Basrah, Asiatic Turkey, Jan. 1, 1890.
A shamal or N.W. wind following on the sirocco which had accompanied us up “the Gulf” was lashing the shallow waters of the roadstead into reddish yeast as we let go the anchor opposite the sea front of Bushire, the most important seaport in Persia. The Persian man-of-war Persepolis, officered by Germans, H.M. ship Sphinx, two big steamers owned in London, a British-built three-masted clipper, owned and navigated by Arabs, and a few Arab native vessels tugged at their anchors between two and three miles from the shore. Native buggalows clustered and bumped round the trading vessels, hanging on with difficulty, or thumped and smashed through the short waves, close on the wind, easily handled and sailing magnificently, while the Residency steam-launch, puffing and toiling, was scarcely holding her own against a heavy head sea.
Bushire, though it has a number of two-storied houses and a population of 15,000, has a most insignificant appearance, and lies so low that from the Assyria’s deck it gave the impression of being below the sea-level. The shamal was raising a sand storm in the desert beyond; the sand was drifting over it in yellow clouds, the mountains which at a greater or less distance give a wild sublimity to the eastern shores of the Gulf were blotted out, and a blurred and windy shore harmonised with a blurred and windy sea.
The steam-launch, which after several baffled attempts succeeded in reaching the steamer’s side, brought letters of welcome from Colonel Ross, who for eighteen years has filled the office of British Resident in the Persian Gulf with so much ability, judgment, and tact as to have earned the respect and cordial esteem of Persians, Arabs, the mixed races, and Europeans alike. Of his kindness and hospitality there is no occasion to write, for every stranger who visits the Gulf has large experience of both.
The little launch, though going shorewards with the wind, was tossed about like a cork, shipping deluges of spray, and it was so cold and generally tumultuous, that it was a relief to exchange the shallow, wind-lashed waters of the roadstead for the shelter of a projecting sea-wall below the governor’s house. A curricle, with two fiery little Arab horses, took us over the low windy stretch of road which lies behind Bushire, through a part of the town and round again to the sea-shore, on which long yellow surges were breaking thunderously in drifts of creamy foam. The Residency, a large Persian house, with that sort of semi-fortified look which the larger Eastern houses are apt to have, is built round courtyards, and has a fine entrance, which was lined with well-set-up men of a Bombay marine battalion. As is usual in Persia and Turkey, the reception rooms, living rooms, and guest rooms are upstairs, opening on balconies, the lower part being occupied by the servants and as domestic offices. Good fires were a welcome adjunct to the genial hospitality of Colonel Ross and his family, for the mercury, which for the previous week had ranged from 84° to 93°, since the sunrise of that day had dropped to 45°, and the cold, damp wind suggested an English February. Even the Residency, thick as its walls are, was invaded by sea sand, and penetrated by the howlings and shriekings of the shamal and the low hiss at intervals of wind-blown spray.
This miserable roadstead does a large trade,2 though every bale and chest destined for the cities of the interior must be packed on mules’ backs for carriage over the horrible and perilous kotals or rock ladders of the intervening mountain ranges. The chief caravan route in Persia starts from Bushire viâ Shiraz, Isfahan, Kashan, and Kûm, to Tihran. A loaded mule takes from thirty to thirty-five days to Isfahan, and from Isfahan to Tihran from twelve to sixteen days, according to the state of the roads.
Bushire does not differ in appearance from an ordinary eastern town. Irregular and uncleanly alleys, dead mud walls, with here and there a low doorway, bazars in which the requirements of caravans are largely considered, and in which most of the manufactured goods are English, a great variety in male attire, some small mosques, a marked predominance of the Arab physiognomy and costume, and ceaseless strings of asses bringing skins of water from wells a mile from the town, are my impressions of the first Persian city that I have ever seen. The Persian element, however, except in officialism and the style of building, is not strong, the population being chiefly composed of “Gulf Arabs.” There are nearly fifty European residents, including the telegraph staff and the representatives of firms doing a very large business with England, the Persian Gulf Trading Company, Messrs. Hotz and Company, Messrs. Gray, Paul, and Company, and the British India Steam Navigation Company, which has enormously developed the trade of the Gulf.
