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

About six hours north of Delen


I must now give a short description of Delen before I proceed to narrate the events which occurred there later on. Delen, situated five days' journey to the south of El Obeid, is on one of the smallest of the mountain ranges. Jebel Delen itself consists of five hill summits, decreasing in height from south to north, the highest point being scarcely 1,500 feet above the plain. These five hills form a most picturesque group; enormous granite blocks lie piled one over the other, and the spacious cavities thus formed serve as haunts for panthers and other beasts of prey. The rain, which comes down in torrents, has washed all the soil away, leaving only the barren rocks standing in these huge piles; far in the clefts, a sort of wild fig has taken slender root, and, gradually shooting up, gives a pleasant shade, and takes off from the barren aspect which these hills would otherwise present. Of the five hills only two are inhabited, and in all there cannot be more than 2,000 inhabitants, who are remarkable for their tall and graceful figures and unusual bravery. At the foot of the northernmost hill lay our little Mission station, while at the foot of the south-east hill was situated the palisaded zariba of the soldiers; to the west and north, and close to the Mission buildings, stretched the Nuba villages, extending from the base to the summit of the hills.

The second hill from the north, which is about 600 yards from the first hill, was inhabited by the Nubas and their Khojur Kakum. Kakum was at that time a man of about fifty years of age, of commanding appearance, and greatly respected by the blacks. He used to wear wide white trousers and a gallabieh, and on his head a nicely embroidered cap with a large tassel which our sisters had made for him. He had passed his youth in Alexandria as a soldier, and acquitted himself admirably as the Khojur, not of Delen only, but also of the neighbouring hills. Numbers of people used to come and seek his blessing and advice, and when our Bishop Comboni arrived at El Obeid, he was there to beg him to send missionaries to teach his people and make men of them. He always remained faithful and loyal to the Government, and when our time of difficulty and hardship came, his continual motto was, "Eed Effendina tawileh" (_i.e._ "Our Khedive's hand is long")--that is to say, his power is great.

The third mountain was occupied by a certain Dogman, with a small following who were for the most part inclined to Mahdiism. For the moment this man was not dangerous, and the people on the two other hills remained loyal to us. When the whole country was up in arms against the Government, this honesty and devotion on the part of these poor Nubas was a bright exception; they would even have fought for us had it been of any use and we had deemed it necessary.

The enemies we most feared were the Baggara of the Nuba plains, who had their headquarters at Singiokai, about six hours north of Delen. These tribesmen had joined in the revolt from the beginning, and had cut off our communication with El Obeid; they had organised themselves into a corps of from 150 to 200 strong, mounted on horses, and they frequently made incursions on the people in the neighbourhood of Delen; they would suddenly appear galloping at full speed, and as suddenly disappear, destroying or seizing everything on their path. Their raids were principally directed against the Nubas who were working in the fields, and on their women who were carrying water from the wells. These robber-dervishes appeared for the first time on the 8th of April, 1882, and a cry of alarm was raised from the mountains, which echoed and re-echoed it back a hundred times.

Every one fled to the mountains, even the cattle instinctively made for their shelters. Some Nubas were attacked and killed in the woods, and twelve of the soldiers, who were out looking after the camels grazing, were all killed, with the exception of one who fell severely wounded in the back; all the camels were captured. When the Baggara had disappeared, the Nubas descended from the hills and came to the scene of the raid. On finding the dead bodies, with weeping and wailing they carried them back to the villages; the women tore their hair, rolled on the ground, and put dust on their heads. The large broad lances had made deep gaping wounds in the unfortunate soldiers who had fallen.


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