TRAVEL DESCRIPTION FROM DONGOLA TO SINNAR
Three hours before daybreak on Friday, the twenty-fifth [of March 1701]
we marched off with the royal jallabs whose leader's name was
`Abdin. He was accompanied by an Armenian, a Christian who had become a
Turk, whom we were very hopeful of bringing back to the Catholic faith which alone
At about three o'clock in the afternoon, in the greatest heat,
we arrived at al-Dabba, where we remained.
This village, and the others round about, are inhabited by fuqara' or
saints. They are somewhat different from the other [Egyptian] saints
already described in another place, and because they can read and write
people regard them as teachers and learned men [Doctores] in the
Islamic sense. Because of the fuqara' this village has full immunity,
and by royal decree no state official may come within several miles,
or remove a wrong-doer.
Perhaps many Christian princes, kings and potentates who without hesitation
violate the ecclesiastical immunities or even, without so much as a
twinge of conscience, totally abolish them, may find their faces turning pale!
Today at the first red of daybreak a large, bright, beautiful star could
be seen in the firmament, which sank from day to day until finally after
a little time it could no longer be seen.
But at Sinnar toward the end of the month of September we saw it again
after sunset, and according to its course it sank, so that in March,
after the period of a year, it was shut under the sun and vanished. [p. 255]
The following year it could not be seen.
We took down various notes about it, as we were assured that this star
had never before been seen in these lands.
Further, let me sketch a little notice in addition to today's comments about
these fuqara' or saints--their lives and way of acting--and how it is,
through no other ways and means than their own seductive, phony, false and
treacherous folly, that they are held in such esteem by people blinded by the
darkness of Muhammadan doctrine.
The other sort of marabouts are the Cabalists.
They observe very strict fasts, and have their own distinctive food and
The Moors call them faqih, that is, "man of letters," for they regard
anyone who can read and write as a legal expert.
They arrange their long and fixed prayers at various set hours of the
day and night. They usually carry with them small rectangular wooden tablets,
painted white, upon which every day they write Arabic
characters or a text from the Qur'an.
All day long they talk about this, and learn it by heart.
They give instruction to the other Moors in their false law, and are considered
holy people, like the saints [of Egypt].
Though they lead no such godless and shameless life as the latter
[who removed their clothing in public], they are nevertheless rather given to the
Black Arts. Some of them sit together in Turkish fashion and for half a day bawl out something
from their treacherous Qur'an. At Sinnar, as well as other places,
I have seen with amazement how such fuqara', in the greatest of
all-consuming heat, go out into a public place and howl for two or three
hours without intermission until they collapse from thirst and
While howling they bend the body up and down, and sometimes fall into
the most repulsive and awkward postures that one can imagine.
Others, especially those from Bornu and the Fezzan, of which a dozen or so
traveled with us from Sinnar to Egypt, have in addition to their little
tablets a round bow covered over with a skin, a span wide, under strong
tension. They make from it various tones as on a drum, a music that hurts
the ears and which, (so they think), they make even more pleasant by hanging
on the bow either shells or little snippets of lead [p. 256] so that it
makes more and louder tones.
When they perform with this they sing and jump about with such gestures that one might
think they had gone off the rocker and lost all human sense and reason--which
gives them an undying reputation for holiness among the Muslims.
I have so often seen similar betrayers of the people in various places,
who seek nothing from their strict life and idiotic behavior except to
plant forth the law of their false Prophet, root out what they regard as
false usages, and to lead various kingdoms of the idolators to the law of Muhammad.
On the twenty-sixth [of March 1701] we set off at daybreak and rode until evening, when we
pitched our camp in a desert area not far from an Arab village.
Today we will wait here for the remainder of the caravan, which had remained
behind in Dongola.
We baked bread until the third hour of the night, just as we had at Tangassi,
so that we might have provisions for our Easter celebration.
On the twenty-seventh [of March 1701], Holy Easter Day, we started on our way three
hours before daybreak, and after an easy day arrived in Goshabi.
An hour after our arrival there followed forty more camels of our caravan to continue
the journey with us.
On the twenty-eighth [of March 1701] we set out as on the day before, and
at about five in the afternoon, to the beating of four war-kettledrums,
we rode into Dabulet Elgarbij.
This village is called in Arabic dab, or village, velet
or son, and Elgarbij, or sunset.
On the twenty-ninth [of March 1701] we left our camp two hours before day,
and at vesper time arrived at Korti.
There a number of jallabs and the cavalry of our caravan were waiting to escort us
during the six-day trip through the desert, which was full of robbers and
soldiers at war with the king of Sinnar.
