Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter X.

The Pilgrim Ship.

THE larger craft anchor some three or four miles from the Suez pier, so that it is necessary to drop down in a skiff or shore-boat.

Immense was the confusion at the eventful hour of our departure. Suppose us gathered upon the beach, on the morning of a fiery July day, carefully watching our hurriedly-packed goods and chattels, surrounded by a mob of idlers, who are not too proud to pick up waifs and strays; whilst pilgrims are rushing about apparently mad; and friends are weeping, acquaintances are vociferating adieux; boatmen are demanding fees, shopmen are claiming debts; women are shrieking and talking with inconceivable power, and children are crying, — in short, for an hour or so we stand in the thick of a human storm. To confound confusion, the boatmen have moored their skiff half a dozen yards away from the shore, lest the porters should be unable to make more than double their fare from the Hajis. Again the Turkish women make a hideous noise, as they are carried off struggling vainly in brawny arms; the children howl because their mothers howl; and the men scold and swear, because in such scenes none may be silent. The moment we had embarked, each individual found that he or she had missed something of vital importance, — a pipe, a child, a box, or a water-melon; and naturally all the servants were in the bazars, when they should have been in the boat. Briefly, despite the rage of the sailors, who feared being too late for a second trip, we stood for some time on the beach before putting off.

From the shore we poled to the little pier, where sat the Bey in person to perform a final examination of our passports. Several were detected without the necessary document. Some were bastinadoed, others were peremptorily ordered back to Cairo, and the rest were allowed to proceed. At about 10 A.M. (6th July) we hoisted sail, and ran down the channel leading to the roadstead. On our way we had a specimen of what we might expect from our fellow-passengers, the Maghrabi.1 A boat crowded with these ruffians ran alongside of us, and, before we could organise a defence, about a score of them poured into our vessel. They carried things too with a high hand, laughed at us, and seemed quite ready to fight. My Indian boy, who happened to let slip the word “Muarras,” narrowly escaped a blow with a palm stick, which would have felled a camel. They outnumbered us, and they were armed; so that, on this occasion, we were obliged to put up with their insolence.

Our Pilgrim Ship, the Silk al-Zahab, or the “Golden Wire,” was a Sambuk, of about 400 ardebs (fifty tons), with narrow, wedge-like bows, a clean water-line, a sharp keel, and undecked, except upon the poop, which was high enough to act as a sail in a gale of wind. She carried two masts, raking imminently forwards, the main being considerably larger than the mizzen; the former was provided with a huge triangular latine, very deep in the tack, but the second sail was unaccountably wanting. She had no means of reefing, no compass, no log, no sounding lines, no spare ropes, nor even the suspicion of a chart: in her box-like cabin and ribbed hold there was something which savoured of close connection between her model and that of the Indian Toni,2 or “dug-out.”

Such, probably, were the craft which carried old Sesostris across the Red Sea to Deir; such were the cruisers which once every three years left Ezion-Geber for Tarshish; such the transports of which 130 were required to convey AElius Gallus, with his 10,000 men. “Bakhshish” was the last as well as the first odious sound I heard in Egypt. The owner of the shore-boat would not allow us to climb the sides of our vessel before paying him his fare, and when we did so, he asked for Bakhshish. If Easterns would only imitate the example of Europeans, — I never yet saw an Englishman give Bakhshish to a soul, — the nuisance would soon be done away with. But on this occasion all my companions complied with the request, and at times it is unpleasant to be singular. The first look at the interior of our vessel showed a hopeless sight; Ali Murad, the greedy owner, had promised to take sixty passengers in the hold, but had stretched the number to ninety-seven. Piles of boxes and luggage in every shape and form filled the ship from stem to stern, and a torrent of Hajis were pouring over the sides like ants into the East-Indian sugar-basin. The poop, too, where we had taken our places, was covered with goods, and a number of pilgrims had established themselves there by might, not by right.

