Page images
PDF
EPUB

tion, for his frequent intercourse with Europeans (an intercourse most flattering to his vanity) has taught him quite a number of facts. He remembers those which amuse him, being instigated solely by an almost childish curiosity. Formerly very little sufficed to entertain him, and it is even related that the first sugar-loaf which was presented to him caused him ecstasies of pleasure, and that he and his consort were discovered with that blessed product of civilisation between them, licking it vigorously. But those good times are past; Europeans have brought him so many toys that he has become critical. When a new traveller is announced he awaits with impatience the customary present, trying to find out beforehand whether it is something new, in which case the audience is speedily granted. He is much interested in all machinery, which, including watches, he invariably takes to pieces. Sometimes he deigns to be present at the unpacking of the traveller's boxes, and to appropriate any little object that pleases him. Such informal examinations amuse him vastly. “If I had not been a king,' he remarks at times, • I should like to have been a custom house officer.'

I was once received in the room where the Negus stores his presents. It was the most heterogeneous collection imaginable. There were a great number of piled-up boxes, bags, and trunks, in the middle of which Menelik was seated upon a cushion, occupied in unscrewing the sight-finder of a carbine, through which he was looking with one eye shut. I have known him send round to my tent for some socks, and be so much delighted with a hastily darned pair which I gave him that he insisted on unsocking, for his own benefit, a party of missionaries who passed through Addis Abbaba shortly afterwards. But nowadays he is usually harder to please, and nothing but the most handsome gifts will satisfy him. Heaven only knows what becomes of them! I have been told that he melted down a service of silver plate, the gift of a European sovereign, into shield ornaments, and that a silver soup tureen was seen upon the head of an armed warrior. One gift does not prevent him from asking for another. After receiving from me a 12-bore rifle, worth about 551., he sent to ask me for my elephant rifle, and it was probably to my obstinate refusal that I owed the theft of two pairs of tusks, which I never recovered, though I offered to pay for them. Those who have spent any length of time in Menelik's Court can cite endless stories of this kind. He is a curious mixture. Side by side with acts which prove a superior intelligence, he manifests at every moment a singular pettiness of character. He leaves the discussion of the Italian frontier in order to superintend the measuring out of his servants' rations; he combines the qualities of a statesman and a Levantine trader. Knowing only his own country, he has no point of comparison, and his mind is consequently a chaos in which vanity, cupidity, suspicion, and a desire to show off are combined with un

[ocr errors]

scrupulous cunning. He is a Negro,' said one who knows him, 'and until he has been whitewashed a Negro he will remain.'

I was present at several of the King's receptions, among others at the reception of Mr. Rennell Rodd's mission. Awaited with anxiety, the envoy succeeded from the moment of his arrival in placing himself upon a footing which intimidated the Negus. Personally I was delighted, for I had been an indignant witness of the scant courtesy with which white men were treated at the Negro Court, and I looked forward to seeing the Abyssinian taught that the white man, if it were merely because of his colour, had a right to his respect.

At an early hour all the Europeans at Addis Abbaba received a summons from the Negus, who wished to show the English that he was surrounded by men like themselves. I arrived early, and soon caught sight of Menelik passing through a little Court with his powerful acolytes. His get-up was singular, but essentially Abyssinian. Upon his head he wore a big black hat, without which he is rarely seen, socks and brown shoes upon his feet; the rest of his person was clothed in native dress. The shoes ought to have been laced, but, as they were rather tight, the laces were allowed to hang down at the sides, and the tops of the shoes had been cut off with a knife. Nevertheless His Majesty suffered cruelly, and attempted to alleviate his condition by alternately shuffling along and stepping with a very high action. He entered the reception room in this manner and sat down under a dais, one of his high officials hastening to remove the shoes and socks. These he rolled into a tight packet and held under his arm as he stood proudly beside the monarch, leaning upon an express rifle, muzzle downwards. At this moment the Negus yawned. All those around him spat vigorously in order to drive away the evil spirit which might have profited by that unguarded moment. Then every one waited. The room was filled with warriors, variously attired, forming a picture more splendid in its savage grandeur than any I have ever seen. And still they waited. The Negus was ill at ease; he generally takes a malicious pleasure in making others wait for him, and his vanity suffered. At length the envoys arrived. They presented an appearance so imposing that it was easy to see that the Negus was both impressed and flattered. Every one knows the details of that event, which marks an epoch in Ethiopian history, but I wish that history could record the comments of the crowd. As Captain the Hon. Cecil Bingham, 1st Life Guards, walked away in his cuirass, I heard an Abyssinian warrior, adorned with a monkey's in place of a lion's mane, remark to his neighbour : ‘Just look at that one. He must be a coward! He has a shield which covers his back.'

When the Negus talks, his glance is alert and his sayings often amusing. I have heard him tell the famous tale of the elephant which was so large that he had two little elephants to help him to carry his tusks. He taught me, too, how the Abyssinians kill the panther; you dig a hole in the ground and get into it with a goat, closing the mouth of the hole with your shield. The bleating of the goat attracts the panther, which scratches at the shield in order to get at its prey. But you hold the shield fast and the panther dies incontinently of rage! On another occasion he remarked : • Joshua is said to have stopped the sun. That can't be true, and besides no one could prove it, as in his day they had no watches. It is much more likely that he was bored, and thought the time passed so slowly that the sun must have stopped.'