Korti is rather large, and the best village in Nubia.
It lies right by the high desert, and as soon as the caravan is assembled,
with God's help, we shall start the journey.
On the thirtieth [of March 1701] at ten o'clock another considerable part
of the caravan arrived. Among them were the Jesuits.
On the thirty-first [of March 1701] I bled in our tent the eldest son
of the viceroy, the commander of the whole militia of Nubia, who had
given us a squadron of horsemen to convey us through the robber and murderer
[p. 257] The whole tent was full of soldiers and Nubians, all standing around
with lances in their hands.
The prince seated himself on the ground, on a carpet which I spread out for him.
I was lucky in opening the vein; when he saw the blood spurt out in a fine arch he
could scarcely express his wonder that so much blood emerged from such a little
All day long he could discuss nothing except the physicians who were traveling to Sinnar, and about
one hundred Moors came running and crowded around to see something for the
first time in their lives.
I let the vein flow until the black blood changed to red, and let out at
least a good pound of it.
On the next day other patients were brought to us, some of whom we cured,
and many of whom wanted me to bleed them as I had the king's son.
I advised them against this as best I could, and instead of opening a vein,
I cupped them on the back or nape of the neck, for which purpose we had
brought ten large cupping-glasses.
I had them sit on the ground and shaded them from the sun with a cloth,
as is customary.
I took the razor and gave them some good barbarous slashes to which,
as the blood was not running out, they paid no attention; they
cut and brand themselves anyway just like their beasts.
I then took a little spirits in the cupping-glass, ignited it,
and put it in place to draw the blood out.
Although these Nubians are accustomed to cupping each other,
they do not do it as we do.
They make a number of wounds with a razor, then take a small
goat's horn, severed four or five fingers from the top, bore through it a
small hole at the point, and use it as a cupping-glass.
They then suck as hard as they can, puffing with distended cheeks
until out of breath.
Then they stop the hole with a piece of bitten-off and chewed-up
hair wax so that the horn does not fall off; the blood holds it on,
as with a cupping-glass.
My style pleased them better, however, and they all wanted to
be cupped; cut as I might, I could not displease them.
On the first of April  the whole day was spent settling the caravan in
order; we enter the desert tomorrow, if God wills.
They purchased a great number of camels from the local Arabs [p. 258]
and Nubians to get through the desert more easily and bring over the goods.
They not only obtained provisions for themselves and their beasts, but also
armed themselves as well as possible in case it became necessary to fight
an enemy. Last year there was an encounter between a caravan and the
enemy in which the caravan was victorious and put to rout one hundred
fifty of the foe.
All through the Nubian desert, as on the other routes and roads, one can
find the fruit of the colycinth; here it is bigger and better than in
The finest senna-Mecca leaves also grow here in unbelievable profusion,
and also the noble squinante flower (though only in these deserts)
in such excess and profusion that one could probably fill whole wagons.
On the second [of April 1701] at about ten in the morning the whole caravan entered the
desert, accompanied by a hundred riders.
The caravan was so large that it resembled a small army, as it had joined with a
second caravan of two or three hundred camels carrying dates to Sinnar.
We encountered good routes along which the camels could graze from time to time,
for we were entering a land moistened by the rains of heaven for a few months during the
In the kingdom of Nubia, and in all of Egypt except for the coastal regions,
it usually rains very little or not at all.
The whole desert was full of the most delicious fragrance of the squinante (that is,
junci odorferi), as well as other precious sweet-smelling plants and trees,
none of which are to be seen in Christendom.
Much to our surprise, however, none of them was without thorns.
Every plant and growing thing has its thorns--its respective thorns,
one might say--through all these royal lands of the Moors and as far as
the capital city and imperial residence of Ethiopia.
From this I would conclude that Paradise
must have been not far away; for out of Paradise our first father Adam,
on account of the forbidden apple-bite, was banished into this land which
is full of thistles and thorns even today: "Among thorns and tribulations
shalt thou till the land."
Do not believe that anywhere else in the world, except in these places
and those round about, are such thistles and thorns to be found on all
trees, fruits, plants and other growing things.
These deserts are full of the most delicate wild game.
Along our line of march we frequently started rabbits, deer and the like [p. 259],
of which many were brought down and killed by the sticks and stones of our Nubians.
If they are not knocked down and killed, or otherwise captured, they live
until they expire from old age, for the Nubians neither course them with dogs,
nor hunt them in any other way.
The deer of this and neighboring regions have in their bodies the true
It is larger than a pigeon egg, and I have brought back several myself.
Because its virtue is unknown to these barbarous folk, the Arabs and other
people who live here esteem it little or not at all.
