The Land of Midian, by Richard F. Burton

Chapter XIV.

Down South — to El–Wijh–Notes on the Quarantine — the Hutaym Tribe.

There remained work to do before we could leave El–Muwaylah. The two Shaykhs, ‘Alayán and Hasan el-‘Ukbi, were to be paid off end dismissed with due ceremony; provisions were to be brought from the fort to the cove; useless implements to be placed in store; mules to be embarked — no joke without a pier! — and last, but not least, the ballastless Mukhbir was to be despatched with a mail for Suez. The whole Expedition, except only the sick left at the fort, was now bound southwards. The Sayyid and our friend Furayj accepted formal invitations to accompany us: Bukhayt, my “shadow,” with Husayn, chef and romancer-general, were shipped as their henchmen; and a score of soldiers and quarrymen represented the escort and the working-hands. Briefly, the Sinnár, though fretting her vitals out at the delay, was detained two days (March 19 — 20) in the Sharm Yáhárr. Amongst other things that consoled us for quitting the snug dock, was the total absence of fish. At this season the shoals leave the coast, and gather round their wonted spawning-grounds, the deep waters near the Sha’b (“reefs”), where they find luxuriant growths of seaweed, and where no ships disturb them.

Bidding a temporary adieu to our old fellow voyagers on board the Mukhbir, including the excellent engineer, Mr. David Duguid, we steamed out of the quiet cove, at a somewhat late hour (6.30 a.m.) on March 21st; and, dashing into the dark and slaty sea, stood to the south-east. For two days the equinoctial weather had been detestable, dark, cloudy, and so damp that the dry and the wet bulbs showed a difference of only 4°— 5°. This morning, too, the fire of colour had suddenly gone out; and the heavens were hung with a gloomy curtain. The great Shárr, looming unusually large and tall in the Scandinavian mountain-scene, grey of shadow and glancing with sun-gleams that rent the thick veils of mist-cloud, assumed a manner of Ossianic grandeur. After three hours and a half we were abreast of Zibá, around whose dumpy tower all the population had congregated. Thence the regular coralline bank, whose beach is the Bab, runs some distance down coast, allowing passage to our ugly old friend, Wady Salmá. The next important mouth is the Wady ‘Amúd, showing two Sambúks at anchor, and a long line of vegetation like the palm-strips of the ‘Akabah Gulf: this valley, I have said, receives the Mutadán, into which the Abú Marwah gorge discharges.188

It would appear that this “‘Amúd” represents the “Wady el-‘Aúníd,” a name utterly unknown to the modern Arabs, citizens and Bedawin, at least as far south as El–Haurá. Yet it is famed amongst mediaeval geographers for its fine haven with potable water; and for its flourishing city, where honey was especially abundant. El–Idrísí settles the question of its site by placing it on the coast opposite the island El–Na’mán (Nu’mán), but can El–Idrísí be trusted? Sprenger (p. 24), induced, it would appear, by similarity of sound, and justly observing that in Arabic the letters Ayn and Ghayn are often interchanged, would here place the [Greek] (Rhaunathi Vicus) of Ptolemy (north lat. 25 degrees 40’). According to my friend, also, the Ras Abú Masárib, the long thin point north of which the Wady Dámah, half-way to the Wady Azlam, falls in, represents the [Greek] (Chersónesi Extrema) on the same parallel. I cannot help suspecting that both lie further south — in fact, somewhere about El–Haurá.189

Here the maritime heights, known as the Jibál (“Mountains” of the) Tihámat-Balawiyyah (of “the Baliyy tribe”), recede from the sea, and become mere hills and hillocks; yet the continuity of the chain is never completely broken. At noon we slipped into the channel, about a mile and a half broad, which separates the mainland from the Jebel (“Mount”) Nu’mán, as the island is called: so the Arabs speak of Jebel (never Jezírat) Hassáni.190 The surface of the water was like oil after the cross seas on all sides, the tail of an old gale which the Arab pilots call Bahr madfún (“buried sea”), corresponding with the Italian mar vecchio. On our return northwards we landed upon Nu’mán, whose name derives from the red-flowered Euphorbia retusa; bathed, despite the school of sharks occupying the waters around; collected botany, and examined the ground carefully. Like the Dalmatian Archipelago, it once formed part of the mainland, probably separated by the process that raised the maritime range. The rolling sandy plateau and the dwarf Wadys are strewed with trap and quartz, neither of which could have been generated by the new sandstones and the yellow corallines. It has two fine bays, facing the shore and admirably defended from all winds; the southern not a little resembles Sináfir-cove.

The “top,” or dwarf plateau, commands a fine view of the coast scenery; the “Pins” of the Shárr; the Mutadán Mountain, twin ridges of grey white granite, and, further south, the darker forms of Raydán and Zigláb. Here, during springtide, the Huwaytát transport their flocks in the light craft called Katirah, and feed them till the pasture is browsed down. We made extensive inquiries, but could hear of no ruins. Yet the islet, some three to four miles long by one broad, forming a natural breakwater to the coast, is important enough to bear, according to Sprenger, a classical name, the [Greek] (Timagenis Insula) of Ptolemy. If this be the case, either the Pelusian or his manuscripts are greatly in error. He places the bank in north lat. 25° 45’, whilst its centre would be in north lat. 27° 5’; and the sixty miles of distance from the coast, evidently the blunder of a copyist, must be reduced to a maximum of three.

