Tour in the Jereed of Captain Balfour and Mr. Reade. — Sidi Mohammed. — Plain of Manouba. — Tunis. — Tfeefleeah. — The Bastinado. — Turkish Infantry. — Kairwan. — Sidi Amour Abeda. — Saints. — A French Spy — Administration of Justice. — The Bey’s presents. — The Hobara. — Ghafsa. Hot streams containing Fish. — Snakes. — Incantation. — Moorish Village.
The tourists were Captain Balfour, of the 88th Regiment, and Mr. Richard Reade, eldest son of Sir Thomas Reade.
The morning before starting from Tunis they went to the Bardo to pay their respects to Sidi Mohammed, “Bey of the Camp,” and to thank him for his condescending kindness in taking them with him to the Jereed. The Bey told him to send their baggage to Giovanni, “Guarda-pipa,” which they did in the evening.
At nine A. M. Sidi Mohammed left the Bardo under a salute from the guns, one of the wads of which nearly hit Captain Balfour on the head. The Bey proceeded across the plain of Manouba, mounted on a beautiful bay charger, in front of the colours, towards Beereen, the greater part of the troops of the expedition following, whilst the entire plain was covered with baggage-camels, horses, mules, and detached parties of attendants, in glorious confusion.
The force of the camp consisted of — Mamelukes
of the Seraglio, superbly mounted 20
Mamelukes of the Skeefah, or those who
guard the entrance of the Bey’s
palace, or tent, and are all Levantines 20
Boabs, another sort of guard of the Bey,
who are always about the Bey’s
tent, and must be of this country 20
Turkish Infantry 300
Spahis, o. mounted Arab guards 300
Camp followers (Arabs) 2,000
This is certainly not a large force, but in several places of the march they were joined for a short time by additional Arab troops, a sort of honorary welcome for the Bey. As they proceeded, the force of the camp-followers increased; but, in returning, it gradually decreased, the parties going home to their respective tribes. We may notice the total absence of any of the new corps, the Nithàlm. This may have been to avoid exciting the prejudices of the people; however, the smallness of the force shows that the districts of the Jereed are well-affected. The summer camp to Beja has a somewhat larger force, the Arabs of that and other neighbouring districts not being so loyal to the Government.
Besides the above-named troops, there were two pieces of artillery. The band attendant on these troops consisted of two or three flageolets, kettle-drums, and trumpets made of cow-horns, which, according to the report of our tourists, when in full play produced the most diabolical discord.
After a ride of about three hours, we pitched our tents at Beereen. Through the whole of the route we marched on an average of about four miles per hour, the horses, camels, &c., walking at a good pace. The Turkish infantry always came up about two hours after the mounted troops. Immediately on the tents being pitched, we went to pay our respects to the Bey, accompanied by Giovanni, “Guardapipa,” as interpreter. His Highness received us very affably, and bade us ask for anything we wanted. Afterwards, we took some luncheon with the Bey’s doctor, Signore Nunez Vaise, a Tuscan Jew, of whose kindness during our whole tour it is impossible to speak too highly. The doctor had with him an assistant, and tent to himself. Haj Kador, Sidi Shakeer, and several other Moors, were of our luncheon-party, which was a very merry one.
About half-way to Beereen, the Bey stopped at a marabet, a small square white house, with a dome roof, to pay his devotions to a great Marabout, or saint, and to ask his parting blessing on the expedition. They told us to go on, and joined us soon after. Two hours after us, the Turkish Agha arrived, accompanied with colours, music, and some thirty men. The Bey received the venerable old gentleman under an immense tent in the shape of an umbrella, surrounded with his mamelukes and officers of state. After their meeting and saluting, three guns were fired. The Agha was saluted every day in the same manner, as he came up with his infantry after us. We retired for the night at about eight o’clock.
