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across one another, upon the lower part of the belly, and tied to keep them in that position, the jaws tied as close as possible, the eyes closed, the two great toes tied together, and the body is wrapped in a clean cloth and sewed up ; after which the skin called neet, the only bed an Abyssinian has to lie upon, is tied over the cloth, and the corpse laid upon a couch and carried to the church, the bearers walking at a slow pace. According to the distance of the house from the church, the whole route is divided into seven equal parts, and, when they come to the end of every seventh part, the corpse is set down, and prayers of forgiveness offered to the Supreme Being for the deceased. Every neighbour helps to dig the grave, bringing their own materials for the purpose, and all try to outwork one another. Indeed, when a stranger happens to die where he has no acquaintances, numbers always flock to assist in burying him, and many of the townspeople will keep an hour's cry, as if they had been related. There is no expense for burying, as every one assists his neighbour, as I have mentioned above. But the priests demand an exorbitant sum from those who have property, for prayers of forgiveness, and I have seen two priests quarrelling over the cloth of a poor dead woman, the only good article she had left. If a man dies and leaves a wife and child, the poor woman is drained of the last article of value she possesses to purchase meat and drink for those priests, for six months after her misfortune, otherwise they would not bestow a prayer upon her husband, which would disgrace her and render her name odious amongst the lowest of the populace. In this manner I have known many families ruined.”—vol. i. pp., 187—192.
As in Ireland formerly, there are still in Abyssinia numbers of persons, men and women, who get a living by making verses and attending at cries, or wakes, for the purpose of reciting them. The best of these are sometimes brought from considerable distances, to attend the wakes of individuals of distinction, and are highly paid. Pearce mentions a respectable female of his acquaintance, who, though she had a large estate to live upon, devoted herself from her infancy to the study of poetry, in which she attained great celebrity. She attended wakes also, not however for hire, but for the purpose of increasing her fame.
In the early part of 1814, Mr. Coffin attended the Ras upon an expedition to Gondar, of which he drew up a journal for Pearce, who was detained by bad health and his domestic calamities at Chelicut. The object of the expedition was to repress one of Ras Guebra’s numerous insurrections; but it was no part of Welled Selasse's plan to injure the capital, and therefore he prevented his followers from entering it. Mr. Coffin visited but one portion of it, and that only at night; but he had an opportunity of surveying the capital from a hill near the camp, which commanded a full view of its whole extent, and as we are not aware that it has been seen by any other European traveller since Bruce, Mr. Salt having been prevented by the civil war then raging from venturing so far, we shall bestow a few words upon it. The town, according to the Abyssinian fashion, is scattered over a vast tract of land, in general high with small hillocks, every part taking its name either
from the neighbouring church, or from the market, or the people occupying the adjacent ground. The king's palace was at this period in ruins; he had not lived in it for several years; the doors were all broken down, and the walls were all falling in. A very large piece of ground was devoted to the residence of the head bishop of Abyssinia, and within its precincts a sanctuary, as formerly was the case in many parts of Europe, was established for criminals of every hue, murderers not excepted. If Gondar were built in the European style, one eighth part of the extent which it now occupies would be sufficient for its population. The houses are all thatched, but on account of the badness of the clay the walls are also thatched, otherwise they would be washed down by the rain. The whole town is lined with trees, which in some parts afford so dense a shade, that the visitor cannot see a house until he gets within the trees which surround it. The principal church in Gondar, called Quosquom, is well thatched, lined with blue silk, and adorned by mirrors. Indeed ecclesiastical edifices are so numerous here, that the priests entitle Gondar the city of forty-four churches. But mortar being an exceedingly scarce manufacture in Abyssinia, from the want of good lime, all these buildings are constructed of clay, rough stones, wood, canes, and straw, which are indeed the principal materials for the first houses in the country. The thatch is composed, not of straw, which is mixed with the clay to make it adhesive, but of a strong wiry grass, which grows wild during