Passing another old friend, the Aslah–Aznab, down whose head we had ridden to Shaghab, about two p.m. we steamed along the mouth of the Wady Azlam, the Ezlam of Wellsted,191 which he unduly makes the southern frontier of the Huwaytát, and the northern of the Baliyy tribes. Beyond it is the gape of the once populous Wady Dukhán — of “the (furnace?) Smoke”— faced by a large splay of tree-grown sand. Ruins are reported in its upper bed. Beyond Marsá Zubaydah (not Zebaider), the sea is bordered by the red-yellow coast-range; and the fretted sky line of peaks and cones, “horses” and “hogs’-backs,” is cut by deep valleys and drained by dark “gates.” The background presents a long, regular curtain of black hill, whose white sheets and veins may be granite and quartz. We were then shown the Mínat el-Marrah, one of the many Wady-mouths grown with vegetation; and here the ruins El–Nabagah (Nabakah) are spoken of. At four p.m. we doubled the Ras Labayyiz (not Lebayhad), a long flat tongue projecting from the coast range, and defending its valley to the south. In the Fara’t or upper part, some five hours’ march from the mouth, lie important remains of the Mutakkadimín (“ancients”). The report was confirmed by an old Arab Básh-Buzúk at El–Wijh; he declared that in his youth he had seen a tall furnace, and a quantity of scoriæ from which copper could be extracted, lying northwards at a distance of eighteen hours’ march and five by sea.

The next important feature is the Wady Salbah, the Telbah of the Chart, up whose inland continuation, the Wady el-Nejd, we shall travel. Here the coast-range again veers off eastward; and the regular line is cut up into an outbreak of dwarf cones, mere thimbles. Above the gloomy range that bounds it southwards, appear the granitic peaks and “Pins” of Jebel Libn, gleaming white and pale in the livid half-light of a cloudy sunset. After twelve hours’ steaming over seventy to seventy-two knots of reefy sea, we ran carefully into the Sharm Dumayghah.192 This lake-like, land-locked cove is by far the best of the many good dock-harbours which break the Midian coast. Its snug retreat gave hospitality to half a dozen Juhayni Sambúks, fishers and divers for mother-of-pearl, riding beyond sight of the outer world, and utterly safe from the lighthouse dues of El–Wijh.

I resolved to pass a day at these old quarters of a certain Háji ‘Abdullah. The hydrographers have given enlarged plans of Yáhárr and Jibbah, ports close to each other; while they have ignored the far more deserving Sharm Dumayghah. Distant only thirty miles of coasting navigation, a line almost clear of reefs and shoals, it is the natural harbour for the pilgrim-ships, which ever run the danger of being wrecked at El–Wijh; and it deserves more notice than we have hitherto vouchsafed to it. The weather also greatly improved on the next day (March 22nd): the cloud-canopy, the excessive moisture, and the still sultriness which had afflicted us since March 19th, were in process of being swept away by the strong, cool, bright norther.

The survey of the Egyptian officers shows an oval extending from north-west to south-east, with four baylets or bulges in the northern shore. The length is upwards of a knot, and the breadth twelve hundred yards. It may be described as the embouchure of the Wady Dumayghah, which falls into its head, and which, doubtless, in olden times, when the land was wooded, used to roll a large and turbulent stream. As is often seen on this coast, the entrance is defended by a natural breakwater which appears like a dot upon the Chart. Capped with brown crust, falling bluff inland, and sloping towards the main, where the usual stone-heaps act as sea-marks, this bank of yellowish-white coralline, measuring 310 metres by half that width, may be the remains of the bed in which the torrents carved out the port. The northern inlet is a mere ford of green water: my “Pilgrimage” made the mistake of placing a fair-way passage on either side of the islet. The southern channel, twenty-five fathoms deep and three hundred metres broad, is garnished on both flanks with a hundred metres of dangerous shallow, easily distinguished by green blazoned upon blue. The bay is shoal to the south-east; the best anchorage for ships lies to the north-west, almost touching land. A reef or rock is reported to be in the middle ground, where we lay with ten fathoms under us: it was seen, they say, at night, by the aid of lanterns; but next morning Lieutenants Amir and Yusuf were unable to find it. Native craft usually make fast in three fathoms to a lumpy natural mole of modern sandstone, north of the entrance: a little trimming would convert it into a first-rate pier.

At this place we landed to prospect the country, and to gather information from the Sambúk crews before they had time to hoist sail and be off. The owners of the land are not Juhaynah, the “Wild Men” with whom the Rais of the Golden Wire had threatened us in 1853. The country belongs to the Baliyy; now an inoffensive tribe well subject to Egypt, mixed with a few Kura’án-Huwaytát and Karáizah-Hutaym. The fishermen complained that no fish was to be caught, and the strong tides, setting upon the stony flank of the mole, had broken most of the shells, not including, however, the oysters. The usual eight-ribbed turtle appeared to be common. On the sands to the north, M. Lacaze picked up a large old and bleached skull, which went into my collection; we failed to find any neighbouring burial-ground. Striking inland, however, towards the dotted square, marked “Fort (ruin)” in the Chart, we came upon an ancient cemetery to the north of the bay, and concluded that these graves had been mistaken for remains of building.