The heat which we are enduring is insupportable; the ground sand
became so hot that I could not stand barefoot long enough to say an Ave Maria.
We marched in this heat for two hours into the night.
Along the way we had nothing to drink except the warm and murky water
which the camels carried in their skins.
On the third [of April 1701] we rode on three hours before daybreak.
The whole day passed without incident, and at the first hour of the
evening as the sun was sinking we pitched camp.
On the fourth [of April 1701] it was four hours before sunrise when we rode off.
The path was very dangerous--full of pits and bushes--and because it was
completely dark (there was a new moon on the twenty-sixth [of March]),
we were afraid that some camel would get lost.
Suddenly a camel fell, throwing to the ground with full force everything that it carried.
This included an extraordinarily large mirror that His Papal Holiness
was sending to the emperor of Ethiopia, and a chest in which was nothing except
However nothing was broken in the slightest--to God be praise and thanks!
We kept continually to our course until eight o'clock,
refreshing our tired limbs only once about noontime with a drink of warm and bitter
water and a little bread.
The barley or oat bread that the poor people of our beloved Germany enjoy
would be such a delicacy in these lands that one could place it on a prince's table.
On the fifth [of April 1701] we arose one hour before sunrise, and at about
two hours before sunset arrived at Bayuda, a place in which we found water.
The whole caravan at once [p. 260] divided into very many parts
(we were four or five thousand camels strong), in order to dig quickly for water.
The place in which the water is found lies in a hollow two thousand paces long and several hundred wide.
If one digs four or five spans deep into the earth one finds water,
but it is very murky and full of clay.
The very appearance of the water is enough to make one sick;
I can certify that out of every pound of water one-eighth if not more is filth.
It is so thick, warm and murky that you could not see a frog sitting the
width of a knife blade under the surface.
In this desert, and in many other places, many poisonous creatures are to be found,
especially very large vipers, as thick as a man's arm and very long.
They have a beautiful skin sprinkled with various colors.
They do no harm to a man unless stepped upon; then they bite and poison
[their victim] so that one dies within two or three hours.
Very many poisonous snakes are found here, whose venom and bite cannot
The scorpions which are also often found all around have poisoned many people
from the caravan, but the Moors pay them little heed, rubbing the poisoned
spot from that moment on with a certain limb of their body.
They tie [the limb] not far from the infected bite with a tourniquet or
thong so that the blood is completely prevented from circulating,
and cannot reach the heart.
These scorpions, like those found in Egypt, are larger and more poisonous
than those of Europe.
I have seen some here longer than a man's finger.
They are brownish or gray in color.
On the sixth [of April 1701] we readied ourselves for the march at seven
o'clock in the morning, after the soldiers had watered their horses.
They drank as much water as they needed for the trip, being unable to
carry it with them.
We rode in the most unbearable heat until eight o'clock.
The water--scarce, awful, full of clay, alkaline and warm--awoke in
us such thirst and heartburn that out of fear of the latter,
even in the unendurable heat of the sun, we dared not drink.
We were suffering from such a thirst that we expected to perish.
On the seventh [of April 1701] we set off four hours before daybreak and rode until midday,
when [p. 261] we rested in a nice place for an hour and a half or so.
The tents were not set up, and everybody accommodated himself as best he
could to avoid the full heat of the sun.
I took my Nubian cloak and stretched it over two camels like a blanket and
lay myself down between the two on the burning hot ground in order to
refresh my tired limbs a bit in the shade.
At about one o'clock we went on, and rode until one hour into the night.
The sort of water we were drinking these last two days is not to be described.
It was indeed quo plus potantur, plus sitiuntur aquae--"the more
one drinks of this water, the thirstier one becomes."
We were indescribably thirsty.
The great heat was partly the cause of this, and also the fact that the water
we drank was luke-warm, and abundantly full of clay so that it gave dreadful
heartburn. The water we drank during the march was kept in continual motion and
agitation by the gait of the camels; in its bags of goatskin it became nothing other than
a sort of buttermilk in which, when poured out, the clay and filth was
thoroughly mixed and suspended.
One hour into the night we pitched camp, but remained there no longer than
three hours. We rode on for most of the night and until midday without respite,
and then stopped for two hours under the open sky as we did yesterday.
Then we pushed on, in order to deliver ourselves of this misery.
Two hours after sunset we unloaded the camels, but only for four hours,
after which we rode on for the whole night.
And so the fortunate reader may himself reckon how weak, tired and sick we were,
having also survived the annoyances of vermin and other torments.