the rains upon all the mountains. The Ras, upon returning from his expedition, which was as successful as he could wish it to be, was accompanied by the king Tecla Gorgis, whose character Pearce thus describes. “Tecla Gorgis is remarkably proud of his person: though a little bald at the top of his head, he manages to have the hair, which is nearly a span long, so plaited and disposed as to hide the bald part. He always wears a silver or gold bodkin with a large head, called walever, upon his forehead; and round the instep, and below the ancle, a string of oval silver or gold beads, such as are worn by all women, rich and poor, and which are called aloo. “It may be here proper to give some account of this once great em. peror's character, which I intend to draw according to what I have heard, not only by word of mouth from numbers, but also from his history at Axum, and my own observations. I shall begin by stating in plain English, that he is a great liar and a great miser, and from his childhood has been remarkable for his changeable and deceitful temper, and utter disregard of his oath. When suspicious of any of his people, it was his habit to send privately to them, telling them, whatever they were concerned in, to let him know all, as he himself had learnt somewhat of their proceedings from people who were continually putting bad things into his head; the poor offenders, who took all this for truth, would beg his majesty to swear to forgive them, a customary practice in Abyssinia on such occasions. Tecla never hesitated about taking the oath, but would immediately kiss the cross when presented to him by the priest, who had the management of the sacred affair, and, as soon as he was gone from his presence, would say to the officers who attended upon his person, “see, I scrape from my tongue, which made the oath and touched the cross, all it has. uttered,” and so saying, he would put his tongue between his teeth, and, drawing it in, would spit, and exclaim, “when the rebel comes, do your duty as I shall order you.” In this manner, he has brought his subjects. even from Galla, where they had fled for protection, fearing his treachery. Comfu Adam, governor of Begemder, and a near relation to the king, was trepanned in this manner, and had his tongue cut out at his arrival. The Gusmati Woldi Gabriel, son of Ras Michael, who was on terms of the greatest friendship with him, and had marched from Tigré to assist him. against Ras Ho and Marro, who had rebelled against Tecla, and almost driven him from Gondar, became, after conquering all Gojam and the neighbouring districts that had been concerned in the rebellion, an object of jealousy in the eyes of the king; who, after inventing his treacherous schemes, and swearing and releasing the rebels, who he well knew would be glad to take revenge on Woldi Gabriel, sent for him, apparently in a friendly manner, and on his arrival at court said to him, “Woldi Gabriel, I have made up my mind to go to Shoa, and take the Tigré army with me.” This surprised the Gusmati, who imagined it to be a joke; however, seeing the king in earnest, he represented to him that the Tigré troops were already much tired and numbers of them sick, and that he had, on the conclusion of the war, dismissed more than ten thousand to their respective districts, as he had promised him that he should return to Tigré. He added, “I could never attempt to take my army through a country inhabited only by Pagans. What village could receive our lame and sick? would they not all be murdered by my own hands, if I were to commit such an act of folly?” The king answered, “why do you consider the death of a fly?” “Fly,” said Woldi Gabriel, “if my soldiers are but flies, I am nought but a large fly.” “If you are no more than a fly,” said the king, “you are not able to serve me.” He immediately ordered the very rebels whom Woldi had conquered to lay hold of him and bind him, and the whole of his troops were stripped of every thing, and some, in attempting to escape, were killed. Woldi Gabriel was kept in chains, until he brought the last article of value he possessed to ransom himself, while his brave troops had to find their way home over the cold mountains of Samen, without either cloths or skins to cover their nakedness.
‘Tecla Gorgis, though thought to be a very learned man in the Scriptures, sets the worst of examples to christians, for notwithstanding his professed religious principles, he is the greatest adulterer in existence. Though he keeps Ozoro Cottser and Ozoro Teschen as regular wives, he has, in general, when at home, ten or twelve other women in the same house, parted off like so many mules or horses. He pays no respect to beauty nor scarcely to age, no matter whether it be a lady, a beggar, or a nun. He has a number of children in all parts of the country, some by women of the lowest class, many of whom are grown up and are great vagabonds.”—vol. i. pp. 274–277.
