TRAVEL DESCRIPTION FROM ESNA THROUGH THE DESERT TO MUSHU



[p. 201] On the eleventh [of December 1700] we got up very early, for on this day we began to traverse the deserts that lie to the right [west] of the river Nile. We made our way forward throughout the day, being very well-armed and alert. Finally we made camp in the desert after nightfall. We again kept a strong watch the whole night, for we had heard that a large mob of murderers and Arabs had assembled with the intention of attacking our caravan.

On the twelfth [of December 1700] we set off half an hour before daybreak and continued until half an hour into the night. How great a distance one puts behind in twelve or fourteen hours of continuous travel and wandering I leave to those accustomed to such journeys to calculate. One should know by way of clarification in regard to the pursuit of our intended journey that in these lands in the summer the sun never shines for more than thirteen hours, nor less than eleven. On the equator, however, days and nights are of equal length. This causes such an unheard-of heat that I could scarcely touch the butt of my pistol, which was made of iron.

Today there was played a delightful comedy featuring Father Carlo. We had rested along the way for a quarter of an hour, and when we were ready to continue our march his donkey showed him a heartfelt "reverence," for it wanted to lie down and roll around. I laughed, and so did the Jesuits who were with us, (but not Father Carlo). As soon as the Barabra heard the laughter they thought that Father Carlo (whom they had frequently teased on account of his riding) had fallen off his donkey. For one should know that the Nubian caravaneers observe the custom that if anyone falls off a horse, donkey or camel, they jump, dance, sing and shout around him and make fun of him. They continue to do this until the one who has fallen off the donkey or horse satisfies them with a fine. All those who travel with the caravan are subject to this rule, even their own king. Now the Barabra surrounded Father Carlo and began to clap their [p. 202] hands, cheer and shout while laughing at him, and asking what the fallen one would give. They led the donkey on which Father Carlo had been sitting to one side, and a hundred of them surrounded him and began a procession, for they wanted a fine. He did not want to give them anything, but in order to bring this comedy to an end we leaped in beside him and gave him half a Thaler, with which they were quite content. He allowed that henceforth he could fall off his donkey as often as he desired, and all the Barabra should help him get back on!

Meanwhile, however, we rode the whole day and late into the night, which was not so dark but that one could find the path. In order to delude the enemy we fired our guns thirty times. At midnight the Barabra (as they had on the twenty-fifth of October) fought a sham battle until late in the night with pistol-fire accompanied by the beat of the war-kettledrums. Of the latter, which only the royal merchants have permission to carry, we had five pair.

On the thirteenth [of December 1700] nothing remarkable happened. We left this place before daybreak and marched until two hours into the night. We were approaching a high mountain range, which tomorrow we must cross early in the morning while the camels are fresh and the road is easier. Today the Barabra continued the comedy of carrying on a sham battle for three to five hours during the night. One might think, if such were possible, that these barbarous people smoke, carouse, and then cover long distances on foot, surviving unbelievable tortures of hunger, thirst, heat and cold-- all this with little or no sleep!

On the fourteenth [of December 1700] we set off at sunrise and within half an hour began to climb the mountain through a rock-filled gorge more suitable for the horses and mules than to the soft feet of camels. The mountain was not precipitous except for one stretch of about two hundred paces where the camels were made to ascend one behind the other. In order to keep the camels from coming to grief and dropping their burdens, the Barabra had to hold on to the cases and trunks and whatever they were carrying (this is certainly a miserable and wretched journey!) and push them from behind. Upon climbing over the top of the mountain, we encountered another high mountain across a fine broad plain. [p. 203] I can truthfully say that one mountain above the other, though very rough and of the hardest stones, seemed like a curiosity in a grotto on account of its most remarkable shape and glitter. When we reached midday and were waiting for the rest of the caravan, we refreshed ourselves with biscuit-bread and a few cups of coffee. Then we continued our march until one hour into the night.

On the fifteenth [of December 1700] we moved at daybreak and climbed over the mountain in a very vigorous march. We suffered from a shortage of water, as we had no other water for our entry into the desert except what we had brought from Esna in goat skins. Today in this desert I came across the most beautiful, rare, shining and hard stones, of many shapes and very beautiful colors. I threw several against each other, but none broke. I think that one could rake together heaps of precious stones, large and small, that have been purified by the heat of the sun (for it rains very seldom and very lightly--if ever--in the land of Egypt and these deserts). I saw a number of white, yellow and flesh-colored stones, extraordinarily hard and also transparent, so that when I laid them under my Turkish turban, which is bright red, it could be seen clearly through the white and yellow ones. I gathered together a number of white and yellow stones about the size of a thumbnail, more or less, but I despaired of carrying them over such a great distance; not knowing what to do, I finally threw them away again, whether precious or no. I broke one of the brown stones, of which there are many, by throwing one against another; inside it glittered so that one might think it shot through with silver and gold. I can write with complete certainty that along with priceless stones, this mountain is full of the most valuable minerals such as gold and silver; it is merely that no one knows or cares how to search them out and mine them. At about noonday the caravan, with a loss of nine camels, put this dangerous narrow pass behind. For five days we have been continually climbing, and it is to be hoped for the sake of getting water that we have reached the summit, as the caravan is supplied for only four days more. [p. 204] The whole caravan was suffering from the lack of water, but after enduring the greatest thirst we arrived in Gurgur one hour after sunset. [Gurgur] lay among mountains of various shapes, whose peaks were little higher than a church tower. Some were round, others quadrangular, and a few long, all of which struck me as resembling fine bulwarks, fortifications and moats around a city, and were in any case pleasant to see. Half an hour before we reached this place, where water is found, we began to meet with trees, large and shady like linden trees, but as it was already getting dark I could not make out what sort of trees these might be. As we had now arrived at the intended watering-place we posted ourselves between the mountains and spent the whole night, more than ever before, under arms. We feared that the enemy might fall upon us here, for the Arabs often attack a caravan at night or when it is widely separated--as must happen in this terrain--and because of fatigue they overpower and defeat it.

