Two Forewords – 1897

To the Nakhoda or Skipper of the Venture, 1897

A Letter or Bill of Instruction from the Owner

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!

[New York, 1897]

THIS, O Nakhoda, is a new voyage, nothing at all like those which you have already taken to Aden or Muscat, or even to Macassar and the islands where we can count upon the monsoons. Therefore consider the matter carefully. I have given you a new compass, with new rigging, masts, sails, and other gear suitable to the buggalow, and these cannot be picked up for the asking at Sewree or on Sion Bunder. The cargo is all in new mats, stowed like by like, to be reached more easily; and I have painted her before and behind, and I have put a new plank deck in place of the old bamboo one, and the tiller-ropes are new as well. This is at my risk, and the returns must be prepared with zeal and a single heart. Many men of the seas have told me lies, secretly selling anchors and cables and ascribing the loss to the waves, sharks, and seafairies. That was long ago, O Nakhoda, and now I do not believe all the stories that come up from the beaches.

The road is West and by South from England, where she will not touch, for the cargo is all for the Western ports, and these, if Allah please, you will find upon the other side of the sea. It is cold water, heavy with fog, and ships go up and down in their hundreds bellowing. Avoid these, for they are of iron and suddenly divide wooden vessels. None the less I have carried many cargoes across, and in lighter craft than the buggalow.

The men of those ports—I have lived among them, and Allah, whose name be exalted, has augmented my understanding—come down to trade early in the day, and their hours are longer than we use in the East. Do not, then, sleep in the forenoon or sling a hammock under the stern-awnings; neither unroll the sleeping-mats at sundown.

On Bhao Malung we pray before the voyage; at the Jakaria Musjid we give thanks when the voyage is over, but during the voyage we must trade.

In trading it is to be remembered that there be many who can immediately discern the bad from the good. Do not seek to overwhelm such men with market-talk, or else we two are shamed. Say nothing: let them choose; and throw a sail over certain bales of lesser worth.

Yet there be others who, stamping on the deck and talking loud, infallibly choose the worst. To these it is lawful to sell beads, brass rods, and coarse cloths, since it is written: ‘The blind pay for him who hath eyes.’

And there is a third muster, very cunning in the outside of things and full of words as the foresail of wind. Take these to the lower hold and show them that I do not altogether sell toys or looking-glasses.

Remember, too, that many of the cloths are double- and treble-figured, giving a new pattern in a shift of light. Some are best seen in full sun, others under a lamp, and a few are only good to be used in dark places where they were made. The women should know this.

When, however, the little children come down to the beaches hide away that which is uncomely; let down the gangplank with the railing on either hand; and spare nothing of the painted clay figures, the talking apes, the dancing bears, the coloured lights, or the sweetmeats to give them pleasure. Thus they will first plague their parents to buy, and later—for a child’s memory is very long—will bring down their own babes when we return. But have a care that they do not wander unchecked through all the holds or. sully themselves in the bilges.

But the chief part of our business lies with men who are wearied at the end of the day. It is for the sake of these men that I have laded the buggalow. Seek these, O Nakhoda, before all others—at the end of the day, as I have said, and in whatever dress (I have put many dresses aboard) may make them look up. Then, little by little, entice them away from their houses and their occupations till they come aboard the buggalow. And whether they descend into the run and read the private marks I have put upon the bales, or whether they lie upon the deck in the moonlight pricing the small-arms and krises; whether they stare a little and go overside again; or whether they take passage in the buggalow for a far voyage, you are the servant of these men, O Nakhoda, and the buggalow is theirs so long as they please. For though I am only a trader with no ware upon which there is not an open price, I do not forget how, when I was wearied at the end of the day, certain great captains sold me for a little silver that which I could not now find in any market. Pay, then, that debt to these men who are my brothers. (They will not bring their womenfolk aboard, so the talk may be trimmed with a slack -sheet.)

The chances of the sea are many and come on all. If ye spy any struggling in broken water or on hen-coops that roll over and over, do not consider the voyage, but go to him, and, with the tackle I have put aboard for such use, work as Allah allows to his comfort. I have myself been many times extricated from calamity by ships whose very names and Nakhodas were unknown to me.

Answer questions as to the sun, moon, and stars openly, according to the custom of the sea; for we find our way thereon only by the Lights of God the refuge of terminations which are common to all. It is not needed to show strangers our charts, for these be of man’s making, and each must prick his own for himself.

Do not press her overmuch in a following wind, nor think that one good slant will serve without change to land. And I have met long-lasting calms.

I know that all chance—found wreckage is the free gift of Allah to him who finds it, but still I say let not my buggalow be first in this work. It is not auspicious to use stray-gathered gear; and who knows but in the very next port may wait the lawful owner and an open shame?

For the rest, her place in port is sideways to the quay, with all hatches clear; and your place, O Nakhoda, is upon her after-deck by the gangway, to receive those coming aboard, to make my salaams to friends who remember me when I traded there, to open out the bales, to tempt new men to buy, to give no credit, and to keep a strict account of all.

On the black water it must be as it is ordained, but in my estimation she is well found. Get ready now, and take her out when the wind serves, remembering this one thing sure in all uncertainty; as it is written:—

0 true believer, his destiny none can escape: And safe are we against all that is not predestined!