“My Parentage and Early Career as a Slave”
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"MY PARENTAGE AND EARLY CAREER AS A SLAVE."
SURROUNDED by beautiful mountain scenery, and situated between Darfur and Kordofan, under the jurisdiction of Muhammad Ali, the Pacha of Egypt who first conquered the town, is a small valley, or rather plateau, in the mountains, named Jebel Tegeley. As near as I can recollect, the valley of Tegeley might be about 14 to 16 miles in length by 6 to 7 broad, and it boasted of five villages at the period of my being taken away from my country. Two of these round-hutted, mud-thatched settlements, belonged to my family; and all five were subject to Chammaroo, the prince who exercised despotic sway over the inhabitants of our valley. My uncle was one of Chammaroo's warriors, and my eldest sister acted as nurse to the royal children. I dearly loved my father, who showered upon me such unmistakable signs of paternal affection that his partiality towards me created an ill feeling against me on the part of my mother. Her conjugal regard for my father was not of the highest stamp, so that I frequently came in for a scolding intended for my father, and frequently a slapping for myself. The first thing I remember in life was when I observed a little brat at my mother's breast. I must have been somewhat over two years of age at that time; for be it understood we African children are permitted to enjoy the sweetness of our mother's milk for eighteen months or two years, and during that period the mother never thinks of nursing another child till the last one is perfectly strong and able to walk about. The next, and the then youngest brother, barefacedly encroached upon what I considered my supreme prerogative. My mother appeared to hold him close to her bosom, and my aunt (I have forgotten all their names), with our friends and other relatives, were laughing and congratulating my mother for what under the skies I could not tell. I looked and looked again at the naked little thing till I became jealous of the preference shown to him, and from that day I plead guilty to hating the little usurper. I grew up, and through my uncle's influence I became a little lord in waiting to Prince Chammaroo's children, the eldest of whom showed me the greatest kindness. One of the little princesses also took a great fancy to me; but I disliked her because she was minus her hair on the whole of one side of her head, and at the time there was no perruquier in Tegeley to rectify the defect. The history of this want must be told. It was no freak of nature, but the result of an accident, which even now makes my flesh creep and my blood run cold at the thought.
Amongst the many beasts that inhabit the jungle in the neighbourhood of our valley, the lion is the king of the forest. It was seldom that these animals made their appearance during the day, but the moment that the shades of night began to overshadow us, the roar of these dreaded animals might be heard for miles as they issued forth from their dens to hunt up their prey. In their nocturnal prowlings these beasts often approached and frequently entered the villages, and woe was their fate whose house doors were loosely fastened, or the curs that happened to fall asleep in the "middle watch." On came the lions one night, and, as bad luck would have it, they found one of the doors of Prince Chammaroo's palace badly secured. The air was very sultry, and the whole family, including the prince, were sound asleep in the open courtyard. A lion, said to have been an old offender, cautiously entered the courtyard and seized the princess, who was then lying by her mother's side, seized her by the hair of the head, and immediately commenced dragging her away. The mother awoke and jumped up, the child screamed, and so terribly, that the prince instinctively clutched his sword and ran towards the door. By the assistance of a bright intertropical moon, he saw the lion dragging away his offspring, the child of his affections. The prince redoubled his speed, and, as the burden was rather heavy, the king of the forest was overtaken by the king of the homestead, and then followed a dreadful struggle for victory. The prince held his daughter by the legs, and tried to pull her away from the lion. The lion refused to let go his hold, and dragged both prince and child after him; the poor girl still screaming lustily. One, two, three, four, five, six, and more cuts with the sword on the lion's back, and at last the prince found himself with his child lying speechless and bleeding on the ground. Chammaroo took up the girl and ran back with her to the palace: on examining her they found that the lion had carried off one half of the hairy scalp. The wound healed up, but the hair never grew again, and hence my dislike to that unfortunate but very plain being.
At about the age of six years my father took me from court and made me a shepherd: every morning at sunrise I was seen opening the sheep-fold to let out the sheep and goats. One old ram used to lead the van, for the pasture ground were well known to the veteran; and I reserved another to ride upon, the better to follow up the rear. On my way, I usually met two other boys from the neighbouring villages, with their father's flocks, and by mutual agreement mixed our animals together and took our stations on the pasture ground to prevent them from losing themselves in the bust. At even-tide the voice of every shepherd called his flocks, and they separated into three lots, each following its guardian to the fold.
