nullahs, and stagnant pools, gave way to dry healthy slopes, with short deep pitches, and gently shelving hills. [Vol. I, pp.156, 160-162]

“View in Unyamwezi"

We enter unyamwezi, the far-famed land of the moon. The district of Tura, though now held, like Jiwe la Mkoa and Mgongo T’hembo, by Wakimbu, is considered the eastern frontier of Unyamwezi proper, which claims superiority over the minor neighbouring tribes. Some, however, extend the “land of the moon” eastward as far as Jiwe la Mkoa, and the porters when entering the “Fiery Field,” declare that they are setting foot upon their own ground. . . . [Tura] is situated in S. lat. 5E 2' and E. long. 33E 57', and the country rises 4,000 feet above sea level. After the gloomy and monotonous brown jungles and thorn forests of Mgunda Mk’hali, whose sinuous line of thick jungle still girds the northern horizon, the fair champaign, bounded on either hand by rolling and rounded hills of primary formation, with a succession of villages and many a field of holcus and sesamum, maize, millet, and other cereals, of manioc and gourds, water melons and various pulses, delights the sight, and appears to the African traveller a Land of Promise. [Vol. 1, pp. 313-14]

“The Ivory Porter”

The porter, called pagazi or fagazi—the former is the African, the latter the ridiculous Arabised form of the word—corresponds with the carregador of West Africa. . . . In the Unyamwezi caravan there is no desertion, no discontent, and, except in certain spots, little delay. The porters trudge from sunrise to 10 or 11 a.m., and sometimes, though rarely, they will travel twice a day, resting only during the hours of heat. They work with a will, carrying uncomplainingly huge tusks, some so heavy that they must be lashed to a pole between two men—a contrivance technically called mziga-ziga. Their shoulders are often raw with the weight, their feet are sore, and they walk half or wholly naked to save their cloth for displays at home. They ignore tent or covering, and sleep on the ground; their only supplies are their country’s produce. . . . Those who must consult comfort carry, besides their loads and arms, a hide for bedding, an earthen cooking pot, a stool, a kilindo or bark-box containing cloth and beads, and perhaps a small gourd full of ghee. They sometimes suffer severely from exposure to a climate which forbids long and hard work upon short and hard fare. [Vol. 1, pp. 341-42]

"View in Usagara"

According to the guides, Usagara is a prolongation of the mountains of Nguru, or Ngu, extending southwards, with a gap forming the fluviatile valley of the Rwaha or Rufiji River, to the line of highlands of which Njesa in Uhiao is supposed to be the culminating apex: thus the feature would correspond with the Eastern Ghauts of the Indian Peninsula. The general law of the range is north and south; in the region now under consideration, the trend is from the north by west to south by east, forming an angle of 10° 12' with the meridian. The Usagara chain is of the first order in East Africa; it is indeed the only important elevation in a direct line from the coast to western Unyamwezi; it would hold, however, but a low grade in the general system of the earth's mountains. The highest point above sea-level, observed by B.P. Therm., was 5,700 feet; there are, however, peaks which may rise to 6,000 and even to 7,000 feet . . . [Vol. I, pp. 225-226] [Burton is a few hundred miles from Mt. Kilimanjaro which, though not mentioned in his book, is identified on his map.]

"Navigation of the Tanganyika Lake"

Before departure it will be necessary to lay before the reader a sketch of our conveyance. . . . The larger are long, narrow "matumbi," or canoes, rudely hollowed with the axe—the application of fire being still to be invented,—in fact, a mere log of mvule, or some other large tree which abound in the land of the Wagoma, opposite Ujiji. The trunks are felled, scooped out in loco, dragged and pushed by man-power down the slopes, and finally launched and paddled over to their destination. The most considerable are composed of three parts—clumsy, misshapen planks, forming, when placed side by side, a keel and two gunwales, the latter fastened to the centerpiece by cords of palm-fibre passing through lines of holes. The want of caulking causes excessive leakage: the crew take duty as balesmen in turns. . . . The crew sit upon narrow benches, extending across the canoe and fastened with cords to holes in the two side-pieces . . . The hold is often ankle-deep in water . . . The spears are planted upright amidships, at one or two corners of the central space so as to be ready at a moment's notice . . . The paddle on the Tanganyika is a stout staff, about six feet long, and cut out at the top to admit a trefoil-shaped block the size of a man's hand . . . [which] seldom lasts through the day without breaking away from its frail tackling. The paddler, placing one hand on top and the other about the middle of the staff, scoops up as it were, the water in front of him . . . It is a laborious occupation, and an excessive waste of power. [Vol. II, pp. 94-96]

“Snay bin Amir’s House”

Snay bin Amir . . . had begun life a confectioner at Maskat, and now he had risen to be one of the wealthiest ivory and slave-dealers in Eastern Africa. As his health forbade him to travel he had become a general agent at Kazeh, where he had built a village containing his store-houses and depôts of cloth and beads, slaves and ivory. I have to acknowledge many an obligation to him. Having received a “wakalat-namah,” or “power of attorney” he enlisted porters for the caravan to Ujiji. He warehoused my goods, disposed of my extra stores, and, finally, he superintended my preparations for the down-march. During two long halts at Kazeh he never failed, except through sickness, to pass the evening with me, and from his instructive and varied conversation was derived not a little of the information contained in the following pages. [Vol. 1, p. 324]

"Saydumi, a Native of Uganda"

"The Basin of Maroro"

Maroro, or Malolo, according to dialect . . . is not a town, but a district, containing as usual on this line a variety of little settlements. The confined basin is by no means a wholesome locality, the air is warm and "muggy," the swamp vegetation is fetid, the mosquitos venomous, and the population, afflicted with fevers and severe ulceration, is not less wretched and degraded than the Wak'hutu. Their habitations are generally Tembe, but small and poor, and their fields are dotted with dwarf platforms for the guardians of the crops. . . . In these basins caravans endeavor, and are forced by the people, to encamp upon the further end after marching through. [Vol. II, p. 255]

"The Basin of Kisanga"

On the 19th of December, leaving Kiperepeta, we toiled up a steep incline, cut by the sinuated channels of watercourses, to a col or pass, the water-parting of this line in Usagara: before south-westerly, the versant thence-forward trends to the south-east. Having topped the summit, we began the descent along the left bank of a mountain burn, the Rufita, which, forming in the rainy season a series of rapids and cascades, casts its waters into the Yovu, and eventually into the Rwaha River. The drainage of the hill-folds cuts, at every re-entering angle, a ragged irregular ditch, whose stony depths are impassable to heavily-laden asses. After a toilsome march of three hours, we fell into the basin of Kisanga, which, like the others on this line, is an enlarged punchbowl, almost surrounded by a mass of green hills, cone rising upon cone, with tufted cappings of trees, and long lines of small haycock-huts ranged along the acclivities and ridge-lines. The floor of the basin is rough and uneven; a rich cultivation extends from the hill-slopes to the stream which drains the sole, and the fine trees, amongst which are the mparamusi and the sycomore, relieve the uniformity of the well-hoed fields. [Vol. II, p. 257]