We then bent eastward towards the Jibál el-Salbah, and examined the two dwarf valleys which, threading the heights, feed the Wady Dumayghah. That to the south showed us a perfectly familiar formation; conglomerates of water-rolled pebbles in the lower levels, and hills of the normal dark porphyries, with large quartz-seams of many colours trending in every direction. The mouth of the northern gorge was blocked by a vein of finely crystallized carbonate of lime, containing geodes and bunches. The taste is astringent, probably from the alumina; and it is based upon outcrops of a sandy calcaire apparently fit for hydraulic cement. The only novelty in the vegetation was the Fashak-tree, a creeper like a gigantic constrictor, with sweet yellow wood somewhat resembling liquorice.

Signs of Arab everywhere appeared, but there were no tents. Consequently we were unable to ascertain the extent of the water-supply — an important matter if this is to become the port of El–Wijh. The Sambúks might bring it, but the people on shore would be dependent upon what they can find. The Hajj-road, running some miles inland, is doubtless supplied with it. Even, however, were the necessary wanting, the pilgrim-ships, whilst taking refuge here, could easily transport it from the south. Shaykh Furayj; pointed out to us the far northern blue peaks of the ‘Amúd Zafar, in whose branch-Wady lie the ruins of M’jirmah. The day ended with a sudden trembling of the ship, as if straining at anchor; but the crew was again performing fantasia, and the earthquake or sea-quake rolled unheededly away. Apparently the direction was from north to south: I noted the hour, 9.10 p.m., and the duration, twenty seconds. According to the Arabs the Zilzilah is not uncommon in Midian, especially about the vernal equinox: on this occasion it ended the spell of damp and muggy weather which began on March 19th, and which may have been connected with it.

The survey soundings were not finished till nearly eight a.m. (March 23rd), when the old corvette swung round on her heel; and, with the black hills of Salbah to port, resumed her rolling, rollicking way southwards. Her only ballast consisted of some six hundred conical shot, or twelve tons for a ship of eight hundred. After one hour of steaming (= seven miles) we passed the green mouth of the Wady ‘Antar, in whose Istabl (“stable”), or upper valley-course, the pilgrimage-caravan camps. It drains a small inland feature to the north-east, the true “Jebel ‘Antar,” which the Hydrographic Chart has confounded with the great block, applying, moreover, the term Istabl to the height instead of the hollow. This Jebel Libn, along which we are now steaming, is a counterpart on a small scale, a little brother, of the Shárr, measuring 3733 instead of 6000 to 6500 feet. We first see from the north a solid block capped with a mural crown of three peaks. When abreast of us the range becomes a tall, fissured, and perpendicular wall: this apical comb, bluff to the west, reposes upon a base sloping, at the angle of rest, to the environing sandy Wady. To complete the resemblance, even the queer “Pins” are not wanting; and I should expect to find in it all the accidents of the giant of El–Muwaylah.

The complexion of the Libn, which the people pronounce “Libin,” suggests grey granite profusely intersected with white quartz: hence, probably, the name, identical with Lebanon and Libanus —“the Milk Mountain.” The title covers a multitude of peaks: the Bedawin have, doubtless, their own terms for every head and every hollow. The citizens comprehensively divide the block into two, El-Áli (“the Upper”) being its southern, and El–Asfal (“the Lower”) its northern, section. It is said to abound in water; and a Nakhil (“date-grove”) is described as growing near the summit. The Hutaym, who own most of it, claim the lover and hero-poet, ‘Antar, as one of their despised tribe — hence, probably, his connection with the adjoining mountain and “the stable.”

“Jebel Libin” is the great feature of the Tihámat-Balawíyyah; for many days it will appear to follow us, and this is the proper place for assigning its rank and status to it. About El-‘Akabah, the northern head of the Gháts or coast-range, we have prospected the single chain of Jebel Shará’; the “Sa’ar of the tribes of the Shasu” (Bedawin)193 in the papyri, and the Hebrew Mount Seir, the “rough” or “rugged.” Further south we have noted how this tall eastern bulwark of the great Wady el-‘Arabah bifurcates; forming the Shafah chain to the east, and westward of it, in Madyan Proper, the Jibál el-Tihámah, of which the Shárr is perhaps the culmination. We have noted the accidents of the latter as far as Dumayghah Cove, and now we descry in the offing the misty forms — how small they look! — of the Jebel el-Ward; the Jibál el-Safhah; the two blocks, south of the Wady Hamz, known as the Jibál el-Rál; and their neighbours still included in the Tihámat-Balawíyyah. Lastly, we shall sight, behind El–Haurá, the Abú Ghurayr and a number of blocks which, like the former, are laid down, but are not named, in the Chart.