Bushire is the great starting-point of travellers from India who desire “to go home through Persia” by Shiraz and Persepolis. Charvadars (muleteers) and the necessary outfit are obtainable, but even the kindness of the Resident fails to overcome the standing difficulty of obtaining a Persian servant who is both capable and trustworthy. Having been forewarned by him not to trust to Bushire for this indispensable article, I had brought from India a Persian of good antecedents and character, who, desiring to return to his own country, was willing to act as my interpreter, courier, and sole attendant. Grave doubts of his ability to act in the two latter capacities occurred to me before I left Karachi, grew graver on the voyage, and were quite confirmed as we tossed about in the Residency launch, where the “young Persian gentleman,” as he styled himself, sat bolt upright with a despairing countenance, dressed in a tall hat, a beautifully made European suit, faultless tan boots, and snowy collar and cuffs, a man of truly refined feeling and manners, but hopelessly out of place. I pictured him helpless among the déshabillé and roughnesses of a camp, and anticipated my insurmountable reluctance to ask of him menial service, and was glad to find that the same doubts had occurred to himself.
I lost no time in interviewing Hadji — a Gulf Arab, who has served various travellers, has been ten times to Mecca, went to Windsor with the horses presented to the Queen by the Sultan of Muscat, speaks more or less of six languages, knows English fairly, has some recommendations, and professes that he is “up to” all the requirements of camp life. The next morning I engaged him as “man of all work,” and though a big, wild-looking Arab in a rough abba and a big turban, with a long knife and a revolver in his girdle, scarcely looks like a lady’s servant, I hope he may suit me, though with these antecedents he is more likely to be a scamp than a treasure.
The continuance of the shamal prevented the steamer from unloading in the exposed roadstead, and knocked the launch about as we rejoined her. We called at the telegraph station at Fao, and brought off Dr. Bruce, the head of the Church Missionary Society’s Mission at Julfa, whose long and intimate acquaintance with the country and people will make him a great acquisition on the Tigris.
“About sixty miles above the bar outside the Shat-el-Arab” (the united Tigris and Euphrates), “forty miles above the entrance to that estuary at Fao, and twenty miles below the Turkish port of Basrah, the present main exit of the Karun river flows into the Shat-el-Arab from the north-east by an artificial channel, whose etymology testifies to its origin, the Haffar” (dug-out) “canal. When this canal was cut, no one knows. . . . Where it flows into the Shat-el-Arab it is about a quarter of a mile in width, with a depth of from twenty to thirty feet.
“The town of Mohammerah is situated a little more than a mile up the canal on its right bank, and is a filthy place, with about 2000 inhabitants, and consists mainly of mud huts and hovels, backed by a superb fringe of date palms.”3 In the rose flush of a winter morning we steamed slowly past this diplomatically famous confluence of the Haffar and Shat-el-Arab, at the angle of which the Persians have lately built a quay, a governor’s house, and a large warehouse, in expectation of a trade which shows few signs of development.
A winter morning it was indeed, splendid and invigorating after the ferocious heat of the Gulf. To-day there has been frost!
The Shat-el-Arab is a noble river or estuary. From both its Persian and Turkish shores, however, mountains have disappeared, and dark forests of date palms intersected by canals fringe its margin heavily, and extend to some distance inland. The tide is strong, and such native boats as belems, buggalows, and dug-outs, loaded with natives and goods, add a cheerful element of busy life.
We anchored near Basrah, below the foreign settlement, and had the ignominy of being placed for twenty-four hours in quarantine, flying the degrading yellow flag. Basrah has just been grievously ravaged by the cholera, which has not only carried off three hundred of the native population daily for some time, but the British Vice–Consul and his children. Cholera still exists in Turkey while it is extinct in Bombay, and the imposition of quarantine on a ship with a “clean bill of health” seems devised for no other purpose than to extract fees, to annoy, and to produce a harassing impression of Turkish officialism.
