We Cross The Marehan – This is chapter Thirteenth 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 Cross The Marehan
They are as sick that surfeit with too much,
As they that starve with nothing
Merchant of Venice
And now for a few days we struck a period of bad luck. Our larder was empty save for tins of food kept for dire emergencies, and the men affected to be weak from scant rations. In any other caravan they would never, or hardly ever, have had them supplemented by flesh food; but we had thoroughly spoiled them. Game grew scarce, even the ubiquitous dik-dik was absent, and any shot we got on these flying excursions of ours away from the base camp we bungled. The more we failed the more disconcerted we became. How true it is nothing succeeds like success! At last matters got so bad we both of us always politely offered the other the chance of a miss. I would first decline to take it, and then Cecily. Meanwhile, the buck made good its escape. We both got backward in coming forward, and, in American parlance, were thoroughly rattled.
At last I volunteered to go out early one morning with Clarence, and we put up a bunch of aoul some five hundred yards away. They winded us, and went off at their best pace. In desperation, I spurred on the pony, and called to Clarence to try and round up the flying creatures from behind a clump of mimosa and shoot one himself if he could. Of course, they passed the place sailing ere ever he reached it. As we galloped along our rush disturbed another band of aoul at close quarters, and in sheer desperation, I checked my pony so suddenly that he sat down. I flung myself into a semblance of a position and fired at the vanishing quarters of a fine-looking buck. He staggered and kicked out, but caught up again with his fellows, and they all disappeared in a cloud of dust. Mounting again, we dashed after them, and after a hard gallop came on the wounded animal going slower and far separated from the others. I dared not try a shot from the saddle, as the going was so bad; and if there is one thing I object to it is a cocked rifle at a gallop over ant-bear holes.
The aoul put on a spurt and my pony began to show signs of stress and blundering terribly let me down suddenly over a large-sized hole. Much shaken, I gathered up my scattered wits and called to Clarence to ride the buck down. It was certainly wounded, and, I judged, badly so. To return to the famishing, reproachful camp without meat was unthinkable, as we had done it so often lately. I sat where I was tossed and meditated until I felt a burning sensation on my finger, sharp and stinging, and found it to be a scorpion of sorts. He paid toll for such a liberty, and the butt of my rifle finished him. I immediately sucked the stung finger perseveringly. What an odd thing it is—or seems odd to me, being unlearned—that no mischief ever comes from the poison being sucked into the system via the mouth. Not even the virulent poison of the rattler harms this way. When I got into camp I soaked my finger in ammonia, and so got off excellently well.
I bestrode my weary steed again, asking no more of it than a slow walk, and followed on the traces of Clarence and the aoul. I shouted after a while, and he replied. I came on him shortly, sitting by the dead aoul, resting between moments of butchery. I hadn’t heard a shot, but I must have been too dazed. We were a long way from camp, and the difficulty confronted us of packing so large a buck back. We could only do it conveniently, as I did not want to walk, minus the head and feet. The horns were good, but the head as a trophy was ruined by the way its neck was cut. The system of “hallal” doesn’t seem to allow of ordinary throat-cutting, far down, where the gash does not show. The gash must run from ear to ear, consequently, it ruins a trophy for setting up purposes. Laden, we hied us back to what Nathaniel Gubbins would call “the home-sweet,” and were welcomed with glowing fires, on which the aoul, in parts, was immediately frizzling. The men gorged incontinently, as Cecily came in shortly after us with an oryx. These two beasts broke the run of bad luck, and afterwards, for a few days, we could not miss a shot. Our bullets seemed charmed. So did the men. They ate semiraw meat in such large quantities I wondered they didn’t get mange and lose their hair. There is no satisfying a Somali with meat. He cannot have sufficient. If a man would give all the substance of a buck to him it would utterly be condemned.
After what seemed like a very long period of doing very little, we judged our follower was well enough to be moved and very glad we were to strike camp, as the men were none the better for so much idleness. It takes about an hour to strike camp, load up, and set out. The camels kneel for the process of lading, with an anchor in the shape of the head rope tied behind the knees. Unloading is a much more expeditious business. Everything comes off in a quarter the time taken up in putting it on. Our rifles traveled in cases made to take two at full length. They were not very cumbersome, and we felt that the terrific amount of banging about they would receive during loading and unloading made it a necessity to give them entire protection.
