Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XIII.

From Yambu’ to Bir Abbas.

On the 18th July, about 7 P.M., we passed through the gate of Yambu’, and took a due Easterly course. Our route lay over the plain between the mountains of Radhwah on the left, and the sea on the right hand; the land was desert, — that is to say, a hard level plain, strewed with rounded lumps of granite and greenstone schist, with here and there a dwarf Acacia, and a tuft of rank camel grass. By the light of a glorious moon, nearly at the full, I was able to see the country tolerably well.

Our party consisted of twelve camels, and we travelled in Indian file, head tied to tail, with but one outrider, Omar Effendi, whose rank required him to mount a dromedary with showy trappings. Immediately in front of me was Amm Jamal, whom I had to reprove for asking the boy Mohammed, “Where have you picked up that Hindi, (Indian)?” “Are we, the Afghans, the Indian-slayers,1 become Indians?” I vociferated with indignation, and brought the thing home to his feelings, by asking him how he, an Arab, would like to be called an Egyptian, — a Fellah? The rest of the party was behind, sitting or dozing upon the rough platforms made by the lids of the two huge boxes slung to the sides of their camels. Only one old woman, Al-Sitt Maryam (the lady Mary), returning to Al-Madinah, her adopted country, after a visit to a sister at Cairo, allowed herself the luxury of a half-dollar Shibriyah or cot, fastened crosswise over the animal’s load. Moreover, all the party, except Omar Effendi, in token of poverty, were dressed in the coarsest and dirtiest of clothes, — the general suit consisting of a shirt torn in divers places and a bit of rag wrapped round the head. They carried short chibuks without mouth-pieces, and tobacco-pouches of greasy leather. Though the country hereabouts is perfectly safe, all had their arms in readiness, and the unusual silence that succeeded to the singing, even Sa’ad the Demon held his tongue, — was sufficient to show how much they feared for their property. After a slow march of two hours facing the moon, we turned somewhat towards the North-East, and began to pass over undulating ground, in which a steady rise was perceptible. We arrived at the halting-place at three in the morning, after a short march of about eight hours, during which we could not have passed over more than sixteen miles.2 The camels were nakh’d3; the boxes were taken off and piled together as a precaution against invisible robbers; my little tent, the only one in the party, was pitched; we then spread our rugs upon the ground and lay down to sleep.

We arose at about 9 A.M. (July 19), and after congratulating one another upon being once more in the “dear Desert,” we proceeded in exhilarated mood to light the fire for pipes and breakfast. The meal-a biscuit, a little rice, and a cup of milkless tea-was soon dispatched, after which I proceeded to inspect our position.

About a mile to the westward lay the little village Al-Musahhal,4 a group of miserable mud hovels. On the south was a strip of bright blue sea, and all around, an iron plain producing naught but stones and grasshoppers, and bounded northward by a grisly wall of blackish rock. Here and there a shrub fit only for fuel, or a tuft of coarse grass, crisp with heat, met the eye. All was sun-parched; the furious heat from above was drying up the sap and juice of the land, as the simmering and quivering atmosphere showed; moreover the heavy dews of these regions, forming in large drops upon the plants and stones, concentrate the morning rays upon them like a system of burning-glasses. After making these few observations I followed the example of my companions, and returned to sleep.

At two P.M. we were roused to a dinner as simple as the breakfast had been. Boiled rice with an abundance of the clarified butter5 in which Easterns delight, some fragments of Kahk6 or soft biscuit, and stale bread7 and a handful of stoned and pressed date-paste, called ’Ajwah, formed the menu. Our potations began before dinner with a vile-tasted but wholesome drink called Akit,8 dried sour milk dissolved in water; at the meal we drank the leather-flavoured element, and ended with a large cupful of scalding tea. Enormous quantities of liquid were consumed, for the sun seemed to have got into our throats, and the perspiration trickled as after a shower of rain. Whilst we were eating, a Badawi woman passed close by the tent, leading a flock of sheep and goats, seeing which I expressed a desire to drink milk. My companions sent by one of the camel-men a bit of bread, and asked in exchange for a cupful of “laban.9” Thus I learned that the Arabs, even in this corrupt region, still adhere to the meaningless custom of their ancestors, who chose to make the term “Labban10” (milk-seller) an opprobrium and a disgrace. Possibly the origin of the prejudice might be the recognising of a traveller’s guest-right to call for milk gratis. However this may be, no one will in the present day sell this article of consumption, even at civilised Meccah, except Egyptians, a people supposed to be utterly without honour. As a general rule in the Hijaz, milk abounds in the spring, but at all other times of the year it is difficult to be procured. The Badawi woman managed, however, to send me back a cupful.

