Part 2 out of 9
Mosques at the foot of Mount Ohod; and in front a band of road, crowded
with motley groups, stretched over a barren stony plain.
After an hour’s slow march, bending gradually from North to North-East,
we fell into the Nijd highway, and came to a place of renown called
Al-Ghadir, or the Basin.[FN#2] This is a depression conducting the
drainage of the plain towards the northern hills. The skirts of Ohod
still limited the prospect to the left. On the right was the Bir Rashid
(Well of Rashid), and the little whitewashed dome of Ali al-Urays, a
descendant from Zayn al-Abidin:—the tomb is still a place of Visitation.
There we halted and turned to take farewell of the Holy City. All the
[p.60] pilgrims dismounted and gazed at the venerable minarets and the
Green Dome,—spots upon which their memories would for ever dwell with a
fond and yearning interest.
Remounting at noon, we crossed a Fiumara which runs, according to my
Camel-Shaykh, from North to South; we were therefore emerging from the
Madinah basin. The sky began to be clouded, and although the air was
still full of Samu[m], cold draughts occasionally poured down from the
hills. Arabs fear this
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,”
and call that a dangerous climate which is cold in the hot season and
hot in the cold. Travelling over a rough and stony path, dotted with
thorny Acacias, we arrived about two P.M. at the bed of lava heard of
by Burckhardt.[FN#3] The
[p.61] aspect of the country was volcanic, abounding in basalts and
scoriae, more or less porous: sand veiled the black bed whose present
dimensions by no means equal the descriptions of Arabian historians. I
made diligent enquiries about the existence of active volcanoes in this
part of Al-Hijaz, and heard of none.
At five P.M., travelling towards the East, we entered a Bughaz,[FN#4]
or Pass, which follows the course of a wide Fiumara, walled in by steep
and barren hills,—the portals of a region too wild even for Badawin. The
torrent-bed narrowed where the turns were abrupt, and the drift of
heavy stones, with a water-mark from six to seven feet
[p.62] high, showed that after rains a violent stream runs from East
and South-East to West and North-West. The fertilising fluid is close
to the surface, evidenced by a spare growth of Acacia, camel-grass, and
at some angles of the bed by the Daum, or Theban palm.[FN#5] I remarked
what was technically called “Hufrah,” holes dug for water in the sand; and
the guide assured me that somewhere near there is a spring flowing from
After the long and sultry afternoon, beasts of burden began to sink in
numbers. The fresh carcases of asses, ponies, and camels dotted the
wayside: those that had been allowed to die were abandoned to the foul
carrion-birds, the Rakham (vulture), and the yellow Ukab; and all whose
throats had been properly cut, were surrounded by troops of Takruri
pilgrims. These half-starved wretches cut steaks from the choice
portions, and slung them over their shoulders till an opportunity of
cooking might arrive. I never saw men more destitute. They carried
wooden bowls, which they filled with water by begging; their only
weapon was a small knife, tied in a leathern sheath above the elbow;
and their costume an old skull-cap, strips of leather like sandals
under the feet, and a long dirty shirt, or sometimes a mere rag
covering the loins. Some were perfect savages, others had been
fine-looking men, broad-shouldered, thin-flanked, and long-limbed; many
were lamed by fatigue and by thorns; and looking at most of them, I
fancied death depicted in their forms and features.
After two hours’ slow marching up the Fiumara eastwards, we saw in front
of us a wall of rock; and, turning abruptly southwards, we left the
bed, and ascended rising ground. Already it was night; an hour,
however, elapsed before we saw, at a distance, the twinkling fires, and
heard the watch-cries of our camp. It was
[p.63] pitched in a hollow, under hills, in excellent order; the Pasha’s
pavilion surrounded by his soldiers and guards disposed in tents, with
sentinels, regularly posted, protecting the outskirts of the
encampment. One of our men, whom we had sent forward, met us on the
way, and led us to an open place, where we unloaded the camels, raised
our canvas home, lighted fires, and prepared, with supper, for a good
night’s rest. Living is simple on such marches. The pouches inside and
outside the Shugduf contain provisions and water, with which you supply
yourself when inclined. At certain hours of the day, ambulant vendors
offer sherbet, lemonade, hot coffee, and water-pipes admirably
prepared.[FN#6] Chibuks may be smoked in the litter; but few care to do
so during the Samu[m]. The first thing, however, called for at the
halting-place is the pipe, and its delightfully soothing influence,
followed by a cup of coffee, and a “forty winks” upon the sand, will awaken
an appetite not to be roused by other means. How could Waterton, the
traveller, abuse a pipe? During the night-halt, provisions are cooked:
rice, or Kichri, a mixture of pulse and rice, is eaten with Chutnee and
lime-pickle, varied, occasionally, by tough mutton and indigestible
We arrived at Ja al-Sharifah at eight P.M., after a march of about
twenty-two miles.[FN#7] This halting-place is
[p.64] the rendezvous of Caravans: it lies 50° south-east of Al-Madinah,
and belongs rather to Nijd than to Al-Hijaz.
At three A.M., on Thursday (Sept. 1), we started up at the sound of the
departure-gun, struck the tent, loaded the camels, mounted, and found
ourselves hurrying through a gloomy pass, in the hills, to secure a
good place in the Caravan. This is an object of some importance, as,
during the whole journey, marching order must not be broken. We met
with a host of minor accidents, camels falling, Shugdufs bumping
against one another, and plentiful abuse. Pertinaciously we hurried on
till six A.M., at which hour we emerged from the Black Pass. The large
crimson sun rose upon us, disclosing, through purple mists, a hollow of
coarse yellow gravel, based upon a hard whitish clay. About five miles
broad by twelve long, it collects the waters of the high grounds after
rain, and distributes the surplus through an exit towards the
North-west, a gap in the low undulating hills around. Entering it, we
dismounted, prayed, broke our fast, and after half an hour’s halt
proceeded to cross its breadth. The appearance of the Caravan was most
striking, as it threaded its slow way over the smooth surface of the
Khabt (low plain).[FN#8] To judge by the eye, the host was composed of
at fewest seven thousand souls, on foot, on horseback, in litters, or
bestriding the splendid camels of Syria.[FN#9] There were eight
gradations of pilgrims.
[p.65] The lowest hobbled with heavy staves. Then came the riders of
asses, of camels, and of mules. Respectable men, especially Arabs, were
mounted on dromedaries, and the soldiers had horses: a led animal was
saddled for every grandee, ready whenever he might wish to leave his
litter. Women, children, and invalids of the poorer classes sat upon a
“Haml Musattah,”—rugs and cloths spread over the two large boxes which form
the camel’s load.[FN#10] Many occupied Shibriyahs; a few, Shugdufs, and
only the wealthy and the noble rode in Takht-rawan (litters), carried
by camels or mules.[FN#11] The morning beams fell brightly upon the
glancing arms which surrounded the stripped Mahmil,[FN#12] and upon the
scarlet and gilt conveyances of the grandees. Not the least beauty of
the spectacle was its wondrous variety of detail: no man was dressed
like his neighbour, no camel was caparisoned, no horse was
[p.66] clothed in uniform, as it were. And nothing stranger than the
contrasts; a band of half-naked Takruri marching with the Pasha’s
equipage, and long-capped, bearded Persians conversing with Tarbush’d and
The plain even at an early hour reeked with vapours distilled by the
fires of the Samum: about noon, however, the air became cloudy, and
nothing of colour remained, save that milky white haze, dull, but
glaring withal, which is the prevailing day-tint in these regions. At
mid-day we reached a narrowing of the basin, where, from both sides, “Irk,”
or low hills, stretch their last spurs into the plain. But after half a
mile, it again widened to upwards of two miles. At two P.M. (Friday,
Sept. 2), we turned towards the South-west, ascended stony ground, and
found ourselves one hour afterwards in a desolate rocky flat, distant
about twenty-four miles of unusually winding road from our last
station. “Mahattah Ghurab,[FN#13]” or the Raven’s Station, lies 10° south-west
from Ja al-Sharifah, in the irregular masses of hill on the frontier of
Al-Hijaz, where the highlands of Nijd begin.
After pitching the tent, we prepared to recruit our supply of water;
for Mas’ud warned me that his camels had not drunk for ninety hours, and
that they would soon sink under the privation. The boy Mohammed,
mounting a dromedary, set off with the Shaykh and many water-bags,
giving me an opportunity of writing out my journal. They did not return
home until after nightfall, a delay caused by many adventures. The
wells are in a Fiumara, as usual, about two miles distant from the
halting-place, and the soldiers, regular as well as irregular, occupied
the water and exacted hard coin in exchange for it. The men are not to
blame; they would die of starvation but for this resource. The boy
Mohammed had been engaged in several quarrels; but after
[p.67] snapping his pistol at a Persian pilgrim’s head, he came forth
triumphant with two skins of sweetish water, for which we paid ten
piastres. He was in his glory. There were many Meccans in the Caravan,
among them his elder brother and several friends: the Sharif Zayd had
sent, he said, to ask why he did not travel with his compatriots. That
evening he drank so copiously of clarified butter, and ate dates mashed
with flour and other abominations to such an extent, that at night he
prepared to give up the ghost.
We passed a pleasant hour or two before sleeping. I began to like the
old Shaykh Mas’ud, who, seeing it, entertained me with his genealogy, his
battles, and his family affairs. The rest of the party could not
prevent expressing contempt when they heard me putting frequent
questions about torrents, hills, Badawin, and the directions of places.
“Let the Father of Moustachios ask and learn,” said the old man; “he is
friendly with the Badawin,[FN#14] and knows better than you all.” This
reproof was intended to be bitter as the poet’s satire,—
“All fools have still an itching to deride,
And fain would be upon the laughing side.”
It called forth, however[,] another burst of merriment, for the jeerers
remembered my nickname to have belonged to that pestilent heretic, Sa’ud
On Saturday, the 3rd September, the hateful signal-gun awoke us at one
A.M. In Arab travel there is nothing more disagreeable than the Sariyah
or night-march, and yet the people are inexorable about it. “Choose early
Darkness (daljah) for your Wayfarings,” said the Prophet, “as the
Calamities of the Earth (serpents and wild beasts) appear not at Night.”
I can scarcely find words to express the weary horrors of the long dark
march, during which the hapless traveller, fuming, if a European, with
disappointment in his hopes of “seeing the country,”
[p.68] is compelled to sit upon the back of a creeping camel. The
day-sleep, too, is a kind of lethargy, and it is all but impossible to
preserve an appetite during the hours of heat.
At half-past five A.M., after drowsily stumbling through hours of outer
gloom, we entered a spacious basin at least six miles broad, and
limited by a circlet of low hill. It was overgrown with camel-grass and
Acacia (Shittim) trees, mere vegetable mummies; in many places the
water had left a mark; and here and there the ground was pitted with
mud-flakes, the remains of recently dried pools. After an hour’s rapid
march we toiled over a rugged ridge, composed of broken and detached
blocks of basalt and scoriæ, fantastically piled together, and dotted
with thorny trees. Shaykh Mas’ud passed the time in walking to and fro
along his line of camels, addressing us with a Khallikum guddam, “to the
front (of the litter)!” as we ascended, and a Khallikum wara, “to the rear!”
during the descent. It was wonderful to see the animals stepping from
block to block with the sagacity of mountaineers; assuring themselves
of their forefeet before trusting all their weight to advance. Not a
camel fell, either here or on any other ridge: they moaned, however,
piteously, for the sudden turns of the path puzzled them; the ascents
were painful, the descents were still more so; the rocks were sharp;
deep holes yawned between the blocks, and occasionally an Acacia caught
the Shugduf, almost overthrowing the hapless bearer by the suddenness
and the tenacity of its clutch. This passage took place during
daylight. But we had many at night, which I shall neither forget nor
Descending the ridge, we entered another hill-encircled basin of gravel
and clay. In many places basalt in piles and crumbling strata of
hornblende schiste, disposed edgeways, green within, and without
blackened by sun and rain, cropped out of the ground. At half-past ten
[p.69] found ourselves in an “Acacia-barren,” one of the things which
pilgrims dread. Here Shugdufs are bodily pulled off the camel’s back and
broken upon the hard ground; the animals drop upon their knees, the
whole line is deranged, and every one, losing temper, attacks his
Moslem brother. The road was flanked on the left by an iron wall of
black basalt. Noon brought us to another ridge, whence we descended
into a second wooded basin surrounded by hills.
Here the air was filled with those pillars of sand so graphically
described by Abyssinian Bruce. They scudded on the wings of the
whirlwind over the plain,—huge yellow shafts, with lofty heads,
horizontally bent backwards, in the form of clouds; and on more than
one occasion camels were thrown down by them. It required little
stretch of fancy to enter into the Arabs’ superstition. These
sand-columns are supposed to be Jinnis of the Waste, which cannot be
caught, a notion arising from the fitful movements of the electrical
wind-eddy that raises them, and as they advance, the pious Moslem
stretches out his finger, exclaiming, “Iron! O thou ill-omened one[FN#15]!”
