Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt


IT was with some difficulty that I could find a room in one of the okales or khans of the town, which were filled with soldiers, who had received permission to return to Cairo, after their last expedition against the southern Wahabys, and had come here from Djidda and Mekka; and, besides them, there were many hadjys, who, after their return from Medina, intended to embark for Suez or Cosseir. Among the latter was the lady of Mohammed Aly Pasha, who had arrived from Medina; for the transport of whose escort, suite, and baggage, four ships were in a state of preparation. After having deposited my baggage in an airy room, on the terrace of an okale, I walked towards the harbour, to inquire about a passage to Egypt. This, I soon understood, it was impossible to obtain at present. Positive orders had been given, that none should embark but soldiers, who had already engaged three or four ships, then ready to sail; and of whom upwards of fifteen hundred, including many Turkish hadjys, who passed for soldiers, being armed and dressed like them, were still waiting for conveyances.

While I was sitting in a coffee-house near the harbour, three funerals passed at short intervals; and upon expressing my surprise at this, I learned that many people had died within these few days of feverish complaints. I had heard, when at Beder, that a bad fever prevailed at Yembo, but then paid little attention to the report. During the rest of the day I saw several other funerals, but had not the slightest idea to what so many deaths were to be attributed, till night, when I had retired to my room up-stairs, which overlooked a considerable part of the town; I then heard, in every direction, innumerable voices breaking out in those heart-rending cries which all over the Levant, accompany the parting breath of a friend or relative. At that moment the thought flashed upon my mind, that it might be the plague: I attempted, in vain, to dispel my apprehensions, or at least to drown them in sleep; but the dreadful cries kept me awake the whole night. When I descended early in the morning into the okale, where many Arabs were drinking their coffee, I communicated to them my apprehensions; but had no sooner mentioned the word plague, than they called me to order, asking me if I was ignorant that the Almighty had for ever excluded that disorder from the holy territory of the Hedjaz? Such an argument admits of no reply among Moslims; I therefore walked out, in search of some Greek Christians, several of whom I had seen the day before, in the street, and from them I received a full confirmation of my fears. The plague had broken out ten days ago: it had been raging at Cairo with the greatest fury for several months; and at Suez a large part of the population had died: from that port two ships laden with cotton stuffs had carried it to Djidda, and from thence it was communicated to Yembo. No instance of the plague had ever before been witnessed in the Hedjaz, at least none within the memory of man; and the inhabitants could with difficulty persuade themselves that such an event had occurred, especially at a time when the holy cities had been reconquered from the Wahabys. The intercourse with Egypt had not at any time been greater than now, and it was, therefore, no wonder that this scourge should be carried to the Hedjaz. While ten or fifteen people only died per day, the Arabs of the town could not believe that the disease was the plague, although the usual appearance of the biles upon the bodies of the infected, and the rapid progress of the disorder, which seldom lasted more than three or four days, might have been convincing proofs. In five or six days after my arrival the mortality increased; forty or fifty persons died in a day, which, in a population of five or six thousand, was a terrible mortality. The inhabitants now felt a panic: little disposed to submit as patiently to the danger as the Turks do in every other part of the East, the greater part of them fled into the open country, and the town became deserted; but the disease followed the fugitives, who had encamped close together; and thus finding no remedy to the evil, many of them returned. They excused their flight by saying, “God in his mercy sends this disease, to call us to his presence; but we are conscious of our unworthiness, and feel that we do not deserve his grace; therefore, we think it better to decline it, for the present, and to fly from it:” an argument which I heard frequently repeated.

Had I been myself in full strength, I should, no doubt, have followed their example and gone into the Desert; but I felt extremely weak, and incapable of any exertions. I thought also that I might escape the disease, shut up in my insulated room, and indulged moreover the hope of a speedy passage to Egypt; in the latter, however, I was deceived. By making a few presents, and a little bribery, I might perhaps have found means to embark forthwith; but the vessels now ready to sail were crowded to excess, and full of diseased soldiers, so that a stay in the infected town was to be preferred to a departure by such a conveyance. Some days after, I learnt that a small open boat, free from troops, was ready to sail for Cosseir, and I immediately agreed for a passage on board it; but its sailing was delayed from day to day, until the fifteenth of May, when I finally left Yembo, after a stay of eighteen days in the midst of the plague.

