Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter VIII.

From Cairo to Suez.

SHAYKH NASSAR, a Badawi of Tur (Mount Sinai,) being on his way homewards, agreed to let me have two dromedaries for the sum of fifty piastres, or about ten shillings, each.1 Being desirous to set out with a certain display of respectability, I accepted these terms: a man of humble pretensions would have travelled with a single animal, and a camel-man running behind him. But, besides ostentation, I wanted my attendant to be mounted, that we might make a forced march in order to ascertain how much a four years’ life of European effeminacy had impaired my powers of endurance. The reader may believe the assertion that there are few better tests than an eighty-four mile ride in mid-summer, on a bad wooden saddle, borne by a worse dromedary, across the Suez Desert. Even the Squire famed for being copper-sheeted might not have disdained a trial of the kind.

I started my Indian boy and heavy luggage for Suez two days before the end of the Id, — laden camels generally taking fifty-five or sixty hours to do the journey, and I spent the intermediate time with Haji Wali. He advised me to mount about 3 P.M., so that I might arrive at Suez on the evening of the next day, and assisted me in making due preparations of water, tobacco, and provisions. Early on the morning of departure the Afghan Shaykh came to the Caravanserai, and breakfasted with us, “because Allah willed it.” After a copious meal he bestowed upon me a stately benediction, and would have embraced me, but I humbly bent over his hand: sad to relate, immediately that his back was turned, Haji Wali raised his forefinger to a right angle with the palm (chaff), and burst into a shout of irreverent laughter. At three o’clock Nassar, the Badawi, came to announce that the dromedaries were saddled. I dressed myself, sticking a pistol in my belt, and passing the crimson silk cord of the “Hamail” or pocket Koran over my shoulder, in token of being a pilgrim. Then distributing a few trifling presents to friends and servants, and accompanied by the Shaykh Mohammed and Haji Wali, I descended the stairs with an important gait. In the courtyard squatted the camels, (dromedaries they could not be called,) and I found that a second driver was going to accompany us. I objected to this, as the extra Badawi would, of course, expect to be fed by me; but Nassar swore that the man was his brother, and as you rarely gain by small disputes with these people, he was allowed to have his own way.

Then came the preparatory leave-takings. Haji Wali embraced me heartily, and so did my poor old Shaykh, who, despite his decrepitude and my objections, insisted upon accompanying me to the city gate. I mounted the camel, crossed my legs before the pommel-stirrups are not used in Egypt2 — and, preceding my friend, descended the street leading towards the Desert. As we emerged from the huge gateway of the Caravanserai all the bystanders, except only the porter, who believed me to be a Persian, and had seen me with the drunken captain, exclaimed, “Allah bless thee, Y’al-Hajj,3 and restore thee to thy country and thy friends!” And passing through the Bab al-Nasr, where I addressed the salutation of peace to the sentry, and to the officer commanding the guard, both gave me God-speed with great cordiality4 — the pilgrim’s blessing in Asia, like the old woman’s in Europe, being supposed to possess peculiar efficacy. Outside the gate my friends took a final leave of me, and I will not deny having felt a tightening of heart as their honest faces and forms faded in the distance.

But Shaykh Nassar switches his camel’s shoulder, and appears inclined to take the lead. This is a trial of manliness. There is no time for emotion. Not a moment can be spared, even for a retrospect. I kick my dromedary, who steps out into a jog-trot. The Badawin with a loud ringing laugh attempt to give me the go-by. I resist, and we continue like children till the camels are at their speed, though we have eighty-four miles before us, and above us an atmosphere like a furnace blast. The road is deserted at this hour, otherwise grave Moslem travellers would have believed the police to be nearer than convenient to us.

Presently we drew rein, and exchanged our pace for one more seasonable, whilst the sun began to tell on man and beast. High raised as we were above the ground, the reflected heat struck us sensibly, and the glare of a macadamized road added a few extra degrees of caloric.5 The Badawin, to refresh themselves, prepare to smoke. They fill my chibuk, light it with a flint and steel, and cotton dipped in a solution of gunpowder, and pass it over to me.6 After a few puffs I return it to them, and they use it turn by turn. Then they begin to while away the tedium of the road by asking questions, which passe-temps is not easily exhausted; for they are never satisfied till they know as much of you as you do of yourself. They next resort to talking about victuals; for with this hungry race, food, as a topic of conversation, takes the place of money in happier lands. And lastly, even this engrossing subject being exhausted for the moment, they take refuge in singing; and, monotonous and droning as it is, their Modinha has yet an artless plaintiveness, which admirably suits the singer and the scenery. If you listen to the words, you will surely hear allusions to bright verdure, cool shades, bubbling rills, or something which hereabouts man hath not, and yet which his soul desires.

