This is the second chapter 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
All is uneven,
And everything left at six and seven
By this time the weekly steamer had sailed to Berbera, across the Gulf, but we arranged to paddle our own canoes, so to speak, and the two sportsmen, still, I suppose, in fear and trembling lest we should clamor to form a part of their caravan, went shares with us in hiring at an altogether ridiculous sum, almost enough to have purchased a ship of our own, a small steamer to transport us and our numerous belongings across the Gulf.
Here I may as well say that it is possible for two women to successfully carry out a big shoot, for we proved it ourselves, but I do not believe it possible for them to do it cheaply. I never felt the entire truth of the well-known axiom, “The woman pays,” so completely as on this trip. The women paid with a vengeance—twice as much as a man would have done.
The getting of our things aboard was a scene of panic I shall never forget. It was, of anything I have ever had to do with, the quaintest and most amusing of sights. Each distinct package seemed to fall to the ground at least twice before it was considered to have earned the right to a passage at all. The men engaged by us to do the transporting of our goods were twins to the porters engaged by our friends, the opposition shoot. They did not appear to reason out that as the mountain of packages had to be got aboard before we could sail, it did not matter whose porter carried which box or kit. No, each porter must stick to the belongings of the individual who hired him to do the job. Naturally, this caused the wildest confusion, and I sat down on a packing case that nobody seemed to care much about and laughed and laughed at the idiocy of it. To see the leader of the opposition shoot gravely detach from my porter a bale of goods to which their label was attached, substituting for it a parcel from our special heap, was to see man at the zenith in the way of management.
It was very early, indeed, when we began operations, but not so early by the time we sailed, accompanied by a rabble of Somalis bent on negotiating the voyage at our expense. It was useless to say they could not come aboard, because come they would, and the villainous-looking skipper seemed to think the more the merrier. Our warrior friends were all for turning off the unpaying guests, but I begged that there should be no more delay, and so, when we were loaded up, like a cheap tripping steamer to Hampton Court, we sailed. It was a truly odious voyage. The wretched little craft rolled and tossed to such an extent I thought she really must founder. I remember devoutly wishing she would.
The leader brought out sketching materials and proceeded to make a watercolor sketch of the sea.
It was just the same as any other sea, only nastier and more bumpy. We imagined—Cecily and myself—that the boat would do the trip in about sixteen hours. She floundered during twenty-four, and I spent most of the time on a deck-chair, “the world forgetting.” At intervals Somalis would come up from the depths somewhere, cross their hands and pray. I joined them every time in spirit. Cecily told me that the little cabin was too smelly for words, but in an evil minute I consented to be escorted thither for a meal.
“She’s not exactly a Cunarder,” sang out the younger officer, my kinsman, from the bottom of the companion, “but anyway they’ve got us something to eat.”
They had. Half-a-dozen different smells pervaded the horrid little cabin, green cabbage in the ascendant. The place was full of our kit, which seemed to have been fired in anyhow from the fo’castle end. With a silly desire to suppress the evidence of my obvious discomfort, I attacked an overloaded plate of underdone mutton and cabbage. I tried to keep my eyes off it as far as possible; sometimes it seemed multiplied by two, but the greasy gravy had a fatal fascination for me, and at last proved my undoing. The elder warrior supplied a so-called comfort, in the shape of a preventative against sea-sickness, concocted, he said, by his mother, which accelerated matters; and they all kindly dragged me on deck again and left me to myself in my misery. All through the night I stayed on my seat on deck, not daring to face the cabin and that awful smell, which Cecily told me was bilge water.
It was intensely cold, but, fortunately, I had a lot of wraps. The others lent me theirs too, telling me I should come below, as it was going to be “a dirty night,” whatever that might mean. It seemed a never-ending one, and my thankfulness cannot be described when, as the dawn broke, I saw land—Somaliland. We made the coast miles below Berbera, which is really what one might have expected. However, it was a matter of such moment to me that we made it at last that I was not disposed to quibble we had not arrived somewhere else.
I managed to pull myself together sufficiently to see the Golis Range. The others negotiated breakfast. They brought me some tea, made of some of the bilge water I think, and I did not fancy it. Then came Berbera Harbor, with a lighthouse to mark the entrance; next Berbera itself, which was a place I was as intensely glad to be in as I afterwards was to leave it. I should never have believed there were so many flies in the whole world had I not seen them with mine own eyes. In fact, my first impression of Berbera may be summed up in the word “flies.” The town seemed to be in two sections, native and European, the former composed of typical Arab houses and numerous huts of primitive and poverty-stricken appearance. The European quarter has large, well-built one-storied houses, flat-roofed; and the harbor looked imposing, and accommodates quite large ships.
