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HE country known to Europeans as Abyssinia, but by its inhabitants styled Itiopia, consists of the southern or mountainous portion of the 'Ethiopia' of the ancients. It is the region which, under that name, powerfully
engaged tie interest of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; when it was confounded with the realm of Prester John, a fabled Christian king of Central Asia, of
whom strange reports had been promulgated by Rubruquis and Marco Polo. The first detailed and trustworthy account of Abyssinia was published by our countryman, Bruce, and was for years the subject of animated discussions. It contained so many marvels, that by the critical eighteenth century the traveller was pronounced unworthy of belief. Subsequent reports have removed the incredulity, but have scarcely detracted from the wonder, which Bruce's narrative was calculated to inspire. That the ignorance of the arts of civilised life, and the savage practices prevailing in Abyssinia, should exist along with a profession of Christianity, and social system not much inferior to our own, must still be classed among the most extraordinary and perplexing of social phenomena.
Abyssinia consists of a mass of lofty table-lands, lying between go and 16° N. lat., and between 34° and 40° E. long. It has the Egyptian pashalic of Sennaär on the north-west and west; the Red Sea, from which it is separated by a low and arid tract varying from twenty to three hundred miles in breadth, on the north-east and east; districts inhabited by Galla tribes on the south ; and on the south-west, and partly on the west, regions almost unknown to Europeans-vast forests only tenanted by wild beasts, and hot plains inhabited by negro races. Numerous half-savage tribes, mostly nomadic, of which the Adaiel, the Areyo, and Azobo Gallas, the Tal-tals, the Danakil, and the Shohos are the chief, occupy the low ground extending on the east, between the table-land and the sea. The coast of the Red Sea is claimed by Turkey; and Turkey has possession of the port of Massowah, the natural outlet for the trade of Northern Abyssinia. The whole country may conveniently be considered as divided into Northern Abyssinia, consisting of the kingdoms of Amhara and Tigré; Shoa, or Southern Abyssinia ; and the Galla country, which lies between the two former, and consists of provinces which warlike tribes of Mohammedan Gallas have wrested from the Abyssinians. The table-lands are intersected by deep valleys, the beds of rivers or of mountain-torrents, and crowned by mountains, often of fantastic shape, varying in height from 4000 to 15,000 feet above the level of the sea.
Of the three plateaus of which Abyssinia consists, the first is formed by abrupt and high mountains, springing out of the low district adjoining the Red Sea. This is the plain of Baharnegash; it lies west of the Taranta Mountains, and extends to the river Mareb, which, rising in the Taranta Mountains, follows a northwesterly course through Abyssinia, and then running far to the north, shares the fate of most Abyssinian rivers, and loses itself in the sands. Beyond the Mareb, at a higher elevation, is the Tigré plateau, stretching to the south-west to the valley of the Tacazzé, the course of which for a considerable distance is nearly parallel to that of the Mareb. From the western bank of the Tacazzé spring the mountains of Simyen, the loftiest in Abyssinia,
and beyond them lies the highest table-land of Abyssinia—the plateau of Amhara--which has a mean elevation of 8000 feet above
From that the country descends to the unknown regions on the west. Previous to the rise of Theodore, the first and the second plateaus together formed the feudal kingdom of Tigré; the third comprised the kingdom of Amhara, to whose sovereign both Tigré and the southern kingdom of Shoa, though substantially independent, owed allegiance and paid tribute. The valleys which intersect the table-lands are numerous, and many of them extensive. Some of them look like rents in the ground,'having almost perpendicular rocky sides; the principal are the beds of the larger rivers. Of the rivers, the greatest number are mere torrents produced by the rains, which lose themselves in the sand, and have scarcely any existence in dry weather. Even streams so considerable as the Tacazzé and the Mareb in the dry season shrink at many points to the dimensions of rivulets, feebly trickling between wide belts of sand bordered with thick jungle. A few of the rivers, when swollen by the rains, make their way to the Red Sea, but the larger streams, however circuitous their course, almost all finally join the great river of Abyssinia—the Blue Nile, by the Abyssinians called Abas or Bahr-el-Azrek. The Tacazzé, on the Sennaär frontier, unites with the Atbara, which, thus