IN Western geography Nigritia, or the Country of the Blacks, comprises the great expanse of eastern Africa between Nubia and the Equator, and westwards any-where beyond Lake Tchad. to the Niger. But the Egyptian Soudan, though covering nearly the whole of this area southward, is bounded westwards by Darfour, ex-tending on the east to the Red Sea, and thence down past Souakim and Massowah, overlapping Abyssinia, to Berbera and Harrar.
Of the great group of provinces thus collectively named, Dongola, the first, is one of the finest ; for while its southern districts are within the zone of the annual rains, it is abundantly watered northwards by the over-flow of the Nile over an area of nearly fifteen miles, known as the Wady-Jaijar, or great Dongolese plain. Some miles above Old Dongola, the former capital of the province, the river sweeps round to the north-east, and makes what is called the Great Bend, enclosing north-ward the fine peninsula savannah mis-named in our maps the desert of Bahiuda, peopled by the Hussaneeya, Esoo-Arab, Fadneah, and Omeah Bedoween, who rear large flocks of sheep, goats, and camels, and after the rains cultivate considerable tracts of land. In the course of this great curve of nearly 400 miles, the Fourth and Fifth Cataracts are passed, and in lat. 17° 37′ N., in the country of the Berbers, which is also a province of great industrial capabilities, the Nile receives the Taccazé, or Atbara, its largest and last affluent hence to the Mediterranean. From this point northwards, for more than 1,400 miles, not even a rivulet swells the volume of the great stream ” an unexampled instance,” says Humboldt, “in the hydrographic history of the world.” During this long course it is exposed to the evaporation of a burning sun, drawn off into a thousand canals, absorbed by porous banks and thirsty sands, drunk of by every living thing, and yet, strange to say, it pours into the sea a larger volume than it displays between the Cataracts a thousand miles away.
Southeast of Berber lies the fine province of Taka, one of the most fertile portions of Egyptian territory any-where east of the Nile. It is cultivated throughout, and from Kassala, its chief town, carries on through Souakim a considerable trade with Djeddah and the Hedjaz.
The Atbara gives its name to the extensive tract included within the eastern basin of that river and the fork formed by its junction with the Nile. This includes the provinces of Shendy and Half() (the ancient Meroe), both of which consist of well-watered table-lands, broken by low ranges of hills, and still rich, now as of yore, in the elements of great material prosperity. Shendy, the chief town of the double province, derives importance from its situation on the caravan route from Sennaar and the gold countries, and also on that from Darfour and Kordofan to Souakim, through which the Red Sea trade of the southern provinces is still mainly carried on. At Khartoumsixty miles above the Sixth and last Cataract, if we except the recently discovered falls of Duffli above (ondokorothe Blue and White Niles (Bahr-el-Azeck and Bahr-el-Abiat) join, the former flowing down north-west from its sources in the Abyssinian hills, and the latternow recognised as the true Nilenearly due north from the remote basin of the equatorial lakes.* Here begins the northern frontier of Sennaar, which may be roughly described as bounded east and south-east by the Taccazé and Abyssinia, westwards by the White Nilewhich separates it from Kordofanand south by the mountains of Fazoglou. It is for the most part a great undulating plain, increasing in elevation southwards, and, especially near the rivers, abounding in forest. In the neighbourhood of Khartoum the soil is mostly sandy, mixed with Nile mud ; but farther south it becomes a deep bed of argillaceous marl, which, though dismally sterile-looking during the dry season, blooms with abundant crops after the autumnal rains. Its inhabitants, of a mixed Arab and Abyssinian race, are much superior to the negro ; and, altogether, Sennaar forms potentially perhaps the finest of the Upper Nile provinces of Egypt. Due west, beyond the White Nile, lies Kordofan, much smaller in area, but differing little in its chief physical features from Sennaar. In addition to the tropical rains, it is abundantly watered by wells ; so that even in the dry seasonfrom September to Aprilit presents in a much less degree the parched and barren aspect exhibited by the latter province during the same months. Its cultivable area is roughly computed at about 12,000 square miles, and its population at 500,000, as against respectively 60,000 and 1,500,000 for Sennaar; but such reckoning can at best be only approximate, as no complete survey or census of these regions has been made since their annexation to Egypt.
