A prisoner of the khaleefa - PDF by Charles Neufeld

A prisoner of the khaleefa 

A prisoner of the khaleefa
Charles Neufeld

twelve years captivity at Omdurman

Within seventy-two hours of my arrival in Cairo from the Soudan, I commenced to dictate my experiences for the present volume and had dictated them from the time I left Egypt, in 1887, until I had reached the incidents connected with my arrival at Omdurman as the Khaleefa's captive, when I became the recipient of a veritable sheaf of press-cuttings, extracts, letters, private and official, new and old, which collection was still further added to on the arrival of my wife in Egypt, on October 13. My first feelings after reading the bulk of these, and when the sensation of walking about free and unshackled had worn off a little, was that I had but escaped the savage barbarism of the Soudan to become the victim of the refined cruelty of civilization. 

Fortunately, maybe, my rapid change from chains and starvation to freedom and the luxuries I might allow myself to indulge in, brought about its inevitable result — a reaction, and then collapse. 

While ill in bed I could, when the delirium of fever had left me, and I was no longer struggling for breath and standing room in that Black Hole of Omdurman, the Saier, find it in my heart to forgive my critics, and say, " I might have said the same of them, had they been in my place and I in theirs." But the inaccuracies written and published in respect to my nationality, biography, and, above all, the astounding inaccuracies published in connection with my capture and the circumstances attending it, necessitate my offering a few words to my readers by way of introduction; but I shall be as brief and concise as possible. 

I have, both directly and indirectly, been blamed for, or accused of, the loss of arms, ammunition, and monies sent by the Government to the loyal Sheikh of the Kabbabish, Saleh Bey Wad Salem. Some have gone so far as to accuse me of betraying the party I accompanied into the hands of the dervishes; a betrayal which led eventually to the virtual extermination of the tribe and the death of its brave chief. 

The betrayal of the caravan I accompanied did lead to this result; it also led me into chains and slavery. According to one account, I arrived at Omdurman on the 7th of March (both dates are given in the same book), 1887; yet, at this time, to the best of my recollection, the General commanding the Army of Occupation in Egypt, General Stephenson, was trying in Cairo to persuade me to abandon my projected journey into Kordofan. In a very recent publication, in the preface to which the authors ask their readers to point out any inaccuracies, I am credited with arriving as a captive at Omdurman in 1885, when at this time I was attached as interpreter to the Gordon Relief Expedition and stood within a few yards of General Earle at the battle of Kirbekan when he was killed. It is probable I was the last man he ever spoke to.

The guide and spy who reported my capture and death on the 13th or 14th of April, 1887, only reported what he thought had actually happened, as a possible result of arrangements he had made; while the refugee Wakih Idris, who reported in August, 1890, that I was conducting a large drapery establishment in Omdurman, must have been a Soudanese humorist, and, doubtless, hugely amused at his tale being believed in the face of the Mahdi's and Khaleefa's crusade against finery and luxuries (although the tenets may have stopped short at the entrance to their hareems), and when everyone, from the highest to the lowest, had to wear the roughest and commonest of woven material. 

A drapery establishment is generally associated with fine clothing, silks, ribbons, and laces; in Omdurman, such an establishment, if opened, would have been consigned to the flames, or the Beit el Mai, and its proprietor to the Saier (prison). Yet again, when I am more heavily weighted with chains, and my gaoler, to evidence his detestation of the Kaffir (unbeliever) entrusted to his charge, goes out of his way to invent an excuse for giving me the lash, I am reported as being at liberty, my release having been granted on the representations of some imaginary Emir, who claimed it on the ground that I had arranged the betrayal of Sheikh Saleh's caravan. 

There is one subject I must touch upon, a subject which has made the life of my wife as much of hell upon the earth during my captivity, as that captivity was to me; and a subject which has caused the most poignant grief and pain to my near relatives. I refer to my Abyssinian female servant Hasseena. 

The mere fact of her accompanying the caravan opened up a quarry for quidnuncs to delve in, and they delved for twelve long years. It is needless to dilate upon the subject here; suffice it to say that if, when my critics have read through my plain narrative, they have conscience enough left to admit to themselves that they have more injured a woman than the helpless, and in this particular connection, ignorant captive, who has returned to life to confront them, and if they try in future to be as charitable to their own flesh and blood as some of the savage fanatics were to me in the Soudan, I shall rest content.

the book details :
  • Author:Charles Neufeld
  • Publication date: 1899
  • Company: London: Chapman & Hall, Ltd.

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