reinforced, runs northward to join the Nile, considerably below the junction of the Blue with the White River. Sir Samuel Baker has shewn that to the Atbara and the Blue Nile, which roll down immense volumes of water during the rains, are due the annual inundations in Egypt; and that from these rivers, and especially the former, are derived the deposits of soil which have formed the delta of Egypt, and upon which the banks of the Nile depend for their fertility. The Blue River was erroneously conceived by Bruce to be the main stream of the Nile. To investigate its sources was the main object of his journey into Abyssinia; in finding them he flattered himself that he had discovered what has been termed the 'secret of history'—that he had unveiled the most attractive of geographical mysteries. The river has its sources in two mountains in the south of Northern Abyssinia, at a height of 10,000 feet above the sea, not far from the great lake of Tzana; running northward for a short distance, it bends to the east, and passes through this lake; then turning to the south, it makes a semicircular sweep around Gojam, the most southern of the Amhara provinces, afterwards flowing north to join the White River at Khartoum in Sennaär. It is not navigable within the limits of Abyssinia—this country has not a single navigable river; but its stream is deep and rapid enough to form an excellent defensive frontier for Abyssinia against the Gallas who live on its southern bank. Besides the Taranta range, facing the coast nearly parallel to the Red Sea, the most noticeable mountains are the Lasta, Lamalmon, and Simyen ranges, which, though not continuous, form a series running through Abyssinia north-east and south-west
3 DEBRA JASOR
Map of Abyssinia.
A great part of the mountains are of granite, slate, or gneiss; but the formation of the country is very complex, extending from the first to the last degree of the geological scale. A number of extinct volcanoes have been noted, and the country abounds in traces of volcanic action. Mineral and hot springs are found in many districts, to which, and to the intercession of the saints to whom they are consecrated, the people attribute high curative virtue. It is believed that there is great mineral wealth; there certainly are, in whatever quantities, coal, iron, copper, lead, antimony, and also silver and gold. There are abundant deposits of sulphur; and in the country of the Tal-tals, to the southeast of Tigré, about fifty miles from Amphila Bay, there is an extensive plain of salt. The supply of salt appears inexhaustible, but the Tal-tals make the working of it dangerous; the journey to the interior, through a roadless country in which every petty chief levies tribute from the trader, is difficult and costly; and when it reaches Amhara and the Galla countries, the salt has become so valuable that little bars of it form the currency—the small change-in common
In the physical features of the country, the strange and the terrible predominate over the beautiful; but the great plains and the valleys present a smiling aspect; a rich soil and a fine climate support a splendid vegetation, and provide for the husbandman an ample return for his labour. The valleys are especially fertile : two crops, and in some districts three crops, can be produced in the year. Besides most of our cereal and green crops, grains are cultivated which are unknown to Europe. The principal are teff, from the seed of which-not larger than a pin's head-is made the bread which is held in most esteem; and dagousha, from which is made the black bread in common use among the poorer people. On the table-lands, immense pastures afford grazing for herds of cattle—the rearing of which, and the cultivation of cereals, are the chief industries of Abyssinia. Cotton, however, is wn in some of the western districts; coffee, which grows wild in the same districts, is in some places cultivated ; the vine, too, which would flourish in most parts, is to a small extent cultivated, though the people prefer to the juice of the grape a coarser and more stimulating beverage. Rice and the sugar-cane are found wild. The date, the orange, the lemon, and the pomegranate are among the indigenous fruit-trees. With the varieties of temperature prevailing at different altitudes, this country might produce almost every article of human consumption ; but the Abyssinian, though a sensualist, is content to live like his fathers ; his laziness is too strong for his love of accumulation; the circumstances of the country have long been unfavourable to settled industry, and he only strives to make the simple provision necessary to life and enjoyment. Living as they do, a population of four or five millions manage to subsist upon a small fraction of the cultivable land. They possess most of the domestic animals of Europe, the