On the sixteenth [of December 1700] as soon as day had broken the Barabra--well actually, the whole caravan--led their horses (of which there were twelve), donkeys (of which there were more than two hundred) and camels (of which there were about 2,000) to the water. The place where one digs for water lies over to the east beside a mountain, and it looked to me like a town moat--the mountain being the town, and the place where the water lay the moat (for it is surrounded by a natural trench). When one digs in this place to about the depth of a man's height, one finds very good, fresh and sweet water for the whole caravan--as we ourselves found out. I could not be more amazed that the Almighty God provided his creatures in the desert with plentiful water just as he did the Children of Israel. Today we took on water for seven days. Yesterday another five camels fell among the rocks and lay dead, while the wares that they carried were divided out among the caravan. This praiseworthy custom is observed, that if a camel falls and dies, people divide the wares which that camel is carrying among the caravan and carry them to the last place where water is dug out, where they are returned to their owner. But if a [p. 205] camel dies in inhabited land, one is not obligated to take such wares. I have spent this whole day sleeping on the bare ground under a shady tree, as in three weeks I have not had a decent night's sleep.

On the seventeenth [of December 1700] we left Gurgur at sunrise, after having supplied ourselves with twenty-eight goat skins full of water. In order to spare our camels a little we fastened two of these to each of our donkeys; this meant that until the water was exhausted, some of us would have to walk. We traveled through the desert the whole day and for an hour and a half into the night, putting behind us three large mountains. The first was of gleaming white and body-colored marble; it would be a pleasure to climb it in order to see the beautiful plain that extended for several miles in all directions. The second mountain was adorned by nature with precious stones, of the sort from which the great pillars of the alla rotunda at Rome were carved--or so I am told. The third mountain was again of the most beautiful body-colored and white mottled marble; we all could not marvel enough at the great beauty, bright color and excellent gleam of this stone. We had to concede that we had never seen the like of it.

On the eighteenth [of December 1700] we again applied ourselves to the journey from before daybreak until one hour into the night. We passed four large marble mountains, between each of which was a plain that took several hours to cross. It was as beautiful as if it had been drawn with a line--a joy to the eyes and a balm to the soul, so that we could have stood here in complete contentment for days and nights.

Today our Moors and Barabra caught a remarkable creature of the desert, which they call a dubb. I was a little afraid of it, as I feared it to be poisonous, but I was assured that such was not the case. In shape it is rather like a lizard, and is so strong that [p. 206] no force can withdraw it from its hole, if even the head is within. One must dig the hole larger. Although it had been dead for three days, when brought to the fire it smelled as if it had just been killed.

Today, as in my other African travels, I walked on foot until the sun got hot, and in order not to make either myself or my donkey too tired, I did the same in the afternoon when the heat of the sun began to abate. We pitched camp at nightfall.

On the nineteenth [of December 1700] after sunrise we climbed a high mountain of the hardest and most precious porphory. At noon we came to another mountain of flesh-colored marble, and toward evening we passed by a large mountain of salt, in which rock salt or sal gemmae was to be found in great abundance. Many Barabra laid in their provision of salt from it. One hour after the light of day was gone we placed our camp on the desert plain, and refreshed our tired and worn-down limbs with water, biscuit-bread and lentil soup.

On the twentieth [of December 1700] we rode for the whole day in the fiercest and most unendurable heat. We again passed two large mountains of the most beautiful stone. After the remainder of our ride today we pitched camp at the usual time on a beautiful plain.

On the twenty-first [of December 1700] at about ten o'clock we came to Dungun. This place has not been visited by the caravan for several years, as they usually take the route by way of al-Wah, which is several days shorter and much more pleasant. But because about a thousand Arabs were waiting for us there we let that route be and took this one. Because of the stony path from Gurgur to Dungun many camels were bound to expire. Today the wares which the dead camels carried were divided among the caravan and again, as in Gurgur, we dug for water. Tonight for the most part we are letting our limbs--exhausted from our continual journey by day with its heat, hunger and thirst and by our sleepless watchfulness at night--recover a little with relaxation and sleep. Father Joseph warned us that we will run short of bread, and that we should be sparing with it. If the truth be known, never on this whole journey through the desert have we satisfied our appetites with bread or soup. We had to [p. 207] care more for our six Barabra who tended the camels and donkeys than for ourselves. We have never yet run out of water, but I have nevertheless suffered from such a thirst that my spirit seemed to be dying. The water that the camels carry is churned into warm buttermilk by their continual motion and the rays of the sun, but there is nothing else to drink in this great heat. People tell us that we have yet another fourteen days journey through the desert ahead of us, but we think that we shall reach fruitful land within a few days.

For that reason we set off very early on the twenty-second [of December 1700] and after three hours climbed a rather high mountain. After that, however, we followed the most beautifully smooth track over a plain, the end of which we could not see. The desert districts strike me as a walk on the sandy paths of a garden and merry hikes on which I found terra sigillata much preferable to that of Constantinople; this was present in great abundance, and I took two pounds of it. Tonight as last night we suffered from the sharpest wind, but because we had such an easy road to follow we rode for three hours into the night. Father Carlo's donkey began to limp three days ago, since he sat on it like a man of lead, weaving back and forth. So the good Father had to go on foot. I loaned him my donkey for a while, since (God be praised!) I was quite well and had gone at least a third of the way on foot. Tonight as on all other nights we kept a sharp watch.

On the twenty-third [of December 1700] we began our further march before day and by ten o'clock had passed a not-very-high mountain. There, beyond all hope, we found a hollow full of plentiful water, and earth with sufficient grass for our donkeys and camels. This water was rainwater; one should know that the Egyptian desert, where it never rains, was now behind us. We had now entered the true desert of Nubia, or as others (with more reason) would have it, the desert of Libya. It must rain in the districts that lie around here, for we found traces of a great downpour here and there. It rains for several months in the Funj kingdom and in Ethiopia, and the water runs into the river Nile, pouring out through Egypt and watering it. This rainwater [p. 208] was caught on the mountain and remained there. When we saw it--with complete astonishment--we unloaded our camels and donkeys and let them eat and drink for about an hour. After that we pushed on and rode for two hours into the night, and then pitched camp in the desert.