This, I feel sure, is the very moment your hardened, seasoned shikari would seize to make a few pertinent remarks on the merits of various sporting rifles. Anything I could say on the subject, either of rifles or the shooting on our expedition, I am diffident of setting down. The time is not yet when masculinity will accept from a mere woman hints or views on a question so essentially man’s own. In the days of my youth I troubled myself to read all sorts of books on shooting: Hints to beginners on how to shoot, hints to beginners on how not to shoot; how to open your eyes; how to hold your rifle that you feel no recoil, how the rifle must be fitted to your shoulder or you cannot do any good at all with it; and (gem of all) how to be a good sportsman—as though one could learn that from books!
All these tomes of wisdom were written for man by man. I tried to follow out their often entirely opposite advice, but after a while, being a woman and therefore contrary, I “chucked” all systems and manufactured rules for myself. I don’t close either eye when I shoot. I shoot with both open. In Cecily’s case, her left is the most reliable, and she makes provision accordingly. Our present rifles were not fitted to our shoulders. So far as I know, they would have done nicely for anyone’s shoulder. Either we were making the best of things, putting up with inconveniences unknown to us, or else there is a frightful lot of rubbish written around a sportsman’s battery. In spite of any “advice” and “remarks” to the contrary, I consider my 12-bore, with soft lead spherical bullets, driven by drams of powder, ideal for lion and all more important, because dangerous, game. When one did get a bullet in it stayed in, and there was no wasting of its dreadness on the desert air. In reply to remarks as to the undoubted superiority of this, that, and the other rifle, &c., &c., &c., I merely answer oracularly: “May be.”
“This, General,” an American hostess once remarked to General Sheridan, who was busily manipulating an ordinary fork at the commencement of a banquet, “this is the oyster fork.”
“D——n it, madam,” answered the General, “I know it!”
In rifles, as in forks, and in many other things, Chacun à son goût.
Not even marksmanship can make a good sportsman if there is any temper or jealousy or smallness about one. A good sportsman is as happy on the chance as on the certainty and is not to be numbered as of the elect because he has slaughtered so many head. It is not the quantity but the quality that counts. Anyone, short of an absolute lunatic, can hit a large mark, say a buck, but not all men can hit it in a vital place. Wounded animals, left in the jungle, are one of the most awful evidences of unskilled shots, bad judgment, flurry, and a hundred other proofs of things not learned or discovered for oneself. Of course, often it is that the chances are entirely against one, and the quarry escapes; but the careful, thoughtful, business-like shikari does not take on foolish impossibilities. He knows that word without the “im,” and the result is unerring success. Cecily and I never went in for anything but legitimate rivalry, and unlike the majority of women who go in for games of chance together never had the slightest desire to pull each other’s hair out, or indulge in sarcastic badinage disguised as humor.
Wandering about the Mijertain we came on one or two wealthy tribes. Their wealth consists of camels, and so many in a batch I had never before seen. When grazing in their hundreds like this each mob of camels is led by one of the most domineering character, who wears a bell, just as the leader of cattle does in Canada. The camel-bell is made of wood, carved by the natives, and, ringing in dull, toneless fashion, localizes the band.
We now began to be afraid of our reception. We were out of the beaten track, and Clarence was getting a bit out of his depth. Nothing untoward happened We did not allow any stranger into our zareba, and met every caller outside. We felt that if we played the Englishman’s home is his castle idea for all it was worth we should be on the safe side. The Somali children seem to begin to work and carry heavy weights when ours at home are just about beginning to think it is time to sit up, and I never saw such out-sized heads! They were all head and “Little Mary.” With age equipoise asserts itself and the whole structure seems to revert to humdrumidity. For three years at least every Somali could qualify for Barnum’s as a freak. After that he begins to look like every other of his countrymen. But not all are alike. For instance, the head-man of this particular tribe was the most atrabilarious creature possible to meet. I don’t think he could smile. We thought he must be crossed in love, but Clarence said the Lothario had already worked through a little matter of four wives, so I suppose his excursions into the realms of Cupid had been fortunate rather than the reverse.