Presently, to our satisfaction, appeared Sa’ad the Demon, equipped as an able seaman, and looking most unlike the proprietor of two large boxes full of valuable merchandise. This energetic individual instantly prepared for action. With our little party to back him, he speedily cleared the poop of intruders and their stuff by the simple process of pushing or rather throwing them off it into the pit below. We then settled down as comfortably as we could; three Syrians, a married Turk with his wife and family, the Rais or captain of the vessel, with a portion of his crew, and our seven selves, composing a total of eighteen human beings, upon a space certainly not exceeding ten feet by eight. The cabin — a miserable box about the size of the poop, and three feet high — was stuffed, like the hold of a slave ship, with fifteen wretches, children and women, and the other ninety-seven were disposed upon the luggage or squatted on the bulwarks. Having some experience in such matters, and being favoured by fortune, I found a spare bed-frame slung to the ship’s side; and giving a dollar to its owner, a sailor — who flattered himself that, because it was his, he would sleep upon it, — I instantly appropriated it, preferring any hardship outside, to the condition of a packed herring inside, the place of torment.

Our Maghrabis were fine-looking animals from the deserts about Tripoli and Tunis; so savage that, but a few weeks ago, they had gazed at the cock-boat, and wondered how long it would be growing to the size of the ship that was to take them to Alexandria. Most of them were sturdy young fellows, round-headed, broad-shouldered, tall and large-limbed, with frowning eyes, and voices in a perpetual roar. Their manners were rude, and their faces full of fierce contempt or insolent familiarity. A few old men were there, with countenances expressive of intense ferocity; women as savage and full of fight as men; and handsome boys with shrill voices, and. hands always upon their daggers. The women were mere bundles of dirty white rags. The males were clad in “Burnus” — brown or striped woollen cloaks with hoods; they had neither turband nor tarbush, trusting to their thick curly hair or to the prodigious hardness of their scalps as a defence against the sun; and there was not a slipper nor a shoe amongst the party. Of course all were armed; but, fortunately for us, none had anything more formidable than a cut-and-thrust dagger about ten inches long. These Maghrabis travel in hordes under a leader who obtains the temporary title of “Maula,” — the master. He has generally performed a pilgrimage or two, and has collected a stock of superficial information which secures for him the respect of his followers, and the profound contempt of the heaven-made Ciceroni of Meccah and Al-Madinah. No people endure greater hardships when upon the pilgrimage than these Africans, who trust almost entirely to alms and to other such dispensations of Providence. It is not therefore to be wondered at that they rob whenever an opportunity presents itself. Several cases of theft occurred on board the “Golden Wire”; and as such plunderers seldom allow themselves to be baulked by insufficient defence, they are accused, perhaps deservedly, of having committed some revolting murders.

The first thing to be done after gaining standing-room was to fight for greater comfort; and never a Holyhead packet in the olden time showed a finer scene of pugnacity than did our pilgrim ship. A few Turks, ragged old men from Anatolia and Caramania, were mixed up with the Maghrabis, and the former began the war by contemptuously elbowing and scolding their wild neighbours. The Maghrabis, under their leader, “Maula Ali,” a burly savage, in whom I detected a ridiculous resemblance to the Rev. Charles Delafosse, an old and well-remembered schoolmaster, retorted so willingly that in a few minutes nothing was to be seen but a confused mass of humanity, each item indiscriminately punching and pulling, scratching and biting, butting and trampling, with cries of rage, and all the accompaniments of a proper fray, whatever was obnoxious to such operations. One of our party on the poop, a Syrian, somewhat incautiously leapt down to aid his countrymen by restoring order. He sank immediately below the surface of the living mass: and when we fished him out, his forehead was cut open, half his beard had disappeared, and a fine sharp set of teeth belonging to some Maghrabi had left their mark in the calf of his leg. The enemy showed no love of fair play, and never appeared contented unless five or six of them were setting upon a single man. This made matters worse. The weaker of course drew their daggers, and a few bad wounds were soon given and received. In a few minutes five men were completely disabled, and the victors began to dread the consequences of their victory.

Then the fighting stopped, and, as many could not find places, it was agreed that a deputation should wait upon Ali Murad, the owner, to inform him of the crowded state of the vessel. After keeping us in expectation at least three hours, he appeared in a row-boat, preserving a respectful distance, and informed us that any one who pleased might quit the ship and take back his fare. This left the case exactly as it was before; none would abandon his party to go on shore: so Ali Murad rowed off towards Suez, giving us a parting injunction to be good, and not fight; to trust in Allah, and that Allah would make all things easy to us. His departure was the signal for a second fray, which in its accidents differed a little from the first. During the previous disturbance we kept our places with weapons in our hands. This time we were summoned by the Maghrabis to relieve their difficulties, by taking about half a dozen of them on the poop. Sa’ad the Demon at once rose with an oath, and threw amongst us a bundle of “Nabbut” — goodly ashen staves six feet long, thick as a man’s wrist, well greased, and tried in many a rough bout. He shouted to us “Defend yourselves if you don’t wish to be the meat of the Maghrabis!” and to the enemy — “Dogs and sons of dogs! now shall you see what the children of the Arab are.” “I am Omar of Daghistan!” “I am Abdullah the son of Joseph!” “I am Sa’ad the Demon!” we exclaimed, “renowning it” by this display of name and patronymic. To do our enemies justice, they showed no sign of flinching; they swarmed towards the poop like angry hornets, and encouraged each other with cries of “Allaho akbar!” But we had a vantage-ground about four feet above them, and their palm-sticks and short daggers could do nothing against our terrible quarterstaves. In vain the “Jacquerie,” tried to scale the poop and to overpower us by numbers; their courage only secured them more broken heads.

