Departure from Gibraltar to Mogador. — The Straits. — Genoese Sailors. — Trade-wind Hurricanes en the Atlantic Coast of Morocco. — Difficulties of entering the Port of Mogador. — Bad provisioning of Foreign Merchantmen. — The present Representative of the once far-famed and dreaded Rovers. — Disembarkation at Mogador. — Mr. Phillips, Captain of the Port — Rumours amongst the People about my Mission. — Visit to the Cemeteries. — Maroquine Wreckers. — Health of the inhabitants of Mogador. — Moorish Cavaliers “playing at powder” composed of the ancient Nuraidians. — The Barb. — The Life Guards of the Moorish Emperor. — Martial character of the Negro. — Some account of the Black Corps of the Shereefs. — Orthodoxy of the Shereefs, and illustrative anecdotes of the various Emperors.
On leaving the Straits (commonly called “The Gut,”) a noble sight presented itself — a fleet of some hundred merchantmen, all smacking about before the rising wind, crowding every sail, lest it should change ere they got clear of the obstructive straits. Many weeks had they been detained by the westerly gales, and our vessel amongst the rest. I felt the poignant misery of “waiting for the wind.” I know nothing so wearisome when all things are made ready. It is worse than hope deferred, which sickens and saddens the heart.
I have lately seen some newspaper reports, that government is preparing a couple of steam-tugs, to be placed at the mouth of the straits, to tow ships in and out. We may trust it will be done. But if government do it not, I am sure it would answer the purpose of a private company, and I have no doubt such speculation will soon be taken up. Vessels freighted with perishable cargoes are often obliged to wait weeks, nay months, at the mouth of the Straits, to the great injury of commerce. In our days of steam and rapid communication, this cannot be tolerated. 13
After a voyage of four days, we found ourselves off the coast of Mogador. The wind had been pretty good, but we had suffered some delay from a south wind, which headed us for a short time. We prayed for a westerly breeze, of which we soon got enough from west and north-west. The first twelve hours it came gently on, but gradually increased till it blew a gale. The captain was suddenly called up in the night, as though the ship was going to sink, or could sink, whilst she was running as fast as we would let her before the wind. But the real danger lay in missing the coast of Mogador, or not being able to get within its port from the violence of the breakers near the shore. Our vessel was a small Genoese brig; and, though the Genoese are the best sailors in the Mediterranean — even superior to the Greeks, who rank next — our captain and his crew began to quake. At daylight, the coast-line loomed before us, immersed in fog, and two hours after, the tall minaret of the great mosque of Mogador, shooting erect, a dull lofty pyramid, stood over the thick haze lying on the lower part of the coast.
This phenomenon of the higher objects and mountains being visible over a dense fog on the shore, is frequent on this side of the Atlantic. Wind also prevails here. It scarcely ever rains, but wind the people have nine months out of the twelve. It is a species of trade-wind, which commences at the Straits, or the coasts of Spain and Portugal, and sweeps down north-west with fury, making the entire coast of Morocco a mountain-barrier of breakers, increasing in its course, and extending as far as Wadnoun, Cape Bajdor, Cape Blanco, even to the Senegal. It does not, however, extend far out at sea, being chiefly confined to the coast range. Our alarm now was lest we should get within the clutches of this fell swoop, for the port once past, it would have required us weeks to bear up again, whilst this wind lasted.
The Atlantic coast of Morocco is an indented or waving line, and there are only two or three ports deserving the name of harbours — harbours of refuge from these storms. Unlike the western coast of Ireland, so finely indented by the Atlantic wave, this portion of the Morocco coast is rounded off by the ocean.
Our excitement was great. The capitano began yelping like a cowardly school-boy, who has been well punched by a lesser and more courageous antagonist. Immediately I got on deck, I produced an English book, which mentioned the port of Mogador as a “good” port.
“Per Dio Santo!” exclaimed our capitano; “yes, for the English it is a good port — you dare devils at sea — for them it is a good port. The open sea, with a gale of wind, is a good port for the maladetti English.”
Irritated at this extreme politeness to our gallant tars, who have so long “braved the battle and the breeze,” I did not trouble farther the dauntless Genoese, who certainly was not destined to become a Columbus. Now the men began to snivel and yelp, following the example of their commander. “We won’t go into the port, Santa Virgine! We won’t go in to be shivered to pieces on the rocks.” At this moment our experienced capitano fancied we had got into shoal-water; the surf was seen running in foaming circles, as if in a whirlpool. Now, indeed, our capitano did yelp; now did the crew yelp, invoking all the saints of the Roman calendar, instead of attending to the ship. 14 Here was a scene of indescribable confusion. Our ship was suddenly put round and back.