During the forenoon we were troubled by the Samum, which, instead of
promoting perspiration, chokes up and hardens the skin. The Arabs
complain greatly of its violence on this line of road. Here I first
remarked the difficulty with which the Badawin bear thirst. Ya Latif,—“O
Merciful!” (Lord),—they exclaimed at times; and yet they behaved like
men.[FN#16] I had ordered them to place the
[p.70] water-camel in front, so as to exercise due supervision. Shaykh
Mas’ud and his son made only an occasional reference to the skins. But
his nephew, a short, thin, pock-marked lad of eighteen, whose black
skin and woolly head suggested the idea of a semi-African and ignoble
origin, was always drinking; except when he climbed the camel’s back,
and, dozing upon the damp load, forgot his thirst. In vain we ordered,
we taunted, and we abused him: he would drink, he would sleep, but he
would not work.
At one P.M. we crossed a Fiumara; and an hour afterwards we pursued the
course of a second. Mas’ud called this the Wady al-Khunak, and assured me
that it runs from the East and the South-east in a North and North-west
direction, to the Madinah plain. Early in the afternoon we reached a
diminutive flat, on the Fiumara bank. Beyond it lies a Mahjar or stony
ground, black as usual in Al-Hijaz, and over its length lay the road,
white with dust and with the sand deposited by the camels’ feet. Having
arrived before the Pasha, we did not know where to pitch; many opining
that the Caravan would traverse the Mahjar and halt beyond it. We soon
alighted, however, pitched the tent under a burning sun, and were
imitated by the rest of the party. Mas’ud called the place Hijriyah.
According to my computation, it is twenty-five miles from Ghurab, and
its direction is South-East twenty-two degrees.
Late in the afternoon the boy Mohammed started with a dromedary to
procure water from the higher part of the Fiumara. Here are some wells,
still called Bir Harun, after the great Caliph. The youth returned soon
with two bags filled at an expense of nine piastres. This being the
28th Zu’l Ka’adah, many pilgrims busied themselves
[p.71] rather fruitlessly with endeavours to sight the crescent moon.
They failed; but we were consoled by seeing through a gap in the
Western hills a heavy cloud discharge its blessed load, and a cool
night was the result.
We loitered on Sunday, the 4th September, at Al-Hijriyah, although the
Shaykh forewarned us of a long march. But there is a kind of discipline
in these great Caravans. A gun[FN#17] sounds the order to strike the
tents, and a second bids you move off with all speed. There are short
halts, of half an hour each, at dawn, noon, the afternoon, and sunset,
for devotional purposes, and these are regulated by a cannon or a
culverin. At such times the Syrian and Persian servants, who are
admirably expert in their calling, pitch the large green tents, with
gilt crescents, for the dignitaries and their harims. The last
resting-place is known by the hurrying forward of these “Farrash,” or tent
“Lascars,” who are determined to be the first on the ground and at the
well. A discharge of three guns denotes the station, and when the
Caravan moves by night a single cannon sounds three or four halts at
irregular intervals. The principal officers were the Emir Hajj, one
Ashgar Ali Pasha, a veteran of whom my companions spoke slightingly,
because he had been the slave of a slave, probably the pipe-bearer of
some grandee who in his youth had been pipe-bearer to some other
grandee. Under him was a Wakil, or lieutenant, who managed the
executive. The Emir al-Surrah—called simply Al-Surrah, or the Purse—had
charge of the Caravan-treasure, and of remittances to the Holy Cities.
And lastly there was a commander of the
[p.72] forces (Bashat al-Askar): his host consisted of about a thousand
Irregular horsemen, Bash-Buzuks, half bandits, half soldiers, each
habited and armed after his own fashion, exceedingly dirty,
picturesque-looking, brave, and in such a country of no use whatever.
Leaving Al-Hijriyah at seven A.M., we passed over the grim stone-field
by a detestable footpath, and at nine o’clock struck into a broad
Fiumara, which runs from the East towards the North-West. Its sandy bed
is overgrown with Acacia, the Senna plant, different species of
Euphorbiae, the wild Capparis, and the Daum Palm. Up this line we
travelled the whole day. About six P.M., we came upon a basin at least
twelve miles broad, which absorbs the water of the adjacent hills.
Accustomed as I have been to mirage, a long thin line of salt
efflorescence appearing at some distance on the plain below us, when
the shades of evening invested the view, completely deceived me. Even
the Arabs were divided in opinion, some thinking it was the effects of
the rain which fell the day before: others were more acute. It is said
that beasts are never deceived by the mirage, and this, as far as my
experience goes, is correct. May not the reason be that most of them
know the vicinity of water rather by smell than by sight? Upon the
horizon beyond the plain rose dark, fort-like masses of rock which I
mistook for buildings, the more readily as the Shaykh had warned me
that we were approaching a populous place. At last descending a long
steep hill, we entered upon the level ground, and discovered our error
by the crunching sound of the camel[s’] feet upon large curling flakes of
nitrous salt overlying caked mud.[FN#18] Those civilised birds, the
kite and the crow, warned us that we were in the vicinity of man. It
was not, however, before eleven P.M. that we entered the confines of
Al-Suwayrkiyah. The fact was
[p.73] made patent to us by the stumbling and the falling of our
dromedaries over the little ridges of dried clay disposed in squares
upon the fields. There were other obstacles, such as garden walls,
wells, and hovels, so that midnight had sped before our weary camels
reached the resting-place. A rumour that we were to halt here the next
day, made us think lightly of present troubles; it proved, however, to
During the last four days I attentively observed the general face of
the country. This line is a succession of low plains and basins, here
quasi-circular, there irregularly oblong, surrounded by rolling hills
and cut by Fiumaras which pass through the higher ground. The basins
are divided by ridges and flats of basalt and greenstone averaging from
one hundred to two hundred feet in height. The general form is a huge
prism; sometimes they are table-topped. From Al-Madinah to
Al-Suwayrkiyah the low beds of sandy Fiumaras abound. From
Al-Suwayrkiyah to Al-Zaribah, their place is taken by “Ghadir,” or hollows
in which water stagnates. And beyond Al-Zaribah the traveller enters a
region of water-courses tending West and South-West The versant is
generally from the East and South-East towards the West and North-West.
Water obtained by digging is good where rain is fresh in the Fiumaras;
saltish, so as to taste at first unnaturally sweet, in the plains; and
bitter in the basins and lowlands where nitre effloresces and rain has
had time to become tainted. The landward faces of the hills are
disposed at a sloping angle, contrasting strongly with the
perpendicularity of their seaward sides, and I found no inner range
corresponding with, and parallel to, the maritime chain. Nowhere had I
seen a land in which Earth’s anatomy lies so barren, or one richer in
volcanic and primary formations.[FN#19] Especially
[p.74] towards the South, the hills were abrupt and highly vertical,
with black and barren flanks, ribbed with furrows and fissures, with
wide and formidable precipices and castellated summits like the work of
man. The predominant formation was basalt, called the Arabs’ Hajar
Jahannam, or Hell-stone; here and there it is porous and cellular; in
some places compact and black; and in others coarse and gritty, of a
tarry colour, and when fractured shining with bright points. Hornblende
is common at Al-Madinah and throughout this part of Al-Hijaz: it crops
out of the ground edgeways, black and brittle. Greenstone, diorite, and
actinolite are found, though not so abundantly as those above
mentioned. The granites, called in Arabic Suwan,[FN#20] abound. Some
are large-grained, of a pink colour, and appear in blocks, which,
flaking off under the influence of the atmosphere, form ooidal blocks
and boulders piled in irregular heaps. Others are grey and compact
enough to take a high polish when cut. The syenite is generally coarse,
although there is occasionally found a rich red variety of that stone.
I did not see eurite or euritic porphyry except in small pieces, and
the same may be said of the petrosilex and the milky and waxy
quartz.[FN#21] In some parts, particularly between Yambu’ and Al-Madinah,
there is an abundance of tawny
[p.75] yellow gneiss markedly stratified. The transition formations are
represented by a fine calcareous sandstone of a bright ochre colour: it
is used at Meccah to adorn the exteriors of houses, bands of this stone
being here and there inserted into the courses of masonry. There is
also a small admixture of the greenish sandstone which abounds at Aden.
The secondary formation is represented by a fine limestone, in some
places almost fit for the purposes of lithography, and a coarse gypsum
often of a tufaceous nature. For the superficial accumulations of the
country, I may refer the reader to any description of the Desert
between Cairo and Suez.
[FN#1] The distance from Baghdad to Al-Madinah is 180 parasangs,
according to ’Abd al-Karim: “Voyage de l’Inde, a la Mecque;” translated by M.
Langles, Paris, 1797. This book is a disappointment, as it describes
everything except Al-Madinah and Meccah: these gaps are filled up by
the translator with the erroneous descriptions of other authors, not
[FN#2] Here, it is believed, was fought the battle of Buas, celebrated
in the pagan days of Al-Madinah (A.D. 615). Our dictionaries translate
“Ghadir” by “pool” or “stagnant water.” Here it is applied to places where water
stands for a short time after rain.
[FN#3] Travels in Arabia, vol. 2, p, 217. The Swiss traveller was
prevented by sickness from visiting it. The “Jazb al-Kulub” affords the
following account of a celebrated eruption, beginning on the Salkh
(last day) of Jamadi al-Awwal, and ending on the evening of the third
of Jamadi al-Akhir, A.H. 654. Terrible earthquakes, accompanied by a
thundering noise, shook the town; from fourteen to eighteen were
observed each night. On the third of Jamadi al-Akhir, after the Isha
prayers, a fire burst out in the direction of Al-Hijaz (eastward); it
resembled a vast city with a turretted and battlemental fort, in which
men appeared drawing the flame about, as it were, whilst it roared,
burned, and melted like a sea everything that came in its way.
Presently red and bluish streams, bursting from it, ran close to
Al-Madinah; and, at the same time, the city was fanned by a cooling
zephyr from the same direction. Al-Kistlani, an eye-witness, asserts
that “the brilliant light of the volcano made the face of the country as
bright as day; and the interior of the Harim was as if the sun shone
upon it, so that men worked and required nought of the sun and moon
(the latter of which was also eclipsed?).” Several saw the light at
Meccah, at Tayma (in Nijd, six days’ journey from Al-Madinah), and at
Busra, of Syria, reminding men of the Prophet’s saying, “A fire shall burst
forth from the direction of Al-Hijaz; its light shall make visible the
necks of the camels at Busra.” Historians relate that the length of the
stream was four parasangs (from fourteen to sixteen miles), its breadth
four miles (56? to the degree), and its depth about nine feet. It
flowed like a torrent with the waves of a sea; the rocks, melted by its
heat, stood up as a wall, and, for a time, it prevented the passage of
Badawin, who, coming from that direction, used to annoy the citizens.
Jamal Matari, one of the historians of Al-Madinah, relates that the
flames, which destroyed the stones, spared the trees; and he asserts
that some men, sent by the governor to inspect the fire, felt no heat;
also that the feathers of an arrow shot into it were burned whilst the
shaft remained whole. This he attributes to the sanctity of the trees
within the Harim. On the contrary, Al-Kistlani asserts the fire to have
been so vehement that no one could approach within two arrow-flights,
and that it melted the outer half of a rock beyond the limits of the
sanctuary, leaving the inner parts unscathed. The Kazi, the Governor,
and the citizens engaged in devotional exercises, and during the whole
length of the Thursday and the Friday nights, all, even the women and
children, with bare heads wept round the Prophet’s tomb. Then the lava
current turned northwards. (I remarked on the way to Ohod signs of a
lava-field.) This current ran, according to some, three entire months.
Al-Kistlani dates its beginning on Friday, 6 Jamadi al-Akhir, and its
cessation on Sunday, 27 Rajab: in this period of fifty-two days he
includes, it is supposed, the length of its extreme heat. That same
year (A.H. 654) is infamous in Al-Islam for other portents, such as the
inundation of Baghdad by the Tigris, and the burning of the Prophet’s
Mosque. In the next year first appeared the Tartars, who slew Al-Mu’tasim
Bi’llah, the Caliph, massacred the Moslems during more than a month,
destroyed their books, monuments, and tombs, and stabled their
war-steeds in the Mustansariyah College.
[FN#4] In this part of Al-Hijaz they have many names for a pass:—Nakb,
Saghrah, and Mazik are those best known.
[FN#5] This is the palm, capped with large fan-shaped leaves, described
by every traveller in Egypt and in the nearer East.
[FN#6] The charge for a cup of coffee is one piastre and a half. A
pipe-bearer will engage himself for about £1 per mensem: he is always a
veteran smoker, and, in these regions, it is an axiom that the flavour
of your pipe mainly depends upon the filler. For convenience the
Persian Kaliun is generally used.
[FN#7] A day’s journey in Arabia is generally reckoned at twenty-four or
twenty-five Arab miles. Abulfeda leaves the distance of a Marhalah (or
Manzil, a station) undetermined. Al-Idrisi reckons it at thirty miles,
but speaks of short as well as long marches. The common literary
measures of length are these:—3 Kadam (man’s foot) = 1 Khatwah (pace): 1000
paces = 1 Mil (mile); 3 miles = 1 Farsakh (parasang); and 4 parasangs =
1 Barid or post. The “Burhan i Katia” gives the table thus:—24 finger
breadths (or 6 breadths of the clenched hand, from 20 to 24 inches!) =
1 Gaz or yard; 1000 yards = 1 mile; 3 miles = 1 parasang. Some call the
four thousand yards measure a Kuroh (the Indian Cos), which, however,
is sometimes less by 1000 Gaz. The only ideas of distance known to the
Badawi of Al-Hijaz are the fanciful Sa’at or hour, and the uncertain
Manzil or halt: the former varies from 2 to 3½ miles, the latter from 15
[FN#8] “Khabt” is a low plain; “Midan,” “Fayhah,” or “Sath,” a plain generally; and
“Batha,” a low, sandy flat.