After this detention we steamed up to the anchorage, which is in front of a few large bungalows which lie between the belt of palms and the river, and form the European settlement of Margil. A fever-haunted swamp, with no outlet but the river; canals exposing at low water deep, impassable, and malodorous slime separating the bungalows; a climate which is damp, hot, malarious, and prostrating except for a few weeks in winter, and a total absence of all the resources and amenities of civilisation, make Basrah one of the least desirable places to which Europeans are exiled by the exigencies of commerce. It is scarcely necessary to say that the few residents exercise unbounded hospitality, which is the most grateful memory which the stranger retains of the brief halt by the “River of Arabia.”
This is the dead season in the “city of dates.” An unused river steamer, a large English trader, two Turkish ships-of-war painted white, the Mejidieh, one of two English-owned steamers which are allowed to ply on the Tigris, and the Assyria of the B.I.S.N. Co., constitute the fleet at anchor. As at Bushire, all cargo must be loaded and unloaded by boats, and crowds of native craft hanging on to the trading vessels give a little but not much vivacity.
October, after the ingathering of the date harvest, is the busiest month here. The magnitude of the date industry may be gathered from the fact that in 1890, 60,000 tons of dates were exported from Basrah, 20,000 in boxes, and the remainder in palm-leaf mats, one vessel taking 1800 tons. The quantity of wood imported for the boxes was 7000 tons in cut lengths, with iron hooping, nails, and oiled paper for inside wrapping, brought chiefly from England.
A hundred trees can be grown on an acre of ground. The mature tree gives a profit of 4s., making the profit on an acre £20 annually. The Governor of Mohammerah has lately planted 30,000 trees, and date palms to the number of 60,000 have been recently planted on Persian soil.
It is said that there are 160 varieties of dates, but only a few are known to commerce. These great sombre date forests or “date gardens,” which no sunshine can enliven, are of course artificial, and depend upon irrigation. The palms are propagated by means of suckers taken from the female date. The young trees begin to bear when they are about five years old, reach maturity at nine, and may be prolific for two centuries. Mohammed said wisely, “Honour the palm, it is your paternal aunt.” One soon learns here that it not only provides the people with nutritious food, but with building materials, as well as with fuel, carpets, ropes, and mats. But it is the least beautiful of the palms, and the dark monotonous masses along the river contrast with my memories of the graceful coco palm fringing the coral islands of the Pacific.
I left the Assyria with regret. The captain and officers had done all that intelligence and kindness could do to make the voyage an agreeable one, and were altogether successful. On shore a hospitable reception, a good fire, and New Year’s Day come together appropriately. The sky is clear and cloudless, and the air keen. The bungalows belonging to the European firms are dwelling-houses above and offices below, and are surrounded by packing-yards and sheds for goods. In line with them are the Consulates.
The ancient commercial glories of Basrah are too well known to need recapitulation. Circumstances are doing much to give it something of renewed importance. The modern Basrah, a town which has risen from a state of decay till it has an estimated population of 25,000, is on the right bank of the river, at some distance up a picturesque palm-fringed canal. Founded by Omar soon after the death of Mohammed, and tossed like a shuttlecock between Turk and Persian, it is now definitely Turkish, and the great southern outlet of Chaldæa and Mesopotamia, as well as the port at which the goods passing to and from Baghdad “break bulk.” A population more thoroughly polyglot could scarcely be found, Turks, Arabs, Sabeans, Syrians, Greeks, Hindus, Armenians, Frenchmen, Wahabees, Britons, Jews, Persians, Italians, and Africans, and there are even more creeds than races.
S.S. Mejidieh, River Tigris, Jan. 4.— Leaving Basrah at 4 P.M. on Tuesday we have been stemming the strong flood of the Tigris for three bright winter days, in which to sit by a red-hot stove and sleep under a pile of blankets have been real luxuries after the torrid heat of the “Gulf.” The party on board consists of Dr. Bruce, Mr. Hammond, who has been for some months pushing British trade at Shuster, the Assistant Quartermaster–General for India, a French-speaking Jewish merchant, the Hon. G. Curzon, M.P., and Mr. Swabadi, a Hungarian gentleman in the employment of the Tigris and Euphrates Steam Navigation Company, a very scholarly man, who in the course of a long residence in Southern Turkey has acquainted himself intimately with the country and its peoples, and is ever ready to place his own stores of information at our disposal. Mr. Curzon has been “prospecting” the Karun river, and came on board from the Shushan, a small stern-wheel steamer with a carrying capacity of 30 tons, a draught when empty of 18 inches, and when laden of from 24 to 36. She belongs to the Messrs. Lynch Brothers, of the Tigris and Euphrates S.N. Co. They run her once a fortnight at a considerable loss between Mohammerah and Ahwaz. Her isolated position and diminutive size are a curious commentary on the flourish of trumpets and blether of exultation with which the English newspapers announced the very poor concession of leave to run steamers on the Karun between the Shat-el-Arab and Ahwaz.