West again of Kordofan, separated from it by the narrow strip of desert peopled by the Bagâra and Hamlin Arabs, lies Darfour, which was only annexed in 1875, after the brief campaign provoked by the forays of its Ameer across the Egyptian border. This latest addition to the dominion of the Khedive is in reality a large oasis, wholly enclosed in the Sahara, and lying roughly between lat. 10° and 16° N., and long. 26° and 29° E. It has been visited by very few European travellers, and neither its exact extent, population, nor chief physical features are at all accurately known. Its capital is a town called El-Faschir, in about lat. 14° 10′ N., in a plateau about 2,200 feet above the level of the sea. Towards the south the country is hilly, the principal elevation being a mountain ridge called Marrah, which traverses the province longitudinally, and is the source of numerous springs. South-wards it is level, sandy, and except during the annual rainswhich begin early in May, and last from two to three monthsnearly destitute of water. It produces, how-ever, abundant crops of wheat, millet, rice, maize, sesame, and tobacco. Cotton also is grown, but only in small quantities, as, either from the want of water or the unsuitableness of the soil, it does not flourish, the plant rarely reaching more than a foot and a half in height. There is, however, thriving vegetation everywhere, and after the first rains the country is said to be ” one sheet of green.” The fauna are similar to those common in the same latitudes east of the Nile. Copper and iron are said to abound in the hills ; but the principal wealth of the inhabitants consists in cattle, which, in the absence of coin, form the chief barter-currency of the country. Besides the traffic carried on with the inland countries of Africa, it maintains a considerable trade with Egypt and the Hedjaz, exporting ivory, ostrich feathers, hides, drugs, copper, and especially slaves; against imports of silk, cotton cloths, glass wares, trinkets, sword blades, firearms, and a variety of other goods. The bad distinction of Darfour hitherto has been as the chief entrepôt and point de départ of the Central African slave trade, whence most of this nefarious traffic down the Nile valley and to Arabia, through Souakim and Massowah, has been fed. The total area of Darfour is roughly estimated at about 450,000 square miles, with a population variously reckoned at from 3,000,000 to 5, 000, 000. A complete survey and census of the country are now being made by order of the Khedive, but none of the results thus far are as yet available for publication.
Wedged in between southern Kordofan and Sennaar, the Shillook country, which was only finally subjected to Egyptian authority in 1870, extends, in a strip of country some 200 miles long by hardly a dozen broad, to the junction east and west of the Sobat and Bahr-el-Ghazal rivers with the White Nile, about 700 miles above Khartoum. Its inhabitants, nominally Mussulmans but in reality Pagans, are perhaps physically the finest, as they are the fiercest, of the Upper Nile tribes. ” No known part of Africa,” says Dr. Schweinfurth, ” scarcely even the narrow valley of the Nile in Egypt, has a density of population so great ; but a similar condition of circumstances, so favourable to the support of a teeming population, is perhaps without parallel in the world. Every-thing which contributes to the exuberance of life here finds a concentrated fieldagriculture, pasturage, fishing, and the chase. Agriculture is rendered easy by the recurrence of the rainy season, by irrigation effected by the rising of the river, assisted by numerous canals, and by an atmosphere ordinarily so clouded as to moderate the radiance of the sun, and to retain throughout the year perpetual moisture.” Fashoda, the chief Government station, is already the centre of a considerable trade, in which raw cottonnow largely grown, and for the cultivation of which the soil and climate are admirably adaptedforms a principal staple. A census taken since the annexation of the province returns 3,000 villages, with a population exceeding 1,000,000.