And now while Nassar and his brother are chaunting a duet, — the refrain being,

“W’al arz mablul bi matar,”

“And the earth wet with rain,” —

I must crave leave to say a few words, despite the triteness of the subject, about the modern Sinaitic race of Arabs.

Besides the tribes occupying the northern parts of the peninsula, five chief clans are enumerated by Burckhardt.7 Nassar, and other authorities at Suez, divided them into six, namely:—

1. Karashi, who, like the Gara in Eastern Arabia, claim an apocryphal origin from the great Koraysh tribe.
2. Salihi, the principal family of the Sinaitic Badawin.
3. Arimi: according to Burckhardt this clan is merely a sub-family of the Sawalihahs.
4. Sa’idi. Burckhardt calls them Walad Sa’id and derives them also from the Sawalihahs.
5. Aliki; and lastly, the
6. Muzaynah, generally pronounced M’zaynah. This clan claims to be an off-shoot from the great Juhaynah tribe inhabiting the coasts and inner barrens about Yambu’. According to oral tradition, five persons, the ancestors of the present Muzaynah race, were forced by a blood-feud to fly their native country. They landed at the Shurum,8 or creek-ports, and have now spread themselves over the Eastern parts of the so-called “Sinaitic” peninsula. In Al-Hijaz the Muzaynah is an old and noble tribe. It produced Ka’ab al-Ahbar, the celebrated poet, to whom Mohammed gave the cloak which the Ottomans believe to have been taken by Sultan Salim from Egypt, and to have been converted under the name of Khirkah Sharif, into the national Oriflamme.

There are some interesting ethnographical points about these Sinaitic clans — interesting at least to those who would trace the genealogy of the great Arabian family. Any one who knows the Badawin can see that the Muzaynah are pure blood. Their brows are broad, their faces narrow, their features regular, and their eyes of a moderate size; whereas the other Tawarah9 (Sinaitic) clans are as palpably Egyptian. They have preserved that roundness of face which may still be seen in the Sphinx as in the modern Copt, and their eyes have that peculiar size, shape, and look, which the old Egyptian painters attempted to express by giving to the profile, the form of the full, organ. Upon this feature, so characteristic of the Nilotic race, I would lay great stress. No traveller familiar with the true Egyptian eye, — long, almond-shaped, deeply fringed, slightly raised at the outer corner and dipping in front like the Chinese,10 — can ever mistake it. It is to be seen in half-castes, and, as I have before remarked, families originally from the banks of the Nile, but settled for generations in the Holy Land of Al-Hijaz, retain the peculiarity.

I therefore believe the Turi Badawin to be an impure race, Syro-Egyptian,11 whereas their neighbour the Hijazi is the pure Syrian or Mesopotamian.

A wonderful change has taken place in the Tawarah tribes, whilome pourtrayed by Sir John Mandeville as “folke fulle of alle evylle condiciouns.” Niebuhr notes the trouble they gave him, and their perpetual hankering for both murder and pillage. Even in the late Mohammed Ali’s early reign, no governor of Suez dared to flog, or to lay hands upon, a Turi, whatever offence he might have committed within the walls of the town. Now the Wild Man’s sword is taken from him, before he is allowed to enter the gates,12 and my old acquaintance, Ja’afar Bey, would think no more of belabouring a Badawi than of flogging a Fellah.13 such is the result of Mohammed Ali’s vigorous policy, and such the effects of even semi-civilisation, when its influence is brought to bear direct upon barbarism.

To conclude this subject, the Tawarah still retain many characteristics of the Badawi race. The most good-humoured and sociable of men, they delight in a jest, and may readily be managed by kindness and courtesy. Yet they are passionate, nice upon points of honour, revengeful, and easily offended, where their peculiar prejudices are misunderstood. I have always found them pleasant companions, and deserving of respect, for their hearts are good, and their courage is beyond a doubt. Those travellers who complain of their insolence and extortion may have been either ignorant of their language or offensive to them by assumption of superority, — in the Desert man meets man, — or physically unfitted to acquire their esteem.