[Since this letter was written, things have taken rather a singular turn, and the development of trade on the Karun has partly fallen into the hands of a trading corporation of Persians, the Nasiri Company. By them, and under their representative partner, Haja Mahomad, a man of great energy, the formidable rapids at Ahwaz are being circumvented by the construction of a tramway 2400 yards long, which is proceeding steadily. A merchants’ caravanserai has already been built on the river bank at the lower landing-place and commencement of the tramway, and a bakery, butchery, and carpentry, along with a café and a grocery and general goods stores, have already been opened by men brought to Ahwaz by H. Mahomad.
A river face wall, where native craft are to lie, is being constructed of hewn stone blocks and sections of circular pillars, remains of the ancient city.
The Nasiri Company has a small steamer, the Nasiri, plying on the lower Karun, chiefly as a tug, taking up two Arab boats of twenty-seven tons each, lashed alongside of her. On her transference at the spring floods of this year to the river above Ahwaz, the Karun, a steam launch of about sixty tons, belonging to the Governor of Mohammerah, takes her place below, and a second steamer belonging to the same company is now running on the lower stream. Poles from Zanzibar have been distributed for a telegraph line from Mohammerah to Ahwaz. The Messrs. Lynch have placed a fine river steamer of 300 tons on the route; but this enterprising firm, and English capitalists generally, are being partially “cut out” by the singular “go” of this Persian company, which not only appears to have strong support from Government quarters, but has gained the cooperation of the well-known and wealthy Sheikh Mizal, whose personal influence in Arabistan is very great, and who has hitherto been an obstacle to the opening of trade on the Karun.
A great change for the better has taken place in the circumstances of the population, and villages, attracted by trade, are springing up, which the Nasiri Company is doing its best to encourage. The land-tax is very light, and the cultivators are receiving every encouragement. Much wheat was exported last year, and there is a brisk demand for river lands on leases of sixty years for the cultivation of cotton, cereals, sugar-cane, and date palms.
Persian soldiers all have their donkeys, and at Ahwaz a brisk and amusing competition is going on between the soldiers of a fine regiment stationed there and the Arabs for the transport of goods past the rapids, and for the conveyance of tramway and building materials. This competition is enabling goods to pass the rapids cheaply and expeditiously.
One interesting feature connected with these works is the rapidly increased well-being of the Arabs. In less than a year labour at 1 kran (8d.) a day has put quite a number of them in possession of a pair of donkeys and a plough, and seed-corn wherewith to cultivate Government lands on their own account, besides leaving a small balance in hand on which to live without having to borrow on the coming crop at frightfully usurious rates.
Until now the sheikhs have been able to command labour for little more than the poorest food; and now many of the very poor who depended on them have started as small farmers, and things are rapidly changing.
The careful observer, from whose report on Persia to the Foreign Office, No. 207, I have transferred the foregoing facts, wrote in January 1891: “It was a sight to see the whole Arab population on the river banks hard at work taking advantage of the copious rain which had just fallen; every available animal fit for draught was yoked to the plough — horses, mules, bullocks, and donkeys, and even mares, with their foals following them up the furrows.”
This, which is practically a Persian opening of the trade of the Karun, is not what was expected, however much it was to be desired. After a journey of nine months through Persia, I am strongly of opinion that if the Empire is to have a solid and permanent resurrection, it must be through the enterprise of Persians, aided it may be by foreign skill and capital, though the less of the latter that is employed the more hopefully I should regard the Persian future. The Nasiri Company and the Messrs. Lynch may possibly unite, and the New Road Company may join with them in making a regular transport service by river and road to Tihran, by which England may pour her manufactured goods even into Northern Persia, as this route would compete successfully both with the Baghdad and Trebizond routes.