[FN#9] In Burckhardt’s day there were 5,000 souls and 15,000 camels.
Capt. Sadlier, who travelled during the war (1819), found the number
reduced to 500. The extent of this Caravan has been enormously
exaggerated in Europe. I have heard of 15,000, and even of 20,000 men.
I include in the 7,000 about 1,200 Persians. They are no longer placed,
as Abd al-Karim relates, in the rear of the Caravan, or post of danger.
[FN#10] Lane has accurately described this article: in the Hijaz it is
sometimes made to resemble a little tent.
[FN#11] The vehicle mainly regulates the expense, as it evidences a man’s
means. I have heard of a husband and wife leaving Alexandria with three
months’ provision and the sum of £5. They would mount a camel, lodge in
public buildings when possible, probably be reduced to beggary, and
possibly starve upon the road. On the other hand the minimum
expenditure,—for necessaries, not donations and luxuries,—of a man who
rides in a Takht-rawan from Damascus and back, would be about £1,200.
[FN#12] On the line of march the Mahmil, stripped of its embroidered
cover, is carried on camel-back, a mere framewood. Even the gilt silver
balls and crescent are exchanged for similar articles in brass.
[FN#13] Mahattah is a spot where luggage is taken down, i.e., a
station. By some Hijazis it is used in the sense of a halting-place,
where you spend an hour or two.
[FN#14] “Khalik ma al-Badu” is a favourite complimentary saying, among this
people, and means that you are no greasy burgher.
[FN#15] Even Europeans, in popular parlance, call them “devils.”
[FN#16] The Eastern Arabs allay the torments of thirst by a spoonful of
clarified butter, carried on journeys in a leathern bottle. Every
European traveller has some recipe of his own. One chews a
musket-bullet or a small stone. A second smears his legs with butter.
Another eats a crust of dry bread, which exacerbates the torments, and
afterwards brings relief. A fourth throws water over his face and hands
or his legs and feet; a fifth smokes, and a sixth turns his dorsal
region (raising his coat-tail) to the fire. I have always found that
the only remedy is to be patient and not to talk. The more you drink,
the more you require to drink—water or strong waters. But after the first
two hours’ abstinence you have mastered the overpowering feeling of
thirst, and then to refrain is easy.
[FN#17] We carried two small brass guns, which, on the line of march,
were dismounted and placed upon camels. At the halt they were restored
to their carriages. The Badawin think much of these harmless articles,
to which I have seen a gunner apply a match thrice before he could
induce a discharge. In a “moral” point of view, therefore, they are far
more valuable than our twelve-pounders.
[FN#18] Hereabouts the Arabs call these places “Bahr milh” or “Sea of Salt”; in
other regions “Bahr bila ma,” or “Waterless Sea.”
[FN#19] Being but little read in geology, I submitted, after my return
to Bombay, a few specimens collected on the way, to a learned friend,
Dr. Carter, Secretary to the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic
Society. His name is a guarantee of accuracy.
[FN#20] The Arabic language has a copious terminology for the mineral
as well as the botanical productions of the country: with little
alteration it might be made to express all the requirements of our
[FN#21] NOTE TO THIRD EDITION.—This country may have contained gold; but
the superficial formation has long been exhausted. At Cairo I washed
some sand brought from the eastern shore of the Red Sea, north of
Al-Wijh, and found it worth my while. I had a plan for working the
diggings, but H.B.M.’s Consul, Dr. Walne, opined that “gold was becoming
too plentiful,” and would not assist me. This wise saying has since then
been repeated to me by men who ought to have known better than Dr.
THE BADAWIN OF AL-HIJAZ.
THE Arab may be divided into three races—a classification which agrees
equally well with genesitic genealogy, the traditions of the country,
and the observations of modern physiologists.[FN#1]
[p.77]The first race, indigens or autochthones, are those sub-Caucasian
tribes which may still be met with in the province of Mahrah, and
generally along the coast between Maskat and Hazramaut. [FN#2] The
Mahrah, the Janabah, and the Gara especially show a low development,
for which hardship and privation alone will not satisfactorily
account.[FN#3] These are Arab al-Aribah for whose inferiority oriental
fable accounts as usual by thaumaturgy.
The principal advenæ are the Noachians, a great Chaldaean or Mesopotamian
tribe which entered Arabia about
[p.78] 2200 A.C., and by slow and gradual encroachments drove before
them the ancient owners and seized the happier lands of the Peninsula.
The great Anzah and the Nijdi families are types of this race, which is
purely Caucasian, and shows a highly nervous temperament, together with
those signs of “blood” which distinguish even the lower animals, the horse
and the camel, the greyhound and the goat of Arabia. These advenae
would correspond with the Arab al-Mutarribah or Arabicized Arabs of the
The third family, an ancient and a noble race dating from A.C. 1900,
and typified in history by Ishmael, still occupies the so-called
Sinaitic Peninsula. These Arabs, however, do not, and never did, extend
beyond the limits of the mountains, where, still dwelling in the
presence of their brethren, they retain all the wild customs and the
untamable spirit of their forefathers. They are distinguished from the
pure stock by an admixture of Egyptian blood,[FN#5]
[p.79] and by preserving the ancient characteristics of the Nilotic
family. The Ishmaelities are sub-Caucasian, and are denoted in history
as the Arab al-Mustarribah, the insititious or half-caste Arab.
Oriental ethnography, which, like most Eastern sciences, luxuriates in
nomenclative distinction, recognises a fourth race under the name of
Arab al-Mustajamah. These “barbarized Arabs” are now represented by such a
population as that of Meccah.
That Aus and Khazraj, the Himyaritic tribes which emigrated to
Al-Hijaz, mixed with the Amalikah, the Jurham, and the Katirah, also
races from Al-Yaman, and with the Hebrews, a northern branch of the
Semitic family, we have ample historical evidence. And they who know
how immutable is race in the Desert, will scarcely doubt that the
Badawi of Al-Hijaz preserves in purity the blood transmitted to him by
[p.80] I will not apologise for entering into details concerning the
personale of the Badawin[FN#7]; a precise physical portrait of race, it
has justly been remarked, is the sole deficiency in the pages of Bruce
and of Burckhardt.
The temperament of the Hijazi is not unfrequently the pure nervous, as
the height of the forehead and the fine texture of the hair prove.
Sometimes the bilious, and rarely the sanguine, elements predominate;
the lymphatic I never saw. He has large nervous centres, and
well-formed spine and brain, a conformation favourable to longevity.
Bartema well describes his colour as a “dark leonine”; it varies from the
deepest Spanish to a chocolate hue, and its varieties are attributed by
the people to blood. The skin is hard, dry, and soon wrinkled by
exposure. The xanthous complexion is rare, though not unknown in
cities, but the leucous does not exist. The crinal hair is frequently
lightened by bleaching, and the pilar is browner than the crinal. The
voice is strong and clear, but rather barytone than bass: in anger it
becomes a shrill chattering like the cry of a wild animal. The look of
a chief is dignified and grave even to pensiveness; the “respectable man’s”
is self-sufficient and fierce; the lower orders look ferocious, stupid,
and inquisitive. Yet there is not much difference in this point between
men of the same tribe, who have similar pursuits which engender
[p.81] similar passions. Expression is the grand diversifier of
appearance among civilised people: in the Desert it knows few varieties.
The Badawi cranium is small, ooidal, long, high, narrow, and remarkable
in the occiput for the development of Gall’s second propensity: the crown
slopes upwards towards the region of firmness, which is elevated;
whilst the sides are flat to a fault. The hair, exposed to sun, wind,
and rain, acquires a coarseness not natural to it[FN#8]: worn in
Kurun[FN#9]—ragged elf-locks,—hanging down to the breast, or shaved in the
form Shushah, a skull-cap of hair, nothing can be wilder than its
appearance. The face is made to be a long oval, but want of flesh
detracts from its regularity. The forehead is high, broad, and
retreating: the upper portion is moderately developed; but nothing can
be finer than the lower brow, and the frontal sinuses stand out,
indicating bodily strength and activity of character. The temporal
fossa are deep, the bones are salient, and the elevated zygomata
combined with the “lantern-jaw,” often give a “death’s-head” appearance to the
face. The eyebrows are long, bushy, and crooked, broken, as it were, at
the angle where “Order” is supposed to be, and bent in sign of
thoughtfulness. Most popular writers, following De Page,[FN#10]
describe the Arab eye as large, ardent,
[p.82] and black. The Badawi of the Hijaz, and indeed the race
generally, has a small eye, round, restless, deep-set, and fiery,
denoting keen inspection with an ardent temperament and an impassioned
character. Its colour is dark brown or green-brown, and the pupil is
often speckled. The habit of pursing up the skin below the orbits, and
half closing the lids to exclude glare, plants the outer angles with
premature crows’-feet. Another peculiarity is the sudden way in which the
eye opens, especially under excitement. This, combined with its fixity
of glance, forms an expression now of lively fierceness, then of
exceeding sternness; whilst the narrow space between the orbits
impresses the countenance in repose with an intelligence not destitute
of cunning. As a general rule, however, the expression of the Badawi
face is rather dignity than that cunning for which the Semitic race is
celebrated, and there are lines about the mouth in variance with the
stern or the fierce look of the brow. The ears are like those of Arab
horses, small, well-cut, “castey,” and elaborate, with many elevations and
depressions. The nose is pronounced, generally aquiline, but sometimes
straight like those Greek statues which have been treated as prodigious
exaggerations of the facial angle. For the most part, it is a well-made
feature with delicate nostrils, below which the septum appears: in
anger they swell and open like a blood mare’s. I have, however, seen, in
not a few instances, pert and offensive “pugs.” Deep furrows descend from
the wings of the nose, showing an uncertain temper, now too grave, then
too gay. The mouth is irregular. The lips are either bordes, denoting
rudeness and want of taste, or they form a mere line. In the latter
case there is an appearance of undue development in the upper portion
of the countenance, especially when the jaws are ascetically thin, and
the chin weakly retreats. The latter
[p.83] feature, however, is generally well and strongly made. The
teeth, as usual among Orientals, are white, even, short and
broad—indications of strength. Some tribes trim their mustaches according
to the “Sunnat”; the Shafe’i often shave them, and many allow them to hang
Persian-like over the lips. The beard is represented by two tangled
tufts upon the chin; where whisker should be, the place is either bare
or is thinly covered with straggling pile.
The Badawin of Al-Hijaz are short men, about the height of the Indians
near Bombay, but weighing on an average a stone more. As usual in this
stage of society, stature varies little; you rarely see a giant, and
scarcely ever a dwarf. Deformity is checked by the Spartan restraint
upon population, and no weakly infant can live through a Badawi life.
The figure, though spare, is square and well knit; fulness of limb
seldom appears but about spring, when milk abounds: I have seen two or
three muscular figures, but never a fat man. The neck is sinewy, the
chest broad, the flank thin, and the stomach in-drawn; the legs, though
fleshless, are well made, especially when the knee and ankle are not
bowed by too early riding. The shins do not bend cucumber-like to the
front as in the African race.[FN#11] The arms are thin, with muscles
like whipcords, and the hands and feet are, in point of size and
delicacy, a link between Europe and India. As in the Celt, the Arab
thumb is remarkably long, extending almost to the first joint of the
index,[FN#12] which, with its easy rotation, makes it a perfect
prehensile instrument: the palm also is fleshless, small-boned, and
[p.84] elastic. With his small active figure, it is not strange that
the wildest Badawi gait should be pleasing; he neither unfits himself
for walking, nor distorts his ankles by turning out his toes according
to the farcical rule of fashion, and his shoulders are not dressed like
a drill-sergeant’s, to throw all the weight of the body upon the heels.
Yet there is no slouch in his walk; it is light and springy, and errs
only in one point, sometimes becoming a strut.
Such is the Badawi, and such he has been for ages. The national type
has been preserved by systematic intermarriage. The wild men do not
refuse their daughters to a stranger, but the son-in-law would be
forced to settle among them, and this life, which has its charms for a
while, ends in becoming wearisome. Here no evil results are anticipated
from the union of first cousins, and the experience of ages and of a
mighty nation may be trusted. Every Badawi has a right to marry his
father’s brother’s daughter before she is given to a stranger; hence “cousin”
(Bint Amm) in polite phrase signifies a “wife.[FN#13]” Our
physiologists[FN#14] adduce the Sangre Azul of Spain and the case of
the lower animals to prove that degeneracy inevitably follows
[p.85] Either they have theorised from insufficient facts, or
civilisation and artificial living exercise some peculiar influence, or
Arabia is a solitary exception to a general rule. The fact which I have
mentioned is patent to every Eastern traveller.
