Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Somaliland - Daallo Pass (Tabca) of Erigavo

District Commissioner on Trek
by A L Scawin

The accompanying map shows much of the Erigavo District, roughly the area of Wales, which was my responsibility as District Commissioner between 1949 and 1954.  Erigavo town is some 350 miles from Hargeisa, the capital of the former Somaliland Protectorate. 

Reproduced by kind permission of Ordnance Survey.  © Crown Copyright NC/01/052.                              Compiled and drawn by Directorate of Colonial Surveys, 1956. Scale: I inch rep 40 miles approx.

The area is dominated by the mountain range rising to 7894 feet with its north-facing escarpment, which separates  the Guban, the narrow coastal plain, from the interior savanna. The photograph on the next page shows only the lower slopes of the escarpment and so does not convey the grandeur of its enormously high vertical cliffs nor the exotic appearance of its Boswellia carteri trees which yield frankincense. Swellings
at the bases of the tree trunks enable them to grip bare rock (see Cover of Issue 18 of the Journal - Ed). The road in the photograph subsequently replaced the hazardous mule tracks up and down the escarpment which I had to use on my tours of duty.

The coast was called the Makhir Coast and stretched over 200 miles from Onkhor in the west to Elayu on the border with the Mijertein Province of Italian Somaliland. Dhows from Aden traded with the ports of Heis, Las Khoreh, and Elayu during the cool season from October to April. Sheep and goats and frankincense, myrrh, and gum arabic were exported. Rice, sugar, and consumer goods were imported.

A Land Rover of the Protectorate Education Department on the road
 near  the  bottom  of  the  Daloh Pass, in 1960. The road  had  been 
  completed by late 1953 and may be just picked out winding into the                  middle distance.                                                                                                                  

To collect revenue for these trading activities the Customs Department posted three Somali officials to these ports during the cool season; it was part of my responsibilities to make tours of inspection which I was able to combine with the political and other activities of a District Commissioner. These involved three week treks away from Erigavo which were most enjoyable! Except that on my first trek in 1950 my wife was pregnant and had to stay behind in Erigavo without the company of Europeans. We were however in touch by radio-telephone.

The 1950 Trek

So, in the cool season of 1950 I set off on foot in the company of twenty burden camels and six mules and their drivers. With us was my invaluable interpreter, Mohamed Bulhar, who had spent many years in the Royal Navy in Aden. My cook from Erigavo also came with us. Including ten Illaloes we numbered some twenty men in total.

The Daloh Pass came early in the journey. At Daloh itself, 10 miles north of Erigavo, there was a forest reserve of magnificent juniper trees. We managed the single-file descent of several thousand feet down the tortuous narrow rocky mule track on the irregular face of the escarpment, without serious mishap, the party then being strung out for some hundreds of yards. Our first camp was on the coastal plain at the bottom of the escarpment.

The camels carried two tents which were erected at each camp by the Illaloes. My tent was adequately furnished with a camp bed and canvas washing gear. Firewood was plentiful and fresh meat or game was often available. The weather was never unpleasant, with cool nights.

We stopped briefly at Mait where stands the shrine to Sheikh Isaak, founder of the Isaak dynasty; the sole dwelling was occupied by the watchman and his family. It is now a busy port, but more of this later. We went westward to Heis and spent three days there; the customs official greeted us along with several elders and traders, some from Aden. The hospitality extended to the whole party was overwhelming. In return, the elders had one request. Would the Government build us a road to Erigavo? I would recommend it strongly without any promises!

Our next four days were taken up walking eastwards to Las Khoreh via Mait; the cool sea water was very tempting but shark-infested. I did venture across the water however by dhow to Mait Island. This is a rocky outcrop, a mile in circumference, covered in guano which was collected by Somali boys for an Egyptian merchant. The conditions of work were appalling and accidents common. There was no contract or inspection so I recommended that the Government regularised the situation. The contractor refused to negotiate and did not appear. I was quite pleased because I did not relish the idea of another night with the rodents and the stench of bird droppings.

On arrival in Las Khoreh there was a large reception headed by Gerad Mahmoud Ali Shirreh of the Warsangeli clan; he was the sultan of this clan which fought against Mohamed Abdullah Hassan, the so-called 'Mad Mullah', and his dervishes, for twenty years, and was renowned as a fearless warrior. He was elderly by then but much revered, and very pro-British. Once again hospitality was on a grand scale. Apart from the inevitable request for a road up the escarpment to Erigavo, help was needed to develop a fishing project similar to the one already established in Elayu, our next and last settlement to the east.

The first sighting of Elayu revealed a stone house and a small factory near the beach. This was the fish canning business of Mr. Topdjian, an Armenian entrepreneur from Ethiopia. He had started this project two years earlier after studying the successful Italian fish-canning factories in Bender Cassim (Bosaso) and Alula near Cap Gardafui (The Horn). The main fish caught from dug-out canoes were tuna, baracuda, ray, and kingfish, the most sought after. The factories were only partly successful because no fishing was possible during the hot season due to the high winds (the kharif). Topdjian (or Mr. Toppy to the Somalis) was considering sending a four-wheel drive van to Las Khoreh to collect the catch from this area. (Several years later, after Independence, the World Food Organisation established a canning factory at Las Khoreh which failed due to its remoteness from markets.)