It was, perhaps, my own bad state of health, and the almost uninterrupted low fever under which I laboured, that preserved me; for, notwithstanding all my care, I was many times exposed to infection. The great street of Yembo was lined with sick, in the very agonies of death, asking for charity; in the yard of the okale where I lived, an Arab was dying; the master of the okale lost a sister and a son in his own family, and related to me, as he sat on my carpet, how his son died the preceding night in his arms. The imprudence of my slave likewise counteracted all my measures of precaution. Having missed him for several days early in the morning, I inquired the cause of his absence, when he told me that he had gone to assist in washing the dead bodies. The poor who died during the night were exposed in the morning upon biers, on the sea-shore, to be washed before the ceremony of praying over them in the mosque; and my slave thought it meritorious to join in this office, which had devolved upon several negro pilgrims, who happened to be at Yembo. I desired him to remain at home, for the future, at that hour, to prepare my breakfast; but I was as little able to prevent his walking out at other times, as I could myself dispense with that duty; and one could scarcely pass the bazar without touching infected people, or at least those who had been in close contact with them.

The sense of the danger which then threatened me is much greater, now that I find myself far removed from it, than I felt it at the time. After the first four or five days, I became tolerably familiarized with the idea of the plague, and compared the small numbers who died every day with the mass of the remaining inhabitants. The great many cases of persons remaining in full health, notwithstanding the closest connexion with the deceased, considerably removed the apprehensions of the malady being communicated by infection; and example works so powerfully on the mind, that when I saw the number of foreigners then in the town quite unconcerned, I began to be almost ashamed of myself for possessing less courage than they displayed. The disease seemed, however, to be of the most malignant kind; very few of those who were attacked, escaped, and the same was observed at Djidda. The Arabs used no kind of medicine; I heard of a few people having been bled, and of others having been cured by applying a drawing-plaster to the neck; but these were rare instances, which were not imitated by the great mass. As it is the custom to bury the dead in a very few hours after decease, two instances occurred during my stay at Yembo, of persons supposed dead being buried alive: the stupor into which they fell when the disorder was at a crisis, had been mistaken for death. One of them gave signs of life at the moment they were depositing him in the grave, and was saved: the body of the other, when his tomb was re-opened several days after his burial, to admit the corpse of a near relation, was found with bloody hands and face, and the winding-sheet torn, by the unavailing efforts he had made to rise. On seeing this, the people said, that the devil, being unable to hurt his soul, had thus disfigured his body.

The governor of Yembo took great care that the exact amount of the mortality in the town should not be known; but the solemn exclamations of “La illaha ill’ Allah,” which indicate a Moslim funeral, struck the ear from every side and quarter of the town, and I counted myself forty-two in one day. To the poor the plague becomes a real feast; every family that can afford it, kills a sheep on the death of any of its members, and the day after, the men and women of the whole neighbourhood are entertained at the house. The women enter the apartments, embrace and console all the females of the family, and expose themselves every moment to infection. It is to this custom, more than any other cause, that the rapid dissemination of the plague in Mohammedan towns must be ascribed; for when the disease once breaks out in a family, it never fails of being transmitted to the whole neighbourhood.

