Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Political Divisions of the Country to the Southward of Damascus; with Remarks On the Inhabitants of the Haouran.

Before I submit to the reader, a few general remarks upon the inhabitants of the Haouran, I shall briefly recapitulate the political divisions of the country which extends to the southward of Damascus, as far as Wady Zerka.

The following are the names of the inhabited villages of the country called Djedour; El Kenneya (ﻪﻴﻧﻗﻟﺍ),Sheriat el Ghoufa, (ﺎﻓﻮﻐﻟﺍ ﻪﻌﻳﺮﺷ), Sheriat el Tahna (ﺎﺤﺘﻟﺍ ﻪﻌﻳﺭﺷ), Deir Maket, (ﺕﻛﺎﻣ ﺮﻳﺩ), Um el Mezabel (ﻞﺑﺍﺯﻤﻟﺍ ﻡﺍ), El Nakhal (ﻞﺧﻧﻟﺍ), El Szannamein, Teil Kefrein, Merkasem, Nawa, where are considerable ruins; Heitt (ﻁﻳﺣ), El Hara, Akrebbe eddjedour (ﺭﻭﺩﻳﺟﻳ ﻪﺑﺮﻘﻋ), Essbebhara, Djelein (ﻥﻳﻟﺟ), Namr (ﺭﻤﻧ), Essalemie (ﻪﻤﻟﺎﺳﻟﺍ), ﻪﺑﺳﺑﺳ, El Nebhanie (ﻪﻴﻧﺎﻬﺑﻧﻟﺍ), Deir el Ades, Deir el Bokht, (ﺖﺧﺑﻟﺍ ﺭﻳﺩ), Kafershamy, Keitta (ﺎﻁﻳﻗ), Semlein, Djedeie, Thereya (ﺎﻳﺭﺛ), Um Ezzeijtoun (ﻥﻭﺗﻳﺯﻟﺍ ﻡﺍ).

The greater part of Ituræa appears to be comprised within the limits of Djedour. The governor of Djolan usually commands also in Djedour.

The Kefarat as well as the Serou are situated between the Sheriat and the mountains of Wostye. They may be called flat countries in comparison with Wostye and Adjeloun; and they appear still more so from a distance; but if examined near, they are found to be intersected by numerous deep valleys. There seems, however, a gradual ascent of the ground towards the west. The valleys are inhabited for the greater part by Bedouins.

Beyond the Zerka the chain of mountains increases in breadth, and the Belka begins; it is divided into different districts, of which I may be able to give some account hereafter.

The whole country, from Kanneytra (exclusive) to the Zerka, is at present in the government of the Aga of Tabaria; but this can only happen when the Pasha of Acre is at the same time Pasha of Damascus.

Remarks on the Inhabitants of the Haouran.

The Haouran is inhabited by Turks, Druses, Christians, and Arabs, and is visited in spring and summer by several Arab tribes from the desert. The whole country is under the government of the Pasha of Damascus, who generally sends a governor to Mezareib, intituled Agat el Haouran.

The Pasha appoints also the Sheikh of every village, who collects the Miri from both Turks and Christians. The Druses are not under the control of the Agat el Haouran, but correspond directly with the Pasha. They have a head Sheikh, whose office, though subject to the confirmation of the Pasha, has been hereditary from a remote period, in the family of Hamdan. The head Sheikh of the Druses nominates the Sheikh of each village, and of these upwards of eight are his own relations: the others are members of the great Druse families. The Pasha constantly maintains a force in the Haouran of between five and six hundred men; three hundred and fifty or four hundred of whom are at Boszra, and the remainder at Mezareib, or patrolling the country. The Moggrebyns are generally employed in this service. I compute the population of the Haouran, exclusive of the Arabs who frequent the plain, the mountain (Djebel Haouran), and the Ledja, at about fifty or sixty thousand, of whom six or seven thousand are Druses; and about three thousand Christians. The Turks and Christians have exactly the same modes of life; but the Druses are distinguished from them in many respects. The two former very nearly resemble the Arabs in their customs and manners; their ordinary dress is precisely that of the Arabs; a coarse white cotton stuff forms their Kombaz or gown, the Keffie round the head is tied with a rope of camel’s hair, they wear the Abba over the shoulder, and have the breast and feet naked; they have also adopted, for the greater part, the Bedouin dialect, gestures, and phraseology; according to which most articles of household furniture have names different from those in the towns; it requires little experience however to distinguish the adults of the two nations from one another. The Arabs are generally of short stature, with thin visage, scanty beard, and brilliant black eyes; while the Fellahs are taller and stouter, with a strong beard, and a less piercing look; but the difference seems chiefly to arise from their mode of life; for the youth of both nations, to the age of sixteen, have precisely the same appearance. The Turks and Christians of the Haouran live and dress alike, and religion seems to occasion very little difference in their respective conditions. When quarrels happen the Christian fears not to strike the Turk, or to execrate his religion, a liberty which in every town of Syria would expose the Christian to the penalty of death, or to a very heavy pecuniary fine. Common sufferings and dangers in the defence of their property may have given rise to the toleration which the Christians enjoy from the Turks in the Haouran; and which is further strengthened by the Druses, who shew equal respect to both religions. Of the Christians four-fifths are Greeks; and the only religious animosities which I witnessed during my tour, were between them and the Catholics.