Being the oldest of the boys, my pride was raised to no small degree when I beheld my father preparing a farm for me. This even filled my mind with grand anticipations of leaving the care of the flocks to my next brother, who was then beginning to work a little. Manhood, a landed proprietorship, a house, a wife to cook for me, herds of goats, flocks of sheep, and other items which constitute gentility in Central Africa, all floated before my mind's eye; but I was never destined to enjoy the charms of a settled and independent life. While tending our flocks between two hills, we espied two men making their way towards us. The foremost saluted us by asking a question quite common in the country,—"Have you any goats for us?" We answered, "No"; but I soon discovered the ruse that the villains had practiced; for as soon as they came close to me, our would-be amicable strangers seized me firmly by the hand and pulled me away whether I would or not. I screamed, I roared, I fell down on the ground, but all to no purpose. We were too far away from our homes, the sun was setting, and, to facilitate my stubborn and lagging movements, one of the kidnappers procured a green switch and applied it very tellingly to my legs and their origins till they were all cut and bleeding. Late at night we reached a few farm-houses, and here, without even getting a drink of water, I was tied hands and feet and laid on the bare ground to rest. I cried all night, and before day dawn on the following morning the slave-catchers aroused me, and taking the ropes off my legs, forthwith commenced a march still further away from my home.
I was now a slave beyond a doubt. From being a companion of princes, I had dwindled away into a thing to be bartered for, to be bought, to be sold at the pleasure of another man. My dear father was far away from me, and I had no relative or friends to sympathise with me in in my luckless destiny. I was distracted, especially when I observed my pursuer coming after me with a large hippopotamus-hide whip, and a sword slung on his shoulder. At noon we reached an Arab village of large dimension, and went straight to the chief's house, where a long interview ensued in a language quite unknown to me. What arrangement had been entered into I could not tell, but at any rate I was sold. The ruffian who had kidnapped me went away, and I never saw him again, nor, alas! have my eyes ever since fallen upon parent, family, or friend of my youth.
On entering the house of my new master I was agreeably surprised by meeting an old acquaintance, Medina by name. She had been despatched on an errand by some of Prince Chammaroo's family, and, on her return home, she was intentionally waylaid by some of the prince's emissaries and sold to the Arab chief in whose house I found her. According to her own account, the Prince Chammaroo had applied to her brother for his sister to become one of his concubines. The brother, being a powerful chief, positively refused this command of the prince, and the result was that he secretly vented his rage, by conniving at the seizure and sale of the innocent and unoffending Medina. When she saw me, Medina expressed great pleasure at our meeting, but felt sorry to think of the cause that had brought us together. She advised me to do whatever I was desired, assuring me that the white man (meaning the Arab) would not care for taking our lives, and that killing us would not cost him a thought. We were firmly secured together with iron chains on our feet, the chain being first riveted on her right leg, and then secured with a key to my left. A strict watch was set over us, and we were never permitted to go far from the house. Medina, being the elder, frequently laid down plans for our escape, but those were never matured or carried out; the fear of being recaptured preventing active measures.
A short time after this a caravan consisting of merchants and travellers left the Arab village for a day's journey to the eastward. Our master joined them, and about sunset we reached another village inhabited by Arabs, but he was disappointed in his object: the merchants to whom he intended to sell us had left that morning. The market had been broken up, and we had to return home, our owner not having had even a single bid for our bodies. Another caravan was soon equipped upon a larger scale, and for a greater distance. This was to a large town called Kordofan, also under the jurisdiction of the Pacha of Egypt, and garrisoned by Egyptian troops. The first day we pitched our tents at a well of water, not having seen a single house on the whole of our journey. The second day was very tedious, for we had to pass through a country entirely bare of every vestige of the vegetable matter, and the ground was so dried up that every now and then we came to earth-cracks—large gaps which yawned for want of water, and gaped wide enough to swallow an elephant. We continued our journey till late at night, when the guidance of some lights directed us to a distant village, where we arrived and reposed ourselves. We stayed there for some time, and shared the unfeigned goodwill of the people, who were uncommonly kind. Hospitality is a precept and a practice handed down from generation to generation by the patriarch Abraham. When he unconsciously entertained the three heavenly messengers, he was doing exactly that which is practiced by the Arabs of the desert at the present day. "Beitná Beituk," My house is thy house! is, with a very few exceptions, the maxim of every dweller of the desert, and East Africa hardly yields to Asia in this particular. The more refined citizens will place the finest rooms in their houses as the disposal of the stranger. Their horses, their servants, the best fruits in their gardens, nay, even their own services are at the command of the guest; and that man is a black sheep in the flock who is found wanting in courtesy to the traveller, be he Christian or Moslem, Jew or idolater, gentle or simple, rich or poor. The name of the village was Albahar or Albeit, and near it was a Turkish camp, temporarily established for carrying on slave-hunts. During our stay we were taken to the camp, and put through various forms, which none but a slave dealer or buyer could imagine. The first thing we were desired to do was to show our tongues and then our teeth; our limbs underwent a serious examination also, but this was done privately in the farthest corner of the tent.