The form of the whole camp, when pitched, consisting of about a dozen very large tents, was as follows:— The Bey’s tent in the centre, which was surrounded at a distance of about forty feet with those of the Bash–Hamba 70 of the Arabs, the Agha of the Arabs, the Sahab-el-Tabah, Haznadar or treasurer, the Bash–Boab, and that of the English tourists; then further off were the tents of the Katibs and Bash–Katib, the Bash–Hamba of the Turks, the doctors, and the domestics of the Bey, with the cookery establishment. Among the attendants of the Bey were the “guarda-pipa,” guard of the pipe, “guarda-fusile,” guard of the gun, “guarda-café,” guard of the coffee, “guarda-scarpe,” guard of the shoes,71 and “guarda-acqua,” guard of water. A man followed the Bey about holding in his hand a golden cup, and leading a mule, having two paniers on its back full of water, which was brought from Tunis by camels. There was also a story-teller, who entertained the Bey every night with the most extraordinary stories, some of them frightfully absurd. The Bey did not smoke — a thing extraordinary, as nearly all men smoke in Tunis. His Highness always dined alone. None of his ladies ever accompany him in these expeditions.
The tents had in them from twenty to fifty men each. Our tent consisted of our two selves, a Boab to guard the baggage, two Arabs to tend the horses and camels, and another Moor of all work, besides Captain Balfour’s Maltese, called Michael. We had three camels for our baggage. The first night we found very cold; but having abundance of clothing, we slept soundly, in spite of the perpetual wild shoutings of the Arab sentries, stationed round the camp, the roaring and grumbling of the camels, the neighing and coughing of the horses, all doing their utmost to drive away slumber from our eyelids.
We halted on the morrow, which gave us an opportunity of getting a few things from Tunis which we had neglected to bring. But before returning, we ate some sweetmeats sent us by the guarda-pipa, with a cup of coffee. The guarda-pipa is also a dragoman interpreter of his Highness, and a Genoese by birth, but now a renegade. In this country they do not know what a good breakfast is; they take a cup of coffee in the morning early, and wait till twelve or one o’clock, when they take a hearty meal, and then sup in the evening, late or early, according to the season. Before returning to Tunis, we called upon his Highness, and told him our object. We afterwards called to see the Bey every morning, to pay our respects to him, as was befitting on these occasions. His Highness entered into the most familiar conversation with us.
On coming back again from Tunis, it rained hard, which continued all night. In the evening the welcome news was proclaimed that the tents would not be struck until daylight: previously, the camp was always struck at 3 o’clock, about three hours before daylight, which gave rise to great confusion, besides being without shelter during the coldest part of the night (three hours before sun-rise) was a very serious trial for the health of the men. The reason, however, was, to enable the camels to get up to the new encampment; their progress, though regular and continual, is very slow.
Of a morning the music played off the réveil an hour before sunrise. The camp presented an animated appearance, with the striking of tents, packing camels, mounting horses, &c. We paid our respects to his Highness, who was sitting in an Arab tent, his own being down. The music was incessantly grating upon our ears, but was in harmony with the irregular marching and movements of the Arabs, one of them occasionally rushing out of the line of march, charging, wheeling about, firing, reloading, shouting furiously, and making the air ring with his cries.
The order of march was as follows:— The Bey mounts, and, going along about one hundred yards from the spot, he salutes the Arab guards, who follow behind him; then, about five or six miles further, overtaking the Turkish soldiers, who, on his coming up, are drawn up on each side of the road, his Highness salutes them; and then afterwards the water-carriers are saluted, being most important personages in the dry countries of this circuit, and last of all, the gunners; after all which, the Bey sends forward a mameluke, who returns with the Commander, or Agha of the Arabs, to his Highness. This done, the Bey gallops off to the right or left from the line of march, on whichsoever side is most game — the Bey going every day to shoot, whilst the Agha takes his place and marches to the next halting-place.
One morning the Bey shot two partridges while on horseback. “In fact,” says Mr. Rade, “he is the best shot on horseback I ever saw — he seldom missed his game.” As Captain B. was riding along with the doctor, they remarked a cannon-ball among some ruins; but, being told a saint was buried there, they got out of the way as quick as if a deadly serpent had been discovered. Stretching away to the left, we saw a portion of the remains of the Carthaginian aqueduct. The march was only from six to eight miles, and the encampment at Tfeefleeah. At day-break, at noon, at 3 o’clock, P.M. and at sunset, the Muezzen called from outside and near the door of the Bey’s tent the hour of prayer. An aide-de-camp also proclaimed, at the same place, whether we should halt, or march, on the morrow, The Arabs consider fat dogs a great delicacy, and kill and eat them whenever they can lay hands upon them. Captain B. was fortunate in not bringing his fat pointer, otherwise he would have lost him. The Arabs eat also foxes and wolves, and many animals of the chase not partaken of by us. The French in Algiers kill all the fat cats, and turn them into hares by dexterous cooking. The mornings and evenings we found cold, but mid-day very hot and sultry.
