Travels in Morocco, by James Richardson

Chapter 7

London Jew-boys. — Excursion to the Emperor’s garden, and the Argan Forests. — Another interview with the Governor of Mogador on the Anti–Slavery Address. — Opinion of the Moors on the Abolition of Slavery.

We have at times imported into Mogador a stray London Jew or so, of the lower lemon-selling sort. These lads from the Minories, are highly exasperated against the Moors for treating them with so much contempt. Indeed, a high-spirited London Jew-boy will not stop at Mogador, though the adult merchant will, to get money, for mankind often learn baseness with age, and pass to it through a golden door. One of these Jew-boys, being cursed by a man, naturally cursed him again, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Mr. Willshire did not think so; and, on the complaint of the Moor, the British Consul threw the British Jew-boy into a Moorish prison, where he remained for some days. This is one more instance of the disadvantage of having commercial consuls, where everything is sacrificed to keep on good terms with government authorities.

A fire happened the other night, breaking out in the house of one of the rich Jewish merchants; but it was soon extinguished, the houses being built chiefly of mortar and stone, with very little wood. The Governor got up, and went to the scene of “conflagration;” he cracked a few jokes with the people and went home to bed. The Moors were sorry the fire did not extend itself, wanting to have an opportunity of appropriating a few of the merchant’s goods.

I accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Elton, with other friends, to spend the day in the pleasant valley of the Saneeates–Sultan, (Garden of the Emperor) sometimes called Gharset-es-Sultan, three or four hours’ ride south from Mogador. The small river of Wad-el-Kesab, (overlooked by the village of Deeabat, where watch-dogs were barking apparently all day long as well as night), lay in our way, and was with difficulty forded, heavy rain having fallen up the country, though none on the coast. These Barbary streams are very deceptive, illustrating the metaphor of the book of Job, “deceitful as a brook.” To-day, their beds are perfectly dry; to-morrow, a sheet of turbid water dashing and foaming to the ocean, covers them and the country round, whilst the immediate cause is concealed. Abrupt and sudden overflowings occur in all rivers having their source in mountains. The book of Job may also refer to the disappointment of Saharan travellers, who, on arriving weary and thirsty, dying for water, at the stream of the Desert, find it dried up, and so perish.

The country in the valley of the Emperor’s garden offers nothing remarkable. Bushes of underwood covering sandy mounds, a few palmettos and Argan trees, in which wild doves fluttered and flew about, were all that broke the monotony of a perfect waste. There were no cultivated lands hereabouts, and I was told that a great part of Morocco presents this desolate aspect. We visited, however, the celebrated Argan tree, which the people pretend was planted by the lieutenant of the Prophet, the mighty Okba, who, having spurred his horse in the roaring rebellious surge of the Atlantic, wept and wailed before Heaven that there were no more nations in whose heart to plunge his awful scimitar — so teaching them the mercy of God! Alas! the old hoary tree, with a most peaceful patriarchal look, seemed to belie the honour, stretching out its broad sinewy arm to shelter a hundred people from the darting fires of an African sun. A more noble object of inanimate nature is not to be contemplated than a large and lofty branching tree; in its boughs and leaves, endlessly varying, matted together and intersecting each other, we see the palpable image of infinity. But in the dry and hot climate of Africa, this tree is a luxury which cannot be appreciated in Europe.

We sat under its fresh shade awhile, gazing with security at the bright fires of the sun, radiating over and through all visible nature. To check our enthusiasm, we had strewn at our feet old broken bottles and crockery, the débris and classic relics of former visitors, who were equally attentive to creature-comforts as to the grandeur of the Argan monarch of the surrounding forest.

The Emperor’s garden contains a well of water and a few fruit-trees, on the trunk of one of which, a fine fig-tree, were carved, in durable bark, the names of European visitors. Among the rest, that of a famous belle, whose gallant worshippers had cut her name over all its broad trunk, though they may have failed to cut their own on the plastic and india-rubber tablet of the fair one’s heart. This carving on the fig-tree is the sum of all that Europeans have done in Morocco during several ages. We rather adopt Moorish habits, and descend to their animal gratifications than inculcate our own, or the intellectual pleasures of Christian nations. European females brought up in this country, few excepted, adopt with gusto the lascivious dances of the Mooresses; and if this may be said of them, what may we not think of the male class, who frequently throw off all restraint in the indulgence of their passions?

While reposing under the umbrageous shade of the Argan tree, a Moor related to us wondrous sprite and elfin tales of the forests of of these wilds. At one period, the Argan woods were full of enchantresses, who prevented good Mussulmen from saying their prayers, by dancing before them in all their natural charms, to the sounds of melodious and voluptuous music; and if a poor son of the Prophet, perchance, passed this way at the stated times of prayer, he found it impossible to attend to his devotions, being pestered to death by these naughty houries.

On another occasion, when it was high summer and the sun burnt every leaf of the black Argan foliage to a yellow red, and whilst the arid earth opened her mouth in horrid gaps, crystal springs of water were seen to bubble forth from the bowels of the earth, and run in rills among parterres of roses and jessamines. The boughs of the Argan tree also suddenly changed into jereeds of the date-palm burdened with luscious fruit; but, on weary travellers descending to slake their parching thirst and refresh themselves, they fell headlong into the gaping holes of the ground, and disappeared in the abyss of the dark entrails of the world.