On the day following this examination the camp broke up and set out for Kordofan; we being directed to fall in. There were a few slaves secured by means of forked sticks to camels, and also a batch of Arab girls that had actually been hunted in the village and forcibly compelled to mount the soldiers' dromedaries. Two days brought us to Kordofan, the approach to this Muhammadan seat of learning being characterized by heaps of dead bones of man, camel, horse, and donkey. This was the largest town that Medina and I had seen, and we now began to imagine that we had arrived amongst the people that live at the end of the world, and whose business it is to kill all the blacks, and to use their blood as a dye for red cloth: our ideas were confirmed when we saw so many of the soldiers wearing scarlet caps. We gave ourselves up for lost, trepidation and despair seized our souls and bodies.
Arrived at Kordofan, we were both sold to another Arab, and on the second day after our transfer we saw our former master and some of his Tegeleyan friends mounted on beautiful Arab chargers, some of them no doubt bought with our blood. We watched the caravan till it got out of sight, and then poor Medina burst into a flood of tears, and vehemently called out the names of her brother, her relatives, and the bosom friends she had left behind in her dear home.
Four days after this we were sold to a Turk, a captain in the Egyptian army, and a very Nimrod in spite and cruelty. Medina was immediately made a member of the Agha's seraglio, and I was initiated into the secrets of making coffee à la Turque, besides running messages, and attending upon strangers and visitors to the captain's quarters. I very well remember the first person whose name I had to introduce to my master. He was a camel-driver and camp follow, employed in the service of the Egyptian Government, and had been despatched with four camel loads to a neighbouring camp. It appears that the miserable wretch was four days behind time; the moment therefore that the Agha heard his name, he jumped up in a rage, and calling the man by certain most unseemly names, ordered him to receive fifty strokes with a large cudgel kept for the purpose. The wretch groaned a death-like moan; he was thrown on his side and the bastinado was administered upon his shoulders. When ordered up after the castigation, his body was bleeding in different parts, and his cheek was skinned by the convulsive efforts with which he raised his head and struck his cheek on the ground after every blow. This was the way that the Agha answered every complaint that was brought to him. Soldiers suffered civilians groaned under the last, and every attempt at begging pardon was answered only by a double flagellation. My own sufferings while in the service of this monster augmented daily. If he called, he said that I ought to answer him no matter at what distance. On one occasion, having been sent on an errand by the head lady of the seraglio, he addressed me on my return with "Where have you been?" and then he commenced beating me; no ordinary blows were administered on that occasion. He kicked my body; he played at ball with my head, striking first on the one side and then on the other. I became almost senseless, while the blood was running out of my ears; and even till to-day, after the lapse of nearly twenty-nine years, I frequently experience a wheezing and deafness in the organs of hearing, especially during damp weather. On another occasion, the house being quite full of strangers during visiting hours I was ordered to make coffee, which I did and served out to the guests. Unfortunately, however, I had made a few cups more than was required: my master said nothing at the moment, but waited till bed time, and after I was sound asleep he seized a horse-whip, and, coming upon me unawares punished me till I was quite speechless. I am persuaded he would have killed me had not one of the upper slaves, a confidential soldier, come into my room and taken the whip from the enraged Tartar.
Amongst the many visitors who frequented the Agha's house was a Turkish Effendi, who had settled as a merchant in Kordofan. He had seen myself and Medina on our arrival, and he wished to become a purchaser, but had been outbid by the Agha. He now offered a tempting price for my companion, and the Agha not being proof against the offer, at once sold her whom he had taken for his wife. I remained about six months the slave of this remarkable specimen of inhumanity, and was released from his clutches in the following easy and singular manner. One day a benevolent-looking Arab came and took coffee with the Agha. I was at my post and had just served out the aromatic beverage. Immediately after coffee I was ordered to go with the stranger, and to fetch some soap. I submissively obeyed, and trudged after the swift-footed Bedouin as fast as my young limbs would permit. The journey was interminable, according to my way of thinking, and I ventured to ask how to find my way back, particularly as the sun was setting. The Arab told me he should see that everything was right, and we arrived at a house where I met two more Arabs, one slave boy, and three girls from Darfur. Whether the Arab had cheated the Agha out of my value, or whether I had been really sold for soap, are questions that I shall probably not be able to answer till my dying day; but one thing is certain, and that is, I had now met with a number of playmates and a kind master. I entirely forgot to ask my way home on the following morning, and at this distance of time I can sincerely hope that the Agha was none the worse for not seeing me return with the soap. My new master's name was Jubalee, and those of his companions Achmet and Mehemet, all natives of New Dongola. Mehemet was the youngest of the three, a professed prayer-loving Moslem, and a teaser to the slaves, being every ready to apply the lash for amusement when he had nothing else to do, between his devotions. He devoutly and religiously shaved his head, leaving a little top knot on the crown, by which means, according to his belief, the angel Gabriel would pull him out of his grave at the Last Day.
