Travels in Morocco, by James Richardson

Chapter 3

The Posada. — Ingles and Benoliel. — Amulets for successful parturition. — Visits of a Moorish Taleb and a Berber. — Three Sundays during a week in Barbary. — M. Rey’s account of the Empire of Morocco. — The Government Auctioneer gives an account of Slavery and the Slave Trade in Morocco. — Benoliel as English Cicerone. — Departure from Tangier to Gibraltar. — How I lost my fine green broadcloth. — Mr. Frenerry’s opinion of Maroquine Affairs.

I took up my stay at the “English Hotel” (posada Ingles), kept by Benoliel, a Morocco Jew, who spoke tolerable English. A Jerusalemitish rabbi came in one day to write charms for his wife, she being near her confinement. The superstition of charms and other cognate matters, are shared alike by all the native inhabitants of Barbary. It often happens that a Marabout shrine will be visited by Moor and Jew, each investing the departed saint with his own peculiar sanctity. So contagious is this species of superstition, that Romish Christians, long resident in Barbary, assisted by the inventive monks, at last discover the Moorish or Jewish to be a Christian saint. The Jewesses brought our Oriental rabbi, declaring him to know everything, and that his garments smelt of the Holy City. Benoliel, or Ben, as the English called him, protested to me that he did not believe in charms; he only allowed the rabbi to write them to please the women. But I have found, during my travels in the Mediterranean, many persons of education, who pretended they did not believe this or that superstition of their church, whilst they were at heart great cowards, having no courage to reject a popular falsehood, and quite as superstitious as those who never doubt the excrescent dogmas or traditionary fables of their religion. The paper amulets, however, operated favourably on Mrs. Benoliel. She was delivered of a fine child; and received the congratulations of her neighbours. The child was named Sultana; 9 and the people were all as merry as if a princess had been born in Israel.

I received a visit from a Moorish taleb, to whom I read some portions of my journal, as also the Arabic Testament:

Taleb. — “The English read Arabic because they are the friends of Mussulmans. For this reason, God gives them wit to understand the language of the Koran.”

Traveller. — “We wish to study all languages, and to know all people.”

Taleb. — “Now, as you have become so wise in our country, and read Arabic, where next are you going? Why not be quiet and return home, and live a marabout? Where next are you going?”

In this strain the Taleb continued lecturing me, until he was interrupted by a Berber of Rif.

The Rifian. — “Christian, Engleez, come to our mountains. I will conduct you to the Emir, on whom is the blessing of God. Come to the Emir, come.”

Traveller. — “No, I’ve nothing to do with war.”

The Rifian. — “Ah! ah! ah! I know you are a necromancer. Cannot you tell me where money is buried? I want money very bad. Give me a peseta.”

Traveller. — “Not I. I am going to see your Emperor.”

The Rifian. — “Ah! ah! ah! that is right; give him plenty of money. Muley Abd Errahman hoards up money always. If you give him plenty of money, you will be placed on a horse and ride by his side.”

The inhabitants of Barbary all bury their money. The secret is confided to a single person, who often is taken ill, and dies before he can discover the hiding place to his surviving relatives. Millions of dollars are lost in this way. The people, conscious of their secret practice, are always on the scent for concealed treasures.

One Friday, some Jews asked the governor of the custom-house to grant them their clearance-papers, because they were, early on the Sunday following, to depart for Gibraltar. The governor said, “Come to-morrow.” “No,” replied the Jews, “we cannot, it’s our feast.” “Well,” returned the governor, “you Jews have your feasts, the Christians have theirs, and we Mussulmen will have ours. I’ll not go down to the custom-house to day, for it is my feast.” These three Sundays or feasts, prevalent through North Africa, are very inconvenient for business, and often make men rebels to their religious persuasions.

The following is a Frenchman’s account of Morocco 10 up to the time of its bombardments.

“The question of Algeria cannot be confined within the limits of the French possessions. It embraces Morocco, a country possessing a vast and varied population. Leo gave a marvellous description of Fez, as the second city of Islamism in his time. Travellers who have sought to explore Africa, rarely or never took the route viâ Morocco. Formerly, monks were stationed in the interior to purchase captives; but, since piracy has ceased, these have left the country. Very few persons go into the interior, for Maroquine merchants come out of their country to trade. Tangier and Tetuan are not fair specimens of Morocco; they form a transition from Europe to Africa, being neither Spain nor Morocco. The ambassador, or merchant, who now-a-days gets an audience with the Sultan, is allowed to see little of the country, arising from the jealousy of the government or native merchants. Davidson was probably murdered by the jealousy of the Fez merchants.