We journeyed on till near sunset through the wilderness without ennui. It is strange how the mind can be amused by scenery that presents so few objects to occupy it. But in such a country every slight modification of form or colour rivets observation: the senses are sharpened, and the perceptive faculties, prone to sleep over a confused mass of natural objects, act vigorously when excited by the capability of embracing each detail. Moreover, Desert views are eminently suggestive; they appeal to the Future, not to the Past: they arouse because they are by no means memorial. To the solitary wayfarer there is an interest in the Wilderness unknown to Cape seas and Alpine glaciers, and even to the rolling Prairie, — the effect of continued excitement on the mind, stimulating its powers to their pitch. Above, through a sky terrible in its stainless beauty, and the splendours of a pitiless blinding glare, the Samun14 caresses you like a lion with flaming breath. Around lie drifted sand-heaps, upon which each puff of wind leaves its trace in solid waves, flayed rocks, the very skeletons of mountains, and hard unbroken plains, over which he who rides is spurred by the idea that the bursting of a water-skin, or the pricking of a camel’s hoof, would be a certain death of torture, — a haggard land infested with wild beasts, and wilder men, — a region whose very fountains murmur the warning words “Drink and away!” What can be more exciting? what more sublime? Man’s heart bounds in his breast at the thought of measuring his puny force with Nature’s might, and of emerging triumphant from the trial. This explains the Arab’s proverb, “Voyaging is victory.” In the Desert, even more than upon the ocean, there is present death: hardship is there, and piracies, and shipwreck, solitary, not in crowds, where, as the Persians say, “Death is a Festival”; — and this sense of danger, never absent, invests the scene of travel with an interest not its own.

Let the traveller who suspects exaggeration leave the Suez road for an hour or two, and gallop northwards over the sands: in the drear silence, the solitude, and the fantastic desolation of the place, he will feel what the Desert may be.

And then the Oases,15 and little lines of fertility — how soft and how beautiful! — even though the Wady al-Ward (the Vale of Flowers) be the name of some stern flat upon which a handful of wild shrubs blossom while struggling through a cold season’s ephemeral existence. In such circumstances the mind is influenced through the body. Though your mouth glows, and your skin is parched, yet you feel no languor, the effect of humid heat; your lungs are lightened, your sight brightens, your memory recovers its tone, and your spirits become exuberant; your fancy and imagination are powerfully aroused, and the wildness and sublimity of the scenes around you stir up all the energies of your soul — whether for exertion, danger, or strife. Your morale improves; you become frank and cordial, hospitable and single-minded: the hypocritical politeness and the slavery of civilisation are left behind you in the city. Your senses are quickened: they require no stimulants but air and exercise, — in the Desert spirituous liquors excite only disgust. There is a keen enjoyment in mere animal existence. The sharp appetite disposes of the most indigestible food; the sand is softer than a bed of down, and the purity of the air suddenly puts to flight a dire cohort of diseases. Hence it is that both sexes, and every age, the most material as well as the most imaginative of minds, the tamest citizen, the parson, the old maid, the peaceful student, the spoiled child of civilisation, all feel their hearts dilate, and their pulses beat strong, as they look down from their dromedaries upon the glorious Desert. Where do we hear of a traveller being disappointed by it? It is another illustration of the ancient truth that Nature returns to man, however unworthily he has treated her. And believe me, when once your tastes have conformed to the tranquillity of such travel, you will suffer real pain in returning to the turmoil of civilisation. You will anticipate the bustle and the confusion of artificial life, its luxury and its false pleasures, with repugnance. Depressed in spirits, you will for a time after your return feel incapable of mental or bodily exertion. The air of cities will suffocate you, and the care-worn and cadaverous countenances of citizens will haunt you like a vision of judgment.16

As the black shadow mounted in the Eastern sky,17 I turned off the road, and was suddenly saluted by a figure rising from a little hollow with an “As’ Salamu ’alaykum” of truly Arab sound.18 I looked at the speaker for a moment without recognising him. He then advanced with voluble expressions of joy, invited me to sup, seized my camel’s halter without waiting for an answer, “nakh’d19” it (i.e. forced it to kneel), led me hurriedly to a carpet spread in a sandy hollow, pulled off my slippers, gave me cold water for ablution, told me that he had mistaken me at a distance for a “Sherif” (or Prince) of the Arabs, but was delighted to find himself in error; and urged me to hurry over ablution, otherwise that night would come on before we could say our prayers. It was Mohammed al-Basyuni, the Meccan boy of whom I had bought my pilgrim-garb at Cairo. There I had refused his companionship, but here for reasons of his own — one of them was an utter want of money, — he would take no excuse. When he prayed, he stood behind me,20 thereby proving pliancy of conscience, for he suspected me from the first of being at least a heretic.