God help us leave all that behind us, and finally to arrive at the long-awaited mission center
On the ninth [of April 1701] God be praised we finally put this agonizing
and dangerous desert behind us, after another unbroken march.
At four in the afternoon we arrived at Treira, a village on the bank of the
Nile. It belonged not to the kingdom of Nubia, but to the Funj, or rather,
to Qarri. We had to endure more in this desert than anywhere else on the
whole journey. In the last four and one-half days, out of eighty-three hours
we spent sixty-seven on the march.
I can assure the fortunate reader [p. 262] that every hour we put behind us
a good German mile, on account of the vigorous and desperate pace.
I will let each one calculate for himself just how many miles we had
accomplished since leaving Egypt, and how much we had survived.
On this whole dreadful journey, which it is impossible to describe,
we never ate any warm food, except at Bayuda, but rather had to survive on
water, bread and a little cheese that we made at Tangassi.
The danger of riding by night lay less in the robbers lurking in ambush
than in the bone-breaking jolts to which we were subjected, in part
because of the frequent pits, bad roads and darkness, partly also
because we would nod off to sleep and fall off our donkeys--from
this nothing could save us.
Further, we were very afraid that some camel would fall or get lost
in the desert, in which case something would be lost.
The character of this six-days' desert is as follows.
As in the other desert, without noticing it we climbed a considerable mountain,
through which process I experienced how and in what manner the ball of the
world was formed. Here in Treira we stand at twelve degrees latitude,
and are already in the Funj kingdom.
The nakedness and audacity of men and women here is exactly like that of Nubia,
except that here the women wear much more beautiful and expensive jewelry made
of coral, mother of pearl, amber and colored glass about their necks,
in their hair, ears, noses, and on their hands and feet.
The soil of this kingdom is very fertile and fruitful, and the meat is excellent.
A sheep is worth twelve or fifteen Kreutzer, and a pigeon three or four.
One can buy a hundredweight of grease for four or five florins.
Since it was Friday we bought a fish weighing eight or ten pounds for
The money is acceptable in this country, and with it one can procure
everything--in a word, all the best--since except for money, of which
there is very little, everything is in superabundance here.
Though the kingdom of Nubia is full of palm trees, one finds none here,
presumably because of the unbearable heat.
This is also true of the whole kingdom of Qarri and the Funj, and of
the vast empire of Ethiopia.
Very early in the morning on the tenth [of April 1701] our Superior
Father da Salemi left here with two of our Barabra for Sinnar
and our missionaries waiting there.
He was to arrange everything necessary for our [p. 263] missionary
business, and also to send one of our own couriers to the Ethiopian
emperor to announce our arrival in his kingdom.
[The courier] was to beg his gracious consent to receive in audience
the Sociis in Aethiopien [the missionaries], and to deliver
the commission of His Papal Holiness, and also the letter entrusted
to him and the papal presents.
Today a few of the jallabs rode off, particularly those who were
carrying goods to Qarri. Here the whole caravan must cross the river Nile.
The royal jallabs pretended that because they were carrying goods
for the king, they had precedence--since at this village where one
crosses the river only one boat (and a rather small one) is available.
On the eleventh [of April 1701] yet another part of the caravan set off,
among them the Jesuit Fathers.
We, on the other hand, are still waiting here, since every sort of food
for us and for the camels is excellent and abundant here.
Our medical practice has put more than one pigeon, sheep and other
things into the cooking pot.
From Easter right up to the present hour we have purchased absolutely
nothing for ourselves and our Barabra, but received everything in
return for medical services.
Here and in the other villages round about there are dreadfully many
crocodiles, and also hippopatami.
They cause little harm to men, however, since they receive enough
cattle to satisfy their hunger and thievish lust.
On the twelfth [of April 1701] we set out at break of day, and at vesper time pitched
our camp in a desert place called Hambia where the caravans customarily stop.
As this place was no more than half an hour from inhabited land, people
brought us victuals enough.
On the thirteenth [of April 1701] we left Hambia before daybreak and put
twelve hours of march behind us.
Yesterday and today we have encountered the most beautiful minerals--very
precious marble and porphory in great quantity.
On the fourteenth [of April 1701] we set out before dawn and by vesper time had reached Sabagie.
At this village the caravan must cross the river Nile.
This crossing consumed a great deal of time because only one boat--and a
rather small one at that--was on hand.
For the crossing one must pay two pieces of soap and ten Pfennigs in
cash for each camel.
One hour after sunset we could have crossed the river, but it was very
dangerous; after half an hour [p. 264] a camel drowned in the flood
(as did also a donkey in broad daylight), so we postponed our voyage
There is not a single Nubian who can not swim like a poodle.