A Somali is entitled to four wives at once, and the number of his children, as a rule, would rejoice the heart of President Roosevelt. The more children the better for him, because they make for the strength of the tribe. Even girls are not altogether despised assets, because in their youth they are valuable to tend the camels and goats, and someday can be bartered for sheep or ponies. Some Somali women go to their lords with dowries, and, as with us at home, are the more important for their wealth. Consideration is shown them that is lacking towards their poorer sisters who toil and moil at heavy work the whole day long, and when on trek load all the camels, and do all the heavy camp work.
We tried our best to propitiate this Mijertain savage—he really was an ordinary savage—but he only glowered and received all overtures in the worst possible taste and rudeness. One could have told he was rich even if we hadn’t seen his banking account feeding in their thousands.
This tribe looked on the sporting spirit with distrust, evidently suspecting ulterior motives. It would be hard to convey to an utterly savage mind that we took on all this storm und drang of a big expedition merely because we loved it. Trophies here descended to being meat, and meat of all else topped the scale. Still, one could only eat a certain amount before being very ill, so why such energy to procure an unlimited quantity? I don’t think our sex was ever discovered here at all. Englishwomen were not exactly thick on the ground, and I think it possible the melancholy Mijertain had never previously seen one. Probably his intelligence, of a very low order indeed, did not take him farther than thinking what particularly undersized, emasculated English sahibs these two were.
After a consultation, we decided it would be really nice to do a long forced march and put some miles between our two encampments. Somehow, we couldn’t fraternize. And that beautiful sentence, without which no suburban friendship is ever cemented—“Now you’ve found your way here, you must be sure to come again”—was quite useless to be spoken. In Suburbia that formula is a solemn rite, never disregarded in the formation of a friendship. You might as well forget to ask “Is your tea agreeable?” at an “At-Home” day. But in Somaliland, you had friendship offered so differently if indeed it was offered at all. It came in the guise of a dirty harn of camel’s milk, microbial and miasmatic, or in the person of a warlike goat, who with no mauvaise-honte is willing to take the whole caravan to his horns, or in cases of overwhelming friendliness a sheep may be presented, with no thought of return. We were rarely privileged to reach this giddy height—too stand-offish, I conclude.
We did a stalk about this time that amused us very much. We went out alone on our ponies, and came on a couple of oryx in a plot of country interspersed with light cover of mimosa and thorn bushes, who winded us and were off immediately. They did not run very far, but inquisitively turned to stare back, standing close together. They were considerably out of range. We separated, and Cecily rode off, so that finally we two and the oryx formed the points of a triangle. A nomadic Somali came riding up, the wind blowing away from him screened his approach, but presently the oryx caught sight of this new apparition and back my way they raced. As they came level with my pony I blazed at the nearest buck, but as I am no good at all at shooting from the saddle I missed gloriously, and the confused and startled animal fled helter skelter, and dashed headlong into Cecily, who, not ready for the unexpected joust, went flying with the impact. Fortunately, oryx carry their heads high when at the gallop, so she wasn’t really hurt, only winded. It does take one’s breath a bit to be cannonaded into by a flying buck of the size of an oryx. I think this one was the last we saw for some time, as this variety is very scarce in the Mijertain and Haweea country.
The Somali looked very much astonished, and after remarking a few not understood sentences, took to a course of signaling of which we hadn’t the code. We agreed between ourselves that the man meant his karia was “over there,” so we windmilled back with our arms to demonstrate we lived “over here,” which thoroughly mystified and fogged him. He made things a trifle clearer by pointing to his mouth, and pretending to eat, which could not mean anything but “an invitation to lunch would be acceptable.” We nodded benignly and signed to him to follow us, and rode back to camp. He gorged on oryx, like all the rest, and seemed to be about to put himself on the strength of the caravan, dawdling round until later on in the evening. We seemed to act on these wandering spirits like a flypaper does on flies, but not wanting any more stickers I bade Clarence ask our friend if they wouldn’t be missing him at home. And the last I saw of our visitor was his outlined figure, in tattered tobe, riding away, gnawing a lump of meat, a “speed the parting guest” present.
This particular part of the world was overdone with snakes, of a deadly variety, black and horrible looking. I went warily now, I can tell you, and there was no more tracking for a few days in anything but my stout boots.