Submerged in the shimmering ether we could discern, through the parting of the ways of the Maritime Range, the magnificent Golis, about thirty-five miles inland from Berbera as the crow flies.
The same pandemonium attended our disembarking. All our fellow voyagers seemed to have accompanied the trip for no other reason than to act as porters. There were now more porters than packages, and so the men fought for the mastery to the imminent danger of our goods and chattels. Order was restored by our soldier friends, who at last displayed a little talent for administration; and sorting out the porters into some sort of system, soon had them running away, like loaded-up ants, with our packages and kit to the travelers’ bungalow in the European square, whither we speedily followed them, and established ourselves. It was quite a comfortable auberge and seemed like heaven after that abominable toy steamer, and we christened it the “Cecil” at once.
Cecily began to sort our things into some degree of sequence. I could not help her. I was all at sea still and felt every toss of the voyage over. These sort of battles fought o’er again are, to say the least, not pleasant.
We had not arrived so very long before our master of the ceremonies came to discover us, with my uncle’s letter clasped in his brown hand. I shall never forget the amazement on the man’s face as we introduced ourselves. I could not at first make out what on earth could be the matter, but at last the truth dawned on me. He had not expected to find us of the feminine persuasion.
Our would-be henchman’s name was unpronounceable and sounded more like “Clarence” than anything, so Clarence he remained to the end—a really fine, handsome fellow, not very dark, about the Arab color, with a mop of dark hair turning slightly grey. His features were of the Arab type, and I should say a strong Arab strain ran in his family, stronger even than in most Somali tribes. I think the Arab tinge exists more or less in every one of them. Anyhow, they are not of negritic descent.
Our man used the Somali “Nabad” as a salutation, instead of the “Salaam aleikum” of the Arabs. The last is the most generally used. We heard it almost invariably in the Ogaden and Marehan countries. Clarence had donned resplendent garb in which to give us greeting, and discarding the ordinary everyday white tobe had dressed himself in the khaili, a tobe dyed in shades of the tricolor, fringed with orange. We never saw him again tricked out like this; evidently, the get-up must have been borrowed for the occasion. He wore a tusba, or prayer chaplet, round his neck, and the beads were made from some wood that had a pleasant aroma. A business-like dagger was at the waist; Peace and War were united.
I noticed what long tapering fingers the Somali had, and quite aristocratic hands, though so brown. He had a very graceful way of standing too. In fact, all his movements were lithe and lissome, telling us he was a jungle man. I liked him the instant I set eyes on him, and we were friends from the day we met to the day we parted. Had we been unable to secure his services I do not know where we should have ended, or what the trip might have cost. Everyone in Berbera seemed bent on making us pay for things twice over, and three times if possible. Clarence’s demands were reasonable enough, and he fell in with our wishes most graciously.
I gave instructions for the purchase of camels, fifty at least, for the caravan was a large one. There were not so many animals in the place for sale at once, and of course, our soldier friends were on the lookout for likely animals also.
During the next few days, we busied ourselves in engaging the necessary servants. My uncle had impressed on me the necessity of seeing that the caravan was peopled with men from many tribes, as friction is better than a sort of trust among themselves. Clarence appeared to have no wish to take his own relatives along, as is so often the case, and we had no bother in the matter. But we were dreadfully ‘had’ over six rough ponies we bought. We gave one hundred and fifty rupees each for them and they were dear at forty. However, much wiser people than Cecily and myself go wrong in buying horses! Later in the trip, we acquired a better pony apiece and so pulled through all right.
My cousin has a very excellent appetite and is rather fond of the flesh-pots generally, and gave as much attention to the engaging of a suitable cook as I did to the purchase of the camels. No lady ever emerged more triumphantly from the local Servants’ Registry Office after securing the latest thing in cooks than did Cecily on rushing out of the bungalow at express speed to tell me she had engaged a regular Monsieur Escoffier to accompany us.
What he could not cook was not worth cooking. Altogether we seemed in for a good time as far as meals were concerned.
Meanwhile, Clarence had produced from somewhere about forty-five camels, and I judged it about time to launch a little of the knowledge I was supposed to have gathered from my shikâri uncle. I told Clarence I would personally see and pass every camel we bought for the trip, and prepared for an inspection in the Square. I suffered the most frightful discomfort, in the most appalling heat, but I did not regret it, as I really do think my action prevented our having any amount of useless camels being thrust upon us.
