The Land of Midian, by Richard F. Burton

Chapter XV.

The Southern Sulphur-hill — the Cruise to El–Haurá— Notes on the Baliyy Tribe and the Volcanic Centres of North — Western Arabia.

On the day of our arrival at El–Wijh I sent a hurried letter of invitation to Mohammed ‘Afnán, Shaykh of the Baliyy tribe; inviting him to visit the Expedition, and to bring with him seventy camels and dromedaries. His tents being pitched at a distance of three days’ long march in the interior, I determined not to waste a precious week at the end of the cold season; and the party was once more divided. Anton, the Greek, was left as storekeeper, with orders to pitch a camp, to collect as much munition de bouche as possible, and to prepare for this year’s last journey into the interior. MM. Marie and Philipin, with Lieutenant Yusuf, Cook Giorji, and Body-servant Ali Marie, were directed to march along the shore southwards. After inspecting a third Jebel el-Kibrít, they would bring back notices of the Wady Hamz, near whose banks I had heard vague reports of a Gasr (Kasr), “palace” or “castle,” built by one Gurayyim Sa’íd. Meanwhile, the rest of us would proceed in the Sinnár to El–Haurá, a roundabout cruise of a hundred miles to the south.

M. Philipin lost time in shoeing very imperfectly his four mules; and M. Marie, who could have set out with eight camels at any moment, delayed moving till March 26th. The party was composed of a single Básh-Buzúk from the fort, and two quarrymen: the Ras Káfilah was young Shaykh Sulaymán bin ‘Afnán — of whom more presently — while his brother-inlaw Hammád acted guide. At 6.40 a.m. they struck to the south-east of the town, and passed the two brackish pits or wells, Bir el-Isma’íl and El–Sannúsi, which supply the poor of the port. Thence crossing the broad Wady el-Wijh, they reached, after a mile’s ride, Wady Melláhah, or “the salina.” It is an oval, measuring some eighteen hundred yards from north to south: the banks are padded with brown slush frosted white; which, in places, “bogs” the donkeys and admits men to the knee. Beyond it lie dazzling blocks of pure crystallized salt; and the middle of the pond is open, tenanted by ducks and waterfowl, and visited by doves and partridges. At the lower or northern end, a short divide separates it from the sea; and the waves, during the high westerly gales, run far inland: it would be easy to open a regular communication between the harbour and its saltern. The head is formed by the large Wady Surrah, whose many feeders at times discharge heavy torrents. The walls of the valley-mouth are marked, somewhat like the Hárr, with caverned and corniced cliffs of white, canary-yellow, and light-pink sandstone.

They then left to the right the long point Ras el-Ma’llah, fronting Mardúnah Island. Here, as at El-‘Akabah and Makná, sweet water springs from the salt sands of the shore; a freak of drainage, a kind of “Irish bull” of Nature, so common upon the dangerous Somali seaboard. The tract leads to the south-east, never further from the shore than four or five miles, but separated by rolling ground which hides the main. For the same reason the travellers were unable to sight the immense development of granite-embedded quartz, which lurks amongst the hills to the inland or east, and which here subtends the whole coast-line. They imagined themselves to be in a purely Secondary formation of gypsum and conglomerates, cut by a succession of Wady-beds like the section between El–Muwaylah and ‘Aynúnah. Thus they crossed the mouths of the watercourses, whose heads we shall sight during the inland march, and whose mid-lengths we shall pass when marching back to El–Wijh.