Among the Fellahs of the Haouran, the richest lives like the poorest, and displays his superior wealth only on the arrival of strangers The ancient buildings afford spacious and convenient dwellings to many of the modern inhabitants, and those who occupy them may have three or four rooms for each family; but in newly built villages, the whole family, with all its household furniture, cooking utensils, and provision chests, is commonly huddled together in one apartment. Here also they keep their wheat and barley in reservoirs formed of clay, called Kawara (ﻩﺭﻮﻗ), which are a bout five feet high and two feet in diameter. The chief articles of furniture are, a handmill, which is used in summer, when there is no water in the Wadys to drive the mills; some copper kettles; and a few mats; in the richer houses some woollen Lebaet are met with, which are coarse woollen stuffs used for carpets, and in winter for horse-cloths: real carpets or mattrasses are seldom seen, unless it be upon the arrival of strangers of consequence. Their goat’s hair sacks, and horse and camel equipments, are of the same kind as those used by the Bedouins, and are known by the same names. Each family has a large earthen jar, of the manufacture of Rasheiat el Fukhar, which is filled every morning by the females, from the Birket or spring, with water for the day’s consumption. In every house there is a room for the reception of strangers, called from this circumstance Medhafe; it is usually that in which the male part of the family sleeps; in the midst of it is a fire place to boil coffee.

The most common dishes of these people are Burgoul and Keshk; in summer they supply the place of the latter by milk, Leben, and fresh butter. Of the Burgoul I have spoken on other occasions; there are two kinds of Keshk, Keshk-hammer and Keskh-leben; the first is prepared by putting leaven into the Burgoul, and pouring water over it; it is then left until almost putrid, and afterwards spread out in the sun, to dry; after which it is pounded, and when called for, served up mixed with oil, or butter. The Keskh-leben is prepared by putting Leben into the Burgoul, instead of leaven; in other respects the process is the same. Keskh and bread are the common breakfast, and towards sunset a plate of Burgoul, or some Arab dish, forms the dinner; in honour of strangers, it is usual to serve up at breakfast melted butter and bread, or fried eggs, and in the evening a fowl boiled in Burgoul, or a kid or lamb; but this does not very often happen. The women and children eat up whatever the men have left on their plates. The women dress in the Bedouin manner; they have a veil over the head, but seldom veil their faces.

Hospitality to strangers is another characteristic common to the Arabs, and to the people of Haouran. A traveller may alight at any house he pleases; a mat will be immediately spread for him, coffee made, and a breakfast or dinner set before him. In entering a village it has often happened to me, that several persons presented themselves, each begging that I would lodge at his house; and this hospitality is not confined to the traveller himself, his horse or his camel is also fed, the first with half or three quarters of a Moud1 of barley, the second with straw; with this part of their hospitality, however, I had often reason to be dissatisfied, less than a Moud being insufficient upon a journey for a horse, which is fed only in the evening, according to the custom of these countries. As it would be considered an affront to buy any corn, the horse must remain ill-fed, unless the traveller has the precaution to carry a little barley in his saddle-bag, to make up the deficiency in the host’s allowance. On returning to Aaere to the house of the Sheikh, after my tour through the desert, one of my Druse guides insisted upon taking my horse to his stables, instead of the Sheikh’s; when I was about to depart, the Druse brought my horse to the door, and when I complained that he had fallen off greatly in the few days I had remained in the village, the Sheikh said to me in the presence of several persons, “You are ignorant of the ways of this country (ﻩﺮﻳﺪﻟﺍ ﺱﺬﻫ ﻡﺸﻏ ﺖﻨﺍ); if you see that your host does not feed your horse, insist upon his giving him a Moud of barley daily; he dares not refuse it.” It is a point of honour with the host never to accept of the smallest return from a guest; I once only ventured to give a few piastres to the child of a very poor family at Zahouet, by whom we had been most hospitably treated, and rode off without attending to the cries of the mother, who insisted upon my taking back the money.