My fellow passengers, a couple of Jews from Gibraltar, began swearing at the capitano and his brave men. One of them, whilst cursing, thought it just as well, at the same time, to call upon Father Abraham. Our little brig pitched her bows two or three times under water like a storm-bird, and did not ground. It was seen to be a false alarm. The capitano now took courage on seeing all the flags flying over the fortifications, it being Friday, the Mahometan Sabbath. The silly fellow had heard, that the port authorities always hauled down their colours, when the entrance to the harbour was unsafe by reason of bad weather. Seeing the colours, he imagined all was right.
There are two entrances to the port of Mogador; one from the south, which is quite open; the other from the north-west, which is only a narrow passage, with scarcely room to admit a ship-of-the-line. The ‘Suffren,’ in which the Prince de Joinville commanded the bombardment of the town, stood right over this entrance, on the northern channel, having south-east the Isle of Mogador, and north-west the coast of the Continent. The Prince took up a bold and critical position, exposed to violent currents, to grounding on a rocky bottom, and to many other serious accidents. 15
As we neared this difficult entrance, we were all in a state of the most feverish excitement, expecting, such was the fury of the breakers, to be thrown on the rock on either side. Thus, it was a veritable Scylla and Charybdis. A man from the rigging descried several small vessels moored snugly behind the isle. We ventured in with breathless agitation. A man from one of the fortifications, guessing or seeing, I suppose, our timidity and bad seamenship, cried out at the top of his lungs, “Salvo!” which being interpreted, meant, “The entrance is safe.”
But this was not enough; we were to have another trial of patience. The foolish captain — to terrify us to the last — had to cast his anchor, as a matter of course; and imagine, dear reader, our alarm, our terror, when we heard him scream out, “The chain is snapped!” We were now to be driven out southwards by the fury of the wind, which had become a hurricane, no very agreeable prospect! Happily, also this was a false alarm. The capitano then came up to me, to shake hands, apologize, and present congratulations on our safe harbouring. The perspiration of fever and a heated brain was coursing down his cheeks. The capitano lit an extra candle before the picture of the Virgin below, and observed to me, whilst the men were saying their prayers of gratitude for deliverance, “Per un miraculo della santissima Vergina; noi sciamo salvati!” — (we are saved by a miracle of the Most Holy Virgin!) which, of course, I did not or could not dispute, allowing, as I do, all men in such circumstances, to indulge freely in their peculiar faith, so long as it does not interfere with me or mine.
It is well that our merchant-vessels have never been reduced to the condition of Genoese craft, or been manned by such chicken-hearted crews. I believe the pusillanimity of the latter is traceable, in a great measure, to the miserable way in which the poor fellows are fed. These Genoese had no meat whilst I was with them. I sailed once in a Neapolitan vessel, a whole month, during which time the crew lived on horse-beans, coarse maccaroni, Sardinian fish, mouldy biscuit, and griping black wine. Meat they had none. How is it possible for men thus fed, to fight and wrestle with the billows and terrors of the deep?
We had no ordinary task to get on shore; the ocean was without, but a sea was within port. The wind increased with such fury, that we abandoned for the day the idea of landing. We had, however, specie on board, which it was necessary forthwith to land. Mr. Philips, captain of the port, and a merchant’s clerk, therefore, came alongside with great difficulty in a Moorish boat, to take on shore the specie; and in it I embarked. This said barque was the miserable but apt representation of the by-gone formidable Maroquine navy, which, not many centuries ago, pushed its audacity to such lengths, that the “rovers of Salee” cruised off the English coast, and defied the British fleets. Now the whole naval force of the once-dreaded piratic states of Barbary can hardly boast of two or three badly-manned brigs or frigates. As to Morocco, the Emperor has not a single captain who can conduct a vessel from Mogador to Gibraltar.
The most skilful rais his ports can furnish made an attempt lately, and was blown up and down for months on the coasts of Spain and Portugal, being at last driven into the Straits by almost miraculous interposition.
What was this Moorish boat in which I went on shore? A mere long shell of bad planks, and scarcely more ship-shape than the trunk of a tree hollowed into a canoe, leakily put together. It was filled with dirty, ragged, half-naked sailors, whose seamanship did not extend beyond coming and going from vessels lying in this little port. Each of these Mogadorian port sailors had a bit of straight pole for an oar; the way in which they rowed was equally characteristic. Struggling against wind and current with their Moorish rais at the helm, encouraging their labours by crying out first one thing, then another, as his fancy dictated, the crew repeated in chorus all he said:— “Khobsah!” (a loaf) cried the rais.
