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A VERY OLD CUSTOM.
known to have been the case by the inhabitants of Shoa, who have no other idea but that it was the effect of religious feeling, and of the great sense of justice, for which their sovereign, Sahale Selassee, is celebrated all over the eastern horn of Africa, and far into the interior towards the west.
I was never given to understand that the proclamation that announced the freedom of the children at all affected the condition of their parents, who, I believe, still are and will continue until death the bond servants of the Negoos.
When these circumstances were first related to me, I could not help being struck by the exact correspondence they exhibit, with the proceedings of Joseph acting as the steward of Pharaoh towards the starving Egyptians, during the infliction of the seven years' famine upon that country; and which is another instance of the similarity of custom and of situation between that ancient people and the modern Abyssinians. The appeal, indeed, of the former to Joseph, expresses exactly the request made to the Negoos of Shoa by his subjects; “ Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land ? Buy us and the land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh, and give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land be not desolate."
Stay with Tinta-Proceed to Ankobar.—Remain for the day at
Musculo's house.—Fever.—Abyssinian supper party.—Honey wine.—Importance of salt as an article of food.
WHEN my“ balderabah” Tinta, gave to Walderheros the parchment order for durgo, he also told him, as the tent was insufficient shelter for an invalid, to take me to his house, which was not many yards distant from where I was previously lodged.
Here we found his mother and sister sitting upon the ground busy spinning cotton. The right thighs of each were completely bare to the hips, for the purpose of rolling swiftly with the palm of the hand, along the smooth surface, the small light reel, which hung revolving, whilst the hand bearing aloft the light white cloud of cotton, slowly diverged to arms' length, and the other as gradually drew out in the opposite direction the slender thread that was formed during the operation.
Within the hearth circle, that occupied the centre of the apartment, a huge wood fire was blazing away, the most comfortable looking thing I had seen since leaving Aliu Amba. On the farther side from the door was a raised couch, built
PRESENTS FROM THE NEGOOS.
of stones and mud, and upon this a layer of fresh cut grass was laid, and an ox skin was soon found to throw over this dampish looking bed. All being arranged, I was invited to sit down, my shoes and socks being then taken off, the older lady, in accordance with a very usual custom, washed my feet in warm water, and I had already become so used to their manners, that I did not now draw back the foot, as at first I could not help doing, from the salute that is always given when the process is concluded.
Besides the goat which the Negoos had sent to me, another supply of bread (like our own), butter, cayenne pottage, and tedge, arrived towards the evening, and although I was not able to enjoy the good things myself, the family and Walderheros fared sumptuously upon the viands thus abundantly provided.
After sunset our party was joined by Tinta himself, who had been detained during the day on duty at the palace. He brought with him the “ullica” of the “affaroitsh,” or superior of the distributors of the rations, named Sartawold, “ The gift of the Son.” He was a regular smooth-faced courtier, sleek and well fed, very quiet, and very cunning. A conversation, not an extremely interesting one, was kept up by means of an Islam inhabitant of Aliu Amba, who had arrived in Angolahlah during the day, and upon the strength of having seen me in the market of the former
REQUEST FOR MEDICINE.
town, had now called to make inquiries after the health of his old friend and intimate acquaintance, the “ Aliu Amba ahkeem.”
Among the things Sartawold wanted, was some medicine for the Negoos, whom he did not hesitate to assert, had a most disreputable complaint; but as I did not think proper to understand him until I knew something more of the particulars of the case, he soon ceased making the request. Our halting conversation terminated at length by his getting up from the floor, where he had been sitting upon an ox hide, and telling me that the King desired me to remain at Aliu Amba till I was quite well, and, in the meantime, I must learn to speak Amharic. After recommending each other a dozen times to the care of heaven, Sartawold retired, but it was some time before I could get the talkative Islam to leave me to my muchrequired repose.
After an early breakfast next morning, Walderheros prepared for our departure, rolling up my plaid, Arab cloak, and two large Abyssinian tobes that formed my bed clothes, and putting them all into a large goat skin bag, in which they were usually carried on occasions of leaving home for a time.
I presented my female friends with a few small strings of blue and gold coloured beads, which are the kind most preferred by the Christian inhabitants of Shoa. Of these beads they construct the
more superior kind of “martab,"the particular symbol of their faith ; which, of some material or other, they invariably wear. It sometimes consists merely of a white or blue thread, tied around the throat, but those in most general use are made of dark blue silk, imported by the merchants of Giddem and of Hurrah. This colour, once universally worn, is not insisted upon at the present day, for although it still continues to be considered the most orthodox, the white and yellow coloured threads of beads have become very fashionable of late. The custom of wearing coloured “martabs” bears some reference, I believe, to a personal distinction between the Christian and Islam faiths, established by some former Negoos; for red head dresses of cotton cloth, and long red gowns, are invariably the “outward and visible” sign of the profession of Islamism, among the women of Efat, and other Mahomedan provinces, as the blue martab is of the Christian population.
It was nine o'clock before we were fairly started, but we soon lost sight of the palace hill, with its crest of thatched roofs appearing above the bristling stockade; and of its red flanks dotted with squatting noblemen and courtiers, who in clean white tobes sat enjoying the fresh air and the genial influence of a morning sun. Walderheros ran by the side of my mule, poising upon his head the skin bag which contained my bed. When, however, the view of Angolahlah was shut out by