Besides the private habitations, which offer to every traveller a secure night’s shelter, there is in every village the Medhafe of the Sheikh, where all strangers of decent appearance are received and entertained. It is the duty of the Sheikh to maintain this Medhafe, which is like a tavern, with the difference that the host himself pays the bill: the Sheikh has a public allowance to defray these expenses, &c. and hence a man of the Haouran, intending to travel about for a fortnight, never thinks of putting a single para in his pocket; he is sure of being every where well received, and of living better perhaps than at his own home. A man remarkable for his hospitality and generosity enjoys the highest consideration among them.

The inhabitant of the Haouran estimates his wealth by the number of Fedhans,2 or pairs of cows or oxen which he employs in the cultivation of his fields. If it is asked, whether such a one has piastres (Illou gheroush), a common mode of speaking, the answer is, “A great deal; he drives six pair of oxen (Kethiar bimashi sette fedhadhin ); there are but few, however, who have six pair of oxen; a man with two or three is esteemed wealthy: and such a one has probably two camels, perhaps a mare, or at least a Gedish (a gelding), or a couple of asses: and forty or fifty sheep or goats.

The fertility of the soil in the Haouran depends entirely upon the water applied to it. In districts where there is plenty of water for irrigation, the peasants sow winter and summer seeds; but where they have to depend entirely upon the rainy season for a supply, nothing can be cultivated in summer. The harvest in the latter districts, therefore, is in proportion to the abundance of the winter rains. The first harvest is that of horse-beans (ﻝﻮﻓ) at the end of April: of these there are vast tracts sown, the produce of which serve as food for the cows and sheep. Camels are fed with the flour made from these beans, mixed with barley meal, and made into a paste. Next comes the barley harvest, and towards the end of May, the wheat: in the interval between the two last, the peasants eat barley bread. In abundant years, wheat sells at fifty piastres the Gharara,3 or about two pounds ten shillings for fifteen cwt. English. In 1811, the Gharara rose as high as to one hundred and ninety piastres. The wheat of the Haouran is considered equal, if not superior to any other in Syria. Barley is generally not more than half the price of wheat. When I was in the Haouran, the price of an ox or cow was about seventy piastres, that of a camel about one hundred and fifty piastres.

The lands which are not capable of artificial irrigation are ge[ne]rally suffered to lie fallow one year; a part of them is sometimes sown in spring with sesamum, cucumbers, melons, and pulse. But a large part of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the Haouran is brought from Damascus, or from the Arabs Menadhere, who cultivate gardens on the banks of the Sheriat el Mandhour.

The peasants of Haouran are extremely shy in speaking of the produce of their land, from an apprehension that the stranger’s enquiries may lead to new extortions. I have reason to believe, however, that in middling years wheat yields twenty-five fold; in some parts of the Haouran, this year, the barley has yielded fifty-fold, and even in some instances eighty. A Sheikh, who formerly inhabited the small village of Boreika, on the southern borders of the Ledja, assured me that from twenty Mouds of wheat-seed he once obtained thirty Ghararas, or one hundred and twenty fold. Fields watered by rain (the Arabs call them Boal, ﻝﺎﻌﺑ), yield more in proportion to the seed sown, than those which are artificially watered; this is owing to the seed being sown thinner in the former. The Haouran crops are sometimes destroyed by mice (ﻩﺭﺎﻓ), though not so frequently as in the neighbourhood of Homs and Hamah. Where abundance of water may be conducted into the fields from neighbouring springs, the soil is again sown, after the grain harvests, with vegetables, lentils, peas, sesamums, &c.