On the twenty-fourth [of December 1700] as we broke camp in the beautiful red of sunrise, a sharp wind arose that lasted for two hours. Because it was coming into our faces, it blew so much sand into our eyes that we were almost blind. Two hours into the night we pitched camp beside a high, wide mountain that seemed to be nothing more than pure sand heaped together by the wind, and so formed into a dune. We were to find our fill of these. If a big wind had come up that night our whole caravan and also we ourselves would have been buried alive.

On the twenty-fifth [of December 1700] we began our journey as usual before daybreak and rode down a very nice track. Along the way we spotted some minerals rich in iron, as we did also yesterday. By about three o'clock, as we were riding between these mountainous sand dunes, we completely lost our way for an hour, and did not know whether we were coming or going. For toward the south, in the direction we wished to go, the path was completely closed in by sand dunes, and we could find no way to get around them. Finally, on the advice of a highly-experienced Barbarin, we resolved to climb straight over the dune. We thought that the dune was hard and firm, not yet softened by the tread of the heavily-loaded camels. We succeeded, but those who followed sank deep into the sand along with their camels. Some of the camels had to be left lying; their wares were then brought over with great difficulty. As a result of this a large part of the caravan went around toward the east to find another way. Though we had crossed over this high and dangerous mountain, in the greatest of mortal peril, risking the lives of our beasts, in the face of a strong, cold wind, we had turned rather toward the west than the east. Sand crunched beneath our feet until we found the right way. Then we continued our march for two hours [p. 209] and pitched our camp not far from Halfa. Halfa is a place where water is found, but in order not to be buried by these sand mountains [we rode on] for an hour into the night. We suffered from a cutting wind, and we had to endure great cold. From sheer fatigue we preferred to go to sleep rather than cook a soup, and so I would have had to celebrate this Holy Christmas with bread and water had not Father Granier of the Society of Jesus given me along the way two little mutton sausages. With these I broke my long fast on the holiday, and ate meat again for the first time. Although we found water at this place, out of sheer exhaustion and in the hope that things would be better tomorrow we did not take advantage of it. Tonight one of the Barabra of our caravan died, having fallen sick along the way. There were about thirty in the caravan who lay sick from shortage of food and fron enduring such great tortures; they were carried miserably along on camels. We gave thanks a thousand times to Almighty God that he has so far kept us in good health.

On the twenty-sixth [of December 1700] we did not get underway until eight or nine o'clock, when the Barbarin was buried according to the Nubian custom in the sand. Along the way we came upon many iron minerals, and I firmly believe that antimony could be found in great quantity and perfection, as I found very many eagle-stones [geodes] at this place, as big as a man's fist. I broke some of them and took out the sand in the middle, which is useful as medicine. The remainder, that is, the stone that encloses the dust or sand like a nut, I had to throw away on account of its weight.


A Short Description of the Virtue and Power of the Eagle-Stone, as Given by Albertus Magnus and Ludwig Spies in their Books, as also Investigated and Preserved for Humanity by Many Other Learned and Experienced Men such as Hyppocrates, Dioscorides, Galen and Pliny.

PASSAGE OMITTED



Before the sun went down we again lost the right path that leads to water. We rode for two hours into the night, suffering from the sharpest wind blowing sand into our eyes. We were upset due to the cold of night, but would willingly enough endure these inconveniences and wearing down of our strength if we were sure (God willing) that tomorrow we shall find water. For lunch and dinner, as yesterday on Christmas, we had bread and water.

On the twenty-seventh [of December 1700] we got up at sunrise to look for the right path and within half an hour came to Abutingil, a place where there was water and trees. We threw the heavy loads from our camels and gave them some green palm leaves to eat, but we stayed for only an hour. About a third of our caravan left us here, turning to the left toward their homeland, which is subject to the Turkish emperor--east toward the river Nile. We returned the loads of the fallen camels that we had been carrying. Being reassured that within a few hours we would come to a better and nicer place where more plentiful and healthful water was to be found than what we would get if we followed their example, we continued our march.

At about nine o'clock we split up. [p. 212] Thereafter we encountered a good path, though somewhat hard and mountainous, and after three hours arrived at al-Hadd. This was an uninhabited place where all the water one could want could be dug. Like the whole German nation I could have drunk this stinking, sandy, luke-warm water as if it had been blessed by Saint John. We supplied ourselves for several days, gave our camels beans to eat and plentiful water to drink, as we had done in all the other places where we found water. The water was no deeper into the ground than the height of a man. The universal sign that water is to be found in the desert is if one can see trees, grass, or even birds. These waters of the desert, except that of Gurgur, are very dirty, muddy, filthy, bad-tasting, bitter and luke-warm--and they are full of the most unhealthy and least pleasant-tasting of minerals. That night we cooked ourselves a good bowlful of rice and drank a cup of coffee, and a rather warm swig of "Saint John's water."

On the twenty-eighth [of December 1700] we moved at break of day and passed over mountains of various minerals. Among other things we found a great field where, if one brushed away the sand to a hand's depth, there was excellent snow-white earth that glittered like the hardest shining snow of wintertime. The Barabra took much of it with them in sacks. The white earth is called shabb in Arabic, and is nothing other than alum burned and calcified by the sun. The Barabra use it to dress their camels when wounded from heavy loads and to clean fouled flesh. Meanwhile we were riding for the whole day in the greatest heat. At night the unusually severe cold plagued us. For dinner we had the meat of a camel that had collapsed and been butchered. We let it boil for half an hour--more than that our hunger and the oncoming night would not spare--and although it was as tough as leather it tasted good to me, though not to my comrades. I ate with a good appetite until I was satisfied.

On the twenty-ninth [of December 1700] we took up our march as usual and wandered across a great field of sand, so rough that it looked to me somewhat like the ashes of a burned-out house. In this field there was nothing except naturally mixed-up grains of black, red and yellow sand. After this [p. 213] we wended our way toward evening along another route that headed between east and south. There we found the same red and rough earth at which we had marveled. At the onset of night we pitched camp beside these sandy trails.

