A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels — Volume 02 eBook

Robert Kerr (writer)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 665 pages of information about A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels Volume 02.

The empire of Melli, of which some mention has been made in the preceding Section, is situated in an extremely hot climate, and affords very bad nourishment for beasts; insomuch, that out of an hundred camels which go from the desert into that country, scarcely twenty-five return; several even of the Arabs and Azanhaji, belonging to the caravans, sicken and die likewise every year.  There are no quadrupeds kept by the natives of the country, as indeed none can live there for any time.  It is reckoned to be forty days journey on horseback from Tegazza to Tombuctu, and thirty from thence to Melli[1].  Having inquired what use the merchants of Melli made of this salt, the traders of the desert informed me, that a part of it was consumed in that country, which lying near the line, where the days and nights are of equal length, certain seasons of the year are so excessively hot that the blood of the inhabitants would putrify, if it were not for the salt, and they would all die.  They have no art or mystery in its use; but every one dissolves a small piece every day in a porringer of water, and drinks it off, which in their opinion preserves their health.

The remainder of the salt is carried a long way in pieces on mens heads, every piece being as large as a man can well bear.  As brought from Teggazza, the salt is in large pieces as taken out of the mine, each camel being loaded with two pieces, and the negroes break these down into smaller pieces, for the convenience of carrying them on their heads, and muster a large number of footmen for this yearly traffic.  These porters have each a long forked stick in their hands; and, when tired, they rest their loads on these sticks.  They proceed in this manner till they arrive on the banks of a certain water, but whether fresh or salt my informer could not say, yet I am of opinion that it must be a river, because, if it were the sea, the inhabitants could not be in want of salt in so hot a climate.  The negroes are hired to carry it in this manner for want of camels or other beasts of burden, as already mentioned; and, from what has been said, it may easily be concluded that the number, both of the carriers and consumers must be very great.  When arrived at the water side, the proprietors of the salt place their shares in heaps in a row, at small distances, setting each a particular mark on his own heap; and when this is done, the whole company retires half a days journey from the place.  Then the other negroes, who are the purchasers of the salt, who seem to be the inhabitants of certain islands, but who will on no account be seen or spoken to, come in boats to the place where the heaps of salt are placed, and after laying a sum in gold on each heap as its price, retire in their turns.  After they are gone, the owners of the salt return, and if the quantity of gold on their heaps is satisfactory to them, they take it away and leave the salt; if not, they leave both and withdraw again.  In this manner they carry on their traffick, without seeing or speaking to each other, and this custom is very ancient among them, as has been affirmed to me for truth by several merchants of the desert, both Arabs and Azanhaji, and other creditable persons[2].

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