At first I began to lay on load with main morte, really fearing to kill some one with such a weapon; but it soon became evident that the Maghrabis’ heads and shoulders could bear and did require the utmost exertion of strength. Presently a thought struck me. A large earthen jar full of drinking water,3 — in its heavy frame of wood the weight might have been 100 lbs., — stood upon the edge of the poop, and the thick of the fray took place beneath. Seeing an opportunity, I crept up to the jar, and, without attracting attention, rolled it down by a smart push with the shoulder upon the swarm of assailants. The fall caused a shriller shriek to rise above the ordinary din, for heads, limbs, and bodies were sorely bruised by the weight, scratched by the broken potsherds, and wetted by the sudden discharge. A fear that something worse might be coming made the Maghrabis slink off towards the end of the vessel. After a few minutes, we, sitting in grave silence, received a deputation of individuals in whity-brown Burnus, spotted and striped with what Mephistopheles calls a “curious juice.” They solicited peace, which we granted upon the condition that they would pledge themselves to keep it. Our heads, shoulders, and hands were penitentially kissed, and presently the fellows returned to bind up their hurts in dirty rags. We owed this victory entirely to our own exertions, and the meek Omar was by far the fiercest of the party. Our Rais, as we afterwards learned, was an old fool who could do nothing but call for the Fatihah,4 claim Bakhshish at every place where we moored for the night, and spend his leisure hours in the “Caccia del Mediterraneo.” Our crew consisted of half a dozen Egyptian lads, who, not being able to defend themselves, were periodically chastised by the Maghrabis, especially when any attempt was made to cook, to fetch water, or to prepare a pipe.5

At length, about 3 P.M. on the 6th July, 1853, we shook out the sail, and, as it bellied in the favourable wind, we recited the Fatihah with upraised hands which we afterwards drew down our faces.6 As the “Golden Wire” started from her place, I could not help casting one wistful look upon the British flag floating over the Consulate. But the momentary regret was stifled by the heart-bounding which prospects of an adventure excite, and by the real pleasure of leaving Egypt. I had lived there a stranger in the land, and a hapless life it had been: in the streets every man’s face, as he looked upon the Persian, was the face of a foe. Whenever I came in contact with the native officials,7 insolence marked the event; and the circumstance of living within hail of my fellow-countrymen, and yet finding it impossible to enjoy their society, still throws a gloom over the memory of my first sojourn in Egypt.

The ships of the Red Sea — infamous region of rocks, reefs, and shoals — cruise along the coast by day, and at night lay-to in the first cove they find; they do not sail when it blows hard, and as in winter time the weather is often stormy and the light of day does not last long, the voyage is intolerably slow.8 At sunset we stayed our adventurous course; and, still within sight of Suez, comfortably anchored under the lee of Jabal Atakah, the “Mountain of Deliverance,9” the butt-end of Jabal Joshi. We were now on classic waters. The Eastern shore was dotted with the little grove of palm-trees which clusters around the Uyun Musa, or Moses’ Wells; and on the west, between two towering ridges, lay the mouth of the valley (Badiyah, or Wady Tawarik, or Wady Musa) down which, according to Father Sicard,10 the Israelites fled to the Sea of Sedge.11 The view was by no means deficient in a sort of barbarous splendour. Verdure there was none, but under the violet and orange tints of the sky the chalky rocks became heaps of topazes, and the brown-burnt ridges masses of amethyst. The rising mists, here silvery white, there deeply rosy, and the bright blue of the waves,12 lining long strips of golden sand, compensated for the want of softness by a semblance of savage gorgeousness.

