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Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp 1882-1892

And Gedaref had dwindled almost to nothing


large tribe of Wad Zayid (the Debaineh) in the neighbourhood of Gedaref, who for his opposition to Mahdiism had been thrown into prison in Omdurman, had become almost extinct. The population of Kassala, Galabat, and Gedaref had dwindled almost to nothing. Zeki Tummal, to obtain food for his troops, had mercilessly robbed the corn merchants and compelled them to give up their very last supplies; he left them without even a handful.

Around Galabat the hyenas became so bold that they would sneak into the villages almost before the sun was down and drag off the wretched half-dead people. Out of Zeki's force of eighty-seven thousand souls before the famine there remained, after it was over, only ten thousand, including women and children. Karkoj and Sennar, which were generally called the granaries of the Sudan, were desolated by famine. It was, indeed, Heaven's terrible retribution on a people who had practised untold cruelties and shed rivers of innocent blood.

So great was the distress that it became a general saying that any one who did not die in 1889 would never die; and this year, corresponding to the year 1306 Moslem era, will remain engraven for ever on the minds of those who went through the famine in the Sudan and had the good fortune to survive it.

When the first supplies of the new harvest reached the market, there was the most heartfelt joy throughout the country,

and every one congratulated his neighbour on the termination of their distress; but even the new harvest was not good, and dhurra did not go below twenty-four dollars the ardeb. The locusts did much harm to the harvest, and this plague has devastated the land now for nearly four years.

There are two sorts of locusts, the yellow and the bright red, and they have infested the whole country from Kordofan to Dongola and to Tokar. They came in such swarms that at times the sun was obscured; on one occasion they passed through Omdurman, and took from two to three hours to do so. The rushing sound they made alarmed the people greatly, and wherever they established themselves they left the place completely bare. They demolished the hard palm leaves so completely that it seemed as if they had been cut with a pair of scissors; even the bark of the trees they did not spare. Where-ever they settle they look like a big cloud, which completely covers streets, roofs, and walls. Sudanese, as a rule, sleep out of doors, so that their beds were covered as well, and as soon as one swarm was driven off another settled.

Locusts are considered by the Sudanese as a great delicacy, and when well roasted in butter they taste like fried fish; the locusts generally came between June and September, just when the harvest is ripening or the new crops sprouting after the rains. There is no attempt made to destroy their eggs. Another plague was mice: these little animals, which are of a reddish colour, came in such quantities as to drive the cultivators to despair. No sooner was the seed in the ground than the mice had rooted it up and eaten it. Often the fields had to be planted two and three times over; and then when a heavy rain came the mice would all be drowned, and as the water subsided the ground would be covered with the dead bodies of these little animals.

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