At three P.M. we were ready to start, and all saw, with unspeakable gratification, a huge black nimbus rise from the shoulder of Mount Radhwah, and range itself, like a good genius, between us and our terrible foe, the sun. We hoped that it contained rain, but presently a blast of hot wind, like the breath of a volcano, blew over the plain, and the air was filled with particles of sand. This is the “dry storm” of Arabia; it appears to depend upon some electrical phenomena which it would be desirable to investigate.11 When we had loaded and mounted, my camel-men, two in number, came up to the Shugduf and demanded “Bakhshish,” which, it appears, they are now in the habit of doing each time the traveller starts. I was at first surprised to find the word here, but after a few days of Badawi society, my wonder diminished. The men were Beni-Harb of the great Hijazi tribe, which has kept its blood pure for the last thirteen centuries, — how much more we know not, — but they had been corrupted by intercourse with pilgrims, retaining none of their ancestral qualities but greed of gain, revengefulness, pugnacity, and a frantic kind of bravery, displayed on rare occasions. Their nobility, however, did not prevent my quoting the Prophet’s saying, “Of a truth, the worst names among the Arabs are the Beni-Kalb and the Beni-Harb,12” whilst I taunted them severely with their resemblance to the Fellahs of Egypt. They would have resented this with asperity, had it proceeded from their own people, but the Turkish pilgrim-the character in which they knew me, despite my Arab dress-is a privileged person. The outer man of these Fight-Sons was contemptible; small chocolate-coloured beings, stunted and thin, with mops of course bushy hair burned brown by the sun, straggling beards, vicious eyes, frowning brows, screaming voices, and well-made, but attenuated, limbs. On their heads were Kufiyahs in the last stage of wear: a tattered shirt, indigo-dyed, and girt with a bit of common rope, composed their clothing; and their feet were protected from the stones by soles of thick leather, kept in place by narrow thongs tied to the ankle. Both were armed, one with a matchlock, and a Shintiyan13 in a leathern scabbard, slung over the shoulder, the other with a Nabbut, and both showed at the waist the Arab’s invariable companion, the Jambiyah (dagger). These ragged fellows, however, had their pride. They would eat with me, and not disdain, like certain self-styled Caballeros, to ask for more; but of work they would do none. No promise of “Bakhshish,” potent as the spell of that word is, would induce them to assist in pitching my tent: they even expected Shaykh Nur to cook for them, and I had almost to use violence, for even the just excuse of a sore foot was insufficient to procure the privilege of mounting my Shugduf while the camel was sitting. It was, they said, the custom of the country from time immemorial to use a ladder when legs would not act. I agreed with them, but objected that I had no ladder. At last, wearied with their thick-headedness, I snatched the nose-string of the camel, and by main force made it kneel.

Our party was now strong enough. We had about 200 beasts carrying grain, attended by their proprietors, truculent looking as the contrabandistas of the Pyrenees. The escort was composed of seven Irregular Turkish cavalry, tolerably mounted, and supplied each with an armoury in epitome. They were privily derided by our party, who, being Arabs, had a sneaking fondness for the Badawin, however loth they might be to see them amongst the boxes.

For three hours we travelled in a south-easterly direction upon a hard plain and a sandy flat, on which several waters from the highlands find a passage to the sea westward. Gradually we were siding towards the mountains, and at sunset I observed that we had sensibly neared them. We dismounted for a short halt; and, strangers being present, my companions, before sitting down to smoke, said their prayers-a pious exercise in which they did not engage for three days afterwards, when they met certain acquaintances at Al-Hamra. As evening came on, we emerged from a scrub of Acacia and Tamarisk and turned due East, traversing an open country with a perceptible rise. Scarcely was it dark before the cry of “Harami” (thieves) rose loud in the rear, causing such confusion as one may see in a boat in the Bay of Naples when suddenly neared by a water-spout.