These exceedingly broad beds are divided, as usual, by long lines of Nature-metalled ground. The first important feature is the Wady Surrah, which falls into the Wady el-Wijh a little above the harbour-pier: its proper and direct mouth, El-Gá‘h (Ká‘h), or “the Hall,” runs along-shore into the Melláhah. It drains the Hamíratayn, or “Two Reds;” the Hamírat Surrah in the Rughám or Secondary formation, and the granitic mass Hamírat el-Nabwah, where the plutonic outbreaks begin. Amongst the number of important formations are:— the Wady el-Miyáh, which has a large salt-well near the sea, and down whose upper bed we shall travel after leaving Umm el-Karáyát; the Wady el-Kurr, whose acquaintance we shall make in the eastern region; and the Wady el-‘Argah (‘Arjah). The latter is the most interesting. Near its head we shall find knots of ruins, and the quartz-reef Abá‘l-Marú; while lower down the bed, on the north-east side of a hill facing the valley, Lieutenant Yusuf came upon a rock scrawled over with religious formulæ, Tawakkaltu ‘al’ Allah (“I rely upon Allah”), and so forth, all in a comparatively modern Arabic character. The inscriptions lie to the left of the shore road, and to the right of the pilgrim-highway; thus showing that miners, not passing travellers, have here left their mark.

After riding five hours and forty minutes (= seventeen miles) the party reached the base of the third sulphur-hill discovered by the Expedition on the coast of Midian. Also known as the Tuwayyil el-Kibrít, the “Little-long (Ridge) of Brimstone,” it appears from afar a reddish pyramid rising about two miles inland of an inlet, which is said to be safe navigation. Thus far it resembles the Jibbah find: on the other hand, it is not plutonic, but chalky like those of Makná and Sinai, the crystals being similarly diffused throughout the matrix. In the adjoining hills and cliffs the Secondaries and the conglomerates take all shades of colour, marvellous to behold when the mirage raises to giant heights the white coast-banks patched with pink, red, mauve, and dark brown. Moreover, the quarries of mottled alabaster, which the Ancients worked for constructions, still show themselves.

The travellers slept at the base of the Tuwayyil. Next morning M. Philipin proceeded to collect specimens of the sulphur and of the chalcedony-agate strewed over the plain, and here seen for the first time. M. Marie and Lieutenant Yusuf rode on to the banks of the Wady Hamz; and, after three hours (= nine miles), they came upon the “Castle” and unexpectedly turned up trumps. I had carelessly written for them the name of a ruin which all, naturally enough, believed would prove to be one of the normal barbarous Hawáwít. They brought back specimens of civilized architecture; and these at once determined one of the objectives of our next journey. The party returned to El–Wijh on the next day, in the highest of spirits, after a successful trip of more than fifty miles.

Meanwhile I steamed southwards, accompanied by the rest of the party, including the Sayyid, Shaykh Furayj, and the ex-Wakíl, Mohammed Shahádah, who is trusted by the Bedawin, and who brought with him a guide of the Fawá‘idah-Juhaynah, one Rájih ibn ‘Ayid. This fellow was by no means a fair specimen of his race: the cynocephalous countenance, the cobweb beard, and the shifting, treacherous eyes were exceptional; the bellowing voice and the greed of gain were not. He had a free passage for himself, his child, and eight sacks of rice, with the promise of a napoleon by way of “bakhshísh;” yet he complained aloud that he had no meat to break his fast at dawn — an Arab of pure blood would rather have starved. He shirked answering questions concerning the number of his tribe. “Many, many!” was all the information we could get from him; and his Arabic wanted the pure pronunciation, and the choice vocabulary, that usually distinguish the Juhayni pilots. Arrived at his own shore, he refused to make arrangements for disembarking his rice; he ordered, with bawling accents and pointed stick, the sailors of the man-of-war to land it at the place chosen by himself; and he bit his finger when informed that a sound flogging was the normal result of such impudence.