I was the last addition to the complement of slaves, and the Arabs at once commenced making preparations to start for their country. They purchased a few camels, a horse, and an ass, some dates, corn meal and water-skins; and, thus equipped, we started across the desert of Bahayuda to Senaar, between the Blue and the White Nile. The journey occupied ten days, during which time we had to march across a country entirely composed of limestone and sand; not a single blade of grass, not a herb of any description was visible on this vast expanse of arid desert. We had to husband the whole of our provisions and water, particularly the latter, for the following reason. Our water-skins had been divided among the loads of the different camels; but the main supply was slung to the saddle of a spirited young grey camel, which was entrusted to my care. A female slave was taking a "spell" on the saddle whilst I was riding on the space immediately behind the hump and holding on to the after pommel. It was the middle of the day, and the sun was hot to broiling, whilst in the distance we observed that arrant deceiver the mirage, or, as the Arabs call it, Moyet-il-Jehannum, the water of Gihannar. The camels were pacing in a string one after the other, and all were silent, being afraid by opening his or her mouth to create an insufferable thirst. The water-camel was in the van, and before any person was aware we came upon a camel lying across our path: it was in a state of high decomposition, and our olfactory organs revolted at the pestiferous odour arising from that never-to-be-forgotten dead camel. All the beasts immediately began to inflate their nostrils and to prick up their ears; then followed a confused and involuntary dance—such a dance as might have suggested a new figure to a professed danseuse. I slid down the back of the camel, while the female slave was very unceremoniously pitched from the saddle. None of the other riders were unsaddled; but the stench made all their animals perfectly furious and entirely ungovernable. The water-camel was off helter-skelter to the desert, and the confusion that ensued was indescribable. Both master and slave were deeply interested in the burden of the water camel. "La ilaha ill Allah, there is no God but the God. Catch him! Catch him! Stop him! Stop him! Allah u Akbar, God A'mighty!" and so on. Noise, prayers, and religious ejaculations were all thrown away, the water-camel pranced, kicked and galloped until the whole of the skins burst open and discharged their contents upon the insatiable sands of the desert: be it remembered, this sad catastrophe occurred when we were full six days distant from the banks of the Nile, that being the nearest place where the necessary water was procurable. No cooking after this accident, and what little water was left was served out a few mouthfuls to each person at the time of our encamping for the night. The corn meal was given to us dry, and that, with a few dates, constituted the whole of our fare for five long days, which seemed fifty.
About noon on the tenth march, after leaving Kordofan, a glorious prospect opened before our eyes—that sight is still fresh in my memory, and if any of my companions, "shipmates of the desert," are still alive, they too, surely look back with the highest pleasure and the sincerest gratitude to that day, that epoch in our journey after leaving Kordofan. We stepped suddenly on an oasis, a delightfully verdant island in the midst of the sea of sand. To look upon grass was a goodly luxury to our scorched and bleared eyes; but here we had not only green grass, but green corn, green water-melons, and a fine green shade to rest under. The owner of the farm invited us to regale ourselves with the water-melons, and, in the meantime, he roasted some young maize for our second meal. We feasted on corn and melons, on water-melons and corn, on corn and water-melons, and on water-melons and corn again, and the whole of us retired to rest that night quite in good humour with ourselves and in perfect harmony and good feeling towards our neighbours and every animated being in the world.
Before leaving for ever our happy valley I must indulge in some reminiscences of it.