It is a common belief among Europeans, and even eastern Christians, that the Mohammedan religion forbids any precautionary measures against the plague; but this is erroneous. That religion forbids its followers from avoiding the disease if it has once entered a town or country; but it warns them at the same time, not to enter any place where the plague rages: and it accordingly forbids individuals to shut themselves up in a house, and to cut off all communication with the rest of the infected town, because this is the same as flying from the plague; but it favours measures of quarantine, to prevent the importation of the disease, or its communication to strangers upon their arrival. The belief in predestination, however, is so deeply and universally rooted in the minds of the eastern nations, that not the slightest measures of safety are any where adopted. The numberless extraordinary instances of the disease sparing those who have come into closest contact with it, confirm them in their opinion that it is not epidemic; and their prophet Mohammed has declared to them, “that the plague is caused by the demon’s hostile attack upon mankind,” and that “those who die of it are martyrs.” The universal opinion prevails among Moslims, that an invisible angel of death, armed with a lance, touches the victims he destines for the plague, whom he finds out in the most hidden recesses. The trunk of a palm-tree lay in one of the streets of Yembo, and it had been observed that many people who had stepped over it, had soon after been seized with the plague; it was therefore believed that the demon had there taken his favourite stand, to wound the passer-by; and therefore the Arabs took a circuitous road, to avoid their foe, although they were persuaded that he was light-footed and could overtake them wherever they went.

That the Christians and Franks escape the disease by shutting themselves up in their houses, affords but a feeble proof to the contrary. Imprudence, and the tardy adoption of these measures, always cause a slight mortality even among them; and such cases are afterwards adduced in proof of the folly of attempting to oppose the decrees of Providence. Besides, there are many Christians in the East, who follow Turkish maxims, and, impressed with the same notions of predestination, think it superfluous to take any steps for their safety. Turks trifle with so many of the prescribed duties of their religion, that it might not, perhaps, be difficult, in this instance, to make them adopt rational opinions; and the more so, as the Koran is silent upon this head: but no private measures can be adopted, and rigidly observed, as long as every individual, almost, is convinced in his own mind of their folly and inefficacy. If this were not universally the case, the Turks themselves would, long ago, have found means of resorting to prophylactics, in spite of their religious doctrines; as the Arabs now did in the Hedjaz; and their olemas would have furnished them with fetwas, and quotations from the law, in favour of what their good sense might have led them to adopt. In the Hadyth, or sacred traditions, a saying of Mohammed is recorded: “Fly from the leprous, as thou flyest from the lion.”

The case is different, respecting the means of preventing the plague from being imported, or to establish regular quarantines. This is a measure depending entirely upon the government. The most fanatic and orthodox Muselmans, those of the Barbary states, have adopted this system; and the laws of quarantine are as strictly enforced in their harbours, as they are in the European ports on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. That a similar system has not been introduced into Turkey is matter of deep concern, and may be attributed rather to motives of interest, than to bigotry. Constantinople, and the ports of the Archipelago, I have not visited myself; but I know that it would be easy for the governors of Syria, and still more for the governor of Egypt, to use their authority in introducing a system of quarantine on the coast, without any dread of opposition from their subjects. The governments of Syria, however, must be guided in such matters by the Porte, and would hardly attempt to establish quarantine, without the authority of their sovereign: but Mohammed Aly has often acted directly contrary to the orders of the Porte, even in matters affecting his sovereign’s pecuniary interest; and we may believe that it is not solely the fear of displeasing his master, which has prevented him from listening to the frequent friendly advice and representations made to him on this subject by European powers; and, at the same time, his loose religious principles are too well known, to suppose that bigotry restrains him from yielding to their solicitations.

