We Reach A Real Lake – This is chapter Fourteenth of the Book “Two Dianas in Somaliland: The Record of a Shooting Trip”, which is a narrative of a daring and victorious shooting expedition undertaken by two cousins, Agnes and Cecily, who carry the spirit of true sportswomen and the right attitude for this adventure.
A native Somali escort accompanies them during this expedition. British writer and big game hunter Agnes Herbert keep the reader hooked with her refreshing writing style throughout the novel. She wonderfully describes the beauty and austerity of the jungle and desert in the passages as the two ladies travel through the country.
The chapters of this book are started with one or more quotations from Shakespeare, thus revealing the author as a high-class Englishwoman of culture. The discussions in the book show that the author is highly skilled with guns.
This work beautifully and with great success presents a new perspective of a female British imperialist hunter bagging big game in the isolated jungle of Somaliland and Ethiopia, which is deserving of the reader’s interest and attention.
The Record of a Shooting Trip
By Agnes Herbert
With Twenty-Five Illustrations Reproduced from Photographs
London: John Lane
TWO DIANAS IN SOMALILAND
We Reach A Real Lake
So fair a troop
Call it a travel that thou tak’st for pleasure
King Richard II
In the morning we found ourselves the center of an admiring throng. Every mouthful of my breakfast was criticized and commented on, every square yard of camp was congested with Somalis, and when one, more daring than the rest, embraced a rifle box, tight round its waist, as though to feel the weight, and then let it drop, bump, my amazement and horror knew no bounds. Even had he known the contents I don’t suppose the treatment meted out would have been any kinder. The most experienced native hunter has an idea that rifles are non-breakable, and a small kink or bulge here and there can make no possible difference! But this—this was too much. I could not order the zareba to be cleared, for the good reason we had no zareba, having been too tired the previous day to form one. I could, and did, however, order the tents to be struck, and meanwhile, Cecily watched like a detective at a fashionable wedding over the treasures. It would have been fairly easy to have lost bits of our kit in such crowds.
Marching until about eleven, we settled down once more, only to be immediately disturbed by a messenger from the head-man of the tribe just so gladly parted from, who was followed hard on his tracks by a number of horsemen, streaming across the plain, threading in and out between the clumps of durr grass, the sun glinting on their shining spears.
They very kindly wished to entertain us with a species of circus performance, known as the dibâltig, a great equestrian feat, carried out in this case by some fifty Somalis on typical native ponies got up for the occasion—a veritable attempt to make silk purses out of sow’s ears—in trappings of red, and many tassels. Their riders were dressed in brilliantly dyed tobes of green and scarlet and blue, and each man carried a complete warrior’s kit of shield, spear, and short sword. It was nice that the performance did not wait for us to go to it, but placed itself right in our way like this—a great improvement on the system of amusements at home. Our men gave up all idea of doing any camp work for the time, and stood in an admiring throng in a half-circle behind Cecily and myself, who were allowed a box each to sit on.
On a prairie-like waste of sand the Somalis formed in an even line, and with the usual “Salaam aleikum,” the show began. One of the horsemen advanced slightly, and still sitting in his peaked saddle, began to sing a long chant. I do not know if he was chosen as chorister because of some hereditary right in his family, or by favor, or because of the fancied excellence of his voice. With every singer not all are pleased. So I will just state that this one sang. I need not say how. It is rude to look a gift horse in the mouth, and this was a free entertainment. The warbler continued his romance and pæan in various tones for a long time when, suddenly, at a more screeching note than usual, every man left the line and galloped frantically about the sand, never knocking into each other, throwing spears with all their force here, there, and everywhere, to catch them up again as the ponies dashed past. The pace grew hotter, and presently each rider was enveloped in a cloud of dust, and we could only see the energetic frantic forms through a maze of sand. It reached us and set us coughing. The riders seemed almost to lift the ponies by the grip of the knees and the balance seemed perfect, and the greatest surprise was that something other than the ground was not jabbed by the flying spears. Some good throwers could attain a distance of about seventy to eighty yards.
They all careered about like possessed creatures in a turmoil of tossed up sand and wild excitement, when, at a signal may be, but I saw none, back the whole lot raced, straight like an arrow from a bow, so swiftly, I thought we should be ridden over. But of course, we had to sit tight, and pretend we were not in fear and trembling about the issue of so furious a charge. The poor ponies were reined in at our very feet so jerkily and cruelly that the blood started from the overstrained corners of their mouths. Then crowding around us, jostling and pushing each other, the animals gasped and panted their hearts out. I longed to take the whole lot to the wells to drink but of course, we had to go through the ceremonial properly. The dibaltig is a Somali way of doing honor or paying allegiance, and is only performed at the election of a Sultan, or for the offering of deference due to an English traveler.