I have already stated that the valley of Tegeley is situated between Darfur and Kordofan. It is an undulating table-land, bounded by two ranges of low hills, the highest part of which might be about 300 to 400 feet; and in the centre is a water-course, flowing through the whole distance, some 16 miles, parallel with the Nile, south to north to the lower part of the valley. Dry in the dry seasons, during the rains it is a complete torrent, running some seven or eight knots, and in many places very deep and perfectly impassable. On either side of this mountain-stream the country is all under cultivation; in short the site is so thickly peopled that many of the inhabitants are compelled to make farms 4 or 5 miles beyond the principality. The ground which my father possessed there was not sufficient for the growth of corn for all our family; he therefore obtained a grant of land in the territory of a prince of the name of Daldoum Abshenet; and it was there that the greater part of our supplies were produced, and there also that the intended farm for your humble servant was cleared, and made ready for him. The inhabitants of the valley being mountaineers, are manly, and brave candidates for valour, and are expected to encounter and kill a lion;* and when successful, they are permitted to wear the skin of their victim as a mark of distinction. A short time before I was stolen away from my country, an uncle of mine killed a lion and thus raised the name of our family to the rank of nobles in the land. He was presented to Prince Chammaroo, who at once gave him the command of an expedition against a predatory horde that infested the neighbourhood of the country. My father and nearly the whole of the able-bodied men in the house at once volunteered to accompany the lion-killer, and after four days' march into some country to the eastward, that is to say towards Senaar, they came upon the robbers just at dusk, and completely routed them; taking possession of everything that the enemy had, besides bringing in four prisoners. The implements used in Tegeley warfare are spears and shields; and I never remember having seen a gun until I came to the camp of the Egyptian soldiers, between three and four days' journey from my country. The captives taken in the affray were shortly afterwards ransomed, and the mother of the chief of the enemy was sent to us, as a guarantee for the future amicable relations of the two tribes, my grandmother being sent as a hostage to the enemy's country in exchange. The valley, as far as I can remember, was very productive, the waving corn growing luxuriantly throughout all parts of it, and cotton was cultivated for the manufacture of country clothes. The weaver's trade in Tegeley is, unlike in other parts of the world, quite an aristocratic employment. Besides the above productions, we have wild grapes, figs, and water-melons, all of which are eaten by the natives. The gourd or calabash grows everywhere and is used for dishes instead of porcelain, country pots, however, are made by the women. The year is there divided into two parts, the rainy season and the dry, when the ground is prepared to receive the seed, and houses are built or repaired. The tenements are of the circular form usually to be seen throughout Central Africa; and a rich family will have five or six of these huts about 10 feet apart from each other, the whole enclosed within a stone or mud wall 5 to 6 feet in height. There are generally two entrances into the courtyard, and the various houses within are appropriated thus—one or two as sleeping apartments for the family, a kitchen, a mill room, and a fold for the sheep and goats. The government is despotic, the power of life and death being vested in the hands of the prince. As I never observed any of the ceremonies of the Moslem faith in my country, and as the people are taught to believe in the existence of the soul hereafter, and as I never saw any idols or other heathen superstitions in the valley of Tegeley, I may infer, from our proximity to Abyssinia, that the religion is a corrupted form of Christianity. Very few of the men had more than one wife, and the children were brought up to industry the moment they were able to work, every encouragement being given them by their parents and relatives until they became able to provide for themselves. Husband and wife are usually betrothed to one another when children; and when the former has a home ready to receive his bride. The marriage is performed in the following simple manner. Of course all the friends and relatives are perfectly aware that the happy event will take place at some period or other. The young man therefore goes to the house where his betrothed is living, and orders her to cook for him, and to take the victuals to his hut. The bride obeys the mandate, carries the savoury dishes to the house of her future husband, and kneeling down before him, presents her handiwork for his acceptance, and from that day they are man and wife. I do not remember a case of divorce; nor are there, to the best of my memory, any priests in the country.
During my stay in my country there is only one rainy season that I remember vividly; and that was the one after my father cleared the farm for me. My brother Comang was now old enough occasionally to relieve me from the charge of the flocks, and I often accompanied my father to the farm to assist him in sowing. I began, in fact, to feel myself growing into manhood. Not to say that I was very precocious, but my father had procured a shield and some spears for me; and also pointed out a family in whose house I was to engage my future wife. Here is your house said that good parent; go and order such and such one, calling her by her name, to cook for you, and come and live in your house. With us a father's order is sacred, but if I disliked the Princess Chammaroo, the new person filled my mind with terror, for I was only about eight years of age, whilst she had reached the awful and marriageable age of twelve. I submissively obeyed; although I very quietly suggested that she might beat me. The parents received my with courtesy, and arrangements were made for my taking to myself a wife; but it will be seen from what has already been written that the affair was never brought to an end. My time was now divided between the flocks and the farm, and I occasionally accompanied my uncle and other sporting youths into the jungle. The following hunt took place towards the latter end of the rainy season. We had ascended a high eminence, and after eating some wild grapes in the woods, we made for an extensive valley in the principality of Daldoum Abshenet. We separated into various groups, but had not proceeded far down on the other side when a most beautiful sight opened itself to our gaze. This was a magnificent valley extending right, left, and before us for many miles; all covered over with low bush; and every here and there might be seen a small clearing for a farm. And, what was grander still to our eyes, a herd of giraffes or cameleopards were feeding in the jungle, not far distant from us. Without the least exaggeration, there must have been at least 200 of these swan-necked and most graceful animals scattered over a vast expanse of the woods below us; and nothing could have added greater novelty to the scene, than a view of our game nibbling, with mouths like the gazelles, the topmost branches of the extensive bush. My uncle was in ecstacies, and gave orders for the immediate division of the party into two sections; one to follow in the rear, and the other to advance to the front of the herd. My uncle and myself were of the former. The first game we encountered was a party of two kidnappers, waiting a chance for seizing some of our people on their return through the bush from their new farms. These kidnappers are common throughout the country. They are the offscourings of the people round about the valley of Tegeley, and being of debauched and idle propensities, employ themselves in covertly catching estrays, and in selling them to the slave-dealers. We let fly our spears at them, but the jungle on that side was so thick that they easily slipped away from us. Onward we pursued the giraffes till we succeeded in killing one. In the evening the whole party assembled at a place appointed for a rendezvous, and we produced our trophy; whilst the other party showed us the spoils of a fine old lion. This was skinned and the hide was given to the successful hunter; but was the wise men of our Gotham had decreed that no native of the Gebel Tegeley was to eat lion's flesh, the carcase was bartered for corn to a neighbouring tribe. We were, on our side, quite satisfied with our bargain. There is no coin or currency of any description in the place, the commercial system being that of barter. The sandal-maker gives his sandals for corn and hides; the weaver exchanges his cloth for cotton and provision, and the whole tribe combine in performing gratuitous labour for Prince Chammaroo and the royal family, that corvée being equivalent to paying taxes. There was only one horse in the whole of the valley of Tegeley, and that belonged to the chief.