All the camel-men brandished their huge staves, and rushed back vociferating in the direction of the robbers. They were followed by the horsemen; and truly, had the thieves possessed the usual acuteness of the profession, they might have driven off the camels in our van with safety and convenience.14 But these contemptible beings were only half a dozen in number, and they had lighted their matchlocks, which drew a bullet or two in their direction. Whereupon they ran away. This incident aroused no inconsiderable excitement, for it seemed ominous of worse things about to happen to us when entangled in the hills, and the faces of my companions, perfect barometers of fair and foul tidings, fell to zero. For nine hours we journeyed through a brilliant moonlight, and as the first grey streak appeared in the Eastern sky we entered a scanty “Misyal,15” or Fiumara, strewed with pebbles and rounded stones, about half a mile in breadth, and flanked by almost perpendicular hills of primitive formation. I began by asking the names of peaks and other remarkable spots, when I found that a folio volume would not contain a three months’ collection16: every hill and dale, flat, valley, and water-course here has its proper name or rather names. The ingenuity shown by the Badawin in distinguishing between localities the most similar, is the result of a high organization of the perceptive faculties, perfected by the practice of observing a recurrence of landscape features few in number and varying but little amongst themselves. After travelling two hours up this torrent bed, winding in an Easterly direction, and crossing some “Harrah,” or ridges of rock, “Ria,” steep descents,17 “Kitaah,” patch of stony flat, and bits of “Sahil,” dwarf plain, we found ourselves about eight A.M., after a march of about thirty-four miles, at Bir Sa’id (Sa’id’s Well), our destination.

I had been led to expect at the “Well,” a pastoral scene, wild flowers, flocks and flowing waters; so I looked with a jaundiced eye upon a deep hole full of slightly brackish water dug in a tamped hollow-a kind of punch-bowl with granite walls, upon whose grim surface a few thorns of exceeding hardihood braved the sun for a season. Not a house was in sight-it was as barren and desolate a spot as the sun ever “viewed in his wide career.” But this is what the Arabian traveller must expect. He is to traverse, for instance, the Wady Al-Ward-the Vale of Flowers. He indulges in sweet recollections of Indian lakes beautiful with the Lotus, and Persian plains upon which Narcissus is the meanest of grasses. He sees a plain like swish-work, where knobs of granite act daisies; and where, at every fifty yards, some hapless bud or blossom is dying of inanition among the stones.

The sun scorched our feet as we planted the tent, and, after drinking our breakfast, we passed the usual day of perspiration and semi-lethargy. In discomfort man naturally hails a change, even though it be one from bad to worse. When our enemy began slanting towards the West, we felt ready enough to proceed on our journey. The camels were laden shortly after 3 P.M., July 20th, and we started, with water jars in our hands, through a storm of Samun.

We travelled five hours in a North-Easterly course up a diagonal valley,18 through a country fantastic in its desolation-a mass of huge hills, barren plains, and desert vales. Even the sturdy Acacias here failed, and in some places the camel grass could not find earth enough for its root. The road wound among mountains, rocks and hills of granite, and over broken ground, flanked by huge blocks and boulders piled up as if man’s art had aided Nature to disfigure herself. Vast clefts seamed like scars the hideous face of earth; here they widened into dark caves, there they were choked with glistening drift sand. Not a bird or a beast was to be seen or heard; their presence would have argued the vicinity of water; and, though my companions opined that Badawin were lurking among the rocks, I decided that these Badawin were the creatures of their fears. Above, a sky like polished blue steel, with a tremendous blaze of yellow light, glared upon us without the thinnest veil of mist cloud. Below, the brass-coloured circle scorched the face and dazzled the eyes, mocking them the while with offers of water that was but air. The distant prospect was more attractive than the near view, because it borrowed a bright azure tinge from the intervening atmosphere; but the jagged peaks and the perpendicular streaks of shadow down the flanks of the mountainous background showed that yet in store for us was no change for the better.

Between 10 and 11 P.M., we reached human habitations-a phenomenon unseen since we left Al-Musahhal-in the shape of a long straggling village. It is called Al-Hamra, from the redness of the sands near which it is built, or Al-Wasitah, the “half-way,” because it is the middle station between Yambu’ and Al-Madinah. It is therefore considerably out of place in Burckhardt’s map; and those who copy from him make it much nearer the sea-port than it really is. We wandered nearly an hour in search of an encamping station, for the surly villagers ordered us off every flatter bit of ground, without, however, deigning to show us where our jaded beasts might rest. At last, after long wrangling, we found the usual spot; the camels were unloaded, the boxes and baggage were disposed in a circle for greater security against the petty pilferers in which this part of the road abounds, and my companions spread their rugs so as to sleep upon their valuables. I was invited to follow the general example; but I absolutely declined the vicinity of so many steaming and snoring fellow-travellers. Some wonder was excited by the Afghan Haji’s obstinacy and recklessness; but resistance to these people is sometimes bien place, and a man from Kabul is allowed to say and to do strange things. In answer to their warnings of nightly peril, I placed a drawn sword by my side19 and a cocked pistol under my pillow, the saddle-bag: a carpet spread upon the cool loose sand formed by no means an uncomfortable couch, and upon it I enjoyed a sound sleep till day-break.