On the thirtieth [of December 1700] we left this place as always before day. In this place in which we found ourselves, in dreadfully high and rough hills, there was such a strong, cold and cutting wind--especially at night--that we thought we could not endure it. What we survived last night is simply not to be believed; we were sleeping in our ordinary clothes under the open sky and had to stand watch in shifts. Today I have put nothing in my stomach except water, bread and a finger-long mutton sausage that Father Granier the Jesuit gave me at noon when we took our water and bread.

At night a lentil soup was cooked for ourselves and our Barabra. It was of gesch, which the Turks make like a simple soup as follows. They boil water, take some meal and stir it in until the crumbs fall apart into something like a thin pap. Then they put in a little salt, and if available some fat too. They eat these crumbs with their hands, stuffing fingers into their mouths, which was so against our nature that we could eat none of it. Our Barabra, on the other hand, went at it with hearty appetites, falling upon it like a cat upon a mouse. It is one of their common foods.

Afterwards I made my notes, and would have had to content myself that night with bread and water. But I forced myself to eat some of this pap, pushing my natural inclinations to one side. My hunger and great appetite were the best salt and oil. Then I found our water so dirty, sandy and stinking that when I drank it I had to shut my eyes. In spite of all this (and this was important) we all remained quite healthy, except for Father Carlo who had diarrhoea and a stomach ache. God be praised, I soon freed him from both. Today we found traces of a large caravan on its way to Egypt, whose footprints were very fresh in the sand.

On the thirty-first [of December 1700] we again moved on, and were obliged [p. 214] to follow a very bad, mountainous and stony way. More camels than usual fell. Our biscuit-bread and other provisions were running short; had someone given us enough more, we could have eaten what we had all at once. We still have eight days to travel. At about noon we arrived at Salem or Selima, the last place with water until we come to inhabited land. We took on water for six days, but it was even muddier, worse and more smelly than that of the other places, and as sour as if it had been salt water.

We met eight camels that were here to load salt, for salt is plentiful here, and (so people tell me) is cooked by nature and the heat of the sun as follows. When it rains, water stands between these mountains, and is then coagulated into a sand-like texture by the heat of the sun (as ice is from the cold). Thus nature makes the finest, best and whitest rock salt, and our caravan took on a supply of it.

This afternoon we returned the goods parceled out from the dead animals to the jallabs to whom they belonged, for no one is obliged by the general customary agreement to carry them any farther than this. One can leave them buried here along the way and bring them in with fresh camels from Mushu.

This place is surrounded with very rough, stony mountains and is closed in. Its length and breadth are about one thousand paces. In the middle of this flat place stands an ancient cloister on a mound, made of very firm and strongly-laid walls, so that the holy men who lived here in ancient times would not be harmed by wild beasts. Long ago this cloister was inhabited by Coptic monks, and was supplied with the necessities of life by passing caravans. It is divided into eight cells, but is rather run-down. I went through it this afternoon and with a chisel carved my name, the day and the year on a stone. Then I went with Father Carlo and some of our Barabra over toward the right (the east) to the mountains to look at some lions' dens. I was rather afraid of them, but was told by our guides that to be sure lions do sometimes stay there for a while, as it is not far from the river Nile and the inhabited villages and they could very easily get by on [p. 215] the camels which die here and other game they catch, but that when a caravan comes they leave upon hearing the heavy stamp of feet.

In these lands, and especially as one approaches the source of the Nile, all the wild beasts that can do harm to the inhabitants and to travelers are found. Now it seems best to describe just the ferocity and characteristics of the lion.


Description of the Lion


. . . . The lion can be tamed and made quite gentle. Not to speak of stories from other parts of Africa, I myself have seen in Sinnar boys taking two tame lions for a walk every Friday in the square. The nomads gave them milk to drink and the butchers, meat . . . [p. 216]

On the first of January 1701 at the red of dawn we were on the march. We left Selima, and for thirteen whole consecutive hours put behind us the highest mountains, most dangerous, roughest and narrowest paths, where often camels could only be led in single file. I can truthfully write that in the whole time our beasts have endured no more tiring path and dangerous day than today. (I will give no further report about ourselves, but leave consideration of that to the gracious reader!) In the eight or fourteen days of our trip through the desert not so many camels have gone down under their loads, but it is unbelievable how many dead camels we have passed by on the way today, dried out by the heat of the sun.

At about sunset, toward the right-hand side of the path there stood the chapel of a dead saint. He had spent the greater part of his life in this desert place, and gave the Devil a martyr. The Barabra consider him, as a fellow-countryman, to be one of their greatest saints. Next to the chapel where this brand of Hell is buried, on either side there is a rather deep grotto hollowed out of the rock. There the jallabs leave the various goods from their camels that have died along the way. These barbarous people have declared this place to be a secure "free city," where nothing may be robbed or stolen. They entrust their best goods to this departed "Banner of the Devil" and leave them behind. Although these Turkish folk are quite thievish, they have not the slightest fear of losing anything there. They consider it certain that if something should be taken, their supposed saint will not allow such a desecration and violation of his dedicated place to pass unpunished. Would to God that Catholic Christians in this case would learn from such heathens and Turks not to rob, desecrate and violate houses of God--dedicated not to such a false betrayer of the people, but to Jesus Christ himself! Furthermore, great sacrifices are left here, with which the fuqara' of Dongola sustain themselves. (I shall give a special treatment of them in their place.)

After the day had faded from our eyes we posted ourselves at the foot of the mountain, where we suffered from cold and a wind greater than [p. 217] any we had experienced, from which we could get no sleep that night. We lay under the open sky on sandy and stony ground which I had covered with a crudely tanned sheepskin in place of a featherbed. The valise in which various medicines and surgical tools were locked served me as a pillow, and in place of a blanket I had my white Nubian mantle. Such was my place of rest on the ground under the open sky for the whole of my trip. The bread was doled out by the Father Superior, and amounted to less than two half-Kreutzer breakfast rolls, for we, along with the whole caravan, suffered greatly from want and need. Some were forced to entrust their goods to the saint and to slaughter their own camels in order to sustain life, for which purpose about fifty were butchered today. For want of wood we burned donkey and camel dung gathered from here and there by our Barabra the whole time on our trip through the deserts. Because it gave off very little heat, but much blue smoke, we could hardly manage to cook our meat and things. The Barabra stuck meat on little sticks over this reeking glow, which warmed it a little, and thus they ate it. Others enjoyed it completely raw, especially the organs such as lungs, liver, heart, spleen, etc. We also ate raw this most delicate tidbit, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, and it tasted good to me. Today Father Joseph made a pact with one of the jallabs; he would give us a little of his black biscuit-bread on the condition that we carry six hundredweight of his goods for the next five days as far as inhabited land. To this we gladly agreed; it was not so much but that we could have stuffed it down at once, but it was more than we had before. God help us make it through!