We left Tfeefleeah early, and went in search of wild-boar; found only their tracks, but saw plenty of partridges and hares; the ground being covered with brushwood and heath, we soonæ lost sight of them. The Arabs were seen on a sudden running and galloping in all directions, shouting and pointing to a hill, when a huge beast was put up, bristling and bellowing, which turned out to be a hyæna. He was shot by a mameluke, Si Smyle, and fell in a thicket, wallowing in his blood. He was a fine fellow, and had an immense bead, like a bull-dog. They put him on a mule, and carried him in triumph to the Bey. When R. arrived at the camp, the Bey sent him the skin and the head as a present, begging that he would not eat the brain. There is a superstitious belief among the Moors that, if a person eats the brain of a hyæna he immediately becomes mad. The hyæna is not the savage beast commonly represented; he rarely attacks any person, and becomes untameably ferocious by being only chained up. He is principally remarkable for his stupidity when at large in the woods. The animal abounds in the forests of the Morocco Atlas. Our tourists saw no lions en route, or in the Jereed; the lion does not like the sandy and open country of the plain. Very thick brushwood, and ground broken with rocks, like the ravines of the Atlas, are his haunts.
Several Arabs were flogged for having stolen the barley of which they had charge. The bastinado was inflicted by two inferior mamelukes, standing one on each side of the culprit, who had his hands and his feet tied behind him. In general, it may be said that bastinadoing in Tunis is a matter of form, many of the strokes ordered to be inflicted being never performed, and those given being so many taps or scratches. It is very rare to see a man bleeding from the bastinado; I (the author) never did. It is merely threatened as a terror; whilst it is not to be overlooked, that the soles of the feet of Arabs, and the lower classes in this country, are like iron, from the constant habit of going barefoot upon the sharpest stones. Severe punishments of any kind are rarely inflicted in Tunis.
The country was nearly all flat desert, with scarcely an inhabitant to dissipate its savage appearance. The women of a few Arab horsehair tents (waterproof when in good repair) saluted us as we passed with their shrill looloos. There appeared a great want of water. We passed the ruins of several towns and other remains. The camels were always driven into camp at sunset, and hobbled along, their two fore-legs being tied, or one of them being tied up to the knee, by which the poor animals are made to cut a more melancholy figure than with their usual awkward gait and moody character.
We continued our march about ten miles in nearly a southern direction, and encamped at a place called Heelet-el-Gazlen.
One morning shortly after starting, we came to a small stream with very high and precipitous banks, over which one arch of a fine bridge remained, but the other being wanting, we had to make a considerable détour before we could cross; the carriages had still greater difficulty. Here we have an almost inexcusable instance of the disinclination of the Moors to repairs, for had the stream been swollen, the camp would have been obliged to make a round-about march by the way of Hamman-el-Enf, of some thirty miles; and all for the want of an arch which would scarcely cost a thousand piastres! This stream or river is the same as that which passes near Hamman-el-Enf, and the extensive plain through which it meanders is well cultivated, with douwars, or circular villages of the Arabs dotted about. We saw hares, but, the ground being difficult running for the dogs, we caught but few. Bevies of partridges got up, but we were unprepared for them. In the evening, the Bey sent a present of a very fine bay horse to R. Marched about ten miles, and halted at Ben Sayden.
The following day after starting, we left the line of march to shoot; saw one boar, plenty of foxes and wolves, and we put up another hyæna, but the bag consisted principally of partridges, the red-legged partridge or perdix ruffa, killed, by the Bey, who is a dead-shot. Our ride lay among hills; there was very little water, which accounted for the few inhabitants. After dinner, went out shooting near Jebanah, and bagged a few partridges, but, not returning before the sun went down, the Bey sent a dozen fellows bawling out our names, fearing some harm had befallen us.