After prayer he lighted a pipe, and immediately placed the snake-like tube in my hand; this is an argument which the tired traveller can rarely resist. He then began to rummage my saddle-bags; he drew forth stores of provisions, rolls, water-melons, boiled eggs, and dates, and whilst lighting the fire and boiling the coffee, he managed to distribute his own stock, which was neither plentiful nor first-rate, to the camel-men. Shaykh Nassar and his brother looked aghast at this movement, but the boy was inexorable. They tried a few rough hints, which he noticed by singing a Hindustani couplet that asserts the impropriety of anointing rats’ heads with jasmine oil. They suspected abuse, and waxed cross; he acknowledged this by deriding them. “I have heard of Nasrs and Nasirs and Mansurs, but may Allah spare me the mortification of a Nassar!” said the boy, relying upon my support. And I urged him on, wanting to see how the city Arab treats the countryman. He then took my tobacco-pouch from the angry Badawin, and in a stage-whisper reproved me for entrusting it to such thieves; insisting, at the same time, upon drinking all the coffee, so that the poor guides had to prepare some for themselves. He improved every opportunity of making mischief. “We have eaten water-melon!” cried Nassar, patting its receptacle in token of repletion. “Dost thou hear, my lord, how they grumble? — the impudent ruffians!” remarked Mohammed — “We have eaten water-melon! that is to say, we ought to have eaten meat!” The Badawin, completely out of temper, told him not to trust himself among their hills. He seized a sword, and began capering about after the fashion of the East-Indian school of arms, and boasted that he would attack single-handed the whole clan, which elicited an ironical “Allah! Allah!” from the hearers.

After an hour most amusingly spent in this way, I arose, and insisted upon mounting, much to the dissatisfaction of my guides, who wished to sleep there. Shaykh Nassar and his brother had reckoned upon living gratis, for at least three days, judging it improbable that a soft Effendi would hurry himself. When they saw the fair vision dissolve, they began to finesse: they induced the camel-man, who ran by the side of Mohammed’s dromedary, to precede the animal — a favourite manoeuvre to prevent overspeed. Ordered to fall back, the man pleaded fatigue, and inability to walk. The boy Mohammed immediately asked if I had any objection to dismount one of my guides, and to let his weary attendant ride for an hour or so. I at once assented, and the Badawin obeyed me with ominous grumblings. When we resumed our march the melancholy Arabs had no song left in them; whereas Mohammed chaunted vociferously, and quoted bad Hindustani and worse Persian till silence was forcibly imposed upon him. The camel-men lagged behind, in order to prevent my dromedary advancing too fast, and the boy’s guide, after dismounting, would stride along in front of us, under pretext of showing the way. And so we jogged on, now walking, then trotting, till the dromedaries began to grunt with fatigue, and the Arabs clamoured for a halt.

At midnight we reached the Central Station, and lay down under its walls to take a little rest. The dews fell heavily, wetting the sheets that covered us; but who cares for such trifles in the Desert? The moon shone bright;21 the breeze blew coolly, and the jackal sang a lullaby which lost no time in inducing the soundest sleep. As the Wolf’s Tail22 showed in the heavens we arose. Grey mists floating over the hills northwards gave the Dar al-Bayda,23 the Pasha’s Palace, the look of some old feudal castle. There was a haze in the atmosphere, which beautified even the face of Desolation. The swift flying Kata24 sprang in noisy coveys from the road, and a stray gazelle paced daintily over the stony plain. As we passed by the Pilgrims’ tree, I added another rag to its coat of tatters.25 We then invoked the aid of the holy saint Al-Dakruri26 from his cream-coloured abode, mounted our camels, and resumed the march in real earnest. The dawn passed away in its delicious coolness, and sultry morning came on. Then day glared in its fierceness, and the noontide sun made the plain glow with terrible heat. Still we pressed onwards.

