Page images

fled to the fastnesses bordering on the salt plains, where he remained, carrying on a predatory warfare until the death of "the old lion,"' as the formerly is emphatically styled in the country.

During this period, while Ras Michael was seeking his life, he challenged any two chiefs in the army opposed to him to fight on horseback; and, two men of distinguished bravery having been ■made choice of for the purpose, he went down into the plain to meet them, and killed both with his own hand; possessing, notwithstanding his small and delicate form, such peculiar skill in the management of two spears on horseback, that it was said in the country to be unequalled. This unexampled exploit raised his character as a warrior to the highest pitch; and the particulars of the combat still continue to form a favourite topic of conversation among his followers.

On the succession of Degusntati Gabriel to the command of the province of Tigr6, Welled Selasse was induced by many insidious promises held out to him, to return to Adowa, where, in spite of the most solemn protestations to

the contrary, he was thrown into irons. The day on which this occurrence took place, he has since, with a sort of religious superstition, considered as the most unfortunate in his life: He did not, however, long remain in confinement; for, by the connivance of his keeper, Gueta Samuel, he shortly after made his escape and retired to the country of the Galla, who on this occasion received him with open arms.

The Death of Dejus Gabriel soon followed, when he returned once again to Enderta, and beinpjoined by some of his friends, made himself master of that province, and in the following year entered Tigr6; where, having in several battles overcome Guebra Mascal, he raised himself to the high situation of Governor of all the provinces eastward of the Tacazze. Once possessed of this high power, he successively es^ poused the claims of Ayto Solomon, the son of Tecla Haimont and of Tecla Georgis, his brother, whom, in spite of the combined forces of the chiefs of Amhara, he carried to Gondar and placed on the throne, being in return confirmed by both these Emperors in the


"On one occasion, when playing at chess, he hastily made out an order for 5000 dollars to be given to a chief, for some service that he had performed, instead of 500, which was the usual allowance: and, on the circumstance being mentioned to him by his steward, he turned round quickly and answered, 'I have said it,—let it be so,— the angel Michael hath tent it to him."' " A chief of some note having confessed to a priest that he had committed a murder, the latter, in hopes of receiving a reward, disclosed it to the relations, and, in consequence, the former was seized unci taken before Ras Michael. What is the evidence ? said the Ras. The priest stepped forward, and declared that he had repeatedly declared the fact to him. Ras Michael, without hesitation, gave the order, 'take him to his death.' The relations immediately laid hold of the chief, wid were in the act of forcing him away, when the old man, with one of his terrible look;, cried out, 'not that man, but the priest, who has dared to reveal the secrets disclosed to him in confession,' and he was instantly led out to execution." Ras Michael had so poor an opinion of what the priests could do for a man in his last moments, that he said, when on his death-bed; " Let not a priest come near me: if a man cannot make up his own account, how shall weak mm like these do it for him r"

high posts of Ras and Betwudet of the empire, which last office appears to be somewhat analogous to that which Pharaoh conferred upon Joseph, when he set him "over his house."

These respective monarchs, however, not being long able to retain the sovereignty (as 1 have related more particularly in my former journal), the crown fell, according to the preponderance of the different provinces, into other hands, until it was at length agreed by Ras Welled Selasse and Guxo, Governor of Gojam, (who succeeded to the power of Fasil) that Ayto Egwala Sion, son of Ischias, should be placed on the throne. Some religious disputes having subsequently arisen between these powerful chieftains, it had occasioned a rupture, which, since my return, has again thrown the country into a civil war; the Emperor, in the mean time, remaining neglected at Gondar, with a very small retinue of servants, and an income by no means adequate to the support cf his dignity; so that, as he possesses neither wealth, power, nor influence in the state, royalty may be considered, for a time, almost eclipsed in the country.

