Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter IX.


EARLY on the morning after my arrival, I arose, and consulted my new acquaintances about the means of recovering the missing property. They unanimously advised a visit to the governor, whom, however, they described to be a “Kalb ibn kalb,” (dog, son of a dog,) who never returned Moslems’ salutations, and who thought all men dirt to be trodden under foot by the Turks. The boy Mohammed showed his savoir faire by extracting from his huge Sahara-box a fine embroidered cap, and a grand peach-coloured coat, with which I was instantly invested; he dressed himself with similar magnificence, and we then set out to the “palace.”

Ja’afar Bey, — he has since been deposed, — then occupied the position of judge, officer commanding, collector of customs, and magistrate of Suez. He was a Mir-liwa, or brigadier-general, and had some reputation as a soldier, together with a slight tincture of European science and language. The large old Turk received me most superciliously, disdained all return of salam, and, fixing upon me two little eyes like gimlets, demanded my business. I stated that one Shaykh Nur, my Hindi servant, had played me false; therefore I required permission to break into the room supposed to contain my effects. He asked my profession. I replied the medical. This led him to inquire if I had any medicine for the eyes, and being answered in the affirmative, he sent a messenger with me to enforce obedience on the part of the porter. The obnoxious measure was, however, unnecessary. As we entered the Caravanserai, there appeared at the door the black face of Shaykh Nur, looking, though accompanied by sundry fellow-countrymen, uncommonly as if he merited and expected the bamboo. He had, by his own account, been seduced into the festivities of a coal-hulk, manned by Lascars, and the vehemence of his self-accusation saved him from the chastisement which I had determined to administer.

I must now briefly describe the party of Meccah and Madinah men into which fate threw me: their names will so frequently appear in the following pages, that a few words about their natures will not be misplaced.

First of all comes Omar Effendi, — so called in honour, — a Daghistani or East-Circassian, the grandson of a Hanafi Mufti at Al-Madinah, and the son of a Shaykh Rakb, an officer whose duty it is to lead dromedary-caravans. He sits upon his cot, a small, short, plump body, of yellow complexion and bilious temperament, grey-eyed, soft-featured, and utterly beardless, — which affects his feelings, — he looks fifteen, and he owns to twenty-eight. His manners are those of a student; he dresses respectably, prays regularly, hates the fair sex, like an Arab, whose affections and aversions are always in extremes; is “serious,” has a mild demeanour, an humble gait, and a soft, slow voice. When roused he becomes furious as a Bengal tiger. His parents have urged him to marry, and he, like Kamar al-Zaman, has informed his father that he is “a person of great age, but little sense.” Urged moreover by a melancholy turn of mind, and the want of leisure for study at Al-Madinah, he fled the paternal domicile, and entered himself a pauper Talib ’ilm (student) in the Azhar Mosque. His disconsolate friends and afflicted relations sent a confidential man to fetch him home, by force should it be necessary; he has yielded, and is now awaiting the first opportunity of travelling gratis, if possible, to Al-Madinah.

That confidential man is a negro-servant, called Sa’ad, notorious in his native city as Al-Jinni, the Demon. Born and bred a slave in Omar Effendi’s family, he obtained manumission, became a soldier in Al-Hijaz, was dissatisfied with pay perpetually in arrears, turned merchant, and wandered far and wide, to Russia, to Gibraltar, and to Baghdad. He is the pure African, noisily merry at one moment, at another silently sulky; affectionate and abusive, brave and boastful, reckless and crafty, exceedingly quarrelsome, and unscrupulous to the last degree. The bright side of his character is his love and respect for the young master, Omar Effendi; yet even him he will scold in a paroxysm of fury, and steal from him whatever he can lay his hands on. He is generous with his goods, but is ever borrowing and never paying money; he dresses like a beggar, with the dirtiest Tarbush upon his tufty poll, and only a cotton shirt over his sooty skin; whilst his two boxes are full of handsome apparel for himself and the three ladies, his wives, at Al-Madinah. He knows no fear but for those boxes. Frequently during our search for a vessel he forced himself into Ja’afar Bey’s presence, and there he demeaned himself so impudently, that we expected to see him lamed by the bastinado; his forwardness, however, only amused the dignitary. He wanders all day about the bazar, talking about freight and passage, for he has resolved, cost what it will, to travel free, and, with doggedness like his, he must succeed.

Shaykh Hamid al-Samman derives his cognomen, the “Clarified-Butter-Seller,” from a celebrated saint and Sufi of the Kadiriyah order, who left a long line of holy descendants at Al-Madinah. This Shaykh squats upon a box full of presents for the “daughter of his paternal uncle” (his wife), a perfect specimen of the town Arab. His poll is crowned with a rough Shushah or tuft of hair1; his face is of a dirty brown, his little goatee straggles untrimmed; his feet are bare, and his only garment is an exceedingly unclean ochre-coloured blouse, tucked into a leathern girdle beneath it. He will not pray, because he is unwilling to take pure clothes out of his box; but he smokes when he can get other people’s tobacco, and groans between the whiffs, conjugating the verb all day, for he is of active mind. He can pick out his letters, and he keeps in his bosom a little dog’s-eared MS. full of serious romances and silly prayers, old and exceedingly ill written; this he will draw forth at times, peep into for a moment, devoutly kiss, and restore to its proper place with the veneration of the vulgar for a book. He can sing all manner of songs, slaughter a sheep with dexterity, deliver a grand call to prayer, shave, cook, fight; and he excels in the science of vituperation: like Sa’ad, he never performs his devotions, except when necessary to “keep up appearances,” and though he has sworn to perish before he forgets his vow to the “daughter of his uncle,” I shrewdly suspect he is no better than he should be. His brow crumples at the word wine, but there is quite another expression about the region of the mouth; Stambul, where he has lived some months, without learning ten words of Turkish, is a notable place for displacing prejudice. And finally, he has not more than a piastre or two in his pocket, for he has squandered the large presents given to him at Cairo and Constantinople by noble ladies, to whom he acted as master of the ceremonies at the tomb of the Apostle.