Beyond El–Haurá the chain stretches southwards its mighty links with smaller connections. The first is the bold range Jebel Radwah, the “Yambo Hills” of the British sailor, some six thousand feet high and lying twenty-five miles behind the new port.194 Passing it to left on the route to El–Medínah, I heard the fables which imposed upon Abyssinian Bruce: “All sorts of Arabian fruits grew to perfection on the summit of these hills; it is the paradise of the people of Yenbo, those of any substance having country-houses there.” This was hardly probable in Bruce’s day, and now it is impossible. The mountain is held by the Beni Harb, a most turbulent tribe, for which see my “Pilgrimage.”195 Their head Shaykh, Sa’d the Robber, who still flourished in 1853, is dead; but he has been succeeded by one of his sons, Shaykh Hudayfah, who is described with simple force as being a “dog more biting than his sire.” Between these ill-famed haunts of the Beni Harb and Jeddah rises the Jebel Subh, “a mountain remarkable for its magnitude” (4500 feet), inhabited by the Beni Subh, a fighting clan of the “Sons of Battle.”

The largest links of these West–Arabian Gháts are of white-grey granite, veined and striped with quartz; and they are subtended inland by the porphyritic traps of the Jibál el-Shafah, which we shall trace to the parallel of El–Hamz, the end of Egypt. I cannot, however, agree with Wellsted (II. xii.) that the ridges increase in height as they recede from the sea; nor that the veins of quartz run horizontally through the “dark granite.” The greater altitudes (three to six thousand feet) are visible from an offing of forty to seventy miles; and they are connected by minor heights: some of these, however, are considerable, and here and there they break into detached pyramids. All are maritime, now walling the shore, like the Tayyib Ism; then sheering away from it, where a broad “false coast” has been built by Time.

These western Gháts, then, run down, either in single or in double line, the whole length of occidental Arabia; and, meeting a similar and equally important eastern line, they form a mighty nucleus, the mountains of El–Yemen. After carefully inspecting, and making close inquiries concerning, a section of some five hundred miles, I cannot but think that the mines of precious ores, mentioned by the mediæval Arabian geographers,196 lay and lie in offsets from the flanks either of the maritime or the inland chain; that is, either in the Tihámah, the coast lowlands, or in the El–Nejd, the highland plateau of the interior.

What complicates the apparently simple ground is the long line of volcanic action which, forming the eastern frontier of the plutonic granites and of the modern grits, may put forth veins even to the shores of the ‘Akabah Gulf and the Red Sea.197 The length, known to me by inquiry, would be about three degrees between north lat. 28° and 25°, the latter being the parallel of El–Medínah; others make them extend to near Yambú’, in north lat. 24° 5’. They may stretch far to the north, and connect, as has been suggested, with the Syrian centres of eruption, discovered by the Palestine Exploration. I have already explained198 how and why we were unable to visit “the Harrah” lying east of the Hismá; but we repeatedly saw its outlines, and determined that the lay is from north-west to south-east. Further south, as will be noticed at El–Haurá, the vertebrae curve seawards or to the south-west; and seem to mingle with the main range, the mountains of the Tihámat-Jahaníyyah (“of the Juhaynah”). Thus the formation assumes an importance which has never yet been attributed to it; and the five several “Harrahs,” reported to me by the Bedawin, must be studied in connection with the mineralogical deposits of the chains in contact with them. It must not be forgotten that a fragment of porous basalt, picked up by the first Expedition near Makná, yielded a small button of gold.199

Dreadfully rolled the Sinnár, as she ran close inshore before the long heavy swell from the north-west, and the old saying, Bon rouleur, bon marcheur, is cold consolation to an active man made to idle malgré lui. This section of the coast, unlike that to the north, is remarkably free from reefs. A little relief was felt while sheltered by the short tract of channel between the mainland and the shoals. But the nuisance returned in force as, doubling the Ras Muraybit (not Marabat), we sighted the two towers of El–Wijh, both beflagged, the round Burj of the fort, and the cubical white-washed lighthouse crowning its rocky point. And we were quiet once more when the Sinnár, having covered the thirty miles in four hours and thirty minutes, cast anchor in the usual place, south-east of the northern jaw. The main objection to our berth is that the prevailing north wind drives in a rolling sea from the open west. The log showed a total of 102 miles between the Sharms Yáhárr and El–Wijh, or 107 from the latter to El–Muwaylah.

“El–Wijh,” meaning the face, a word which the Egyptian Fellah perverts to “Wish,” lies in north lat. 26° 14’. It is the northernmost of the townlets on the West Arabian shore, which gain importance as you go south; e.g., Yambá’, Jeddah, Mocha, and Aden. It was not wholly uncivilized during my first visit, a quarter of a century ago, when I succeeded in buying opium for feeble patients. Distant six stations from Yambá’, and ten from El–Medínah, it has been greatly altered and improved. The pilgrim-caravan, which here did penance of quarantine till the last two years, has given it a masonry pier for landing the unfortunates to encamp upon the southern or uninhabited side of the cove. A tall and well-built lighthouse, now five years old, boasts of a good French lantern, wanting only soap and decent oil. Finally, guardhouses and bakehouses, already falling to ruins like the mole, and an establishment for condensing water, still kept in working order, are the principal and costly novelties of the southern shore.

