2.20 Khartoum to Kodok: Steamer on the Nile

July 8, 2012

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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2.19 Port Sudan to Khartoum!

July 1, 2012

Arriving by rail at Khartoum on the Nile preparing to board a steamer south; this segment and the next two might be considered the fulfillment of Hayes Perkins’ lifelong ambitions.

January 1,1914 – January 4, 1914

At Port Sudan, Brits run the town; Germans run the hotel:  “These people are ubiquitous in hotel life all over the East, a key position to give them the opportunity for information they relay to their home government.  Why one wonders, but Germany aspires to be next top dog for world power.”  Egyptians and Syrians hold the minor bureaucratic positions.  Nubian Sudanese hold the rifles and “It is easy to see they like their jobs, take real pride in keeping to the scratch.”  Arabs and Hadendowas (sic) populate the town.  Moslem pilgrims streaming through Port Sudan on Haj toward Mecca find a detention barracks surrounded by “barbed  and panel wire entanglements,”  rather than a German hotelier.  Pilgrims “rest” at the detention center on quarantine against plague.

Customs officials sent Hayes through a maze of red tape appropriating his “fine Savage rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition” to the Sudanese government.  He claims they charged him for wearing his fine London clothes through customs as well.  “But that is ancient history now [one day later], and we will forget it.”

The slow train climbing the mountain Range to Sinkat captured Hayes’ imagination just as it had Rudyard Kipling’s “because of the wars fought in its vicinity, when Dervish battled Briton and Fuzzy-Wuzzy contested with warrior Hybernians(sic) in a manner they both loved.”

The Royal Irish Lancers at Suakin, 20th March, 1885. It was here that the men of the 5th distinushed themsleves by charging and putting to flight the Dervish enemy. (Caption from the site of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.)

In 1914, Sinkat had become “a peaceful little station” through which “Arab and Sudanese Negro” pilgrims continued their “two or four year” struggle “across the vast plains of the far Soudan (sic) from Sokoto and Kano or from far Dakar and Djenne.”  Hayes can almost understand the long trek for the male pilgrim who “obtains merit in the sight of Allah that endures for all eternity.”  The women though; “some authorities say she has no soul.”  Hayes sees her following her man, “trusting in the protection of Allah to save her from the dangers of the way.… With no hope of Heaven and doomed to slavish toil in this world, life holds little for her.”

Pyramids at Memroe

During the night Hayes’ train descended the mountains onto “a sprawling yellow plain seemingly without end,”  as a thin line of green gradually resolved into trees along the now-dry Atbara River.  At the town of Atbara, Hayes got his first look at the Nile.  It was the time of “low Nile” and the local residents were sowing grain “getting quick results in the rich soil of the river silt, sub-irrigated by the filtering water.”  Despite the grains, “one wonders how all these people lived, for there are vast ruins here.”  At Memroe, he sees “pyramids, ruined temples and even cliff dwellings.”

“Khartoum! How often have I looked on the map and wondered what this city might be like, little thinking I would ever reach it.”    [Stories of Charles George Gordon and the The Mahdist siege of Kartoum of 1884-1885 had fired the imagination of a young Hayes living on the Coquille River, Oregon igniting his lifelong fascination with the African continent.]  Another German hotel keeper let Hayes a “clean and ample” room where he sat on the roof overlooking the white houses amidst waving green palm fronds just as Gordon sat brooding on the roof of his palace overlooking Khartoum watching his diversion of the Nile, the city’s only defense against the overwhelming force of the Mahdists, dwindle into the desert sands.

On the Blue Nile 1913

“When the British retook this city from the Dervishes [in 1898], it lay in ruins. The zealous disciples of the Prophet abhorred anything pertaining to the Infidel, so moved the few remaining people across the White Nile to Omdurman.”  But, “Khartoum is a surprise.  In the fifteen years since the night of Mahdism has been dispelled a modern city has been created.”  Hayes admires the British efficiency: streets at right angles, a zoo of native animals, trees planted at regular intervals, and “a wide avenue border[ing] on the high bank of the Blue Nile.”

The two great rivers, the chalky White Nile and the transparent Blue Nile meet at Khartoum whose name Hayes says “signifies ‘proboscis’ or the trunk of an elephant.  And it is like that, a long cape dividing the two rivers, each keeping to its own shore far down river, refusing to mingle until compelled by swiftwater below.”  By comparison to other rivers Hayes has seen, “The Niles have none of the lilt and swing of the Yukon nor the sparkling blue of the St. Lawrence.  They are patient plodding rivers, uniting their forces here for a common purpose, that to conquer the desert.”

In early 1914, Hayes, nearly 36, has been traveling the hard avenues of the world for more than 20 years with one of the great disappointments of his life looming ahead at the Heart of Africa Mission in the Congo with C.T. Studd.  It’s nice to read at khartoum a little of the wonder of the ten year-old boy who fell in love with Africa on the south coast of Oregon.  He says of Khartoum:  “There is an air of enchantment and mystery about it all.”