All the men echoed “Khobsah.”
“A loaf you shall have when you return!” cried the rais.
“A loaf we shall have when we return!” cried the men.
“Pull, pull; God hears and sees you!” cried the rais.
“We pull, we pull; God hears and sees us!” cried the men.
“Sweetmeats, sweetmeats, by G—; sweetmeats by G— you shall have, only pull away!” swore the rais.
“Sweetmeats we shall have, thank God! sweetmeats we shall have, thank God!” roared the men, all screaming and bawling. In this unique style, after struggling three hours to get three miles over the port, we landed, all of us completely exhausted and drowned in spray.
It is usual for Moors, particularly negroes, to sing certain choruses, and thus encourage one another in their work. What, however, is remarkable, these choruses are mostly on sacred subjects, being frequently the formula of their confession, “There is no God, but one God, and Mahomet is his Prophet,” &c. These clownish tars were deeply coloured, and some quite black. I found, in fact, the greatest part of the Moorish population of Mogador coloured persons. We may here easily trace the origin of the epithet “Black-a-Moor,” and we are not so surprised that Shakspeare made his Moor black; indeed, the present Emperor, Muley Abd Errahman, is of very dark complexion, though his features are not at all of the negro cast. But he has sons quite black, and with negro features, who, of course, are the children of negresses. One of these, is Governor of Rabat. In no country is the colour of the human skin so little thought of. This is a very important matter in the question of abolition. There is no objection to the skin and features of the negro; it is only the luxury of having slaves, or their usefulness for heavy work, which weighs in the scale against abolition.
As soon as we landed, we visited the lieutenant-governor, who congratulated us on not being carried down to the Canary Islands. Then his Excellency asked, in due studied form:
“Where do you come from?”
Traveller. — “Gibraltar.”
His Excellency. — “Where are you going?”
Traveller. — “To see the Sultan, Muley Abd Errahman.”
His Excellency. — “What’s your business?”
Traveller. — “I will let your Excellency know to-morrow.”
I then proceeded to the house of Mr. Phillips, where I took up my quarters. Mr. Willshire, our vice-consul, was absent, having gone up to Morocco with all the principal merchants of Mogador, to pay a visit to the Emperor.
The port of Mogador had to-day a most wild and desolate appearance, which was rendered still more dreary and hideous by a dark tempest sweeping over it. On the shore, there was no appearance of life, much less of trade and shipping. All had abandoned it, save a guard, who lay stretched at the gate of the waterport, like a grim watch-dog. From this place, we proceeded to the merchants’ quarter of the town, which was solitary and immersed in profound gloom. Altogether, my first impressions of Mogador were most unfavourable, I went to bed and dreamt of winds and seas, and struggled with tempests the greater part of the night. Then I was shipwrecked off the Canaries; thrown on the coast of Wadnoun, and made a slave by the wild Arabs wandering in the Desert — I awoke.
Mr. Phillips, mine host, soon became my right-hand man. His extraordinary character, and the adventures of his life are worth a brief notice. Phillips said he was descended from those York Jews, who, on refusing to pay a contribution levied on them by one of our most Christian kings, had a tooth drawn out every morning (without the aid of chloroform), until they satisfied the cruel avarice of the tyrant. In person, Phillips was a smart old gentleman, with the ordinary lineaments of his race stamped on his countenance. The greater part of his life has been spent in South America, where he attained the honours of aide-de-camp to Bolivar. In those sanguinary revolutions, heaving with the birth of the young republic, he had often been shut up in the capilla to be shot, and was rescued always by the Jesuit fathers, who pitied and saved the poor Jew, on his expressing himself favourable to Christianity. Returning to England, after twenty years’ absence, his mother did not fully recognize him, until he one day got up and admired, with youthful ardour, a china figure on the chimney-piece, which had been his toy in his boyhood. On the occurrence of this little domestic incident, the mother passionately embraced her lost prodigal, once dead, but now “alive again.” Phillips came to Mogador on a military speculation, and offered to take the command of the Emperor’s cavalry against all his enemies.
This audacity of a Jew filled the Moor with alarm. “How could a Jew, who was not a devil, propose such an insult to the Commander of the Faithful, as to presume to take the charge of his invincible warriors!” Nevertheless, the little fellow weathered the storm, and got appointed “captain of the port of Mogador,” with the liberal salary of about thirty shillings per month; but this did not prevent our aide-de-camp, now metamorphosed into a sea captain, from wearing an admiral’s uniform, which he obtained in a curious way on a visit to England. He met in the streets of London with an acquaintance, who pretended to patronize him. The gentleman jokingly said, “Well, Phillips, I must give you an uniform, since you are appointed captain of the port of Mogador.” The said gentleman received, a few months afterwards, when his quondam protégé was safe with his uniform strutting about Mogador, to the amazement of the Moors, and the delight of his co-religionists, a bill of thirty pounds or so, charged for “a suit of admiral’s uniform for Mr. Phillips, captain of the port of Mogador;” and found that a joke sometimes has a serious termination.