On the third [of January 1701] we marched off very early, and continued our march until two or three hours into the night so that we could finally get out of these deserts and escape from hunger. Today for want of food several donkeys were turned loose and left as booty for the wild animals that frequent these desert lands, especially the lion.

On the fourth [of January 1701] we again continued our accelerated march as on the day before. The whole caravan was more dead than alive, since [p. 218] there were many camels in our caravan that the jallabs, out of pure need, had given no food all the way from Esna to here, even though they had to carry such a heavy load for such a great distance through the heat and cold. We, on the other hand, fed ours beans and watered them to their hearts' content at every watering place. Many of the Barabra were practically dead from hunger. They had to leave several donkeys in the desert as they did yesterday; the donkeys were too starved to go any farther, much less carry anything. This was very sad to see. Also many camels were butchered for food; the Barabra ate the meat, and the trade goods they buried in the desert. In the place of luncheon our Father Prefect gave each of us the equivalent of a half-Kreutzer bun of twice-baked bread, and this was done in the evening also. That meant hunger pangs that made one want to gobble down [anything to fill] the stomach. I made a virtue of necessity, and served myself some of the raw, leather-tough camel meat, especially the lungs, liver, heart and whatever else I could get. I became accustomed to it gradually, but my comrades would not touch it. Three hours after sunset we pitched camp and suffered from the greatest cold, hunger and thirst.

On the fifth [of January 1701] we got underway very early. About an hour after sunrise as we were underway there arose a dreadful windstorm that picked up little stones and blew them here and there with great force. Fortunately we were now on a stony path, for had we been on a sandy road we would have been in great danger of being buried alive in the sand. The camels could go no farther, but threw themselves down; there was no way to get them to go on. It was rather like a winter wind blowing sleet in our faces. The wind was blowing from the north, while we were going east; this threw the caravan into great consternation and even despair for their lives. We unloaded the camels and entrenched ourselves behind the cases so that the wind could not reach us. But the blowing sand piled up behind them, and in a short time was covering our trunks and the camels. From then on we had to busy ourselves--since we did not want to lose the camels and loads completely--[p. 219] with moving them from one place to another. The blowing sand wounded and actually drew blood from our faces, hands and feet, which were not completely covered. The Barabra, who were not well-covered at all, were even more severely stricken; their consternation was so great that one would look sadly at another and say not a word. Since no natural process could save us from this obviously mortal danger, we missionaries--who alone stood in the light of the true Catholic Christian faith, which alone brings redemption--sought refuge with God in prayer. I went a little to one side of the throng and gave a benediction to this storm with [relics of] the true Holy Cross and the thorn from the Crown, at which the roaring and howling winds lost their greatest force right before our eyes, so that we could continue our march. Now this wind had lasted several hours, but as soon as it began to die down after the blessing with the Holy Cross, the Turks began to cry out their customary La ilaha illa Allah! and to praise and thank their false Prophet as if this blessing had been sought from him. We dared not say the slightest thing, but had to dissimulate. Then we continued our journey, and pitched camp two hours after sundown, as usual under the open sky. The distress from hunger had reached the point that in the whole caravan there was no more than fifty pounds of bread and other vegetables, and that had to be stretched out among two or three thousand men. The reason why we were suffering such great need was simply because we had delayed along the route through Egypt, having been told in Esna that we would be going through the desert for no longer than twenty days. Now we had spent a full month, for our Barabra had always been accustomed to direct their march to al-Wah, and never through the desert.

On the sixth [of January 1701] because we were no more than ten hours distant from Mushu, the whole caravan set off at midnight. Our camels were the first after the camels of the king of Sinnar. This was due to the alertness of our Barabra, who quickly got our camels ready, fitted on their loads, and so brought them to the place of greatest honor. Once the order is established, one must keep one's place. Now we pursued our march [p. 220] very vigorously until after sunrise, pulling ahead of the whole caravan by about half an hour. (Our camels were among the strongest and healthiest.) Then we let the camels go more slowly, for we were already encountering trees, grass, birds and flies--a sure sign that we were not far from water and inhabited land, as in fact we were. Many of the Barabra went on ahead to bring tidings of the long-awaited arrival of the caravan. We were happy, but also miserable and half-starved. Everyone would bake bread and busy themselves with gathering together whatever could be found to refresh us and our beasts. By about ten o'clock we could already see the most beautiful palm trees in great profusion; these stood beside the river Nile and the inhabited villages. We let our camels go slowly until the whole caravan caught up with us; by twelve o'clock it had reached us and pulled itself together, and stood no more than half an hour from Mushu. Our entry march was held in good order and was very impressive. Many jallabs had ten, fifteen or twenty camels (though others had fewer); two or three went together, while their master rode either a horse or a donkey, and his Barabra or servants followed on foot, leaving a space before the next group of marching camels. It was very beautiful, especially since everyone had changed into the best clothes that he had. When the Barabra heard of our coming and we actually swept into view, crowds of them came running out to us with cheers of welcome for the whole caravan. They held us up for most of an hour, as the caravan in the meantime had called a halt.

Then with great jubilation and cheers we marched on to the beat of war-kettledrums. We had five pair with us; they may only be carried by those who are the jallabs, or merchants, of the kings of Sinnar, Qarri and Dongola. The way one beats these drums is thus: one ties them over a camel as our cavalry usually do, and on the camel sits a Moor with a great beater in his right hand and a much smaller one in his left. He makes three or four strokes with the big one before he strikes with the smaller, and so continually beats the kettledrum.