On leaving the hills, there lay stretched at our feet a boundless plain, on which is situate Kairwan, extending also to Susa, and leagues around. North Africa, is a country of hills and plains — such was the case along our entire route. We saw a large herd of gazelles feeding, as well as several single ones, but they have the speed of the greyhound, so we did not grace our supper with any. Saw several birds called Kader, about the size of a partridge, but we shot none. A good many hares and partridges either crossed our path or whirred over our heads. Passed over a running stream called Zebharah, where we saw the remains of an ancient bridge, but in the place where the baggage went over there was a fine one in good repair. Here was a small dome-topped chapel, called Sidi Farhat, in which are laid the ashes of a saint. We had seen many such in the hills; indeed these gubbah abound all over Barbary, and are placed more frequently on elevations. We noticed particularly the 300 Turkish infantry; they were irregulars with a vengeance, though regulars compared to the Arabs. On overtaking them, they drew up on each side, and some dozen of them kept up a running sham fight with their swords and small wooden and metal shields before the Bey. The officers kissed the hand of the Bey, and his treasurer tipped their band, for so we must call their tumtums and squeaking-pipes. This ceremony took place every morning, and they were received in the camp with all the honours. They kept guard during the night, and did all they could to keep us awake by their eternal cry of “Alleya,” which means, “Be off,” or “Keep your distance!” These troops had not been recruited for eight years, and will soon die off; and yet we see that the Bey treats these remnants of the once formidable Turkish Tunisian Janissaries with great respect; of course, in an affair with the Arabs, their fidelity to the Bey would be most unshaken.
As we journeyed onward, we saw much less vegetation and very little cultivation. An immense plain lay before and around us, in which, however, there was some undulating ground. Passed a good stone bridge; were supplied with water near a large Arab encampment, around which were many droves of camels; turned up several hares, partridges, and gazelles. One of the last gave us a good chase, but the greyhounds caught him; in the first half mile, he certainly beat them by a good half of the instance, but having taken a turn which enabled the dogs to make a short cut, and being blown, they pulled the swift delicate creature savagely down. There were several good courses after hares, though her pursuers gave puss no fair play, firing at her before the dogs and heading her in every possible way.
Rode to Kairwan. Few Christians arrive in this city. Prince Pückler Muskau was the fourth when he visited it in 1835. The town is clean, but many houses are in ruins. The greater part of a regiment of the Nitham are quartered here. The famous mosque, of course, we were not allowed to enter, but many of its marble pillars and other ornaments, we heard from Giovanni, were the spoils of Christian churches and Pagan temples. The house of the Kaëd was a good specimen of dwellings in this country. Going along a street, we were greatly surprised at seeing our attendants, among whom were Si Smyle (a very intelligent and learned man, and who taught Mr. R. Arabic during the tour) and the Bash–Boab, jumping off their horses, and, running up to an old-looking Moor, and then seizing his hand, kissed it; and for some time they would not leave the ragged ruffian-like saint.
At last, having joined us, they said he was Sidi Amour Abeda, a man of exceeding sanctity, and that if the Bey had met the saint, his Highness must have done the same. The saint accompanied us to the Kaëd’s house; and, on entering, we saw the old Kaëd himself, who was ill and weeping on account of the arrival of his son, the commander of a portion of the guards of the camp. We went up stairs, and sat down to some sweetmeats which had been prepared for us, together with Si Smyle and Hamda, but, as we were commencing, the saint, who was present, laid hold of the sweets with his hands, and blessed them, mumbling bismillas 72 and other jargon. We afterwards saw a little house, in course of erection by order of the Bey, where the remains of Sidi Amour Abeda are to be deposited at his death, so that the old gentleman can have the pleasure of visiting his future burial-place. In this city, a lineal descendant of the Prophet, and a lucky guesser in the way of divining, are the essential ingredients in the composition of a Moorish saint. Saints of one order or another are as thick here as ordinary priests in Malta, whom the late facetious Major Wright was accustomed to call crows — from their black dress — but better, cormorants, as agreeing with their habits of fleecing the poor people. Sidi Amour Abeda’s hands ought to be lily-white, for every one who meets him kisses them with devout and slavering obeisance. The renegade doctor of the Bey told us that the old dervish now in question would like nothing better than to see us English infidels burnt alive. Fanaticism seems to be the native growth of the human heart!
We afterwards visited the Jabeah, or well, which they show as a curiosity, as also the camel which turns round the buckets and brings up the water, being all sanctified, like the wells of Mecca, and the drinking of the waters forming an indispensable part of the pilgrimage to all holy Mohammedan cities.