After this long description, the reader will perceive with pleasure
that we are approaching an interesting theme, the first question of
mankind to the wanderer—“What are the women like?” Truth compels me to state
that the women of the Hijazi Badawin are by no means comely. Although
the Benu Amur boast of some pretty girls, yet they are far inferior to
the high-bosomed beauties of Nijd. And I warn all men that if they run
to Al-Hijaz in search of the charming face which appears in my
sketch-book as “a Badawi girl,” they will be bitterly disappointed: the
dress was Arab, but it was worn by a fairy of the West. The Hijazi
woman’s eyes are fierce, her features harsh, and her face haggard; like
all people of the South, she soon fades, and in old age her appearance
is truly witch-like. Withered crones abound in the camps, where old men
are seldom seen. The sword and the sun are fatal to
“A green old age, unconscious of decay.”
The manners of the Badawin are free and simple: “vulgarity” and
affectation, awkwardness and embarrassment, are weeds of civilised
growth, unknown to the People of the Desert.[FN#16] Yet their manners
are sometimes dashed with a strange ceremoniousness. When two frends
meet, they either embrace or both extend the right hands, clapping palm
to palm; their foreheads are either pressed together, or their heads
are moved from side to side, whilst for minutes together mutual
inquiries are made and answered. It is a breach of decorum, even when
eating, to turn the back upon a person, and if a Badawi
[p.86] does it, he intends an insult. When a man prepares coffee, he
drinks the first cup: the Sharbat Kajari of the Persians, and the
Sulaymani of Egypt,[FN#17] render this precaution necessary. As a
friend approaches the camp,—it is not done to strangers for fear of
startling them,—those who catch sight of him shout out his name, and
gallop up saluting with lances or firing matchlocks in the air. This is
the well-known La’ab al-Barut, or gunpowder play. Badawin are generally
polite in language, but in anger temper is soon shown, and, although
life be in peril, the foulest epithets—dog, drunkard, liar, and infidel—are
discharged like pistol-shots by both disputants.
The best character of the Badawi is a truly noble compound of
determination, gentleness, and generosity. Usually they are a mixture
of worldly cunning and great simplicity, sensitive to touchiness,
good-tempered souls, solemn and dignified withal, fond of a jest, yet
of a grave turn of mind, easily managed by a laugh and a soft word, and
placable after passion, though madly revengeful after injury. It has
been sarcastically said of the Benu-Harb that there is not a man
“Que s’il ne violoit, voloit, tuoit, bruloit
Ne fut assez bonne personne.”
The reader will inquire, like the critics of a certain modern
humourist, how the fabric of society can be supported by such material.
In the first place, it is a kind of societe leonine, in which the
fiercest, the strongest, and the craftiest obtains complete mastery
over his fellows, and this gives a
[p.87] keystone to the arch. Secondly, there is the terrible
blood-feud, which even the most reckless fear for their posterity. And,
thirdly, though the revealed law of the Koran, being insufficient for
the Desert, is openly disregarded, the immemorial customs of the Kazi
al-Arab (the Judge of the Arabs)[FN#18] form a system stringent in the
The valour of the Badawi is fitful and uncertain. Man is by nature an
animal of prey, educated by the complicated relations of society, but
readily relapsing into his old habits. Ravenous and sanguinary
propensities grow apace in the Desert, but for the same reason the
recklessness of civilisation is unknown there. Savages and
semi-barbarians are always cautious, because they have nothing valuable
but their lives and limbs. The civilised man, on the contrary, has a
hundred wants or hopes or aims, without which existence has for him no
charms. Arab ideas of bravery do not prepossess us. Their romances,
full of foolhardy feats and impossible exploits, might charm for a
time, but would not become the standard works of a really fighting
people.[FN#19] Nor would a truly valorous race admire
[p.88] the cautious freebooters who safely fire down upon Caravans from
their eyries. Arab wars, too, are a succession of skirmishes, in which
five hundred men will retreat after losing a dozen of their number. In
this partisan-fighting the first charge secures a victory, and the
vanquished fly till covered by the shades of night. Then come cries and
taunts of women, deep oaths, wild poetry, excitement, and reprisals,
which will probably end in the flight of the former victor. When peace
is to be made, both parties count up their dead, and the usual
blood-money is paid for excess on either side. Generally, however, the
feud endures till, all becoming weary of it, some great man, as the
Sharif of Meccah, is called upon to settle the terms of a treaty, which
is nothing but an armistice. After a few months’ peace, a glance or a
word will draw blood, for these hates are old growths, and new
dissensions easily shoot up from them.
But, contemptible though their battles be, the Badawin are not cowards.
The habit of danger in raids and blood-feuds, the continual uncertainty
of existence, the desert, the chase, the hard life and exposure to the
air, blunting the nervous system; the presence and the practice of
weapons, horsemanship, sharpshooting, and martial exercises, habituate
them to look death in the face like men, and powerful motives will make
them heroes. The English, it is said, fight willingly for liberty, our
neighbours for glory; the Spaniard fights, or rather fought, for
religion and the Pundonor; and the Irishman fights for the fun of
fighting. Gain and revenge draw the Arab’s sword; yet then he uses it
fitfully enough, without the gay gallantry of the
[p.89] French or the persistent stay of the Anglo-Saxon. To become
desperate he must have the all-powerful stimulants of honour and of
fanaticism. Frenzied by the insults of his women, or by the fear of
being branded as a coward, he is capable of any mad deed.[FN#20] And
the obstinacy produced by strong religious impressions gives a
steadfastness to his spirit unknown to mere enthusiasm. The history of
the Badawi tells this plainly. Some unobserving travellers, indeed,
have mistaken his exceeding cautiousness for stark cowardice. The
incongruity is easily read by one who understands the principles of
Badawi warfare; with them, as amongst the Red Indians, one death dims a
victory. And though reckless when their passions are thoroughly
aroused, though heedless of danger when the voice of honour calls them,
the Badawin will not sacrifice themselves for light motives. Besides,
they have, as has been said, another and a potent incentive to
cautiousness. Whenever peace is concluded, they must pay for victory.
There are two things which tend to soften the ferocity of Badawi life.
These are, in the first place, intercourse with citizens, who
frequently visit and entrust their children to the people of the Black
tents ; and, secondly, the social position of the women.
The Rev. Charles Robertson, author of a certain
[p.90] “Lecture on Poetry, addressed to Working Men,” asserts that Passion
became Love under the influence of Christianity, and that the idea of a
Virgin Mother spread over the sex a sanctity unknown to the poetry or
to the philosophy of Greece and Rome.[FN#21] Passing over the
objections of deified Eros and Immortal Psyche, and of the Virgin
Mother—symbol of moral purity—being common to every old and material
faith,[FN#22] I believe that all the noble tribes of savages display
the principle. Thus we might expect to find, wherever the fancy, the
imagination, and the ideality are strong, some traces of a sentiment
innate in the human organisation. It exists, says Mr. Catlin, amongst
the North American Indians, and even the Gallas and the Somal of Africa
are not wholly destitute of it. But when the barbarian becomes a
semi-barbarian, as are the most polished Orientals, or as were the
classical authors of Greece and Rome, then women fall from their proper
place in society, become mere articles of luxury, and sink into the
lowest moral condition. In the next stage, “civilisation,” they rise again
to be “highly accomplished,” and not a little frivolous.
[p.91]Miss Martineau, when travelling through Egypt, once visited a
harim, and there found, among many things, especially in ignorance of
books and of book-making, materials for a heart-broken wail over the
degradation of her sex. The learned lady indulges, too, in sundry
strong and unsavoury comparisons between the harim and certain haunts
of vice in Europe. On the other hand, male travellers generally speak
lovingly of the harim. Sonnini, no admirer of Egypt, expatiates on “the
generous virtues, the examples of magnanimity and affectionate
attachment, the sentiments ardent, yet gentle, forming a delightful
unison with personal charms in the harims of the Mamluks.”
As usual, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. Human
nature, all the world over, differs but in degree. Everywhere women may
be “capricious, coy, and hard to please” in common conjunctures: in the
hour of need they will display devoted heroism. Any chronicler of the
Afghan war will bear witness that warm hearts, noble sentiments, and an
overflowing kindness to the poor, the weak, and the unhappy are found
even in a harim. Europe now knows that the Moslem husband provides
separate apartments and a distinct establishment for each of his wives,
unless, as sometimes happens, one be an old woman and the other a
child. And, confessing that envy, hatred, and malice often flourish in
polygamy, the Moslem asks, Is monogamy open to no objections? As far as
my limited observations go, polyandry is the only state of society in
which jealousy and quarrels about the sex are the exception and not the
rule of life.
In quality of doctor I have seen a little and heard much of the harim.
It often resembles a European home composed of a man, his wife, and his
mother. And I have seen in the West many a “happy fireside” fitter to make
Miss Martineau’s heart ache than any harim in Grand Cairo.
[p.92] Were it not evident that the spiritualising of sexuality by
sentiment, of propensity by imagination, is universal among the highest
orders of mankind,—c’est l’etoffe de la nature que l’imagination a brodee, says
Voltaire,—I should attribute the origin of “love” to the influence of the
Arabs’ poetry and chivalry upon European ideas rather than to mediaeval
Christianity. Certain “Fathers of the Church,” it must be remembered, did
not believe that women have souls. The Moslems never went so far.
In nomad life, tribes often meet for a time, live together whilst
pasturage lasts, and then separate perhaps for a generation. Under such
circumstances, youths who hold with the Italian that
“Perduto e tutto il tempo
Che in amor non si spende,”
will lose heart to maidens, whom possibly, by the laws of the clan,
they may not marry,[FN#23] and the light o’ love will fly her home. The
fugitives must brave every danger, for revenge, at all times the Badawi’s
idol, now becomes the lodestar of his existence. But the Arab lover
will dare all consequences. “Men have died and the worms have eaten them,
but not for love,” may be true in the West: it is false in the East. This
is attested in every tale where love, and not ambition, is the
groundwork of the narrative.[FN#24] And nothing can be more tender, more
[p.93] pathetic than the use made of these separations and long
absences by the old Arab poets. Whoever peruses the Suspended Poem of
Labid, will find thoughts at once so plaintive and so noble, that even
Dr. Carlyle’s learned verse cannot wholly deface their charm.
The warrior-bard returns from afar. He looks upon the traces of hearth
and home still furrowing the Desert ground. In bitterness of spirit he
checks himself from calling aloud upon his lovers and his friends. He
melts at the remembrance of their departure, and long indulges in the
absorbing theme. Then he strengthens himself by the thought of Nawara’s
inconstancy, how she left him and never thought of him again. He
impatiently dwells upon the charms of the places which detain her,
advocates flight from the changing lover and the false friend, and, in
the exultation with which he feels his swift dromedary start under him
upon her rapid course, he seems to seek and finds some consolation for
women’s perfidy and forgetfulness. Yet he cannot abandon Nawara’s name or
memory. Again he dwells with yearning upon scenes of past felicity, and
he boasts of his prowess—a fresh reproach to her,—of his gentle birth, and
of his hospitality. He ends with an encomium upon his clan, to which he
attributes, as a noble Arab should, all the virtues of man. This is
Goldsmith’s deserted village in Al-Hijaz. But the Arab, with equal
simplicity and pathos, has a fire, a force of language, and a depth of
feeling, which the Irishman, admirable as his verse is, could never
As the author of the Peninsular War well remarks, women in troubled
times, throwing off their accustomed feebleness and frivolity, become
helpmates meet for man. The same is true of pastoral life. [FN#25]
Here, between the
[p.94] extremes of fierceness and sensibility, the weaker sex,
remedying its great want, power, rises itself by courage, physical as
well as moral. In the early days of Al-Islam, if history be credible,
Arabia had a race of heroines. Within the last century, Ghaliyah, the
wife of a Wahhabi chief, opposed Mohammed Ali himself in many a bloody
field. A few years ago, when Ibn Asm, popularly called Ibn Rumi, chief
of the Zubayd clan about Rabigh, was treacherously slain by the Turkish
general, Kurdi Osman, his sister, a fair young girl, determined to
revenge him. She fixed upon the “Arafat-day” of pilgrimage for the
accomplishment of her designs, disguised herself in male attire, drew
her kerchief in the form Lisam over the lower part of her face, and
with lighted match awaited her enemy. The Turk, however, was not
present, and the girl was arrested to win for herself a local
reputation equal to the “maid” of Salamanca. Thus it is that the Arab has
learned to swear that great oath “by the honour of my women.”
The Badawin are not without a certain Platonic affection, which they
call Hawa (or Ishk) uzri—pardonable love.[FN#26] They draw the fine line
between amant and amoureux: this is derided by the tow[n]speople,
little suspecting how much such a custom says in favour of the wild
men. Arabs, like other Orientals, hold that, in such matters, man is
saved, not by faith, but by want of faith. They have also a saying not
“She partly is to blame who has been tried;
He comes too near who comes to be denied.”
[p.95]The evil of this system is that they, like certain
Southerns—pensano sempre al male—always suspect, which may be worldly-wise,
and also always show their suspicions, which is assuredly foolish. For
thus they demoralise their women, who might be kept in the way of right
by self-respect and by a sense of duty.
