The soldier-of-fortune/author of this account is Alexander Bulatovich, young Russian cavalry officer. In 1897-98, he accompanied a 15,000-man Ethiopian army, which was racing into unknown territories to expand the Ethiopian Empire in competition with the British and the French. It was a difficult trek through jungle, mountains, and desert, with no guides, no previous knowledge of the terrain or of the people and their languages. Bulatovich, with his surveying gear and map-making skills, helped them find their way.
This was his second trip to Ethiopia. He had come before in 1896, with the Russian Red Cross Mission, sent to help wounded Ethiopian troops after their enormous victory over a modern Italian army in the Battle of Adowa. In Russia, news of that battle had sparked public sympathy and charity for the brave defenders the ancient Christian Ethiopian realm. On that trip he had taken every opportunity to go hunting, including a massive elephant hunt in 1896. That time 1000 Galla clansmen -- 400 armed with three small spears each and riding horses, and 6000 walking, half of them with small spears and the other half with three-yard-long spears -- encountered a herd of over a hundred elephants. Five men and 41 elephants died. (See "Ethiopia: Hunting through Russian Eyes" in the September/October issue of SAFARI).
After the military expedition had reached its objective -- Lake Rudolph -- they began the long trek back to Kaffa and to Addis Ababa. And Bulatovich repeatedly separated himself from the main body of troops to hunt and to make a few last scientific observations. These passages are excerpted from his personal account of this experience, recently translated by Richard Seltzer in the volume Ethiopia through Russian Eyes.
The prisoners were from the Turgana tribe. The man was of tall build, with rather regular facial features, a straight nose, not at all similar to the Negro. His lips were not especially thick. His eyes seemed intelligent. The expression on his face was open. He was circumcised, and his hips were tattooed with small spots. Over his shoulders was thrown the black hide of a little goat, which hung from the shoulders backward and constituted his entire dress. His hair was plaited and long, hanging down to the shoulder in a chignon, somewhat resembling the hairstyle of one of our seventeen-year-old women, who wear their hear in silk nets. The end of the chignon is twisted in a tail with sticks out behind. On the crown of his head was an ostrich feather.
His traveling companion was a young, very well-built and comparatively beautiful woman. By type, she was similar to a Somali. Around her hips was wound an oxhide. She had iron bracelets on her arms. Her hair was cut short, and only on the crown of her head was there left a tuft of hair. Her lips were not pierced, as is the case with Idenich women; and her front incisors were not knocked out. At about ten o'clock, we reached the foot of the mountain and began to climb up by a way strewn with hardened lava and rocks. Soon I had to get down from the mule and, leaving one of my ashkers with it, I went ahead on foot.
The sun was particularly scorching that day. The ascent seemed difficult and very steep, strewn with small stones. Its inclines were overgrown with dense thorny bushes. We clambered up with difficulty; all the same, stumbling and falling... Half-way, the prisoners refused to go farther and lay down, hugging one another. No kind of threat helped. They, probably, decided that it was better to die than to go farther. The captive man was very necessary to me because only he could tell me the names of the surrounding mountains. Therefore, I decided to force him to go at any cost. I shot my revolver right above his ear and, making use of his fear, I picked him up by the hair. I lifted his burden onto my shoulders and went forward. He followed me mechanically. The woman continued to lie, and we left her. The father took the baby in his arms. At 11:15, completely worn out, we reached the summit of the mountain. Its height above sea level is 1047 meters. The height of the climb was 500 meters. The temperature of the air at the foot of the mountain was 34o Reaumur [108o F] in the shade, and at the top was 28 Reaumur [95o F]. Noon was approaching. In addition to the least zenith distances of the sun, I also had to observe the moment of its greatest height and the place of the meridian. There was no time left for rest. I, despite complete exhaustion, hurried to set up the instrument and got to work. Having finished the solar observations, I began to draw on the plane-table the territory which opened up from the height of the mountain, and to take azimuths on salient points and to try to find out from the captive the names of the surrounding mountains. Because I didn't know his language, of course I had to express myself with signs.
It was already 1:30 in the afternoon when I finished my observations and we began to go back down the mountain. Standing on our feet or squatting, we slid down the steep descent, strewn with crushed stone. And at two o'clock in the afternoon we reached the spot where we had left the mule. The captive also went behind us. Plaintively repeating "Dulole! Dulole!" he called his wife. But Dulole did not respond. We were tormented with thirst. In a gourd, there remained still a few mouthsful of water, and we divided it equally. The Turgana, for his part, gave several drops to the baby.