As I proceed with this narrative, new scenes and fresh recollections present themselves before me; for I now remember that the above horse was only ridden once a year by its proprietor. This was at the period of harvest-home, when the crops were all gathered in, and when the people were preparing to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The prince orders a grand assembly of the people, and after haranguing them about the prospects of the year, rides out of the palace-yard and gallops down to the centre of the stream, a distance of about 2 miles. He is energetically followed by the masculine portion of the populace, all of whom are dressed and ready for war. Besides the shields and spears before-mentioned, some of the warriors wear a knife encased within a leathern sheath, and attached by means of a leathern thong to the small arm between the elbow and the shoulder. The next object is to procure a goat to be sacrificed under the horse's belly, and for this purpose the warriors run about in all direction, proclaiming the name of Prince Chammaroo with stentorian voices, and giving a yell which is the signal of death. Altogether it is a most exciting "country custom." The goat being caught, the successful person almost flies with it to the position occupied by the prince, and unsheathing his knife, cuts the throat of the victim, and then hands in his palms some of the blood for the prince to sprinkle himself with. Every person follows the example, and the carcass of the goat is left for any one who may choose to take it away. Is this the scapegoat mentioned in the Book of Leviticus? The prince is dressed in loose Arab robes of foreign manufacture, the brighter the colours the more gorgeous it is in native eyes. Men of the higher class wear the surwal or common Arab loose trousers, besides a country cloth thrown over the shoulders.
Very early on the following morning we made a start, and after a short journey arrived on the banks of the Nile, immediately opposite the town of Senaar. Jubalee and Mehemet left us and crossed over to enjoy themselves, the good old man the Shereif Achmet being left in charge of the slaves and the beasts of burden. Here we fattened for a fortnight upon the products of the land, Indian corn in any quantity, water-melons, fowls from the neighbouring farms, with occasionally some camel's flesh; and for vegetables the young leaves of the water-melon and the Senna plant—Senaar being the noted spot for that useful and popular medicine.
A ludicrous incident occurred, in which I played a foolish part, during our stay in the valley of Senaar. The old Shereif sent me one day to fetch water from the river, giving me a wooden bowl for that purpose. Always a willing boy, especially since Medina's advice, I ran to the waterside and filled my bowl; but on lifting it up to return to our encampment, I cast a glance up the river, and, to my utter astonishment and dismay, saw an object with a black bottom and white top coming towards me, apparently at full speed. Fright at seeing this new and singular apparition at once riveted me to the sport, and it was some time before I could collect my senses. It was evident to me that the thing had eyes, for I now saw it bearing towards the place where I stood on the bank of the river. No time was to be lost. I bethought myself instantly, threw the bowl down suddenly from off my head, smashing it to pieces ran at full speed to the old man, and breathlessly described to him the awful sight that I had seen. He asked for the bowl. "Broken, O Shereif!" I replied. He told me that I had only seen a ship, and severely reprimanded me for my foolishness; but his character of Shereif saved me from a good flogging.