Stretched on a carpet, smoking a Persian Kaliun all day, lies Salih Shakkar, a Turk on the father’s, and an Arab on the mother’s side, born at Al-Madinah. This lanky youth may be sixteen years old, but he has the ideas of forty-six; he is thoroughly greedy, selfish, and ungenerous; coldly supercilious as a Turk, and energetically avaricious as an Arab. He prays more often, and dresses more respectably, than the descendant of the Clarified-Butter-Seller; he affects the Constantinople style of toilette, and his light yellow complexion makes people consider him a “superior person.” We were intimate enough on the road, when he borrowed from me a little money. But at Al-Madinah he cut me pitilessly, as a “town man” does a continental acquaintance accidentally met in Hyde Park; and of course he tried, though in vain, to evade repaying his debt. He had a tincture of letters, and appeared to have studied critically the subject of “largesse.” “The Generous is Allah’s friend, aye, though he be a Sinner, and the Miser is Allah’s Foe, aye, though he be a Saint,” was a venerable saying always in his mouth. He also informed me that Pharaoh, although the quintessence of impiety, is mentioned by name in the Koran, by reason of his liberality; whereas Nimrod, another monster of iniquity, is only alluded to, because he was a stingy tyrant. It is almost needless to declare that Salih Shakkar was, as the East-Indians say, a very “fly-sucker.2” There were two other men of Al-Madinah in the Wakalah Jirgis; but I omit description, as we left them, they being penniless, at Suez. One of them, Mohammed Shiklibha, I afterwards met at Meccah, and seldom have I seen a more honest and warm-hearted fellow. When we were embarking at Suez, he fell upon Hamid’s bosom, and both of them wept bitterly, at the prospect of parting even for a few days.

All the individuals above mentioned lost no time in opening the question of a loan. It was a lesson in Oriental metaphysics to see their condition. They had a twelve days’ voyage, and a four days’ journey before them; boxes to carry, custom-houses to face, and stomachs to fill; yet the whole party could scarcely, I believe, muster two dollars of ready money. Their boxes were full of valuables, arms, clothes, pipes, slippers, sweetmeats, and other “notions”; but nothing short of starvation would have induced them to pledge the smallest article.

Foreseeing that their company would be an advantage, I hearkened favourably to the honeyed request for a few crowns. The boy Mohammed obtained six dollars; Hamid about five pounds, as I intended to make his house at Al-Madinah my home; Omar Effendi three dollars; Sa’ad the Demon two — I gave the money to him at Yambu’, — and Salih Shakkar fifty piastres. But since in these lands, as a rule, no one ever lends coins, or, borrowing, ever returns them, I took care to exact service from the first, to take two rich coats from the second, a handsome pipe from the third, a “bala” or yataghan from the fourth, and from the fifth an imitation Cashmere shawl. After which, we sat down and drew out the agreement. It was favourable to me: I lent them Egyptian money, and bargained for repayment in the currency of Al-Hijaz, thereby gaining the exchange, which is sometimes sixteen per cent. This was done, not so much for the sake of profit, as with the view of becoming a Hatim,3 by a “never mind” on settling day. My companions having received these small sums, became affectionate and eloquent in my praise: they asked me to make one of their number at meals for the future, overwhelmed me with questions, insisted upon a present of sweetmeats, detected in me a great man under a cloud, — perhaps my claims to being a Darwaysh assisted them to this discovery, — and declared that I should perforce be their guest at Meccah and Al-Madinah. On all occasions precedence was forced upon me; my opinion was the first consulted, and no project was settled without my concurrence: briefly, Abdullah the Darwaysh suddenly found himself a person of consequence. This elevation led me into an imprudence which might have cost me dear; aroused the only suspicion about me ever expressed during the summer’s tour. My friends had looked at my clothes, overhauled my medicine chest, and criticised my pistols; they sneered at my copper-cased watch,4 and remembered having seen a compass at Constantinople. Therefore I imagined they would think little about a sextant. This was a mistake. The boy Mohammed, I afterwards learned,5 waited only my leaving the room to declare that the would-be Haji was one of the Infidels from India, and a council sat to discuss the case. Fortunately for me, Omar Effendi had looked over a letter which I had written to Haji Wali that morning, and he had at various times received categorical replies to certain questions in high theology. He felt himself justified in declaring, ex cathedra, the boy Mohammed’s position perfectly untenable. And Shaykh Hamid, who looked forward to being my host, guide, and debtor in general, and probably cared scantily for catechism or creed, swore that the light of Al-Islam was upon my countenance, and, consequently, that the boy Mohammed was a pauper, a “fakir,” an owl, a cut-off one,6 a stranger, and a Wahhabi (heretic), for daring to impugn the faith of a brother believer.7 The scene ended with a general abuse of the acute youth, who was told on all sides that he had no shame, and was directed to “fear Allah.” I was struck with the expression of my friends’ countenances when they saw the sextant, and, determining with a sigh to leave it behind, I prayed five times a day for nearly a week.