We returned to the Kaëd’s, and sat down to a capital dinner. The old Governor was a great fanatic, and when R. ran up to shake hands with him, the mamelukes stopped R. for fear he might be insulted. We visited the fortress, which was in course of repair, our cicerone being Sidi Reschid, an artillery-officer. We then returned to the camp, and found Santa Maria, the French officer, had arrived, who, during the tour, employed himself in taking sketches and making scientific observations. He was evidently a French spy on the resources of the Bey. It was given out, however, that he was employed to draw charts of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, by his Government. He endeavoured to make himself as unpopular as some persons try to make themselves agreeable, being very jealous of us, and every little thing that we had he used to cry for it and beg it like a child, sometimes actually going to the Bey’s tent in person, and asking his Highness for the things which he saw had been given to us.
We went to see his Highness administer justice, which he always did, morning and evening, whilst at Kairwan. There were many plaintiffs, but no defendants brought up; most of them were turned out in a very summary manner. To some, orders were given, which we supposed enabled them to obtain redress; others were referred to the kadys and chiefs. The Bey, being in want of camels, parties were sent out in search of them, who drove in all the finest that they could find, which were then marked (“tabâ,”) à la Bey, and immediately became the Bey’s property. It was a curious sight to see the poor animals thrown over, and the red-hot iron put to their legs, amidst the cries and curses of their late different owners — all which were not in the least attended to, the wants of the Bey, or Government, being superior on such occasions of necessity, or what not, to all complaint, law, or justice. About two hundred changed hands in this way.
The Bey of Tunis has an immense number of camels which he farms out. He has overseers in certain districts, to whom he gives so many camels; these let them out to other persons for mills and agricultural labours, at so much per head. The overseers annually render an account of them to Government, and, when called upon, supply the number required. At this time, owing to a disorder which had caused a great mortality, camels had been very scarce, and this was the reason of the extensive seizure just mentioned. If an Arab commits manslaughter, his tribe is mulcted thirty-three camels; and, as the crime is rather common in the Bedouin districts, the Bey’s acquisition in this way is considerable. A few years ago, a Sicilian nobleman exported from Tunis to Sicily some eighty camels, the duty for which the Bey remitted. The camel, if ever so healthy and thriving in the islands of the Mediterranean, could never supersede the labour of mules. The camel is only useful where there are vast plains to travel, as in North Africa, Arabia, Persia, Australasia, and some parts of the East Indies.
A hundred more Arabs joined, who passed in a single file before the Bey for inspection: they came rushing into the camp by twos and threes, firing off their long guns.
We crossed large plains, over which ran troops of gazelles, and had many gallops after them; but they go much faster than the greyhound, and, unless headed and bullied, there is little chance of taking them, except found asleep. On coming on a troop unawares, R. shot one, which the dogs caught. R. went up afterwards to cut its throat à la Moresque, when he was insulted by an Arab. R. noticed the fellow, and afterwards told the Bey, who instantly ordered him to receive two hundred bastinadoes, and to be put in chains; but, just as they had begun to whip him, R. went up and generously begged him off. This is the end of most bastinados in the country. We passed a stream which they said had swallowed up some persons, and was very dangerous. A muddy stream, they add, is often very fatal to travellers. The Bey surprised Captain B. by sending him a handsome black horse as a present; he also sent a grey one to the Frenchman, who, when complaining of it, saying that it was a bad one, to the Bey’s mamelukes, his Highness sent for it, and gave him another. Under such circumstances, Saint Mary ought to have looked very foolish. The Bey shot a kader, a handsome bird, rather larger than a partridge, with black wings, and flies like a plover. We had a large hawking-establishment with us, some twenty birds, very fine falconry, which sometimes carried off hares, and even attacked young goat-kids. Marched to a place called Gilma, near which the road passes through an ancient town. Shaw says, “Gilma, the ancient Cilma, or Oppidum Chilmanenense, is six leagues to the east-south-east of Spaitla. We have here the remains of a large city, with the area of a temple, and some other fragments of large buildings. According to the tradition of the Arabs, this place received its name in consequence of a miracle pretended to have been wrought by one of their marabouts, in bringing hither the river of Spaitla, after it was lost underground. For Ja Elma signifies, in their language, ‘The water comes!’ an expression we are to imagine of surprise at the arrival of the stream.”