West and south of this, along the Bahr-el-Ghazal, lie the Darfertit and Donga countries, in the former of which the authority of the Khedive is as yet little more than nominal, and even in the latter it is effective only along the river valley to Gondokoro. To this point, however, the Cairo Government claimed to have pushed its sovereignty before 1869, when the Khedive commissioned Sir Samuel Baker to extend his annexations to the Equator, and suppress slave hunting and the slave trade in this great cradle of the traffic. A strong expedition was accordingly dispatched to the region, and during what may be called a campaign of nearly four years, Sir Samuel carried the Egyptian flag to the Albert Nyanza, and scotched, if he did not kill, the nefarious commerce at several points. It was probably not his fault that the Khedive thought the result less satisfactory than the cost of it had led him to hope ; but be this as it may, early in 1874 his Highness induced Colonel Gordon, of Chinese fame, to take up the incomplete adventure on a less grandiose scale ; and in the next couple of years, what Baker had begun was, if not perfected, at least extended and consolidated without further costing a piastre to the Cairo Treasurya judicious management of the Government ivory monopoly, which Baker had established, producing enough to defray the whole expense of the expedition, with a surplus of some 6,0001. to spare. The sum of what was thus economically achieved may be briefly stated : Feeling that the first necessity was to strengthen his communications with Egypt, Gordon began by connecting Khartoum and GondokoroBaker’s Ismaliaby a chain, or rather network of new fortified stations, varying from fifty to a hundred miles apart. The first 500 of the 1,400 miles which separate the two points presented little difficulty. The river was clear, the tribes friendly, and the authority of the Khedive was represented by petty officers who maintained at least a semblance of law and order. But at the point where the great river ceases to be a single channel, where the Sobat680 miles above Khartoumpours into it from the east, and the Bahr-el-Ghazal (forty miles higher up), with its numerous tributaries from the west, the difficulties of communication begin. Here, accordingly, Gordon planted the first of his posts, naming it Sobat, after the river on which it stands. From this point other stations branch out east and west into the heart of the slave-trading districts, one of the most important of these being at Nazar, two days’ sail up the Sobat. Some 250 miles up the main stream, but six days’ march from it westwards, is another called Ratichambé, in the centre of a chief feeding ground for the traffic ; ninety miles further is Bor, and south-west of that again, far inland, Makraka, on the borders of the Niam-Niam country, which formed the limit of Schweinfarth’s travels. Back again on the main stream, ninety miles above Bor, is the great station of Lardo in favour of which Gordon has abandoned. Gondokoro. ten miles higher up ; and twelve miles still further south, Ragaff, beyond which the river becomes unnavigable, through a long series of rapids extending to DuffiiBaker’ s Ibrahmieha short distance south of which lie his two final stations of Fatiko and Fowera, almost within hail of the Albert Nyanza. Above Gondokoro the river had at several -points been blocked up with great swampy masses of reeds and grass, which stretched from bank to bank, and completely dammed the upper current. These Gordon cut through, and so cleared a continuous water-way to Ragaff, between which and Khartoum a line of steamers now plies. Here a small 10-horse power boat was taken to pieces, and carried round to Duffii, where it was again put together, and the voyage thence to the lake completeda practicable line of communication being thus opened between Cairo and the Equator, over a distance of 2,800 miles. The Albert is connected with the larger Lake Victoria by the Somerset river, but, though this is short, it is filled up with alternate swamps and rapids, which present insurmountable obstacles to navigation. A road overland must therefore be opened through the territory of King M’tesa, of Uganda, or by an alternative route through the country of the Usoga, a rival tribe. Much of the territory thus added to the dominion of the Khedive possesses splendid agricultural resources, but these cannot be developed or utilised till some better outlet has been found than the long and difficult route by the Nile. Such an outlet is, however, offered by either the Omoo-Maro or Ozy rivers, in the so-called territory of Zanzibar, the latter of which is navigable from the Indian Ocean up to within 250 miles of Lake Victoria. It is obviously in the interests of civilisation that the Khedive should be allowed a right of way by one or other of these rivers.
In the meantime Colonel Gordon, during this first expedition, completely subjected to a rude but regular form of government nearly the whole country between Gondokoro and the smaller lake, did much to suppress slave-hunting within the same area, enforced recognition of Egyptian authority, and opened up a channel for trade with Khartoum and the Lower Nile.