Rising at dawn (July 21), I proceeded to visit the village. It is built upon a narrow shelf at the top of a precipitous hill to the North, and on the South runs a sandy Fiumara about half a mile broad. On all sides are rocks and mountains rough and stony; so you find yourself in another of those punch-bowls which the Arabs seem to consider choice sites for settlements.20 The Fiumara, hereabouts very winding, threads the high grounds all the way down from the plateau of Al-Madinah: during the rainy season it becomes a raging torrent, carrying westwards to the Red Sea the drainage of a hundred hills. Water of good quality is readily found in it by digging a few feet below the surface at the angles where the stream forms the deepest hollows, and in some places the stony sides give out bubbling springs.21

Al-Hamra itself is a collection of stunted houses or rather hovels, made of unbaked brick and mud, roofed over with palm leaves, and pierced with air-holes, which occasionally boast a bit of plank for a shutter. It appears thickly populated in the parts where the walls are standing, but, like all settlements in the Holy Land, Al-Hijaz,22 it abounds in ruins. It is well supplied with provisions, which are here cheaper than at Al-Madinah, — a circumstance that induced Sa’ad the Demon to overload his hapless camel with a sack of wheat. In the village are a few shops where grain, huge plantains, ready-made bread, rice, clarified butter, and other edibles are to be purchased. Palm orchards of considerable extent supply it with dates. The bazar is, like the generality of such places in the villages of Eastern Arabia, a long lane, here covered with matting, there open to the sun, and the narrow streets-if they may be so called-are full of dust and glare. Near the encamping ground of caravans is a fort for the officer commanding a troop of Albanian cavalry, whose duty it is to defend the village,23 to hold the country, and to escort merchant travellers. The building consists of an outer wall of hewn stone, loopholed for musketry, and surmounted by “Shararif,” “remparts coquets,” about as useful against artillery as the sugar gallery round a Twelfth-cake. Nothing would be easier than to take the place: a false attack would draw off the attention of the defenders, who in these latitudes know nothing of sentry-duty, whilst scaling-ladders or a bag full of powder would command a ready entrance into the other side. Around the Al-Hamra fort are clusters of palm-leaf huts, where the soldiery lounge and smoke, and near it is the usual coffee-house, a shed kept by an Albanian. These places are frequented probably on account of the intense heat inside the fort. We passed a comfortless day at the “Red Village.” Large flocks of sheep and goats were being driven in and out of the place, but their surly shepherds would give no milk, even in exchange for bread and meat. The morning was spent in watching certain Badawin, who, matchlock in hand, had climbed the hills in pursuit of a troop of cranes: not one bird was hit of the many fired at-a circumstance which did not say much for their vaunted marksmanship. Before breakfast I bought a moderately sized sheep for a dollar.

Shaykh Hamid “halaled24” (butchered) it, according to rule, and my companions soon prepared a feast of boiled mutton. But that sheep proved a “bone of contention.” The boy Mohammed had, in a fit of economy, sold its head to a Badawi for three piastres, and the others, disappointed in their anticipations of “haggis,” lost temper. With the “Demon’s” voluble tongue and impudent countenance in the van, they opened such a volley of raillery and sarcasm upon the young “tripe-seller,” that he in his turn became excited-furious. I had some difficulty to keep the peace, for it did not suit my interests that they should quarrel. But to do the Arabs justice, nothing is easier for a man who knows them than to work upon their good feelings. “He is a stranger in your country-a guest!” acted as a charm; they listened patiently to Mohammed’s gross abuse, only promising to answer him when in his land, that is to say, near Meccah. But what especially soured our day was the report that Sa’ad, the great robber-chief, and his brother were in the field; consequently that our march would be delayed for some time: every half-hour some fresh tattle from the camp or the coffee-house added fuel to the fire of our impatience.