We set out at 4.30 p.m. (March 24th); and steamed due west till we had rounded the northern head of El–Raykhah, a long low island which, lying west-south-west of El–Wijh, may act breakwater in that direction. Then we went south-west, and passed to port the white rocks of Mardu’nah Isle, which fronts the Ras el-Ma’llah, capping the ugly reefs and shoals that forbid tall ships to hug this section of the shore. It is described as a narrow ridge of coralline, broken into pointed masses two to three hundred feet high, whose cliffs and hollows form breeding-places for wild pigeons: the unusually rugged appearance is explained by the fact that here the “Jinns” amuse themselves with hurling rocks at one another. Before night we had sighted the Ras Kurkumah, so called from its “Curcuma” (turmeric) hue, the yellow point facing the islet-tomb of Shaykh Marbat.204 Upon this part of the shore, I was told, are extensive ruins as yet unvisited by Europeans, the dangerous Juhaynah being the obstacle. To the south-east towered tall and misty forms, the Gháts of the Tihámat-Jahaníyyah. Northernmost, and prolonging the Libn, that miniature Shárr, is the regular wall of the Jebel el-Ward; then come the peaks and pinnacles of the Jibál el-Safhah; and lastly, the twin blocks El-Rál, between which passes the Egyptian Hajj when returning from El–Medínah. Faint resemblances of these features sprawl, like huge caterpillars, over the Hydrographic Chart, but all sprawl unnamed.

By way of extra precaution we stood to the south instead of the south-east, thus lengthening to one hundred and twenty knots the normal hundred (dir. geog. sixty-eight) separating El–Wijh from the Jebel Hassáni. Moreover, we caught amidships a fine lumpy sea, that threatened to roll the masts out of the stout old corvette. As the Sinnár, which always reminded me of her Majesty’s steamship Zebra, is notably the steadiest ship in the Egyptian navy, the captain was asked about his ballast. He replied, “I have just taken command, but I don’t think there is any; the engine (El-‘iddah) is our Saburra”— evidently he had never seen the hold. This state of things, which, combined with open ports, foundered her Majesty’s sailing frigate Eurydice, appears the rule of the Egyptian war-navy. I commend the consideration to English sailors.

The steering also was detestable; and the man at the wheel could not see the waves — a sine quâ non to the mariner in these latitudes, who “broaches to” whenever he can. A general remark: The Egyptian sailor is first-rate in a Dahabiyyah (Nile-boat), which he may capsize once in a generation; and ditto in a Red Sea Sambúk, where he is also thoroughly at home. The same was the case with the Sultan of Maskat’s Arabo–English navy: the Arabs and Sídís (negroes) were excellent at working their Mtepe-craft; on frigates they were monkeys, poor copies of men. Our European vessels are beyond and above the West Asiatic and the African. He becomes at the best a kind of imitation Jack Tar. He will not, or rather he cannot, take the necessary trouble, concentrate his attention, fix his mind upon his “duties.” He says “Inshallah;” he relies upon Allah; and he prays five times a day, when he should be giving or receiving orders. The younger generation of officers, it is true, drinks wine, and does not indulge in orisons whilst it should be working; but its efficiency is impaired by the difficulties and delay in granting pensions. The many grey beards, however carefully dyed, suggest an equipage de vétérans.

The consequence of yawing and of running half-speed by night was that we reached Jebel Hassáni just before noon, instead of eight a.m., on the 25th. The island, whose profile slopes to the south-eastward, is a long yellow-white ridge, a lump of coralline four hundred feet high, bare and waterless in summer: yet it feeds the Bedawi flocks at certain seasons. It is buttressed and bluff to the south-west, whence the strongest winds blow; and it is prolonged by a flat spit to the south-east, and by a long tail of two vertebrae, a big and a little joint, trending north-west. Thus it gives safe shelter from the Wester to Arab barques;205 and still forms a landmark for those navigating between Jeddah, Kusayr, and Suez. Its parallel runs a few miles north of the Dædalus Light (north lat. 24° 55’ 30”) to the west; and it lies a little south of El–Haurá on the coast, and of El–Medínah, distant about one hundred and thirty direct miles in the interior. If Ptolemy’s latitudes are to be consulted, Jebel Hassáni would be the Timagenes Island in north lat. 25° 40’; and the corresponding Chersónesus Point is represented by the important and well-marked projection “Abú Madd,” which intercepts the view to the south.