This is a necessity, for otherwise they could not cross the river;
though both banks of the river Nile are inhabited, there is no bridge.
On the fifteenth [of April 1701] after sunrise we swam our camels and donkeys over
the river and began to load the boat with our chests and other belongings,
which we were to accompany.
By the time everything was brought over to dry land, three hours of the
morning were gone.
On the other side of the river we had to wait for three hours again until Hasan,
who had sponsored and protected us, and his belongings came over to us.
It was not before twelve o'clock that we rode on,
but within an hour we reached Qarri, where the whole caravan reunited.
Today we had the two Jesuit Fathers with us for the evening meal, and in the
afternoon I spent two or three hours discussing various things with Father
Not far from this place the "Black River," as it is called in Arabic, flows
into the Nile. Therefore I can say with some certainty that most maps,
which show this confluence far down in Egypt, have committed an essential error.
[Were they correct] we should have had to pass this river either in the
desert or at some other place, for as far back as the kingdom of Qarri
we had always kept the Nile on our left, and the Black River flows into the
Nile from the right-hand side. This evening Father Granier the Jesuit Superior
told us that tomorrow he and his Nubians, God willing, would go on to
Sinnar. That was indeed what happened.
At about vesper time an Arab came to our caravan out of the Bayuda.
He reported that his comrades had made the march from Korti through the Bayuda desert to
inhabited land by themselves a little ahead of us, for cheaper fees and to spare
They joined us at Treira, but on their return march through the desert fell into an ambush
of two thousand Moors, who are perpetually at war with the king of Sinnar and
other neighboring folk.
They were killed and their camels taken as booty by the victors.
This Arab alone was able to outrun them, as he was riding a good camel.
He said that the two thousand men had intended to attack and despoil the whole caravan
[p. 265], and to kill everybody.
But because we had ridden day and night, and had already tasted powder
[were aware of the danger]. we had escaped.
If they had encountered us on the march they could have plundered and looted
more than half the caravan, the parts of which being at that time more
than two hours distant one from another.
They could have set upon each part of the caravan without danger and made
booty of it until the whole caravan reunited--though there would have
been much bloodshed.
If the Arabs had attacked the united caravan in its encampment they would have been
outnumbered and surely would have failed; our camp was at all times surrounded
with our chests like a fortress.
But the highest praise, honor and thanks be to God that he did not let this happen,
but rather saved us again from such apparently mortal peril.
The Nubians attributed this to their false Prophet Muhammad, but
we attributed it to Jesus Christ, who will surely lead to the
awaited port his servants who go to spread the one faith that brings redemption into Ethiopia.
On the sixteenth [of April 1701] a considerable part of our caravan set off
an hour before daybreak, and a second followed at dawn.
A third group departed between two and three o'clock, among them the Jesuit Father Paoletti.
We, however, remained here the whole day with a few jallabs.
One reason for this was that we preferred to ride in the cool of the night.
Also, we [did this] because in Arbaji the shaykh of Qarri was waiting for
He is the authorized superior over all the kingdom of Nubia, and also of
Dongola, whose king he can appoint or depose at will.
All the jallabs must give him a present--in our case,
probably forty or fifty florins.
Since these presents were more of a tyranny than a [legitimate] obligation,
we let the caravan march on ahead of us a whole day in order to avoid this tribute.
On the seventeenth [of April 1701] we rode off four hours before daybreak and
at four or five in the afternoon reached Subaichen. There are only a few
houses here, but in spite of that people brought us food for ourselves
and our camels from various villages. It was both plentiful and a good
bargain; the equivalent of a Munich bushel of durra one can buy
here for about twenty Kreutzer.
A fine pigeon costs three or four Kreutzer, or at most, five.
We wandered over the most beautiful, black and fruitful soil [p. 266]
which, however, lay quite desolate.
Up until this point the kingdom of Qarri was like a beautiful garden in which
the finest crops and fruit trees had been planted.
Here, however, nothing of the sort is to be seen.
On account of the intolerable heat the plain below us, to which no
limits could be seen, looked exactly like a brimming sea;
the heat and the reflection of the sun thrown back from the ground
presented this realm of earth to us as a lake or sea full of water.
The camels, no more than one hundred paces from us, seemed to be
great and tall cedar trees, which I and all of our Europeans observed
continually with the greatest amazement from the moment we first entered the desert.
On the eighteenth [of April 1701] we rode off three hours before sunrise
and after three hours arrived at Halfaya, a fine large place.
The houses are similar in nature to those of Nubia, but somewhat finer--larger,
cleaner and also smoother from their coatings of dung.