A few particulars about this Schinderhans of Al-Hijaz25 may not be unacceptable. He is the chief of the Sumaydah and the Mahamid, two influential sub-families of the Hamidah, the principal family of the Beni-Harb tribe of Badawin. He therefore aspired to rule all the Hamidah, and through them the Beni-Harb, in which case he would have been, de facto, monarch of the Holy Land. But the Sharif of Meccah, and Ahmad Pasha, the Turkish governor of the chief city, for some political reason degraded him, and raised up a rival in the person of Shaykh Fahd, another ruffian of a similar stamp, who calls himself chief of the Beni-Amr, the third sub-family of the Hamidah family. Hence all kinds of confusion. Sa’ad’s people, who number it is said 5000, resent, with Arab asperity, the insult offered to their chief, and beat Fahd’s, who do not amount to 800. Fahd, supported by the government, cuts off Sa’ad’s supplies. Both are equally wild and reckless, and-nowhere doth the glorious goddess, Liberty, show a more brazen face than in this Eastern

“Inviolate land of the brave and the free;”

both seize the opportunity of shooting troopers, of plundering travellers, and of closing the roads. This state of things continued till I left the Hijaz, when the Sharif of Meccah proposed, it was said, to take the field in person against the arch-robber. And, as will afterwards be seen in these pages, Sa’ad, had the audacity to turn back the Sultan’s Mahmil or litter-the ensign of Imperial power-and to shut the road against its cortege, because the Pashas of Al-Madinah and of the Damascus caravan would not guarantee his restitution to his former dignity. That such vermin is allowed to exist proves the imbecility of the Turkish government. The Sultan pays pensions in corn and cloth to the very chiefs who arm their varlets against him; and the Pashas, after purloining all they can, hand over to their enemies the means of resistance. It is more than probable, that Abd al-Majid has never heard a word of truth concerning Al-Hijaz, and that fulsome courtiers persuade him that men there tremble at his name. His government, however, is desirous, if report speaks truth, of thrusting Al-Hijaz upon the Egyptian, who on his side would willingly pay a large sum to avert such calamity. The Holy Land drains off Turkish gold and blood in abundance, and the lords of the country hold in it a contemptible position. If they catch a thief, they dare not hang him. They must pay black-mail, and yet be shot at in every pass. They affect superiority over the Arabs, hate them, and are despised by them. Such in Al-Hijaz are the effects of the charter of Gulkhanah, a panacea, like Holloway’s Pills, for all the evils to which Turkish, Arab, Syrian, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Armenian, Kurd, and Albanian flesh is heir to. Such the results of the Tanzimat, the silliest copy of Europe’s folly-bureaucracy and centralisation-that the pen of empirical statecraft ever traced.26 Under a strong-handed and strong-hearted despotism, like Mohammed Ali’s, Al-Hijaz, in one generation, might be purged of its pests. By a proper use of the blood feud; by vigorously supporting the weaker against the stronger classes; by regularly defeating every Badawi who earns a name for himself; and, above all, by the exercise of unsparing, unflinching justice,27 the few thousands of half-naked bandits, who now make the land a fighting field, would soon sink into utter insignificance.

But to effect such end, the Turks require the old stratocracy, which, bloody as it was, worked with far less misery than the charter and the new code. What Milton calls

“The solid rule of civil government”

has done wonders for the race that nurtured and brought to perfection an idea spontaneous to their organisation. The world has yet to learn that the admirable exotic will thrive amongst the country gentlemen of Monomotapa or the ragged nobility of Al-Hijaz.28 And it requires no prophetic eye to foresee the day when the Wahhabis or the Badawin, rising en masse, will rid the land of its feeble conquerors.29

Sa’ad, the Old Man of the Mountains, was described to me as a little brown Badawi; contemptible in appearance, but remarkable for courage and ready wit. He has for treachery a keen scent, which he requires to keep in exercise. A blood feud with Abd al-Muttalib, the present Sharif of Meccah, who slew his nephew, and the hostility of several Sultans, has rendered his life eventful. He lost all his teeth by poison, which would have killed him, had he not, after swallowing the potion, corrected it by drinking off a large potfull of clarified butter. Since that time he has lived entirely upon fruits, which he gathers for himself, and coffee which he prepares with his own hands. In Sultan Mahmud’s time he received from Constantinople a gorgeous purse, which he was told to open, as it contained something for his private inspection. Suspecting treachery, he gave it for this purpose to a slave, bidding him carry it to some distance; the bearer was shot by a pistol cunningly fixed, like Rob Roy’s, in the folds of the bag. Whether this far-known story be “true or only well found,” it is certain that Shaykh Sa’ad now fears the Turks, even “when they bring gifts.” The Sultan sends, or is supposed to send him, presents of fine horses, robes of honour, and a large quantity of grain. But the Shaykh, trusting to his hills rather than to steeds, sells them; he gives away the dresses to his slaves, and he distributes the grain amongst his clansmen. Of his character, men, as usual, tell two tales: some praise his charity, and call him the friend of the poor, as certainly as he is a foe to the rich. Others, on the contrary, describe him as cruel, cold-blooded, and notably, even among Arabs, revengeful and avaricious. The truth probably lies between these two extremes, but I observed that those of my companions who spoke most highly of the robber chief when at a distance seemed to be in the sudori freddi whilst under the shadow of his hills.