Justly gratified with these results, the Khedive, in February last, renewed and enlarged Gordon’s commission, conferring on him the rank of Pasha, with absolute military and civil jurisdiction over the vast expanse of territory extending southwards from Wady-Haifa to the Equator, and east and west from Darfour to the whole littoral of the Red Sea below Souakim. The main object of these extended powers was, no doubt, to give full scope to the great administrative ability of the new governor-general, whose previous authority only began at Gondokoro, while the Soudan properwhich was ruled or mis-ruled by native officialslay north of that point. But, almost co-ordinately with this, in the new Pasha’s firman were unlimited powers to suppress slave-hunting and abolish the slave trade throughout the whole extent of his government : so absolute, indeed, were these that, in a letter * published immediately after his appointment. Gordon Pasha himself declared that if the traffic be not now stamped out, the fault will be his alone. The statement, however, rhetorically exaggerated the extent of his or any human power to accomplish this result, for slavery has flourished in these regions since the Flood, and is almost a natural law, ineradicable by anything but the gradual operation of influences to which even physical phenomena in time yield. If it were confined to a single province, the strong hand of authority might perhaps crush it ; but, ingrained as it is into every fibre of what may be called social life throughout all Central and Eastern Africa, no power on earth can extinguish it except by the slow agency of civilisation. That Gordon Pasha will do much towards minimising its attendant evils within the area of his effective authority is not to be doubted, but the bare statement of its widespread sources and of the many channels through which the traffic north and eastwards is fed, will show how idle is the hope that he can suppress it altogether. Thus, large supplies are furnished by the Galla countryoutside the Egyptian frontierwhich find their way to the coast at Zeyla, and through Abyssinia to Gallabat and Massowah, or to the smaller unguarded towns along the coast, whence they are shipped to Djeddah and Yemen. According to the reports of the collectors of Customs at Gallabat (the frontier Abyssinian town), King John levies blackmail on nearly 20,000 a year passed over his border at that point. The country east of the Sobat river similarly furnishes a large contingent, which goes viâ Fazoglou and Sennaar to the great mart at Musselemia, above Khartoum, from which they are either smuggled down past that town by boat, or sent in caravans across the desert to Ambukol, and thence to Nubia and the lower valley. Sennaar itself also exports a smaller number, mainly through the same out-lets. ” Christian” Abyssinia, with the full knowledge and concurrence of Melek Johannes, contributes several thousand a year, mostly for the Djeddah market, but a few also for the Lower Nile. Until Baker’s expedition, the upper districts of the White Nile and the region of the lakes drove a lively trade, but Sir Samuel largely closed that source, and about 1,000 of both sexes now annually find their way north. He was, however, less successful in the upper districts, along the Behr-el-Gha-zal, which still export large numbers, mostly across the Homr desert into Kordofan, as do also the neighbouring Nooba mountains, whose produce commands a high price in the northern markets. But much larger is the supply from Kordofan itself, which rivals Darfour as the main source of supply in all these regions. This latter province not only exports largely from its own population, but is the great entrepôt for the 15,000 or 20,000 slaves a year furnished by the Kredy tribes of the Darfertit country, and the remoter Niam-Niams, who all find their way into the various currents of the trade east or north.
A glance at the map will show how wide is the geographical area which thus feeds the trademuch of it far outside even the nominal limits of Egyptian sovereignty, and which can therefore be in no way controlled by Gordon Pasha ; while as regards the remainder, his authority over three-fourths of it is only effective in the towns and at the scattered military posts. In these he may scotch the traffic, if fairly helped by the native officials on whom the execution of his orders must depend. The river may, and no doubt will, be closed against the pas-sage of slave noggurs, and Massowah and Souakim against exports ; but it will still be impossible to close the desert routes, or to blockade the whole Red Sea coast from Zeyla to Cosseir. The wildest abolitionist would hardly suggest that the Khedive should maintain a squadron along this great extent of littoral ; and, in de-fault of that, the human contraband will still be “run ” from a score of points on the coast, notwithstanding the occasional capture of a dhow by a chance British or Egyptian cruiser.