We all agreed not to lose an hour in securing places on board some vessel bound for Yambu’; and my companions, hearing that my passport as a British Indian was scarcely en regle, earnestly advised me to have it signed by the governor without delay, whilst they occupied themselves about the harbour. They warned me that if I displayed the Turkish Tazkirah given me at the citadel of Cairo, I should infallibly be ordered to await the caravan, and lose their society and friendship. Pilgrims arriving at Alexandria, be it known to the reader, are divided into bodies, and distributed by means of passports to the three great roads, namely, Suez, Kusayr (Cosseir), and the Hajj route by land round the Gulf of al-’Akabah. After the division has once been made, government turns a deaf ear to the representations of individuals. The Bey of Suez has an order to obstruct pilgrims as much as possible till the end of the season, when they are hurried down that way, lest they should arrive at Meccah too late.8 As most of the Egyptian high officials have boats, which sail up the Nile laden with pilgrims and return freighted with corn, the government naturally does its utmost to force the delays and discomforts of this line upon strangers.9 And as those who travel by the Hajj route must spend money in the Egyptian territories at least fifteen days longer than they would if allowed to embark at once from Suez, the Bey very properly assists them in the former and obstructs them in the latter case. Knowing these facts, I felt that a difficulty was at hand. The first thing was to take Shaykh Nur’s passport, which was en regle, and my own, which was not, to the Bey for signature. He turned the papers over and over, as if unable to read them, and raised false hopes high by referring me to his clerk. The under-official at once saw the irregularity of the document, asked me why it had not been vise at Cairo, swore that under such circumstances nothing would induce the Bey to let me proceed; and, when I tried persuasion, waxed insolent. I feared that it would be necessary to travel via Cosseir, for which there was scarcely time, or to transfer myself on camel-back to the harbour of Tur, and there to await the chance of finding a place in some half-filled vessel to Al-Hijaz, — which would have been relying upon an accident. My last hope at Suez was to obtain assistance from Mr. West, then H.B.M.‘s Vice-Consul, and since made Consul. I therefore took the boy Mohammed with me, choosing him on purpose, and excusing the step to my companions by concocting an artful fable about my having been, in Afghanistan, a benefactor to the British nation. We proceeded to the Consulate. Mr. West, who had been told by imprudent Augustus Bernal to expect me, saw through the disguise, despite jargon assumed to satisfy official scruples, and nothing could be kinder than the part he took. His clerk was directed to place himself in communication with the Bey’s factotum; and, when objections to signing the Alexandrian Tazkirah were offered, the Vice-Consul said that he would, at his own risk, give me a fresh passport as a British subject from Suez to Arabia. His firmness prevailed: on the second day, the documents were returned to me in a satisfactory state. I take a pleasure in owning this obligation to Mr. West: in the course of my wanderings, I have often received from him open-hearted hospitality and the most friendly attentions.

Whilst these passport difficulties were being solved, the rest of the party was as busy in settling about passage and passage-money. The peculiar rules of the port of Suez require a few words of explanation.10 “About thirty-five years ago” (i.e. about 1818 A.D.), “the ship-owners proposed to the then government, with the view of keeping up freight, a Farzah, or system of rotation. It might be supposed that the Pasha, whose object notoriously was to retain all monoplies in his own hands, would have refused his sanction to such a measure. But it so happened in those days that all the court had ships at Suez: Ibrahim Pasha alone owned four or five. Consequently, they expected to share profits with the merchants, and thus to be compensated for the want of port-dues. From that time forward all the vessels in the harbour were registered, and ordered to sail in rotation. This arrangement benefits the owner of the craft ‘en depart,’ giving him in his turn a temporary monopoly, with the advantage of a full market; and freight is so high that a single trip often clears off the expense of building and the risk of losing the ship — a sensible succedaneum for insurance companies. On the contrary, the public must always be a loser by the ‘Farzah.’ Two of a trade do not agree elsewhere; but at Suez even the Christian and the Moslem shipowner are bound by a fraternal tie, in the shape of this rotation system. It injures the general merchant and the Red Sea trader, not only by perpetuating high freight,11 but also by causing at one period of the year a break in the routine of sales and in the supplies of goods for the great Jeddah market.12 At this moment (Nov. 1853), the vessel to which the turn belongs happens to be a large one; there is a deficiency of export to Al-Hijaz, — her owner will of course wait any length of time for a full cargo; consequently no vessel with merchandise has left Suez for the last seventy-two days. Those who have bought goods for the Jeddah market at three months’ credit will therefore have to meet their acceptances for merchandise still warehoused at the Egyptian port. This strange contrast to free-trade principle is another proof that protection benefits only one party, the protected, while it is detrimental to the interests of the other party, the public.” To these remarks of Mr. Levick’s, I have only to add that the government supports the Farzah with all the energy of protectionists. A letter from Mr. (now Sir) John Drummond Hay was insufficient to induce the Bey of Suez to break through the rule of rotation in favour of certain princes from Morocco. The recommendations of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe met with no better fate; and all Mr. West’s good will could not procure me a vessel out of her turn.13 We were forced to rely upon our own exertions, and the activity of Sa’ad the Demon. This worthy, after sundry delays and differences, mostly caused by his own determination to travel gratis, and to make us pay too much, finally closed with the owner of the “Golden Thread.14” He took places for us upon the poop, — the most eligible part of the vessel at this season of the year; he premised that we should not be very comfortable, as we were to be crowded with Maghrabi pilgrims, but that “Allah makes all things easy!” Though not penetrated with the conviction that this would happen in our case, I paid for two deck passages eighteen Riyals15 (dollars), and my companions seven each, whilst Sa’ad secretly entered himself as an able seaman. Mohammed Shiklibha we were obliged to leave behind, as he could not, or might not afford the expense, and none of us might afford it for him. Had I known him to be the honest, true-hearted fellow he was — his kindness at Meccah quite won my heart — I should not have grudged the small charity.