During our tour, the mornings were generally cold. We proceeded about twenty miles, and encamped near a place called Wady Tuckah. This river comes from the hills about three or four miles off, and when the camp arrives at Kairwan, the Bey sends an order to the Arabs of the district to let the water run down to the place where the tents are pitched. When we arrived, the water had just come. We saw warrens of hares, and caught many with the dogs. Troops of gazelles were also surprised; one was fired at, and went off scampering on three legs. The hawks caught a beautiful bird called hobara, or habary, 73 about the size of the small hen-turkey, lily white on the back, light brown brindle, tuft of long white feathers on its head, and ruffle of long black feathers, which they stretch out at pleasure, with a large grey eye. A curious prickly plant grows about here, something like a dwarf broom, if its leaves were sharp thorns, it is called Kardert. The Bey made R. a present of the hobara.
One day three gazelles were caught, and also a fox, by R.‘s greyhound, which behaved extremely well, and left the other dogs in the rear, every now and then attacking him in the hind-quarters. Saw seven or eight hobaras, but too windy for the hawks to be flown. Captain B. chased a gazelle himself, and had the good fortune to catch him. As soon as an Arab secures an animal, he immediately cuts its throat, repeating “Bismillah, Allah Akbar,” “In the name (of God), God is great.”
We marched seventeen miles to a place called Aly Ben Own, the name of the saint buried close by. The plain we crossed must have been once thickly inhabited, as there were many remains. We were joined by more Arabs, and our force continued to augment. The Bey, being in want of horses, the same system of seizing them was adopted as with the camels.
One splendid morning that broke over our encampment we had an opportunity of witnessing Africa’s most gorgeous scenery. 74 Plenty of hobaras; they fly like a goose. The hawks took two or three of them, also some hares. The poor hare does not know what to make of the hawks; after a little running, it gives itself up for death, only first dodging out of the bird’s pounce, or hiding itself in a tuft of grass or a bush, but which it is not long allowed to do, for the Arabs soon drive it out from its vain retreat. The hawk, when he seizes the hare with one claw, catches hold of any tuft of grass or irregularity of the ground with the other; a strong leather strap is also fastened from one leg to the other, to prevent them from being pulled open or strained. We came upon a herd of small deer, called ebba, which are a little larger than the gazelle, but they soon bounded beyond our pursuit, leaving us scarcely time to admire their delicate make and unapproachable speed.
We crossed a range of hills into another plain, at the extremity of which lies Ghafsa. The surface was naked, with the exception of tufts of strong, rushy grass, almost a sure indication of hares, and of which we started a great number. We saw another description of bird, called rhaad, 75 with white wings, which flew like a pigeon, but more swiftly. Near our tract were the remains of a large tank of ancient Roman construction. The Bey shot a fox. Marched fourteen or fifteen miles to Zwaneah, which means “little garden,” though there is no sign of such thing, unless it be the few oranges, dates, and pomegranates which they find here. We had water from a tank of modern construction; some remains were close to the camp, the ancient cistern and stone duct leading from the hills. We had two thousand camels with the camp and following it, for which not a single atom of provender is carried, the camels subsisting scantily upon the coarse grass, weeds or thorns, which the soil barely affords. The camel is very fond of sharp, prickly thorns. You look upon the animal, with its apparently most tender mouth, chopping the sharpest thorns it can find, full of amazement! Some of the chiefs who have lately joined us, have brought their wives with them, riding on camels in a sort of palanquin or shut-up machine. These palanquins have a kind of mast and shrouds, from which a bell is slung, tinkling with the swinging motion of the camel. This rude contrivance makes the camel more than ever “the ship of the Desert.” Several fine horses were brought in as presents to the Bey, one a very fine mare.
Our next march was towards Ghafsa, about twenty miles off. We were joined by a considerable number of fresh Arabs, who “played at powder,” and kept firing and galloping before the Bey the whole day; some of them managed themselves and their arms and horses with great address, balancing the firelock on their heads, firing it, twisting it round, throwing it into the air, and catching it again, and all without once losing the command of their horses. An accident happened amidst the fun; two of the parties came in contact, and one of them received a dreadful gash on the forehead. The dresses of some of them were very rich, and looked very graceful on horseback. A ride over sand-hills brought us in view of the town, embedded in olive and date-trees, looking fresh and green after our hot and dusty march; it lay stretched at the foot of a range of hills, which formed the boundaries of another extensive plain.