After rounding the southern spit, we turned to north-east and by east, and passed, with a minimum of seven fathoms under keel, between Hassáni the Giant and the dwarf Umm Sahr, a flat sandbank hardly visible from the shore. This is the only good approach to the secure and spacious bay that bore the southernmost Nabathæan port-town: there are northern and north-western passages, but both require skilful pilots; and every other adit, though apparently open, is sealed by reefs and shoals. With the blue and regular-lined curtain of Abú el-Ghurayr in front, stretching down coast to Ras Abú Madd, we bent gradually round to the north-east and east. We then left to starboard the settlement El–Amlij, a long line of separate ‘Ushash, the usual Ichthyophagan huts, dull, dark-brown wigwams. They were apparently deserted; at least, only two women appeared upon the shore, but sundry Katírahs and canoes warned us that fishermen were about. We ran for safety a mile and three-quarters north of the exposed Ras el-Haurá; and at 1.30 p.m. (= twenty-one hours) we anchored, in nine fathoms, under the Kutá‘at el-Wazamah. The pea-green shallows, which defended us to the north and south, had lately given protection to the Khedivíyyah206 steamer El–Hidayyidah, compelled by an accident to creep along-shore like a Sambúk.

El–Haura’ is not found either in the charts, or in Ptolemy’s and Sprenger’s maps. It lies in north lat. 25° 6’, about the same parallel as El–Medínah; and in east long. (Gr.) 37° 13’ 30”.207 Wellsted (II. x.) heard of its ruins, but never saw it: at least, he says, “In the vicinity of El–Haurá, according to the Arabs, are some remains of buildings and columns, but our stay on the coast was too limited to permit our examining the spot.” He is, however, greatly in error when he adds, “Near this station the encampments of the Bili’ (Baliyy) tribe to the southward terminate, and those of the Joheïnah commence.” As has been seen, the frontier is nearly fifty miles further north. He notices (chap. ix.) the “White Village” to differ with Vincent, who would place it at El–Muwaylah; but he translates the word (ii. 461) “the bright-eyed girl,” instead of Albus (Vicus). He quotes, however, the other name, Dár el-‘ishrin (“Twentieth Station”), so called because the Cairo caravan formerly reached it in a score of days, now reduced to nineteen. He seems, finally, to have landed in order to inspect “a ruined town on the main,” and to have missed it.

According to Sprenger, the “White Village, or Castle,” was not a Thamudite, but a Nabathæan port. Here Æelius Gallius disembarked his troops from Egypt. Strabo (xvi. c. 4, § 24) shows that [Greek] was the starting-place of the caravans which, before the Nile route to Alexandria was opened, carried to Petra the merchandise of India and of Southern Arabia. Thence the imports were passed on to Phoenicia and Egypt:— these pages have shown why the journey would be preferred to the voyage northward. He is confirmed by the “Periplus,” which relates (chap. xix.) that “from the port, and the castellum of Leukè Kóme, a road leads to Petra, the capital of the Malicha (El–Malik), King of the Nabathæans: it also serves as an emporium to those who bring wares in smaller ships from Arabia (Mocha, Múza, and Aden). For the latter reason, a Perceptor or toll-taker, who levies twenty-five per cent. ad valorem, and a Hekatontarches (centurion), with a garrison, are there stationed.” As the Nabatæ were vassals of Rome, and the whole region had been ceded to the Romans (Byzantines) by a chief of the Beni Kudá’ tribe, this Yuzbáshi or “military commandant” was probably a Roman.

El–Haurá, like most of the ruined settlements upon this coast, shows two distinct “quarters;” a harbour-town and what may be called a country-town. The latter, whose site is by far the more picturesque and amene, lay upon a long tongue of land backing the slope of the sea-cliff, and attached to the low whitish hillocks and pitons rising down south. It is now a luxuriant orchard of emerald palms forming three large patches. Behind it swells a dorsum of golden-yellow sand; and the horizon is closed by ranges of hills and highlands, red and white, blue and black. Our eyes are somewhat startled by the amount of bright and vivid green: for some reason, unknown to us, the shore is far more riant than the northern section; and the land might be called quasi-agricultural. The whole coast seems to be broken with verdant valleys; from the Wady el-‘Ayn, with its numerous branches beautifying the north, to the Wady el-Daghaybaj in the south, supplying water between its two paps.