Up until sunset there now remained only three and a half hours. And until water, there were no less than 20 versts [13 miles], and to the bivouac it was still much farther. We had been on the move since four o'clock in the morning and had gone more than 30 versts [20 miles], not counting the climb up the mountain. We did not have any provisions with us. Water, of which we needed to have only two cups per man, was all drunk up. And up until the Nyanya itself we would not have any more. Having left the captive with his baby, we just barely pushed forward. Aulale had colic. I sat him on the mule and went on foot. After an hour he felt better, and we went farther, taking turns on who sat on the mule. On the horizon, the forest along the river bank, toward which we were striving, shone black. But it didn't seem to get any closer, but rather seemed to get farther away from us. At five o'clock in the afternoon, we took a five-minute break; and I no sooner succeeded in sitting on the mule again, when, not far off, a herd of goats and rams came out from the bushes, and after them came several dozen natives. Behind them rose the voices of still others. They, probably, were withdrawing deep into the country, getting away from the Abyssinians who were going along the river.
Our position was rather difficult now. The natives, seeing how few of us there were and how weak we were, would most probably attack us. We, extremely exhausted, could not withstand a protracted fight, all the more so since our arms were very insignificant -- just one rifle with 30 cartridges and one revolver with 10 cartridges. It seemed to me that it would be much better for us to attack them unexpectedly, rather than wait to be attacked. Not losing a second, I galloped at the natives and they, startled by my sudden appearance, scattered in all directions and hastened to run away. Carried away by my example and forgetting their weariness, Aulale and Ababa ran headlong in pursuit. I attacked the second group of natives, who were more persistent than their first comrades, and I even got into a fight with one of them... The natives abandoned their herd, and our path was now free. I stopped and began to call my ashkers.. But they did not respond. I fired a shot, but no answer followed. I waited for them for about 20 minutes, calling and firing shots, but they didn't raise their voice in reply. It was useless to look for them now. To wait longer was pointless and dangerous. If they were alive, then they, probably, worn out with thirst, were now hurrying straight to the river. With the burdensome feeling of not knowing what had become of my companions, I left this place behind. I began to come upon many signs of livestock, heading to the south. It must be that the natives went this way, driving their herd in the opposite direction from the Abyssinians. To my amazement I still didn't see traces of our detachment, which by my calculations I should have found already.
The sun had already set and it was becoming dark when I got to the forest by the river. To my horror, I came upon the following scene: on the edge of the forest lay an Abyssinian killed with a spear and beside him lay his horse. He was probably one of the scouts who had separated from the detachment. A bit farther, in a hidden clearing in the forest, there lay about in the grass regularly arranged rope nets, stretched on wooden frames for loading donkeys. This must have been the bivouac of those whom the Abyssinians frightened off. In a thicket of the forest, I stumbled upon a hunters' lair, arranged under a large branchy tree and surrounded by dense bushes. In the middle of a circular area, a sagene and a half in diameter [3 meters], was the hearth, and beside it was a unique basket, an arshin and a half [42 inches] in height. Twigs were stuck in the ground and connected with hoops. The bottom of it was located at half an arshin [14 inches] from the ground, and in the basket were placed pieces of dry wood and coal.
The dense forest was not quite so uninhabited as it had seemed at first glance...
Forcing my way with difficulty through the thicket, I continued to go toward the water and finally reached the steep bank of the Nyanya. It was impossible to water the mule at this place, and having fastened its lead to my saber, which I drove deep into the ground, I, grabbing hold of a liana, let myself down from a height of several sagenes [a sagene is a little more than two meters] to the river and greedily began to drink its warm water. Using the same liana, I climbed back up. To my great happiness, I found my mule -- now my only companion -- in the same spot where I had left it, and my fears that some Idenich would kill it from ambush or that it would break away, frightened accidentally by a wild animal, were not justified.
I left the forest and again began to look for traces of the detachment. My recently quenched thirst flared up again now to a much greater degree; and my body, which before this, had been dry, was completely covered with perspiration.
Along the way, I frequently came upon gullies. It was impossible to go farther in such conditions. I had to wait for the moon.
The moonless black tropical night was now in the full strength of its mysterious beauty. It was terrifying to feel yourself completely alone, lost in the middle of an unknown, hostile land. There were no signs that the detachment was near, and I tried in vain among the night sounds to make out the neighing of a donkey. It was to no purpose... Only an elephant was forcing its way into the forest through the thicket, and from the river sounded a hippopotamus and the piercing cry of a night bird... Getting down on the ground and tightly tying the mule's lead to my hand, I leaned against a high hill built by termites and dozed off. Exhausted, and not having had anything to drink all day, the mule stood hanging its head. Sometimes, having sensed a wild animal in the vicinity, it snorted in fear and pricked up its ears.
