Nils Mattsson Kiöping Still at Zabid in Yemen

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 18: Yemen, Zabid part 2
A few days later we were all collected in state from our lodgings and invited as guests to his summer house, which was in a beautiful garden containing lovely springs, fountains, fish ponds and other rare artifices. Here were also all kinds of fruit trees such as figs, almonds, Persian bitter oranges, limes, lemons, plums etc., along with a strange kind of grapes and and all sorts of roses. When we sat eating, a hideously large tiger came walking, but it was tame, and ate the crumbs and bones lying behind us, harming no human. Indeed, it neither ate nor took more than they wanted to give.

As soon as the meal was finished, the Secretary and some of the nobility rode with us to see the town, but they would not let us come onto the wall or into their fortifications. Thus they accompanied us to a large old building in which there had once been a mint, and which they claimed to have been built by Noah. Nearby is a church that is surrounded by iron bars. In the entranceway a large piece of wood hangs from an iron chain, said to be part of Noah’s Ark. They considered it a fine testimony of great value.

From there they took us to an octagonal tower in which a horrific lion stood bound. I told the Captain that at the court of King Shah Abbas in Persia [Abbas II of Persia, regn. 1642-66] I had seen nine lions. He asked me about the King’s splendour, his Khans [Persian provincial governors] or lords in their rule, item which way I had travelled, and for how long I was there, to which I replied as much as I could and knew. Item I told him about the Pasha’s splendour in Bagadet, in sum, I gave him satisfaction in all that he asked me about.

They also let us see a well that was more than 100 fathoms deep, which they claimed to be the tomb of the Patriarch Jacob. The water, which was cranked up in leather buckets, was so salty that we could barely let it reach our teeth. Some distance away was a square church with a flat roof in which was 100 pillars, all hewn from one rock. There were also many other old things that had been brought there long before the birth of Christ. A few days later we were served a meal as farewell and a little gift was given to the Envoy. Thus we said farewell to the Sultan and rode to our lodgings.

That evening we learned from an Armenian Christian that the Persian, Arabian and Indian traders had written a letter to the Lord in which they allegedly reproached him for allowing great friendship and freedoms to us, who were infidel Christian dogs, but wanted to ruin them who were good faithful Muslims. Two days later, early in the morning, the Secretary came with some noblemen and the Captain, and escorted us half a mile outside the town where a barque lay at the shore. We went aboard with the Captain, and when we came to a little castle named Kadiar we went ashore and were entertained by the Captain. Then we went back onto the barque and came in the evening to the ship, where a salute was soon fired, and the Captain entertained, and again given a gift.

Here we also saw incense grow, with which entire large fields are planted. It drips from trees like resin, which happens twice a year, both in the spring and summer. In the spring it is red, but in the summer white. Myrrh also grows abundantly here. It is a small tree, five ells tall [3.0 m], and has sharp thorns like dog rose. When you cut open the bark juice runs out like a thin resin, and when you rub it onto dead bodies they will not soon rot away, and when you put the leaves in a chest among clothes, no moth or other pest will thrive there.

Two days later we weighed anchor and went along the Arabian side, to find out if there was anything on the shores that might be useful to the East India Company.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

6 thoughts on “Nils Mattsson Kiöping Still at Zabid in Yemen”

  1. Did NMK really refer to Abbas as “King Shah”? Shah is the Farsi word for “king”; it appears in the phrase shah mat (“the king is dead”), whence comes the English word “checkmate”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…a letter to the Lord in which they allegedly reproached him for allowing great friendship and freedoms to us, who were infidel Christian dogs, but wanted to ruin them who were good faithful Muslims.”
    I’m a bit confused – did they indeed petition their god, or was it a local lord they wrote to?


      1. Well, considering it is a thing to leave letters to God in the Wailing wall in Jerusalem, it’s not entirely unthinkable that the traders might have put a complaint to God in writing.


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