2.20 Khartoum to Kodok: Steamer on the Nile

Hayes’ knowledge of the colonial history of the Nile was fairly well informed.  He remarks on historical battle sites.  The people, the wildlife, the feel of the place though are all new – he’s enthralled.

This first map shows Hayes’ progress down the Nile.

This second map shows the same path an a larger map of Africa.  He’s headed for the Congo.

January 5, 1914 (the manuscript says 1961, four years before Hayes’ death, which I understand to be when the diary was either typed or compiled.) –  January 15,1914

Although the Sudanese Sufi Sheik Muhammad Ahmad, known as the Mahdi, died in 1885 shortly after his armies overran British General Gordon and his troops at Khartoum, the Mahdist state persisted under the rule of Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, successor to the Mahdi, until defeated at Omdurman near Khartoum by the army of Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener in September of 1898.  In those years before movies and television,  serialized tabloid accounts of the exploits of Kitchener, the Mahdi, Gordon, Livingstone, Stanley, and other early European adventurers in Africa enthralled tabloid readers all over Europe and the United States so Hayes was conversant with these historical events at least in tabloid form.  He visited the tomb of the Mahdi, that had been “blasted to bits by Kitchener when he advanced to Omdurman after beating the Dervishes at Kerreri, 13 miles distant.”  Walking the battlefield at Kerreri 15 years after the battle, Hayes writes, “at Kerreri still lie whitened bones reminding one of the 16,000 men who died there and lay unburied.”

Kitchener of Khartoum

Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdi

In 1914, the region was still heavily militarized: “there are 14,000 black Sudanese troops garrisoned here, for the Arabs may find a new prophet and rise overnight. There are five hundred white troops as a leaven to head these blacks.… There are many Egyptian officers, this a salve to Egypt, who pays the bills here while crafty Britain collects.”

The tomb of the Mahdi has since been rebuilt:

Tomb of the Mahdi 1906

Tomb of the Mahdi 2004

After visiting the tomb of the Mahdi, Hayes toured an eight acre prayer ground of the Khalifa surrounded by a great wall. Without mentioning any source for his information, he relates that in the heyday of Mahdism worshipers were well guarded on entering the compound five times daily for prayers “and those who reneged were soon found out and punished. Twenty-five lashes for the first offense, perhaps eighty for the second. After that anything might happen.” Smoking brought eighty lashes; drinking intoxicating liquor even more.

Originally captioned “Salatin” a caricature of Rudolph Carl von Slatin from Vanity Fair June, 1899

But all that is over now, put to right by the British Kitchener whom Hayes saw at the head of a parade “welcomed enthusiastically” through the streets of Khartoum on January 5, 1914. The erect unsmiling Kitchener rode alone; “Slatin Pasha, an Austrian who is a high official here, made himself scarce on Kitchener’s arrival.… Slatin was prisoner for many years during Dervish occupation.  An unscrupulous man, he readily turned from Christianity to Mohammedanism, even accepting circumcision.”  Both local and international press slurred Slatin and Kitchener “has no use for him, and he knows it.”

On January 8, after sticking in the muddy shallows off Omdurman, Hayes and five barges pulled by a steamer got under way for one of the most exhilarating voyages of his life:  up the Blue Nile to the terminus of navigation at  Rejaf.  He writes long passages almost every day savoring everything he sees.

At first the shores are “flat and arid” inhabited by Baggara Arabs: women covered head to foot “in uniform dress of dark blue cotton” and men wearing cotton “once white.”  These people tend “vast numbers of sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, horses, and camels.”   Above Kosti, “the timber is getting more dense, and the flat roofed huts are giving way to more conical thatch design.”  At Kosti the town gaily prepares for their visit from Kitchener for, “He seems popular, even among the Dervishes he conquered.”

First class on the steamer houses officers of the British Army: big game hunters.  “There are a few Egyptian and Turkish officers in second class with me.  They are friendly, but don’t care for the British rule.  Not that the latter are bad rulers, but their presence is resented by the subject race.”  When the steamer founders in low water Hayes jumps ashore trying to photograph some Baggara herdsmen, “but they are sullen and unhelpful.”  Perhaps they direct the same sentiment at Hayes as the Egyptian and Turkish show the British.

For the first 200 miles below Khartoum the party on the steamer saw no crocodiles, but as the Baggara territory gave way to Shillooks (sic) and Dinkas, both crocodiles and hippos appear in abundance.  Hippos are protected but it’s open season on the crocodiles for the British Army officers:  one named Ferguson “is a splendid shot, seldom missing his target and sometimes stopping a crocodile dead on the sand.”

Most readers 100 years later are probably familiar with the iconic National Geographic photographs of indigenous African people from the early 20th Century; Hayes gives a firsthand description:  “The Shillooks live on the western shore of the river, while the Dinkas have the east bank.  Both tribes abjure clothing.  All are tall and slender to attenuation.  They stand on one leg, the opposite foot place sharply against the knee of  the supporting leg.  Other than a spear they carry nothing.”  These men wade deep into the waters of the Nile to protect their thirsty cattle from crocodiles.  Through kites darting in and out of the smoke of grass fires they’ve set burning away from the riverbank, “We see their villages far back beyond the high flood mark from the river, conical grass topped huts of little worth.”

Photo by Captain Edward Albert McKenna 1914-1915

A little farther up the Nile, “A continuous forest fronts on the river now all along the river… There are trees resembling oaks, and borassus palms are frequent being near the river always.”  At night, all five barges towed by the steamer scatter in the current to be collected every morning continuing up river.  “Now crocodiles are everywhere there is sand to crawl out on.  A continuous bombardment from the steamer makes them hurry for deep water.”  Hippos pose a familiar danger to native men paddling ambatch, “a sort of cross between a tree and grass,” canoes about the luxurious islands dotting the stream of the river.  One member of a “vast school” of hippos wedged beneath one of the barges.  “He took the entire fleet of barges in his efforts to escape, and when he did get clear he left the river and disappeared in the bush.”

About 400 miles south of Khartoum up the Nile Hayes writes perhaps the happiest entry ever made in his diary:  “There is a sameness about the scenery, but I love it.  I wish this river was longer than it is.”

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One Response to 2.20 Khartoum to Kodok: Steamer on the Nile

  1. Osama Ahmadani says:

    How do I cite this website? Especially this page regarding Slain?

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