Nothing more comfortless than our days and nights in the “George” Inn. The ragged walls of our rooms were clammy with dirt, the smoky rafters foul with cobwebs, and the floor, bestrewed with kit, in terrible confusion, was black with hosts of cockroaches, ants, and flies. Pigeons nestled on the shelf, cooing amatory ditties the live-long day, and cats like tigers crawled through a hole in the door, making night hideous with their caterwaulings. Now a curious goat, then an inquisitive jackass, would walk stealthily into the room, remark that it was tenanted, and retreat with dignified demeanour, and the mosquitos sang Io Paeans over our prostrate forms throughout the twenty-four hours. I spare the reader the enumeration of the other Egyptian plagues that infested the place. After the first day’s trial, we determined to spend the hours of light in the passages, lying upon our boxes or rugs, smoking, wrangling, and inspecting one another’s chests. The latter occupation was a fertile source of disputes, for nothing was more common than for a friend to seize an article belonging to another, and to swear by the Apostle’s beard that he admired it, and, therefore, would not return it. The boy Mohammed and Shaykh Nur, who had been intimates the first day, differed in opinion on the second, and on the third came to pushing each other against the wall. Sometimes we went into the Bazar, a shady street flanked with poor little shops, or we sat in the coffee-house,16 drinking hot saltish water tinged with burnt bean, or we prayed in one of three tumble-down old Mosques, or we squatted upon the pier, lamenting the want of Hammams, and bathing in the tepid sea.17 I presently came to the conclusion that Suez as a “watering-place” is duller even than Dover. The only society we found, excepting an occasional visitor, was that of a party of Egyptian women, who with their husbands and families occupied some rooms adjoining ours. At first they were fierce, and used bad language, when the boy Mohammed and I, — whilst Omar Effendi was engaged in prayer, and the rest were wandering about the town, — ventured to linger in the cool passage, where they congregated, or to address a facetious phrase to them. But hearing that I was a Hakim-bashi — for fame had promoted me to the rank of a “Physician General” at Suez — all discovered some ailments. They began prudently with requesting me to display the effects of my drugs by dosing myself, but they ended submissively by swallowing the nauseous compounds. To this succeeded a primitive form of flirtation, which mainly consisted of the demand direct. The most charming of the party was one Fattumah18, a plump-personed dame, fast verging upon her thirtieth year, fond of a little flattery, and possessing, like all her people, a most voluble tongue. The refrain of every conversation was “Marry me, O Fattumah! O daughter! O female pilgrim!” In vain the lady would reply, with a coquettish movement of the sides, a toss of the head, and a flirting manipulation of her head-veil, “I am mated, O young man!” — it was agreed that she, being a person of polyandrous propensities, could support the weight of at least three matrimonial engagements. Sometimes the entrance of the male Fellahs19 interrupted these little discussions, but people of our respectability and nation were not to be imposed upon by such husbands. In their presence we only varied the style of conversation — inquiring the amount of “Mahr,” or marriage settlement, deriding the cheapness of womanhood in Egypt, and requiring to be furnished on the spot with brides at the rate of ten shillings a head.20 More often the amiable Fattumah — the fair sex in this country, though passing frail, have the best tempers in the world — would laugh at our impertinences. Sometimes vexed by our imitating her Egyptian accent, mimicking her gestures, and depreciating her country-women,21 she would wax wroth, and order us to be gone, and stretch out her forefinger — a sign that she wished to put out our eyes, or adjure Allah to cut the hearts out of our bosoms. Then the “Marry me, O Fattumah, O daughter, O female pilgrim!” would give way to Y’al Ago-o-oz! (O old woman and decrepit!) “O daughter of sixty sires, and fit only to carry wood to market!” — whereupon would burst a storm of wrath, at the tail of which all of us, like children, starting upon our feet, rushed out of one another’s way. But — “qui se dispute, s’adore” — when we again met all would be forgotten, and the old tale be told over de novo. This was the amusement of the day. At night we men, assembling upon the little terrace, drank tea, recited stories, read books, talked of our travels, and indulged in various pleasantries. The great joke was the boy Mohammed’s abusing all his companions to their faces in Hindustani, which none but Shaykh Nur and I could understand; the others, however, guessed his intention, and revenged themselves by retorts of the style uncourteous in the purest Hijazi.

I proceed to offer a few more extracts from Mr. Levick’s letter about Suez and the Suezians. “It appears that the number of pilgrims who pass through Suez to Meccah has of late been steadily on the decrease. When I first came here (in 1838) the pilgrims who annually embarked at this port amounted to between 10,000 and 12,000, the shipping was more numerous, and the merchants were more affluent.22 I have ascertained from a special register kept in the government archives that in the Moslem year 1268 (A.D. 1851-52) the exact number that passed through was 4893.”

“In 1269 A.H. (A.D. 1852-53) it had shrunk to 3136. The natives assign the falling off to various causes, which I attribute chiefly to the indirect effect of European civilisation upon the Moslem powers immediately in contact with it. The heterogeneous mass of pilgrims is composed of people of all classes, colours, and costumes. One sees among them, not only the natives of countries contiguous to Egypt, but also a large proportion of Central Asians from Bokhara, Persia, Circassia, Turkey, and the Crimea, who prefer this route by way of Constantinople to the difficult, expensive and dangerous caravan-line through the Desert from Damascus and Baghdad. The West sends us Moors, Algerines, and Tunisians, and Inner Africa a mass of sable Takrouri,23 and others from Bornou, the Sudan,24 Ghadamah near the Niger, and Jabarti from the Habash.25