The Fellahs who own Fedhans often cultivate one another’s fields in company: a Turk living in a Druse village often wishes to have a Druse for his companion, to escape in some degree the vexations of the Druse Sheikh. At the Druse Sheikhs, black slaves are frequently met with; but the Turk and Christian proprietors cultivate their lands by hired native labourers. Sometimes the labourer contracts with a townsman, and receives from him oxen, ploughs, and seed. A labourer who has one Fedhan or two oxen under his charge, usually receives at the time of sowing one Gharara of corn. After the harvest he takes one-third of the produce of the field; but among the Druses only a fourth. The master pays to the government the tax called Miri, and the labourer pays ten piastres annually. The rest of the agricultural population of the Haouran consists of those who subsist by daily labour. They in general earn their living very hardly. I once met with a young man who had served eight years for his food only at the expiration of that period he obtained in marriage the daughter of his master, for whom he would, otherwise, have had to pay seven or eight hundred piastres. When I saw him he had been married three years; but he complained bitterly of his father-in-law, who continued to require of him the performance of the most servile offices, without paying him any thing; and thus prevented him from setting up for himself and family.

Daughters are paid for according to the respectability of their father, sometimes as high as fifteen hundred piastres, and this custom prevails amongst Druses, Turks, and Christians. If her family is rich the girl is fitted out with clothes, and a string of zequins or of silver coin, to tie round her head; after which she is delivered to her husband. I had an opportunity of witnessing an espousal of two Christians at Aaere, in the house of a Christian: the bride was brought with her female friends and relations, from her native village, one day’s journey distant, with two camels decorated with tassels, bells, &c., and was lodged with her relations in Aaere. They entered the village preceded by women beating the tamborine, and by the village youths, firing off their musquets. Soon afterwards the bridegroom retired to the spring, which was in a field ten minutes from the village, where he washed, and dressed himself in new clothes. He then entered the village mounted on a caparisoned horse, surrounded by young men, two of whom beat tamborines, and the others fired musquets. He alighted before the Sheikh’s house, and was carried for about a quarter of an hour by two men, on their arms, amidst continued singing and huzzaing: the Sheikh then exclaimed, “Mebarek el Aris” (ﺲﻴﺮﻌﻟﺍ ﻙﺭﺎﺒﻤ), Blessed be the bridegroom! which was repeated by all present, after which he was set down, and remained till sunset, exposed to the jests of his friends; after this he was carried to the church, where the Greek priest performed the marriage ceremony, and the young couple retired to their dwelling. The bridegroom’s father had slaughtered several lambs and kids, a part of which was devoured by mid-day; but the best pieces were brought in three enormous dishes of Bourgul to the Sheikh’s Medhafe; two being for the mob, and the third for the Sheikh, and principal men of the village. In the evening paras were collected by one of the bridegroom’s friends, who sung verses in praise of all his acquaintance, every one of whom, when named, was expected to make a present.

The oppressions of the government on one side, and those of the Bedouins on the other, have reduced the Fellah of the Haouran to a state little better than that of the wandering Arab. Few individuals either among the Druses or Christians die in the same village in which they were born. Families are continually moving from one place to another; in the first year of their new settlement. the Sheikh acts with moderation towards them; but his vexations becoming in a few years insupportable, they fly to some other place, where they have heard that their brethren are better treated, but they soon find that the same system prevails over the whole country. Sometimes it is not merely the pecuniary extortion, but the personal enmity of the Sheikh, or of some of the head men of the village, which drives a family from their home, for they are always permitted to depart. This continued wandering is one of the principal reasons why no village in the Haouran has either orchards, or fruit-trees, or gardens for the growth of vegetables. “Shall we sow for strangers?” was the answer of a Fellah, to whom I once spoke on the subject, and who by the word strangers meant both the succeeding inhabitants, and the Arabs who visit the Haouran in the spring and summer.

