The Autobiography Of Nicholas Said - Nicholas Said - ebook

The Autobiography Of Nicholas Said ebook

Nicholas Said



The narrative of Nicholas Said is one of the most impressive among slaves' accounts. Said was born as a free man in Africa, enslaved when 14 years old and traveled to five continents and countless countries. He learned seven languages and finally settled in Alabama. This is an autobiography of his incredible life.

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The Autobiography OfNicholas Said

A Native Of Bornou, Eastern Soudan,Central Africa


The Autobiography Of Nicholas Said


Chapter I. Early Life And Historical Sketch Of His Native Country.

Chapter II. The Capture.

Chapter III. Crossing The Desert.

Chapter IV. Journey To Tripoli.

Chapter V. A Slave In Tripoli.

Chapter VI. Pilgrimage To Mecca.

Chapter VII. In Mecca And Medina.

Chapter VIII. In Medina And Muscat.

Chapter IX. In Constantinople.

Chapter X. In Odessa And St. Petersburg,

Chapter XI. Description Of St. Petersburg.

Chapter XII. Journeys In Russia And Austria.

Chapter XIII. In London, Paris And The West Indies.

The Autobiography Of Nicholas Said

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849643928

[email protected]

The Autobiography Of Nicholas Said


IT is not without a feeling of hesitation and timid apprehension, that I commit these ill-written pages to the great reading public.

As I glance over them, I cannot but be painfully reminded of their intrinsic unworthiness; yet, I offer no apology for their appearance.

My motive in this publication I believe to be good: a desire to show the world the possibilities that may be accomplished by the African, and the hope that my humble example may stimulate some at least of my people to systematic efforts in the direction of mental culture and improvement.

In common with the rest of mankind, I plead guilty to a spice of egotism in my composition, and I should falsify myself were I to deny a sense of pride in my acquirements, the more especially as I feel that they are entirely due to my own efforts, under the guidance of that Providence which has shaped my fortune.

But I can truly say, that my motive in this publication has been not so much to attract attention to myself as the hope of accomplishing some good by its means.

Owing to my uncertainty regarding the exact period of my birth, and the natural carelessness concerning the flight of time incident to youth, I have been unable to define with distinctness the different phases of my early life, and to mark their respective limits of duration. Consequently there is, unavoidably, a certain degree of vagueness connected with the first part of my history. For, be it remembered, I knew nothing whatever of dates until my arrival in Europe.

It will be also observed, by the reader, that I have made an indiscriminate use of the present and past tenses in my narrative. This, together with other breaches of the rules of grammar and rhetoric, is attributable to the peculiar circumstances under which I have written. The length of time that has elapsed since the occurrence of many of the incidents related, combined with their want of freshness in my memory, together with the difficulties I have experienced in distinguishing English idioms and modes of expression from those of the other languages with which I am acquainted, and some of which are more familiar to me than the English itself. Pure English can hardly be expected from one who has to choose his words and phrases from a mass of Kanouri, (my vernacular), Mandra, Arabic, Turkish, Russian, German, Italian and French, and all of them encumbered with the provincialisms necessarily concomitant upon each. In the spelling of proper names, too, I sometimes infringe the rule. This is owning to the fact that, for obvious reasons, particularly in regard to Africa, I had no opportunity of learning the current mode of spelling the names of persons and places; and I have been compelled, in some instances, to adopt the phonetic plan, and used such English letters as nearly corresponded to the sounds of the name as I remember them. I have, as far as possible, refrained from the use of foreign words and phrases, and whenever they do occur, or when the idiom or mode of expression is un-English, it must be attributed to my inability to convey the idea I desired in that language.

Bespeaking leniency in criticism, and a kind reception of my little book,

I am, dear reader, faithfully,


Chapter I. Early Life And Historical Sketch Of His Native Country.

I was born in Kouka, the capital of the Kingdom of Bornou, in Soudan: a few years after the invasion of the Wadays, or about the year 1836, of the Christian era. I was the thirteenth child of my mother, who bore nineteen children, seven girls and twelve boys. My father was the elder son of Katzalla Malagemou, the ruling chief of Molgoy, a small country south of, and tributary to Bornou.

To prevent incursions from the powerful tribes of Fellatah, Adamawa, Mandra, Goulagou, and even Bornou itself, the people of Molgoÿ became tributary to the Kings of that country, and in turn received their protection.

Maï Barnoma the King of Bornou, under whose reign Molgoÿ became subservient to Bornou, granted the Molgoyans the free exercise of their religion, which was fetish, without human sacrifices. This fiendish practice is looked upon with abomination by all the nations and tribes of Soudan, both Mohammedan and pagan.