From ancient periods of the Arab’s history we find him practising
knight-errantry, the wildest form of chivalry.[FN#27] “The Songs of Antar,”
says the author of the “Crescent and the Cross,” “show little of the true
chivalric spirit.” What thinks the reader of sentiments like
these[FN#28]? “This valiant man,” remarks Antar (who was “ever interested for
the weaker sex,”) “hath defended the honour of women.” We read in another
place, “Mercy, my lord, is the noblest quality of the noble.” Again, “it is
the most ignominious of deeds to take free-born women prisoners.” “Bear not
malice, O Shibub,” quoth the hero, “for of malice good never came.” Is there
no true greatness in this sentiment?—“Birth is the boast of the faineant;
noble is the youth who beareth every ill, who clotheth himself in mail
during the noontide heat, and who wandereth through the outer darkness
of night.” And why does the “knight of knights” love Ibla? Because “she is
blooming as the sun at dawn, with hair black as the midnight shades,
with Paradise in her eye, her bosom an enchantment, and a form waving
like the tamarisk when the soft wind blows from the hills of Nijd”? Yes!
but his chest expands also with the thoughts of her “faith, purity, and
affection,”—it is her moral as well as her material excellence that makes
[p.96] the hero’s “hope, and hearing, and sight.” Briefly, in Antar I discern
“a love exalted high,
By all the glow of chivalry;”
and I lament to see so many intelligent travellers misjudging the Arab
after a superficial experience of a few debased Syrians or Sinaites.
The true children of Antar, my Lord Lindsay, have not “ceased to be
In the days of ignorance, it was the custom for Badawin, when tormented
by the tender passion, which seems to have attacked them in the form of
“possession,” for long years to sigh and wail and wander, doing the most
truculent deeds to melt the obdurate fair. When Arabia Islamized, the
practice changed its element for proselytism.
The Fourth Caliph is fabled to have travelled far, redressing the
injured, punishing the injurer, preaching to the infidel, and
especially protecting women—the chief end and aim of knighthood. The
Caliph Al-Mu’tasim heard in the assembly of his courtiers that a woman of
Sayyid family had been taken prisoner by a “Greek barbarian” of Ammoria.
The man on one occasion struck her: when she cried “Help me, O Mu’tasim!” and
the clown said derisively, “Wait till he cometh upon his pied steed!” The
chivalrous prince arose, sealed up the wine-cup which he held in his
hand, took oath to do his knightly devoir, and on the morrow started
for Ammoria with seventy thousand men, each mounted on a piebald
charger. Having taken the place, he entered it, exclaiming, “Labbayki,
Labbayki!”—“Here am I at thy call!” He struck off the caitiff’s head, released
the lady with his own hands, ordered the cupbearer to bring the sealed
bowl, and drank from it, exclaiming, “Now, indeed, wine is good!”
To conclude this part of the subject with another far-famed instance.
When Al-Mutanabbi, the poet, prophet, and warrior of Hams (A.H. 354)
started together with his
[p.97] son on their last journey, the father proposed to seek a place
of safety for the night. “Art thou the Mutanabbi,” exclaimed his slave, “who
wrote these lines,—
“‘I am known to the night, the wild, and the steed,
To the guest, and the sword, to the paper and reed[FN#29]’?”
The poet, in reply, lay down to sleep on Tigris’ bank, in a place haunted
by thieves, and, disdaining flight, lost his life during the hours of
It is the existence of this chivalry among the “Children of Antar” which
makes the society of Badawin (“damned saints,” perchance, and “honourable
villains,”) so delightful to the traveller who[,] like the late Haji Wali
(Dr. Wallin), understands and is understood by them. Nothing more naïve
than his lamentations at finding himself in the “loathsome company of
Persians,” or among Arab townspeople, whose “filthy and cowardly minds” he
contrasts with the “high and chivalrous spirit of the true Sons of the
Desert.” Your guide will protect you with blade and spear, even against
his kindred, and he expects you to do the same for him. You may give a
man the lie, but you must lose no time in baring your sword. If
involved in dispute with overwhelming numbers, you address some elder,
Dakhil-ak ya Shaykh!—(I am) thy protected, O Sir,—and he will espouse your
quarrel with greater heat and energy, indeed, than if it were his
own.[FN#30] But why multiply instances?
The language of love and war and all excitement is poetry, and here,
again, the Badawi excels. Travellers complain that the wild men have
ceased to sing. This is true if “poet” be limited to a few authors whose
[p.98] everywhere depends upon the accidents of patronage or political
occurrences. A far stronger evidence of poetic feeling is afforded by
the phraseology of the Arab, and the highly imaginative turn of his
commonest expressions. Destitute of the poetic taste, as we define it,
he certainly is: as in the Milesian, wit and fancy, vivacity and
passion, are too strong for reason and judgment, the reins which guide
Apollo’s car.[FN#31] And although the Badawin no longer boast a Labid or
a Maysunah, yet they are passionately fond of their ancient
bards.[FN#32] A man skilful in reading Al-Mutanabbi and the suspended
Poems would be received by them with the honours paid by civilisation
to the travelling millionaire.[FN#33] And their elders have a goodly
store of ancient and modern war songs, legends, and love ditties which
[p.99]I cannot well explain the effect of Arab poetry to one who has
not visited the Desert.[FN#34] Apart from the pomp of words, and the
music of the sound,[FN#35] there is a dreaminess of idea and a haze
thrown over the object, infinitely attractive, but indescribable.
[p.100] indeed, would rob the song of indistinctness, its essence. To
borrow a simile from a sister art; the Arab poet sets before the mental
eye, the dim grand outlines of picture,—which must be filled up by the
reader, guided only by a few glorious touches, powerfully standing out,
and by the sentiment which the scene is intended to express;—whereas, we
Europeans and moderns, by stippling and minute touches, produce a
miniature on a large scale so objective as to exhaust rather than to
arouse reflection. As the poet is a creator, the Arab’s is poetry, the
European’s versical description. [FN#36] The language, “like a faithful
wife, following the mind and giving birth to its offspring,” and free
from that “luggage of particles” which clogs our modern tongues, leaves a
mysterious vagueness between the relation of word to word, which
materially assists the sentiment, not the sense, of the poem. When
verbs and nouns have, each one, many different significations, only the
radical or general idea suggests itself.[FN#37] Rich and varied
synonyms, illustrating the finest shades of meaning, are artfully used;
now scattered to startle us by distinctness, now to form as it were a
star about which dimly seen satellites revolve. And, to cut short a
[p.101] which might be prolonged indefinitely, there is in the Semitic
dialect a copiousness of rhyme which leaves the poet almost unfettered
to choose the desired expression.[FN#38] Hence it is that a stranger
speaking Arabic becomes poetical as naturally as he would be witty in
French and philosophic in German. Truly spake Mohammed al-Damiri, “Wisdom
hath alighted upon three things—the brain of the Franks, the hands of the
Chinese, and the tongues of the Arabs.”
The name of Harami—brigand—is still honourable among the Hijazi Badawin.
Slain in raid or foray, a man is said to die Ghandur, or a brave. He,
on the other hand, who is lucky enough, as we should express it, to die
in his bed, is called Fatis (carrion, the corps creve of the Klephts);
his weeping mother will exclaim, “O that my son had perished of a cut
throat!” and her attendant crones will suggest, with deference, that such
evil came of the will of Allah. It is told of the Lahabah, a sept of
the Auf near Rabigh, that a girl will refuse even her cousin unless, in
the absence of other opportunities, he plunder some article from the
Hajj Caravan in front of the Pasha’s links. Detected twenty years ago,
the delinquent would have been impaled; now he escapes with a
rib-roasting. Fear of the blood-feud, and the certainty of a shut road
to future travellers, prevent the Turks proceeding to extremes. They
conceal their weakness by pretending that
[p.102] the Sultan hesitates to wage a war of extermination with the
thieves of the Holy Land.
It is easy to understand this respect for brigands. Whoso revolts
against society requires an iron mind in an iron body, and these
mankind instinctively admires, however misdirected be their energies.
Thus, in all imaginative countries, the brigand is a hero; even the
assassin who shoots his victim from behind a hedge appeals to the fancy
in Tipperary or on the Abruzzian hills. Romance invests his loneliness
with grandeur; if he have a wife or a friend’s wife, romance becomes
doubly romantic, and a tithe of the superfluity robbed from the rich
and bestowed upon the poor will win to Gasparoni the hearts of a
people. The true Badawi style of plundering, with its numerous niceties
of honour and gentlemanly manners, gives the robber a consciousness of
moral rectitude. “Strip off that coat, O certain person! and that turband,”
exclaims the highwayman, “they are wanted by the daughter of my paternal
uncle (wife).” You will (of course, if necessary) lend ready ear to an
order thus politely attributed to the wants of the fair sex. If you
will add a few obliging expressions to the bundle, and offer Latro a
cup of coffee and a pipe, you will talk half your toilette back to your
own person; and if you can quote a little poetry, you will part the
best of friends, leaving perhaps only a pair of sandals behind you. But
should you hesitate, Latro, lamenting the painful necessity, touches up
your back with the heel of his spear. If this hint suffice not, he will
make things plain by the lance’s point, and when blood shows, the
tiger-part of humanity appears. Between Badawin, to be tamely
plundered, especially of the mare,[FN#39] is a lasting disgrace; a man
[p.103] family lays down his life rather than yield even to
overpowering numbers. This desperation has raised the courage of the
Badawin to high repute amongst the settled Arabs, who talk of single
braves capable, like the Homeric heroes, of overpowering three hundred
I omit general details about the often-described Sar, or Vendetta. The
price of blood is $800 = 200l., or rather that sum imperfectly
expressed by live stock. All the Khamsah or A’amam, blood relations of
the slayer, assist to make up the required amount, rating each animal
at three or four times its proper value. On such occasions violent
scenes arise from the conflict of the Arab’s two pet passions, avarice
and revenge. The “avenger of blood” longs to cut the foe’s throat. On the
other hand, how let slip an opportunity of enriching himself? His
covetousness is intense, as are all his passions. He has always a
project of buying a new dromedary, or of investing capital in some
marvellous colt; the consequence is, that he is insatiable. Still he
receives blood-money with a feeling of shame; and if it be offered to
an old woman,—the most revengeful variety of our species, be it
remarked,—she will dash it to the ground and clutch her knife, and
fiercely swear by Allah that she will not “eat” her son’s blood.
The Badawi considers himself a man only when mounted on horseback,
lance in hand, bound for a foray or a fray, and carolling some such
“A steede! a steede of matchlesse speede!
A sword of metal keene!
All else to noble minds is drosse,
All else on earth is meane.”
Even in his sports he affects those that imitate war. Preserving the
instinctive qualities which lie dormant in civilisation, he is an
admirable sportsman. The children,
[p.104] men in miniature, begin with a rude system of gymnastics when
they can walk. “My young ones play upon the backs of camels,” was the reply
made to me by a Jahayni Badawi when offered some Egyptian plaything.
The men pass their time principally in hawking, shooting, and riding.
The “Sakr,[FN#40]” I am told, is the only falcon in general use; they train
it to pursue the gazelle, which
[p.105] greyhounds pull down when fatigued. I have heard much of their
excellent marksmanship, but saw only moderate practice with a long
matchlock rested and fired at standing objects. Double-barreled guns
are rare amongst them.[FN#41] Their principal weapons are matchlocks
and firelocks, pistols, javelins, spears, swords, and the dagger called
Jambiyah; the sling and the bow have long been given up. The guns come
from Egypt, Syria, and Turkey; for the Badawi cannot make, although he
can repair, this arm. He particularly values a good old barrel seven
spans long, and would rather keep it than his coat; consequently, a
family often boasts of four or five guns, which descend from generation
to generation. Their price varies from two to sixty dollars. The
Badawin collect nitre in the country, make excellent charcoal, and
import sulphur from Egypt and India; their powder, however, is coarse
and weak. For hares and birds they cut up into slugs a bar of lead
hammered out to a convenient size, and they cast bullets in moulds.
They are fond of ball-practice, firing, as every sensible man does, at
short distances, and striving at extreme precision. They are ever
backing themselves with wagers, and will shoot for a sheep, the loser
inviting his friends to a feast: on festivals they boil the head, and
use it as mark and prize. Those who affect excellence are said to fire
at a bullet hanging by a thread; curious, however, to relate, the
Badawin of Al-Hijaz have but just learned the art, general in Persia
and Barbary, of shooting from horseback at speed.
Pistols have been lately introduced into the Hijaz, and are not common
amongst the Badawin. The citizens incline to this weapon, as it is
derived from Constantinople. In the Desert a tolerable pair with flint
locks may be worth thirty dollars, ten times their price in England.
[p.106]The spears[FN#42] called Kanat, or reeds, are made of male
bamboos imported from India. They are at least twelve feet long, iron
shod, with a tapering point, beneath which are one or two tufts of
black ostrich feathers.[FN#43] Besides the Mirzak, or javelin, they
have a spear called Shalfah, a bamboo or a palm stick garnished with a
head about the breadth of a man’s hand.
No good swords are fabricated in Al-Hijaz. The Khalawiyah and other
Desert clans have made some poor attempts at blades. They are brought
from Persia, India, and Egypt; but I never saw anything of value.