Assume a virtue if you have it not. The pretense at knowledge took in the Somalis, and I went up some miles in their estimation.
As I say, some of the camels offered were palpably useless and were very antediluvian indeed. I refused any camel with a sore back, or with any tendency that way, and I watched with what looked like the most critical and knowing interest the manner of kneeling. The animal must kneel with fore and hind legs together, or there is something wrong. I can’t tell you what. My uncle merely said, darkly, “something.” Of course, I found out age by the teeth, an operation attended with much snapping and Somali cuss-words. The directions about teeth had grown very confused in my mind, and all I stuck to was the pith of the narrative, namely, that a camel at eight years old has molars and canines. I forget the earlier ages with attendant incisors. Then another condition plain to be seen was the hump. Even a tyro like myself could see the immense difference between the round, full hump of a camel in fine condition and that of the poor overworked creature. As I knew we were paying far too much for the beasts anyway, I saw no reason why we should be content to take the lowest for the highest.
Finally, I stood possessed of forty-nine camels, try as I would I could not find a fiftieth. I was told this number was amply sufficient to carry our entire outfit, but how they were to do so I really could not conceive. Viewed casually, our possessions now assumed the dimensions of a mountain, and we had to pitch tents in the Square in order to store the goods safely. This necessitated a constant guard.
Everything we brought with us was in apple-pie order owing to the lists so carefully placed in the lid of each box, and gave us no trouble in the dividing up into the usual camel loads. It was our myriad purchases in Berbera that caused the chaos. They were here, there and everywhere, and all concerning them was at six and seven. I detailed some camels to carry our personal kit, food supplies, &c., exclusively; the same men to be always responsible for their safety, and that there should be no mistake about it I took down the branding marks on a piece of paper. Camels seem to be branded on the neck, and most of the marks are different, for I suppose every tribe has its own hallmark.
Some of the camels brought into Berbera for sale are not intended to be draught animals, being merely for food, and with so much care and extra attention get very fine and well-developed generally. Camel-meat is to the Somali what we are given to understand turtle soup is to the London alderman. Next in favor comes mutton, but no flesh comes up to camel. The Somali camel-man is exceedingly attentive to his charges, giving them names, and rarely, if ever, ill-treating them. As a result the animals are fairly even-tempered, for camels, and one may go amongst them with more or less assurance of emerging unbitten. When loading up the man sings away, and the camel must get familiar with the song. It seems to be interminably the same, and goes on and on in dreary monotone until the job is over. I would I knew what it was all about.
Of course, it is a fact that a camel can take in a month’s supply of water, but it very much depends on the nature of the month how the animal gets on. If he is on pasture, green and succulent, he can go on much longer than a month, but if working hard, continuously, and much loaded, once a week is none too often to water him. They are not strong animals; far from it, and they have a great many complaints and annoyances to contend with in a strenuous life. The most awful, to my mind, is sore back and its consequences. This trouble comes from bad and uneven lading, damp mats, &c., and more often than not the sore is scratched until it gets into a shocking condition. Flies come next, and maggots follow, and then a ghastly Nemesis in the form of the rhinoceros bird which comes for a meal, and with its sharp pointed beak picks up maggots and flesh together. When out at pasture these birds never leave the browsing camels alone, clinging on to shoulders, haunch, and side, in threes and fours.
We had now in our caravan, not counting Clarence and the cook, two boys (men of at least forty, who always referred to themselves as “boys”) to assist the cook, one “makadam,” or head camel-man, twenty-four camel men, four syces, and six hunters, to say nothing of a couple of men of all work, who appeared to be going with us for reasons only known to themselves.
In most caravans the head-man and head shikari are separate individuals, but in our show Clarence was to double the parts. It seemed to us the wisest arrangement. He was so excellent a manager, and we knew him to be a mighty hunter.
The chaos of purchases included rice, harns or native water-casks, ordinary water barrels calculated to hold about twelve gallons apiece, blankets for the men, herios, or camel mats, potatoes, ghee, leather loading ropes, numerous native axes, onions, many white tobes for gifts up country, and some Merikani tobes (American made cloth) also for presents, or exchange. Tent-pegs, cooking utensils, and crowds of little things which added to the confusion. A big day’s work, however, set things right, and meanwhile, Cecily had discovered a treasure in the way of a butler. He had lived in the service of a white family at Aden, and so would know our ways.
We had taken out a saddle apiece, as the double-peaked affair used by the Somalis is a very uncomfortable thing indeed.