The taxes which all classes of Fellahs in the Haouran pay, may be classed under four heads: the Miri; the expense of feeding soldiers on the march; the tribute to the Arabs; and extraordinary contributions. The Miri is levied upon the Fedhan; thus if a village pay twelve purses to the Miri, and there are thirty pair of oxen in it, the master of each pair pays a thirtieth. Every village being rated for the Miri in the land-tax book of the Pasha, at a fixed sum, that sum is levied as long as the village is at all inhabited, however few may be its inhabitants. In the spring of every year, or, if no strangers have arrived and settled, in every second or third spring, the ground of the village is measured by long cords, when every Fellah occupies as much of it as he pleases, there being always more than sufficient; the amount of his tax is then fixed by the Sheikh, at the ratio which his number of Fedhans bears to the whole number of Fedhans cultivated that year. Whether the oxen be strong or weak, or whether the quantity of seed sown or of land cultivated by the owner of the oxen be more or less, is not taken into consideration; the Fellah is supposed to keep strong cattle, and plough as much land as possible. Some sow six Gharara of wheat or barley in the Fedhan, others five, and others seven. The boundaries of the respective fields are marked by large stones (ﺩﻭﺪﺤ). The Miri is paid in kind, or in money, at the will of the Pasha; the Fellahs prefer the latter, by which they are always trifling gainers.

From what has been said, it is evidently impossible for the Fellah to foresee the amount of Miri which he shall have to pay in any year; and in addition to this vexation, the Miri for each village, though it is never diminished upon a loss of inhabitants, is sometimes raised upon a supposed increase of population, or upon some other pretext. It may, generally, be remarked, that the villages inhabited by the Druses usually pay more Miri than those in the plain, because some allowance is made to the latter, in consideration of the tribute which they are obliged to pay to the Arabs, and from which the former are exempt. At Aaere, the year before my first visit, the Fedhan had paid one hundred and fifty piastres, at Ezra, one hundred and eighty, and at some villages in the plain, one hundred and twenty. In the year 1812, the Miri, including some extra demands, amounted in general to five hundred piastres the Fedhan.

The second tax upon the Fellahs is the expense of feeding soldiers on the march; if the number is small they go to the Sheikh’s Medhafe; but if they are numerous, they are quartered, or rather quarter themselves, upon the Fellahs: in the former case, barley only for their horses is supplied by the peasant, while the Sheikh furnishes provisions for the men, but the peasant is not much benefited by this regulation, for the soldiers are in general little disposed to be satisfied with the frugal fare of the Sheikh, and demand fowls, or butcher’s meat; which must be supplied by the village. On their departure, they often steal some article belonging to the house. The proportion of barley to be furnished by each individual to the soldiers horses, depends of course upon the number of horses to be fed, and of Fedhans in the village: at Aaere, in the year 1809, it amounted to fifty piastres per Fedhan. The Sheikh of Aaere has six pair of oxen, for which he pays no taxes, but the presence of strangers and troops is so frequent at his Medhafe, that this exemption had not been thought a sufficient remuneration, and he is entitled to levy, in addition, every year, two or three Gharara of corn, each Gharara being in common years, worth eighty or one hundred piastres. Some Sheikhs levy as much as ten Gharara, besides being exempted from taxation for eight, ten, or twelve pair of oxen.

The third and most heavy contribution paid by the peasants, is the tribute to the Arabs. The Fahely, Serdie, Beni Szakher, Serhhan, who are constant residents in the Haouran, as well as most of the numerous tribes of Aeneze, who visit the country only in the summer, are, from remote times, entitled to certain tributes called Khone (brotherhood), from every village in the Haouran. In return for this Khone, the Arabs abstain from touching the harvest of the village, and from driving off its cattle and camels, when they meet them in their way. Each village pays Khone to one Sheikh in every tribe; the village is then known as his Ukhta (ﻪﺘﺧﺍ) or Sister, as the Arabs term it, and he protects the inhabitants against all the members of his own tribe. It may easily be imagined, however, that depredations are often committed, without the possibility of redress, the depredator being unknown, or flying immediately towards the desert. The amount of the Khone is continually increasing; for the Arab Sheikh is not always contented with the quantity of corn he received in the preceding year, but asks something additional, as a present, which soon becomes a part of his accustomed dues.