I was in a state of both sleep and drowsy consciousness. I held the mule tightly, listened hard to each rustle, and was ready for the most desperate self-defense; but, at the same time, fantastic pictures went through my imagination one after the other. This was really a waking dream... In thought I was carried away to my family, to my comrades in the regiment. I remembered petty incidents of my life and, facts were interwoven with fantasy in a continuous chain of images.
Finally, at about 12 o'clock at night, the moon came out and I set out farther in search of the detachment. The whole time I followed along the steep edge of the steppe to the north, and after an hour I began to come across frequent tracks of mules and horses. Still a bit farther, I came upon a wide trail trampled down by people on foot and by horses. The tracks led to the north: there was no doubt that they belonged to our detachment. I rode at a trot along the trail, time and again stumbling upon the bodies of men and animals who died during the march, and my mule threw itself to the side in fear. In low places near the bodies, hyenas already reigned; and in the quiet of the night there resounded either the growling or the groaning of a lion -- long-drawn out, heard from afar, but not seeming loud.
At about three o'clock in the morning, I reached the place where our bivouac had been located on March 25. The detachment had left it, and the trail went far in the middle of dense grass and bushes. I rode quickly in the high grass. Suddenly, at several paces in front of me, in the light of the moon, there shone the blades of spears, and I saw three natives. I quickly shot at the middle one with my revolver and galloped at them.
The middle one fell, and the others rushed into the bushes. The meeting with natives indicated that our bivouac was near: they were probably roaming close to it. Actually, in a little while, I heard nearby the loud neighing of a donkey, which at this memorable moment in my life joyfully resounded in my heart, like the voice of the herald of my salvation.
My servants, having waited for me with alarm, came to meet me with burning logs. My meeting with Zelepukin [Bulatovich's orderly] was the most joyous. He, poor fellow, was already beginning to grieve and getting ready to go on a search. It was already four o'clock in the morning. I quickly had a bite of a stale flatcake.
Ababa and Aulale arrived almost at the same time I did. Pursuing the natives, they had stumbled upon the road by which the detachment had gone; and, tormented by thirst, they had set out straight for water, leaving me alone.
This day's march did not come easily to the detachment either. The Ras ordered his troops to go straight through the waterless steppe, in order to avoid the bends of the river and the bushes on its banks. Several dozen captive women and children died because of this, since they were unaccustomed to protracted walking and endured thirst badly.
Of our soldiers, five died from sun stroke.
Our marching column had increased now almost to double what it had been before, from the quantity of livestock that had been taken, and captive women and children. The Ras did not have the spirit to force his soldiers to give up their booty.
Our soldiers were in a state of bliss: donkeys carried reserve provisions, relieving their masters of this heavy burden which they otherwise would have had to carry on their heads. Captive boys carried guns and shields or drove cattle which had been taken. And captive women, quickly submitting to their fate, already went for water, tore up grass for mules and ground meal. My boys also got several donkeys for themselves and grieved that they had not succeeded in capturing a Negro woman who would relieve them of the necessity of grinding meal themselves.
Vaska [three-year-old Ethiopian boy, mutilated and left to die by tribal enemies, found and nursed back to health by Bulatovich, who eventually took him home to Russia and raised him there] gradually got better. They carried him in their arms during the march. He is a remarkably intelligent boy and already knew my name and Zelepukin's, and could already ask for food and drink, etc., in Russian.
We hunted for elephants and wounded several of them, but the elephants got away.
At six o'clock in the morning we stumbled upon a lion and killed it. The vanguard saw it when it was quietly going away from the approaching detachment. They notified the Ras of this, and we began to rush so as to cross its path. The Ras shot at the lion first. Then others. The lion fell, turning its head toward us. It was still alive. Several Abyssinians came galloping up to it and killed it with sabers.
The sun soon rose and lit up the mountains which rise along the Kibish River. We set out to the familiar summit, near which we had set up camp on March 20. The way there still seemed very long. It became hot. The water we had taken with us was all drunk up by nightfall. Our column spread out, and the weaker began to fall behind. First the captive women and children began to fall and die. There was no one to pick them up, and they were thrown on the deserted steppe, since whoever could rushed with all his strength to water.