But now to return to our entry march. About one hundred fifty young women from various villages [p. 221] dressed as well as possible according to their custom, came out to us and went ahead of the caravan with great cries, cheering and singing, and then they began to ululate, as our peasant boys do when they get drunk. I laughed heartily. The music continued without a break until we came to Mushu, and then went on as they placed themselves on either side until we had pitched our camp. Not to be outdone by their wives, the men put up such an amazing and dreadful outcry to the heavens that even pigs would have danced. Those who had guns discharged them continually; we had distributed all our muskets and pistols, with flints and sufficient ammunition, among our Barabra, which gave us--and the whole caravan--a great reputation.

These Moors looked at no one more than they did at us. They were probably as intrigued by us Europeans as we were by them--each one seeming strange to the other. They thought we were monsters, for they regard the white skin color (as we do the black) as repulsive, ugly and thoroughly inappropriate. When the Moors want to depict the Four Last Things in a picture, they paint the angels of Heaven black, and the Devil white.

We pitched our camp a good musket-shot to the right of Mushu, that is, to the east. The sun had long since gone down. One should know (and all missionaries who are going there should take heed) there is a certain worm, not quite as long as a thumb, and rather resembling ants, which is found in the earth at all places. It has such strength and power that it can eat its way through all the trunks, cases and the like (though it can do little enough aside from that), and destroy and make a mess of whatever is within. For that reason each man of the caravan was busy getting together stones and hard pieces of debris on which to place his goods, for outside the earth this worm loses all its strength and power, and can accomplish nothing.

I will let each one calculate for himself what kind of morale the caravan must have been in, after having endured so many dangers on the difficult journey--unbearable cold by night and heat by day, great and almost unbearable hunger [p. 222] and everything else unpleasant that nature can inflict on such a march. Finally we had a firm foot in the inhabited land, and had arrived in the kingdom of Nubia. We pitched out tents and made a circular fortress of our chests and other articles, laying the smaller things in the middle so that they would not disappear. All the other jallabs who had tents like ours did the same. Those who had been robbed, however, set up huts on the Arab pattern out of straw mats, which are very plentiful here, in order to be free of the heat of the sun, the sharp wind, and the great cold that prevails at night. As soon as we finished pitching camp, women came to us bringing hens, roosters, pigeons, sheep, milk, grass for the camels and donkeys, fruit and also bread. This latter is very doughy, however, as it is not baked in an oven, but like a tent on a hot earthen griddle.

Its manner and style is as follows. They let the earthen griddle heat thoroughly on the fire, and then cut dough somewhat thicker than the dough for sacramental bread--about one finger thick. When it is done on one side they turn it over. Therefore one side is bound to burn, leaving sticky dough inside. Really, one could make noodles out of it. This is the bread which the inhabitants and travelers here must eat, without any fancy frills, whether they like it or not. It made me sick to look at it, but because of my great hunger I eventually came to like it.

This bread, or kisra, as it is called in Arabic, is not made of wheat, but out of a certain fruit, or rather grain, which is called durra in Arabic. It grows on a stalk taller than a man and as thick as your thumb, on which are a number of grain-bearing stalks, with very many kernels. These are like hemp seeds, though one or two times bigger. When it is ripe the fruit is knocked out of the head with a flail. The women then throw it into the air to clean it and drive away the chaff. Then it is placed in certain baskets which they plait out of palm fibre, and it can be preserved thusly for a whole year. It is food for them and for their animals; along with camels, it is their greatest wealth.

This durra is then ground between two stones, just as a painter rubs his colors, and [p. 223] the bran meal is mixed up and then made into bread, or kisra. This bread is served warm with water, milk or meat stock and eaten with the hands (for they have no spoons in these lands), while sitting cross-legged on the ground. They also brought us dates from their palm trees. These are a delicacy, and I never found their like among all other fruits. Very good ones can be obtained cheaply, as well as other things, but not for money.

Except for dealings among the jallabs of the caravan, coinage is not accepted in these lands, nor is it even to be found at all. In the villages it is as the Latin proverb says: "do ut des," or "give me little nails, pepper, needles, spikenard, blue-colored wool, white sandalwood, rings drawn of buffalo horn (which women wear on their fingers and arms, as is frequently done in Cairo) and other similar gew-gaws--in return, I will give you this or that, say, a pigeon, sheep, dates, fodder for the camels, firewood, milk, kisra, eggs, and whatever it may be." Everything is cheap; for a handfull of wool one can get a pigeon, for eight or ten little nails a chicken, and so forth.

Were I to describe their mode of dress, it would be as follows. Their costume is body-colored, since they go around quite naked and bare. The women wear around their waist a finger-wide leather girdle to which a number of black leather thongs about one or one and a half spans long are attached. To me it looked like the fly-net of a horse. Boys go quite naked until the twelfth or fifteenth year, while those who are older wear a leather apron similar to those worn to work by a mechanic. Others, both men and women, wind around their waist or hips a coarsely-woven cotton cloth about three spans wide and several ells long, and with this they cover themselves. Further, the women in wintertime (when it is quite brisk at night, but very hot during the day--since we are under the eighteenth degree of latitude) wrap their hands, arms and neck with a cord fastened with little Johanna-rings of blue or another color. The women have also a brown woollen mantel, made of one piece four ells long and one-half wide, decorated with blue wool [p. 224] which they wrap around the body. Aside from that the upper body of young and old of both sexes is at all times bared, without concern or amazement. Christians should reflect on this, for one never hears an improper word or comment about it, much less an immodest touching, kissing, etc. (Though they live a thoroughly shameless life in their houses.) As for the clothing of the nobility, they wear a long blue shirt that reaches to the feet, which may or may not have sleeves that come down to the hands. No less common is a piece of blue and white striped material (cotton, or cotton and silk, or even pure silk), which is not unlike a bed sheet in length. They use this in place of a cloak, wrapping it two or three times around the waist as a sash, or over the hips and shoulders, and so they go about.

No one wears anything on the head except the highest nobility and the king, for the inhabitants of these lands use in place of a hat their own hair. Men plait it into tight little braids at the back of the neck, while women have them all around the head, except for a gap so that the locks of hair do not completely cover the face. So that the skin, almost all of which is exposed to the unbearable heat of the sun, does not crack, they rub it with butter, lard and fat of camels and other animals. They mix this with sweet-smelling substances or spices, and so avoid emitting any very bad smell.