Already, owing to the improved circumstances of the people, the import of English and Indian cotton goods and of sugar has increased; the latter, which is French, from its low price, only 2½d. a pound in the Gulf, pushing its way as far north as Sultanabad. Unfortunately the shadow of Russia hangs over the future of Persia.]
At present two English and four Turkish boats run on the Tigris. They are necessarily of light draught, as the river is shallow at certain seasons and is full of shifting sand-banks. The Mejidieh is a comfortable boat, with a superabundance of excellent food. Her saloon, state-rooms, and engines are on the main deck, which is open fore and aft, and has above it a fine hurricane deck, on the fore part of which the deck passengers, a motley crowd, encamp. She is fully loaded with British goods.
The first object of passing interest was Kornah, reputed among the Arabs to be the site of the Garden of Eden, a tongue of land at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates. The “Garden of Eden” contains a village, and bright fires burned in front of the mat-and-mud houses. Women in red and white, and turbaned men in brown, flitted across the firelight; there was a mass of vegetation, chiefly palms with a number of native vessels moored to their stems, and a leaning minaret. A frosty moonlight glorified the broad, turbid waters, Kornah and the Euphrates were left in shadow, and we turned up the glittering waterway of the Tigris. The night was too keenly frosty for any dreams of Paradise, even in this classic Chaldæa, and under a sky blazing down to the level horizon with the countless stars which were not to outnumber the children of “Faithful Abraham.”
Four hours after leaving Kornah we passed the reputed tomb of Ezra the prophet. At a distance and in the moonlight it looked handsome. There is a buttressed river wall, and above it some long flat-roofed buildings, the centre one surmounted by a tiled dome. The Tigris is so fierce and rapid, and swallows its alluvial banks so greedily, that it is probable that some of the buildings described by the Hebrew traveller Benjamin of Tudela as existing in the twelfth century were long since carried away. The tomb is held in great veneration not only by Jews and Moslems but also by Oriental Christians. It is a great place of Jewish pilgrimage, and is so venerated by the Arabs that it needs no guard.4
Hadji brought my breakfast, or as he called it, “the grub,” the next morning, and I contemplated the Son of Abraham with some astonishment. He had discarded his turban and abba, and looked a regular uncivilised desert Ishmaelite, with knives and rosaries in his belt, and his head muffled in a kiffiyeh, a yellow silk shawl striped with red, with one point and tassels half a yard long hanging down his back, and fastened round his head by three coils of camel’s-hair rope. A loose coat with a gay girdle, “breeks” of some kind, loose boots turned up at the toes and reaching to the knees, and a striped under-garment showing here and there, completed his costume.
The view from the hurricane deck, though there are no striking varieties, is too novel to be monotonous. The level plains of Chaldæa, only a few feet higher than the Tigris, stretch away to the distant horizon, unbroken until today, when low hills, white with the first snows of winter, are softly painted on a pure blue sky, very far away. The plains are buff and brown, with an occasional splash, near villages as buff and brown as the soil out of which they rise, of the dark-green of date gardens, or the vivid green of winter wheat. With the exception of these gardens, which are rarely seen, the vast expanse is unbroken by a tree. A few miserable shrubs there are, the mimosa agrestis or St. John’s bread, and a scrubby tamarisk, while liquorice, wormwood, capers, and some alkaline plants which camels love, are recognisable even in their withered condition.
There are a few villages of low mud hovels enclosed by square mud walls, and hamlets of mat huts, the mats being made of woven sedges and flags, strengthened by palm fronds, but oftener by the tall, tough stems of growing reeds bent into arches, and woven together by the long leaves of aquatic plants, chiefly rushes. The hovels, so ingeniously constructed, are shared indiscriminately by the Arabs and their animals, and crowds of women and children emerged from them as we passed. Each village has its arrangement for raising water from the river.
Boats under sail, usually a fleet at a time, hurry downstream, owing more to the strong current than to the breeze, or are hauled up laboriously against both by their Arab crews.
