insult, and completed the last part of my journey in a
But leaving these difficulties, let us go on to describe the course of the Nile. It rolls away from its source with so inconsiderable a current, that it appears unlikely to escape being dried up by the hot season, but soon receiving an increase from the Gemma, the Keltu, the Bransu, and other less rivers, it is of such a breadth in the plain of Boad, which is not above three days' journey from its source, that a ball shot from a musket will scarce fly from one bank to the other. Here it begins to run northwards, deflecting, however, a little towards the east, for the space of nine or ten leagues, and then enters the so much talked of Lake of Dambia, called by the natives Bahar Sena, the Resemblance of the Sea, or Bahar Dambia, the Sea of Dambia. It crosses this lake only at one end with so violent a rapidity, that the waters of the Nile may be distinguished through all the passage, which is six leagues. Here begins the greatness of the Nile. Fifteen miles farther, in the land of Alata, it rushes precipitately from the top of a high rock, and forms one of the most beautiful water-falls in the world: I passed under it without being wet; and resting myself there, for the sake of the coolness, was charmed with a thousand delightful rainbows, which the sunbeams painted on the water in all their shining and lively colours. The fall of this mighty stream from so great a height makes a noise that may be heard to a considerable distance; but I could not observe that the neighbouring inhabitants were at all deaf. I conversed with several, and was as easily heard by them as I heard them. The mist that rises from this fall of water may be seen much farther than the noise can be heard. After this cataract the Nile again collects its scattered stream among the rocks, which seem to be disjoined in this place only to afford it a passage. They are so near each other that, in my time, a bridge of beams, on which the whole Imperial army passed, was laid over them. Sultan Segued hath since built here a bridge of one arch in the same place, for which purpose he procured masons from India. This bridge, which is the first the Abyssins have seen on the Nile, very much facilitates a communication between the provinces, and encourages commerce among the inhabitants of his empire.
Here the river alters its course, and passes through many various kingdoms; on the east it leaves Begmeder, or the Land of Sheep, so called from great numbers that are bred there, beg, in that language, signifying sheep, and meder, a country. It then waters the kingdoms of Amhara, Olaca, Choaa, and Damot, which lie on the left side, and the kingdom of Goiama, which it bounds on the right, forming by its windings a kind of peninsula. Then entering Bezamo, a province of the kingdom of Damot, and Gamarchausa, part of Goiama, it returns within a short day's journey of its spring; though to pursue it through all its mazes, and accompany it round the kingdom of Goiama, is a journey of twenty-nine days. So far, and a few days' journey farther, this river confines itself to Abyssinia, and then passes into the bordering countries of Fazulo and Ombarca.
These vast regions we have little knowledge of: they are inhabited by nations entirely different from the Abyssins; their hair is like that of the other blacks, short and curled. In the year 1615, Rassela Christos, lieutenant-general to Sultan Segued, entered those kingdoms with his army in a hostile manner; but being able to get no intelligence of the condition of the people, and astonished at their unbounded extent, he returned, without daring to attempt anything.
As the empire of the Abyssins terminates at these deserts, and as I have followed the course of the Nile no farther, I here leave it to range over barbarous kingdoms, and convey wealth and plenty into Egypt, which owes to the annual inundations of this river its envied fertility. I know not anything of the rest of its passage, but that it receives great increases from many other rivers; that it has several cataracts like the first already described, and that few fish are to be found in it, which scarcity, doubtless, is to be attributed to the river-horses and crocodiles, which destroy the weaker inhabitants of these waters, and something may be allowed to the cataracts, it being difficult for fish to fall so far without being killed.
Although some who have travelled in Asia and Africa have given the world their descriptions of crocodiles and hippopotamus, or river- horse, yet as the Nile has at least as great numbers of each as any river in the world, I cannot but think my account of it would be imperfect without some particular mention of these animals.
The crocodile is very ugly, having no proportion between his length and thickness; he hath short feet, a wide mouth, with two rows of sharp teeth, standing wide from each other, a brown skin so fortified with scales, even to his nose, that a musket-ball cannot penetrate it. His sight is extremely quick, and at a great distance. In the water he is daring and fierce, and will seize on any that are so unfortunate as to be found by him bathing, who, if they escape with life, are almost sure to leave some limb in his mouth. Neither I, nor any with whom I have conversed about the crocodile, have ever seen him weep, and therefore I take the liberty of ranking all that hath been told us of his tears amongst the fables which are only proper to amuse children.
The hippopotamus, or river-horse, grazes upon the land and browses on the shrubs, yet is no less dangerous than the crocodile. He is the size of an ox, of a brown colour without any hair, his tail is short, his neck long, and his head of an enormous bigness; his eyes are small, his mouth wide, with teeth half a foot long; he hath two tusks like those of a wild boar, but larger; his legs are short, and his feet part into four toes. It is easy to observe from this description that he hath no resemblance of a horse, and indeed nothing could give occasion to the name but some likeness in his ears, and his neighing and snorting like a horse when he is provoked or raises his head out of water. His hide is so hard that a musket fired close to him can only make a slight impression, and the best tempered lances pushed forcibly against him are either blunted or shivered, unless the assailant has the skill to make his thrust at certain parts which are more tender. There is great danger in meeting him, and the best way is, upon such an accident, to step aside and let him pass by. The flesh of this animal doth not differ from that of a cow, except that it is blacker and harder to digest.
The ignorance which we have hitherto been in of the original of the Nile hath given many authors an opportunity of presenting us very gravely with their various systems and conjectures about the nature of its waters, and the reason of its overflows.
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