Here again we have put some very fertile land behind us.
[At Halfaya] we met again the whole caravan, which had taken a day of rest.
On the nineteenth [of April 1701] we hit the road hurriedly in the middle
of the night and in half an hour had already arrived at al-`Aylafun.
It is a pretty place.
I just can not get over my amazement at the fertility of the soil
in this land. Today and yesterday we have encountered the most beautiful
habitations, for we have been keeping the river Nile within an hour's
distance on the right.
Around here even the blackest and most fertile garden soil is not being
Along the way we saw attractive trees of a type never seen in Europe--not
particularly tall, but shady.
It is a pity that this land is not in the hands of the Christians,
but rather in the clutch of the Nubians, who are
given to nothing more than being lazy.
It is certain beyond all doubt that the fertility of Italy is no match
for that of this land, lying all barren and uncultivated.
Without any difficulty one could cultivate all sorts of fruitful trees,
grain, oil and wine in such a quantity that the fertility of the
Funj kingdom could become a provisions magazine for many other lands.
For four or five whole months it rains virtually every day in these parts,
but the sun, which is very hot, is also seen daily during the same period.
The gracious reader might perhaps like to know why the river Nile does not
overflow in these lands, particularly as one gradually [p. 267] approaches
the source of the river.
Even in Egypt it never rains, and in that whole kingdom as well
as many places in Nubia [the Nile] can not be confined within its banks,
but overflows and floods everything.
To this I would reply, along with Father Kirchero, that this has no cause
other than the channel or bed of the Nile itself.
It usually falls from swamps that lie in high places, and according to
the different [elevations] of the places, it then achieves corresponding
depths, and flows out according to the respective heights of those places.
It is then reasonable that the deeper the channel of a river that flows between
mountains, the more water it can carry away, since the mountains prevent
On the other hand, the lower the channel of the river the more it lets
overflow, especially in the plains regions, since it cannot contain so much
water between its low banks.
It is therefore not surprising that Egypt and Nubia, with no deep channel,
are subject to innundation by the Nile, whereas these Moorish lands of Qarri,
the Funj and Ethiopia, with a mountainous [channel] and high banks,
are not. Might not also the reason be sought out and reported why in these Moorish lands
it rains so dreadfully for five whole months in succession, whereas it is
never, or very seldom, that the famous Egypt receives so much as a drop of
water or rain from the heavens?
To solve this riddle and clarify matters one should note that such an
established and invariable action can not happen without an established
and invariable cause.
The cause is nothing other than the sun and the natural conformation
of the land over which the sun takes its natural course.
As the sun performs to completion its annual movement through the zodiac,
a circuit that is undeceptive and always invariable, the regions over
which it runs are likewise given set patterns and character.
Of necessity one result and
no other must ensue.
The highlands and rough, mighty mountains of Ethiopia are the most
important reason why it rains so hard and long and why the Nile
as well as the other rivers never overflow.
It is therefore not surprising that it is from the absence of these causes in Egypt and the lands round about
[p. 268] that it does not rain there.
For nature has raised up and placed these mountains that lie round about,
and particularly those that lie between the meridian of the winter solstice
and those that surround Ethiopia on all sides, in such a way that they
receive the rays of the sun like a high mirror when the sun goes
through the northern signs of the zodiac.
Through the gathering of these rays the drawing power for moisture of the sun
is marvelously increased, and soon a huge mass of clouds and moisture is
driven together into the wide mountain theater by the annual north wind.
Then the abundance of water drawn up by the reflected heat (as the sun hurls its rays
upon the peaks of the mountains along the meridian in the manner described),
after long and wide watery dispersion, is released by the cold that hangs over the
peaks of such high mountains.
It pours down with great force in heavy rains, or rather, since the clouds
are not far from the ground, like torrents or brooks.
I can truthfully say that never in my life have I seen such torrential rains as
those to which I have frequently been subjected in these lands.
One can maintain without contradiction that these great torrential rains and the
resulting overflow of the rivers, especially the Nile, have no other cause than the nature of the Ethiopian mountains
and the great heat of the sun, through which nature itself gathers up the
abundant moisture and water of the land, and then commands it to pour down.
The sure sign that such a downpour and great thunderstorm is coming is
when at sunrise even a small cloud is to be seen, even though the rest of
the sky be clear.
On the other hand, one need not worry if the whole sky is covered with
clouds pregnant with water as long as they are not present at sunrise.
These great rains last two or three hours and are always accompanied by
irresistably dreadful lightning and rolls of thunder.