Next morning (7th July), before the cerulean hue had vanished from the hills, we set sail. It was not long before we came to a proper sense of our position. The box containing my store of provisions, and, worse still, my opium, was at the bottom of the hold, perfectly unapproachable; we had, therefore, the pleasure of breaking our fast on “Mare’s skin,”13 and a species of biscuit, hard as a stone and quite as tasteless. During the day, whilst insufferable splendour reigned above, the dashing of the waters below kept my nest in a state of perpetual drench. At night rose a cold, bright moon, with dews falling so thick and clammy that the skin felt as though it would never be dry again. It is, also, by no means pleasant to sleep upon a broken cot about four feet long by two broad, with the certainty that a false movement would throw you overboard, and a conviction that if you do fall from a Sambuk under sail, no mortal power can save you. And as under all circumstances in the East, dozing is one’s chief occupation, the reader will understand that the want of it left me in utter, utter idleness.

The gale was light that day, and the sunbeams were fire; our crew preferred crouching in the shade of the sail to taking advantage of what wind there was. In spite of our impatience we made but little way: near evening time we anchored on a tongue of sand, about two miles distant from the well-known and picturesque heights called by the Arabs Hammam Faraun,14 which —

“like giants stand

To sentinel enchanted land.”

The strip of coarse quartz and sandstone gravel is obviously the offspring of some mountain torrent; it stretches southwards, being probably disposed in that direction by the currents of the sea as they receive the deposit. The distance of the “Hammam Bluffs” prevented my visiting them, which circumstance I regretted the less as they have been described by pens equal to the task.

That evening we enjoyed ourselves upon clean sand, whose surface, drifted by the wind into small yellow waves, was easily converted by a little digging and heaping up, into the coolest and most comfortable of couches. Indeed, after the canescent heat of the day, and the tossing of our ill-conditioned vessel, we should have been contented with lodgings far less luxurious. Fuel was readily collected, and while some bathed, others erected a hearth — three large stones and a hole open to leeward — lit the fire and put the pot on to boil. Shaykh Nur had fortunately a line; we had been successful in fishing; a little rice also had been bought; with this boiled, and rock-cod broiled upon the charcoal, we made a dinner that caused every one to forget the sore grievance of “Mare’s skin” and stone-hard biscuit. A few Maghrabis had ventured on shore, the Rais having terrified the others by threatening them with those “bogies,” the Badawin — and they offered us Kuskusu15 in exchange for fish. As evening fell, we determined, before sleeping, to work upon their “morale” as effectually as we had attacked their physique. Shaykh Hamid stood up and indulged them with the Azan, or call to prayers, pronounced after the fashion of Al-Madinah.16 They performed their devotions in lines ranged behind us as a token of respect, and when worship was over we were questioned about the Holy City till we grew tired of answering. Again our heads and shoulders, our hands and knees,17 were kissed, but this time in devotion, not in penitence. My companions could scarcely understand half the rugged words which the Maghrabis used,18 as their dialect was fresh from the distant Desert. Still we succeeded in making ourselves intelligible to them, vaunting our dignity as the Sons of the Prophet, and the sanctity of our land which should protect its children from every description of fraud and violence. We benignantly promised to be their guides at Al-Madinah, and the boy Mohammed would conduct their devotions at Meccah, always provided that they repented their past misdeeds, avoided any repetition of the same, and promised to perform the duties of good and faithful pilgrims. Presently the Rais joined our party, and the usual story-telling began. The old man knew the name of each hill, and had a legend for every nook and corner in sight. He dwelt at length upon the life of Abu Zulaymah, the patron saint of these seas, whose little tomb stands at no great distance from our bivouac place, and told us how he sits watching over the safety of pious mariners in a cave among the neighbouring rocks, and sipping his coffee, which is brought in a raw state from Meccah by green birds, and prepared in the usual way by the hands of ministering angels. He showed us the spot where the terrible king of Egypt, when close upon the heels of the children of Israel, was whelmed in the “hell of waters,19” and he warned us that next day our way would be through breakers, and reefs, and dangerous currents, over whose troubled depths, since that awful day, the Ifrit of the storm has never ceased to flap his sable wing. The wincing of the hearers proved that the shaft of the old man’s words was sharp; but as night was advancing, we unrolled our rugs, and fell asleep upon the sand, all of us happy, for we had fed and drunk, and — the homo sapiens is a hopeful animal — we made sure that on the morrow the Ifrit would be merciful, and allow us to eat fresh dates at the harbour of Tur.

