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Chapter IV 


The author's conjecture on the name of the Red Sea. An account of the cocoa-tree. He lands at Baylur.

To return to the description of the coast: sixty leagues from Suaquem is an island called Mazna, only considerable for its ports, which make the Turks reside upon it, though they are forced to keep three barks continually employed in fetching water, which is not to be found nearer than at a distance of twelve miles. Forty leagues from hence is Dalacha, an island where many pearls are found, but of small value. The next place is Baylur, forty leagues from Dalacha, and twelve from Babelmandel.

There are few things upon which a greater variety of conjectures has been offered than upon the reasons that induced the ancients to distinguish this gulf, which separates Asia from Africa, by the name of the Red Sea, an appellation that has almost universally obtained in all languages. Some affirm that the torrents, which fall after great rains from the mountains, wash down such a quantity of red sand as gives a tincture to the water: others tell us that the sunbeams being reverberated from the red rocks, give the sea on which they strike the appearance of that colour. Neither of these accounts are satisfactory; the coasts are so scorched by the heat that they are rather black than red; nor is the colour of this sea much altered by the winds or rains. The notion generally received is, that the coral found in such quantities at the bottom of the sea might communicate this colour to the water: an account merely chimerical. Coral is not to be found in all parts of this gulf, and red coral in very few. Nor does this water in fact differ from that of other seas. The patriarch and I have frequently amused ourselves with making observations, and could never discover any redness, but in the shallows, where a kind of weed grew which they call gouesmon, which redness disappeared as soon as we plucked up the plant. It is observable that St. Jerome, confining himself to the Hebrew, calls this sea Jamsuf. Jam in that language signifies sea, and suf is the name of a plant in Aethiopia, from which the Abyssins extract a beautiful crimson; whether this be the same with the gouesmon, I know not, but am of opinion that the herb gives to this sea both the colour and the name.

The vessels most used in the Red Sea, though ships of all sizes may be met with there, are gelves, of which some mention hath been made already; these are the more convenient, because they will not split if thrown upon banks or against rocks. These gelves have given occasion to the report that out of the cocoa-tree alone a ship may be built, fitted out with masts, sails, and cordage, and victualled with bread, water, wine, sugar, vinegar, and oil. All this indeed cannot be done out of one tree, but may out of several of the same kind. They saw the trunk into planks, and sew them together with thread which they spin out of the bark, and which they twist for the cables; the leaves stitched together make the sails. This boat thus equipped may be furnished with all necessaries from the same tree. There is not a month in which the cocoa does not produce a bunch of nuts, from twenty to fifty. At first sprouts out a kind of seed or capsula, of a shape not unlike the scabbard of a scimitar, which they cut, and place a vessel under, to receive the liquor that drops from it; this drink is called soro, and is clear, pleasant, and nourishing. If it be boiled, it grows hard, and makes a kind of sugar much valued in the Indies: distil this liquor and you have a strong water, of which is made excellent vinegar. All these different products are afforded before the nut is formed, and while it is green it contains a delicious cooling water; with these nuts they store their gelves, and it is the only provision of water which is made in this country. The second bark which contains the water is so tender that they eat it. When this fruit arrives to perfect maturity, they either pound the kernel into meal, and make cakes of or draw an oil from it of a fine scent and taste, and of great use in medicine; so that what is reported of the different products of this wonderful tree is neither false nor incredible.

It is time we should come now to the relation of our voyage. Having happily passed the straits at the entrance of the Red Sea, we pursued our course, keeping as near the shore as we could, without any farther apprehensions of the Turks. We were, however, under some concern that we were entirely ignorant in what part of the coast to find Baylur, a port where we proposed landing, and so little known, that our pilots, who had made many voyages in this sea, could give us no account of it. We were in hopes of information from the fishermen, but found that as soon as we came near they fled from us in the greatest consternation; no signals of peace or friendship could prevail on them to stay; they either durst not trust or did not understand us. We plied along the coast in this uncertainty two days, till on the first of March having doubled a point of land, which came out a great way into the sea, we found ourselves in the middle of a fair large bay, which many reasons induced us to think was Baylur; that we might be farther assured we sent our Abyssin on shore, who returning next morning confirmed our opinion. It would not be easy to determine whether our arrival gave us greater joy, or the inhabitants greater apprehensions, for we could discern a continual tumult in the land, and took notice that the crews of some barks that lay in the harbour were unlading with all possible diligence, to prevent the cargo from falling into our hands, very much indeed to the dissatisfaction of many of our soldiers, who having engaged in this expedition, with no other view than of filling their pockets, were, before the return of our Abyssin, for treating them like enemies, and taking them as a lawful prize. We were willing to be assured of a good reception in this port; the patriarch therefore sent me to treat with them. I dressed myself like a merchant, and in that habit received the four captains of gelves which the chec sent to compliment me, and ordered to stay as hostages, whom I sent back, that I might gain upon their affections by the confidence I placed in their sincerity; this had so good an effect, that the chec, who was transported with the account the officers gave of the civilities they had been treated with, came in an hour to visit me, bringing with him a Portuguese, whom I had sent ashore as a security for his return. He informed me that the King his master was encamped not far off, and that a chec who was then in the company was just arrived from thence, and had seen the Emperor of Aethiopia's letters in our favour; I was then convinced that we might land without scruple, and to give the patriarch notice of it ordered a volley of our muskets to be fired, which was answered by the cannon of the two ships that lay at a distance, for fear of giving the Moors any cause of suspicion by their approach. The chec and his attendants, though I had given them notice that we were going to let off our guns in honour of the King their master, could not forbear trembling at the fire and noise. They left us soon after, and next morning we landed our baggage, consisting chiefly of the patriarch's library, some ornaments for the church, some images, and some pieces of calico, which were of the same use as money. Most of the soldiers and sailors were desirous of going with us, some from real principles of piety, and a desire of sharing the labours and merits of the mission, others upon motives very different, the hopes of raising a fortune. To have taken all who offered themselves would have been an injury to the owners of the ships, by rendering them unable to continue their voyage; we therefore accepted only of a few.

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