Phillips, on his first arrival in this country, entered into a diplomatic contest with the Moorish authorities, demanding the privileges of a native British-born Jew, and he determined to ride a horse, in order to vindicate the rights of British Jews, before the awful presence of the Shereefian Court! About this business, the Consul-general Hay is said to have written eleven long, and Mr. Willshire about twenty-one short and pithy despatches, but the affair ended in smoke. Phillips, with great magnanimity and self-denial, consented to relinquish the privilege, on the prayer of his brethren, natives of Mogador, who were very naturally afraid, lest the incensed Emperor might visit on them what he durst not inflict on the British-born Jew.
Of the achievements of Phillips in the way of science (for he assures he is born to the high destiny of enlightening both barbarians and civilized nations) I take the liberty, with his permission, of mentioning one. Phillips brought here a pair of horse-shoes belonging to a drayhorse of the firm of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, and Co., to astonish the Moors by their size, who are great connoisseurs of horse-flesh. The Moors protested their unbelief, and swore it was a lie, — “such shoes never shod a horse.” Phillips then got a skeleton of a head from England. This they also scouted as an imposition, alleging that Phillips had got it purposely made to deceive them. “Although they believed in the Prophet, whom they never saw, they were still not such fools as to believe in everything which an Infidel might bring to their country.” Phillips now gave up, in despair, the attempt to propagate science among the Moors.
Our ancient aide-de-camp of Bolivar is a liberal English Jew, and boasts that, on Christmas-day, he always has his roast-beef and plum-pudding. I supped with him often on a sucking-pig, for the Christians breed pigs in this place, to the horror of pious Mussulmen. This amusing adventurer subsequently left Mogador and went to Lisbon, where he purposed writing a memorial to the Archbishop of Canterbury, containing the plan, of a New Unitarian system of religion, by which the Jews might be brought within the pale of the Christian Church!
For some time I felt the effects of my sea voyage; my apartment rocked in my brain. People speculated about the objects of my mission; the most absurd rumours were afloat. “The Christian has come to settle the affairs of Mr. Darman, whom the Emperor killed,” some said. Others remarked, “The Christian has come to buy all the slaves of the country, in order to liberate them.” The lieutenant-governor sent for Phillips, to know what I came for, who I was, and how I passed my time? Phillips told him all about my mission, and that I was a great taleb. When Phillips mentioned to the governor, that Great Britain had paid a hundred millions of dollars for the liberation of slaves belonging to Englishmen, his Excellency, struck with astonishment, exclaimed, “The English Sultan is inspired by God!”
I visited the burying-place of Christians, situate on the north-side of the town by the sea-shore. A fine tomb was erected here to the memory of Mrs. Willshire’s father. The ignorant country people coming to Mogador stopped to repeat prayers before it, believing it the tomb of some favourite saint. The government, hearing of this idolatry to a Christian, begged Mr. Willshire to have the tomb covered with cement. When this was done, so perverse are these people, that they partially divested it of covering, and chipped off pieces of marble for their women, who ground them into powder, and dusted their faces with it to make them fair. Every six months it is necessary to replaster the tomb. This cemetery is the most desolate place the mind of man can conceive. There is no green turf here to rest lightly on the bosom of the dead! No tree, no cypress of mourning; no shade or shelter for those who seek to indulge in grief. All is a sandy desolation, swept by the wild winds of the solitary shore of the ocean.
Farther on, is the Moorish cemetery, which I passed through. What a spectacle of human corruption! Here, indeed, we may learn to despise this world’s poor renown, and cease tormenting ourselves with vain and godless pursuits. It was then sunset, the moon had risen far up on the fading brow of the departing day, casting pale lights and fearful shadows over this house of the dead. It was time to return, or the gates of the city would shut me out amidst the wreck of poor human dust and bones. I saw, moving in the doubtful shadows of approaching night, the grave-digging hyaena!