At about ten o'clock in the morning, we saw a herd of giraffe at about a verst [two thirds of a mile] from the detachment, and the Ras still had the endurance to hunt them. Accompanied by several officers, he galloped after them. But the hunt was unsuccessful: horses, stepping in cracks in the soil, fell. My friend Ato-Bayu broke his collar-bone this way, and I made him a bandage, using for this his long belt.*
At about twelve noon the vanguard horsemen reached the river and having drunk and gotten as much water as they could, galloped back to help their comrades on foot. Only at four o'clock in the afternoon did the detachment assemble. We had lost from sun stroke four Abyssinians and two Galla. About a hundred captives had been left behind. Zelepukin, who went with the transport in the middle of the column, had seen all kinds of horrors during the march and arrived very downcast.
"How awfully pitiful it is to look at the captive Shankala (Shankala is "Negro" in Abyssinian), your Honor," he said. "They walk, then stagger, then fall and lie. The master lifts her, beats her, but already, evidently, she has no strength left. He can't pick her up, so he throws her aside and leaves."
The temperature at noon was 32o Reaumur [104o F] in the shade.
In the north, approximately 15 versts [10 miles] from the place where we had set up our bivouac, a high mountain was seen, on which I found it necessary to climb to survey the vicinity. It seem to me that it would be possible from there to at the same time see both northern and southern summits which were already known to me and to "connect them among their azimuths." I decided to do this quickly. This time I couldn't go without letting the Ras know. He ordered a convoy of 26 men under the command of an officer to accompany me. In addition to them, I also took three of my ashkers: Tekla Giyorgis, Ababu, and Abto Selassie.
Crossing the Kibish River, we, along the low-lying steppe which stretches along the River Omo, set out straight to the mountain, which turned out to be much farther away than I had assumed. Only at ten o'clock in the morning, after going for four and a half hours, did we reach the foot of the mountain. Here a high steep stone ridge rises 1000 meters straight up from the valley of the River Omo. Dense settlements of natives huddle together along ledges. Apparently, the summit of the mountain is completely populated. We found a trail which led up and started to climb. My soldiers followed me very unwillingly.
As soon as the natives noticed us, they filled the mountains with alarm cries; and their warriors, armed with spears and shields, began to come running together in groups, and the women and children escaped, driving the livestock. On a ledge of the cliff, a hundred paces in front of us stood an old man. He threw handsful of dust in our direction, probably as an incantation. When we approached, the old man hid behind a tree. I ordered Abto Selassie to catch him, and my ashker swiftly went after the old man and, in a moment, disarmed him and took him prisoner. The decrepit old man was not at all confused by this and coolly continued to smoke his long pipe. We led the prisoner forward and went farther. A group of about a hundred warriors, having occupied a narrow passage, blocked the road to us. I told my men not to fire, and we calmly went closer. When we were only 50 paces from the warriors, from their group I heard the cry "Halio" (peace). I also answered them "Halio", and having stopped the detachment, tore out a bunch of grass as a sign of my peaceful intentions, and in earnest approached the three natives in front. They pointed to the old man, apparently asking that we let him go; and I did so. Then I, with signs, told them that I demanded that they put down their weapons, threatening that otherwise I would kill them with a puff of my gun. They understood and began to carry out my request, and in the group of natives, the old ones who were more prudent and who wanted peace, forced the young ardent ones to obey. The road was now clear and we went farther. However, my soldiers turned out to be too frightened to go ahead. They unanimously began to refuse and asked me, in the name of the God of Menelik [emperor of Ethiopia] and of Wolda Giyorgis to go back. I couldn't agree to their demands. Having come so close to the goal I had set myself, for me it would have been too painful to renounce it now. Moreover, the natives were not acting especially hostilely toward us, and retreat seemed disgraceful to me. With harsh expressions, I began to reproach the soldiers, called them "mice" (the most insulting expression for an Abyssinian warrior) and, having called my three ashkers, I went forward decisively, having told the soldiers that whoever of them wanted to could go back to the Ras. My decisiveness had an effect on them; and the soldiers, this one grumbling, that one justifying himself, reluctantly followed me. We had not succeeded in going several hundred paces when the natives, who had seemed conciliated, began again to get ready for hostile action. It must be that the party of the young, brave warriors got the upper hand; and they, quickly hiding behind rocks and trees, began to overtake the tail of my detachment. In front of all of them ran a mountain dweller of enormous size with decorations made of ostrich fathers on his head and three spears in his hands. He was already just 50 paces from our rear and, jumping high, he performed his war dance and aimed his javelin at one of my soldiers. To tarry longer was unthinkable.