With spears held aloft the Somalis united in the strident familiar “Mot! Mot! Mot! io Mot!” (Hail! Hail! Hail! again Hail!)—to which, as a safe remark, I replied “Mot!” The wrong thing, of course, and Clarence, who stood just behind, whispered I was to say “Thank you,” which I did in Somali, very badly.
Then we invited our circus party to a meal, and I said if they could produce a couple of sheep from somewhere I would pay for the banquet. We got through all right, but the whole of the day was taken up with the princely entertainment. The sheep duly arrived, and the entire camp helped to roast them when with bowls of rice and ghee as a top-up, everyone made merry at our expense. We bestowed a few presents also, of which the most successful was a tusba, wooden beads to be counted in prayer saying. I was sorry we had not provided ourselves with more of these to give away, as they seemed so intensely popular. Cecily gave one Berserk a piece of gay red ribbon, and he seemed very much delighted. They do not care for things of which no use can be made, as they are not a silly nation. Red scarves and ribbon can always be used up effectively for the ponies’ trappings on dibaltig and other great occasions.
We managed to effect an exchange here. I wanted a couple of the native-dyed blue and red khaili tobes to take home as souvenirs, so Clarence managed it for us by handing over two new white ones, a turban, and a couple of iron tent pegs. These last were great treasures, as they can be fashioned into spearheads. The throwing spear is a cruel barbed affair, but some are plain. Accurately pitched it is a deadly weapon, and the Somali as he throws gives the spear a smart knock on the palm of his hand, which conveys an odd trembling that keeps the shaft straight as it flies through the air. The spear blades take different shapes in the different tribes, but shields seem to be of uniform pattern—of oryx, rhino, or other leather, made with a handle at the back.
We did a short march in the evening and were spared the trouble of building a zareba, and like cuckoos, took up a place in a nest of someone’s making. It had been evacuated long enough to be fairly clean and did us well with a little patching. Ant hills around us were so numerous we seemed in the center of some human settlement. That night a leopard entered our zareba and, regardless of the fires and the watch, clawed one of the ponies badly, being only driven off by having a rifle fired at him. Even at such close quarters, the bullet found no billet, as there was no sign of the blood trail. We could clearly see the spot where our visitor entered; the thorn was lower and weaker there. We decided to remain over the next night and try and catch him. I gave orders for somebody to ride back towards the camp of our dibaltig friends and, if possible, buy a goat for tying up. Meanwhile, Cecily and I went out on a sort of prospecting excursion. We actually came on some water oozing up through a rock, not standing or sluggish. So we sent a man back to camp to tell the head camel man to have out all his animals and water them whether they wanted it or not.
We struck a well-defined caravan route, probably the road to Wardare over the Marehan. We arrived by a more direct line from Galadi. Game is always scarcer on frequented ways, so we turned off into the wilderness.
A rocky nullah lay to our left, and we caught a glimpse of a fine hyena looking over the country. He stood on the summit of a pile of whitish rock, clearly outlined, and as he winded us, or caught a glimpse of the leading figures, he was off his pinnacle with a mighty bound and away into the adad bushes behind him. A little farther we came on fresh lion spoor, and followed it up only to overrun it. The ground here was for the most part so stony and baked up it was impossible to track at all. We held on, searching in circles and then pursuing the line we thought most likely. We were more than rewarded. Under a shady guda tree lay a vast lioness with a year-old cub. Our men ran in different directions to cut off the retreat, but we called to them to come back. We had quite enough skins without trying to deplete the country of a lioness at this stage of the expedition, especially as the cub was small, and not yet thoroughly able to fight his own battles. She would have to wage war for herself and him. I dislike all wholesale slaughter; it ruins any sporting ground.
Interested, we watched the two cats cantering off, shoulder to shoulder, far out into the open country beyond our ken. Our men whispered among themselves. We were out with the second hunter, as Clarence was occupied in camp. They were puzzled evidently. As a result of a long course of noticing that to many white shikaris a lion is a lion, and has no sex or age, it seemed to the native mind a remarkably odd circumstance that we made no effort at all to bag two specimens at one fell swoop. I never had any scruples about killing hyenas. They are not to be classed as among the more valuable fauna, being so numerous and productive, and such low-down sneaking creatures, doing such harm among the herds and karias, carrying off the children so frequently, and always maltreating the face, as if with some evil design, voraciously tearing it before it commences on any other part.