It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. The wreckers of this coast boldly assert that a shipwreck is a blessing (berkah), sent to them by Providence. The port authorities have even the impudence to declare, that to erect lighthouses at the mouth of the ports would be thwarting the decrees of Divine Providence! In spite of all this, however, at the urgent request of Mr. Willshire, when, on one occasion, the weather was very bad, the governor of Mogador stationed guards on various parts of the coast to preserve the lives and property of shipwrecked vessels. But I do not think I have heard worse cases of Moorish wreckers, than those which have happened not very many years ago on the French and English coasts. Some of my readers will recollect the case of an Indiaman wrecked off the coast of France, when poor ladies in a state of suspended animation, had their fingers cut off to get possession of their diamond-rings. During my stay at Mogador, a courier arrived from Sous, bringing the news of some Christians being wrecked off the coast, A Jew had purchased one poor fellow from the Arabs for two camels. Two others were dead, their bodies cast upon the inhospitable beach by the Atlantic surge, where they lay unburied, to be mangled by the wild tribes, or to feed the hungry hyaena.
Some of the merchants came hither from the capital; amongst the rest, Mr. and Mrs. Elton, they, as well as others, brought a favourable account of the Emperor and his ministers, and lauded very much the commercial policy of the governor of Mogador. Moderation, it is said, is the characteristic of the court’s proceedings towards the merchants. Trade was not very brisk, it being the rainy season, when the Arabs are occupied with sowing the ground; the busy time is from September to January.
The produce sold at that time was simply that which is left of the past season, having been kept back with the object of getting a better price for it. Gum is brought in great quantities for exportation. An immense quantity of sugar is imported, a third of which is loaf beet-root sugar brought from Marseilles.
Mr. Phillips came to me, to beg ten thousand pardons for having only fowls for dinner. One morning two bullocks were killed by the Jews, but not “according to the Law,” and the greater part of the Jews that day would have to go without meat. On these occasions, the Jews sell their meat to the Moors and Christians at a reduced price. Phillips observed, “I am obliged to eat meat according to the Law, or I should have no peace of my life.”
A good many people were affected by colds, but the climate of Mogador is reckoned very good. All the year round there is not much variation; N.W. and N.E. winds bring cold in winter, and cool refreshing breezes in summer. There was not a single medical man in Mogador, although there were some fifty Europeans, including Jews. Some years ago a clever young man was practising here. For one year, each European paid his share of salary; but alas! those whom God blessed with good health, refused to pay their quota to the support of a physician for their sickly neighbours, consequently, every European’s life was in the greatest danger, should a serious accident occur to them. With regard to money, they would prefer a broken leg all their life time to paying five pounds to have it set. The consuls of Tangier subscribe for a resident physician.
One afternoon, I went to see the Moorish cavalry “playing at powder,” (Lab Elbaroud) being a stirring and novel scene. A troop of these haughty cavaliers assembled with their chiefs almost daily on the playa, or parade. Then they divided themselves into parties of twenty or thirty; proceeding with their manoeuvres, the cavaliers at first advance slowly in a single line, then canter, and then gallop, spurring on the horse to its last gasp, meantime standing up erect on their shovel-stirrups, and turning from one side to the other; looking round with an air of defiance, they fire off their matchlocks, throw themselves into various dexterous attitudes, sometimes letting fall the bridle. The pieces being discharged, the horses instantaneously stop. The most difficult lesson a barb learns, is to halt suddenly in mid career of a full gallop. To discharge his matchlock, standing on the stirrups while the horse is in full gallop, is the great lesson of perfection of the Maroquine soldiery. The cavaliers now wheel out of the way for the next file, returning reloading, and taking their places to gallop off and fire again. Crowds of people attend these equestrian exhibitions, of which they are passionately fond. They squat round the parade in double or treble rows, muffled up within their bournouses, in mute admiration. Occasionally women are present, but females here join in very few out-door amusements. When a whole troop of cavaliers are thus manoeuvering, galloping at the utmost stretch of the horses’ muscles, the men screaming and hallowing “hah! hah! hah!” the dust and sand rising in clouds before the foaming fiery barb, with the deafening noise and confusion of a simultaneous discharge of firelocks, the picture represents in vivid colours what might be conceived of the wild Nubian cavalry of ancient Africa. 16 Today there was a mishap; several cavaliers did not keep up the line. The chief leading the troops, cried out in a rage, and with the voice of a senator, “Fools! madmen! are you children, or are ye men?” Christians or Jews standing too near, are frequently pushed back with violence; and we were told “not to stand in the way of Mussulmen.”