Al-Hamra is the third station from Al-Madinah in the Darb Sultani, the “Sultan’s” or “High Road,” the Westerly line leading to Meccah along the sea-coast. When the robbers permit, the pilgrims prefer this route on account of its superior climate, the facility of procuring water and supplies, the vicinity of the sea, and the circumstance of its passing through “Badr,” the scene of the Prophet’s principal military exploits (A.H. 2). After mid-day, on the 21st July, when we had made up our minds that Fate had determined we should halt at Al-Hamra, a caravan arrived from Meccah; and the new travellers had interest to procure an escort, and permission to proceed without delay towards Al-Madinah. The good news filled us with joy. A little after four P.M. we urged our panting camels over the fiery sands to join the Meccans, who were standing ready for the march, on the other side of the torrent bed. An hour afterwards we started in an Easterly direction.

My companions having found friends and relations in the Meccan caravan, — the boy Mohammed’s elder brother, about whom more anon, was of the number, — were full of news and excitement. At sunset they prayed with unction: even Sa’ad and Hamid had not the face to sit their camels during the halt, when all around were washing, sanding themselves,30 and busy with their devotions. We then ate our suppers, remounted, and started once more. Shortly after night set in, we came to a sudden halt. A dozen different reports rose to account for this circumstance, which was occasioned by a band of Badawin, who had manned a gorge, and sent forward a “parliamentary,” ordering us forthwith to stop. They at first demanded money to let us pass; but at last, hearing that we were Sons of the Holy Cities, they granted us transit on the sole condition that the military, — whom they, like Irish peasants, hate and fear, — should return to whence they came. Upon this, our escort, 200 men, wheeled their horses round and galloped back to their barracks. We moved onwards, without, however, seeing any robbers; my camel-man pointed out their haunts, and showed me a small bird hovering over a place where he supposed water trickled from the rock. The fellow had attempted a sneer at my expense when the fray was impending. “Why don’t you load your pistols, Effendi,” he cried, “and get out of your litter, and show fight?” “Because,” I replied as loudly, “in my country, when dogs run at us, we thrash them with sticks.” This stopped Mansur’s mouth for a time, but he and I were never friends. Like the lowest orders of Orientals, he required to be ill-treated; gentleness and condescension he seemed to consider a proof of cowardice or of imbecility. I began with kindness, but was soon compelled to use hard words at first, and then threats, which, though he heard them with frowns and mutterings, produced manifest symptoms of improvement.

“Oignez vilain, il vous poindra!

Poignez vilain, il vous oindra!”

says the old French proverb, and the axiom is more valuable in the East even than in the West.

Our night’s journey had no other incident. We travelled over rising ground with the moon full in our faces; and, about midnight, we passed through another long straggling line of villages, called Jadaydah,31 or Al-Khayf.32 The principal part of it lies on the left of the road going to Al-Madinah; it has a fort like that of Al-Hamra, springs of tolerable drinking water, a Nakhil or date-ground, and a celebrated (dead) saint, Abd al-Rahim al-Burai. A little beyond it lies the Bughaz33 or defile, where in A.D. 1811 Tussun Bey and his 8000 Turks were totally defeated by 25,000 Harbi Badawin and Wahhabis.34

This is a famous attacking-point of the Beni-Harb. In former times both Jazzar Pasha, the celebrated “butcher” of Syria, and Abdullah Pasha of Damascus, were baffled at the gorge of Jadaydah35; and this year the commander of the Syrian caravan, afraid of risking an attack at a place so ill-omened, avoided it by marching upon Meccah via the Desert road of Nijd. At four A.M., having travelled about twenty-four miles due East, we encamped at Bir Abbas.

1 Alluding to the celebrated mountain, the “Hindu-kush,” whence the Afghans sallied forth to lay waste India.

2 Throughout this work I have estimated the pace of a Hijazi camel, laden and walking in caravan line, under ordinary circumstances, at two geographical miles an hour. A sandy plain or a rocky pass might make a difference of half a mile each way, but not more.