The more distant plain is sparsely sprinkled with clusters of brown tents, long and low, and is dotted over with flocks of large brown sheep, shepherded by Arabs in kiffiyehs, each shepherd armed with a long gun slung over his shoulder. Herds of cattle and strings of camels move slowly over the brown plain, and companies of men on horseback, with long guns and lances, gallop up to the river bank, throw their fiery horses on their haunches, and after a moment of gratified curiosity wheel round and gallop back to the desert from which they came. Occasionally a stretch of arable land is being ploughed up by small buffaloes with most primitive ploughs, but the plains are pastoral chiefly, tents and flocks are their chief features — features which have changed little since the great Sheikh Abraham, whose descendants now people them, left his “kindred” in the not distant Ur of the Chaldees, and started on the long march to Canaan.
Reedy marshes, alive with water-fowl, arable lands, bare buff plains, brown tents, brown flocks, mat huts, mud and brick villages, groups of women and children, flights of armed horsemen, alternate rapidly — the unchanging features are the posts and wires of the telegraph.
The Tigris in parts is wonderfully tortuous, and at one great bend, “The Devil’s Elbow,” a man on foot can walk the distance in less than an hour which takes the steamer four hours to accomplish. The current is very strong, and the slow progress is rendered slower at this season of low water by the frequent occurrence of sand-banks, of which one is usually made aware by a jolt, a grinding sound, a cessation of motion, some turns astern, and then full speed ahead, which often overcomes the obstacle. Some hours’ delay and the floats of one paddle-wheel injured were the most serious disasters brought about; and in spite of the shallows at this season, the Tigris is a noble river, and the voyage is truly fascinating. Not that there are many remarkable objects, but the desert atmosphere and the desert freedom are in themselves delightful, the dust and débris are the dust and débris of mighty empires, and there are countless associations with the earliest past of which we have any records.
Aimarah, a rising Turkish town of about 7000 people, built at a point where the river turns at a sharp angle to the left, is interesting as showing what commerce can create even here, in less than twenty years. A caravan route into Persia was opened and Aimarah does a somewhat busy trade. Flat-faced brick buildings, with projecting lattice windows, run a good way along the left bank of the river, which is so steep and irregular that the crowd which thronged it when the steamer made fast was shown to great advantage — Osmanlis, Greeks, Persians, Sabeans, Jews of great height and superb physique, known by much-tasselled turbans, and a predominating Arab element.
We walked down the long, broad, covered bazar, with a broken water channel in the middle, where there were crowds, solely of men, meat, game, bread, fruit, grain, lentils, horse-shoes, pack saddles, Manchester cottons, money-changers, silversmiths, and scribes, and heard the roar of business, and the thin shouts of boys unaccustomed to the sight of European women. The crowds pressed and followed, picking at my clothes, and singing snatches of songs which were not complimentary. It had not occurred to me that I was violating rigid custom in appearing in a hat and gauze veil rather than in a chadar and face cloth, but the mistake was made unpleasantly apparent. In Moslem towns women go about in companies and never walk with men.
We visited an enclosed square, where there are barracks for zaptiehs (gendarmes), the Kadi’s court, and the prison, which consists of an open grating like that of a menagerie, a covered space behind, and dark cells or dens opening upon it, all better than the hovels of the peasantry. There were a number of prisoners well clothed, and apparently well fed, to whom we were an obvious diversion, but the guards gesticulated, shouted, and brandished their side-arms, making us at last understand that our presence in front of the grating was forbidden. After seeing a large barrack yard, and walking, still pursued by a crowd, round the forlorn outskirts of Aimarah, which include a Sabean village, we visited the gold and silversmiths’ shops where the Sabeans were working at their craft, of which in this region they have nearly a monopoly, not only settling temporarily in the towns, but visiting the Arab encampments on the plains, where they are always welcome as the makers and repairers of the ornaments with which the women are loaded. These craftsmen and others of the race whom I have seen differ greatly from the Arabs in appearance, being white rather than brown, very white, i.e. very pale, with jet-black hair; large, gentle, intelligent eyes; small, straight noses, and small, well-formed mouths. The handsome faces of these “Christians of St. John” are very pleasing in their expression, and there was a dainty cleanliness about their persons and white clothing significant of those frequent ablutions of both which are so remarkable a part of their religion. The children at Aimarah, and generally in the riparian villages, wear very handsome chased, convex silver links, each as large as the top of a breakfast cup, to fasten their girdles.