A shot burst out. Its rumble and the sight of the dead man turned the attackers into retreat. We went farther; and when we had gone off a significant distance, a crowd of natives gathered around the dead man. I saw through binoculars how they examined his wound and finally, digging a grave, buried him. Others, having watched this scene from the mountain, were also frightened by it and didn't dare attack us. As we passed by, they hid behind houses or, sitting on rocks at several hundred paces from our route, they showed us the road with their spears whenever we began to doubt which of the trails to choose to climb to the summit. The higher we climbed, the more densely populated it became. Near one group of houses we took a break and drank some marvelous milk and thick kvass, which my askhers had procured.
At 12:30 we reached the crest of the mountain. I was disappointed in my expectations. From here you could see well to the south; but to the north, the horizon was blocked by the high Mount Say, which was about 15 versts [10 miles] from the place where I found myself. Nevertheless, I stopped and began to plot on my plane-table the territory which opened up from here and with surveying compass took azimuths on the salient points. For more than an hour, I conducted this painstaking work. My soldiers kept pestering me, to hasten our return. There was not a single native visible on the crest of the mountain, and our bivouac was six hours away. I just had to take several more azimuths to the northeast, and I told the soldiers that they should calmly go back down the cliff, and I would catch up with them very soon. There stayed with me only Ababa, who held my mule and carried my three-eighths-inch caliber rifle, Tekla Giyorgis, Abto Selassie, and the senior man of the convoy. The others had already gone a hundred paces from us, and I was taking the last azimuth, when suddenly I was surprised by a startling change which took place in the surrounding terrain. The apparently uninhabited bushes and bare rocks came to life. Everywhere were seen the black shapes of armed natives. The foremost of them was now some hundred paces from me.
Our position was critical. There were only five of us, with four guns, only 30 cartridges each for three of the guns and a hundred for mine, and 50 for my revolver. I myself at this moment was unarmed, since I had taken off my saber and revolver, which got in the way of my observations. They lay several paces from me. At this minute, we were completely in the power of the natives. The soldiers who were leaving could not return to us in time. To leave now would mean condemning ourselves sooner to certain death. It was necessary to quickly undertake something which could delay the natives even a little and give time for the rest of my men to come back to help.
"Halio!" I called out to the native who was closest to me, who, hiding behind a tree, was approaching me. I went to met him as I was, with only my plane-table and my compass in my hands. He stopped and, having hidden, answered "Halio." His comrades, amazed by such a turn of events, began to watch what more would happen.
Having approached to about five paces from the tree behind which the native was, I stopped and began to beckon him to me. My opponent indecisively came out of hiding and went toward me, saying "komoru", which means "king." I reached out my hand to him, and he, in the air, kissed it. Then I said "Dir" and, squatting, made the native squat. We began peaceful negotiations, and time was gained. I took the warrior's spears and, having indicated that I demanded that he lay them on the ground, made him do that. Then I began to call the other natives near him, who were, with curiosity, watching this scene, making them lay down their spears, beforehand, and then kiss my hand. Soon twenty men had gathered around. They squatted beside me. I showed them my compass, let them listen to my watch, and finally, having called the senior man of the convoy and having ordered him to take my place in the ceremony of kissing hands with newly arrived natives, I myself rushed to my gun and put it on. Now on our hillock there were already 15 Abyssinian men, and the time had come for us to go. Having called out several times "halio" and "dir," we, satisfied that all had turned out so successfully, began to go back down the mountain.
But we hadn't succeeded in going a hundred paces when suddenly behind us there sounded loud trumpet sounds and the place resounded with howling and war cries of the natives. They surrounded us and, wildly jumping and "playing"*** with their javelins, swiftly attacked us. The site of the battle was closed and very awkward for us. On the north and west grew dense bushes, and to the east the mountain steeply came to an abrupt end. Our trail twisted along ledges of the precipice. We took hold of our guns and quickly began to shoot, aiming the fire on the foremost, who fell about 20 paces in front of us. I fired five cartridges from my three-eighths-inch caliber rifle, and while Ababa reloaded it, let loose ten cartridges from my rapid-firing Mauser revolver. It was difficult to miss at such a close distance, and almost every shot hit its target.
The accuracy of our shooting had a stunning effect on the natives and stopped their charge. We were particularly helped by the circumstance that the natives couldn't steal up on us and that they dragged their dead and wounded comrades far back; because although our fire was effective, there were too few of us and we had too small a reserve of cartridges to be able to hold out for long. The natives only had 20 paces to go to reach us, and we would find ourselves in their arms.
After several minutes of heated fighting, the distance between us and our enemies had increased to a hundred paces. Somehow the natives' spirits had fallen, and they only sprinkled our side with stones from slings. We already didn't have much ammunition left. Stopping fire and dividing my soldiers into two units, which should provide cover for one another consecutively, I began to descend, little by little.