At 3 P.M. we turned off the road into a dry water-course, which is not far from No. 13 Station. The sand was dotted with the dried-up leaves of the Datura, and strongly perfumed by “Shih,” a kind of Absinthe (Artemisia),27 the sweetest herb of the Desert. A Mimosa was there, and although its shade at this season is little better than a cocoa tree’s,28 the Badawin would not neglect it. We lay down upon the sand, to rest among a party of Maghrabi pilgrims travelling to Suez. These wretches, who were about a dozen in number, appeared to be of the lowest class; their garments consisted of a Burnus-cloak and a pair of sandals; their sole weapon a long knife, and their only stock a bag of dry provisions. Each had his large wooden bowl, but none carried water with him. It was impossible to help pitying their state, nor could I eat, seeing them hungry, thirsty, and way-worn. So Nassar served out about a pint of water and a little bread to each man. Then they asked for more. None was to be had, so they cried out that money would do as well. I had determined upon being generous to the extent of a few pence. Custom, as well as inclination, was in favour of the act; but when the alms became a demand, and the demand was backed by fierce looks and a derisive sneer, and a kind of reference to their knives, gentle Charity took the alarm and fled. My pistols kept them at bay, for they were only making an attempt to intimidate, and, though I took the precaution of sitting apart from them, there was no real danger. The Suez road, by the wise regulations of Mohammed Ali, has become as safe to European travellers as that between Hampstead and Highgate; and even Easterns have little to fear but what their fears create. My Indian servant was full of the dangers he had run, but I did not believe in them. I afterwards heard that the place where the Maghrabis attempted to frighten what they thought a timid Turk was notorious for plunder and murder. Here the spurs of two opposite hills almost meet upon the plain, a favourable ground for Badawi ambuscade. Of the Maghrabis I shall have more to say when relating my voyage in the Pilgrim Ship: they were the only travellers from whom we experienced the least annoyance. Numerous parties of Turks, Arabs, and Afghans, and a few East-Indians29 were on the same errand as ourselves. All, as we passed them, welcomed us with the friendly salutation that becomes men engaged in a labour of religion.

About half an hour before sunset, I turned off the road leftwards; and, under pretext of watering the dromedaries, rode up to inspect the fort Al-’Ajrudi.30 It is a quadrangle with round towers at the gateway and at the corners, newly built of stone and mortar; the material is already full of crevices, and would not stand before a twelve-pounder. Without guns or gunners, it is occupied by about a dozen Fellahs, who act as hereditary “Ghafirs,” (guardians); they were expecting at that time to be reinforced by a party of Bashi Buzuks — Irregulars from Cairo. The people of the country were determined that an English fleet would soon appear in the Red Sea, and this fort is by them ridiculously considered the key of Suez. As usual in these Vauban-lacking lands, the well supplying the stronghold is in a detached and distant building, which can be approached by an enemy with the greatest security. Over the gate-way was an ancient inscription reversed; the water was brackish, and of bad quality.31

We resumed our way: Suez now stood near. In the blue distance rose the castellated peaks of Jabal Rahah and the wide sand-tracts over which lies the land-route to Al-Hijaz. Before us the sight ever dear to English eyes, — a strip of sea gloriously azure, with a gallant steamer walking the waters. On the right-hand side the broad slopes of Jabal Mukattam, a range of hills which flanks the road all the way from Cairo. It was at this hour a spectacle not easily to be forgotten. The near range of chalk and sandstone wore a russet suit, gilt where the last rays of the sun seamed it with light, and the deep folds were shaded with the richest purple; whilst the background of the higher hills, Jabal Tawari, generally known as Abu Daraj (the Father of Steps), was sky-blue streaked with the lightest plum colour. We drew up at a small building called Bir Suways (Well of Suez); and, under pretext of watering the cattle, I sat for half an hour admiring the charms of the Desert. The eye never tires of such loveliness of hue, and the memory of the hideousness of this range, when a sun in front exposed each gaunt and barren feature, supplied the evening view with another element of attraction.