“The Suez ship-builders are an influential body of men, originally Candiots and Alexandrians. When Mohammed Ali fitted out his fleet for the Hijaz war, he transported a number of Greeks to Suez, and the children now exercise their fathers’ craft. There are at present three great builders at this place. Their principal difficulty is the want of material. Teak comes from India26 via Jeddah, and Venetian boards, owing to the expense of camel-transport, are a hundred per cent. dearer here than at Alexandria. Trieste and Turkey supply spars, and Jeddah canvas: the sail-makers are Suez men, and the crews a mongrel mixture of Arabs and Egyptians; the Rais, or captain, being almost invariably, if the vessel be a large one, a Yambu’ man. There are two kinds of craft, distinguished from each other by tonnage, not by build. The Baghlah27 (buggalow), is a vessel above fifty tons burden, the Sambuk (a classical term) from fifteen to fifty. The shipowner bribes the Amir al-Bahr, or port-captain, and the Nazir al-Safayn, or the captain commanding the government vessels, to rate his ship as high as possible; if he pay the price, he will be allowed nine ardebs to the ton.28 The number of ships belonging to the port of Suez amounts to 92; they vary from 25 to 250 tons. The departures in A.H. 1269 (1852 and 1853) were 38, so that each vessel, after returning from a trip, is laid up for about two years. Throughout the passage of the pilgrims, — that is to say, during four months, — the departures average twice a week; during the remainder of the year from six to ten vessels may leave the port. The homeward trade is carried on principally in Jeddah bottoms, which are allowed to convey goods to Suez, but not to take in return cargo there: they must not interfere with, nor may they partake in any way of the benefits of the rotation system.29

“During the present year the imports were contained in 41,395 packages, the exports in 15,988. Specie makes up in some manner for this preponderance of imports: a sum of from L30,000 to L40,000, in crown, or Maria Theresa, dollars annually leaves Egypt for Arabia, Abyssinia, and other parts of Africa. I value the imports at about L350,000; the export trade to Jeddah at L300,000 per annum. The former consists principally of coffee and gum-arabic; of these there were respectively 17,460 and 15,132 bales, the aggregate value of each article being from L75,000 to L80,000, and the total amount L160,000. In the previous year the imports were contained in 36,840 packages, the exports in 13,498: of the staple articles — coffee and gum-arabic — they were respectively 15,499 and 14,129 bales, each bale being valued at about L5. Next in importance comes wax from Al-Yaman and the Hijaz, mother-of-pearl30 from the Red Sea, sent to England in rough, pepper from Malabar, cloves brought by Moslem pilgrims from Java, Borneo, and Singapore,31 cherry pipe-sticks from Persia and Bussora, and Persian or Surat ‘Timbak’ (tobacco). These I value at L20,000 per annum. There were also (A.D. 1853) of cloves 708 packages, and of Malabar pepper 948: the cost of these two might be L7,000. Minor articles of exportation are, — general spiceries (ginger, cardamons, &c.); Eastern perfumes, such as aloes-wood, attar of rose, attar of pink and others; tamarinds from India and Al-Yaman, Banca tin, hides supplied by the nomade Badawin, senna leaves from Al-Yaman and the Hijaz, and blue chequered cotton Malayahs (women’s mantillas), manufactured in southern Arabia. The total value of these smaller imports may be L20,000 per annum.”

“The exports chiefly consist of English and native ‘grey domestics,’ bleached Madipilams, Paisley lappets, and muslins for turbands; the remainder being Manchester prints, antimony, Syrian soap, iron in bars, and common ironmongery, Venetian or Trieste beads, used as ornaments in Arabia and Abyssinia, writing paper, Tarbushes, Papushes (slippers), and other minor articles of dress and ornament.”

“The average annual temperature of the year at Suez is 67° Fahrenheit. The extremes of heat and cold are found in January and August; during the former month the thermometer ranges from a minimum of 38° to a maximum of 68°; during the latter the variation extends from 68° to 102°, or even to 104°, when the heat becomes oppressive. Departures from these extremes are rare. I never remember to have seen the thermometer rise above 108° during the severest Khamsin, or to have sunk below 34° in the rawest wintry wind. Violent storms come up from the south in March. Rain is very variable32: sometimes three years have passed without a shower, whereas in 1841 torrents poured for nine successive days, deluging the town, and causing many buildings to fall.”

“The population of Suez now numbers about 4,800. As usual in Mohammedan countries no census is taken here. Some therefore estimate the population at 6,000. Sixteen years ago it was supposed to be under 3,000. After that time it rapidly increased till 1850, when a fatal attack of cholera reduced it to about half its previous number. The average mortality is about twelve a month.33 The endemic diseases are fevers of typhoid and intermittent types in spring, when strong northerly winds cause the waters of the bay to recede,34 and leave a miasma-breeding swamp exposed to the rays of the sun. In the months of October and November febrile attacks are violent; ophthalmia more so. The eye-disease is not so general here as at Cairo, but the symptoms are more acute; in some years it becomes a virulent epidemic, which ends either in total blindness or in a partial opacity of the cornea, inducing dimness of vision, and a permanent weakness of the eyes. In one month three of my acquaintances lost their sight. Dysenteries are also common, and so are bad boils, or rather ulcers. The cold season is not unwholesome, and at this period the pure air of the Desert restores and invigorates the heat-wasted frame.”