We next filled up every available thing that held water, and launched ourselves fairly onto the Marehan Desert. Never was the word more apt. The place was deserted by man and beast. There was no life nor thing stirring. We marched the first day from dawn to about 10 a.m., when the fierce sun forced us to take shelter in hastily erected tents. Even the men, accustomed to the glare, made shift to primitive shelters from the herios. The ponies stood up well, and the camels were calm as ever. Oh, the heat of that frightful noon-day! We did not wish to eat, and put off meals until the evening. The men were now on dates and rice, as we had no dried meat, and fresh meat, even if we had been able to get it, would not have kept an hour.
In the evening we doled out the water, and the ponies got their insufficient share. Afterwards we marched on, traveling until very late, or rather early. It was nearly full moon again, and the hideous parched-up desert looked quite pretty, and was busy trying to pass itself off as a delectable country. After too little of bed we rose and toiled on until 9.30, when we caved in, this time very thoroughly, as Cecily had a bad touch of the sun and was in rather a bad way. But progress we must, as time was of the utmost consequence. I had a sort of hammock rigged up, made from a camel mat, with a shelter over it; and she was carried along in it that evening for some miles. During the night hours, the bigness of the job we had taken on began to appal me. I wished myself back in the woodlands of Galadi. But it is not of much use in purgatory to sigh for heaven!
Next dawn we could do no marching at all, and I was forced to use an unlimited amount of the precious water to keep wet the handkerchief on Cecily’s burning head, occasionally pouring some over her lavishly and in regardless-of-consequence fashion. The heat in the tent, as out, was unspeakable; and I spent most of the hours of that dreadful day fanning my cousin, who was really in parlous state. Clarence told me late on in the afternoon we must push on, whatever happened, as the water was very low indeed. I gave the word, and we marched, Cecily, carried as before. We heard a lion roaring, but did not see anything, and it was not very likely we should. Night was the only bearable time, and I would it had perpetually remained night.
Not until the next night did we come on some water-holes, and they were dry! I could not persuade the men to camp; they said the place was not good, and mysterious things of that kind. I found out that the place was supposed to be haunted by spirits of some sort, and it was no use ordering or commanding, for the men would not stay to spend a night in the vicinity. We had to go on. Matters were now really serious.
Cecily was much better, though still traveling luxuriously, but there was not much more than a gallon of water left. We opened a bottle of lukewarm champagne and drank a little at intervals, but this silly idea made us nearly frantic with thirst, and we wished we hadn’t thought of it. The ponies, poor creatures, had been without water for hours, and their lolling tongues and straining eyes went to our hearts. Cecily was the more concerned because she said but for her the water would have lasted. I assured her it was my prodigality, but in any case it was water well wasted, as she was almost herself again.
I consulted with Clarence, and we found that by going on, never stopping, for another twenty miles we should make wells. Twenty miles was a big thing to us then with horses and men in the state ours were. I asked them, through Clarence, to “make an effort,” and promised them water by the morning. We struck camp on a grilling afternoon at 4.30. Cecily in her hammock, I alternately walking to ease my pony, and then mounting for a little to ease myself. I will not describe the tramp through the night, or how very childish the men got. I prefer the English way of bearing small troubles—in silence. I think it is embarrassing to be let in on the ground floor of anyone’s emotion.
Let it pass!
A few camel men raced on ahead and got to the wells before the main caravan, who were able to quicken the pace pathetically little, and we made safety, which this time spelt water, about an hour after dawn. I saw the ponies watered myself before turning in, and I slept eight hours straight on end.
Going out late in the evening with the object of securing something for the pot, I came on a regular aviary of birds. Sand grouse and pigeons, guinea-fowl and wild geese, and small birds too in thousands. I lay down for a little and watched the small ones preparing for the night. I love the tiny birds of Somaliland, and never wearied of studying their pretty ways. It seems to me that they are most beautiful in proportion to their size of any bird life. The protections, the pleadings, the dances, the love-making, the little furies, the make-believes, cannot be excelled in charm.
I was too wearied out to bother much, even though food in plenty was there to my hand, and I don’t like killing anything so tame, even when I ought to. When I got back to camp I sent Clarence out with instructions to shoot some guinea-fowl and geese.
A vast caravan of some hundreds arrived at the wells in the middle of that night, and things hummed for an hour or so. I was not disturbed, except by the wrangling that went on all the hours until dawn. It was very cold, and my “carpet” ended on the top of me!
Chapter XIV 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