Fair visions of dates doomed to the Limbo of things which should have been! The grey dawn (8th July) looked down upon us in difficulties. The water is deep near this coast; we had anchored at high tide close to the shore, and the ebb had left us high and dry. When this fact became apparent, a storm was upon the point of breaking. The Maghrabis, but for our interference, would have bastinadoed the Rais, who, they said with some reason, ought to have known better. When this phase of feeling passed away, they applied themselves to physical efforts. All except the women and children, who stood on the shore encouraging their relatives with shrill quaverings, threw themselves into the water; some pushed, others applied their shoulders to the vessel’s side, and all used their lungs with might and main. But the “Golden Wire” was firmly fixed, and their exertions were too irregular. Muscular force failed, upon which they changed their tactics. At the suggestion of their “Maula,” they prepared to burn incense in honour of the Shaykh Abu Zulaymah. The material not being forthcoming, they used coffee, which perhaps accounts for the shortcomings of that holy man. After this the Rais remembered that their previous exertions had not begun under the auspices of the Fatihah. Therefore they prayed, and then reapplied themselves to work. Still they failed. Finally, each man called aloud upon his own particular saint or spiritual guide, and rushed forward as if he alone sufficed for the exploit. Shaykh Hamid unwisely quoted the name, and begged the assistance, of his great ancestor, the “Clarified-Butter-Seller”; the obdurate “Golden Wire” was not moved, and Hamid retired in momentary confusion.

It was now about nine A.M., and the water had risen considerably. My morning had been passed in watching the influx of the tide, and the grotesque efforts of the Maghrabis. When the vessel showed some symptoms of unsteadiness, I arose, walked gravely up to her, ranged the pilgrims around her with their shoulders to the sides, and told them to heave with might when they heard me invoke the revered name of my patron saint. I raised my hands and voice; “Ya Piran Pir! Ya Abd al-Kadir Jilani20” was the signal. Each Maghrabi worked like an Atlas, the “Golden Wire” canted half over, and, sliding heavily through the sand, once more floated off into deep water. This was generally voted a minor miracle, and the Effendi was respected — for a day or two.

The wind was fair, but we had all to re-embark, an operation which went on till noon. After starting I remarked the natural cause which gives this Birkat Faraun — “Pharaoh’s Bay,” — a bad name. Here the gulf narrows; and the winds, which rush down the clefts and valleys of the lofty mountains on the Eastern and Western shores, meeting tides and counter-currents, cause a perpetual commotion. That day the foam-tipped waves repeatedly washed over my cot, by no means diminishing its discomforts. In the evening, or rather late in the afternoon, we anchored, to our infinite disgust, under a ridge of rocks, behind which lies the plain of Tur. The Rais deterred all from going on shore by terrible stories about the Badawin that haunt the place, besides which there was no sand to sleep upon. We remained, therefore, on board that night; and, making sail early the next morning, we threaded through reefs and sand-banks about noon into the intricate and dangerous entrance of Tur.

Nothing can be meaner than the present appearance of the old Phoenician colony, although its position as a harbour, and its plentiful supply of fruit and fresh water, make it one of the most frequented places on the coast. The only remains of any antiquity — except the wells — are the fortifications which the Portuguese erected to keep out the Badawin. The little town lies upon a plain that stretches with a gradual rise from the sea to the lofty mountain-axis of the Sinaitic group. The country around reminded me strongly of maritime Sind; a flat of clay and sand, clothed with sparse turfs of Salsolae, and bearing strong signs of a (geologically speaking) recent origin. The town is inhabited principally by Greek and other Christians,21 who live by selling water and provisions to ships. A fleecy cloud hung lightly over the majestic head of Jabal Tur, about eventide, and the outlines of the giant hills stood “picked out” from the clear blue sky. Our Rais, weather-wise man, warned us that these were indications of a gale, and that, in case of rough weather, he did not intend to leave Tur. I was not sorry to hear this. We had passed a pleasant day, drinking sweet water, and eating the dates, grapes, and pomegranates, which the people of the place carry down to the beach for the benefit of hungry pilgrims. Besides which, there were various sights to see, and with these we might profitably spend the morrow. We therefore pitched the tent upon the sand, and busied ourselves with extricating a box of provisions: the labour was rendered lighter by the absence of the Maghrabis, some of whom were wandering about the beach, whilst others had gone off to fill their bags with fresh water. We found their surliness insufferable; even when we were passing from poop to forecastle, landing or boarding, they grumbled forth their dissatisfaction.