The Darakah, or shield, also comes from India. It is the common Cutch
article, supposed to be made of rhinoceros hide, and displaying as much
brass knob and gold wash as possible. The Badawin still use in the
remoter parts Diraa, or coats of mail, worn by horsemen over buff
The dagger is made in Al-Yaman and other places: it has a vast variety
of shapes, each of which, as usual, has its proper names. Generally
they are but little curved (whereas the Gadaymi of Al-Yaman and
Hazramaut is almost a semicircle), with tapering blade, wooden handle,
and scabbard of the same material overlaid with brass. At the point of
the scabbard is a round knob, and the weapon is so long, that a man
when walking cannot swing his right
[p.107] arm. In narrow places he must enter sideways. But it is the
mode always to appear in dagger, and the weapon, like the French
soldier’s coupe-choux, is really useful for such bloodless purposes as
cutting wood and gathering grass. In price they vary from one to thirty
The Badawin boast greatly of sword-play; but it is apparently confined
to delivering a tremendous slash, and to jumping away from the
return-cut instead of parrying either with sword or shield. The
citizens have learned the Turkish scimitar-play, which, in
grotesqueness and general absurdity, rivals the East Indian school.
None of these Orientals knows the use of the point which characterises
the highest school of swordsmanship.
The Hijazi Badawin have no game of chance, and dare not, I am told,
ferment the juice of the Daum palm, as proximity to Aden has taught the
wild men of Al-Yaman.[FN#44] Their music is in a rude state. The
principal instrument is the Tabl, or kettle-drum, which is of two
kinds: one, the smaller, used at festivals; the other, a large copper
“tom-tom,” for martial purposes, covered with leather, and played upon,
pulpit-like, with fist, and not with stick. Besides which, they have
the one-stringed Rubabah, or guitar, that “monotonous but charming
instrument of the Desert.” In another place I have described their
dancing, which is an ignoble spectacle.
The Badawin of Al-Hijaz have all the knowledge necessary for procuring
and protecting the riches of savage life. They are perfect in the
breeding, the training, and the selling of cattle. They know sufficient
of astronomy to guide themselves by night, and are acquainted
[p.108] with the names of the principal stars. Their local memory is
wonderful. And such is their instinct in the art of asar, or tracking,
that it is popularly said of the Zubayd clan, which lives between
Meccah and Al-Madinah, a man will lose a she-camel and know her
four-year-old colt by its foot. Always engaged in rough exercises and
perilous journeys, they have learned a kind of farriery and a simple
system of surgery. In cases of fracture they bind on splints with cloth
bands, and the patient drinks camel’s milk and clarified butter till he
is cured. Cuts are carefully washed, sprinkled with meal gunpowder, and
sewn up. They dress gunshot wounds with raw camel’s flesh, and rely
entirely upon nature and diet. When bitten by snakes or stung by
scorpions, they scarify the wound with a razor, recite a charm, and
apply to it a dressing of garlic.[FN#45] The wealthy have Fiss or
ring-stones, brought from India, and used with a formula of prayer to
extract venom. Some few possess the Tariyak (Theriack) of Al-Irak—the
great counter-poison, internal as well as external, of the East. The
poorer classes all wear the Za’al or Hibas of Al-Yaman; two yarns of
black sheep’s wool tied round the leg, under the knee and above the
ankle. When bitten, the sufferer tightens these cords above the injured
part, which he immediately scarifies; thus they act as tourniquets.
These ligatures also cure cramps—and there is no other remedy. The Badawi
knowledge of medicine is unusually limited in this part of Arabia,
where even simples are not required by a people who rise with dawn, eat
little, always breathe Desert air, and “at night make the camels their
curfew.” The great tonic is clarified butter, and the Kay, or actual
cautery, is used even for rheumatism. This counter-irritant, together
with a curious and artful phlebotomy,
[p.109] blood being taken, as by the Italians, from the toes, the
fingers, and other parts of the body, are the Arab panaceas. They treat
scald-head with grease and sulphur. Ulcers, which here abound, without,
however, assuming the fearful type of the “Helcoma Yemenense,” are
cauterised and stimulated by verdigris. The evil of which Fracastorius
sang is combated by sudorifics, by unguents of oil and sulphur, and
especially by the sand-bath. The patient, buried up to the neck,
remains in the sun fasting all day; in the evening he is allowed a
little food. This rude course of “packing” lasts for about a month. It
suits some constitutions; but others, especially Europeans, have tried
the sand-bath and died of fever. Mules’ teeth, roasted and imperfectly
pounded, remove cataract. Teeth are extracted by the farrier’s pincers,
and the worm which throughout the East is supposed to produce
toothache, falls by fumigation. And, finally, after great fatigue, or
when suffering from cold, the body is copiously greased with clarified
butter and exposed to a blazing fire.
Mohammed and his followers conquered only the more civilised Badawin;
and there is even to this day little or no religion amongst the wild
people, except those on the coast or in the vicinity of cities. The
faith of the Badawi comes from Al-Islam, whose hold is weak. But his
customs and institutions, the growth of his climate, his nature, and
his wants, are still those of his ancestors, cherished ere Meccah had
sent forth a Prophet, and likely to survive the day when every vestige
of the Ka’abah shall have disappeared. Of this nature are the Hijazi’s
pagan oaths, his heathenish names (few being Moslem except “Mohammed”), his
ordeal of licking red-hot iron, his Salkh, or scarification,—proof of
manliness,—his blood revenge, and his eating carrion (i.e., the body of
an animal killed without the usual formula), and his lending his wives
to strangers. All these I hold to be remnants of some old
[p.110] creed; nor should I despair of finding among the Badawin
bordering upon the Great Desert some lingering system of idolatry.
The Badawin of Al-Hijaz call themselves Shafe’i but what is put into the
mouths of their brethren in the West applies equally well here. “We pray
not, because we must drink the water of ablution; we give no alms,
because we ask them; we fast not the Ramazan month, because we starve
throughout the year; and we do no pilgrimage, because the world is the
House of Allah.” Their blunders in religious matters supply the citizens
with many droll stories. And it is to be observed that they do not,
like the Greek pirates or the Italian bandits, preserve a religious
element in their plunderings; they make no vows, and they carefully
The ceremonies of Badawi life are few and simple—circumcisions,
marriages, and funerals. Of the former rite there are two forms,
Taharah, as usual in Al-Islam, and Salkh, an Arab invention, derived
from the times of Paganism.[FN#46] During Wahhabi rule it was forbidden
under pain of death, but now the people have returned to it. The usual
age for Taharah is between five and six; among
[p.111] some classes, however, it is performed ten years later. On such
occasions feastings and merrymakings take place, as at our christenings.
Women being a marketable commodity in barbarism as in civilisation, the
youth in Al-Hijaz is not married till his father can afford to buy him
a bride. There is little pomp or ceremony save firing of guns, dancing,
singing, and eating mutton. The “settlement” is usually about thirty sound
Spanish dollars,[FN#47] half paid down, and the other owed by the
bridegroom to the father, the brothers, or the kindred of his spouse.
Some tribes will take animals in lieu of ready money. A man of wrath
not contented with his bride, puts her away at once. If peaceably
inclined, by a short delay he avoids scandal. Divorces are very
frequent among Badawin, and if the settlement money be duly paid, no
evil comes of them.[FN#48]
The funerals of the wild men resemble those of the citizens, only they
are more simple, the dead being buried where they die. The corpse,
after ablution, is shrouded in any rags procurable; and, women and
[p.112] not being permitted to attend, it is carried to the grave by
men only. A hole is dug, according to Moslem custom; dry wood, which
everywhere abounds, is disposed to cover the corpse, and an oval of
stones surrounding a mound of earth keeps out jackals and denotes the
spot. These Badawin have not, like the wild Sindis and Baluchis,
favourite cemeteries, to which they transport their dead from afar.
The traveller will find no difficulty in living amongst the Hijazi
Badawin. “Trust to their honour, and you are safe,” as was said of the Crow
Indians; “to their honesty and they will steal the hair off your head.” But
the wanderer must adopt the wild man’s motto, omnia mea mecum porto; he
must have good nerves, be capable of fatigue and hardship, possess some
knowledge of drugs, shoot and ride well, speak Arabic and Turkish, know
the customs by reading, and avoid offending against local prejudices,
by causing himself, for instance, to be called Taggaa. The payment of a
small sum secures to him a Rafik,[FN#49] and this “friend,” after once
engaging in the task, will be faithful. “We have eaten salt together”
(Nahnu Malihin) is still a bond of friendship: there are, however, some
tribes who require to renew the bond every twenty-four hours, as
otherwise, to use their own phrase, “the salt is not in their stomachs.”
Caution must be exercised in choosing a companion who has not too many
blood feuds. There is no objection to carrying a copper watch and a
pocket compass, and a Koran could be fitted with secret pockets for
notes and pencil. Strangers should especially avoid handsome weapons;
these tempt the Badawin’s cupidity more than gold. The other extreme,
defencelessness, is equally objectionable. It is needless to say that
the traveller must never be seen writing anything but charms, and must
on no account sketch in public. He should be careful in questioning,
and rather lead up
[p.113] to information than ask directly. It offends some Badawin,
besides denoting ignorance and curiosity, to be asked their names or
those of their clans: a man may be living incognito, and the tribes
distinguish themselves when they desire to do so by dress, personal
appearance, voice, dialect, and accentuation, points of difference
plain to the initiated. A few dollars suffice for the road, and if you
would be “respectable,” a taste which I will not deprecate, some such
presents as razors and Tarbushes are required for the chiefs.
The government of the Arabs may be called almost an autonomy. The
tribes never obey their Shaykhs, unless for personal considerations,
and, as in a civilised army, there generally is some sharp-witted and
brazen-faced individual whose voice is louder than the general’s. In
their leonine society the sword is the greater administrator of law.
Relations between the Badawi tribes of Al-Hijaz are of a threefold
character: they are either Ashab, Kiman, or Akhwan.
Ashab, or “comrades,” are those who are bound by oath to an alliance
offensive and defensive: they intermarry, and are therefore closely
Kiman,[FN#50] or foes, are tribes between whom a blood feud, the cause
and the effect of deadly enmity, exists.
Akhawat, or “brotherhood,” denotes the tie between the stranger and the
Badawi, who asserts an immemorial and inalienable right to the soil
upon which his forefathers fed their flocks. Trespass by a neighbour
instantly causes war. Territorial increase is rarely attempted, for if
of a whole clan but a single boy escape he will one day assert his
claim to the land, and be assisted by all the Ashab, or
[p.114] allies of the slain. By paying to man, woman, or child, a small
sum, varying, according to your means, from a few pence worth of
trinkets to a couple of dollars, you share bread and salt with the
tribe, you and your horse become Dakhil (protected), and every one must
afford you brother-help. If traveller or trader attempt to pass through
the land without paying Al-Akhawah or Al-Rifkah, as it is termed, he
must expect to be plundered, and, resisting, to be slain: it is no
dishonour to pay it, and he clearly is in the wrong who refuses to
conform to custom. The Rafik, under different names, exists throughout
this part of the world; at Sinai he was called a Ghafir, a Rabia in
Eastern Arabia, amongst the Somal an Abban, and by the Gallas a Mogasa.
I have called the tax “black-mail”; it deserves a better name, being
clearly the rudest form of those transit-dues and octrois which are in
nowise improved by “progress.” The Ahl Bayt,[FN#51] or dwellers in the
Black Tents, levy the tax from the Ahl Hayt, or the People of Walls;
that is to say, townsmen and villagers who have forfeited right to be
held Badawin. It is demanded from bastard Arabs, and from tribes who,
like the Hutaym and the Khalawiyah, have been born basely or have
become “nidering.” And these people are obliged to pay it at home as well
as abroad. Then it becomes a sign of disgrace, and the pure clans, like
the Benu Harb, will not give their damsels in marriage to “brothers.”
Besides this Akhawat-tax and the pensions by the Porte to chiefs of
clans, the wealth of the Badawi consists in his flocks and herds, his
mare, and his weapons. Some clans are rich in horses; others are
celebrated for camels; and not a few for sheep, asses, or greyhounds.
The Ahamidah tribe, as has been mentioned, possesses few animals; it
subsists by plunder and by presents from
[p.115] pilgrims. The principal wants of the country are sulphur, lead,
cloths of all kinds, sugar, spices, coffee, corn, and rice. Arms are
valued by the men, and it is advisable to carry a stock of Birmingham
jewellery for the purpose of conciliating womankind. In exchange the
Badawin give sheep,[FN#52] cattle, clarified butter, milk, wool, and
hides, which they use for water-bags, as the Egyptians and other
Easterns do potteries. But as there is now a fair store of dollars in
the country, it is rarely necessary to barter.
The Arab’s dress marks his simplicity; it gives him a nationality, as,
according to John Evelyn, “prodigious breeches” did to the Swiss. It is
remarkably picturesque, and with sorrow we see it now confined to the
wildest Badawin and a few Sharifs. To the practised eye, a Hijazi in
Tarbush and Caftan is ridiculous as a Basque or a Catalonian girl in a
cachemire and a little chip. The necessary dress of a man is his Saub
(Tobe), a blue calico shirt, reaching from neck to ankles, tight or
loose-sleeved, opening at the chest in front, and rather narrow below;
so that the wearer, when running, must either hold it up or tuck it
into his belt. The latter article, called Hakw, is a plaited leathern
thong, twisted round the waist very tightly, so as to support the back.