3 See Chap. VIII., page 152, note 1, ante.

4 The reader must be warned that these little villages in Arabia, as in Sind and Baluchistan, are continually changing their names, whilst the larger settlements always retain the same. The traveller, too, must beware of writing down the first answer he receives; in one of our maps a village on the Euphrates is gravely named “M’adri,” (“Don’t know”).

5 Here called Samn, the Indian ghee.

6 The “Kahk” in this country is a light and pleasant bread made of ground wheat, kneaded with milk, leavened with sour bean flour, and finally baked in an oven, not, as usual, in the East, upon an iron plate. The Kahk of Egypt is a kind of cake.

7 Stale unleavened bread is much relished by Easterns, who say that keeping it on journeys makes it sweet. To prevent its becoming mouldy, they cut it up into little bits, and, at the risk of hardening it to the consistence of wood, they dry it by exposure to the air.

8 This Akit has different names in all parts of Arabia; even in Al-Hijaz it is known by the name of Mazir, as well as, “Igt,” (the corruption of Akit). When very sour, it is called “Saribah,” and when dried, without boiling, “Jamidah.” The Arabs make it by evaporating the serous part of the milk; the remainder is then formed into cakes or lumps with the hand, and spread upon hair cloth to dry. They eat it with clarified butter, and drink it melted in water. It is considered a cooling and refreshing beverage, but boasts few attractions to the stranger. The Baluchis and wild tribes of Sindians call this preparation of milk “Krut,” and make it in the same way as the Badawin do.

9 In Arabic and Hebrew, milk; the Maltese give the word a very different signification, and the Egyptians, like the Syrians, confine their use of it to sour milk or curds-calling sweet milk “laban halib,” or simply “halib.”

10 In a previous work (History of Sind), I have remarked that there exists some curious similarity in language and customs between the Arabs and the various races occupying the broad ranges of hills that separate India from Persia. Amongst these must be numbered the prejudice alluded to above. The lamented Dr. Stocks, of Bombay, who travelled amongst and observed the Brahui and the Baluchi nomads in the Pashin valley, informed me that, though they will give milk in exchange for other commodities, yet they consider it a disgrace to make money by it. This, methinks, is too conventional a point of honour to have sprung up spontaneously in two countries so distant, and apparently so unconnected.

11 At Aden, as well as in Sind, these dry storms abound, and there the work of meteorological investigation would be easier than in Al-Hijaz.

12 “Beni-Kalb,” (or Juhaynah, Chap. X.), would mean the “Dogs’ — Sons” — “Beni-Harb,” the “Sons of Fight.”

13 The Shintiyan is the common sword-blade of the Badawin; in Western Arabia, it is called Majar (from the Magyars?), and is said to be of German manufacture. Good old weapons of the proper curve, marked like Andrew Ferraras with a certain number of lines down their length, will fetch, even in Arabia, from L7 to L8. The modern and cheap ones cost about 10s. Excellent weapons abound in this country, the reason being that there is a perpetual demand for them, and when once purchased, they become heir-looms in the family. I have heard that when the Beni Bu Ali tribe, near Ras al-Khaymah, was defeated with slaughter by Sir Lionel Smith’s expedition, the victors found many valuable old European blades in the hands of the slain.

14 The way of carrying off a camel in this country is to loosen him, and then to hang on heavily to his tail, which causes him to start at full gallop.

15 The Arabic Misyal, Masyal, Masil, or Masilah, is the Indian Nullah and the Sicilian “Fiumara,” a hill water-course, which rolls a torrent during and after rain, and is either partially or wholly dry at other seasons, — the stream flowing slowly underground. In England we want the feature, and therefore there is no single word to express it. Our “River” is an imperfect way of conveying the idea.

16 Generalisation is not the forte of the Arabic language. “Al-Kulzum” (the Red Sea), for instance, will be unintelligible to the native of Jeddah; call it the Sea of Jeddah, and you at once explain yourself; so the Badawin will have names for each separate part, but no single one to express the whole. This might be explained by their ignorance of anything but details. The same thing is observable, however, in the writings of the Arabian geographers when they come to treat of the objects near home.

17 About the classic “Harrah,” I shall have more to say at a future time. The word “Ria” in literary and in vulgar Arabic is almost synonymous with Akabah, a steep descent, a path between hills or a mountain road.