If the Pasha of Damascus were guided by sound policy, and a right view of his own interests, he might soon put an end to the exactions of the Arabs, by keeping a few thousand men, well paid, in garrison in the principal places of the Haouran; but instead of this, his object is to make the Khone an immediate source of income to himself; the chief Sheikhs of the Fehely and Serdie receive yearly from the Pasha a present of a pelisse, which entitles them to the tribute of the villages, out of which the Fehely pays about twenty purses, and the Serdie twelve purses into the Pasha’s treasury. The Serdie generally regulate the amount of the Khone which they levy, by that which the Fehely receive; and take half as much; but the Khone paid to the Aeneze chiefs is quite arbitrary, and the sum paid to a single Sheikh varies according to his avidity; or the wealth of the Fellahs, from thirty and forty piastres up to four hundred, which are generally paid in corn.

These various oppressive taxes, under which the poor Fellah groans, are looked upon as things of course, and just contributions; and he considers himself fortunate, if they form the whole of his sufferings: but it too often happens that the Pasha is a man who sets no bounds to his rapacity, and extraordinary sums are levied upon the village, by the simple command issued from the Hakim el Haouran to the village Sheikh to levy three or four hundred piastres upon the peasants of the place. On these occasions the women are sometimes obliged to sell their ear-rings and bracelets, and the men their cattle, to satisfy the demand, and have no other hope than that a rich harvest in the following year shall make amends for their loss. The receipt of the Miri of the whole Pashalik of Damascus is in the hands of the Jew bankers, or Serafs of the Pasha, who have two and a half per cent. upon his revenue, and as much upon his expenditure. They usually distribute the villages amongst their creatures, who repair thither at the time of harvest, to receive the Miri; and who generally extort, besides, something for themselves.

The Druses who inhabit the villages in the Loehf, and those on the sides of the Djebel Haouran, are to be classed with the Fellahs of the plain with regard to their mode of living and their relations with the government. Their dress is the same as that of the Fellahs to the W. of Damascus; they seldom wear the Keffie, and the grown up men do not go barefoot like the other Fellahs of the Haouran. I have already mentioned that their chief resides at Soueida, of which village he is also the Sheikh. On the death of the chief, the individual in his family who is in the highest estimation from wealth or personal character succeeds to the title, and is confirmed by the Pasha. It is known that on the death of Wehebi el Hamdan, the present chief, who is upwards of eighty, Shybely el Hamdan, the Sheikh of Aaere, will succeed him. The chief has no income as such, it being derived from the village of which he is Sheikh; and his authority over the others goes no further than to communicate to them the orders of the Pasha. In manners these Druses very much resemble those of the mountains of Kesrouan. The families form clans almost independent of each other; and among whom there are frequent quarrels. Insults are studiously avenged by the respective families, and the law of blood-revenge is in full force among them, without being mitigated by the admission of any pecuniary commutation. They all go armed, as do the Turks and Christians of the Haouran in general. Few Druses have more than one wife; but she may be divorced on very slight pretexts.

With respect to their religion, the Druses of the Haouran, like those in Mount Libanus, have the class of men called Akoul (sing. Aakel), who are distinguished from the rest by a white turban, and the peculiarity of the folds in which they wear it. The Akoul are not permitted to smoke tobacco; they never swear, and are very reserved in their manners and conversation. I was informed that these were their only obligations; and it appears probable, for I observed Akoul boys of eight or ten years of age, from whom nothing more difficult could well be expected, and to whom it is not likely that any important secret would be imparted. I have seen Akouls of that age, whose fathers were not of the order, because, as they told me, they could not abstain from smoking and swearing. The Sheikhs are for the greater part Akouls. The Druses pray in their chapels, but not at stated periods; these chapels are called Khalawe (ﻱﻭﺎﻠﺧ), i.e. an insulated place, and none but Druses are allowed to enter them. They affect to follow the doctrines of Mohammed, but few of them pray according to the Turkish forms: they fast during Ramadan in the presence of strangers, but eat at their own homes, and even of the flesh of the wild boar, which is frequently met with in these districts. It is a singular belief both among the western Druses, and those of the Haouran, that there are a great number of Druses in England; an opinion founded perhaps upon the fanatical opinions of the Christians of Syria, who deny the English to be followers of Christ, because they neither confess nor fast. When I first arrived at the Druse village of Aaere there was a large company in the Medhafe, and the Sheikh had no opportunity of speaking to me in private; he therefore called for his inkstand, and wrote upon a piece of paper the following questions, which I answered as well as I could, and returned him the paper: “Where do the five Wadys flow to, in your country? - Do you know the grain of the plant Leiledj (ﺞﻠﻴﻟ); and where is it sown? - What is the name of the Sultan of China? - Are the towns of Hadjar and Nedjran in the Yemen known to you? - Is Hadjar in ruins? and who will rebuild it? - Is the Moehdy (the Saviour) yet come, or is he now upon the earth?”.