“All the larger cities of Morocco are situate upon the coast, excepting three capitals of the interior — Fez, Miknas, and Morocco, to which El–Kesar-Kebir may be added. The other interior places are mostly large villages, where the tribes of the country collect together. The inhabitants of the cities make gain their only business, and debauchery their only pleasure. As to their learning, there is an immense difference between a Turkish ulema and a Moorish doctor.

“From the fall of Carthage and Rome, until the fourteenth century, the people of North Africa have had relations with Europe. The independence of the kingdoms of Fez and Morocco fell by internal dissensions like the Mussulman power in Spain. After expelling the Mahometans from Spain, the Christians (Spaniards and Portuguese) pursued them to Morocco, and built a line of forts on its coasts. Those have all now been abandoned except four, held by Spain. England destroyed the fortifications and abandoned Tangier, which she had obtained through Portugal. To blockade Tangier at the present time, would do more harm to England than Morocco, by cutting off the supply of provisions for Gibraltar.

“The navy of Morocco was never very great. It was the audacity and cruelty of its pirates which frightened Christendom. During the maritime wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Emperor of Morocco remained neutral, which was a great benefit to the Christian belligerent powers. Spain must be at peace with Morocco; she must either be an active friend, or an enemy. The policy of Morocco, in former times, was so well managed, that it made all the Christian powers pay a certain tribute to that country, to insure themselves against the piracy of its cruisers.

“The history of the diplomatic relations of Europe with Morocco, presents only a chronicle of shameful concessions made by the European powers to the Moorish princes. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Sultan of Morocco declared that, ‘Whoever was not his friend was his enemy,’ or, in other words, that ‘he would arm his cruisers against every flag which did not float upon a consular house at Tangier.’

“Muley Abd Errahman sent his corsairs to sea in 1828 to frighten the European powers into treaties. The plan succeeded, the first squabble being with Austria. From 1830, or, better to mark the period, since the capture of Algiers, the corsairs and their depredations have ceased. The progress of France in Africa has produced a profound impression in Morocco, but European powers have not taken their due advantage of this. Many humiliating acts have been performed by different governments. England possessed herself of all the commerce of importance since she has been established at Gibraltar. On the whole coast of Morocco, there are only two mercantile establishments under the French flag. French consular agents have no influence with the Moorish government. Morocco and Spain have shewn themselves neighbours. Mutual assistance has often been given by Morocco and Spain, in cases of national distress, particularly in seasons of famine.

“The Sultan of Morocco surveys from a distance the events of Europe, and endeavours to arrest their effect on his frontier. The residence of the foreign consuls was first at Rabat, then at Tangier. The object has constantly been to keep the consuls, as far as possible, from his capital and the transactions of his interior, in order that they may not see the continual revolts of his tribes, and so discover the weakness and disunion of the empire. Communications between Tangier and Morocco require at least forty days, a system shrewdly laid down by the Sultan, who is anxious to be as remote as possible from the consuls and their influence.

“The state of the army and navy, and particularly of the munitions of war, is very bad. All the coast of Morocco is difficult of access, and the only two ports which would have served for a naval station, are those which have been abandoned, viz., the Bay of Santa Cruz and the ancient Mamora, between El–Araish and Rabat; the rest are only roadsteads.”

M. Rey thus sums up his observations upon European diplomacy directed towards Morocco. “Voluntary humbling of European nations, always ready to pander to Moorish rapacity, even without reaping any advantage for it; and who submit themselves to be uselessly ransomed. As to the English, they show suppleness and prudence, and sacrificing national dignity to the prosperity of commerce; the Sultans are not backward in taking advantage adroitly of a situation so favourable and almost unique; such is the picture of the diplomatic relations we have sketched.”

He describes the personal character and habits of the Sultan, Muley Abd Errahman, and gives details of the court.

“A Jew is the master-cook of the Emperor, his Imperial Highness always eats alone. The Sultan receives European merchants in a very friendly manner, whilst he keeps ambassadors at a respectful distance. An interview with an ambassador does not last more than ten minutes. The Sultan replies in a phraseology which has not been varied for three centuries. The title of the present vizier is not minister, but sahab, “friend” or “companion.” The Sultan has the soundest judgment of any man in his empire, and great tact in the administration of affairs. He instructs himself by continual questions.