The fortnight over, Jubalee and Mehemet returned from Senaar. They were accompanied by a vast concourse of merchants from this commercial emporium of the Upper Nile. Our caravan now swelled into a large body, and what with prancing horses, loaded camels, and armed merchants, we looked exactly like a large marauding expedition. We started on the morning after the arrival of the Senaar merchants, marches along the banks of the Nile, and in due time arrived at Dongola. Jubalee, Achmet, and Mehemet now dissolved partnership, and divided the spoil equally. It appears that I was the private property of Jubalee; his wife therefore retained me in the house to carry water, &c. This woman was of a very quarrelsome temper; and my master, finding that he could not live with her, sold me to Mehemet's father and went away to another part of the town. My new owner took a fancy to me almost at once, and declared that I should be brought up as a slave trader, but my lucky star was in the ascendant, and an Arabian Jew purchased me to look after his stores in the Dongola Arcade. He must have been a wealthy man, for his house was well furnished with divans and fine carpets, and his family were all dressed in rich silks and other fine cloths; besides which, his establishment was larger than any in the neighbourhood. There was very little or nothing to do at his place; and as he did not believe in "keeping dogs that did not bark," he sold me next to a native of the Berber country in Nubia.
My new master at once took possession of me, and carried me to his place some 2 miles from Dongola farther down the river. I forget this man's name, but I clearly remember once characteristic in his appearance, he was unmercifully pitted with the small-pox, although in other respects he possessed excellent proportions, a straight figure, fine limbs, and smiling features. When we left Dongola, we crossed another branch of the Lybian Desert, and passing the second cataract and the rock-hewn temples of Ipsamboul or Abou Simbel, we entered the village of Korti, or Goorti, the native place of our master. I say our, because there were three of us—a little Arab-featured girl from Senaar, a boy from Soudan, and myself. At Korti I was made to work at native farming. The inundation of the Nile had just subsided, and I was employed in driving the oxen that were attached to the sakya, or water-wheel. This was one of the means employed for irrigating the land by the richer classes, the poorer inhabitants used the shadouf, an apparatus consisting of a long lever suspended between two pillars of wood, a rope with a bucket being attached to one end of it, and a lump of mud or a stone at the other, to act as a counterpoise. The person who draws the water lets down the bucket four feet below him into the river, and dipping it full of water, raises it, with the aid of the weights at the other end of the lever, some five or six feet high, where it is emptied into a canal, which conveys it to the fields. Nubia is very severely dealt with by the Egyptian Government, every man being compelled to serve in the army, whether he will or not. In my time there was a press-gang both by land and water, perpetually harassing the inhabitants, and it was not unusual for all the people to fly from their houses, and live in the desert, for many days together. Taxes are levied on the water-wheels and palm-trees, every palm-tree paying one piastre, or two-pence halfpenny per annum.
The trip to Dongola had enriched my master, and he now made an addition to his family by marrying another wife. Amongst my master's children there was one urchin whose name was Haroun. He was ordered by his father to teach me the secrets of the Muhammadan religion. Haroun, therefore, commenced his task by seating me on the ground, tailor fashion, and by holding up one finger before me, saying at the same time, "Allah wahed" (God is one); but I so incorrigibly persisted in affirming that there were two Gods that my master was compelled to send me to the sheikh for better tuition. The old sheikh very wisely ordered me to look after his sheep and cows, so that I never heard anything more of the mysteries of the Muhammadan faith.
The village to which I was sent was called Dake: it boasts of an old temple, said to have been built in the reign of Cæsar Augustus. Crocodiles and hippopotami abound in this part of the river; the latter are very destructive to the fields; they come out of the water at night, and what corn they do not eat they trample under foot. Their stomachs are inordinately capacious; the hippopotamus presented by the late Pacha of Egypt to the Zoological Society in Regent's Park, London, is said to have consumed sixty pints of milk per diem. The crocodile of the Nile is also destructive; but his aim is to destroy human life.
After I had stayed some three months at Dake, the periodical congia or Nile boat called for slaves. I was shipped with the rest for the slave-market at Cairo, Hemet Hether, for that was my master's name, and his brother-in-law accompanying us. Passing through Bab-el-Calabashe, a narrow gorge in the river, we arrived at Assouan, the ancient Syene. Here we had to disembark and to walk overland for some 6 miles, till we reached the lower part of the first cataract. Syene is about 640 miles from Cairo. All about the cataracts the land is scattered over with ancient buildings, the ruins of which are grand even to the present day. The most picturesque spot is the island of Phila, the site of the beautiful temple of Isis, and the most sacred spot in ancient Egyptian mythology. The island is pre-eminently beautiful, being covered over with trees, and other luxuriant vegetation. As the author of Lands Classical and Sacred says, "The trees that grow in Egypt are not numerous. There are a few species of the acacia, the sycamore, and the date and doum palms, but the most characteristic part of Egyptian botany are the aquatic plants found on the edges of the lakes and marshes. Of these the lotus and papyrus are identified with the history of Egyptian arts, literature, and religion. The papyrus grew in Lower Egypt, and was therefore an emblem of that country; while the lotus, which flourishes in the upper countries, was emblematical of Nubia and Ethiopia. The papyrus is remarkable in Egyptian history as having been used as a writing material; many of our manuscripts of the Bible were written on leaves of the papyrus. The lotus still exists in Egypt; the papyrus has ceased to exist. 'The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and everything sown by the brooks shall wither, be driven away and be no more.'"—Isaiah xix. 7.