I have not been able to obtain any information concerning the period at which the Druses first settled in these parts. Min Kadim (ﻡﻳﺪﻗ ), a long time ago, was the general answer of all those whom I questioned on the subject. During my stay at Aaere news arrived there, that a body of one hundred and twenty Druses had left the western mountains, and were coming to settle in Haouran.

The Pasha of Damascus has entrusted to the Druses of the Haouran, the defence of the neighbouring villages against such of the Arabs as may be at war with him; but the Druses perform this service very badly: they are the secret friends of all the Arabs, to whom they abandon the villages of the plain, on the condition that their own brethren are not to be molested; and their Sheikhs receive from the Arabs presents in horses, cattle, and butter. While at Aaere I witnessed an instance of the good understanding between the Druses and the Arabs Serdie, whom I have already mentioned as having been at war with the Pasha, at the time of my visit to the Haouran: seeing in the evening some Arabs stealing into the court-yard of the Sheikh’s house, I enquired who they were, and was told that they were Serdie, come in search of information, whether any more troops were likely to be sent against them from Damascus. It is for this kind of treachery that the Fellahs in the Haouran hate the Druses.

The authority both of the Druse and Turkish village Sheikh is very limited, in consequence of the facility with which the Fellahs can transport themselves and families to another village. I was present during a dispute between a Christian Fellah and a Druse chief, who wished to make the former pay for the ensuing year at the rate of the same number of Fedhans that he had paid for the preceding year, though he had now one pair of oxen less. After much wrangling, and high words on both sides, the Christian said, “Very well, I shall not sow a single grain, but retire to another village;” and by the next morning he had made preparation for his departure; when the Sheikh having called upon him, the affair was amicably settled, and a large dish of rice was dressed in token of reconciliation. When disputes happen between Druses, they are generally settled by the interference of mutual friends, or by the Sheikhs or their respective families, or by the great chiefs; or failing these, the two families of the two parties come to blows rather than bring their differences before the court of justice at Damascus. Among the Turks litigations are, in the last extremity, decided by the Kadhi of Damascus, or by the Pasha in person. The Christians often bring their differences before the tribunal of priests or that of the Patriarch of Damascus, and before the Kadhi in times when it is known that Christians can obtain justice, which is not the case under every governor.

The Bedouins of the Haouran are of two classes; those who are resident, and those who visit it in the spring and summer only. The resident Arabs are the Fehily (ﻲﻠﻴﺤﻓ), Serdie (ﻪﻳﺩﺮﺳ), Beni Szakher (ﺮﺨﺻ ﻲﻨﺑ), Serhhan (ﻥﺎﺣﺮﺳ); the Arabs of the mountain Haouran, or Ahl el Djebel (ﻞﺒﺠﻟﺍ ﻞﻫﺍ), and those of the Ledja (ﺎﺠﻠﻟﺍ ﺏﺮﻋ). By resident, I do not mean a fixed residence in villages, but that their wanderings are confined to the Haouran, or to some particular districts of it. Thus the four first mentioned move through every part of the country from Zerka up to the plains of Ard Zeikal, according to their relations with other tribes, their own affairs, and the state of pasturage in the different districts. The Beni Szakher generally encamp at the foot of the western mountains of Belka and the Heish, the Serhhan near them, and the Fehily and Serdie in the midst of the cultivated districts, or at a short distance from them, according to the terms they are upon with the Pasha.4 The Ahl el Djebel move about in the mountain; those of the Ledja seldom venture to encamp beyond their usual limits in that district. But I have spoken more largely of these tribes and their mutual interests in another place. The Fehily and Serdie are called Ahl el Dyrel, or national Arabs, and pay tribute to the Pasha, who, however, is often at war with them for withholding it, or for plundering his troops or the Fellahs.

If the Pasha happens to be at war with other tribes, they are bound to join his troops; but in this they are guided entirely by the advantage which they are likely to derive from the contest. They receive Khone from all the villages of the Haouran, the Djolan, and many of those in the Djebel Adjeloun.