“His passion is avarice, and he has converted the whole empire into a commercial firm for the accumulation of his gains. Muley Tsmael left a treasury of 100 millions of ducats, 11 and at the death of Sidi Mohammed, this treasury was reduced to two millions. The constant occupation of Muley Abd Errahmnan is to replenish the imperial treasury. Commerce, which was neglected by his predecessors, has all his attention. The cruelty of the former sultans is exchanged for the avarice of the present. The history of these Shereefian princes is a chain of unheard-of atrocities. The present sultan keeps not a single promise when his interests interfere.”

M. Rey gives us this flattering tableau as a social picture of Morocco.

Covetous governors are continually succeeding one another, they are ever eager of enjoying the advantages of their position; their thirst for plunder is so much the more intense, as they are not allowed time to satisfy it, so they prey on the people. The inhabitants of towns and of the country live in rags in miserable hovels. What raiment! what food! mortality is dreadful, the children are invalids, and the women, especially in the country, are condemned to do the work of beasts of burden; such is the picture of society.

I have quoted these few passages from the “Mémoire” of M. Rey, because he was resident many years in Tangier, and his account of the country discovers talent and intelligence, but is, of course, coloured with a strong anti-English feeling. Mr. Hay wrote on the back of his Mémoire, — “All that is said in reference to Great Britain is false and malicious.” M. Rey’s opinions of the Moors and the present governors are still more bitter and unjust.

I had an interview with El–Martel-Warabah, government auctioneer of slaves, from whom I obtained details respecting the slave-trade in Tangier and Morocco generally. There is no market for slaves in Tangier. The poor creatures are led about the town as cattle, particularly in the main street, before the doors of the principal merchants, where they are usually disposed of. No Jew or Christian is permitted to buy or hold a slave in this country. Government possess many slaves, and people hire them out by the day from the authorities. The ordinary price of a good slave is eighty dollars. Boys, at the age of nine or ten years, sell the best; female slaves do hot fetch so much as male slaves, unless of extraordinary beauty. Slaves are imported from all the south.

The Sultan levies no duty on the sale or import of slaves. When one runs away from his master, and takes refuge with another, the new master usually writes to the former, offering to buy him; thus slaves are often enticed away. They are sometimes allowed to abscond without their owners troubling themselves about them, their master’s being unable either to feed or sell them.

In cases of punishment for all serious offences, slaves are brought before the judicial authorities, and suffer the same punishment as free men. In cases not deemed grave, they are flogged, or otherwise privately punished by their masters. Slaves went to war with Abd-el-Kader, against the French. The Arabs of Algeria had formerly many slaves. The chief depôt of slaves is Morocco, the southern capital. Ten thousand have been imported during one year; but the average number brought into Morocco is, perhaps, not more than half that amount. The Maroquine Moors, before departing for any country under the British flag, usually give liberty to their slaves. On their return, however, they sell them again as slaves, or get rid of them some way or other. A slave once having tasted of liberty, can never again be fully reconciled to thraldom. Moors resident in Gibraltar, have frequently slaves with them. A few days ago, a slave-boy, resident in Gibraltar, wished to turn Christian, and was immediately sent back to Tangier, and sold to another master.

Europeans, with whom I have conversed in Tangier, assure me that slaves are generally well treated, and that cases of cruelty are rare. Nevertheless, they eagerly seek their freedom when an opportunity offers. In 1833, a man of great power and influence in the Gharb (province of Morocco), named El–Haj Mohammed Ben El–Arab, on a remonstrance of his slaves, who stated that the English had abolished slavery, and that they ought to have their liberty, called all his slaves together, to the number of seventy-two, and actually took the bold and generous resolution of liberating them. But, before releasing them from bondage, he lectured them upon the difficulty of finding subsistence in their new state of freedom, and then wrote out their Atkas of liberty. As might have been expected, some returned voluntarily to servitude, not being able to get a living, whilst the greater part obtained an honourable livelihood, enjoying the fruits of independent freedom. It is mentioned, as an instance of fidelity, that a negress is the gaoler of the women in Tangier. 12

At every Moorish feast of consequence (four of which are celebrated here in a year), the slaves of Tangier perambulate the streets with music and dancing, dressed in their holiday clothes, to beg alms from all classes of the population, particularly Europeans. The money collected is deposited in the hands of their chief; to this is added the savings of the whole year. In the spring, all is spent in a feast, which lasts seven days. The slaves carry green ears of wheat, barley, and fresh dates about the town. The Moorish women kiss the new corn or fruit, and give the slaves a trifle of money. A slave, when he is dissatisfied with his master, sometimes will ask him to be allowed to go about begging until he gets money enough to buy his freedom. The slave puts the âtka in his mouth (which piece of written paper when signed, assures his freedom), and goes about the town, crying, “Fedeeak Allah, (Ransom of God!)” All depends on his luck. He may be months, or even years, before he accumulates enough to purchase his ransom.