On the evening of our arrival, we landed in a shallow bay bearing north-north-east (30° mag.) from the roads where the corvette lay at anchor; and walked a few yards inland to the left bank of the Wady el-Samnah, the unimportant Fiumara draining low hills of the same name. The loose sand is everywhere strewed with bits of light porous lava, which comes from the Harrat el-Buhayr, a bluff quoin to the north-west. About El–Haurá, I have said, the volcanic formations, some sixty miles inland on the parallel of El–Muwaylah, approach the coast.

We were guided to the ruins by the shouts of sundry Arabs defending their harvest against a dangerous enemy, the birds — rattles and scarecrows were anything but scarce. Apparently the sand contains some fertilizing matter. A field of dry and stunted Dukhn (Holcus Dochna), or small millet, nearly covers the site of the old castle, whose outline, nearly buried under the drift of ages, we could still trace. There are two elevations, eastern and western; and a third lies to the north, on the right side of the Wady Samnah. Scatters of the usual fragments lay about, and the blocks of white coralline explained the old names — Whitton, Whitworth, Whitby. The Bedawin preserve the tradition that this was the most important part of the settlement, which extended southwards nearly four miles. The dwarf valley-mouth is still a roadstead, where two small craft were anchored; and here, doubtless, was the corner of the hive allotted to the community’s working-bees. An old fibster, Hámid el-Fá‘idi, declared that he would bring us from the adjacent hills a stone which, when heated, would pour forth metal like water — and never appeared again. It was curious to remark how completely the acute Furayj believed him, because both were Arabs and brother Bedawin.

Next morning we set out, shortly after the red and dewy sunrise, to visit the south end of Leukè Kóme. The party consisted of twenty marines under an officer, besides our escort of ten negro “Remingtons:” the land was open, and with these thirty I would willingly have met three hundred Bedawin. Our repulse from the Hismá had rankled in our memories, and we only wanted an opportunity of showing fight. After rowing a mile we landed, south-east of the anchorage (127° mag.), at a modern ruin, four blocks of the rudest masonry, built as a store by a Yambú’ merchant. Unfortunately he had leased the ground from the Fawá‘idah clan, when the Hámidah claim it: the result was a “faction fight”— and nothing done.

A few minutes’ walking, over unpleasantly deep sand, placed us upon the Hajj-road. It is paved, like the shore, with natural slabs and ledges of soft modern sandstone; and, being foot-worn, it makes a far better road than that which connects Alexandria with Ramleh. The broad highway, scattered with quartz and basalt, greenstone, and serpentine, crossed one of the many branches of the Wady el-‘Ayn: in the rich and saltish sand grew crops of Dukhn, and the Halfá-grass (Cynosures durus) of the Nile Valley, with tamarisk-thickets, and tufts of fan-palm. On its left bank a lamp-black vein of stark-naked basalt, capped by jagged blocks, ran down to the sea, and formed a conspicuous buttress. The guides spoke of a similar volcanic outcrop above Point Abú Madd to the south; and of a third close to Yambá’ harbour.

An hour of “stravaguing” walk showed us the first sign of the ruins: wall-bases built with fine cement, crowning the summit of a dwarf mound to the left of the road; well-worked scoriæ were also scattered over its slopes. We now entered the date orchards conspicuous from the sea: on both sides of us were fences of thorn, tamped earth, and dry stone; young trees had been planted, and, beyond the dates, large fields of Dukhn again gave an agricultural touch to the scene. Flocks of sheep and goats were being grazed all around us; and the owners made no difficulty, as they would have done further north, in selling us half a dozen.