My father greatly distinguished himself under our immortal King Mohammed El Amin Ben Mohammed El Kanemy, the Washington of Bornou. And for his most efficient services, in repelling the Fellahs from Bornou, created him Katzallah or general, and made him generalissimo of his army, which he afterwards commanded for upwards of twenty-five years with great distinction. He was the terror of the Fellahs, the Bagirmies, the Wadays, and the Kindills, the enemies of our Country, and wherever he appeared the enemy fled, he defeated the Fellahs in forty pitched battles, and was the prime cause of their overthrow in Eastern Soudan. His name was Barca Gana, and was called Katzalla, or general, as already stated. In personal appearance Katzalla Barca Gana was large, tall, and well proportioned; resembling more a giant than an ordinary man. My mother was the daughter of a Mandra chief, who on one occasion was captured by the Armies of Bornou, in a terrible battle fought between the two forces. My father had compassion on him, released and escorted him to the territory of Mandra. And as a mark of gratitude the Mandra chieftain gave Katzalla Barca Gana his daughter Dalia (my mother's name) in marriage. When young it was said she was extremely beautiful. She was very strict with her children, often severe, as were indeed all my father's wives (he had four), for he left the rearing and training of his children exclusively to their mothers, having never chastised any of us that I can remember.

The reason was then almost incessant wars and irruptions that had for a long lapse of time disturbed the peace of my country, gave him but little time to turn his mind to domestic affairs.

In my childhood I was wild and roving in disposition, and my mother tried her utmost to brake me from the too frequent hunts I used to take with the children of my own age. We used to go miles from Kouka, in search of gazelles, pintadas, and other game of which our forests were full.

Flogging almost invariably accompanied my return, and also she warned me of the Kidnapping Kindills, (Tuaricks), who were constantly prowling through the country in search of anything of value they might lay their hands on. But all to no purpose. I was so roving, that, from my earliest recollections, when I was only about six years old, I endeavored to return with my maternal uncle, who had been to Kouka on a visit, to his home among the mountains of Goulagou, and nearly cried my eyes out because I was prevented.

Goulagou is a country lying eastward of Mandra, and its inhabitants are renowned in our country for their courage. They had, up to the time I was captured, defeated all their enemies. Mandra, Bornou, Waday, Fellatah, and Bagirmy, had successively tried to conquer this country, but they had in every attempt been signally defeated. This country abounds in several minerals: as gold, iron, and copper, and which they work very skillfully. They manufacture beautiful gold and copper ear-rings, bracelets, anklets, etc., with which they ornament themselves profusely, especially the females. Africa has been, through prejudice and ignorance, so sadly misrepresented, that anything like intelligence, industry, etc., is believed not to exist among its natives.

But allow me to remark in the outset reader, that in our markets you may find beautiful silk and cotton goods manufactured by the more intelligent and ingenious among our people, we make our own saddles, cutlery, sword blades, javelins, and lances.

It cannot be disputed that glass is manufactured in Nouffi.

That previous to the introduction of Islamism in Soudan arts and sciences had reached a respectable attitude, is attested by the ruins of several towns in Bornou, Mariadi, Nouffi and other countries. The ruins of Gambarou, the Bisnia of geographers, covers an immense area, the walls of which were built of burnt clay, extensive palaces, gardens, and other works of art flourished.

I am unable to give the slightest idea as to the time when Mohammedanism was introduced into Central Africa. But be it as it may, it brought with it desolation and ruin.

Any thing like enterprise was rendered impossible, fanaticism and bigotry overruled every thing, and the Mohammed proselytes at once arrayed themselves against every non-follower of the Prophet as his implacable enemies. Crusade after crusade was made against the pagan tribes, who, if they had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Moslems, were either massacred or reduced into slavery. Cities after cities were razed to the ground.

The last thing of the kind took place toward the first part of this century, when Othman Danfodio, a Fellatah Chief, arrogated to himself the title of a prophet, saying that Allah (God) prescribed him to make war on all the Pagan nations of Central Africa, and promised him victory. The Fellatahs, who were then dispersed over the whole of Soudan, and who led a pastoral and nomadic life, under petty Chiefs, were collected by him under his sway. After several years of preparation, Danfodio, who had by this time a complete control over his countrymen, raised a formidable army of one hundred and eighty thousand warriors, and immediately assailed Houssa, which was readily subjugated. Kano, the capital of Houssa, was consumed into ashes, thousands of its male population were put to the sword, and the women and children were carried into slavery. After committing other unheard of cruelties, Danfodio invaded successively and successfully, Gouber, Mariadi, Zeg-Zeg, Kârè Kârè, lastly Bornou which was then the preponderating power in Soudan. After two years of manly resistance, Bornou was compelled by force of arms to submit to the yoke of the Fellatahs. Our cities were destroyed, thousands upon thousands were sold to the coast into bondage, and many more were sold to the Barbary States. After two more years of humiliation the inhabitants of Bornou, under El Kanemy, revolted against our oppressors, and, in less time than a year, the Fellatahs were completely driven out of our country.