Our enemy was stunned. As soon as we moved down, they took heart again, and, not daring to attack us, resorted to another means of action. Our trail lay along ledges, and groups of dare-devils, having separated from the main mass of the enemy, began to occupy salient points above the road and to push off falling rocks onto us from there. It is impossible to say that rocks flying down with a crash, rebounding on all sides from the stone ledges they encountered produced a particularly nice impression. It seemed to each of us at that moment that the rock was falling directly on him, and each rushed to hide behind the cliff face or to bend down low to the ground. Howling and wild cries of the natives accompanied each rock fall. Although, luckily, they had not yet caused real damage, they caused some panic among my soldiers. In order to counteract the intentions of the enemy, we in turn began to occupy areas from which we could fire on the ledges where the natives were preparing rock slides, and in this way, to some degree, stopped them.
Only at five o'clock did we get down the cliff. We passed the boundaries of the settlements completely safely, if you do not count one soldiers wounded in the arm by a stone from a sling and one dead mule. Late at night I returned to camp.
The Ras, who was worried about my long absence, waited for me impatiently, and as soon as he learned of my return sent to ask me to go to him. They had already reported to him all the details of the fight. Congratulating me for the victory, he at the same time began to reproach me.
"Why didn't you say that you were going to fight? I would have given you more soldiers. I do not understand how you stayed safe and how your soldiers did not run away. Death must have seemed inevitable to them. You are Saytan (the Devil). But you should know that your present bravery is not yet true courage, but rather the ardor of youth and inexperience. Believe me, that only when you have experienced retreat and been wounded will you begin to understand danger, and your inexperienced ardor will change into the conscious courage of a warrior hardened in battle."
He was right.
As soon as the sun warmed up, the natives again surrounded our detachment and gave us no peace with constant attacks.
At twelve noon we reached Mount Meru. From there Kanyazmatch Dubye and Fitaurari Gebra Maryam went north with the whole reconnaissance detachment. I was worried about the health of Zelepukin, and there was no special need for me to continue the reconnaissance since the geographical position of the Emperor Nicholas II Mountain Range was now already well-known to me. Therefore, I separated myself from the detachment and went straight to the bivouac of the main forces. With me went my ashkers and several dozen Abyssinians. We walked until sunset, the whole time surrounded by natives, and set up lodging for the night at the foot of the mountain range, to the north of the place where I had taken solar observations the day before. It grew dark. I hastened to orient myself and to see if the bivouac of the main forces wasn't visible from the mountain. Having called my gun bearer Abto Selassie, I set out to a nearby hill. One of the officers, having noticed that I went only accompanied by one gun bearer, followed me. Behind him his twelve-year-old son carried his shield.
I had spent 12 hours in the saddle that day and hadn't eaten anything for a full 24-hours. I do not know if it was for this reason or for some other, but I was in some kind of a dreamy-philosophical mood: how many victims had the conquest of this land cost? It seemed to me brim-full of violence and injustice. Of course, a new phase in the history of peoples is always paid for with sacrifices. But world justice and individual justice are quite different from one another. Murder always remains murder for us, whatever goal it may accomplish, and it is especially immoral in relation to these peaceful, industrious people who never did harm to us, whose land we now take away by force, using the superiority of our weapons...
A narrow trail rose steeply to the mountain. I went along it, when suddenly ahead, at several paces from me, there appeared the shape of a native carrying something on his head and a long spear on his shoulder. He was also climbing this ridge, but from the opposite side. Unexpectedly seeing one another, we both stopped. Under the influence of my mood, I didn't even think to undertake any aggressive measures against him. It seemed unthinkable to me that he himself would begin to attack me, even though behind me walked two men with guns... I had a saber on me, but I didn't intend to take it out of its scabbard. My Mauser revolver, which I always wore on my waist on the march, this time I had left in the holster of my saddle, since the belt on which I carried it was broken. How great was my amazement when, instead of running away, my opponent in a moment threw the burden from his head and rushed at me with his spear. I took out my saber and cried to my people who were still below and didn't see what was happening: "Belau!" (Go ahead! Shoot!) The native stopped ten paces from me, having aimed the spear at me, he made the end of it shake quickly and chose the moment for the blow. I waited for there to ring out a shot and for my crazy enemy to topple over dead, but there was no shot... Seeing that I was waiting with my saber for his blow, the native, apparently, could not decide whether to stab me with his spear or throw it at me... Suddenly, he quickly bent down, took hold of a large rock, and threw it at me with force. I managed to duck, and the rock flew over my head. After the first stone followed a second and a third!... "Belau! Belau!" I cried out to the soldiers, but they were busying themselves with something or other a few paces behind me and did
not fire. To turn around myself and take my gun would have meant to expose myself to certain death. Finally, a shot rang out -- the officer had fired. In haste, he missed. Abto Selassie also took out his saber and we rushed at the native... At the same time there resounded a second shot of the officer, point-blank, and our opponent toppled to the ground... He spasmed for a long time, having bared his teeth, with a repulsive smile on his face. During the last skirmish he struck at one of us with such force with his spear that it pierced through a leather shield, at that time held up under the blow by the gun bearer of the officer.