We then entered the Wady Haurá, where the caravan camps. It is a cheery charming site for rich citizens, with its plain of rich vegetation everywhere, say the natives, undermined by water; its open sea-view to the west; its mound of clean yellow sand behind, extending to the rocky horizon; and its pure fresh breezes blowing from the Nejd with an indescribable sense of lightness and health and enjoyment. In fact, it has all the accessories of an “eligible position.” At the third or southern palm patch, we found the only public work which remains visible in the great Nabathaean port. It was formerly a Káríz, the underground-aqueduct so common in Persia; and it conducted towards the sea the drainage of the Jebel Turham, a round knob shown in the Chart, which bears south-east (121° mag.) from the conduit-head. The line has long ago been broken down by the Arabs; and the open waters still supply the Hajj-caravan. The ‘Ayn (“fountain”) may be seen issuing from a dark cavern of white coralline: the water then hides itself under several filled-up pits, which represent the old air-holes; and, after flowing below sundry natural arches, the remains of the conduit-ceiling, it emerges in a deep fissure of saltish stone. From this part of its banks we picked up fair specimens of saltpetre. The lower course abounds in water-beetles, and is choked with three kinds of aquatic weeds. After flowing a few yards it ends in a shallow pool, surrounded by palms and paved with mud, which attracts flights of snipes, sandpipers, and sandgrouse.

The turbulent “Dog’s Sons”208 were mostly in the upper lands; but a few wretched fellows, with swords, old spears, and ridiculous matchlocks, assembled and managed to get up a squabble about the right of leading strangers into “our country” (Bilád-ná). The doughty Rájih ibn ‘Ayid, who, mounted upon a mean dromedary, affected to be chief guide, seemed to treat their pretensions as a serious matter, when we laughed them to scorn. He and all the other experts gave us wholly discouraging details concerning a ruin represented to lie, some hours off, in the nearest of the southern Harrah. According to them, the Kasr el-Bint (“Maiden’s Palace”) was in the same condition as El–Haurá; showing only a single pillar, perhaps the “columns” to which Wellsted alludes. We could learn nothing concerning the young person whose vague name it bears; except that she preferred settling on the mainland, whereas her brother built a corresponding castle upon the islet Jebel Hassáni.209 He is locally called Warakat ibn Naufal, a venerated name in the Fatrah, or “interval,” between Jesus and Mohammed; he was the uncle of Khadijah the widow, and he is popularly supposed to have been a Christian. Here, as at other places, I inquired, at the suggestion of a friend, but of course in vain, about the human skeleton which Ibn Mujáwar, some six centuries ago, found embedded in a rock near the sea-shore.

Such is the present condition of the once famous emporium Leukè Kóme. We returned along the shore to embark; and, shortly after noon, the old corvette of Crimean date again swung round on her heel, and resumed her wanderings, this time northwards. The run of eighteen hours and fifteen minutes was semicircular, but the sea had subsided to a dead calm. The return to El–Wijh felt like being restored to civilization; we actually had a salad of radish leaves — delicious!

Our travel will now lie through the Baliyy country, and a few words concerning this ancient and noble tribe may here be given. Although they apparently retain no traditions of their origin, they are known to genealogists as a branch of the Beni Kudá’, who, some fifteen centuries ago, emigrated from Southern Arabia, and eventually exterminated the Thamudites. I have noted their northern and southern frontiers: to the north-east they are bounded by the vicious Ma’ázah and the Ruwalá-‘Anezahs, and to the south-east by the Alaydán-‘Anezahs, under Shaykh Mutlak. Like their northern nomadic neighbours, they have passed over to Egypt, and even the guide-books speak of the “Billi” in the valley of the Nile.