About two hundred years ago these people were very zealous Christians. Now they are Muslims, but live without law or faith. They are a godless, unfaithful and right barbarous people, but in spite of their generally barbarous nature the governor of this place (for so the great prince is named) today sent us as a special honor a present, namely, a wooden soup bowl full of meat and broth. Along with that we cooked two chickens that night in order to get our strength back. To God be praise and great thanks that we are quite well. Later Father Joseph visited him and took along as a present [p. 225] a mirror, a little pepper, small nails, a sugar-hat, blue wool, white sandalwood, spikenard root and other such items. This elevated us into his greatest favor. When he gave audience he sat with his feet crossed over each other on the bare ground covered with a straw mat. His whole greeting consisted of two words repeated about twenty times Inshallah Tayyib, etc. In our language that means "How are you, I hope you are well," etc.

Since we were so tired and miserable in the desert previously described, and which, God be praised, we have fortunately now put behind us, perhaps the curious reader would like to know why we did not go up from Esna to Nubia, where we are now, along the river Nile and the inhabited places, avoiding the obviously mortal danger and pain to ourselves and our beasts. I would like to give this reply, that by our somewhat longer route we avoided the great danger of being plundered, robbed and killed by the Arabs. For from Esna to the kingdom of Nubia (which is subject to the king of Sinnar) most of the inhabited places are occupied by Arabs. These are subjects of the Grand Turk, and continually wage war along the borders with the Moors of Nubia.


I will now describe at greater length their character, life-style, dwellings, clothing and their other characteristics.

The Arabs who live in the desert between Egypt and the Barabra, as well as those who live in these Moorish lands, are not black like the Moors, but light brown in color. They live a miserable and dreadful life, for their whole region is barren and the earth robbed of all fertility. To be sure they have many camels and other animals, but so little food for them that they can scarcely keep them from starvation. They have no place that is suitable for growing grain, except for a few villages where there are dates and a little wheat. From time to time they exchange their animals for grain, but this is scarcely sufficient for so many people. For this reason they even sell their own children to make ends meet.

Their misery drives these Arabs more than others to robbery and murder. Not only do they rob whomever goes through their land [p. 226] but also enslave and sell him. This is why we have not dared to go through their land all the way from Esna, although we were over two thousand camels strong, and so we rather preferred to go with great mortal danger, misfortunes and difficulties through the desert in a detour of over one hundred German miles than subject ourselves to such danger. The Arabs in Nubia where we are now are more beaten down, but "no cat gives up catching mice."

When the Barabra go from Egypt to Nubia, or back again, they give their wares and whatever else they have to a big caravan, and go through these lands quite naked with only their privates a little covered. This means that the likes of them are allowed to pass, being naked and possessing nothing worthy of a robbery, and they are even given lodging at night, and food and drink. We assigned some of these Barabra back in Egypt to bring us messages as to how the caravan fared, and [to carry the message back] that, God willing, we will soon make it through.

These Arabs live a godless, rough and thievish life, with neither religion nor law, although they give out that they are Muslims. They are thin, starving, crazy people, who must daily pay for their robbery and murder with brave suffering--not that that redeems them. They detest work, idolize laziness, and pride themselves for their devil-may-care attitude (for that is the way they live). They consider no place in life in all the world to be happier than their own--though no more despicable or miserable one could be found between heaven and earth. They get the greatest pleasure from their tattered huts and rags, and prize these over the most luxurious castles and the most beautiful clothing of the great kings and princes. One could call them the happiest of holy hermits, were they not sitting in the darkness of godless Muhammadanism, blackened in body and soul. If only the light of the Catholic Christian faith, which alone brings redemption, could shine on them, they might for the love of Christ Jesus despise and trample under foot the vanities and transitory, false, treacherous pleasures of this world, which prick sharper than thorns!

These Arabs pitch their tents or huts close together in rows like a corral, and herd all their livestock inside. The bare earth serves them [p. 227] in place of a linen bed. They do not stay always in one place, but wander here and there with their tents wherever they can find a suitable place.

The men, of whom there were many with our caravan, wear on their heads (contrary to the manner of other Arabs) a band of poor white or red cloth, so clumsily wrapped that one end falls down behind and the other in front. They have neither shoes nor stockings, nor shirt nor other garment, but cover their bodies with a piece of cloth about three spans wide and six or seven ells long. This piece of cloth is cotton, but so coarse and loosely-woven that often one can see through. They wrap this several times around the waist and stick it in along the side where it ends. The women do it the same way and their upper bodies are completely bare at all times. They braid their hair so that it looks as if braided cow-halters were hanging down on all sides. It is so full of grease and fat that it looks more like axle-grease than locks of hair, and emits a truly dreadful odor from which one could fall down in a faint. They consider it to be the greatest and most beautiful of jewels if they hang from these dirty black locks of hair a decoration--some fish teeth, Venetian glass or brass rings, or pieces of glass or coral. Rich women fasten on silver coins, brass charms or chains, or even Venetian sequins. They tattoo designs on the forehead, cheeks, thumbs, breasts and feet. I have seen some who wear the sign of the cross, made by spreading on the powder of a black stone, which does not go away. Their arm-bands are rings of wood, glass or buffalo horn, and they put large brass rings through their ears. I have seen many wear tin or silver rings in their nostrils, reminding me of the way one chains down Polish bears. This usage is current among women in the whole kingdom of Nubia and the other Moorish lands through which I passed.

Their cooking utensils consist of one or more earthen pots in which they cook their food. This is usually rice, beans or lentils. Their beverage is clear water, and their drinking vessel a gourd, split in the middle and hollowed out. We also used [p. 228] this. In place of a table cloth, they use the bare earth or a mat plaited of the fibre of the date palm. Every household has a mill to grind their wheat or durra (which I have discussed in its place.) This mill consists of two stones which they turn around on top of each other with a stick, or with their hands just as a painter rubs his colors.