It was already night when we passed through the tumbling six-windowed gateway of Suez; and still remained the task of finding my servant and effects. After wandering in and out of every Wakalah in the village, during which peregrination the boy Mohammed proved himself so useful that I determined at all risks to make him my companion, we accidentally heard that a Hindi had taken lodgings at a hostelry bearing the name of Jirjis al-Zahr.32 On arriving there our satisfaction was diminished by the intelligence that the same Hindi, after locking the door, had gone out with his friends to a ship in the harbour; in fact, that he had made all preparations for running away. I dismounted, and tried to persuade the porter to break open the wooden bolt, but he absolutely refused, and threatened the police. Meanwhile Mohammed had found a party of friends, men of Al-Madinah, returning to the pilgrimage after a begging tour through Egypt and Turkey. The meeting was characterised by vociferous inquiries, loud guffaws and warm embraces. I was invited to share their supper and their dormitory, — an uncovered platform projecting from the gallery over the square court below, — but I had neither appetite nor spirits enough to be sociable. The porter, after much persuasion, showed me an empty room, in which I spread my carpet. That was a sad night. My eighty-four mile ride had made every bone ache; I had lost epidermis, and the sun had seared every portion of skin exposed to it. So, lamenting my degeneracy and the ill effects of four years’ domicile in Europe, and equally disquieted in mind about the fate of my goods and chattels, I fell into an uncomfortable sleep.

1 The proper hire of a return dromedary from Cairo to Suez is forty piastres. But every man is charged in proportion to his rank, and Europeans generally pay about double.

2 The tender traveller had better provide himself with a pair of stirrups, but he will often find, when on camel back, that his legs are more numbed by hanging down, than by the Arab way of crossing them before and beneath the pommel. He must, however, be careful to inspect his saddle, and, should bars of wood not suit him, to have them covered with stuffed leather. And again, for my part, I would prefer riding a camel with a nose-ring, — Mongol and Sindian fashion, — to holding him, as the Egyptians do, with a halter, or to guiding him, — Wahhabiwise, — with a stick.

3 “O pilgrim!” The Egyptians write the word Hajj, and pronounce Hagg. In Persia, India, and Turkey, it becomes Haji. These are mere varieties of form, derived from one and the same Arabic root.

4 The Egyptians and Arabs will not address “Salam” to an infidel; the Moslems of India have no such objection. This, on the banks of the Nile, is the revival of an old prejudice. Alexander of Alexandria, in his circular letter, describes the Arian heretics as “men whom it is not lawful to salute, or to bid God-speed.”

5 It is Prince Puckler Muskau, if I recollect rightly, who mentions that in his case a pair of dark spectacles produced a marked difference of apparent temperature, whilst travelling over the sultry sand of the Desert. I have often remarked the same phenomenon. The Arabs, doubtless for some reason of the kind, always draw their head-kerchiefs, like hoods, far over their brows, and cover up their mouths, even when the sun and wind are behind them. Inhabitants of the Desert are to be recognised by the network of wrinkles traced in the skin round the orbits, the result of half-closing their eyelids; but this is done to temper the intensity of the light.

6 Their own pipe-tubes were of coarse wood, in shape somewhat resembling the German porcelain pipe. The bowl was of soft stone, apparently steatite, which, when fresh, is easily fashioned with a knife. In Arabia the Badawin, and even the townspeople, use on journeys an earthen tube from five to six inches shorter than the English “clay,” thicker in the tube, with a large bowl, and coloured yellowish-red. It contains a handful of tobacco, and the smoker emits puffs like a chimney. In some of these articles the bowl forms a rectangle with the tube; in others, the whole is an unbroken curve, like the old Turkish Meerschaum.

7 See Wallin’s papers, published in the Journals of the Royal Geographical Society.

8 Shurum, (plural of Sharm, a creek), a word prefixed to the proper names of three small ports in the Sinaitic peninsula.

9 Tawarah, plural of Turi, an inhabitant of Tur or Sinai.

10 This feature did not escape the practised eye of Denon. “Eyes long, almond-shaped, half shut, and languishing, and turned up at the outer corner, as if habitually fatigued by the light and heat of the sun; cheeks round, &c.,” (Voyage en Egypt). The learned Frenchman’s description of the ancient Egyptians applies in most points to the Turi Badawin.

