BAR 33:02, Mar/Apr 2007
Past Perfect: A Voyage to Abyssinia
Jeronimo Lobo (1593–1678) was a Jesuit missionary from Lisbon who entered the Society of Jesus as a teenager. While on mission to India in the 1620s, he decided to travel to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with hopes of converting and protecting the people there, whose emperor had already become Catholic. He recorded his journeys, and his writings are worthy of an adventure novel. By the time his travels were over, Lobo had been marooned, captured by pirates, imprisoned by Turks, ransomed and had even seen a unicorn. Below is an excerpt from his account of his time on the Red Sea, where he ruminates on the Exodus.
It is properly at this cape (the most eastern part of Africa) that the Gulf of Arabia begins, which at Babelmandel [Bab-el-Mandeb] loses its name, and is called the Red Sea. Here, though the weather was calm, we found the sea so rough, that we were tossed as in a high wind for two nights; whether this violent agitation of the water proceeded from the narrowness of the strait, or from the fury of the late storm, I know not; whatever was the cause, we suffered all the hardships of a tempest. We continued our course towards the Red Sea, meeting with nothing in our passage but a gelve, or kind of boat, made of thin boards, sewed together, with no other sail than a mat.