Our Rais was not mistaken in his prediction. The fleecy cloud on Tur’s tops had given true warning. When morning (9th July) broke, we found the wind strong, and the sea white with foam. Most of us thought lightly of these terrors, but our valorous captain swore that he dared not for his life cross in such a storm the mouth of ill-omened Akabah. We breakfasted, therefore, and afterwards set out to visit Moses’ Hot Baths, mounted on wretched donkeys with pack-saddles, ignorant of stirrups, and without tails, whilst we ourselves suffered generally from boils, which, as usual upon a journey, make their appearance in localities the most inconvenient. Our road lay northward across the plain towards a long narrow strip of date ground, surrounded by a ruinous mud wall. After a ride of two or three miles, we entered the gardens, and came suddenly upon the Hammam. It is a prim little Cockney bungalow, built by Abbas Pasha of Egypt for his own accommodation; glaringly whitewashed, and garnished with diwans and calico curtains of a gorgeous hue. The guardian had been warned of our visit, and was present to supply us with bathing-cloths and other necessaries. One by one we entered the cistern, which is now in an inner room. The water is about four feet deep, warm in winter, cool in summer, of a saltish-bitter taste, but celebrated for its invigorating qualities, when applied externally. On one side of the calcareous rock, near the ground, is the hole opened for the spring by Moses’ rod, which must have been like the “mast of some tall Ammiral22”; and near it are the marks of Moses’ nails — deep indentations in the stone, which were probably left there by some extinct Saurian. Our Cicerone informed us that formerly the finger-marks existed, and that they were long enough for a man to lie in. The same functionary attributed the sanitary properties of the spring to the blessings of the Prophet, and, when asked why Moses had not made sweet water to flow, informed us that the Great Lawgiver had intended the spring for bathing in, not for drinking. We sat with him, eating the small yellow dates of Tur, which are delicious, melting like honey in the mouth, and leaving a surpassing arriere gout. After finishing sundry pipes and cups of coffee, we gave the bath-man a few piastres, and, mounting our donkeys, started eastward for the Bir Musa,23 which we reached in half an hour. It is a fine old work, built round and domed over with roughly squared stones, very like what may be seen in some rustic parts of Southern England. The sides of the pit were so rugged that a man could climb down them, and at the bottom was a pool of water, sweet and abundant. We had intended to stay there, and to dine al fresco, but the hated faces of our companions, the Maghrabis, meeting us at the entrance, nipped that project in the bud. Accordingly we retired from the burning sun to a neighbouring coffee-house — a shed of palm leaves kept by a Tur man, and there, seated on mats, we demolished the contents of our basket. Whilst we were eating, some Badawin came in and joined us, when invited so to do. They were poorly dressed, and all armed with knives and cheap sabres, hanging to leathern bandoleers: in language and demeanour they showed few remains of their old ferocity. As late as Mohammed Ali’s time these people were noted wreckers, and formerly they were dreaded pirates: now they are lions with their fangs and claws drawn.

In the even, when we returned to our tent, a Syrian, one of our party on the poop, came out to meet us with the information that several large vessels had arrived from Suez, comparatively speaking, empty, and that the captain of one of them would land us at Yambu’ for three dollars a head. The proposal was tempting. But presently it became apparent that my companions were unwilling to shift their precious boxes, and moreover, that I should have to pay for those who could not or would not pay for themselves, — that is to say, for the whole party. As such a display of wealth would have been unadvisable, I dismissed the idea with a sigh. Amongst the large vessels was one freighted with Persian pilgrims, a most disagreeable race of men on a journey or a voyage. They would not land at first, because they feared the Badawin. They would not take water from the town people, because some of these were Christians. Moreover, they insisted upon making their own call to prayer, which heretical proceeding — it admits five extra words — our party, orthodox Moslems, would rather have died than have permitted. When their crier, a small wizen-faced man, began the Azan with a voice

“in quel tenore

Che fa il cappon quando talvolta canta,”

we received it with a shout of derision, and some, hastily snatching up their weapons, offered him an opportunity of martyrdom. The Maghrabis, too, hearing that the Persians were Rafaz (heretics) crowded fiercely round to do a little Jihad, or Fighting for the Faith. The long-bearded men took the alarm. They were twice the number of our small party, and therefore they had been in the habit of strutting about with nonchalance, and looking at us fixedly, and otherwise demeaning themselves in an indecorous way. But when it came to the point, they showed the white feather. These Persians accompanied us to the end of our voyage. As they approached the Holy Land, visions of the “Nabbut” caused a change for the better in their manners. At Mahar they meekly endured a variety of insults, and at Yambu’ they cringed to us like dogs.