The trousers and the Futah, or loin-cloth of cities, are looked upon as
signs of effeminacy. In cold weather the chiefs wear over the shirt an
Aba, or cloak. These garments are made in Nijd and the Eastern
districts; they are of four colours, white, black, red, and
brown-striped. The best are of camels’ hair, and may cost fifteen
dollars; the worst, of sheep’s wool, are worth only three; both are
cheap, as they last for years. The Mahramah (head-cloth) comes from
Syria; which, with Nijd, supplies also the Kufiyah or headkerchief. The
Ukal,[FN#53] fillets bound over
[p.116] the kerchief, are of many kinds; the Bishr tribe near Meccah
make a kind of crown like the gloria round a saint’s head, with bits of
wood, in which are set pieces of mother-o’-pearl. Sandals, too, are of
every description, from the simple sole of leather tied on with thongs,
to the handsome and elaborate chaussure of Meccah; the price varies
from a piastre to a dollar, and the very poor walk barefooted. A
leathern bandoleer, called Majdal, passed over the left shoulder, and
reaching to the right hip, supports a line of brass cylinders for
cartridges.[FN#54] The other cross-belt (Al-Masdar), made of leather
ornamented with brass rings, hangs down at the left side, and carries a
Kharizah, or hide-case for bullets. And finally, the Hizam, or
waist-belt, holds the dagger and extra cartridge cases. A Badawi never
appears in public unarmed.
Women wear, like their masters, dark blue cotton Tobes, but larger and
looser. When abroad they cover the head with a Yashmak of black stuff,
or a poppy-coloured Burka (nose-gay) of the Egyptian shape. They wear
no pantaloons, and they rarely affect slippers or sandals. The hair is
twisted into Majdul, little pig-tails, and copiously anointed with
clarified butter. The rich perfume the skin with rose and
cinnamon-scented oils, and adorn the hair with Al-Shayh (Absinthium),
sweetest herb of the Desert; their ornaments are bracelets, collars,
ear and nose-rings of gold, silver, or silver-gilt. The poorer classes
have strings of silver coins hung round the neck.
The true Badawi is an abstemious man, capable of living for six months
on ten ounces of food per diem; the milk of a single camel, and a
handful of dates, dry or fried in clarified butter, suffice for his
wants. He despises the obese and all who require regular and plentiful
meals, sleeps on a mat, and knows neither luxury nor comfort, freezing
during one quarter and frying for three quarters of the year. But
though he can endure hunger, like all
[p.117] savages, he will gorge when an opportunity offers. I never saw
the man who could refrain from water upon the line of march; and in
this point they contrast disadvantageously with the hardy Wahhabis of
the East, and the rugged mountaineers of Jabal Shammar. They are still
“acridophagi,” and even the citizens far prefer a dish of locusts to the
Fasikh, which act as anchovies, sardines, and herrings in Egypt. They
light a fire at night, and as the insects fall dead they quote this
couplet to justify their being eaten—
“We are allowed two carrions and two bloods,
The fish and locust, the liver and the spleen.[FN#55]”
Where they have no crops to lose, the people are thankful for a fall of
locusts. In Al-Hijaz the flights are uncertain; during the last five
years Al-Madinah has seen but few. They are prepared for eating by
boiling in salt water and drying four or five days in the sun: a “wet”
locust to an Arab is as a snail to a Briton. The head is plucked off,
the stomach drawn, the wings and the prickly part of the legs are
plucked, and the insect is ready for the table. Locusts are never eaten
with sweet things, which would be nauseous: the dish is always “hot,” with
salt and pepper, or onions fried in clarified butter, when it tastes
nearly as well as a plate of stale shrimps.
The favourite food on the line of march is meat cut into strips and
sun-dried. This, with a bag of milk-balls[FN#56]
[p.118] and a little coffee, must suffice for journey or campaign. The
Badawin know neither fermented nor distilled liquors, although Ikhs ya’l
Khammar! (Fie upon thee, drunkard!) is a popular phrase, preserving the
memory of another state of things. Some clans, though not all, smoke
tobacco. It is generally the growth of the country called Hijazi or
Kazimiyah; a green weed, very strong, with a foul smell, and costing
about one piastre per pound. The Badawin do not relish Persian tobacco,
and cannot procure Latakia: it is probably the pungency of the native
growth offending the delicate organs of the Desert-men, that caused
nicotiana to be proscribed by the Wahhabis, who revived against its
origin a senseless and obsolete calumny.
The almost absolute independence of the Arabs, and of that noble race
the North American Indians of a former generation, has produced a
similarity between them worthy of note, because it may warn the
anthropologist not always to detect in coincidence of custom identity
of origin. Both have the same wild chivalry, the same fiery sense of
honour, and the same boundless hospitality: elopements from tribe to
tribe, the blood feud, and the Vendetta are common to the to. Both are
grave and cautious in demeanour, and formal in manner,—princes in rags or
paint. The Arabs plunder pilgrims; the Indians, bands of trappers; both
glory in forays, raids, and cattle-lifting; and both rob according to
certain rules. Both are alternately brave to desperation, and shy of
danger. Both are remarkable for nervous and powerful eloquence; dry
humour, satire, whimsical tales, frequent tropes; boasts, and ruffling
style; pithy proverbs, extempore songs, and languages wondrous in their
complexity. Both, recognising no other occupation but war and the
chase, despise artificers and the effeminate people of cities, as the
game-cock spurns the vulgar roosters of the poultry-yard.[FN#57] The
[p.119] chivalry of the Western wolds, like that of the Eastern wilds,
salutes the visitor by a charge of cavalry, by discharging guns, and by
wheeling around him with shouts and yells. The “brave” stamps a red hand
upon his mouth to show that he has drunk the blood of a foe. Of the
Utaybah “Harami” it is similarly related, that after mortal combat he
tastes the dead man’s gore.
Of these two chivalrous races of barbarians, the Badawi claims our
preference on account of his treatment of women, his superior
development of intellect, and the glorious page of history which he has
The tribes of Al-Hijaz are tediously numerous: it will be sufficient to
enumerate the principal branches of the Badawi tree, without detailing
the hundred little offshoots which it has put forth in the course of
Those ancient clans the Abs and Adnan have almost died out. The latter,
it is said, still exists in the neighbourhood of Taif; and the Abs, I
am informed, are to be found near Kusayr (Cosseir), on the African
coast, but not in Al-Hijaz. Of the Aus, Khazraj, and Nazir details have
been given in a previous chapter. The Benu Harb is now the ruling clan
in the Holy Land. It is divided by genealogists into two great bodies,
first, the Benu Salim, and, secondly, the Masruh,[FN#59] or “roaming
[p.120]The Benu Salim, again, have eight subdivisions, viz.:—
1. Ahamidah (Ahmadi)[FN#60]: this clan owns for chief, Shaykh Sa’ad of
the mountains. It is said to contain about 3500 men. Its principal
sub-clan is the Hadari.
2. Hawazim (Hazimi), the rival tribe, 3000 in number: it is again
divided into Muzayni and Zahiri.
3. Sobh (Sobhi), 3500, habitat near Al-Badr.
4. Salaymah (Salimi), also called Aulad Salim.
5. Sa’adin (Sa’adani).
6. Mahamid (Mahmadi), 8000.
7. Rahalah (Rihayli), 1000.
8. Timam (Tamimi).
The Masruh tree splits into two great branches, Benu Auf, and Benu
Amur.[FN#61] The former is a large clan, extending from Wady Nakia
[Arabic] near Nijd, to Rabigh and Al-Madinah. They have few horses, but
many dromedaries, camels, and sheep, and are much feared by the people,
on account of their warlike and savage character. They separate into
ten sub-divisions, viz.:—
1. Sihliyah (Sihli), about 2000 in number.
2. Sawaid (Sa’idi), 1000.
3. Rukhasah (Rakhis).
4. Kassanin (Kassan): this sub-clan claims origin from the old “Gassan”
stock, and is found in considerable numbers at Wady Nakia and other
places near Al-Madinah.
5. Ruba’ah (Rabai).
6. Khazarah (Khuzayri).
7. Lahabah (Lahaybi), 1500 in number.
8. Faradah (Faradi).
9. Benu Ali (Alawi).
10. Zubayd (Zubaydi), near Meccah, a numerous clan of fighting thieves.
Also under the Benu Amur—as the word is popularly pronounced—are ten
1. Marabitah (Murabti). They [nrs. 1-5] principally inhabit the land
about Al-Fara [Arabic] a collection of settlements four marches South
of Al-Madinah, number about 10,000 men, and have droves of sheep and
camels but few horses.
2. Hussar (Hasir).
3. Benu Jabir (Jabiri).
4. Rabaykah (Rubayki).
5. Hisnan (Hasuni).
6. Bizan (Bayzani).
7. Badarin (Badrani).
8. Biladiyah (Biladi).
9. Jaham (the singular and plural forms are the same).
10. Shatarah (Shitayri).[FN#62]
The great Anizah race now, I was told, inhabits Khaybar, and it must
not visit Al-Madinah without a Rafik or protector. Properly speaking
there are no outcasts in Al-Hijaz, as in Al-Yaman and the Somali
country. But the Hitman (pl. of Hutaym or Hitaym), inhabiting the
sea-board about Yambu’, are taxed by other Badawin as low and vile of
origin. The unchastity of the women is connived at by the men, who,
however, are brave and celebrated as marksmen: they make, eat, and sell
cheese, for which reason that food is despised by the Harb. And the
Khalawiyah (pl. of Khalawi) are equally despised; they are generally
blacksmiths, have a fine breed of greyhounds, and give asses as a
dowry, which secures for them the derision of their fellows.
Mr. C. Cole, H. B. M.’s Vice-Consul at Jeddah, was kind enough to collect
for me notices of the different tribes in Central and Southern Hijaz.
His informants divide the great clan Juhaynah living about Yambu’ and
Yambu’ al-Nakhl into five branches, viz.:—
1. Benu Ibrahimah, in number about 5000.
2. Ishran, 700.
3. Benu Malik, 6000.
4. Arwah, 5000.
5. Kaunah, 3000.
Thus giving a total of 19,700 men capable of carrying arms.[FN#63]
The same gentleman, whose labours in Eastern Arabia during the coast
survey of the “Palinurus” are well known to the Indian world, gives the
following names of the tribes under allegiance to the Sharif of Meccah.
1. Sakif (Thakif) al-Yaman, 2000.
2. Sakif al-Sham,[FN#64] 1000.
3. Benu Malik, 6000.
4. Nasirah, 3000.
5. Benu Sa’ad, 4000.
6. Huzayh (Hudhayh), 5000.
7. Bakum (Begoum), 5000.
8. Adudah, 500.
9. Bashar, 1000.
10. Sa’id, 1500.
11. Zubayd, 4000.
12. Aydah, 1000.
The following is a list of the Southern Hijazi tribes, kindly forwarded
to me by the Abbe Hamilton, after his return from a visit to the Sharif
1. Ghamid al-Badawy (“of the nomades”), 30,000.
2. Ghamid al-Hazar (“the settled”), 40,000.
3. Zahran, 38,000.
4. Benu Malik, 30,000.
5. Nasirah, 15,000.
6. Asir, 40,000.
7. Tamum, *
8. Bilkarn, * * together, 80,000.
9. Benu Ahmar, 10,000.
10. Utaybah, living north of Meccah: no number given.
12. Daraysh, 2000.
13. Benu Sufyan, 15,000.
14. Al-Hullad, 3000.
It is evident that the numbers given by this traveller include the
women, and probably the children of the tribes. Some exaggeration will
also be suspected.
The principal clans which practise the pagan Salkh, or excoriation,
are, in Al-Hijaz, the Huzayl and the Benu Sufyan, together with the
following families in Al-Tahamah:
3. Benu Fahm.
4. Benu Mahmud.
5. Saramu (?)
7. Benu Yazid.
I now take leave of a subject which cannot but be most uninteresting to
[FN#1] In Holy Writ, as the indigens are not alluded to—only the Noachian
race being described—we find two divisions: 1 The children of Joktan
(great grandson of Shem), Mesopotamians settled in Southern Arabia, “from
Mesha (Musa or Meccah?) to Sephar” (Zafar), a “Mount of the East,”—Genesis, x.
30: that is to say, they occupied the lands from Al-Tahamah to Mahrah.
2. The children of Ishmael, and his Egyptian wife; they peopled only
the Wilderness of Paran in the Sinaitic Peninsula and the parts
adjacent. Dr. Aloys Sprenger (Life of Mohammed, p. 18), throws
philosophic doubt upon the Ishmaelitish descent of Mohammed, who in
personal appearance was a pure Caucasian, without any mingling of
Egyptian blood. And the Ishmaelitish origin of the whole Arab race is
an utterly untenable theory. Years ago, our great historian sensibly
remarked that “the name (Saracens), used by Ptolemy and Pliny in a more
confined, by Ammianus and Procopius in a larger sense, has been derived
ridiculously from Sarah the wife of Abraham.” In Gibbon’s observation, the
erudite Interpreter of the One Primaeval Language,—the acute bibliologist
who metamorphoses the quail of the wilderness into a “ruddy goose,”—detects
“insidiousness” and “a spirit of restless and rancorous hostility” against
revealed religion. He proceeds on these sound grounds to attack the
accuracy, the honesty and the learning of the mighty dead. This may be
Christian zeal; it is not Christian charity. Of late years it has been
the fashion for every aspirant to ecclesiastical honours to deal a blow
at the ghost of Gibbon. And, as has before been remarked, Mr. Foster
gratuitously attacked Burckhardt, whose manes had long rested in the
good-will of man. This contrasts offensively with Lord Lindsay’s happy
compliment to the memory of the honest Swiss and the amiable eulogy
quoted by Dr. Keith from the Quarterly (vol. xxiii.), and thus adopted
as his own. It may seem folly to defend the historian of the Decline
and Fall against the compiler of the Historical Geography of Arabia.
