What John H. Speke, Explorer, Can tell Us about Gum Arabic, 2 of 3

As the African explorers Livingston and Burton, the explorer Speke detailed the important uses of gum acacias in local life and in national and international markets.  The potential of gums for colonial powers [read colonial U.K.] reflects the market interests that could be gained by colonization or improved marketing in the areas through which they traveled.

Speke - source, Wikipedia

Speke – source, Wikipedia

The following entries are from ‘Adventures in Somali Land,’ by John Speke.  Discussed are the uses of gum arabic by local people and by animals, including frankincense and myrrh, and also the  use by  local women in fumigation:

Gum-trees, myrrh, and some varieties of the frankincense [tree] are found in great profusion, as well as a variety of the aloe plant, from which the Somali manufacture good strong cordage…

I went on shore and paid my respects to the Akil (chief) of the place, who lived in a small box-shaped stone fort, on the west flank of the village of Héis, which was very small, composed, as usual, of square mat huts, all built together, and occupied only by a few women, who made mats, collected gums, and stored the produce of the interior, as sheep, cows, and ghee, which their men constantly brought down to them [from higher altitudes], for shipping off to Arabia.9

Amongst the bush and trees there were several gum-producing ones, of which the frankincense, I think, ranked first. These gums are usually plucked by the women and transported to Aden. The barks of various other trees are also very useful; for instance, they strip down the bark of the acacia in long slips, and chew it until only fibres remain, which, when twisted in the hand, make strong cordage…

… Some of the poorer men are said to pass their whole lives without tasting any flesh or grain, but to live entirely on sour milk, wild honey, or gums, as they may chance to come across them, and they are almost naked; but notwithstanding this, disease is scarcely known…

During [my] journey the Somali pointed out some of their richest gum-trees, of which the finest in order is a species of frankincense, called by them Falafala, or Luban Maiti. The gum of this tree is especially valued by the Somali women for fumigating purposes, which they apply to their bodies by sitting over it, when ignited, in the same manner as Cashmeres sit over their little charcoal-pots to keep themselves warm when resting on their travels. They enshroud themselves in a large wrapper, place a pot with the burning gum between their legs, and allow the perfume to rise to every portion of their body simultaneously. We gave our guides five cloths for escort, and sent them away…

The people say that in their recesses and ravines acacias and other gum-trees grow as they do elsewhere. Gum only exudes in the dry hot season; and the confined air in the ravines is described as being so hot that people can hardly stay there, and many of the gum-pickers who do, become deaf in consequence of it…

Arab merchants and Somali, who had been gradually flocking in from about the 15th November; and as they arrived they erected mat huts as booths for carrying on their bartering trade. According to Herne’s investigations, the Somali took coarse cloths, such as American and English sheeting, black and indigo-dyed stuffs, and cotton nets (worn by married women generally to encase their hair), small bars of iron and steel, as well as zinc and lead, beads of various sorts, and dates and rice. In exchange for these, they exported slaves, cattle, gums of all sorts, ghee, ivory, ostrich-feathers, and rhinoceros-horns….

Finding myself reduced to the last stages of life, for no one would give me food, I went to a pool of water in a ravine amongst the hills, and for the last fortnight have been living there on water and the gums of trees. Seeing I was about to die, as a forlorn hope I ventured in this direction, without knowing whither I was going, or where I should come to; but God, you see, has brought me safely out.”…

Source – Adventures in Somali Land, by John Speke

The explorations of both Speke and Burton were enormously helped by the work of Mabrouki and Bombay whose efforts, until recently, have been very much sidelined –

While Speke and Burton were instrumental in bringing the source of the Nile to the wider world and were the first to record and map this section of Africa, the efforts and labors of Sidi Mubarak Bombay and Mabruki should be mentioned; Bombay was captured as a child near Lake Nyasa by slave traders and was sold to Indian merchants on the coast of Africa who took him to Sindh.[6] Thus he spoke Hindustani and after his master’s death he sailed back to Zanzibar where Speke and Burton met and hired him.[6]

Both spoke Hindustani and thus this greatly facilitated the travel in the interior as Bombay spoke several native languages beside Swahili. Speke in fact was much attached to Bombay and spoke highly of his honesty and conscientiousness. Bombay’s efforts in dealing with hostile tribes, interpreting and keeping the safari crew on track was a great help to the expedition.

Less is known of Mabruki, the other caravan leader, but he was later known as Mabruki-Speke, and like Bombay became one of East Africa’s great caravan leaders and was also a member of the Yoa tribe like Bombay. Because of Speke’s recommendations both Bombay and Mabruki served on Henry Stanley’s 1871 expedition to find Livingstone,

Source – Wikipedia, John Hanning Speke

Sidi Mubarak, date and photographer unknown. Source - RGS

Sidi Mubarak, date and photographer unknown. Source – RGS

[The role] of Bombay in exploration was recognised by the Royal Geographical Society of London, which presented Bombay a silver medal 1876 for his assistance to Speke as they strived to find the source of the Nile River. Bombay died in Africa in 1885 at the age of 65.

Source – Wikipedia, Sidi_Mubarak_Bombay

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Agroforestry, Botany, Colonialism, Ethnography, Food, Richard Burton, Sudan and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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