The duties of the Ras's situation, who may be regarded as an independent ruler, are extremely arduous, some notion of which may be formed by a reference to the map, where the extent of the country under what may be called "his personal jurisdiction," is marked out. Throughout this extensive district, all crimes, differences and disputes, of however important or trifling a nature, are ultimately referred to his determi

nation, all rights of inheritage are decided according to his will. and most wars are carried on by himself in person. To rule a savage people of so many different dispositions, manners, andusag«s as the Abyssinians, requires a firmness of mind, and a vigour of constitution, rarely united in the same individual at his advanced -age; yet, whenever 1 have seen him in the exercise of his power, he has shewn a vivacity of expression, a quickness of comprehension, and a sort of commanding energy, that over-awed all who approached him. During his continuance in power, he has made it his uniform practk-e to treat the different attempts at rebellion with perfect indilference; so that when those concerned in such conspiracies have, in their own imagination, brought affairs to a crisis, he has constantly expressed contain pt, rather than alarm at their machinations.

After a second attempt against his life by the same persons, he has been repeatedly known te pardon, and even to permit the parties convicted to attend about his court, priding himself particularly on having never bee* guilty of the cruelties of Ras Michael, and being led with reluctance to the condemnation of a common culprit; while no possible provocation can induce him "to cut off a limb, put out the eyes," or commit any other of the atrocious acts which stained the character of that extraordinary leader. His common mode of punishing those who conspire against him, is, by taking away their districts;" for, as 1 hate beard him often declare, "mea


are only saucy when their stomachs are full;" a saying peculiarly applicable to the Abyssinians, who, when ruled with a hand of power, make admirable subjects; but when left to their own wills, become intolerably presumptuous and overbearing.

During the three weeks that we stayed at Chelicut, I generally spent a great part of each day with the Ras, being allowed free access to his presence, through a private door communicating between the gardens of our respective habitations. On these occasions, I generally found him engaged in the administration of justice, or in receiving chieftains and ladies of consequence, who came from distant parts of the country to pay their duty; and when otherwise unemployed, invariably occupied in playing at chess, a game to which he appeared greatly devoted. I understood, indeed, that no surer method could be practised for attaining liis favour, than that of acquiring a knowledge of this game, and when playing with him, ingeniously to conirive that he should never be the loser. Ayto Debib, who stood high in his favour, was particularly well skilled in this game. In addition, he had acquired, by playing with Mr. Pearce, a perfect knowledge of the game of drafts.


(From the same J

As I am now-upon the holiday sports of the Abyssinians, it may not be amiss to give some account

of this man. Totte Maze, for such was his name, was one of the cleverest mimicks I have ever seen, the command which he possessed over his features almost equalling that which was displayed on the boards of our own theatres by Suet; an actor to whom he bore considerable resemblance. One of his chief acquirements consisted in the singular art of making other people (particularly strangers, who had not been apprized of his intention) imitate the contortions of his own features, a power which I repeatedly saw him exercise with success, and which, on one occasion, drew me into the same kind of ridiculous situation, without my being conscious of the changes in my countenance, until I was roused by a friendly hint from the Has, who let me into the secret of what he was about. He afterwards performed, at the Rus's request, some finished pieces of acting that evinced very extraordinary native talent.

One of these consisted in the imitation of the behaviour of a chief in battle, who had not been remarkable for his courage. At first he came in very pompously; calling out in an overbearing manner to his soldiers, and vaunting what he would do when the enemy approached. He then mimicked the sound of horns heard from a distance, and the low beating of a drum. At hearing this, he represented the chief, as beginning to be a little cautious, and to ask questions of those around him, whether they thought the enemy were strong. This plarm he continued to heighten in proportion as the enemy advan red,

[ocr errors]

vanced, until at last he depicted the hero as nearly overcome by his fears; the musquet trembling in his hand, his heart panting, and his eyes completely fixed, while, without being conscious of it, his legs began to make a very prudent retreat. This part of his acting excited among the spectators its due share of contempt, when, dexterously laying hold of the circumstance, he affected to bo ashamed of his cowardice, mustered up his whole stock of courage, and advanced, firing his matchlock at the same moment in a direction exactly contrary to that in which the enemy was supposed to stand, when, apparently frightened at the noise of his own gun, he sank down on his knees and begged for mercy: during this time the expression of his face was inimitable, and, at the conclusion, the whole of the spectators burst into a shout of admiration.