“The walls, gates, and defences of Suez are in a ruinous state, being no longer wanted to keep out the Sinaitic Badawin. The houses are about 500 in number, but many of the natives prefer occupying the upper stories of the Wakalahs, the rooms on the ground floor serving for stores to certain merchandise, wood, dates, cotton, &c. The Suezians live well, and their bazar is abundantly stocked with meat and clarified butter brought from Sinai, and fowls, corn, and vegetables from the Sharkiyah province; fruit is supplied by Cairo as well as by the Sharkiyah, and wheat conveyed down the Nile in flood to the capital is carried on camel-back across the Desert. At sunrise they eat the Fatur, or breakfast, which in summer consists of a ‘fatirah,’ a kind of muffin, or of bread and treacle. In winter it is more substantial, being generally a mixture of lentils and rice,35 with clarified butter poured over it, and a ‘kitchen’ of pickled lime or stewed onions. At this season they greatly enjoy the ‘ful mudammas’ (boiled horse-beans),36 eaten with an abundance of linseed oil, into which they steep bits of bread. The beans form, with carbon-generating matter, a highly nutritive diet, which, if the stomach can digest it, — the pulse is never shelled, — gives great strength. About the middle of the day comes ‘Al-Ghada,’ a light dinner of wheaten bread, with dates, onions or cheese: in the hot season melons and cooling fruits are preferred, especially by those who have to face the sun. ‘Al-Asha,’ or supper, is served about half an hour after sunset; at this meal all but the poorest classes eat meat. Their favourite flesh, as usual in this part of the world, is mutton; beef and goat are little prized.37

The people of Suez are a finer and fairer race than the Cairenes. The former have more the appearance of Arabs: their dress is more picturesque, their eyes are carefully darkened with Kohl, and they wear sandals, not slippers. They are, according to all accounts, a turbulent and somewhat fanatic set, fond of quarrels, and slightly addicted to “pronunciamentos.” The general programme of one of these latter diversions is said to be as follows. The boys will first be sent by their fathers about the town in a disorderly mob, and ordered to cry out “Long live the Sultan!” with its usual sequel, “Death to the Infidels!” The Infidels, Christians or others, must hear and may happen to resent this; or possibly the governor, foreseeing a disturbance, orders an ingenuous youth or two to be imprisoned, or to be caned by the police. Whereupon some person, rendered influential by wealth or religious reputation, publicly complains that the Christians are all in all, and that in these evil days Al-Islam is going to destruction. On this occasion the speaker conducts himself with such insolence, that the governor perforce consigns him to confinement, which exasperates the populace still more. Secret meetings are now convened, and in them the chiefs of corporations assume a prominent position. If the disturbance be intended by its main-spring to subside quietly, the conspirators are allowed to take their own way; they will drink copiously, become lions about midnight, and recover their hare-hearts before noon next day. But if mischief be intended, a case of bloodshed is brought about, and then nothing can arrest the torrent of popular rage.38 The Egyptian, with all his good humour, merriment, and nonchalance, is notorious for doggedness, when, as the popular phrase is, his “blood is up.” And this, indeed, is his chief merit as a soldier. He has a certain mechanical dexterity in the use of arms, and an Egyptian regiment will fire a volley as correctly as a battalion at Chobham. But when the head, and not the hands, is required, he notably fails. The reason of his superiority in the field is his peculiar stubborness, and this, together with his powers of digestion and of enduring hardship on the line of march, is the quality that makes him terrible to his old conqueror, the Turk.39

1 When travelling, the Shushah is allowed to spread over the greatest portion of the scalp, to act as a protection against the sun; and the hair being shaved off about two inches all round the head, leaves a large circular patch. Nothing can be uglier than such tonsure, and it is contrary to the strict law of the Apostle, who ordered a clean shave, or a general growth of the hair. The Arab, however, knows by experience, that though habitual exposure of the scalp to a burning sun may harden the skull, it seldom fails to damage its precious contents. He, therefore, wears a Shushah during his wanderings, and removes it on his return home. Abu Hanifah, if I am rightly informed, wrote a treatise advocating the growth of a long lock of hair on the Nasiyah, or crown of the head, lest the decapitated Moslem’s mouth or beard be exposed to defilement by an impure hand. This would justify the comparing it to the “chivalry-lock,” by which the American brave facilitates the removal of his own scalp. But I am at a loss to discover the origin of our old idea, that the “angel of death will, on the last day, bear all true believers, by this important tuft of hair on the crown, to Paradise.” Probably this office has been attributed to the Shushah by the ignorance of the West.

2 “Makhi-chus,” equivalent to our “skin-flint.”

3 A well-known Arab chieftain, whose name has come to stand for generosity itself.

4 This being an indispensable instrument for measuring distances, I had it divested of gold case, and provided with a facing carefully stained and figured with Arabic numerals. In countries where few can judge of a watch by its works, it is as well to secure its safety by making the exterior look as mean as possible. The watches worn by respectable people in Al-Hijaz are almost a1ways old silver pieces, of the turnip shape, with hunting cases and an outer etui of thick leather. Mostly they are of Swiss or German manufacture, and they find their way into Arabia via Constantinople and Cairo.

5 On my return to Cairo, Omar Effendi, whom I met accidentally in the streets, related the story to me. I never owned having played a part, to avoid shocking his prejudices; and though he must have suspected me, — for the general report was, that an Englishman, disguised as a Persian, had performed the pilgrimage, measured the country, and sketched the buildings, — he had the gentlemanly feeling never to allude to the past. We parted, when I went to India, on the best of terms.

6 Munkati’a — one cut off (from the pleasures and comforts of life). In Al-Hijaz, as in England, any allusion to poverty is highly offensive.

7 The Koran expressly forbids a Moslem to discredit the word of any man who professes his belief in the Saving Faith. The greatest offence of the Wahhabis is their habit of designating all Moslems that belong to any but their own sect by the opprobrious name of Kafirs or infidels. This, however, is only the Koranic precept; in practice a much less trustful spirit prevails.