1 Men of the Maghrab, or Western Africa; the vulgar plural is Maghrabin, generally written “Mogrebyn.” May not the singular form of this word have given rise to the Latin “Maurus,” by elision of the Ghayn, to Italians an unpronounceable consonant? From Maurus comes the Portuguese “Moro,” and our “Moor.” When Vasco de Gama reached Calicut, he found there a tribe of Arab colonists, who in religion and in language were the same as the people of Northern Africa, — for this reason he called them “Moors.” This was explained long ago by Vincent (Periplus, lib. 3), and lately by Prichard (Natural History of Man). I repeat it because it has been my fate to hear, at a meeting of a learned society in London, a gentleman declare, that in Eastern Africa he found a people calling themselves Moors. Maghrabin — Westerns, — then would be opposed to Sharkiyin, Easterns, the origin of our “Saracen.” From Gibbon downwards many have discussed the history of this word; but few expected in the nineteenth century to see a writer on Eastern subjects assert, with Sir John Mandeville, that these people “properly, ben clept Sarrazins of Sarra.” The learned M. Jomard, who never takes such original views of things, asks a curious question:— “Mais comment un son aussi distinct que le Chine [Arabic text] aurait-il pu se confondre avec le Syn [Arabic text] et, pour un mot aussi connu que charq; comment aurait-on pu se tromper a l’omission des points?” Simply because the word Saracens came to us through the Greeks (Ptolemy uses it), who have no such sound as sh in their language, and through the Italian which, hostile to the harsh sibilants of Oriental dialects, generally melts sh down into s. So the historical word Hashshashiyun — hemp-drinker, — civilised by the Italians into “assassino,” became, as all know, an expression of European use. But if any one adverse to “etymological fancies” objects to my deriving Maurus from “Maghrab,” let him remember Johnson’s successfully tracing the course of the metamorphosis of “dies” into “jour.” An even more peculiar change we may discover in the word “elephant.” “Pilu” in Sanscrit, became “pil” in old Persian, which ignores short final vowels; “fil,” and, with the article, “Al-fil,” in Arabic, which supplies the place of p (an unknown letter to it), by f; and elephas in Greek, which is fond of adding “as” to Arabic words, as in the cases of Aretas (Haris) and Obodas (Obayd). “A name,” says Humboldt, “often becoming a historical monument, and the etymological analysis of language, however it may be divided, is attended by valuable results.”

2 The Toni or Indian canoe is the hollowed-out trunk of a tree, — near Bombay generally a mango. It must have been the first step in advance from that simplest form of naval architecture, the “Catamaran” of Madras and Aden.

3 In these vessels each traveller, unless a previous bargain be made, is expected to provide his own water and firewood. The best way, however, is, when the old wooden box called a tank is sound, to pay the captain for providing water, and to keep the key.

4 The “opener” — the first chapter of the Koran, which Moslems recite as Christians do the Lord’s Prayer; it is also used on occasions of danger, the beginnings of journeys, to bind contracts, &c.

5 These Maghrabis, like the Somalis, the Wahhabis of the desert, and certain other barbarous races, unaccustomed to tobacco, appeared to hate the smell of a pipe.

6 The hands are raised in order to catch the blessing that is supposed to descend from heaven upon the devotee; and the meaning of drawing the palms down the face is symbolically to transfer the benediction to every part of the body.

7 As is the case under all despotic governments, nothing can be more intentionally offensive than the official manners of a superior to his inferior in Egypt. The Indians charge their European fellow-subjects with insolence of demeanour and coarseness of language. As far as my experience goes, our roughness and brusquerie are mere politeness compared with what passes between Easterns. At the same time it must be owned that I have seen the worst of it.

8 It was far safer and more expeditious in Al-Adrisi’s day (A.D. 1154), when the captain used to sit on the poop “furnished with numerous and useful instruments”; when he “sounded the shallows, and by his knowledge of the depths could direct the helmsman where to steer.”