We returned to Erigavo driving by road via Bender Cassim and the Mijertein Province, with the permission of the Italian authorities; the United Nations Trusteeship Committee had given the Italians a ten year trusteeship of Somalia a few months earlier. The Residente was very cooperative and hospitable at all times. In any case we had walked some 300 miles in three weeks!

The 1952 Trek and the Daloh Pass

In 1952 I made my second trek along the Makhir Coast but this time not only in the company  of  my  wife but also with our newly-arrived daughter, Kitty. The trip down the escarpment this time was even more hair-raising, with drops of several hundred feet in places - and the one-year-old Kitty in a pannier basket on a mule. We completed the trek in three weeks but with more burden camels than before!

In the meantime I had been pressing the Government to consider constructing a road down the escarpment, pointing out the isolation of the Somalis along the coast and the potential of the area for trade. There was the expected resistance at first on the grounds of cost and the difficulty of finding suitable engineers. The Governor, Sir Gerald Reece, took a personal interest and instructed the Director of Public Works to carry out a survey. One of the road engineers was an ex-officer in the Italian Army Engineers who had been taken prisoner in 1941 and had worked for the PWD as a prisoner of war/cooperator. Major Tamanti had built mountain roads in Ethiopia and was the ideal person for the job. He confirmed its feasibility after clambering up and down the escarpment for three months. His enthusiasm was unbounded and he volunteered to be in charge throughout. The Financial Secretary, somewhat reluctantly, found £50,000 from Colonial Development and Welfare Funds, to be spent over two years. Today, such a project would cost millions.

Tamanti had limited technical assistance from Hargeisa but he did have a few Somalis experienced in road building abroad together with a local enthusiastic but unskilled workforce, making about forty men in all. It was a pleasure for me to work with Tamanti. The road was completed in late 1953 and officially opened by Sir Gerald Reece. A plaque was placed at the entrance to a tunnel near the top to commemorate this outstanding feat of engineering known as the Daloh Pass. After the opening, the Governor and Lady Reece, my wife, daughter, and I drove down the pass to Mait and on to Las Khoreh and Elayu in four wheel drive vehicles - along the very route where I had so strenuously tramped twice before. We stayed at each of these settlements where Somalis had never seen a Somaliland Governor before. We were lavishly entertained in Bender Cassim by the Commissario of the Mijertein Province before driving back to Erigavo after almost two weeks. It was a memorable last tour of the Makhir Coast.

As a footnote, let me say that I flew to Erigavo on a visit in 1995 (see p.10 of Issue 18, Spring 1996 - Ed). The town has expanded threefold due to increased trade through the Daloh Pass to Mait which is now a thriving port with lighters servicing small coasters and dhows. The revenue, however, goes to Erigavo, partly to maintain the road which is passable but in want of major repairs after nearly fifty years. There were also Isaak pilgrims from elsewhere visiting Mait.

Between 1942 and 1946 Major Scawin was a Company Commander in the Somaliland Scouts, being stationed at various times in Mijertein and the Ogaden. Then he transferred to the British Military Administration as Assistant District Commissioner, Burao. From 1947 to 1957 A.L.Scawin was, successively, District Commissioner in Las Anod, Erigavo, and Hargeisa. In 1957 he was appointed to the Secretariat as Commissioner for Somali Affairs. In 1958 he was a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils, and after the election became Permanent Secretary of Local Government and to the Leader of Government Business, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal. With Independence he went to work in the City of London in the UK, until 1980 when he retired to Cornwall. Tony Scawin is a member of the Anglo-Somali Society and has revisited Somaliland in 1995 at the invitation of President Egal, and in 1998 and 2000. His particular interest is in helping the School for the Deaf in Borama with the assistance of the Wadebridge Cornwall Rotary Club. His daughter Kitty survived the journey by pannier basket and is also a member of the Society.

Two Photographs of Camel-Watering

by Abby Thomas

The photographs on the following two pages were taken in 1968 at Bulloxaar, on the Red Sea coast about 40 miles west of Berbera. At that time Bulloxaar was a tiny village but a major pastoral watering centre during the dry jiilaal season between December and April.

Abby Thomas, PhD, aka inan Nuur Maxammad, was a US Peace Corps volunteer who taught English as a Foreign Language at the Bulloxaar elementary boarding school 1966-1968 and served as Somali language training coordinator for the Peace Corps in Hargeysa 1968-1969.  She returned to work as an anthropologist on numerous development projects sponsored by the US, the UN, and the International African Institute (London) from 1980 through 1986.  At last known count, she owned five camels within the herd pictured in the second photograph.  At present, she works as a US income-tax preparer and as a translator/editor for a school of Spanish as a Second Language which she helped found in Mexico during the 1970s. 

 Published with permission by Kitty Hotchkiss , the daughter of then governor of Erigavo district .
Kitty is a colleague and  currently the accountant of the Anglo Somali Society based in London  while I am the auditor of the society funds.
The above document is unedited and some photos could be missing.