They bake bread every day. They pour the meal into a big pot and mix in water to make a dough, from which they make large, wide sheets and bake them under the ashes. They eat them when still warm, the crust burned to a crisp and the interior still sticky. They never eat two dishes at once; if meat is served they eat it alone, and then the bread. They eat very little, and therefore are seldom bothered with the gout and other infirmities that plague Europeans. They are strong of limb and healthy of constitution; they live to be very old. Their favorite dish is vinegar and oil, along with bread.

When one of them dies, the wife or nearest female neighbor goes out of the tent of the deceased and begins to cry with pure fury, and to wail. At this wailing the women come running from the other tents and also cry and wail with fearful and dreadful gestures, so that when I saw such Arabs being buried, I was afraid. In the midst of this wailing and crying other women began to sing the praises and virtues of the deceased, which sounded so dreadful that one might be stricken and his hair stand on end. Finally they carry the corpse out and bury it according to the custom of the Muslims in a grave in the open field. They place various pretty stones on the grave; these they look for and find in the desert.

The Arabs elect a chief or prince who goes a little better dressed than the others. His tent is pitched in the middle of the others, and he places the well-being of his subjects above all else. To this end he expedites stealing, robbery and murder with counsel and deed, for he is born to such handiwork . . . [p. 229] . . . .

In regard to weapons they use a throwing spear or lance about half the length of a pike. They know how to throw this with such strength and skill that a man thirty, forty or even fifty paces away is not safe. Above the right elbow they usually carry a wide, sharp dagger in a sheath that hangs from a thong to carry it on the arm. They can think of no more comfortable place for it, as they go quite naked. They know how to strike very quickly and adroitly with it. And that is enough said about these Arabs.


On the seventh, eighth and ninth [of January 1701] we purchased all sorts of necessities for ourselves, our camels and donkeys. Because it was Friday and Saturday we ate a little ground wheat with milk poured over it.

On the tenth [of January 1701] we were called to a sick man. He had a real Vlcus in Virga [blockage of the urinary tract], which we treated for him and luckily cured in a few days. He at once sent us a pigeon, promising that if he fully recovered, he would see that we got more.

On the eleventh [of January 1701] before daybreak one of our camels died. It was the most beautiful, strongest and youngest, and had made light of its burden for the whole trip. Our Barabra finished it off with lances before it completely expired, and we divided the meat among the Barabra of the caravan. At about midday the sick man mentioned above sent us a big, beautiful and strong young camel as a recompense, for he found himself as well as before, and could urinate. Thus Almighty God met our needs by means of medicine.

On the twelfth [of January 1701] a son of the prince, to whom we had given two handfulls of wool and a little coffee, paid us a visit. He was dressed like a Barbarin, and his clothing consisted of the following pieces, namely: a blue shirt wrapped around with a white and blue embroidered sheet in place of a cloak, a long sabre in his hand, which seemed to have been in the war of the Emperor Charles, a pair of shoes consisting of two soles with no tops, made in the form of sandals. He was bareheaded and accompanied by four slaves. His father was also with the caravan today, to visit the merchants who carry the goods of the king of Sinnar. His suit of clothes included a blue shirt, a long white linen robe with red [p. 230] linen border and decoration. He rode bareheaded on a beautiful expensive horse whose saddle, according to the custom of the land, was like an easy chair. It surrounded the back of his body up to the shoulders, and had in front a long, high pommel that covered the heart. This protected him from lance thrusts. The saddle stood straight up from the horse's neck.

On the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth [of January 1701] we were busy with purchasing the necessary supplies for ourselves and our camels. Before long everything began to become expensive, and finally there was no more to be had. A few days ago we could have bartered eight or ten little nails for a chicken, but now it is not unusual to gladly give twenty. One should know that Mushu is a small place, whose people are totally given over to idleness. Though they have the most fruitful soil, they do not enjoy it as they could; fruit trees such as pears, apples and fruits with stones are not to be found, though to be sure dates (which are better and healthier--yes, a fruit that surpasses all others, and which may be stored for several years) are found in this land in great superfluity.

From the sixteenth to the twentieth [of January 1701] we still remained here, but were living very miserably. We could not get any more nourishment for ourselves, our camels, donkeys and Barabra, although it helped very much that I gave medicine to all the sick people who were brought to us, and so for my pains and labor got a little chicken or pigeon. In this place there are no diseases other than apostem, boils, coughs and eye ailments; syphilis is also a common sickness. The reason we stayed here so long is that half a year ago two persons in our caravan were stricken with smallpox, which in these lands is fiercer than the plague. Most of the victims die. Therefore the shaykh or governor of this place, of whom I gave report a few days ago, demanded that the caravan either give him a large present or else he would report to the king of Sinnar that this disease was raging among the caravan. In order to get around this difficulty, one had to give him a piece of soap for every camel in the caravan, since he had held the caravan so long at such great cost to us. If he had told the king in Sinnar that the plague was rife in the caravan, he himself could not leave here for a year and a day. But we hope to leave this place in two or three days.
[p. 231] Furthermore, we have recovered a little of our strength lost in the desert (to God be praise, honor and the greatest thanks!) When I think of the misery, great hardships, hourly danger of death, great hunger, thirst, heat, cold, day and night without rest or peace, all this endured for about fifty days, my hair stands on end.

On the twenty-first [of January 1701] a few Barabra arrived here from Cairo, traveling through the inhabited land (that is, the land adjacent to the river Nile). They traveled on foot wearing nothing but a tattered shirt, for in this way they could pass even among the Arabs and still enjoy their food. They brought reports that the Arabs were still in the desert at al-Wah (six days' ride from Assiut), and that the remaining portion of our caravan was therefore still waiting in Assiut. If they do not want to take the path that we have taken, it is certain that they shall remain there until the Kashif of Manfalut either makes peace with the Arabs and gives them villages in order to make their living, or defeats them by armed force in a battle in the desert. The latter is to be hoped for, because if not, then no caravan can travel anywhere. These Barabra also told us that part of the caravan which had separated from us in the desert in order to return to its homeland was attacked by these Arabs even though they were their own countrymen. All were murdered, and their wares and camels seized. These Arabs were also waiting for our caravan, but through God's special dispensation, though they rode day and night, we did not fall into their hands.


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