The best thing about these, however, is that they never strike, or otherwise
do any harm to any of God's living creatures.
There arises also a third question about this river of blessings, the Nile,
whose reputation can not be exaggerated.
That is, [p. 269] why does it rain from the months of March through July,
when days and nights are of equal length, whereas we in our lands
experience exactly the opposite?
I do not wish to contradict Isaac Bosio's Liber de Nili aliorumque fluminum Origine
[Book of the Origins of the Nile and other Rivers] and the mutifarious unfathomable
opinions of the other reputable authors,
but rather to lay out my own conclusions clearly based upon my own experience
and irrefutable arguments.
No one who has not experienced it himself can give the correct reason,
for one should know that the seasons in these Moorish lands, and especially
Ethiopia, have a completely different character than ours.
When the sun is most distant from us [in Europe] it is midnight.
In these lands which lie within the sun's course, however, it is just the
opposite; it is summer, with hot and dry weather, when [the sun] is distant.
When it stands directly over their heads at the zenith and the very top
of the heavens, it causes cool weather and rain.
This annual weather cycle is completely immutable and regular in Ethiopia.
In the Funj kingdom and the surrounding lands, however, these torrential
rains are a few weeks late.
In March and April it has already started to rain in Ethiopia, lying within the
course of the sun, but in the Funj kingdom, which also lies within
the course of the sun, and the other places round about, it only
commences in May or the beginning of June.
It also rains a month longer, the reason for this being that the great
mountains which encircle Ethiopia retard and hold back with great force the
course of the clouds that make it rain
On the twentieth [of April 1701] we rode away before midnight, and at about
midday arrived at Corran.
This village is on a beautiful and fruitful plain just as was the
The reason we departed so early was that because of the dreadful heat of the sun we
could no longer bear to travel by day, but preferred to ride by night.
Although the moon did not appear the whole night,
yet in those places where the path is level one can travel all night,
for it was so light that if one lost a Groschen it could be found
without a lamp.
I think this [p. 270] is because we were standing so exactly under the
midnight equinox line, and because the firmament is always lit by the
brightest of shining stars, such as are never seen in our lands.
Today we bought two Munich bushels of durra for our camels for about thirty Kreutzer.
Then a few male and female slaves came into our tent.
They asked us to take them with us when we returned to Egypt from Sinnar;
they wanted to serve our wives and children there, for they believed us
to be Egyptians. These slave women were the jailers of the one hundred fifty
concubines of the shaykh of this place, who keeps them locked up tightly in
an enclosure of his great palace.
On the twenty-first [of April 1701] a part of the caravan set off again,
for yesterday two couriers of the post came to the caravan bringing
orders from the king of Sinnar to his jallabs to accelerate
their march as much as possible.
In order to better prepare ourselves and our camels, we and a few others set off
only at three hours before daybreak.
After we had ridden for five hours, we and two other jallabs became
separated from the others. We set our course according to the river Nile,
which lay to our right, for in this kingdom it is not so unsafe to
travel as it is in Nubia and Egypt.
At about eight o'clock we came to Peschakhre, a village at which there was
a boat to cross the Nile, and by midnight we had all our goods,
camels and donkeys over the river.
We stayed there for four hours; then we went on for four hours,
and pitched camp in an open field.
On the twenty-second [of April 1701] we were again on our way four hours before
sunrise, again putting behind us the most fertile soil, which for several hours
[of march] was covered only with grass dried out from the heat of
We rode the whole day in the most unbearable heat--enough to melt the marrow
in the legs. It made us so exhausted that we thought we would perish from
thirst, heat, weakness, fainting, and [lack of] sleep.
We encamped in the open two hours after the sun had vanished from our sight.
On the twenty-third [of April 1701] we loaded our camels two hours before daybreak, and a little
before sunset we came into the large village of Abu `Ashara, that is in German,
"a father who has ten children."
There we recuperated again a little [p. 271] and gave our camels enough to
eat and drink.
On the twenty-fourth [of April 1701] we left this place two hours before day,
and at noon came to a village named Abttiri, where we rested until
four o'clock, and then later the same day travelled until two hours into
the night. We pitched camp in the open.
Scarcely had we removed the burden from our camels when several Arabs
came running up. They carried lances and shields in their hands,
and called for a contribution of six crowns for each camel.
Our Nubians got us off with a few words, however, by pretending
that we were the king's physicians.
On the twenty-fifth [of April 1701] we left our camp four hours before day.
At about noontime we reached an Arab village called Bentria,
where we remained for four hours on account of the great heat.
We then continued our travel for three hours into the dark of night.