These cavaliers are sometimes called spahis; they are composed of Moors, Arabs, Berbers, and all the native races in Morocco. They are usually plainly dressed, but, beneath the bournouse, many of them wear the Moorish dress, embroidered in the richest style. Some of the horses are magnificently caparisoned in superb harness, worked in silk and gold. Fine harness is one of the luxuries of North Africa, and is still much used, even in Tunis and Tripoli, where the new system of European military dress and tactics has been introduced. The horse is the sacred animal of Morocco, as well as the safeguard of the empire. The Sultan has no other military defence, except the natural difficulties of the country, or the hatred of his people to strangers. He does not permit the exportation of horses, nor of barley, on which they are often fed.17
But the defeat of the Emperor’s eldest son, Sidi Mahomed, at the Battle of Isly, who commanded upwards of forty thousand of these cavaliers, has thrown a shade over the ancient celebrity of this Moorish corps, and these proud horsemen have since become discouraged. On that fatal day, however, none of the black bodyguard of the Emperor was brought into action. These muster some thirty thousand strong. This corps, or the Abeed–Sidi-Bokhari, 18 are soldiers who possess the most cool and undaunted courage; retreat with them is never thought of. Unlike the Janissaries of old, their sole ambition is to obey, and not to rule their sovereign. This fidelity to the Shereefs remains unshaken through all the shocks of the empire, and to the person of the Emperor they are completely devoted. In a country like Morocco, of widely distinct races and hostile tribes, all naturally detesting each other, the Emperor finds in them his only safety. I cannot withhold the remark, that this body-guard places before us the character of the negro in a very favourable light. He is at once brave and faithful, the two essential ingredients in the formation and development of heroic natures.
It will, I trust, not be deemed out of place to consider for a moment the warlike propensities and qualities of the negro. Every European who has penetrated Africa, confesses to the bellicose disposition of the negro, having seen him engaged with others in perpetual conflict. The choice and retention of a body-guard of Blacks by the Moorish Emperor, also triumphantly prove the martial nature of the negro race. But the negro has signally displayed the military qualities of coolness and courage in many instances, two or three of which I shall here take the liberty of mentioning, in connexion with the affairs of Algeria.
Mr. Lord relates, on the authority of the French, that, when the invading army invested Fort de l’Empereur, and had silenced all its guns, the Dey ordered the Turkish General to retreat to the Kasbah, and leave three negroes to blow up the fort. It seemed, therefore, abandoned, but two red flags floated still on its outward line of defence, and a third on the angle towards the city. The French continued all their efforts towards effecting a practicable breach. Three negroes were now seen calmly walking on the ramparts, and from time to time looking over as if examining the progress of the breach. One of them, struck by a cannonball, fell; and the others, as if to avenge his death, ran to a cannon, pointed it, and fired three shots. At the third, the gun turned over, and they were unable to replace it. They tried another, and as they were in the act of raising it, a shot swept the legs from under one of them. The remaining negro gazed for a moment on his comrade, drew him a little aside, left him, and once more examined the breach. He then snatched one of the flags, and retired to the interior of the tower. In a few minutes, he re-appeared, took a second flag and descended. The French continued their cannonade, and the breach appeared almost practicable, when suddenly they were astounded by a terrific explosion, which shook the whole ground as with an earthquake. An immense column of smoke, mixed with streaks of flames, burst from the centre of the fortress; masses of solid masonry were hurled into the air to an amazing height, while cannon, stones, timbers, projectiles, and dead bodies were scattered in every direction. What was all this? The negro had done his duty — the fort was blown up!
In a skirmish near Mascara, one of Abd-el-Kader’s negro soldiers killed two Frenchmen with his own hand. The Emir, who was an eye-witness of his bravery, rewarded him on the field of battle by presenting him with his own sword and the Cross of the Crescent, the only military order in the service, and which is never awarded except fur a very distinguished action. Colonel Scott says the black was presented to him, and seemed as proud of the honour conferred on him as if he had been made a K.G.C.B.
In the strifes and disputes for succession that have characterized the history of the Barbary princes, and reddened their annals with blood, nothing has been more remarkable than the fidelity of the negroes to their respective masters, and the bravery with which they have defended them to the last hour of their reign or existence. When all his partisans have deserted a pretender, when the soldiers of the successful competitor to the throne have been in the act of pouncing upon the fallen or falling prince, a handful of brave followers has rushed to the rescue, and surrounded the person of their beloved leader, pouring out their life-blood in his defence — and these men were negroes! To use a vulgar metaphor, the negro will defend his master with the savage courage and tenacity of a bull-dog. And this is the principal reason which has induced the despotic princes of North Africa to cherish the negroes, of whom they have encouraged a continual supply from the interior.