We entered a little forest of khansa and adad, somber and dark. But in the great tunnelings it was possible to see ahead for a fair distance. We were just examining a bit of gum-arabic with faint tracery on it when a hunter pulled my sleeve. There, a great way off, going with the wind, moving with a rolling gait, was a lion; head carried low as is their wont, and going along at a smart pace. Signing to the syce to stand there with the ponies, Cecily and I rushed down the path the lion had taken. But we never sighted him again. The jungle grew thicker, and it was getting late, so we were forced to abandon the stalk, returning to our distant camp after a blank day.
The goat had been procured, and after supper we had it tied in between the fences of the zareba. Our stolen homestead being of native make, I had a great loop-hole made for me in the inner circle and remained inside our main camp, You have to do this miserable form of sport to bag leopards, because they are too cunning as a rule to appear in the day-time, and rarely walk about in the open way lions will. There is nothing magnificent about the character of a leopard. He is a mere cunning thief.
A rush, and the leopard was on his prey, his side towards me, his tail slowly lashing from left to right with pleasure as he drank the warm blood. I carefully sighted. It was not a dark night, and I simply couldn’t miss. Bang! Then the second barrel. The whole caravan turned out and buzzed like disturbed bees, one or two wakeful spirits singing the chant they keep for the occasion of the killing of some dangerous beast. I had the leopard kept as he was until morning when I examined him to find he was of the Marehan variety, or hunting leopard, quite different to his first cousin Felis pardus. His head was smaller, and much more cunning looking, and he was distinguished from the panther by non-retractile claws. He was fawn in color, and his teeth were old and much worn.
It took two men now pretty well all their time to see after the trophies, and bar the way they went on with anything to do with wart-hog, they really were most assiduous and careful. At first the men actually routed us out every time the loading-up commenced in order that we should put bits of pig onto the pack camels! We struck. It was going a little too far. We made a huge fuss, and someone, probably the cook, who seemed a more casual person than most, attended to this little matter from that time onwards, and things went quite smoothly. I am sure these scruples about pigs are very largely labor-saving dodges.
Next morning as we marched we came on a half-eaten lesser koodoo, surrounded by a lot of kites, vultures, and white carrion storks, tall, imposing-looking birds. We shot one to cure as a specimen, damaging it rather. It had a horrid smell, but was very handsome. One of the hunters skinned it at our next camp.
The American who was out with Clarence on his last big shikar seemed to have been outrageously free and easy in his dealings with the men. In fact, in one or two trifling ways such habits as we heard of had rather been to Clarence’s detriment. Very little encouragement breeds too great familiarity in any native of narrow mind. I do not mean to infer that Clarence presumed, or that his judgment was ever at fault in his dealings with us, merely that I was annoyed to hear some of his stories relating to the terms on which the men of the camp were on with the free and open-hearted Yankee. One would think that an American, with the nigger problem ever before him, would be more stand-offish than most people. Maybe he considered himself on a real holiday, and let his national socialistic tendencies run riot. This is not “writ sarcastic,” for I’m a Socialist myself, and if I were a professional politician I should be a Socialist of a kind that very soon, in our time, will be the usual type all over the world. At present, the Socialists, by going too far, by plucking the fruit ere it is ripe, have brought ridicule on themselves and their cause, and by associating themselves with nihilists, anarchists, and destructionists generally, have alienated the sympathy of all moderate, gradual, and practical reformers. The days for revolutions have gone by, and the reforms urgently required by almost every European nation can take place without the painting red of the great cities.
Gracious! I am digressing! And talking like a suffragette! This is supposed to be a book on sport—mostly. Other things will creep in, and come crowding to my pen, crying, “Put me down! Put me down!” But—a big But: did you ever know a woman stick to the point?
Everywhere we came on ancient elephant tracks, but I think it would have been difficult to find any sort of a specimen. We heard of none having been seen for years, yet it has always been understood that at no distant time, this part of the Haweea was a resort for herds of the great pachyderms.
We were now not more than a week’s trek of the east coastline. Wonderful! Or we thought it so who had marched from Berbera. At our next halt we came on a lake, a real lake, a delightful spot, quite a good-sized sheet of water, 125 yards or so across, and formed in a basin of gypsum-like rock. We had not seen so much water en masse since leaving the sea and were so overjoyed and charmed with it that we ordered the tents to be placed on the verge so that the ripples lapped up to our very feet. It was quite seaside, or perhaps, more than anything, reminiscent of a park at home, for all varieties of birds floated on the surface and waded on the edge. When I threw broken biscuit to them they paddled to me in their dozens, flying over each other in the hurry to be first.