Thebes, that city which at one time measured 30 miles in circumference and 9 miles in length, still retains parts of its bygone splendour, especially the temple palace of the great Sesostris, the two sitting colossi of the plain, Medinet Abou, the ruins of Luxor, and the council hall of the Temple of Kharnak. Then we have the Biban-el-Moluk or the tombs of the kings, and the wonderful excavations and mummy pits of Western Thebes, where you view the dead almost as if alive. This will recall to mind Horace Smith's address to the mummy, beginning with the well-known lines—
Mr. George Gliddon, late Consul for the United States in Egypt, an archæologist and statistician, calculates the number of mummies at present existing in Egypt at 500,000,000. From Gizeh to Dashour, a distance of about 60 miles, the ground is entirely covered over with pyramids and mummy pits at Sakkara, Dashour, Meydown, and Gizeh, in all numbering thirty-nine, and the Prussian scientific mission discovered the bases of thirty others. These most curious, most suggestive, and most renowned monuments of antiquity, have been proved beyond a doubt to be the tombs of the Pharoahs of Egypt, the first or great Pyramid of Gizeh being that of King Suphis, the cheops of the Greeks. The second pyramid is the tomb of King Sensuphis, or Cephrenes, and the third is the place of sepulture of King Mencarre, or Mycerinus. Neither must we forget the town of E'siout, the present capital of Upper Egypt, with its population of 12,000, and its pleasing historical association of having been the place where the infant Saviour and His mother abode when the fled from Judea to escape the persecution of Herod. Girgeh, with the Roman Catholic Convent of St. George's, and a population of 7,000; Denderah, with the sculptured representations of Queen Cleopatra and her son, Ptolemy Cæsarion; besides the twelve signs of the zodiac represented on the ceiling, showing that the Egyptians were not ignorant of the scient of astronomy; the Temple of Edfou, the Apollinopolis Magna of the Romans, remarkable for its perfect state of preservation, and at present converted into a powder magazine for the Egyptian Government; Esne and Manfaloot, remarkable for their Gawazi, or dancing-girls; and above all, the cities of Alexandria and Cairo; the railway, the steam-boats on the Nile, and the overland route to India.
These are some memories that I have picked up since my school days in Scotland; but when I entered Cairo on a bright, a glorious Egyptian morning, the sun shining without an envious cloud to mock its brilliancy, bulbuls singing from the fruit-bearing hedges of cactus a song of thanks to the Almighty, who in His great and wonderful care for creation, has numbered and set apart the very sticks and thorns which constitute her nest, I was marched into it a miserable slave, unable to comprehend all the great moving causes around me, and existing only as the property of Hemet Hether, the Berber slave-dealer. Forty of us were counted as we entered the gates of the city, and the man who kept the tally grumbled at seeing so many masters and so few slaves. We took up our quarters at the foot of the Gebel Mokattam or Mokattam Hills, daily going to the slave market to be exposed for sale, and after passing through this routine for upwards of six weeks, I was purchased by Mons. Piozin, and sent down to Alexandria for the late venerable Robert Thurburn, Esq., Her Britannic Majesty's Consul in Egypt, by whom I was taken to Scotland, and left there to be educated.
* Lions are often bogged in the holes and pits made by nature during the rains.—R.F.B. [back]
"My Parentage and Early Career as a Slave."—The article in our last number with this heading, was entirely written by Selim Agha, formerly a slave, and is the record of his own adventures, which his subsequent education and his natural ability have enabled him to give in this interesting form. We mention this fact, as the Queen, in noticing the article, expressed an opinion that it was "manifestly the work of a cultivated European."
Digital Publication Details
Title: “My Parentage and Early Career as a Slave”
Creator(s): Selim Aga
Publication date: (1874) 2022
Digital publishers: One More Voice, COVE
Critical encoding: Thomas Coughlin, Kenneth C. Crowell, Adrian S. Wisnicki
One More Voice identifier: liv_025998
Cite (Chicago Author-Date): Selm Aga. (1874) 2022. “My Parentage and Early Career as a Slave.” Edited by Thomas Coughlin and Kenneth C. Crowell. In “BIPOC Voices,” One More Voice, solidarity edition; Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education (COVE). https://onemorevoice.org/html/bipoc-voices/additional-texts/liv_025998_HTML.html.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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