The history of this Imperial Guard of Negroes is interesting, as showing the inconveniences as well as the advantage of such a corps, for these troops have not been always so well conducted as they are at present. At one time, the Shereefs claimed a species of sovereignty over the city of Timbuctbo and the adjacent countries. In the year 1727, Muley Ismail determined to re-people his wasted districts by a colony of negroes. His secret object was, however, to form a body guard to keep his own people in check, a sort of black Swiss regiment, so alike is the policy of all tyrants. In a few years, these troops exceeded 100,000 men. Finding their numbers so great, and their services so much needed by the Sultan, they became exigeant and rapacious, dictating to their royal master. Muley Abdallah was deposed six times by them. Finding their yoke intolerable, the Sultan decimated them by sending them to fight in the mountains. Others were disbanded for the same reasons by Sidi Mohammed. Still, the effect of this new colonization was beneficially experienced throughout the country. The Moors taking the black women as concubines, a mixed race of industrious people sprang up, and gave an impetus to the empire. It is questionable, however, if North Africa could he colonized by negroes. By mixing with the Caucasian race, this experiment partly succeeded. But in general, North Africa is too bleak and uncongenial for the negroes’ nature during winter. The negro race does not increase of itself on this coast. Their present number is kept up by a continual supply of slaves. When this is stopped, coloured people will begin gradually to disappear.
It is unnecessary to tell my readers that the Shereefs are very sensitive on matters of religion; but an anecdote or two may amuse them. A French writer expatiating in true Gallic style, calls Morocco the “arrière-garde en Afrique of Islamism,” and “une de ses armées de réserve.” Indeed, the coasts and cities of Morocco are inundated with saints of every description and degree of sanctity. Morocco, in fact, is not only the classic land of Marabouts, but their home and haunt, and sphere of agitation. There are ten thousand Abd-el-Kaders and Bou Mazas all disputing authority with the High Priest, who sits on the green throne of the Shereefs. Sometimes they assume the character of demagogues, and inveigh against the rapacity and corruption of the court and government. At others they appear as prophets, prophets of ill, by preaching boldly the Holy war.
The French in Africa now furnish them with an everlasting theme of denunciation. From Morocco they travel eastwards, filling the Sahara and the Atlas with the odours of their holy reputation. So that religious light, like that of civilization, is now moving from the west — eastwards, instead of, as in times past, from the east — eastwards. The Maroquine Mahometans may be cited as a case in point. They find too frequently only the form of religion in the east, as we do in the eastern churches. They are beginning to assault Mecca as we have assaulted Jerusalem.
Now for an anecdote or two illustrative of the high state of orthodoxy professed by the Shereefs. Some time ago, a number of handkerchiefs were brought, or rather smuggled into Mogador, having printed upon them passages from the Koran. One of them got into the hands of the Emperor, who thinking the Christians were ridiculing the Sacred Book, ordered instanter all the cities of the coast to be searched to discover the offender who introduced them. Happily for the merchant he was not found out. His Highness commanded that all the handkerchiefs which were collected should be destroyed. When Mr. Davidson was at Morocco, he prescribed some Seidlitz water for the use of the Sultan, and placed on the sides of two bottles, containing the beverage, Arabic verses from the Koran. The Sultan was exceedingly exasperated at this compliment to his religion, and had it privately intimated to Mr. Davidson not to desecrate the Holy Book in that abominable manner. The latter then very prudently gave up to the minister all the printed verses he had brought with him, which were concealed from public view. But if some of these emperors are so rigid and scrupulous, there are others more liberal and tolerant.
Muley Suleiman was a great admirer of the European character, and was much attached to a Mr. Leyton, an English merchant. This merchant was one day riding out of the city of Mogador, when an old woman rushed at him, seized the bridle of his horse, and demanded alms. The merchant pushed her away with his whip. The ancient dame seeing herself so rudely nonsuited, went off screaming revenge; and although she had not had a tooth in her head for twenty long years, she noised about town that Mr. Leyton had knocked two of her teeth out, and importuned the Governor to obtain her some pecuniary indemnification.
His Excellency advised Mr. Leyton to comply, and get rid of the annoyance of the old woman. He resolutely refused, and the Governor was obliged to report the case to the Emperor, as the old lady had made so many partisans in Mogador as to threaten a disturbance. His Imperial Highness wrote a letter to the merchant, condescendingly begging him to supply the old woman with “two silver teeth,” meaning thereby to give her a trifling present in money. Mr. Leyton, being as obstinate as ever, was ordered to appear before the Emperor at Morocco. Here the resolute merchant declared that he had not knocked the teeth out of the old woman’s head, she had had none for years, and he would not be maligned even in so small a matter.