9 In the East it is usual, when commencing a voyage or a journey, to make a short day’s work, in order to be at a convenient distance for returning, in case of any essential article having been forgotten.

10 A Jesuit missionary who visited the place in A.D. 1720, and described it in a well-known volume. As every eminent author, however, monopolises a “crossing,” and since the head of the Suez creek, as is shown by its old watermark, has materially changed within no very distant period, it is no wonder that the question is still sub judice, and that there it will remain most probably till the end of time. The Christians have two equally favourite lines: the Moslems patronise one so impossible, that it has had attractions enough to fix their choice. It extends from Zafaran Point to Hammam Bluffs, ten miles of deep water.

11 The Hebrew name of this part of the Red Sea. In a communication lately made to the Royal Geographical Society, I gave my reasons for believing that the Greeks borrowed their Erythraean Sea from the Arabic “Sea of Himyar.”

12 Most travellers remark that they have never seen a brighter blue than that of the Red Sea. It was the observation of an early age that “the Rede Sea is not more rede than any other sea, but in some place thereof is the gravelle rede, and therefore men clepen it the Rede Sea.”

13 Jild al-Faras (or Kamar al-Din), a composition of apricot paste, dried, spread out, and folded into sheets, exactly resembling the article after which it is named. Turks and Arabs use it when travelling; they dissolve it in water, and eat it as a relish with bread or biscuit.

14 “Pharaoh’s hot baths,” which in our maps are called “Hummum Bluffs.” They are truly “enchanted land” in Moslem fable: a volume would scarcely contain the legends that have been told and written about them. (See Note 1, p. 10, ante.)

15 One of the numerous species of what the Italians generally call “Pasta.” The material is wheaten or barley flour rolled into small round grains. In Barbary it is cooked by steaming, and served up with hard boiled eggs and mutton, sprinkled with red pepper. These Badawi Maghrabis merely boiled it.

16 The Azan is differently pronounced, though similarly worded by every orthodox nation in Al-Islam.

17 The usual way of kissing the knee is to place the finger tips upon it, and then to raise them to the mouth. It is an action denoting great humility, and the condescending superior who is not an immediate master returns the compliment in the same way.

18 The Maghrabi dialect is known to be the harshest and most guttural form of Arabic. It owes this unenviable superiority to its frequency of “Sukun,” or the quiescence of one or more consonants; — “K’lab,” for instance, for “Kilab,” and “’Msik” for “Amsik.” Thus it is that vowels, the soft and liquid part of language, disappear, leaving in their place a barbarous sounding mass of consonants.

19 Burckhardt mentions the Arab legend that the spirits of the drowned Egyptians may be seen moving at the bottom of the sea, and Finati adds that they are ever busy recruiting their numbers with shipwrecked mariners.

20 I thus called upon a celebrated Sufi or mystic, whom many East-Indian Moslems reverence as the Arabs do their Prophet. In Appendix I the curious reader will find Abd al-Kadir again mentioned.

21 Those people are descendants of Syrians and Greeks that fled from Candia, Scios, the Ionian Islands, and Palestine to escape the persecutions of the Turks. They now wear the Arab dress, and speak the language of the country, but they are easily to be distinguished from the Moslems by the expression of their countenances and sometimes by their blue eyes and light hair. There are also a few families calling themselves Jabaliyah, or mountaineers. Originally they were 100 households, sent by Justinian to serve the convent of St. Catherine, and to defend it against the Berbers. Sultan Kansuh al-Ghori, called by European writers Campson Gaury, the Mamluk King of Egypt, in A.D. 1501, admitted these people into the Moslem community on condition of their continuing the menial service they had afforded to the monks.

22 Adam’s forehead (says the Tarikh Tabari) brushed the skies, but this height being inconvenient, the Lord abridged it to 100 cubits. The Moslems firmly believe in Anakim. Josephus informs us that Moses was of “divine form and great tallness”; the Arabs specify his stature, — 300 cubits. They have, moreover, found his grave in some parts of the country S.E, of the Dead Sea, and make cups of a kind of bitumen called “Moses’ Stones.” This people nescit ignorare — it will know everything.

23 “Moses’ Well.” I have no argument except the untrustworthy traditions of the Badawin, either for or against this having been the identical well near which Moses sat when he fled from the face of Pharaoh to the land of Midian. One thing is certain, namely, that in this part of Arabia, as also at Aden, the wells are of a very ancient date.


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