Mohammed El Amin El Kanemy, whose extraordinary military talent had enabled him to liberate our country, was now by acclamation made King of Bornou. But he, like all truly great men, refused the sceptre and repaired to Angourno, where Maïna Denama, the heir apparent to the crown of Bornou, then resided. At this time Mohammed El Amin El Kanemy had an army of thirty thousand cavalry. Notwithstanding his having refused to be King, he was really the ruler of Bornou, while Denamâ was only so nominally. Denama soon became jealous of him, and thought of a plan whereby he could get rid of him.

Accordingly one day he sent a secret messenger to the King of Bagirmy, to make a feigned invasion of Bornou by crossing the river Shary, the natural frontier of the two countries, that he would place El Kanemy on the left of his army, and that the King of Bagirmy should send a number of his best men to surround him, and at once put an end to his life without arousing the popular suspicion. He also promised him a large number of slaves and other things to defray all the King of Bagirmy's expenses. The King of Bagirmy consented to this shameful proposal, and at once crossed the river Shary. Mohammed El Amin El Kanemy was at this time residing in Kouka, the present capital of Bornou, which he had built for himself.

As soon as he heard of this attack, he hastened to Angourno and put himself under the King's disposal. The combined forces of Denama and El Kanemy were forty thousand warriors.

As soon as the two armies had confronted each other, the King of Bagirmy sent a messenger to Denama, instructing him that the heaviest assault would be made on the left wing, and that he had already selected the élite of his army to accomplish this coup de main.

The messenger, instead of carrying the letter to Denama, carried it by mistake to El Kanemy, who at once saw the nature of the infamous machination, and resolved forthwith to thwart it. Early in the morning he went to the King's tent and told him that he had sent out spies into the enemy's camp, the previous night, and that they had reported to him that the heaviest fighting would be on the right, and he suggested the King to keep himself in safety, while he himself would take command of that wing.

Denama consented, suspecting nothing.

About sunrise of the next day, the Bagirmies were seen drawn up in order of battle. The sycaria of the King of Bagirmy attacked our left wing with great fury, and succeeded in surrounding Denama, and pierced him through with lances, thinking him El Kanemy.

The battle still raged with great fury, and the King of Bagirmy soon found out that he had killed the wrong lion.

The Bagirmy army was routed with great slaughter; and their King himself had a narrow escape from being captured.

After this signal victory over the Bagirmies, El Kanemy returned, and was at once proclaimed Shagou, which is the corruption of the the Arabic word sheik, meaning a ruler. All the rulers of Bornou up to this time were entitled Maïs, which means sultan or emperor.

Mohammed El Amin Ben Mohammed El Kanemy's reign was marked with great wisdom; he exterminated the system of highway robbery, which was of frequent occurrence. Hanging was the penalty of all kinds of fraud. He encouraged the caravan trade between the Barbary States and Bornou, and reigned twenty years. The present king of Bornou, Shagou Omar, is an able ruler, but he does not possess his father's talents. He has, however, showed himself to be a man of great nerve.

Bornou, called by the native Barno, is about three hundred miles one way, and two hundred in another way. This is Bornou, properly speaking, but it is much larger with all its tributaries and dependencies.

Within its boundary are three distinct classes or casts of people. First, the Kanouri, who are the original, the purely negro type, the most numerous and the ruling class; second, the Shuahs, of olive complexion, and said to have sprung from the Bedouins; and third, the Kanemboo, negroes, from Kanem, a country north of, and tributary to Bornou. The Kanouris, as already remarked, are the ruling caste, the aristocracy, so to speak. The Shuahs, to which class belongs the Grand Vizier, Hadji Béchir, devote themselves to stock-raising, and supply the country with meat, butter and milk The Kanemboo are farmers, and supply the other classes with bread, while they act as most powerful auxiliaries to the Kanouris in time of war. They make the best soldiers, and it is even admitted by the Kanouris that the Kanembo are possessed of more courage and fortitude than themselves.

Besides these three classes, there is a most remarkable tribe within the territory of Bornou, but living independently of its rulers, on several islands in the great lake Tzad, between Bornou and Kanem. The people of this tribe are pagans. Though all the kings of Bornou have successively endeavored to conquer them, they had, up to the time I speak of, completely failed, the reasons being that none of the kings of Bornou had ever been able to equip a fleet of sufficient strength to venture on their islands, because of the desperate resistance of the Boudouma, who fought like tigers; and the islanders frequently landed with their skiffs upon the shores of the lake, and after having ravaged the country for miles around, returned to their stronghold before they could be captured.

The Kanouris have a tradition that their ancestors emigrated from Yemen (Arabia) some thousands of years ago, crossing into Africa over the straight of Bab-El-Mandel, and conquering