While for four succeeding years, from 1812 to 1816, the plague has every spring made ravages in Egypt, Mohammed Aly himself, with his family and principal officers, have been shut up in their palaces with scrupulous care; thus offering infinitely more scandal to the people than they would have done by the establishment of quarantine regulations. Wishing, however, to be considered by Europeans as a liberally-thinking man, devoid of any prejudices, he had really given orders, in 1813 and 1814, to establish a quarantine at Alexandria; but the shameful manner in which it was conducted, clearly proved that he had no sincere wish to guard his subjects from the horrors of infection; and the whole scheme was soon after abandoned. My own inquiries, and the opinion of many Turks themselves, who judge of the measures of their own government much better than is generally supposed, have led me to believe, that the Grand Signior, as well as his Pashas, tolerate the plague in their dominions, because the numerous deaths fill their purses: with respect to Egypt, I hold this to be indisputably the secret cause. The commercial towns of Cairo, Alexandria, and Damietta, are crowded with foreign merchants, and other strangers from all quarters of the East are established there: according to the law, the property of all persons who have no near heirs to claim it, falls to the Beit el Mál; a treasury, formerly destined for purposes beneficial to the subjects, but now entirely at the private disposal of the governors. The increased mortality thus causes great sums to fall into their hands. The prefect of every quarter of the town must, under the heaviest penalties, inform the government of any stranger or individual without heirs who dies within his district; and not only is the property of such people seized, but even that of those persons whose heirs, although known, are absent in foreign countries, and to whom no other privilege is granted, in return, than that of addressing their unavailing claims to the same governor, who converts the income of the Beit el Mál to his own use. The most flagrant injustice is committed with respect to the property of deceased persons, as well during the plague as at other times; and the Kadhy, with a whole train of olemas, officers, and people in inferior employments, share in the illegal spoil. In the same manner the property of military officers, and of many soldiers, is sequestrated at their death. Upon a moderate calculation, the plague this year in Egypt, which carried off in the city of Cairo alone from thirty to forty thousand, added twenty thousand purses, or ten millions of piastres, to the coffers of the Pasha, a sum large enough to stifle any feelings of humanity in the breast of a Turk. That the population has diminished, and consequently the regular revenues suffered, is a reflection which a Turkish governor never makes, who calculates merely the immediate consequences of an event; and, provided he be safe himself, and his wealth increasing, cares little for the fate of his subjects. As the plague seldom visits the open country, and therefore does not deprive the soil of its labourers, its effects are less dreaded by the Pasha. He will never be convinced that policy, as well as humanity, dictates a removal of the causes of plague, until he has seen a whole province depopulated, and the fields which yield him his revenues deserted. [The little care taken by the government in Egypt for preserving the lives of the subject is evinced in an equally strange manner, by the neglect with which the small-pox is treated; a disease that makes as great ravages in Upper Egypt as ever the plague could do, which, itself seldom visits those southern provinces. The numerous representations made to Mohammed Aly for the introduction of vaccination have been of no avail, though, if he had chosen to inquire, he might have known that in 1813, in the small town of Esne alone, upwards of two hundred and fifty persons, adults and children, fell victims to the small-pox, the violence of which is much greater in these climates than in Europe.]

It should seem as if Constantinople and Cairo were the great receptacles of plague in the East, communicating it mutually to each other, and to the neighbouring countries. How far the joint and energetic representations of European powers might induce the Grand Signior to adopt measures of safety for his capital, and to insure by that means the safety of the population of European Turkey and Anatolia, I am unable to decide; but I have little doubt, that a firm remonstrance from the English government would induce the Pasha of Egypt to obey the call of humanity, and thus benefit Egypt, as well as Syria and the English possessions in the Mediterranean.

The ravages of the plague were still more deplorable at Djidda than at Yembo; as many as two hundred and fifty persons died there per day. Great numbers of the inhabitants fled to Mekka, thinking to be safe in that sacred asylum; but they carried the disease with them, and a number of Mekkans died, although much less in proportion than at Djidda. Even the Kadhy of Djidda, an Arab, made his escape to Mekka, with all his olemas; but Hassan Pasha, then governor of the holy city, ordered him, under pain of death, to return immediately to his post; and he died on the road. The principal marketstreet of Djidda was quite deserted, and numbers of families were entirely destroyed. As a great many foreign merchants were then in Djidda, their property considerably increased Mohammed Aly’s treasure; and I heard from eye-witnesses, that the only business then done in the town was the transport of corpses to the burial-ground, and that of the deceased’s valuable property to the house of the commandant. Medina remained free from the plague, as did the open country between Yembo and Djidda.

I shall mention here a particular custom of the Arabs. When the plague had reached its height at Yembo, the Arab inhabitants led in procession through the town a she-camel, thickly covered with all sorts of ornaments, feathers, bells, &c. &c.: when they reached the burialground, they killed it, and threw its flesh to the vultures and the dogs. They hoped that the plague, dispersed over the town, would hasten to take refuge in the body of the camel, and that by slaughtering the victim, they would get rid at once of the disease. Many of the more sensible Arabs laughed at this; but it was so far of some use, that it inspired the lower classes with courage.