Menelik is by far the most intelligent Abyssinian I have seen, and the most favourably inclined to the idea of civilisation. He does not like white men, but he knows that his interest lies in using them, and, but for the pressure of public opinion, he would open up his country still further to them. But his people bate us and long to exterminate us all. The Negus likes to be able to say that he has stamps and a coinage with his effigy upon them, a telephone, a postal service, and a railway which is going to connect him with the coast. It is true that the stamps are sold only to philatelists upon the steamers at Jibuti, that the coinage is not current, that the telephone wires serve merely as perches for birds, that the postal service consists of an india-rubber stamp of which the holder, an enfranchised elave called Gabriel, is so proud that he has had himself baptised Minister of Posts and Telegraphs on the strength of it, and that the railway is not yet completed. No matter; Menelik is fattered. He thinks that he can persuade Europe that he has civilised Abyssinia and raised it to the level of European nations. It is, however, typical of him that he has made no serious effort in this direction. He plays with civilisation as a child plays with a toy ; the civil, military, commercial, and social organisation he leaves untouched.

As to the army, it is in no sense a regular force. Properly speaking, a regular army does not exist; the army is the nation in arms.

All who have guns, and that implies a great number of men, follow the Ras of their district whenever he goes out to war. It is the feudal system in its most primitive expression ; every one is the man of a chief whom he is bound to serve, and the poverty of the country, combined with the difficulty of transport, ensures the continuance of the system. A great number of men cannot be collected in any given area, because it is impossible to import provisions, and the resources of each district are extremely limited. When the

army is on the march there is practically no discipline : every man tows his whole family behind him and they live upon the country, there being no organised commissariat. The wars are razzias and slave raids; the army is in the fullest sense a horde of barbarians. Famine follows in its steps, its passage means the devastation of the invaded country, and the brutalities committed by such savages make even a friendly force a terrible scourge to the inhabitants. Nor can any kind of European discipline be applied to these troops, because of the insubordination and the absurd pride of the men; and yet they have certain military qualities which are not to be despised. They possess great powers of endurance, being able to march enormous distances without food; they are easily moved, in spite of the apparent confusion which reigns among them; they are accustomed to conquer, because of the advantage which their arms give them over their unarmed neighbours; and they have great faith in their own valour. Their tactics are always the same; they surround the enemy and fall upon him, the first shock of their attack being very violent, for the Abyssinian, an arrant coward when he is alone, turns into a sort of mad bull amid the shouts of battle and under the pressure of his comrades around him. Moreover, hunger forces him to victory, for often enough he can hope for nothing to eat but what he takes from the enemy. But he is far from being invincible, even by a native foe. Three years ago the Ras Makonnen's troops, 6,000 carbines strong, were beaten near Ogaden by Somalis armed only with lances, and half their number was killed in a night attack. The survivors returned announcing that they had been stopped by malaria. Three times the Negus sent expeditions against Kaffa : in 1896 18,000 rifles were defeated by the Galla lances; in 1897 20,000 shared the same fate, and later in the same year the Gallas gave way before a force of 24,000 rifles only because they were weary of war and preferred paying tribute to Menelik. In 1898 Makonnen's troops were severely defeated in Western Abyssinia and prevented from reaching the Nile.

How, then, shall we account for the affair at Adowa ?

Chiefly by the configuration of the country. Abyssinia defends itself. The Italian troops, too far removed from their base, were surprised in steep defiles, from the top of which an enemy, three times superior in number, was able to shoot them down. The victory has been disastrous to European prestige ; it has destroyed the fear of the white man, which was instinctive in the Negro mind. The Abyssinian draws no distinctions between the various European nations--they are all whites and as such worthy of hatred; they were all, in his opinion, defeated at Adowa, and may henceforth be regarded with contempt and insulted at pleasure. The salutary lesson of Magdala is completely forgotten, and not an Ethiopian but believes that his race has nothing to learn from us. Menelik may desire to foster European civilisation, but the whole consensus of national opinion is against him, and I do not hesitate to say that the victory of Adowa bas raised Abyssinian pride to such a point that the country has become inaccessible to all progress.

EDMOND DE POXCINS.

SKETCHES MADE IN GERMANY

CONCLUDING ARTICLE

PART II

Schillerstrasse, 18.

MY DEAR ELLEN,—Never believe in the appearance of things. When you are happy, always expect a change. Do you revel in the sun shining, seize the hour and the occasion to temper your soul with the reflection,

Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse.

We have another companion, a girl in whom Frau Pastor is interested, and this makes the irony of the situation complete and heart-rending. For this girl makes for mischief. Martin has not touched a brush since her arrival ; this, in itself, is significant. But there is worse to come. I can only stop to tell you that this girl is immensely, disagreeably clever, but her cleverness is almost a taint. She reads, and has a passion for, the most extraordinary books, judging from their titles; the books themselves she never leaves about. She is, too, a musical marvel, phenomenon, what you will, but her intellectual performances, while they stir your wonder, leave you cold. I am the more amazed at Martin's willing infatuation, because this girl gives you the uncomfortable impression that she has po feeling of reverence left for anything, not even for the ritual of the Romish Church, whose services draw her daily. A few chance words yesterday revealed the startling fact that in confession, in the sensuous music of High Mass, in the medievalism of the whole Romish tradition, she finds the necessary amount of excitement to support an existence of boredom. I put one question to her to which a tru Catholic could have given but one answer.

Her answer was a shrug. This is characteristic of her. Irony of ironies, that Martin of all men in the world should be attracted towards this girl. Oh, human nature must be mad at times, I think, and fit only for a lunatic asylum. I should like to lock

Martin up.

To bring a man with a faith so pure, ideals so noble, a nature so ingenuous, so beautiful as that of Martin—to bring this man's mind into daily contact and conflict with this girl's spurious views of life,

« PreviousContinue »