But continental Orientalists have expressed their wonder at the
appearance in this nineteenth century of the “Voice of Israel from Mount
Sinai” and the “India in Greece”[;] they should be informed that all our
Eastern students are not votaries of such obsolete vagaries.
[FN#2] This is said without any theory. According to all historians of
long inhabited lands, the advenae—whether migratory tribes or visitors—find
indigens or [Greek].
[FN#3] They are described as having small heads, with low brows and
ill-formed noses, (strongly contrasting with the Jewish feature),
irregular lines, black skins, and frames for the most part frail and
slender. For a physiological description of this race, I must refer my
readers to the writings of Dr. Carter of Bombay, the medical officer of
the Palinurus, when engaged on the Survey of Eastern Arabia. With ample
means of observation he has not failed to remark the similarity between
the lowest type of Badawi and the Indigens of India, as represented by
the Bhils and other Jungle races. This, from a man of science who is
not writing up to a theory, may be considered strong evidence in favour
of variety in the Arabian family. The fact has long been suspected, but
few travellers have given their attention to the subject since the
downfall of Sir William Jones’ Indian origin theory. I am convinced that
there is not in Arabia “one Arab face, cast of features and expression,” as
was formerly supposed to be the case, and I venture to recommend the
subject for consideration to future observers.
[FN#4] Of this Mesopotamian race there are now many local varieties.
The subjects of the four Abyssinian and Christian sovereigns who
succeeded Yusuf, the Jewish “Lord of the Pit,” produced, in Al-Yaman, the
modern “Akhdam” or “Serviles.” The “Hujur” of Al-Yaman and Oman are a mixed race
whose origin is still unknown. And to quote no more cases, the “Ebna”
mentioned by the Ibn Ishak were descended from the Persian soldiers of
Anushirwan, who expelled the Abyssinian invader.
[FN#5] That the Copts, or ancient Egyptians, were “Half-caste Arabs,” a
mixed people like the Abyssinians, the Gallas, the Somal, and the
Kafirs, an Arab graft upon an African stock, appears highly probable.
Hence the old Nilotic race has been represented as woolly-headed and of
negro feature. Thus Leo Africanus makes the Africans to be descendants
of the Arabs. Hence the tradition that Egypt was peopled by AEthiopia,
and has been gradually whitened by admixture of Persian and Median,
Greek and Roman blood. Hence, too, the fancied connection of Aethiopia
with Cush, Susiana, Khuzistan or the lands about the Tigris. Thus
learned Virgil, confounding the Western with the Eastern Aethiopians,
“Usque coloratos Nilus devexus ad Indos.”
And Strabo maintains the people of Mauritania to be Indians who had
come with Hercules. We cannot but remark in Southern Arabia the
footprints of the Hindu, whose superstitions, like the Phoenix which
flew from India to expire in Egypt, passed over to Arabia with Dwipa
Sukhatra (Socotra) for a resting place on its way to the regions of the
remotest West. As regards the difference between the Japhetic and
Semitic tongues, it may be remarked that though nothing can be more
distinct than Sanscrit and Arabic, yet that Pahlavi and Hebrew (Prof.
Bohlen on Genesis) present some remarkable points of resemblance. I
have attempted in a work on Sind to collect words common to both
families. And further research convinces me that such vocables as the
Arabic Taur [Arabic] the Persian Tora [Persian] and the Latin “Taurus”
denote an ancient rapprochement, whose mysteries still invite the
elucidation of modern science.
[FN#6] The Sharif families affect marrying female slaves, thereby
showing the intense pride which finds no Arab noble enough for them.
Others take to wife Badawi girls: their blood, therefore, is by no
means pure. The worst feature of their system is the forced celibacy of
their daughters; they are never married into any but Sharif families;
consequently they often die in spinsterhood. The effects of this custom
are most pernicious, for though celibacy exists in the East it is by no
means synonymous with chastity. Here it springs from a morbid sense of
honour, and arose, it is popularly said, from an affront taken by a
Sharif against his daughter’s husband. But all Arabs condemn the practice.
[FN#7] I use this word as popular abuse has fixed it. Every Orientalist
knows that Badawin (Bedouin) is the plural form of Badawi, an “ism
al-nisbah,” or adjective derived from Badu, a Desert. “Some words
notoriously corrupt,” says Gibbon, “are fixed, and as it were naturalised,
in the vulgar tongue.” The word “Badawi” is not insulting, like “Turk” applied to
an Osmanli, or “Fellah” to the Egyptian. But you affront the wild man by
mistaking his clan for a lower one. “Ya Hitaymi,” for instance, addressed
to a Harb Badawi, makes him finger his dagger.
[FN#8] This coarseness is not a little increased by a truly Badawi
habit of washing the locks with—[Arabic]. It is not considered wholly
impure, and is also used for the eyes, upon which its ammonia would act
as a rude stimulant. The only cosmetic is clarified butter freely
applied to the body as well as to the hair.
[FN#9] “Kurun” ([Arabic]) properly means “horns.” The Sharifs generally wear
their hair in “Haffah” ([Arabic]), long locks hanging down both sides of
the neck and shaved away about a finger’s breadth round the forehead and
behind the neck.
[FN#10] This traveller describes the modern Mesopotamian and Northern
race, which, as its bushy beard—unusual feature in pure Arab blood—denotes,
is mixed with central Asian. In the North, as might be expected, the
camels are hairy; whereas, in Al-Hijaz and in the low parts of
Al-Yaman, a whole animal does not give a handful fit for weaving. The
Arabs attribute this, as we should, to heat, which causes the longer
hairs to drop off.
[FN#11] “Magnum inter Arabes et Africanos discrimen efficit [Greek].
Arabum parvula membra sicut nobilis aequi. Africanum tamen flaccum,
crassum longumque: ita quiescens, erectum tamen parum distenditur.
Argumentum validissimum est ad indagandam Egyptorum originem: Nilotica
enim gens membrum habet Africanum.”
[FN#12] Whereas the Saxon thumb is thick, flat, and short, extending
scarcely half way to the middle joint of the index.
[FN#13] A similar unwillingness to name the wife may be found in some
parts of southern Europe, where probably jealousy or possibly Asiatic
custom has given rise to it. Among the Maltese it appears in a truly
ridiculous way, e.g., “dice la mia moglie, con rispetto parlando, &c.,”
says the husband, adding to the word spouse a “saving your presence,” as if
he were speaking of something offensive.
[FN#14] Dr. Howe (Report on Idiotcy in Massachusetts, 1848,) asserts
that “the law against the marriage of relations is made out as clearly as
though it were written on tables of stone.” He proceeds to show that in
seventeen households where the parents were connected by blood, of
ninety-five children one was a dwarf, one deaf, twelve scrofulous, and
forty-four idiots—total fifty-eight diseased!
[FN#15] Yet the celebrated “Flying Childers” and all his race were
remarkably bred in. There is still, in my humble opinion, much mystery
about the subject, to be cleared up only by the studies of
[FN#16] This sounds in English like an “Irish bull.” I translate “Badu,” as the
dictionaries do, “a Desert.”
[FN#17] The Sharbat Kajari is the “Acquetta” of Persia, and derives its
name from the present royal family. It is said to be a mixture of
verdigris with milk; if so, it is a very clumsy engine of state policy.
In Egypt and Mosul, Sulaymani (the common name for an Afghan) is used
to signify “poison”; but I know not whether it be merely euphuistic or
confined to some species. The banks of the Nile are infamous for these
arts, and Mohammed Ali Pasha imported, it is said, professional
poisoners from Europe.
[FN#18] Throughout the world the strictness of the Lex Scripta is in
inverse ratio to that of custom: whenever the former is lax, the latter
is stringent, and vice versa. Thus in England, where law leaves men
comparatively free, they are slaves to a grinding despotism of
conventionalities, unknown in the land of tyrannical rule. This
explains why many men, accustomed to live under despotic governments,
feel fettered and enslaved in the so-called free countries. Hence,
also, the reason why notably in a republic there is less private and
practical liberty than under a despotism. The “Kazi al-Arab” (Judge of the
Arabs) is in distinction to the Kazi al-Shara, or the Kazi of the
Koran. The former is, almost always, some sharp-witted greybeard, with
a minute knowledge of genealogy and precedents, a retentive memory and
an eloquent tongue.
[FN#19] Thus the Arabs, being decidedly a parsimonious people, indulge
in exaggerated praises and instances of liberality. Hatim Tai, whose
generosity is unintelligible to Europeans, becomes the Arab model of
the “open hand.” Generally a high beau ideal is no proof of a people’s
practical pre-eminence, and when exaggeration enters into it and suits
the public taste, a low standard of actuality may be fairly suspected.
But to convince the oriental mind you must dazzle it. Hence, in part,
the superhuman courage of Antar, the liberality of Hatim, the justice
of Omar, and the purity of Laila and Majnun under circumstances more
trying than aught chronicled in Mathilde, or in the newest American
[FN#20] At the battle of Bissel, when Mohammed Ali of Egypt broke the
40,000 guerillas of Faisal son of Sa’ud the Wahhabi, whole lines of the
Benu Asir tribe were found dead and tied by the legs with ropes. This
system of colligation dates from old times in Arabia, as the “Affair of
Chains” (Zat al-Salasil) proves. It is alluded to by the late Sir Henry
Elliot in his “Appendix to the Arabs in Sind,”—a work of remarkable sagacity
and research. According to the “Beglar-Nameh,” it was a “custom of the people
of Hind and Sind, whenever they devote themselves to death, to bind
themselves to each other by their mantles and waistbands.” It seems to
have been an ancient practice in the West as in the East: the Cimbri,
to quote no other instances, were tied together with cords when
attacked by Marius. Tactic truly worthy of savages to prepare for
victory by expecting a defeat!
[FN#21] Though differing in opinion, upon one subject, from the Rev.
Mr. Robertson, the lamented author of this little work, I cannot
refrain from expressing the highest admiration of those noble thoughts,
those exalted views, and those polished sentiments which, combining the
delicacy of the present with the chivalry of a past age, appear in a
“As smooth as woman and as strong as man.”
Would that it were in my power to pay a more adequate tribute to his
[FN#22] Even Juno, in the most meaningless of idolatries, became,
according to Pausanias (lib. ii. cap. 38), a virgin once every year.
And be it observed that Al-Islam (the faith, not the practice)
popularly decided to debase the social state of womankind, exalts it by
holding up to view no fewer than two examples of perfection in the
Prophet’s household. Khadijah, his first wife, was a minor saint, and the
Lady Fatimah is supposed to have been spiritually unspotted by sin, and
materially ever a virgin, even after giving birth to Hasan and to
[FN#23] There is no objection to intermarriage between equal clans, but
the higher will not give their daughters to the lower in dignity.
[FN#24] For instance: “A certain religious man was so deeply affected
with the love of a king’s daughter, that he was brought to the brink of
the grave,” is a favourite inscriptive formula. Usually the hero “sickens
in consequence of the heroine’s absence, and continues to the hour of his
death in the utmost grief and anxiety.” He rarely kills himself, but
sometimes, when in love with a pretty infidel, he drinks wine and he
burns the Koran. The “hated rival” is not a formidable person; but there
are for good reasons great jealousy of female friends, and not a little
fear of the beloved’s kinsmen. Such are the material sentiments; the
spiritual part is a thread of mysticism, upon which all the pearls of
adventure and incident are strung.
[FN#25] It is curious that these pastoral races, which supply poetry
with namby-pamby Colinades, figure as the great tragedians of history.
The Scythians, the Huns, the Arabs, and the Tartars were all shepherds.
They first armed themselves with clubs to defend their flocks from wild
beasts. Then they learned warfare, and improved means of destruction by
petty quarrels about pastures; and, finally, united by the commanding
genius of some skin-clad Caesar or Napoleon, they fell like avalanches
upon those valleys of the world—Mesopotamia, India, and Egypt—whose
enervate races offered them at once temptations to attack, and
certainty of success.
[FN#26] Even amongst the Indians, as a race the least chivalrous of
men, there is an oath which binds two persons of different sex in the
tie of friendship, by making them brother and sister to each other.
[FN#27] Richardson derives our “knight” from Nikht ([Arabic]), a tilter
with spears, and “Caitiff” from Khattaf, ([Arabic]) a snatcher or ravisher.
[FN#28] I am not ignorant that the greater part of “Antar” is of modern and
disputed origin. Still it accurately expresses Arab sentiment.
[FN#29] I wish that the clever Orientalist who writes in the Saturday