The site of El–Wijh is evidently old, although the ruins have been buried under modern buildings. Sprenger (p. 21) holds the townlet to be the port of “Egra, a village” (El–Hajar, or “the town, the townlet”?) “in the territory of Obodas,” whence, according to Strabo (xvi. c. 4, § 24), Ælius Gallus embarked his baffled troops for Myus Hormus.200 Formerly he believed El-Aúníd to be Strabo’s “Egra,” the haven for the north; as El–Haurá was for the south, and El–Wijh for the central regions. Pliny (vi. 32) also mentions the “Tamudæi, with their towns of Domata and Hegra, and the town of Badanatha.” It is generally remarked that “Egra” does not appear in Ptolemy’s lists; yet one of the best texts (Nobbe, Lipsia, 1843) reads [Greek] instead of the “Negran” which Pirckheymerus (Lugduni, MDXXXV.) and others placed in north lat. 26°.

My learned friend writes to me —“El–Wijh, on the coast of Arabia, is opposite to Qoçayr (El–Kusayr), where Ælius Gallus landed his troops. We know that ‘Egra’ is the name of a town in the interior, and it was the constant habit to call the port after the capital of the country, e.g., Arabia Emporium = Aden. We have now only to inquire whether El–Wijh had claims to be considered the seaport of El–Hijr.” This difficulty is easily settled. El–Wijh is still the main, indeed the only, harbour in South Midian; and, during our stay there, a large caravan brought goods, as will be seen, from the upper Wady Hamz.

Under the influence of the quarantine, El–Wijh, the town on the northern bank of its cove, has blossomed into a hauteville, dating from the last dozen years. The ancient basseville, probably the site of many former settlements, is now used chiefly for shops and stores. Another and a more pretentious mosque has supplanted the little old Záwiyah (“chapel”) with its barbarous minaret, whose finial, a series of inverted crescents, might be taken for a cross; while a Jámi’ or “cathedral,” begun in the upper town, has stopped short through want of funds. Some of the best houses now extend towards the northern point. As usual in Arab settlements, they are long, tall claret-cases of coral-rag and burnt lime; flat-roofed, whitewashed in front, and provided with wooden doors and shutters. Lastly, on the slope still appears the smoky coffee-shed that witnessed the memorable encounter between its surly proprietor and “Saad the Devil.”201

Stony ramps, stiff as those of Gibraltar, connect the low with the high town, the cool breezy new settlement upon the crest of the northern cliff, whose noble view of the Jebel Libn and the palm-scattered Wady el-Wijh were formerly monopolized by the fort and its round tower. This work, only sixty-five years old, now stands so perilously near the undermined edge of the rock-cornice, that some day it will come down with a run. It is used by the garrison, and serves as a jail; but lately a Bedawi prisoner, like a certain Mamlúk Bey, jumped down the precipitous cove-face and effected his escape. Behind it are the “Doctors’ Quarters,” empty and desolate, because the sanitary officers have been removed. They are sheds of white-washed boarding, brought from the Crimea, like those of the Suez Canal; and comfortably distributed into Harem, kitchens, offices, and other necessaries.

The inhabitants of El–Wijh may number twelve hundred, without including chance travellers and the few wretched Bedawin, Hutaym and others, who pitch their black tents, like those of Alexandrian “Ramleh,” about and beyond the town. The people live well; and the merchants are large and portly men, who evidently thrive upon meat and rice. Flesh is retailed in the bazar, and mutton is cheap, especially when the Bedawin are near; a fine large sheep being dear at ten shillings. Water is exceptionally abundant, even without the condenser’s aid. The poorer classes and animals are watered at the pits and the two regular wells near the valley’s mouth, half an hour’s trudge from the town. The wealthy are supplied by the inland fort, which we shall presently visit: the distance going and coming would be about four slow hours, and the skinful costs five Khurdah, or copper piastres = three halfpence. The inner gardens grow a small quantity of green meat: water-melons are brought from Yambá(?): opium and Hashísh abound, but no spirits are for sale since the one Greek Bakkál, or petty shopkeeper, “made tracks.” He borrowed from a certain Surúr Selámah, negro merchant and head miser, 150 napoleons, in order to buy on commission certain bales of cotton shipwrecked up coast; he left in pledge the keys of his miserable store, which, by-the-by, la loi refuses to open; he was never seen again, and poor rich Surur is in the depths of despair.

One of the small industries of El–Wijh is the pearl trade. Mr. Clarke bought for £4 (twenty dollars) a specimen of good round form but rather yellow colour; and presently refused £5 for it. Those of pear-shape easily fetch thirty-six to forty dollars. Turquoises set in sealing-wax are sold cheap by the returning Persian pilgrims: the Zib el-Bahr (“Sea-wolf”), an Egyptian cruiser, had carried off the best shortly before our arrival. The people speak of an ‘Akík (“carnelian”) which, rubbed down in vinegar, enters into the composition of a favourite philtre — we could not, however, find any for sale. On our return, an ‘Anezah caravan of some ninety camels, driven by a hundred or so of spearmen and matchlockmen, came in loaded with valuable Samn or clarified butter: the fact suggests that the time has come for establishing a Gumruk (“custom-house”) at El–Wijh. Another source of wealth will be El–Melláhah, “the salina,” along which we shall travel: every man who has a donkey may carry off what he pleases, and sell to pilgrims and Bedawin the kilogramme for four piastres copper (= one piastre currency = five farthings). This again should be taken in hand by Government; and regular “salterns,” like those of Triestine Capodistria, would greatly increase the quantity. Nothing can be better than the quality except rock-salt. There is another salina about one hour down the coast, formed by a reef, near the Ras el-Ma’llah.