Tangier Moors pretend that the negroes of Timbuctoo sacrifice annually a white man, the victim being preserved and fed for the occasion. When the time of immolation arrives, the white man is adorned with fair flowers, and clothes of silk and many colours, and led out and sacrificed at a grand “fiesta.” Slaves and blacks in Morocco keep the same feast, with the difference, that not being able to get a man to sacrifice, they kill a bullock. Such a barbarous rite may possibly be practised in some part of Negroland, but certainly not at Timbuctoo. All these tales about Negro cannibals I am inclined to believe inventions. There never yet has been published a well authenticated case of negro cannibalism.

The grand cicerone for the English at Tangier, is Benoliel. He is a man of about sixty years of age, and initiated into the sublimest mysteries of the consular politics of the Shereefs. Ben is full of anecdotes of everybody and everything from the emperor on the Shreefian throne, down to the mad and ragged dervish in the streets. Our cicerone keeps a book, in which the names of all his English guests have been from time to time inscribed. His visitors have been principally officers from Gibraltar, who come here for a few days sporting. On the bombardment of Tangier, Ben left the country with other fugitives. The Moorish rabble plundered his house; and many valuables which were there concealed, pledged by persons belonging to Tangier, were carried away; Ben was therefore ruined. Some foolish people at Gibraltar told Ben, that the streets of London were paved with gold, or, at any rate, that, inasmuch as he (Ben) had in his time entertained so many Englishmen at his hospitable establishment at Tangier (for which, however, he was well paid), he would be sure to make his fortune by a visit to England. I afterwards met Ben accidentally in the streets of London, in great distress. Some friends of the Anti–Slavery Society subscribed a small sum for him, and sent him back to his family in Gibraltar. Poor Ben was astonished to find as much misery in the streets of our own metropolis, as in any town of Morocco. Regarding his co-religionists in England, Ben observed with bitterness, “The Jews there are no good; they are very blackguards.” He was disappointed at their want of liberality, as well as their want of sympathy for Morocco Jews. Ben thought he knew everything, and the ways of this wicked world, but this visit to England convinced him he must begin the world over again. Our cicerone is very shrewd; withal is blessed with a good share of common sense; is by no means bigoted against Mahometans or Christians, and is one of the more respectable of the Barbary Jews. His information on Morocco, is, however, so mixed up with the marvellous, that only a person well acquainted with North Africa can distinguish the probable from the improbable, or separate the wheat from the chaff. Ben has a large family, like most of the Maroquine Jews; but the great attraction of his family is a most beautiful daughter, with a complexion of jasmine, and locks of the raven; a perfect Rachel in loveliness, proving fully the assertion of Ali Bey, and all other travellers in Morocco, that the fairest women in this country are the Jewesses. Ben is the type of many a Barbary Jew, who, to considerable intelligence, and a few grains of what may be called fair English honesty, unites the ordinarily deteriorated character of men, and especially Jews, bora and brought up under oppressive governments. Ben would sell you to the Emperor for a moderate price; and so would the Jewish consular agents of Morocco. A traveller in this country must, therefore, never trust a Maroquine Jew in a matter of vital importance.

Mr. Drummond Hay, our Consul at Tangier, advised me to return to Gibraltar, and to go by sea to Mogador, and thence to Morocco, where the Emperor was then residing. Adopting his advice, I left the same evening for Gibraltar. I took my passage in a very fine cutter, which had formerly been a yacht, and had since been engaged as a smuggler of Spanish goods. I confess, I was not sorry to hear that the Spanish custom-house was often duped. The cutter had been purchased for the Gibraltar secret service.

The Anti–Slavery Society had placed at my disposal a few yards of green cloth, for a present to the minister of the Emperor. At the custom-house of Havre-de-Grace, I paid a heavy duty on it. But, when I got to Irun, on the Spanish frontier, (having determined to come through Spain in order to see the country), the custom-house officers demanded a duty nearly double the cost of the cloth in London, so that there was no alternative but to leave it in their possession. The only satisfaction, or revenge which I had, was that of calling them ladrones in the presence of a mob of people, who, to do justice to the Spanish populace, all took my part.