Of course, a swim was what appealed most to us. To be wet all over at one time instead of furtive dabs with a damp sponge seemed the acme of desirability. It seemed a difficult of accomplishment. I don’t care for mixed bathing at home—if the usual percentage of some twenty women to three men can be called “mixed”—and then there was the awkwardness about kit. Cecily suggested, in evil moment, cutting up the khaili tobes. And we did, fashioning them into bathing-suits during the hot hours of the afternoon when we should have been using them. The result might not have passed at Ostend; they were a succès fou at Sinna-dogho. On giving orders that the lake was to be reserved for us at five o’clock—the men, who were good swimmers, having been dashing in and out all day—the whole camp lined up to see the Mem-sahibs in a new phase. It was funny. We had made the tunics sleeveless, and from the wrist up our skin was as white as white could be, but from the wrist down we were Somali colour to our fingertips.
We ran in out of our tents, and words cannot tell how glorious that swim was. We dived, we raced, we floated, we dabbled, until at last we knew we must get out, for the water was quite cold. It was altogether a rarity in Somaliland. The result will seem absurd, I know. Those wretched khaili tobes! The dye came straight out of them when wet, and on to us-We found ourselves converted into woaded Britons! It was quite a catastrophe, if ridiculous, and bothered us considerably, and at night, very late, when it was quite dark, we went across to the other side of’ the lake and had a real good scrub with any amount of water to draw on. Coming back, something started up so close to me, I felt it brush my hand—something furry. A wild dog, I imagine, for we saw many next day.
It was an absolute joy to breakfast by the cool rippling waters, and we could hardly bear to leave it to strike on to Joh, so remained all day, and then, in the late afternoon, regretfully said “goodbye.” After a short march, we came on another small lake, not a patch on Sinnadogho, but we liked it because it was wet. The country now was of the most rolling description, intensely stony, with small rounded hills like Atlantic billows, and in between good grass and grazing for many camels. On the top of each rise, there was thorn jungle, thick or sparse, and stunted-looking guda trees. It was a most peculiar tract, holding on like this for some way. We came on herds of camels and goats grazing, this time in charge of men, and no karia seemed visible for miles. We procured some camel’s milk for the men, as it is such a treat to them. We ourselves, however, liked it no better than before.
A Somali shepherd wished to tack on to us here, deserting his charge, and as he seemed so very keen about it, and Clarence said he could do with another man, we assented. It is the dream with some of these jungle people to taste the sweets of civilization, make money, and then return to his tribe, acquiring many camels and wealth of goats and sheep, and it is very strange that in no time he becomes a jungly person again, casting off the trammels of civilization with ease after having lived perhaps for two or three years in the service of a white man. A very good thing it is so too. For the savage who lives in the wild is far more to be admired, and is altogether a more estimable creature than the savage who drives you about Aden, or hauls your boxes about at Berbera. Like many other wanderers, he learns the white man’s follies and faults and none of his better attributes.
And so it comes about, once in a while, you enter a karia, with every evidence of native domesticity about it, and are greeted by the village head-man without the usual “Nabad,” or “Salaam aleikum,” and in great amaze, you hear an English salutation.
We camped for the night at a place of deep stone wells. If game seemed scarce, water was plentiful. The next day we came on a Somali encampment where lions were provided against and so must occasionally come to call. All manner of scare-lions were set about the zareba, torn herios arranged flag-like on broken spears, and an ingenious scheme for making a scratching noise in the wind amused us very much. It was a rough piece of iron, strung on a bit of leather rope, and its duty was to scrape against a flint set in a contrivance of wood. Poor protections against so fierce a foe as a lion! This tribe seemed none too friendly, and we put a couple of miles between us ere we camped.
We sighted a dibatag buck, shy as a hawk. This was a part of the country destitute of game apparently. Only the useful dik-dik abode with us to fill the pot.
To Joh next day. There was nothing to tell us it was Joh, any more than Bob or Tom. The only reason it had for being specified as a place at all was that it had a very superior well with running water. Even that did not please half the caravan, for we saw them, in preference, choose a dirty mud-hole and drink from it. We did a big day’s excursion into the jungle, trying to come on spoor of any animal where spoor was not. As a resort for game, this part of Somaliland seems unpopular. I cannot think why. Were I a lion, far rather would I haunt the shores of the lake at Sinna-dogho than grill on the sands of the Ogaden.
Chapter XV will follow
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- Somaliland Declaration On The Origin Of African Borders
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region