11 “And he” (Ishmael) “dwelt in the wilderness of Paran,” (Wady Firan?) “and his mother took him a wife, out of the land of Egypt,” (Gen. xxi. 21). I wonder that some geographers have attempted to identify Massa, the son of Ishmael, (Gen. xxv. 14), with Meccah, when in verse 18 of the same chapter we read, “And they” (the twelve princes, sons of Ishmael) “dwelt from Havilah unto Shur.” This asserts, as clearly as language can, that the posterity of, or the race typified by, Ishmael, — the Syro-Egyptian, — occupied only the northern parts of the peninsula. Their habitat is not even included in Arabia by those writers who bound the country on the north by an imaginary line drawn from Ras Mohammed to the mouths of the Euphrates. The late Dr. J. Wilson (“Lands of the Bible”), repeated by Eliot Warburton (“Crescent and Cross”), lays stress upon the Tawarah tradition, that they are Benu Isra’il converted to Al-Islam, considering it a fulfilment of the prophecy, “that a remnant of Israel shall dwell in Edom.” With due deference to so illustrious an Orientalist and Biblical scholar as was Dr. Wilson, I believe that most modern Moslems, being ignorant that Jacob was the first called “prince with God,” apply the term Benu-Isra’il to all the posterity of Abraham, not to Jews only.

12 In 1879 the Gates of Suez are a thing of the past; and it is not easy to find where they formerly stood.

13 In the mouth of a Turk, no epithet is more contemptuous than that of “Fellah ibn Fellah,” — “boor, son of a boor!” The Osmanlis have, as usual, a semi-religious tradition to account for the superiority of their nation over the Egyptians. When the learned doctor, Abu Abdullah Mohammed bin Idris al-Shafe’i, returned from Meccah to the banks of the Nile, he mounted, it is said, a donkey belonging to one of the Asinarii of Bulak. Arriving at the Caravanserai, he gave the man ample fare, whereupon the Egyptian, putting forth his hand, and saying, “hat” (give!) called for more. The doctor doubled the fee; still the double was demanded. At last the divine’s purse was exhausted, and the proprietor of the donkey waxed insolent. A wandering Turk seeing this, took all the money from the Egyptian, paid him his due, solemnly kicked him, and returned the rest to Al-Shafe’i, who asked him his name — “Osman” — and his nation — the “Osmanli,” — blessed him, and prophesied to his countrymen supremacy over the Fellahs and donkey boys of Egypt.

14 From Samm, the poison-wind. Vulgar and most erroneously called the Simoon.

15 Hugh Murray derives this word from the Egyptian, and quoting Strabo and Abulfeda makes it synonymous with Auasis and Hyasis. I believe it to be a mere corruption of the Arabic Wady [Arabic text] or Wah. Nothing can be more incorrect than the vulgar idea of an Arabian Oasis, except it be the popular conception of an Arabian Desert. One reads of “isles of the sandy sea,” but one never sees them. The real “Wady” is, generally speaking, a rocky valley bisected by the bed of a mountain torrent, dry during the hot season. In such places the Badawin love to encamp, because they find food and drink, — water being always procurable by digging. When the supply is perennial, the Wady becomes the site of a village. The Desert is as unaptly compared to a “sandy sea.” Most of the wilds of Arabia resemble the tract between Suez and Cairo; only the former are of primary formation, whereas the others are of a later date. Sand-heaps are found in every Desert, but sand-plains are a local feature, not the general face of the country. The Wilderness, east of the Nile, is mostly a hard dry earth, which requires only a monsoon to become highly productive: even where silicious sand covers the plain, the waters of a torrent, depositing humus or vegetable mould, bind the particles together, and fit it for the reception of seed.

16 The intelligent reader will easily understand that I am speaking of the Desert in the temperate season, not during the summer heats, when the whole is one vast furnace, nor in winter, when the Sarsar wind cuts like an Italian Tramontana.

17 This, as a general rule in Al-Islam, is a sign that the Maghrib or evening prayer must not be delayed. The Shafe’i school performs its devotions immediately after the sun has disappeared.

18 This salutation of peace is so differently pronounced by every Eastern nation that the observing traveller will easily make of it a shibboleth.

19 To “nakh” in vulgar, as in classical, Arabic is to gurgle “Ikh! ikh!” in the bottom of one’s throat till the camel kneels down. We have no English word for this proceeding; but Anglo-Oriental travellers are rapidly naturalising the “nakh.”

20 There are many qualifications necessary for an Imam — a leader of prayer; the first condition, of course, is orthodoxy.