lu another representation, he imitated the overstrained politeness of an Amharic courtier, paying a first visit to a superior. On coming in, he fell on his face and kissed the ground, paying most abject compliments to the chief, and, on being invited to sit down, placed himself with well-feigned humility close to the threshold of the door: shortly afterwards, on the suppositionof a question being asked him by the chief, he arose, and still* carrying on the farce, prostrated himsflf the second time, and gave an answer couched in very polite and artful phrases, advancing cautiously at the fame time into the middle of the room. In this manner he eon* linucd to take advantage «f the

attentions paid to him, gradually stealing along, till he got close to the side of the chief, when hs assumed an extraordinary degree of familiarity, talked loudly, and, to complete the ridiculous effect of the whole scene, affectedly shoved his nose almost in contact with the other's face. This species of satire afforded great delight to the Tigrians; as they pretend on all occasions to despise the submissive and effeminate manners of the people of Amhara, whom they invariably describe, as "possessing smooth tongues and no hearts."

In addition to his other representations, Totte Maze gave a most admirable imitation of the mincing step and coquettish manners of the women of Amhara, and of their extreme affectation in answering a few of the most common questions. In all these representations, the tones of his voice were so perfectly adapted to the different characters, and his action so thorougly appropriate, that it gave me very unexpected gratification.

The following instance may be related, as a specimen of the wit usually practised by the jesters of this country; who, like the £m}s of old times, exercise their ingenuity upon persons of every description, without regard to rank or station. He had, one day, so much offended the lias by some liberties that he had taken with him, that he ordered him never again to set foot upon his carpel. (which, it may be noticed, extends about half way down the room.) On the following day, however, to the great surprise of the company, the jester made hii appearance,

appearance, mounted on the shoulders of one of his attendants, in which ludicrous situation he advanced close up to the Ras, and with a very whimsical expression of features, cried out, •* you can't say that I am on your carpet now." The Ras, who, like most of his countrymen, delights in humour, could not refrain from smiling, which insured the jester's forgiveness. Several other anecdotes were related to rue, that displayed much originality, but they were of a description that the reader will probably forgive me for omitting.

The chief amusement of the lower class of the community during this season of festivity, consists in playing at a game called 'kersa,' which is precisely similar to the common English game of 'bandy.' Large parties meet for this purpose; the inhabitants of whole villages frequently challenging each other to the contest. On these occasions, as might be expected, the game is violently disputed, and when the combatants are pretty equally matched, it sometimes takes up the greater part of the day to decide. The victors afterwards return shsMting and dancing to their homes, amidst the loud acclamations of their female friends. 1 also occasionally observed, at Antalo, that the vanquished were received with similar honours, and we often heard them challenging their opponents, in a friendly way, to renew the sport, though at other times, the parties, engaged in these contests, fell into a violent rage, both men and women uttering the most terrible menaces, and pouring forth torrents of abuse j

so that, as frequently happen* in our own country, that which was begun in jest, ended in blow;; but, even in such cases, they are never known to attack each other with any other weapon than the sticks, or bandies, which they employ in the game. In one instance, Mr. Pearce mentioned an incident which occurred in his presence, where one-half of the town of Moculla was so hotly engaged against the other, that at last the combat became very alarming, and the Ras himself was obliged to interfere, but did not succeed in parting them, till several men had been laid dead in the field. The Ras received an accidental blow in the fray, notwithstanding which, lie would ni»t, from a feeling of humanity, which is the distinguishing feature of his character, permit Mr. Pearce to use his pistols, which he had drawn out for the occasion.


(From the tame.J

After leaving the Ras at Antalo, we proceeded towards Chelicut; and, on our arrival at that place, completed the preparations for our journey to the coast. On the following day I attended the baptism of a Bedowee boy, at that time living as servant with Mr. Pearce, whom we had persuaded to become a convert to the Christian faith, not only with the view of benefiting the poor boy, but also from being desirous, by this last act, of making an impression on the minds of the Abystinians favourable to the Britwh character.

« PreviousContinue »