The afternoon of arrival was spent in receiving visits. The Muháfiz or “civil governor,” Hasan Bey, calls himself a Circassian: he is a handsome old man, whose straight features suggest the Greek slave, and who served in the Syrian campaigns under Ibrahim Pasha. Forty years ago he left his home; he has been here six years, and yet he knows absolutely nothing of the interior. He ought to reside at the inland fort, but he prefers the harbour-town; and he had not the common-sense to ride out with us. He shows his zeal by inventing obstacles; for instance, he suggests that the Bedawin should leave, during our journey, hostages at the fort: this is wholly unnecessary, and means only piastres. The Yuzbáshi, or “military commandant,” Sid–Ahmed Effendi, has charge of the forty-five regulars, half a company, who garrison the post and outpost. The chief merchant, who afterwards volunteered to be our travelling companion, is Mohammed Shahádah, formerly Wakil (“agent”) of the fort, a charge now abolished by a pound-foolish policy: he is an honest and intelligent, a charitable and companionable man, who has travelled far and wide over the interior, and who knows the tribes by heart. I strongly recommended him to his Highness the Viceroy. His brothers, Bedawi and Ali Shahádah, are also open-handed to the poor; very unlike their brother-inlaw Surúr Selámah, formerly a slave to the father of Mohammed Selámah whom we had met at Zibá. The list of notables ends with the Sayyid Ibrahim El–Mara’í and with the sturdy Abd el-Hakk, pearl and general merchant. All recognized our friend the Sayyid, whom even the “gutter-boys” saluted by name; and, although the Arab manner is blunt and independent, all showed perfect civility. It is needless to say that our late work, and our future plans, were known to everybody at El–Wijh as well as to ourselves; and that the tariffs of pay and hire, established in the North Country, at once became the norm of the South.

Our favourite walk at old “Egra” was to the quarantine-ground and the lighthouse. The situation of the town is by no means satisfactory, and the heavy dews of April, wetting the streets, cause frequent fevers. En revanche, nothing can be more healthy or exhilarating than the air of the tall plateau to the south of the cove. The quarantine-ground, with its grand view of the mountains inland, ends seawards in the Pharos that commands an horizon of blue water. The latter, according to the charts, is one hundred and six feet above sea-level, and is theoretically visible for fourteen miles; practice would reduce this radius to ten, and the least haze to six and even five.

The lighthouse-charges are strongly objected to by the skippers of Arab fishing-boats, although very small in their case. Square-rigged vessels pay per ton twenty parahs (tariff): thus it costs a ship of five hundred tons £2 10s. (Turkish). The keeper. under Admiral M’Killop (Pasha), a young Greek named “Gurjí,” as “George” here sounds, is assisted by a Moslem lad, Mohammed Effendi of Alexandria. They serve for three years, and they look forward to the end of them. The former also superintends the condensing establishment: this office is a sinecure, except during the three months of pilgrim-passage. The machine can distil eighteen tons per diem; and there is another water-magazine, an old paddle-wheeler moored to the beach under the town. Behind the establishment lies the pilgrim-cemetery. frequented by hyenas that prowl around the lighthouse, threatening the canine guard. I found a new use for this vermin’s brain: it is administered by the fair ones at El–Wijh to jealous husbands, upon whom, they tell me, it acts as a sedative.

El–Wijh has been heard of in England as the prophylactic against the infected Hejaz. It is admirably suited for quarantine purposes, and it has been abolished, very unwisely, in favour of “Tor harbour.” The latter, inhabited by a ring of thievish Syro–Greek traders; backed by a wretched wilderness, alternately swampy and sandy, is comfortless to an extent calculated to make the healthiest lose health. Moreover, its climate, says Professor Palmer (p. 222), is very malarious: “owing to the low and marshy nature of the ground, there is a great deal of miasma even in the winter season.” Finally, and worst of all, it is near enough to Suez for infection to travel easily. A wealthy pilgrim has only to pay a few gold pieces, his escape to the mountains is winked at; and thence he travels or voyages comfortably to Suez and Cairo. Even without such irregularities, the transmission of contaminated clothing, or other articles, would suffice to spread cholera, typhus, and smallpox. Tor is, in fact, an excellent medium for focussing and for propagating contagious disease; and its vicinity to Egypt, and consequently to Europe, suggests that it should at once be abolished.

At first I lent ear to the popular statement at El–Wijh; namely, that the visiting doctors and the resident sanitary officers naturally prefer the shorter to the longer voyage, and the nearer station to that further from home. Moreover, inasmuch as, if inclined to be dishonest, they find more opportunities in the north, it was their interest to transfer the establishment to Tor. The local authorities, the people assured me, were induced to report that the single fort-well had run dry; that the condensers had proved a failure, and that the old steamer-magazine, into which they had poured brine, was leaky and inefficient. But what was my astonishment when, after return to Cairo, I was told that the change had been strongly advocated by the English Government?