The Baliyy modestly rate their numbers at four thousand muskets, by which understand four hundred. Yet they divide themselves into a multitude of clans; our companion, the Wakíl Mohammed Shahádah, can enumerate them by the score; and I wrote down the twenty-three principal, which are common both to South Midian and to Egypt. The chief Shaykh, Mohammed ‘Afnán ibn Ammár, can reckon backwards seven generations, beginning from a certain Shaykh Sultán. About ten years ago he allowed the tribe to indulge in such dangerous amusements as “cutting the road” and plundering merchants. It is even asserted, privily, that they captured the fort of El–Wijh, by bribing the Turkish Topji (“head gunner”), to fire high — like the half-caste artilleryman who commanded the Talpúr cannoneers at Sir Charles Napier’s Battle of “Meeanee.” A regiment of eight hundred bayonets was sent from Egypt, and the Shaykh was secured by a Hílah, or “stratagem;” that is, he was promised safe conduct: he trusted himself like a fool, he was seized, clapped in irons, and sent to jail in the Citadel of Cairo. Here he remained some seven months in carcere duro, daily expecting death, when Fate suddenly turned in his favour; he was sent for by the authorities, pardoned for the past, cautioned for the future, and restored to his home with a Murátibah (“regular pension”) of eight hundred piastres per mensem, besides rations and raiment. The remedy was, like cutting off the nose of a wicked Hindú wife, sharp but effective. Shaykh ‘Afnan and his tribe are now models of courtesy to strangers; and the traveller must devoutly wish that every Shaykh in Arabia could be subjected to the same discipline.

The Baliyy are a good study of an Arab tribe in the rough. The Huwaytát, for example, know their way to Suez and to Cairo; they have seen civilization; they have learned, after a fashion, the outlandish ways of the Frank, the Fellah, and the Turk-fellow. The Baliyy have to be taught all these rudiments. Cunning, tricky, and “dodgy,” as is all the Wild–Man-race, they lie like the “childish-foolish,” deceiving nobody but themselves. An instance: Hours and miles are of course unknown to them, but they began with us by affecting an extreme ignorance of comparative distances; they could not, or rather they would not, adopt as a standard the two short hours’ march between the Port and the inland Fort of El–Wijh. When, however, the trick was pointed out to them, they at once threw it aside as useless. No pretext was too flimsy to shorten a march or to cause a halt — the northerners did the same, but with them we had a controlling power in the shape of Shaykh Furayj. And like the citizens, they hate our manner of travelling: they love to sit up and chat through half the night; and to rise before dawn is an abomination to them.

At first their manners, gentle and pliable, contrast pleasantly with the roughness of the half-breds, Huwaytát and Maknáwi, who have many of the demerits of the Fellah, without acquiring the merits of the Bedawi. As camel-men they were not difficult to deal with; nor did they wrangle about their hire. Presently they turned out to be “poor devils,” badly armed, and not trained to the use of matchlocks. Their want of energy in beating the bushes and providing forage for their camels, compared with that of the northerners, struck us strongly. On the other hand, they seem to preserve a flavour of ancient civilization, which it is not easy to describe; and they certainly have inherited the instincts and tastes of the old metal-workers: they are a race of born miners. That sharpest of tests, the experience of travel, at last suggested to us that the Baliyy is too old a breed; and that its blue blood wants a “racial baptism,” a large infusion of something newer and stronger.

Note on the “Harrahs” of Arabia.

The learned Dr. J. G. Wetzstein, in the appendix to his “Reisebericht,” etc.,210 records a conversation with A. von Humboldt and Carl Ritter (April, 1859), respecting the specimens which he had brought from the classical Trachonitis. Their appearance led the latter to question whether the latest eruptions of the Harrat Rájil, as it is called from an adjoining valley, may not have taken place within the historic period; and he referred to Psalm xviii. as seeming to note the occurrence, during David’s reign, of such a phenomenon in or near Palestine. Humboldt deemed it probable that the Koranic legend (chap. iv.) of the Abyssinian host under Abraha destroyed by a shower of stones baked in hell-fire, referred, not to small-pox as is generally supposed, but to an actual volcanic eruption in Arabia.

“With what interest would that great man have learnt,” writes Dr. Wetzstein, “that, as I was turning over the leaves of Yákút’s ‘Geographical Lexicon,’ only a few days ago, I found that the Arabians knew of the existence of twenty-eight different volcanic regions between Hauran and Bab el-Mandeb!” Later still, Dr. Otto Loth published an elaborate paper “On the Volcanic Regions (Harras) of Arabia, according to Yakut” (thirteenth century), in which these eruptive sites are nearly all identified and described.