The town of Yembo is built on the northern side of a deep bay, which affords good anchorage for ships, and is protected from the violence of the wind by an island at its entrance. The ships lie close in shore, and the harbour is spacious enough to contain the largest fleet. The town is divided by a creek of the bay into two parts; the largest division is called exclusively Yembo; the other, on the western side, bears the name of El Kad, and is principally inhabited by seafaring people. Both divisions have the sea in front, and are enclosed on the other sides by a common wall, of considerable strength, better built than those of Djidda, Tayf, and Medina. It is flanked by many towers and was erected by the joint labour of the inhabitants themselves, as a defence against the Wahabys, the ancient wall being ruined, and enclosing only a part of the town. The new wall comprises an area almost double the space occupied by habitations, leaving between it and the latter, large open squares, which are either used as burial-grounds, encamping-places for caravans, for the exercising of troops, or are abandoned as waste ground. The extent of the wall would require a large garrison to defend it at all points; the whole armed population of Yembo is inadequate to it: but Eastern engineers always estimate the strength of a fortification by its size; and with the same view a thick wall and deep ditch have been lately carried along the outskirts of the old town of Alexandria, which it would require at least twenty-five thousand men to defend.

Yembo has two gates towards the east and north; Bab el Medina, and Bab el Masry. The houses of the town are worse built than those of any other town in the Hedjaz. Their structure is so coarse, that few of the stones with which they are built have their surfaces hewn smooth. The stone is calcareous, full of fossils, and of a glaring white colour, which renders the view of the town particularly distressing to the eyes. Most of the houses have only a ground-floor. Except three or four badly-built mosques, a few half-ruined public khans, and the house of the governor on the sea-side, (also a mean building), there is no large edifice in the place.

Yembo is a complete Arab town; very few foreigners are settled here: of Indians, who have such numerous colonies at Mekka, Djidda, and Medina, two or three individuals only are found as shopkeepers; all the merchants being Arabs, except a few Turks, who occasionally take up a temporary residence. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Bedouin tribe of Djeheyne, in this neighbourhood, (which extends northward along the sea-shore), many of whom have become settlers: several families of Sherifs, originally from Mekka, have mixed with them. The settlers in this town, or, as they are called, the Yembawys, continue to live and dress like Bedouins. They wear the keffie, or green and yellow striped silk handkerchief, on the head, and a white abba on their shoulder, with a gown of blue linen, or coloured cotton, or silk stuff, under it, which they tie close with a leathern girdle. Their eating, and whole mode of living, their manners and customs, are those of Bedouins. The different branches of the Djeheyne tribe established here have each their sheikh: they quarrel with each other as often as they might do if encamping in the open country, and observe the same laws in their hostilities and their blood-revenge as the Bedouins.

The principal occupation of the Yembawys is trade and navigation. The town possesses about forty or fifty ships, engaged in all branches of the Red Sea trade, and navigated by natives of the town, or slaves. The intercourse between Yembo and Egypt is very frequent. Many Yembawys are settled at Suez and Cosseir, and some at Cairo and Kenne in Upper Egypt, from whence they trade with their native place. Others trade with the Bedouins of the Hedjaz, and on the shores of the Red Sea, as far Moeyleh, and exchange in their encampments the provisions brought to Yembo from Egypt, for cattle, butter, and honey, which they sell again at a great profit upon their return to the town.

The people of Yembo are less civil, and of more rude and sometimes wild behaviour, than those of Djidda or Mekka, but, on the other hand, their manners are much more orderly, and they are less addicted to vice than the latter, and enjoy, generally, over the Hedjaz, all the advantages of a respectable name. Although there are no individuals of great wealth in the town, every body seems to enjoy more ease and plenty than even at Mekka. Almost all the respectable families of Yembo have a country-house in the fruitful valley called Yembo el Nakhel, or Gara Yembo, or Yembo el Berr, about six or seven hours’ distance from. hence, at the foot of the mountains, in a N.E. direction. It is similar to the valleys of Djedeyde [There is a road, of difficult passage, from Yembo el Nakhel to Djedeyde, over the mountains to the north of the great road.] and Szafra, where date-trees grow, and fields are cultivated. It extends about seven hours in length, and contains upwards of a dozen hamlets, scattered on the side of the mountain. The principal of these is Soueyga, the market-place, where the great Sheikh of the Djeheyne resides, who is acknowledged as such by the Bedouins of that tribe, as well as by the people of Yembo.