The reedy marshes, the haunts of pelicans and pigs, are left behind at Aimarah, and tamarisk scrub and liquorice appear on the banks. At Kut-alAimarah, a small military post and an Arab town of sun-dried bricks on the verge of a high bank above the Tigris, we landed again, and ragamuffin boys pressed very much upon us, and ragamuffin zaptiehs,5 grotesquely dressed in clothes of different European nationalities, pelted them with stones. To take up stones and throw them at unwelcome visitors is a frequent way of getting rid of them in the less civilised parts of the East.
A zaptieh station, barracks, with a large and badly-kept parade ground, a covered bazar well supplied, houses with blank walls, large cafés with broad matted benches, asafoetida, crowds of men of superb physique, picturesque Arabs on high-bred horses, and a total invisibility of women, were the salient features of Kut-alAimarah. Big-masted, high-stemmed boats, the broad, turbid Tigris with a great expanse of yellowish sand on its farther shore, reeds “shaken with the wind,” and a windy sky, heavily overcast, made up the view from the bank. There were seen for the first time by the new-comers the most venerable boats in the world, for they were old even when Herodotus mentions them —kufas or gophers, very deep round baskets covered with bitumen, with incurved tops, and worked by one man with a paddle. These remarkable tubs are used for the conveyance of passengers, goods, and even animals.
Before leaving we visited the Arab Khan or Sheikh in his house. He received us in an upper room of difficult access, carpeted with very handsome rugs, and with a divan similarly covered, but the walls of brown mud were not even plastered. His manner was dignified and courteous, and his expression remarkably shrewd. A number of men sitting on the floor represented by their haughty aspect and magnificent physique the royalty of the Ishmaelite descent from Abraham. This Khan said that his tribe could put 3000 fighting men into the field, but it was obvious that its independence is broken, and that these tribal warriors are reckoned as Osmanli irregulars or Bashi Bazouks. The Khan remarked that “the English do not make good friends, for,” he added, “they back out when difficulties arise.”
On board the steamer the condition of the Arabs is much discussed, and the old residents describe it as steadily growing worse under the oppression and corruption of the Osmanli officials, who appear to be doing their best to efface these fine riparian tribes by merciless exactions coming upon the top of taxation so heavy as to render agriculture unprofitable, the impositions actually driving thousands of them to seek a living in the cities and to the Persian shores of the Gulf, where they exchange a life of hereditary freedom for a precarious and often scanty subsistence among unpropitious surroundings. Still, the Arab of the desert is not conquered by the Turks.
2 According to the returns for 1889, the British tonnage entering the Bushire roadstead was 111,745 out of 118,570 tons, and the imports from British territory amounted to a value of £744,018 out of £790,832. The exports from Bushire in the same year amounted to £535,076, that of opium being largely on the increase. Among other things exported are pistachio nuts, gum, almonds, madder, wool, and cotton. Regarding gum, the wars in the Soudan have affected the supply of it, and Persia is reaping the benefit, large quantities now being collected from certain shrubs, especially from the wild almond, which abounds at high altitudes. The drawback is that firewood and charcoal are becoming consequently dearer and scarcer. The gum exported in 1889 was 7472 cwts., as against 14,918 in 1888, but the value was more than the same.
The imports into Bushire, as comparing 1889 with 1888, have increased by £244,186, and the exports by £147,862. The value of the export of opium, chiefly to China, was £231,521, as against £148,523 in 1888.
3 “The Karun River,” Hon. G. Curzon, M.P., Proceedings of R.G.S., September 1890.
4 Sir A. H. Layard describes the interior of the domed building as consisting of two chambers, the outer one empty, and the inner one containing the Prophet’s tomb, built of bricks covered with white stucco, and enclosed in a wooden case or ark, over which is thrown a large blue cloth, fringed with yellow tassels, the name of the donor being inscribed in Hebrew characters upon it. — Layard’s Early Adventures, vol. i. p. 214.
5 A year later in Kurdistan, the zaptiehs, all time-expired soldiers and well set up soldierly men, wore neat, serviceable, dark blue braided uniforms, and high riding-boots.
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