“Among the numerous volcanoes thus found to exist within the Arabian Peninsula,” remarks Dr. Beke,211 “the only one recorded as having been in activity within the historic period is the Harrat-el-Nar (‘Fire Harra’), situate to the north-east of Medina, in the neighbourhood of Khaibur (Khaybar), in about 26°. 30’ north lat., and 40°. east long.; which, being traditionally said to have been in an active state six centuries before Mohammed, had actually an eruption in the time of the Prophet’s successor, Omar. To the north-west of this ‘Fire Harra’ lies that known as the ‘Harra of (the tribe of) Udhra’ (Azra): again, to the north of this is the ‘Harra of Tabuk,’ so called from the station of that name on the Hajj-road from Damascus to Mekka, the position of which is in about 28 deg. 15’ north lat. and 37 deg. east long.; and beyond this last, further to the north, and consequently between it and the northernmost Harra of the Râdjil, or Trachonitis, is the Harra Radjlâ. . . . Its designation, which means ‘rough,’ ‘pathless,’ seems to indicate its peculiarly rugged surface, and to lead to the inference that it is an immense field of lava.” He cites Irby and Mangles (“Travels in Egypt,” pp. 115, 116; reprinted by Murray, London, 1868), describing their route between Kerak and Petra, on the east side of the Ghor or Wady ‘Arabah. “We noticed three dark volcanic summits, very distinguishable from the land. The lava that had streamed from them forms a sort of island in the plain.”

Hence my late friend concluded that his “true Mount Sinai” was the focus and origin of this volcanic region; and that the latter was the “great and terrible wilderness” (Deut. i. 19) through which the children of Israel were led on their way to mysterious Kadesh–Barnea. Thus, too, he explained the “pillar of the cloud by day,” and the “pillow of fire by night” (Exod. xiii. 21).

204 Not Shaykh Hasan el-Marábit —“Pilgrimage,” Vol. I. Chap. XI.

205 “Pilgrimage,” Vol. I. Chap. XI., where it is erroneously called “Jebel Hasan;” others prefer Hasa’ni — equally wrong. Voyagers put in here to buy fish, which formerly was dried, salted, and sent to Egypt; and, during the Hajj season, the Juhaynah occupy a long straggling village of huts on the south side of the island.

206 There are now no less than three lines of steamers that connect the western coast of Arabia with the north. The first is the Egyptian Company, successively called Mejidíyyah, Azízíyyah, and Khedivíyyah, from its chief actionnaire: the packets, mostly three-masted screws, start from Suez to Jeddah every fortnight. Secondly, the Austro–Hungarian Lloyd which, with the subvention of £1400 per voyage, began in 1870 to ply monthly between Constantinople, Port Sa’íd, Suez, Jeddah, and Hodaydah: it has been suspended since the beginning of the Russo–Turkish war. Thirdly, the British India Steam Navigation Company sends every three weeks a ship from London viâ the Canal to Jeddah, Hodaydah, and Aden. A fourth is proposed; Bymen’s (Winan’s?) steamers are establishing a London–Basrah (Bassorah) line, in whose itinerary will be Jeddah.

207 The observation was taken on board the Sinnár, by the first lieutenant Násir Effendi Ahmed: of course I am not answerable for its correctness, although the latitude cannot be far out. Thus the difference of parallel between it and El–Wijh (north lat. 26° 14’) would be sixty-eight direct geographical miles.

208 Beni Kalb: so the Juhaynah were called in the Apostle’s day.

209 The site was probably near the Shaykh’s tomb, where there are wells which in winter supply water.

210 This is the volume which I have translated: see also Dr. Beke’s papers in the Athenæum (February 8 and 15, 1873).

211 See “Mount Sinai a Volcano” (Tinsleys). For a list of Yakut’s volcanoes, see Dr. Beke, “Sinai in Arabia,” Appendix, p. 535.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:36