Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Scottish travel writer James Bruce died this day, April 27, 1794.  Bruce is known for discovering the source of the Blue Nile.  Bruce's "Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile" was published in 1790.  According to WEK Anderson, who edited a version of Scott's Journal in 1998, Scott owned an 1804 edition of the work.

Scott, in his journal, mentions the Kantuffa tree: 'November 4 [1827]—Put my papers in some order, and prepared for my journey. It is in the style of the Emperors of Abyssinia who proclaim—Cut down the Kantuffa in the four quarters of the world,—for I know not where I am going...'

It was Bruce who introduced this tree to westerners, going into a long discussion of its form and uses.  Scott's quote above is directly from Bruce's "Travels...", as included below:

This thorn, like many men we meet daily in society, has wrought itself into a degree of reputation and respect, from the noxious qualities and power of doing ill which it possesses, and the constant exertion of these powers. The Abyssinians, who wear coarse cotton cloths, the coarsest of which are as thick as our blankets, the finest equal to our muslin, are in the same degree annoyed with it. The soldier screens himself by a goat's, leopard's or lion's skin, thrown over his shoulders, of which it has no hold. As his head is bare, he always cuts his hair short before he goes to battle, lest his enemy should take advantage of it; but the women, wearing their hair long, and the great men, whether in the army, or travelling in peace, being always clothed, it never fails to incommode them, whatever species of raiment they wear. If their cloak is fine muslin, the least motion against it puts it all in rags; but if it is a thick soft cloth, as those are with which men of rank generally travel, it buries its thorns, great and small, so deep in it, that the wearer must either dismount and appear naked, which to principal people is a great disgrace, or else much time will be spent before he can disengage himself from its thorns. In the time when one is thus employed, it rarely fails to lay hold of you by the hair, and that, again, brings on another operation, full as laborious, but much more painful, than the other.
In the course of my history, when speaking of the king, Tecla Haimanout II., first entering Gondar after his exile into Tigre, I gave an instance that shewed how dangerous it was for the natives to leave this thorn standing; and of such consequence is the clearing of the ground thought to be, that every year when the king marches, among the necessary proclamations this is thought to be a very principal one, " Cut down the Kantuffa in the four quarters of the world, for I do not know where I am going." This proclamation, from the abrupt style of it, seems at first absurd to strangers, but when understood, is full of good sense and information. It means, do not sit gossiping with your hands before you, talking; The king is going to Damot, he certainly will go to Gojara, he will be obliged to go to Tigre. That is not your business, remove nuisances out of the way, that he may go as expeditiously as possible, or send to every place where he may have occasion.
The branches of the Kantuffa stand two and two upon the stalk ; the leaves are disposed two and two likewise, without any single one at the point, whereas the branches bearing the leaves part from the stalk: at the immediate joining of them are two thick thorns, placed perpendicular and parallel alternately; but there are also single ones distributed in all the interstices throughout the branch...

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