On the twenty-sixth [of April 1701] we set off three hours before day,
and within seven hours arrived at Arbaji, a fine attractive place
where all the jallabs cross the river Nile.
The whole caravan reunited there.
Where we were, we met only a few jallabs, the others being
still across the river.
Today, however, they and their goods will be shipped across,
especially as we have a full moon.
Father Paoletti of the Society of Jesus was completely astounded at
since he did not know that we had long since crossed the river without
difficulty and shortened our path by a considerable stretch--all this
while taking our time along the way.
When he heard the reports of one and another of us, he
regretted that he had not stayed with us.
He claimed that he and the other part of the caravan had pushed on their march
ever harder, day and night, leaving several of their
camels dead along the way, and they themselves just about totally ruined.
Today we received a letter from Father Pasquale, our missionary and
physician to the king in Sinnar.
In [the letter] he informed us that Father Antonio della Terza was already in Ethiopia
at the royal court, though how he got in, and under what pretext he
remained there, was actually in fact unknown to us.
Before him another of our missionaries, Father Benedetto da Tripalda,
was also sent along with the embassy dispatched by the king of Sinnar
to the Ethiopian emperor to conclude a peace with him.
He was fortunate in reaching the imperial capital of Gondar, and was received with
every honor by the emperor.
His presence [in Gondar] could have been very advantageous to our
mission [p. 272] but since he became seriously, even deathly ill,
the Ethiopian emperor had him conveyed over the border into the Funj kingdom
by his soldiers.
From there he fortunately reached Father Pasquale [in Sinnar] in the
month of February, and there he lies sick to the present hour.
On the twenty-seventh [of April 1701] we left here only at noon, and after
nine hours pitched our camp under the brilliant heavens in an open field.
On the twenty-eighth [of April 1701] we rode from before daybreak until
We halted for a full hour about midday at a village along the river
Nile; there we let our exhausted camels drink fresh water until they
were satisfied and gave them a good feeding.
On the twenty-ninth [of April 1701] the departure came only two hours after
midnight, and at noontime we came to Omfun, an attractive place.
Here in this Funj kingdom there are some large and populous towns,
whereas in the kingdom of Nubia there is scarcely more than a few houses
standing next to each other along the river Nile.
At about two o'clock a dreadful thunderstorm and downpour broke.
It was so [heavy a storm] that we were obliged to remain here,
and even to take off our clothing--coats, cloaks, and everything that
If we did not want to see everything completely spoiled, we had no choice but to give it
away, and clothe our cawwashes with it.
This great downpour did great damage to the caravan,
particularly since it broke out so quickly that no one--even though we were
in a village--had enough time to unload the camels and save what was his.
We left this village at about ten o'clock at night--wet as washing,
except for the Moors, who for the most part go naked
and dry off quickly--and spent the whole night on a continuous march,
on the thirtieth [of April 1701] by one o'clock in the afternoon we had already arrived
at Hatschabella. I call this a really tyrannical journey--no sleep,
nothing warm in the stomach, burned to a crisp by the heat of the sun,
with nothing but warm, muddy water to drink, sitting all day on a donkey,
on top of having already endured so many other unpleasant things for so long.
All this made us very weak, exhausted, and deathly sick.
But for the love of Jesus Christ and the desire to save the souls of
others we endured this with patience.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon we set off again and rode for
two hours into the night, when we finally stopped for the night at
a village close by the river Nile.
After daybreak on the first of May  we set off up the river [p. 273]
along a narrow passage for half an hour through a forest.
[In the forest] were many large and tall trees called cassiae minoris,
which gave off a very tender fragrance.
This little forest was inhabited by the most beautiful birds of a type
I have never seen in Germany, with monkeys, and with wildcats--all very
pleasant to see.
After leaving the forest we crossed a fine, wide field, two hours in
extent and richly planted with sweet smelling basilico salvarico.
Next we passed another beautiful little forest on our left-hand side
at about the distance of a pistol shot.
With special gusto we saw monkeys in great crowds leaping from one
branch and tree to another like squirrels.
These monkeys are no larger, though somewhat longer, than a cat.
They are gray in color; on their faces they have large shaggy beards,
and they also have very nice long tails.
In this forest there grows nothing except ebony,
which exudes gum Arabic, and which is so common in these lands
that it is burned as ordinary firewood in the kitchen.
Only the blackish heartwood is brought to our lands
(the rest of the wood is white); on the spot one can buy a hundredweight
of it for about half a Thaler or a guilder.
The jallabs take it to Cairo and make a good profit from it.
After putting this little forest behind us, within half an hour
we reached the royal capital city of Sinnar.
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