Rice for the men’s rations we bought in sacks of some 160 pounds and two bags could be carried by one camel. Dates, also an indispensable article of diet, are put up in native baskets of sorts, and bought by the gosra, about 130 pounds, and two gosra can be apportioned to a camel. Ghee, the native butter, is a compound of cow’s milk, largely used by the Somalis to mix with the rice portion, a large quantity of fat being needful are the wheels go round smoothly. It is bought in a bag made of a whole goat skin, with an ingenious cork of wood and clay. Each bag, if my memory serves me rightly, holds somewhere about 20 pounds, and every man expects two ounces daily unless he is on a meat diet, when it is possible to economize the rice and dates and ghee.
The camel mats, or herios, are plaited by the women of Somaliland and are made from the chewed bark of a tree called Galol. The harns for water are also made from plaited bark, in different sizes, and when near a karia, it is quite usual to see old women and small children carrying on their backs the heaviest filled harns, whilst the men sit about and watch operations. The harns, which hold about six gallons of water, are—from the camels’ point of view anyway—the best for transport purposes. Six can be carried at once, but a tremendous amount of leakage goes on, and this is very irritating, upsetting calculations so. The water-casks were really better, because they were padlocked, and could also be cleaned out at intervals. But of these only two can go on a camel at one time.
Our own kit was mostly in tin uniform cases, these being better than wooden boxes on account of damp and rainy weather. Leather, besides being heavy, is so attractive to ants. Our rifles, in flat cases, specially made, were compact and not cumbersome, at least not untowardly cumbersome. Our food stores were in the usual cases, padlocked, and a little of everything was in each box, so that we did not need to raid another before the last opened was half emptied.
The ammunition was carried in specially made haversacks, each haversack being marked for its particular rifle, and more spare ammunition was packed away in a convenient box, along with cleaning materials, &c. We made our coats into small pantechnicons, and the pockets held no end of useful small articles and useful contraptions. My two coats, one warm khaki serge, one thin drill, were both made with recoil pads as fixtures, and this was an excellent idea, as they saved my shoulder many hard knocks.
We heard of a man who was anxious to go out as skinner, but the Opposition, for we had by now christened the rival camp so, snapped him up before we had an opportunity to engage him. On learning of our disappointment, they nobly volunteered to waive their claim, but when I saw the trophy in discussion I would not take him into our little lot at any price. A more crafty, murderous-looking individual it would be hard to find.
The Opposition watched us do some of the packing, and were green with envy as they handled our rifles. The elder tried to induce me to sell him my double-barreled hammerless ejecting .500 Express. I don’t know how I was meant to be able to get along without it, but I suppose he didn’t think that mattered.
It was then that Clarence, who had, I believe, been yearning to ask all along, wanted to know if I was any good with a rifle, and the other Mem-sahib could she shoot, and if so how had we learned, for the Somalis are nothing if not direct. They rather remind me of English North-country people with their outspoken inquisitiveness, which is at home always regarded as such charming straightforwardness of character.
I was as modest as I could be under the circumstances, but I had to allay any fears the man might be harboring. Besides, it is not well to underestimate oneself, especially to a Somali. Nowadays everywhere it is the thing to remove the bushel from one’s light and to make it glare in all men’s eyes.
My advice to anyone who wants to be heard of is—Advertise, advertise, advertise. If you begin by having a great opinion of yourself and talk about it long enough, you generally end by being great in the opinion of everyone else. I told our shikari I had the use of my uncle’s fine range at home, and the advantage of what sport there was to be had in England and Scotland. Also that this was not our first expedition. The knowledge of all this and my unbounded confidence, not to say cheek, set all doubts at rest.
Every night I was rendered desperate by the scratching in my room of some little rodent which thundered about the floor as though his feet were shod with iron.
Hurrah! At last I had him! He stole my biscuits set for my “chota hazari,” and sometimes left me stranded. They resided in a tin by my bedside. Kismet overtook him, and his nose was in the jaws of a gin. He was killed instanter, and the cat dropped in to breakfast.
I helped her to him.
She commenced on his head, and finished with his tail, a sort of cheese straw. This is curious, because a lion, which is also a cat, begins at the other end. Domesticity reverses the order of a good many things.
He left no trace behind him. Unknown (except to me) he lived, and unconfined (unless a cat may be called a coffin) he died. By the way, he was a rat.
One afternoon Cecily and I walked along the sea coast at Berbera, and came on the most remarkable fish, jumping into the sea from the sandy shore. I asked a resident about this, and he said the fish is called “mud-skipper”—a name that seems to have more point about it than most.
So, at last, we reached the day fixed for the starting of the great trek.
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