The valley of Yembo is cultivated exclusively by Djeheyne, who have either become settlers, and remain there the whole year, or keep a few labourers in their plantations, while they themselves remain encamped in the mountain, and reside in the valley only at the time of the date-harvest, when all the Yembawys who possess gardens there, likewise repair for a month to the same place. All kinds of fruits are cultivated there, with which the market of Yembo is supplied. The houses, I heard, are built of stone, and of a better appearance than those of Djedeyde. The Yembawys consider this valley as their original place of abode, to which the town and harbour belong as a colony. The Egyptian Hadj route passes by Yembo el Nakhel, from whence it makes one night’s journey to Beder: this caravan, therefore, never touches the harbour of Yembo, although many individuals of it, in returning from Mekka, take from Mastoura the road to Yembo, to transact some business in the town, and rejoin the caravan at one day’s journey north of Yembo.

The trade of Yembo consists chiefly in provisions: no great warehouses of goods are found here; but, in the shops, some Indian and Egyptian articles of dress are exposed for sale. The ship-owners are not, as at Djidda, merchants, but merely carriers; yet they always invest their profits in some little mercantile speculation. The transport trade to Medina occupies many people, and all the merchants of that town have their agents among the Arabs of Yembo. In time of peace, the caravan for Medina starts every fortnight; lately, from the want of camels, it departed only every month. There are often conveyances by land for Djidda and Mekka, and sometimes for Wodjeh and Moeyleh, the fortified stations of the Egyptian caravan on the Red Sea. The people of Yembo are very daring smugglers, and no ship of theirs enters the harbour without a considerable part of its cargo being sent on shore by stealth, to elude the heavy duties. Parties of twenty or thirty men, well armed, repair to the harbour at night, for this purpose, and if detected, often resist the custom-house officers by open force.

The skirts of the town are entirely barren, no trees or verdure are seen, either within or without the walls. Beyond the salt-ground, next to the sea, the plain is covered with sand, and continues so as far as the mountains. To the N.E. is seen a high mountain, from whence the great chain takes a more western course towards Beder. I believe this to be the mountain of Redoua, which the Arabian geographers often mention. Samhoudy places it at one day’s journey from Yembo, and four days from Medina. About one hour to the east of the town is a cluster of wells of sweet water, called Aseylya, which are made to irrigate a few melon-fields. Bedouins sometimes encamp there; at this time a corps of Turkish cavalry had pitched their tents near these wells.

In the town are several wells of brackish water, but no cisterns. The supply of water for drinking is obtained from some large cisterns, at about five minutes’ walk from the Medina gate, where the rainwater is collected. Small canals have been dug across the neighbouring plains, to convey the streams of rain-water to these cisterns. They are spacious, well-cased, subterranean reservoirs, and some of them large enough to supply the whole town for several weeks. They are the property of private families, whose ancestors built them, and who sell the water, at certain prices, fixed by the governor, who also exacts a tax from each of them. The water is excellent, much better than that of any other town of the Hedjaz, where the inhabitants are not industrious enough to form similar cisterns. When the winter-rains fail, the inhabitants of Yembo suffer severely, and are obliged to fill their water-skins at the distant wells of Aseylya.

Yembo was formerly annexed to the government of the Sherif of Mekka, who ought to have divided the receipts at the custom-house with the Turkish Pasha of Djidda. Ghaleb appropriated it entirely to his own treasury, and kept here a vizier, or governor, with a guard of about fifty or sixty men. He appears to have had little other authority than that of collecting the customs, while the Arabs of the town were left to the government of their own Sheikhs, and enjoyed much greater liberty than the people of Mekka and Djidda. The powerful tribe of Djeheyne was not to be trifled with by the Sherif; and whenever a man of Yembo was unjustly persecuted, he flew to his relations in the Desert, who retorted the oppression upon some of the Sherif’s people or caravans until the matter was compromised.