At this early stage of its development, the trade of these remote provinces is, of course, relatively inconsiderable, but the producing capacity of nearly the whole is described by both Baker and Schweinfurth as great.* Be-sides the Shillook country, northern Sennaar, Shendy and Taka are especially adapted by soil,. climate, and regular rains from June to the middle of September, for cotton cultivation on the largest scale. Kordofan and the Basé country yield large quantities of gum-arabic, which can be sold at Kassala at twenty pias. (about 4s. 2d.) per cantar of 98 lbs. Ostrich feathers, ivory, aromatic woods, coffee, skins, ebony, senna, potash, and bees’-waxthis last mostly from Abyssiniaare also collected by travel-ling native traders, and resold to resident merchants in Khartoum and Kassala, at prices that leave a large mar-gin of profit on export. With the gradual establishment of more regular government, the opening of easier and more rapid means of communication, and- the even partial suppression of slave-hunting, a wide and speedy growth in the producing industries may be expectedwith corresponding gain to the populations, to the Egyptian Treasury, and to civilisation. The wise policy which has been pursued by the Government for some years past, of supplying cotton and other seeds gratuitously, and offering every inducement to raise experimental crops, has prepared the way for this ; and only access to profitable markets is now needed to stimulate the production of grain, sugar, and cotton, on a scale fully commensurate with that of Egypt itself.
The great centres of collection for the existing trade are Khartoum, Kordofan, and Darfour. Goods are chiefly brought to the first of these by land, and and there placed in river-boats, or noggurs, rudely-built craft of about 40 tons burthen, which take cargo down as far as Aboo Hammed, at the north-eastern curve of the Great Bend, where it is transferred to camels, and carried across the Nubian desert to Korosko. There it is again re-shipped, and conveyed by water to the First Cataract, which is easily passed at high Nile, or, when the river is low, the goods are landed at Shellal, a village below Philae, thence conveyed on camels to Assouan, and again re-laden into boats and floated down either to the railway at Assiout, or, without breaking bulk, to Cairo. By this route, five changes, involving nearly 250 miles of land carriage, are necessary between Khartoum and the capital. From the Kordofan and Darfour districts goods are brought by camels across the desert, and embarked on the Nile at Dabbe and Handek, whence they are conveyed by boat to Hafir, at the head of the Third. Cataract, and thence again by camels to Wady-Halfa, and so down, like the Khartoum freights, to Cairo ; or at high Nile they may be taken by river as far as Amka, at the head of the Second Cataract, but this last portion of the voyage is tedious and full of risk. These routes also involve five changes, and respectively about 590 and 400 miles of land carriage between Kordofan and Cairo. The central Dar-four districts are nearly 200 miles still further away from the river. It need hardly be said that the difficulties of transport thus offered very heavily handicap trade, and show how valuable will be the facilities afforded by the railways now in progress, whichwhen the various links are completedwill furnish through communication between Khartoum and Alexandria with only a single break of gauge.
But even already, ” the foundations of a great future have been laid : a remote portion of the African race hitherto excluded from the world’s history has been brought into direct communication with the superior and more civilised races ; legitimate trade has been opened ; therefore, accepting commerce as the great agent of civilisation, the work is actually in progress.” If this were true five years ago, it is still more so now ; and in the sole fact that absolute power to direct this peaceful campaign against barbarism is in the hands of one of the best men and ablest administrators whom even England could furnish for the task, we have the surest pledge that the work will be well and honestly done. In selecting such a man, and entrusting him with such powers, the Khedive, in his turn, has given the best possible proof of his own claim on the confidence of Europe, and of his honest purpose not merely to do all that humanly can be done to rescue these vast regions from the curse of slavery, but to reclaim the whole to peaceful industry, settled government, and civilisation.
Such, reader, are the chief economical conditions of New Egypt. How far this rapid survey of them justifies the friendly and hopeful estimate of the country and its Government with which these pages opened, must be left to your judgment. To thisin no spirit of partisanship, but of confessed sympathy with the revival of the most interesting country in the worldI submit the facts and figures now put together. On the seeming eve of what promises to be another “new departure ” in Egyptian history, their publication has at least the apology of being more or less opportune.