The objections to El–Wijh are two, both equally invalid. The port is dangerous, especially when westerly winds are blowing: ships during the pilgrimage-season must bank their fires, ever ready to run out. True; but it has been shown that Sharm Dumayghah, the best of its kind, lies only thirty knots to the north. The second, want of water, or of good water, is even less cogent. We have seen that the seaboard wells supply the poorer classes and animals; and we shall presently see the Fort-wells, which, in their day, have watered caravans containing twenty to thirty thousand thirsty men and beasts. So far from the condensers being a failure, the tank still holds about twenty tons of distilled water, although it gives drink to some thirty mouths composing the establishment. Finally, the old steamer has done its duty well, and, like the proverbial Marine, is still ready to do its duty again.202

Thus the expense of laying out the quarantine-ground at El–Wijh has been pitifully wasted. That, however, is a very small matter; the neglect of choosing a proper position is serious, even ominous. Unlike Tor, nothing can be healthier or freer from fever than the pilgrims’ plateau. From El–Wijh, too, escape is hopeless: the richest would not give a piastre to levant; because, if a solitary traveller left the caravan, a Bedawi bullet would soon prevail on him to stop. This, then, should be the first long halt for the “compromised” travelling northwards. When contagious disease has completely disappeared, the second precautionary delay might be either at Tor or, better still, at the “Wells of Moses” (‘Uyun Músá), near the head of the Suez Gulf: here sanitary conditions are far more favourable; and here supplies, including medical comforts, would be cheaper as well as more abundant. Briefly, it is my conviction that, under present circumstances, “Tor” is a standing danger, not only to Egypt, but to universal Europe.

The coast about El–Wijh is famed for shells; the numerous reefs and shoals favouring the development of the molluscs. We were promised a heavy haul by the citizens, who, however, contented themselves with picking up the washed-out specimens found everywhere on the shore: unfortunately we had no time to superintend the work. A caseful was submitted to the British Museum, and a few proved interesting on account of their locality. The list printed at the end of this chapter was kindly supplied to me by Mr. Edgar A. Smith, superintendent of the Conchological Department.

I will conclude this chapter with a short notice the Hutaym or Hitaym, a people extremely interesting to me. They are known to travellers only as a low caste. Wellsted (II. xii.) tells us that the “Huteimi,” whom he would make the descendants of the Ichthyophagi described by Diodorus Siculus and other classics, are noticed by several Arabian authorities. “In one, the Kitab el-Mush Serif203 (Musharrif?), they are styled ‘Hooteïn,’ the descendants of ‘Hooter,’ a servant of Moses.” He also relates a legend that the Apostle of Allah pronounced them polluted, because they ate the flesh of dogs. Others declare that they opposed Mohammed when he was rebuilding the Ka’bah; and thereby drew upon themselves the curse that they should be held the “basest of the Arabs.” These tales serve to prove one fact, the antiquity of the race.

The Hutaym, meaning the “Broken” (tribe), hold, in Midian and Egypt, the position of Pariahs, like the Akhdám “serviles”, or Helots, of Maskat and El–Yemen. No clan of pure Arabs will intermarry with them; and when the Fellahs say, Tatahattim (=tatamaskin or tatazalli), they mean, “Thou cringest, thou makest thyself contemptible as a Hutaymi.” Moreover, they must pay the dishonouring Akháwat, or “brother-tax,” to all the Bedawin amongst whom they settle.

The Hutaym are scattered as they are numerous. They have extended, probably in ancient times, to Upper Egypt, and occupy parts of Nubia; about Sawákin they are an important clan. They number few in the Sinaitic Peninsula and in Midian, but they occupy the very heart of the Arabian Peninsula. Those settled on Jebel Libn, we have seen, claim as their kinsman the legendary ‘Antar, who was probably a negro of the noble Semitic stock. A few are camped about El–Wijh; and they become more important down coast. In the eastern regions bordering upon Midian, they form large and powerful bodies, such as the Nawámisah and the Sharárát, whose numbers and bravery secure for them the respect of their fighting equestrian neighbours, the Ruwalá-‘Anezah.

Like other Arabs, the Hutaym tribe is divided into a multitude of clans, septs, and families, each under its own Shaykh. All are Moslems, after the Desert pattern, a very rude and inchoate article. Wellsted knew them by their remarkably broad chins: the Bedawi recognize them by their look; by their peculiar accent, and by the use of certain peculiar words, as Harr! when donkey-driving. The men are unwashed and filthy; the women walk abroad unveiled, and never refuse themselves, I am told, to the higher blood.

The Arabs of Midian always compare the Hutaym with the Ghagar (Ghajar) or Gypsies of Egypt; and this is the point which gives the outcasts a passing interest. I have not yet had an opportunity of carefully studying the race; nor can I say whether it shows any traces of skill in metal-working. Meanwhile, we must inquire whether these Helots, now so dispersed, are not old immigrants of Indian descent, who have lost their Aryan language, like the Egyptian Ghajar. In that case they would represent the descendants of the wandering tribes who worked the most ancient ateliers. Perhaps they may prove to be congeners of the men of the Bronze Age, and of the earliest waves of Gypsy-immigration into Europe.


A list of the shells collected by the second Khedivial Expedition on the shore of Midian and the Gulf of ‘Akabah, by Edgar A. Smith, Esq., British Museum.