When Saoud, the Wahaby chief, attacked the northern parts of the Hedjaz, his first endeavours were to reduce the two great Bedouin tribes Beni Harb and Beni Djeheyne to submission; which was greatly facilitated by the hatred and animosity that had always existed between those tribes, who were frequently at war with each other. After the Djeheyne had surrendered, and Yembo el Nakhel had received a garrison of Wahaby soldiers, Saoud attacked Yembo, for the first time, in 1802, with a considerable force, which remained encamped before it for several weeks, and repeatedly attempted to carry it by assault. After his retreat, the Yembawys built the new strong wall round the town, by order of the Sherif, who made them bear the whole expense of the work. After Sherif Ghaleb himself had submitted to the superior power of Saoud, who took possession of Mekka, Yembo still held out for some months; and it was not till a strong army was preparing to attack it, and the Vizier himself had fled, that the Yembawys sent a messenger to Saoud, and capitulated, adopting at the same time his creed. The Wahabys did not place a garrison in the town; the Sherif continued to keep his governor there: but the Wahaby tax-gatherers came; and the inhabitants, who, except customhouse duties, had never before been subject to any imposts, found the government of the Wahabys press very heavily upon them.

In the autumn of 1811, when the Turkish army under Tousoun Pasha effected its first landing near the town, the Yembawys were very willing to shake off the government both of the Sherif and the Wahabys; and the officers of Ghaleb and Saoud then in the town fled, and, after a trifling show of resistance, the two first days, by Ghaleb’s commander, who had but a few soldiers with him, and who soon saw that the spirit of the inhabitants was wholly against fighting, the town opened its gates, and experienced some slight injuries from the disorderly Turkish soldiers. Since that time Yembo has been garrisoned by them, and was made the commissariat depot of the Turkish army employed against the enemy in the neighbourhood of Medina. The soldiers, being at a distance from the Pasha, or his son, behaved with much more irregularity than they dared to do either at Djidda or Mekka. Every Bimbashy, or commander of a company, who landed here with his soldiers, assumed, during his stay, the government of the town; while the real governor, Selym Aga, who had but a few soldiers under him, was often reduced to a mere cipher. Several affrays happened during my stay, and the inhabitants were extremely exasperated. A Turkish officer shot, with his pistol, in the open street in mid-day, a young Arab, to whom he had for some time been making infamous proposals; he committed this murder with the greatest composure, in revenge for his refusal, and then took refuge in the quarters of a Bimbashy, whose soldiers were called out to defend him against the fury of the populace. The relations of the Arab hastened to Medina to ask the life of the aggressor from Mohammed Aly Pasha; I left Yembo before the affair was settled.

The Yembawys are all armed, although they seldom appear so in public, and they carry usually a heavy bludgeon in their hand. A few of them keep horses; the Djeheyne established at Yembo el Nakhel have good breeds of Nedjed horses, though in small numbers. Asses are kept by every family, to bring water to the town. The want of servants and day-labourers is felt here still more than in the other towns of the Hedjaz. No Yembawy will engage in any menial labour, if he has the smallest chance of providing for his existence by other means. Egyptian peasants, left on this coast after their pilgrimage, and obliged to earn money for their passage home, engage themselves as porters and labourers, bring wood, water, &c. I have seen a piastre and a half paid to a man for carrying a load the distance of five hundred yards from the shore to a house.

Yembo is the cheapest place in the Hedjaz with regard to provisions; and as it possesses good water, and appears to be in a much more healthy situation than Djidda, a residence in it might be tolerable, were it not for the incredible quantity of flies that haunt this coast. No person walks out without a straw fan in his hand to drive off these vermin; and it is utterly impossible to eat, without swallowing some of them, which enter the mouth the moment it is opened. Clouds of them are seen passing over the town; they settle even upon the ships that sail out of the harbour, and remain on board during the whole voyage.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31