It was a strange coincidence of circumstances. My revolver, which I always wear with me, turned out to be today in the holster of my saddle. Abto Selassie for the first time carried my three-inch-caliber rifle behind me. It was loaded and the bolt was at safety, but Abto Selassie didn't know how to cock it. The other gun of my ashker had a thick cartridge caught in it. It loaded halfway in the cartridge-chamber and then wouldn't move either forward or backward. But the strangest of all was the fact that several days before this occurrence I had a dream in which the general picture of today's fight was repeated and that I had told it to Zelepukin at the time.
We returned to the bivouac. We took along the spear of the native. It was evident that this wasn't its first time in battle: there were recent traces of blood on the end -- probably Abyssinian. My dreamy-philosophical mood had completely gone away. War is war, and not a tournament; and the more the one with superior strength can defeat his enemy, the better.
Interesting speculation had circulated about us among the Gimiro when we had set out the first time. They said that we would go down from the mountains into a low-lying desert covered with fog. Guides would refuse to lead us, but the Ras would go ahead anyway and would die with his army. Others claimed that we would all be carried away by water.
From the bivouac at Chana, I set out with several ashkers and twenty soldiers of Ato Kassem to hunt for elephants. Zelepukin also went with me. We walked up until it was completely dark, going down from the western slopes of the main mountain range. The trail lay among very dense forest. When it had become quite dark, we stopped at the solitary farmstead of a Kaffa. The owner of the property lived in a small cabin with his wife and two children. His house had been burnt down during the conquest of Kaffa. Now he was finishing building a new dwelling, which was already almost ready. There remained only to cover the roof. A heavy rain was falling. We had no tent with us, so we cut banana leaves with our sabers, covered the roof with them, and spent the night in the house which was being built.
He is a Christian, one of the number converted by the to him by Massaey. Bita-rasha is from the Amaro tribe which always gravitated toward Christianity and was one of the first that responded to the appeal of Massaey.
also began to pursue the elephants, but soon had to fall behind. On one of the trails, on the leaves of bushes, on the right side, blood was found; and I went to look for the wounded elephant. But there were so many elephant trails in the forest, that I soon lost its tracks. Soon I stumbled upon another elephant and wounded it, but it also went off into a thicket. From afar, I heard the shots of my ashkers, But they soon fell silent.
Evidently, the elephants had gotten away. I lost all hope for a successful hunt and began to return to the place where I had left my mule. That was seven versts [four miles] away. With me went Zelepukin, two Kaffas and the gun bearer Aulale, who this time carried only binoculars. Having climbed to the crest of one mountain ridge, we suddenly saw below, on the opposite side of a rivulet, in the arch between two forests, the whole herd of elephants. It must have turned back and now was going from one forest to the other. We were 800 paces from them. I quickly got down on one knee and opened fire on the herd with frequent fire from my three-eighths-inch caliber rifle. The puzzled elephants stopped for a moment, then circled around one large tree, and went back into the forest. Under the tree, one elephant lagged behind and lay down, and in the thicket several wounded ones bellowed. At a run, I rushed down the mountain to the elephant which had failed. But when I got close, as it turned out, the elephant had gone away. Zelepukin and I rushed along various trails to look for the wounded animal. I also made the Kaffa look, but they had made up their minds not to and stayed at the edge of the forest. Suddenly, in front of me, the bushes started to break... The cracking quickly got closer. I stood behind a turn in the trail, but after a few moments everything grew quiet. The elephant stopped somewhere quite nearby, having hidden itself now -- it must be behind some tree -- and waiting for me. Severely wounded elephants continually do this, and then they are very dangerous. I strained my sight to see it in the dense thicket, and cautiously moved in the direction of the place where the cracking had resounded just before. Aulale also went with me and suddenly cried out in a voice which wasn't his own, "There it is!" Hidden behind a large tree, twenty paces from me, with a bellow, the elephant was now rushing headlong in attack. I shot, and it went toppling over, weightily, just five paces from me. The bullet had hit it in the head. To be sure, I shot it again. Then with my saber, I cut off the customary Abyssinian trophies -- the ends of the trunk, tail, and ears.