The Emperor was at his wits’ end, and endeavoured to smooth down the contumacious Leyton, to save his capital from insurrection; imploring him to comply with the Lex talionis, 19 and have two of his teeth drawn if he was inflexibly determined not to pay. The poor Emperor was in hourly dread of a revolution about this tooth business, and at the same time he knew the merchant had spoken the truth. Strange to say, Mr. Leyton at last consented to lose his teeth rather than his money. However, on the merchant’s return from the capital to Mogador, to his surprise, and no doubt to his satisfaction, he found that two ship-loads of grain had been ordered to be delivered to him by the Emperor, in compensation for the two teeth which he had had punched out to satisfy the exigencies of the Empire.
13 Some time since, when the French Government were anxious to get supplies of grain from the Levant, for the north of France, they sent steamers to the Straits, to be ready to tow the vessels through, an example worthy of imitation, in other times besides seasons of famine.
14 This conduct of Roman Catholic sailors has often been noticed. Mahometans do the same, and resign themselves to fate, i.e., make no effort to save themselves; the only difference is, they are less noisy, and more sullen in their spiritless resignation.
15 The entrance to the port of Mogador, however, is difficult to all seamen. We were besides in the depth of winter. The Prince de Joinville describes his mishaps during the height of summer, or in August, when placing his vessels in position before the town. He says in his report of the bombardment: “New difficulties, and of more than one kind awaited us. For four days, the violence of the wind and the roughness of the sea prevented us from communicating with one another. Anchored upon a rocky bottom, our anchors and cables broke, and the loss of them deprived us of resources which were indispensable in order to obtain our object. Some vessels had only one chain and one anchor. We could not think of maintaining ourselves before Mogador under sail. The violence of the currents and of the gale, would probably have carried us too far, and we should have lost the opportunity of acting. Besides, in causing the steamers to get to proceed with us, they would have consumed their fuel, and in leaving them by themselves they would be exposed to run short of provisions and water. It was therefore necessary to remain at anchor. At last, the wind abated, and there remained of the hurricane of the preceding days, a considerable swell from N.N.W. Then the vessels were tormented by the swell, and became ungovernable.”
16 The Ancient Numidians rode without saddle or bridle They were celebrated as the “reinless” Numidians —
“Numidæ infraeni.” — (Ænaid, iv., 41.)
We are aware that another meaning to infraeni has been given, that of “indomitable;” but the peculiarity of these horsemen riding without reins is the usual rendering. But ordinarily, the modern Moorish cavalry is very comfortably mounted. Their saddles, with high backs, are as commodious as a chair. The large, broad, shovel-stirrups enable the rider to stand upright as on terra firma, whilst the sharp iron edges of the stirrups goring the ribs of the poor animal, serve as spurs. These lacerating stirrups are tied up short to the saddle, and the knees of the rider are bent forwards in a very ungainly manner. Nevertheless, the barb delights in the “powder play” as much as his master, and —
“Each generous steed to meet the play aspires,
And seconds, with his own, his master’s fires;
He neighs, he foams, he paws the ground beneath,
And smoke and flame his swelling nostrils breathe.”
17 The fire of the Barbary horse is generally known, but few reflect upon the power of endurance which this animal possesses. I have known them to go without water for two or three days when crossing the Desert, during which time they will only receive a small measure of corn or a few dates. On the coast, they are driven hard a long day, sweating, and covered with foam, their sides bleeding from the huge sharp-edged stirrups. Without the slightest covering, they are left out the whole night, and their only evening meal is a little chopped barley-straw.
Our European horses would perish under such circumstances, and the French have lost the greater part of the horses they imported from France for the cavalry. But this hard fare keeps down the fiery spirit of these stallion barbs, otherwise they would be unmanageable. When turned out to grass, they soon become wild. Crossing a field one day, mounted, I was set upon by a troop of these wild, grazing horses, and was instantly knocked to the ground, where I lay stunned. A cavalry officer, who was riding with me, had only just time to escape, and saved himself by dismounting, and letting his horse go.
It was some hours before we could rescue the horses of our party from their wild mates, sporting and bounding furiously over the plains. The barb horses being all stallions (for the Moors consider it a crime to geld so noble an animal), the fiercest and most terrific battles ensue on a stud breaking loose from their pickets. These battles are always between strangers, for the barb is the most affectionate of horses, and if he is known to another, and become his mate, he will, as the Arabs say, “die to be with him.”
18 These trained bands of negroes call themselves Abeed–Sidi-Bokhari, from the patron saint whom they adopted on settling in Morocco, the celebrated Sidi–Bokhari, commentator on the Koran, and a native of Bokhara, as his name implies. His commentary is almost as much venerated as the Koran itself.
19 The lex talion is frequently enforced in North Africa.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59