8 Towards the end of the season, poor pilgrims are forwarded gratis, by order of government. But, to make such liberality as inexpensive as possible, the Pasha compels ship-owners to carry one pilgrim per 9 ardebs (about 5 bushels each), in small, and 1 per 11 in large vessels.

9 I was informed by a Prussian gentleman, holding an official appointment under His Highness the Pasha, at Cairo, that 300,000 ardebs of grain were annually exported from Kusayr to Jeddah. The rest is brought down the Nile for consumption in Lower Egypt, and export to Europe.

10 The account here offered to the reader was kindly supplied to me by Henry Levick, Esq. (late Vice-Consul, and afterwards Post-master at Suez), and it may be depended upon, as coming from a resident of 16 years’ standing. All the passages marked with inverted commas are extracts from a letter with which that gentleman favoured me. The information is obsolete now, but it may be interesting as a specimen of the things that were.

11 The rate of freight is at present (1853) about forty shillings per ton — very near the same paid by the P. and O. Company for coals carried from Newcastle via the Cape to Suez. Were the “Farzah” abolished, freight to Jeddah would speedily fall to 15 or 16 shillings per ton. Passengers from Suez to Jeddah are sometimes charged as much as 6 or even 8 dollars for standing room — personal baggage forming another pretext for extortion — and the higher orders of pilgrims, occupying a small portion of the cabin, pay about 12 dollars. These first and second class fares would speedily be reduced, by abolishing protection, to 3 and 6 dollars.

Note to Second Edition:— The “Farzah,” I may here observe, has been abolished by Sa’id Pasha since the publication of these lines: the effects of “free trade” are exactly what were predicted by Mr. Levick.

12 The principal trade from Suez is to Jeddah, Kusayr supplying Yambu’. The latter place, however, imports from Suez wheat, beans, cheese, biscuit, and other provisions for return pilgrims.

13 My friends were strenuous in their exertions for me to make interest with Mr. West. In the first place, we should have paid less for the whole of a privileged vessel, than we did for our wretched quarters on the deck of the pilgrim-ship; and, secondly, we might have touched at any port we pleased, so as to do a little business in the way of commerce.

14 Afterwards called by Sir R. F. Burton the “Golden Wire.” — ED.

15 For the “Sath,” or poop, the sum paid by each was seven Riyals. I was, therefore, notably cheated by Sa’ad the Demon. The unhappy women in the “Kamrah,” or cabin, bought suffocation at the rate of 6 dollars each, as I was afterwards informed, and the third class, in the “Taht,” or amidships and forward, contributed from 3 to 5 Riyals. But, as usua1 on these occasions, there was no prix fixe; every man was either overcharged or undercharged, according to his means or his necessities. We had to purchase our own water, but the ship was to supply us with fuel for cooking. We paid nothing extra for luggage, and we carried an old Maghrabi woman gratis for good luck.

16 We were still at Suez, where we could do as we pleased. But respectable Arabs in their own country, unlike Egyptians, are seldom to be seen in the places of public resort. “Go to the coffee-house and sing there!” is a reproach sometimes addressed to those who have a habit of humming in decent society.

17 It was only my prestige as physician that persuaded my friend to join me in these bathings. As a general rule, the Western Arabs avoid cold water, from a belief that it causes fever. When Mr. C. Cole, H.B.M.‘s Vice-Consul, arrived at Jeddah, the people of the place, seeing that he kept up his Indian habits, advised him strongly to drop them. He refused; but unhappily he soon caught a fever, which confirmed them all in their belief. When Arabs wish to cool the skin after a journey, they wash with a kind of fuller’s earth called “Tafl,” or with a thin paste of henna, and then anoint the body with oil or butter.

18 An incrementative form of the name “Fatimah,” very common in Egypt. Fatimah would mean a “weaner” — Fattumah, a “great weaner.” By the same barbarism Khadijah becomes “Khaddugah”; Aminah, “Ammunah”; and Nafisah, “Naffusah,” on the banks of the Nile.

19 The palmy days of the Egyptian husband, when he might use the stick, the sword, or the sack with impunity, are, in civilised places at least, now gone by. The wife has only to complain to the Kazi, or to the governor, and she is certain of redress. This is right in the abstract, but in practice it acts badly. The fair sex is so unruly in this country, that strong measures are necessary to coerce it, and in the arts of deceit men have here little or no chance against women.

20 The amount of settlement being, among Moslems as among Christians, the test of a bride’s value, — moral and physical, — it will readily be understood that our demand was more facetious than complimentary.

21 The term Misriyah (an Egyptian woman) means in Al-Hijaz and the countries about it, a depraved character. Even the men own unwillingly to being Egyptians, for the free-born never forget that the banks of the Nile have for centuries been ruled by the slaves of slaves. “He shall be called an Egyptian,” is a denunciation which has been strikingly fulfilled, though the country be no longer the “basest of kingdoms.”

22 In those days merchants depended solely upon the native trade and the passage of pilgrims. The pecuniary advantage attending what is called the Overland transit benefits chiefly the lowest orders, camel-men, sailors, porters, and others of the same class. Sixteen years ago the hire of a boat from the harbour to the roadstead was a piastre and a half: now it is at least five.

23 This word, says Mansfield Parkyns (Life in Abyssinia), is applied to the wandering pilgrim from Darfur, Dar Borghu, Bayarimah, Fellatah, and Western Africa. He mentions, however, a tribe called “Tokrouri,” settled in Abyssinia near Nimr’s country, but he does not appear to know that the ancient Arab settlement in Western Africa, “Al-Takrur,” (Sakatu?) which has handed down its name to a large posterity of small kingdoms, will be found in Al-Idrisi (1. climate, 1. section,); but I do not agree with the learned translator in writing the word “Tokrour.” Burckhardt often alludes in his benevolent way to the “respectable and industrious Tekrourys.” I shall have occasion to mention them at a future time.