According to Pearce's account, the Abyssinians are a people more mixed and unequal in their personal appearance and dispositions, than almost any other upon the face of the earth; some
being very black, some very fair with straight hair, some coppercoloured with woolly hair. Very few of the common people, and not many of the people of quality, can give any account even of their own fathers, owing to the frequent changes of the governors; for when a new governor comes to a district, he seizes a great portion of the land and expels the proprietors to seek for themselves new homes. The soldiers are the most mercenary of their profession, changing from one chief to another as they think best or their advantage. Their arms, spears, shields, knives, and powder, they find for themselves; the matchlocks which they carry are the property of their masters, and these they never take away, not even when they go over to the enemy of their former master. Those persons who work at the trade of a carpenter, or in silver, gold, or brass, are looked upon as persons of high rank; but persons who work in iron or pottery are held in horror. They are not permitted to receive the sacrament as Christians, and it is commonly believed that they have the power of turning themselves into hyaenas . It is supposed, and not unreasonably, that the potters and blacksmiths who drive a prosperous trade, rather encourage this popular superstition, in order to keep their business within the circle of their own families; they are designated by the name of Budas. Another extraordinary set of beings are called Zackary; though esteemed good Christians, Pearce says that he has himself seen them go roaring about the towns, making a most dreadful noise, being apparently in great trouble, whipping themselves, and at times cutting their flesh with knives. They say that they are descendants of St. George Their patron saint, however, is Oun Arvel, to whom they have dedicated a church, in which they have a light burning for ever, as they say supernaturally, and holy water, which is an effectual preservation against the affliction of evil spirits. * This is a very wonderful disorder, which I cannot pass over in silence, though the reader may think it fabulous and ridiculous; yet we have accounts of something of the same kind in the New Testament, which the priests and learned men of Abyssinia believe to be the same complaint. This complaint is called tigretier ; it is more common among the women than the men. The tigretier seizes the body as if with a violent fever, and from that turns to a lingering sickness, which reduces the patients to skeletons and often kills them, if the relations cannot procure the proper remedy. . During this sickness their speech is changed to a kind of stuttering, which no one can understand but those afflicted with the same disorder. When the relations find the malady to be the real tigretier, they join together to defray the expense of curing it; the first remedy they in • general attempt is to procure the assistance of a learned Dofter, who reads the Gospel of St. John, and drenches the patient with cold water daily, for the space of seven days—an application that very often proves fatal. The most effectual cure, though far more expensive than the former, is as follows: The relations hire for a certain sum of money, a band of trumpeters, drummers, and fifers, and buy a quantity of liquor; then all the young men and women of the place assemble at the patient's house, to perform the following most extraordinary ceremony. * I once was called in by a neighbour to see his wife, a very young woman, and of whom he was very fond, who had the misfortune to be afflicted with this disorder; and the man being an old acquaintance of mine, and always a close comrade in the camp, I went every day, when at home, to see her, but I could not be of any service to her, though she never refused my medicines. At this time I could not understand a word she said, although she talked very freely, nor could any of her relations understand her. She could not bear the sight of a book, or a priest, for at the sight of either, she struggled, and was apparently seized with acute agony, and a flood of tears, like blood mingled with water, would pour down her face from her eyes. She had lain three months in this lingering state, living upon so little that it seemed not enough to keep a human body alive; at last her husband agreed to employ the usual remedy, and, after preparing for the maintenance of the band during the time it would take to effect the cure, he borrowed from all his neighbours their silver ornaments, and loaded her legs, arms, and neck with them. * The evening that the band began to play, I seated myself close by her side as she lay upon the couch, and, about two minutes after the trumpets had begun to sound, I observed her shoulders begin to move, and soon afterwards her head and breast, and in less than a quarter of an hour she sat upon her couch. The wild look she had, though sometimes she smiled, made me draw off to a greater distance, being almost alarmed to see one nearly a skeleton move with such strength; her head, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet, all made a strong motion to the sound of the music, and in this manner she went on by degrees, until she stood up on her legs upon the floor. Afterwards she began to dance, and at times to jump about, and at last, as the music and noise of the singers increased, she often sprang three feet from the ground. When the music slackened, she would appear quite out of temper, but, when it became louder, she would smile and be delighted. During this exercise she never showed the least symptom of being tired, though the musicians were thoroughly exhausted; and when they stopped to refresh themselves by drinking and resting a little, she would discover signs of discontent. * Next day, according to the custom in the cure of this disorder, she was taken into the market-place, where several jars of maize, or tsug, were set in order by the relations, to give drink to the musicians and dancers. When the crowd had assembled and the music was ready, she was brought forth, and began to throw herself into the maddest postures imaginable, and in this manner she kept on the whole day. Towards evening, she began to let fall her silver ornaments from her neck, arms, and legs, one at a time, so that in the course of three hours she was stripped of every article. A relation continually kept going after her as she danced, to pick up the ornaments, and afterwards delivered them to the owners from whom they were borrowed. As the sun went down, she made a start with such swiftness, that the fastest runner could not come up with her, and when at the distance of about two hundred yards, she dropt on a sudden, as if shot. Soon afterwards, a young man, on coming up with her, fired a matchlock over her body, and struck her upon the back with the broad side of his large knife, and asked her name, to which she answered