When I complained of this conduct at Madrid, my friends laughed at my simplicity, and told me I was “green” in Spanish; and in travelling through “the land of chivalry,” and of “ingeniósos hildágos,” ought, on the contrary, to thank God that I had arrived safe at Madrid with a dollar in my pocket; whilst they kindly hinted, if I should really get through the province of Andalusia safe to Cadiz, without being stripped of everything, I must record it in my journal as a miracle of good luck. This was, however, exaggeration. I had no reason to complain of anything else during the time I was in Spain. My fellow travellers (all Spaniards), nevertheless, rebuked me for want of tact. “You ought,” they said, “to have given a few pesetas to the guard of the diligencia, who would have taken charge of your cloth, and kept it from going through the custom-house.”

On reaching Gibraltar, I made the acquaintance of Frenerry, who for thirty years has been a merchant in Morocco. Mr. Frenerry had frequent opportunities of personal intercourse with Muley Abd Errahman, and had more influence with him than the British Consul. Indeed, at all times, a merchant is always more welcome to his Imperial Highness than a diplomatic agent, who usually is charged with some disagreeable mission. Mr. Frenerry was called, par excellence, “the merchant of the West.” Of course, Mr. Frenerry’s opinions must be valuable on Maroquine affairs. He says:— “The Morocco Moors like the English very much, and better than any other Europeans, for they know the English to be their best friends. At the same time, the Moors feel their weakness. They know also, that a day might come when the English would be against them, or have disputes with them, as in days past. The Moors are, therefore, jealous of the English, though they consider them their friends; and do not like Englishmen more than any other Christians to travel in their country. In other respects, if well managed and occasionally coaxed or bribed with a present, the Moors are very good natured, and as tractable as children.”

However, I find since the murder of Mr. Davidson, both the people and government of Morocco have got a bad name in Gibraltar; and opinion begins to prevail that it is almost impossible for an Englishman to travel in the country. Mr. Frenerry recommends that a Moor should be treated not proudly, but with a certain degree of firmness, to shew him you will not be trifled with. In this way, he says, you will always continue friends.

With regard to the present Emperor, Mr. Frenerry is a great apologist of his system.

“The Emperor is obliged to exclude foreigners as much as possible from his country. He does not want to tempt the cupidity of Europeans, by showing them the resources of the empire. They are prying about for mines of iron and silver. He is obliged to forbid these geological wanderings. The subjects of his empire are divided in their feelings and interests, and have been driven there by every wave of human revolutions. The Emperor does not wish to discover his weakness abroad, by letting Europeans witness the bad faith and disloyalty of his heterogeneous tribes. The European consuls are much to blame; they always carry their heads too high, if not insolently. They then appoint Jewish consuls along the coast, a class of men whom the hereditary prejudices of his Mussulman subjects will not respect.”

There is certainly something, if not a good deal, to be said for the emperor as well as against him. I was obliged to wait some time at Gibraltar before I could get a vessel for Mogador. I missed one excellent opportunity from the want of a note from the Gibraltar government. A Moor offered to allow me to take a passage without any expense in his vessel, provided I could obtain a note from our government; but the Governor of Gibraltar required an introduction in form, and, before I could receive a letter from Mr. Hay to present to him, the vessel left for Mogador. I therefore lost money and time without any necessity.

9 Although Sultana, i.e., “Sultanness or Princess,” is a frequent name for a woman in this country, I hare never heard of a man being called Sultan; and, indeed, I imagine the jealousy of the reigning sovereign would never permit the use of such a name. But even in this country, where women are treated as so many household chattels, Moorish gallantry is sufficient to overlook these trivial or serious pretensions.

10 “Souvenir d’un Voyage du Maroc,” par M. Rey, Paris.

11 The value of this ducat is about half-a-crown English money.

12 Count Qrabert gives the following account of Maroquine Blacks: “The Blacks who form a very numerous part of the population are most of them slaves, and as it is customary in barbarous countries, become an object of trade, though not to be compared with that carried on in other parts of Barbary. The Black is generally of a soft and kind disposition, bears fatigue with patience, and shows a serene and lively temper, totally different in that respect from the Moor, who is taciturn and sullen. Some of them have become men of prosperity and note, after having recovered their liberty. They are renowned for their fidelity, and form the most numerous part of the body-guards of the Sultan; that body-guard makes about the half of the army, which on an average compose a total of ten thousand men. The greater part of those Blacks comes from Senegambia, Guinea, and the dominions of the Fellah or Fellani.” (Specchio geografico e Statistico dell’ Impero di Marocco. Geneva.)

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33