I. Gastropoda.

1. Conus textile, Linné.
2. Conus sumatrensis, Hwass.
3. Conus catus var., Hwass.
4. Conus larenatus, Hwass.
5. Conus hebræus, Linné.
6. Conus ividus(?), Hwass.
6a. Conus ceylanensis, Hwass.
7. Terebra maculata, Linné.
8. Terebra dimidiata, Linné.
9. Terebra consobrina, Deshayes.
10. Terebra (Impages) cærulescens, Lamarck.
11. Pleurotoma cingulifera, Lamarck.
11a. Murex tribulus, Linn.
12. Murex (Chicoreus) inflatus, Lamarck.
13. Cassidulus paradisiacus, Reeve.
14. Nassa coronata, Lamarck.
15. Nassa pulla, Linné.
16. Engina (Pusiostoma) mendicaria, Lamarck.
17. Cantharus (Tritonidea) sp. juv.
18. Purpura hippocastanum, Lamarck.
19. Sistrum arachnoides, Lamarck.
20. Sistrum fiscellum, Chemnitz.
21. Sistrum tuberculatum, Blainville.
22. Harpa solida, A. Adams.
23. Fasciolaria trapezium, Lamarck.
24. Turbinella cornigera, Lamarck.
25. Dolium (Malea) pomum, Linné.
26. Triton maculosus, Reeve.
27. Triton aquatilis, Reeve.
28. Triton (Persona) anus, Lamarck.
29. Natica (Polinices) mamilla, Linné.
30. Natica albula(?), Récluz.
31. Natica (Mamilla) melanostoma, Lamarck.
32. Solarium perspectivum, Linné.
33. Cypræa arabica, Linné.
34. Cypræa pantherina, Linné.
35. Cypræa camelopardalis, Perry.
36. Cypræa carneola, Linné.
37. Cypræa scurra, Chemnitz.
38. Cypræa erosa, Linné.
39. Cypræa tabescens(?), Solander.
40. Cypræa caurica, Linné.
41. Cypræa talpa, Linné.
41B. Cypraea lynx, Linné.
42. Cerithium tuberosum, Fabricius.
43. Turritella torulosa(?), Kiener.
44. Strombus tricornis, Lamarck.
45. Strombus gibberulus, Linné.
46. Strombus floridus, Lamarck.
47. Strombus fasciatus, Born.
48. Pterocera truncatum, Lamarck.
49. Planaxis breviculus, Deshayes.
50. Nerita marmorata, Reeve.
51. Nerita quadricolor, Gmelin.
52. Nerita rumphii Récluz.
53. Turbo petholatus, Linné.
54. Turbo chrysostoma var.(?), Linné.
55. Trochus (Pyramis) dentatus, Forskâl.
56. Trochus (Cardinalia) virgatus, Gmelin.
57. Trochus (Polydonta) sanguinolentus, Chemnitz.
58. Trochus (Clanculus) pharaonis, Linné.
59. Trochus (Monodonta) sp.
60. Patella variabilis(?), Krauss.
61. Chiton sp.
62. Bulla ampulla, Linné.

II. Conchifera

63. Dione florida, Lamarck.
64. Dione sp.
65. Tellina staurella, Lamarck.
66. Paphia glabrata, Gmelin.
67. Chama Ruppellii, Reeve.
68. Arca (Barbatia) sp.
68a. Arca (Senilia) sp.
69. Cardium leucostoma, Born.
70. Venericardia Cumingii, Deshayes.
71. Modiola auriculata, Krauss.
72. Pectunculus lividus, Reeve.
73. Pectunculus pectenoides, Deshayes.
74. Avicula margaritifera, Linné.
75. Tridacna gigas, Linné.

188 Chap. XII.

189 Chap XV.

190 Chap. XV.

191 Vol. ii. Chap. X. I have also quoted him in “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” Chap. VI.

192 My “Pilgrimage” (Vol. I. Chap. XI.) called it “Sherm Damghah”: it is the “Demerah” of Moresby and the “Demeg” of ‘Ali Bey el-‘Abbási (the unfortunate Spaniard Badia).

193 See “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” Chap. VII.

194 The old being the classical [Greek] (Iambia Vicus), in north lat. 24°. This is Yambú’ el-Nakhil, in Ptolemy’s time a seaport, now fifteen miles to the north-east (north lat. 24° 12’ 3”?) of the modern town. The latter lies in north lat. 24° 5’ 30” (Wellsted, ii. II), and, according to the Arabs, six hours’ march from the sea.

195 Vol. I. pp. 364, 365.

196 “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” Chap. IX.

197 Chap. VI. describes one of the sporadic (?) outcrops near Tayyib Ism; and Chap. IX notices the apparently volcanic sulphur-mount near El–Muwaylah.

198 See Chap. IX.

199 “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” Chap. XII.

200 See “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” Chap. VIII.

201 “Pilgrimage,” Vol. I. Chap. XI.

202 In “The Gold Mines of Midian” (Chap. IV.) I unconsciously re-echoed the voice of the vulgar about “the harbour being bad and the water worse” at El–Wijh.

203 This style of writing reminds me of the inch allah (Inshallah!) in the pages of a learned “war correspondent”— a race whose naive ignorance and whose rare self-sufficiency so completely perverted public opinion during the Russo–Turkish war of 1877–78.

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