21 “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night,” (Psalm cxxi. 6). Easterns still believe firmly in the evil effects of moonlight upon the human frame, — from Sind to Abyssinia, the traveller will hear tales of wonder concerning it.

22 The Dum i Gurg, or wolf’s tail, is the Persian name for the first brushes of grey light which appear as forerunners of dawn.

23 Dar al-Bayda is a palace belonging to H.H. Abbas Pasha. This “white house” was formerly called the “red house,” I believe from the colour of its windows, — but the name was changed, as being not particularly good-omened.

24 The Tetrao Kata or sand-grouse, (Pterocles melanogaster; in Sind called the rock pigeon), is a fast-flying bird, not unlike a grey partridge whilst upon the wing. When, therefore, Shanfara boasts “The ash-coloured Katas can only drink my leavings, after hastening all night to slake their thirst in the morning,” it is a hyperbole to express exceeding swiftness.

25 I have already, when writing upon the subject of Sind, alluded to this system as prevalent throughout Al-Islam, and professed, like Mr. Lane, ignorance of its origin and object. In Huc’s travels, we are told that the Tartars worship mountain spirits by raising an “Obo,” — dry branches hung with bones and strips of cloth, and planted in enormous heaps of stones. Park, also, in Western Africa, conformed to the example of his companions, in adding a charm or shred of cloth on a tree (at the entrance of the Wilderness), which was completely covered with these guardian symbols. And, finally, the Tarikh Tabari mentions it as a practice of the Pagan Arabs, and talks of evil spirits residing in the date-tree. May not, then, the practice in Al-Islam be one of the many debris of fetish-worship which entered into the heterogeneous formation of the Saving Faith? Some believe that the Prophet permitted the practice, and explain the peculiar name of the expedition called Zat al-Rika’a (place of shreds of cloth), by supposing it to be a term for a tree to which the Moslems hung their ex-voto rags.

26 The saint lies under a little white-washed dome, springing from a square of low walls — a form of sepulchre now common to Al-Hijaz, Egypt, and the shores and islands of the Red Sea. As regards his name my informants told me it was that of a Hijazi Shaykh. The subject is by no means interesting; but the exact traveller will find the word written Takroore, and otherwise explained by Sir Gardner Wilkinson.

27 Called by the Arabs Shih [Arabic text], which the dictionaries translate “wormwood of Pontus.” We find Wallin in his works speaking of Ferashat al-shih, or wormwood carpets.

28 We are told in verse of “a cocoa’s feathery shade,” and sous l’ombre d’un cocotier. But to realise the prose picture, let the home reader, choosing some sultry August day, fasten a large fan to a long pole, and enjoy himself under it.

29 On a subsequent occasion, I met a party of Panjabis, who had walked from Meccah to Cairo in search of “Abu Tabilah,” (General Avitabile), whom report had led to the banks of the Nile. Some were young, others had white beards — all were weary and wayworn; but the saddest sight was an old woman, so decrepit that she could scarcely walk. The poor fellows were travelling on foot, carrying their wallets, with a few pence in their pockets, utterly ignorant of route and road, and actually determined in this plight to make Lahore by Baghdad, Bushir, and Karachi. Such — so incredible — is Indian improvidence!

30 Upon this word Cacography has done her worst — “Haji Rood” may serve for a specimen. My informants told me that Al-’Ajrudi is the name of a Hijazi Shaykh whose mortal remains repose under a little dome near the fort. This, if it be true, completely nullifies the efforts of Etymology to discern in it a distinct allusion to “the overthrow of Pharaoh’s chariots, whose Hebrew appellation, ‘Ageloot,’ bears some resemblance to this modern name.”

31 The only sweet water in Suez is brought on camel back from the Nile, across the Desert. The “Bir Suez” is fit for beasts only; the ’Uyun Musa (Moses’ Wells) on the Eastern side, and that below Abu Daraj, on the Western shore of the Suez Gulf, are but little better. The want of sweet water is the reason why no Hammam is found at Suez.

32 The “George”: so called after its owner, a Copt, Consular Agent for Belgium. There are 36 Caravanserais at Suez, 33 small ones for merchandise, and 3 for travellers; of these the best is that of Sayyid Hashim. The pilgrim, however, must not expect much comfort or convenience, even at Sayyid Hashim’s.


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