The Ahl el Djebel and the Arabs el Ledja are kept in more strict dependence upon the Pasha than the other tribes; both are subject to an annual tribute, which is levied on each tent according to the wealth of its owner; this is collected from the Arabs el Ledja by the Sheikh of the Fellahs, and ascends from ten to sixty piastres for each tent. It seldom happens that the Arabs el Djebel prove rebels, but those of the Ledja often with-hold the tribute, in the confidence that the recesses of their abode cannot he forced; in this case nothing makes them yield but want of water, when their own springs failing, they are obliged to approach the perennial sources of the Loehf.

The Arabs of the Djebel Haouran are the shepherds of the people of the plains, who entrust to them in summer and winter their flocks of goats and sheep, which they pasture during the latter season amongst the rocks of the mountains. In spring the Arabs return the flocks to their owners, who sell a part of them at Damascus, or make butter from the milk during the spring months. The Arabs receive for their trouble one-fourth of the lambs and kids, and a like proportion of the butter. Casual losses in the flocks are borne equally by both parties.

The following are the different tribes of the Ahl el Djebel; Esshenabele, El Hassan, El Haddie, Ghiath, Essherefat, Mezaid, El Kerad, Beni Adhan, and Szammeral. Of those of the Ledja I have already spoken. The Ahl el Djebel are always at peace with the other Arabs; but those of the Ledja are often at war with the Fehily and Serdie. I come now to the second class, or wandering Arabs.

In May the whole Haouran is covered with swarms of wanderers from the desert, who remain there till after September; these are at present almost exclusively of the tribe of Aeneze. Formerly the Haouran was often visited by the Sherarat, from the Mekka road, at fifteen stations from Damascus; by the Shammor, from Djebel Shammor, and by the Dhofir from the Irak country. On the arrival of the Aeneze, the resident Arabs who may happen to be at war with them, conceal themselves in the neighbourhood of the western mountain or in the Szaffa, or they retire towards Mezareib and Szannamein. The Aeneze come for a two-fold purpose, water and pasturage for the summer, and a provision of corn for the winter. If they are at peace with the Pasha they encamp quietly among the villages, near the springs or wells if at war with him, for their relations with the government of Damascus are as uncertain as their own with each other, they keep in the district to the S. of Boszra, towards Om Eddjemal and Fedhein, extending their limits south as far as El Zerka. The Pasha generally permits them to purchase corn from the Haouran, but in years when a scarcity is apprehended, a restriction is put upon them.

Till within a few years the Aeneze were the constant carriers of the Hadj, and made yearly contracts with the Pasha for several thousand camels, by which they were considerable gainers, as well as by the fixed tribute which many of their Sheikhs had made themselves entitled to from the pilgrim caravan; and by their nightly plunder of stragglers, and loaded camels during the march. These advantages have made the Aeneze inclined to preserve friendly terms with the Pashalik of Damascus, and to break allegiance to the Wahabi chief, notwithstanding they have been for twelve years converts to his religious doctrines. If, however, they shall become convinced that the Hadj is no longer practicable, they will soon turn their arms against their former friends, an event which is justly dreaded by the people of the Haouran.

The tribe of Aeneze which most usually visits the Haouran is the Would Ali, under their chiefs Etteiar and Ibn Ismayr; the latter has at present more interest than any other Arab Sheikh, with the Pasha, from whom he occasionally receives considerable presents, as an indemnification for his losses by the suspension of the Hadj, as well as to induce him to keep his Arabs on good terms with the Turkish governors of the Pashalik.

1 The Moud is about nineteen pounds English.

2 The word Fedhan is applied both to the yoke of oxen and to the quantity of land cultivated by them, which varies according to circumstances. In some parts of Syria, chiefly about Homs, the Fedhan el Roumy, or Greek Fedhan, is used, which means two pair of oxen.

3 Three Rotola and a half make a Moud, and eighty Moud a Gharara. A Rotola is equal to about five and a half pounds English.

4 When I was in the Haouran the Fehliy were encamped near the Szaffa, the Beni Szakher near Fedhein, the Serhhan at the foot of the Belka, and the Serdie near Om Eddjemal.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:56