The dead elephant turned out to be a female; and it probably had calves, since milk flowed from its udders. I wanted to take a photograph and sent Aulale for the equipment. The mule was three versts [two miles] from us, the road went through forest, and Aulale asked that I give him my rifle. I gave him the three-eighths-inch caliber rifle and was left with a saber near the dead elephant.
The Kaffa ran to me and, after a quarter hour, the other ashkers arrived. Following the tracks of the herd, they had come to this same place. Zelepukin was looking for another wounded elephant; so I sent all the ashkers to help him. Just two Kaffa stayed with me. After several minutes, frequent shots resounded not far off. Then resounded the cries of my ashkers that I should run because the whole herd of elephants was coming at me. Actually, I could hear them bursting through the thicket not far away. Both of the Kaffa who were with me hid in a moment. Beside the dead elephant stood a large tree. Its roots were shaped like a niche. The elephant trail went to the left of me, and from that side I was hidden by bushes. To the right of the tree, the bushes were sparser. I sat tight in that little cavern-like niche. Closer and closer, the forest cracked; and the tramp of several hundred elephant feet became deafening. Doubtless, they were coming straight toward me. But where would they pass through: to the right or the left of the tree? Suddenly, to the right, just beside me, appeared an enormous head, wide swinging ears and weighty trunk... I sat, holding my breath. Did the elephant notice me or not? It had already gone past me when suddenly it turned back sharply and, as if rooted to the ground, stopped in front of me. It looked at me with its little glistening eyes, moved forward, gathered up its trunk, lifted the end of it high as if getting ready to make an attack with it, moved back a bit, and, finally, quickly turned and went away. The first danger had passed, but the wounded, and therefore the most dangerous elephants might be running behind. Besides, the corpse of an elephant which had just been killed lay nearby me, and everyone knows that elephants in this case are vengeful.**** One after the other, elephants ran past me. When what seemed to be last one ran past, and I thought that the danger was over; suddenly I heard tramping, and one more elephant heavily ran by me. It was wounded, and blood flowed from its side. Having run past a few steps, it, like the first elephant, turned sharply and came at me. It stopped just five paces in front of me. Its eyes looked terribly evil. It stamped in place, sucked in its trunk, as if intending to cruelly take revenge on the man who had finally fallen into his power. Like two of the worst sworn enemies, we stared each other in the eye. At that moment I didn't not think that God would bring it about that I could ever describe this episode. Its outcome seemed so certain that I now remember how I, from second to second, expected my death...
But suddenly, it is incomprehensible why, the elephant cried out, twirled its tail and, having turned sharply, ran off.
I came out of my shelter. In front was heard the cracking noise, going farther away. I am alive, and for my salvation I see only God's Providence.
On the mountain they sang the victory song Adoy Shebae, with which the ashkers celebrated the victory of Zelepukin, who had also killed an elephant. The first to run to me were the Kaffa who had made off. They knew that the elephants had gone through here. They had heard the scream of one of them, and had expected to see my remains. They were greatly overjoyed when they found me unharmed. Soon the triumphant Zelepukin came with the ashkers. We measured the distance. From the place where I sat
to the trail by which the elephants ran turned out to be seven paces; and from the outermost tracks of the forelegs of an elephant it was just four paces.
It was already four o'clock in the afternoon. Having entrusted Bita-rasha to extract the tusks the next day, I hurried to rejoin the detachment; and in the evening, we arrived at the main bivouac.
*The belt which Abyssinians wear around their waist is a long (about 14 arshins [32 feet]) band (half an arshin wide [7 inches]) of light cotton material (which weighs about one and a half to two pounds). It is very useful on the march. It serves as an abdominal band or girdle, uniformly pulling in the stomach. In case of wounds, it is useful as a bandage. It is also very convenient to carry a bandoleer in this belt.
**In this territory there are so many lions that the Abyssinians call it Yaambasa-Myeda -- the Lion Field. Incidentally, they called the fort at Kolu Yadagusca-Myeda -- Field of Dagusa (a type of bread grain), and the mouth of the River Omo -- Yaakhya-Myeda, i.e., Donkey Field.
***They raise the spear high and aiming it at the opponent, they make it vibrate by fast action of the hand.
****As hunters assert, elephants often destroy all the trees in the place where any one of their herd has been killed. The danger from wounded elephants is corroborated by all the travelers of Central Africa: Prince Ruspoli fell victim to an elephant wounded by him. Count Teleki, Cavendish, and I saved ourselves from them only by some miracle.