24 The Sudan (Blackland) in Arabia is applied to Upper Nubia, Senaar, Kordofan, and the parts adjacent.

25 Not only in Ghiz, but also in Arabic, the mother of Ghiz, the word “Habash,” whence our “Abyssinians,” means a rabble, a mixture of people. Abyssinian Moslems are called by the Arabs “Jabarti.”

26 There is no such thing as a tree, except the date, the tamarisk, and the mimosa on the western shores of the Red Sea.

27 This word, which in Arabic is the feminine form of “Baghl,” a mule, is in Egypt, as in India, pronounced and written by foreigners “buggalow.” Some worthy Anglo-Indians have further corrupted it to “bungalow.”

28 “The ardeb, like most measures in this country of commercial confusion, varies greatly according to the grain for which it is used. As a general rule, it may be assumed at 300 lbs.”

29 Return Arab boats, at any but the pilgrim season, with little difficulty obtain permission to carry passengers, but not cargo. Two gentlemen, in whose pleasant society I once travelled from Cairo to Suez, — M. Charles Didier and the Abbe Hamilton, — paid the small sum of 1000 piastres, (say L10) for the whole of a moderate sized “Sambuk” returning to Jeddah.

30 Mother-of-pearl is taken to Jerusalem, and there made into chaplets, saints’ figures, and crucifixes for Christian pilgrims. At Meccah it is worked into rosaries for the Hajis. In Europe, cabinet and ornamental work cause a considerable demand for it. Some good pearls are procurable in the Red Sea. I have seen a drop of fair size and colour sold for seven dollars.

31 I was told at Meccah that the pilgrimage is attended by about 2000 natives of Java and the adjoining islands.

32 The following popular puerilities will serve to show how fond barbarians are of explaining the natural by the supernatural. The Moslems of Egypt thus account for the absence of St. Swithin from their drought-stricken lands. When Jacob lost his Benjamin, he cursed the land of Misraim, declaring that it should know no rain; Joseph on the other hand blessed it, asserting that it should never want water. So the Sind Hindus believe that Hiranyakasipu, the demon-tyrant of Multan, finding Magha-Raja (the Cloud King) troublesome in his dominions, bound him with chains, and only released him upon his oath not to trouble the Unhappy Valley with his presence. I would suggest to those Egyptian travellers who believe that the fall of rain has been materially increased at Cairo of late, by plantations of trees, to turn over the volumes of their predecesors; they will find almost every one complaining of the discomforts of rain. In Sind it appears certain that during the last few years there has been at times almost a monsoon; this novel phenomenon the natives attribute to the presence of their conquerors, concerning whom it cannot be said that they have wooded the country to any extent.

33 This may appear a large mortality; but at Alexandria it is said the population is renewed every fourteen years.

34 During these North winds the sandy bar is exposed, and allows men to cross, which may explain the passage of the Israelites, for those who do not believe the Legend to be a Myth. Similarly at Jeddah, the bars are covered during the South and bare during the North winds.

35 This mixture, called in India Kichhri, has become common in Al-Hijaz as well as at Suez. “Al-Kajari” is the corruption, which denotes its foreign origin, and renders its name pronounceable to Arabs.

36 Beans, an abomination to the ancient Egyptians, who were forbidden even to sow them, may now be called the common “kitchen” of the country. The Badawin, ho believe in nothing but flesh, milk, and dates, deride the bean-eaters, but they do not consider the food so disgusting as onions.

37 Here concludes Mr. Levick’s letter. For the following observations, I alone am answerable.

38 The government takes care to prevent bloodshed in the towns by disarming the country people, and by positively forbidding the carrying of weapons. Moreover, with a wise severity, it punishes all parties concerned in a quarrel, where blood is drawn, with a heavy fine and the bastinado de rigueur. Hence it is never safe, except as a European, to strike a man, and the Egyptians generally confine themselves to collaring and pushing each other against the walls. Even in the case of receiving gross abuse, you cannot notice it as you would elsewhere. You must take two witnesses, — respectable men, — and prove the offence before the Zabit, who alone can punish the offender.

39 NOTE TO THIRD (1873) EDITION:— I revisited Suez in September, 1869, and found it altered for the better. The population had risen from 6,000 to 20,000. The tumble-down gateway was still there, but of the old houses — including the “George Inn,” whose front had been repaired — I recognised only four, and they looked mean by the side of the fine new buildings. In a few years ancient Suez will be no more. The bazars are not so full of filth and flies, now that pilgrims pass straight through and hardly even encamp. The sweet water Canal renders a Hammam possible; coffee is no longer hot saltish water, and presently irrigation will cover with fields and gardens the desert plain extending to the feet of Jabal Atakah. The noble works of the Canal Maritime, which should in justice be called the “Lesseps Canal,” shall soon transform Clysma into a modern and civilised city. The railway station, close to the hotel, the new British hospital, the noisy Greek casino, the Frankish shops, the puffing steamers, and the ringing of morning bells, gave me a novel impression. Even the climate has been changed by filling up the Timsch Lakes. Briefly, the hat is now at home in Suez.

NOTE TO FOURTH (1879) EDITION:— The forecast in the last paragraph has not been fulfilled. I again visited Suez in 1877-78; and found that it had been ruined by the Canal leaving it out of line. In fact, another Suez is growing up about the “New Docks,” while the old town is falling to pieces. For this and other Egyptian matters, see “The Gold Mines of Midian” (by Sir Richard Burton).


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