These Argan forests continued under the fearful ban of the enchantress and wicked jinns, until a holy man was brought from the farthest desert upon the back of a flying camel, who set free the spell-bound wood by tying on each bewitched tree a small piece of cork bark on which was inscribed the sacred name of the Deity. The legends of these haunted Argan forests remind us of the enchanted wood of Tasso, whose enchantment was dissolved by the gallant knight, Rinaldo, and which enabled the Crusaders to procure wood for the machines of war to assault and capture the Holy City. Two quotations will shew the universality and permanence of superstition, begotten of human hopes and fears. Such is the beautiful imagery devoted to superstitious musings, by the illustrious bard:—

“While, like the rest, the knight expects to hear
Loud peals of thunder breaking on his ear,
A dulcet symphony his sense invades,
Of nymphs, or dryads, warbling through the shades.
Soft sighs the breeze, soft purls the silver rill.
The feathered choir the woods with music fill;
The tuneful swan in dying notes complains;
The mourning nightingale repeats her strains,
Timbrels and harps and human voices join,
And in one concert all the sounds combine!”

Then for the streamlets and flowerets —

“Where’er he treads, the earth her tribute pours,
In gushing springs, or voluntary flowers.
Here blooms the lily; there the fragrant rose;
Here spouts a fountain; there a riv’let flows;
From every spray the liquid manna trills,
And honey from the softening bark distills.
Again the strange the pleasing sound he hears,
Of plaints and music mingling in his ears;
Yet naught appears that mortal voice can frame.
Nor harp, nor timbrel, whence the music came.”

I had another interview with the Governor on Anti–Slavery subjects. Mr. Treppass accompanied me, and assisted to interpret. His Excellency was very condescending, and even joked about his own slaves, asking me how much I would give him for them. He then continued:— “I am happy to see you before your departure. Whilst you have been here, I have heard nothing of your conduct but what was just and proper. You are a quiet and prudent man, 67 and I am sorry I could not assist you in your business (abolition). The Sultan will be glad that you and I have not quarrelled, but are friends.” I then asked His Excellency if a person were to come direct from our Government, with larger powers and presents, he would have a better chance of success. The Governor replied, “Not the least whatever. You have done all that could have been done. We look at the subject, not the persons. The Sultan will never listen to anybody on this subject. You may cut off his head, but cannot convince him. If all the Christians of the world were to come and take this country, then, of course, the Mussulmen would yield the question to superior force, to the decree of God, but not till then.”

Myself. — “How is it, Sidi, that the Bey of Tunis, and the Imaum of Muscat have entered into engagements with Christians for the suppression of slavery, they being Mussulmen?”

The Governor. — “I’ll tell you; we Mussulmen are as bad as you Christians. We are full of divisions and sects. Some of our people go to one mosque, and will not go to another. They are foolish (mahboul). So it is with the subject of slaves. Some are with you, but most are with me. The Bey of Tunis, and the Imaum have a different opinion from us. They think they are right, and we think we are right; but we are as good as they.”

Myself. — “Sidi, does not the Koran encourage the abolition of slavery, and command it as a duty to all pious Mussulmen?”

The Governor. — “No, it does not command it, but those who voluntarily liberate their slaves are therein commended, and have the blessing of God on them.” 68

Myself. — “Sidi, is it in my power to do anything for you in London?”

The Governor. — “Speak well of me, that is all. Tell your friends I did all I could for you.”

I may mention the opinions of the more respectable Moors, as to the mission. They said, “If you had managed your mission well, the Sultan would have received your Address; your Consul is slack; the French Consul is more active, because he is not the Sultan’s merchant. Our Sultan must receive every person, even a beggar, because God receives all. You would not have obtained the liberation of our slaves, but the Sultan would have promised you everything. All that emanates from the English people is good this we are certain of; but it would have been better had you come with letters from the Bey of Tunis, shewing what had been done in that country.” Mr. Treppass is also of the opinion, that a deputation of several persons, accompanied with some presents for the Emperor and his ministers, would have produced a better effect, by making an appearance of shew and authority, suitable to the ideas of the people. 69 If coming direct from Government, it would have greater weight.

He thinks, besides, there are a good number of Moors who are favourable to abolition. Of the connexion between the east and Morocco, he says, all the Barbary States look up to the Sultan of Constantinople as to a great authority, and during the last few years, an active correspondence, on religious matters, has been carried on between Morocco and Constantinople, chiefly through a celebrated doctor of the name of Yousef. If the Turkish Sultan, therefore, would bonâ-fide abolish the slave-markets, I have no doubt this would produce an impression in Morocco favourable to abolition.

During the time I was in Morocco, I distributed some Arabic tracts, translated from the English by Professor Lee of Cambridge, on the abolition of slavery. A few Arabic Bibles and Hebrew New Testaments were also placed at my disposal for circulation by the Societies. I also wrote an Anti-slavery circular to the British merchants of Mogador, on Lord Brougham’s Act.

67 It is true enough what the governor says about quietness, but the novelty of the mission turned the heads of the people, and made a great noise among them. The slave-dealers of Sous vowed vengeance against me, and threatened to “rip open my bowels” if I went down there.

68 The Sultan’s Minister, Ben Oris, addressing our government on the question says, “Whosoever sets any person free God will set his soul free from the fire,” (hell), quoting the Koran.

69 A person going to the Emperor without a present, is like a menace at court, for a present corresponds to our “good morning.”

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