18 Valleys may be divided into three kinds. 1. Longitudinal, i.e. parallel to the axis of their ridges; 2. Transversal or perpendicular to the same; and, 3. Diagonal, which form an acute or an obtuse angle with the main chain of mountains.

19 This act, by the bye, I afterwards learned to be a greater act of imprudence than the sleeping alone. Nothing renders the Arab thief so active as the chance of stealing a good weapon.

20 Probably, because water is usually found in such places. In the wild parts of the country, wells are generally protected by some fortified building, for men consider themselves safe from an enemy until their supply of water is cut off.

21 Near Al-Hamra, at the base of the Southern hills, within fire of the forts, there is a fine spring of sweet water. All such fountains are much prized by the people, who call them “Rock-water,” and attribute to them tonic and digestive virtues.

22 As far as I could discover, the reason of the ruinous state of the country at present is the effect of the old Wahhabi and Egyptian wars in the early part of the present century, and the misrule of the Turks. In Arabia the depopulation of a village or a district is not to be remedied, as in other countries, by an influx of strangers; the land still belongs to the survivors of the tribe, and trespass would be visited with a bloody revenge.

23 Without these forts the Turks, at least so said my companions, could never hold the country against the Badawin. There is a little amour propre in the assertion, but upon the whole it is true. There are no Mohammed Alis, Jazzars, and Ibrahim Pachas in these days.

24 To “halal” is to kill an animal according to Moslem rites: a word is wanted to express the act, and we cannot do better than to borrow it from the people to whom the practice belongs.

25 He is now dead, and has been succeeded by a son worse than himself.

26 The greatest of all its errors was that of appointing to the provinces, instead of the single Pasha of the olden time, three different governors, civil, military, and fiscal, all depending upon the supreme council at Constantinople. Thus each province has three plunderers instead of one, and its affairs are referred to a body that can take no interest in it.

27 Ziyad bin Abihi was sent by Al-Mu’awiyah, the Caliph, to reform Al-Basrah, a den of thieves; he made a speech, noticed that he meant to rule with the sword, and advised all offenders to leave the city. The inhabitants were forbidden under pain of death to appear in the streets after evening prayers, and dispositions were made to secure the execution of the penalty. Two hundred persons were put to death by the patrol during the first night, only five during the second, and not a drop of blood was shed afterwards. By similar severity, the French put an end to assassination at Naples, and the Austrians at Leghorn. We may deplore the necessity of having recourse to such means, but it is a silly practice to salve the wound which requires the knife.

28 These remarks were written in 1853: I see no reason to change them in 1878.

29 A weak monarch, a degenerate government, a state whose corruption is evidenced by moral decay, a revenue bolstered up by a system of treasury paper, which even the public offices discount at from three to six per cent., an army accustomed to be beaten, and disorganised provinces; these, together with the proceedings of a ruthless and advancing enemy, form the points of comparison between the Constantinople of the present day and the Byzantine metropolis eight hundred years ago. Fate has marked upon the Ottoman Empire in Europe “delenda est”: we are now witnessing the efforts of human energy and ingenuity to avert or to evade the fiat.

30 When water cannot be obtained for ablution before prayers, Moslems clap the palms of their hands upon the sand, and draw them down the face and both fore-arms. This operation, which is performed once or twice-it varies in different schools-is called Tayammum.

31 I write this word as my companions pronounced it. Burckhardt similarly gives it “Djedeyde,” and Ali Bey “Djideïda.” Giovanni Finati wrongly calls the place “Jedeed Bughaz,” which Mr. Bankes, his editor, rightly translates the “new opening or pass.”

32 Al-Khayf is a common name for places in this part of Arabia. The word literally means a declivity or a place built upon a declivity.

33 Bughaz means in Turkish the fauces, the throat, and signifies also here a gorge, or a mountain pass. It is the word now commonly used in Al-Hijaz for the classical “Nakb,” or “Mazik.” Vincent (Periplus) errs in deriving the word from the Italian “Bocca.”

34 Giovanni Finati, who was present at this hard-fought field as a soldier in Tussun’s army, gives a lively description of the disastrous “day of Jadaydah” in vol. i. of his work.

35 This Abdullah, Pasha of Damascus, led the caravan in A.D. 1756. When the Shaykhs of the Harb tribe came to receive their black-mail, he cut off their heads, and sent the trophies to Stambul. During the next season the Harb were paralysed by the blow, but in the third year they levied 80,000 men, attacked the caravan, pillaged it, and slew every Turk that fell into their hands.

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