We halted at Ghafsa, 76 which is almost a mass of rubbish filled with dirty people, although there are plenty of springs about, principally hot and mineral waters. Although the Moors, by their religion, are enjoined the constant use of the bath, yet because they do not change their linen and other clothes, they are always very dirty. They do not, however, exceed the Maltese and Sicilians, and many other people of the neighbourhood, in filth, and perhaps the Moors are cleaner in their hahits than they. The Arabs are extremely disgusting, and their women are often seen in a cold winter’s evening, standing with their legs extended over a smoky wood fire, holding up their petticoats, and continuing in this indelicate position for hours together.
In these Thermæ, or hot, sulphurous, and other mineral springs, is the phenomenon of the existence of fish and small snakes. These were observed by our tourists, but I shall give three other authorities besides them. Shaw says: “‘The Ouri-el-Nout,’ i.e., ‘Well of Fish,’ and the springs of Ghasa and Toser, nourish a number of small fishes of the mullet and perch kind, and are of an easy digestion. Of the like quality are the other waters of the Jereed, all of them, after they become cold, being the common drink of the inhabitants.” Sir Grenville Temple remarks: “The thermometer in the water marked ninety-five degrees; and, what is curious, a considerable number of fish is found in this stream, which measure from four to six inches in length, and resemble, in some degree, the gudgeon, having a delicate flavour. Bruce mentions a similar fact, but he says he saw it in the springs of Feriana. Part of the ancient structure of these baths still exists, and pieces of inscriptions are observed in different places.”
Mr. Honneger has made a sketch of this fish. The wood-cut represents it one half the natural size:
The snake, not noticed by former tourists, has been observed by Mr. Honneger, which nourishes itself entirely upon the fish. The wood-cut represents the snake half its natural size:
The fish and the snake live together, though not very amicably, in the hot-springs. Prince Pükler Muskau, who travelled in Tunis, narrates that, “Near the ruins of Utica was a warm spring, in whose almost hot waters we found several turtles, which seemed to inhabit this basin.”
However, perhaps, there is no such extraordinary difficulty in the apprehension of this phenomenon, for “The Gulf Stream,” on leaving the Gulf of Mexico, “has a temperature of more than 27° (centigrade), or 80–6/10 degrees of Fahrenheit.” 77
Many a fish must pass through and live in this stream. And after all, since water is the element of fish, and is hotter or colder in all regions, like the air, the element of man, which he breathes, warmer or cooler, according to clime and local circumstances — there appear to be no physical objections in the way of giving implicit credence to our tourists.
Water is so abundant, that the adjoining plain might be easily irrigated, and planted with ten thousand palms and forests of olives. God is bountiful in the Desert, but man wilfully neglects these aqueous riches springing up eternally to repair the ravages of the burning simoum! In one of the groves we met a dervish, who immediately set about charming our Boab. He began by an incantation, then seized him round the middle, and, stooping a little, lifted him on his shoulders, continuing the while the incantation. He then put him on his feet again, and, after several attempts, appeared to succeed in bringing off his stomach something in the shape of leaden bullets, which he then, with an air of holy swagger, presented to the astonished guard of the Bey. The dervish next spat on his patient’s hands, closed them in his own, then smoothed him down the back like a mountebank smooths his pony, and stroked also his head and beard; and, after further gentle and comely ceremonies of this sort, the charming of the charmer finished, and the Boab presented the holy man with his fee. We dined at the Kaëd’s house; this functionary was a very venerable man, a perfect picture of a patriarch of the olden Scriptural times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There was not a single article of furniture in the room, except a humble sofa, upon which he sat.
We inspected the old Kasbah at Ghafsa, which is in nearly a state of ruin, and looked as if it would soon be down about our ears. It is an irregular square, and built chiefly of the remains of ancient edifices. It was guarded by fifty Turks, whose broken-down appearance was in perfect harmony with the citadel they inhabited. The square in a building is the favourite form of the Moors and Mohammedans generally; the Kaaba of Mecca, the sanctum sanctorum, is a square. The Moors endeavour to imitate the sacred objects of their religion in every way, even in the commonest affairs of human existence, whilst likewise their troops of wives and concubines are only an earthly foretaste and an earnest of the celestial ladies they expect to meet hereafter.
We saw them making oil, which was in a very primitive fashion. The oil-makers were nearly all women. The olives were first ground between stones worked by the hands, until they became of the consistence of paste, which was then taken down to the stream and put into a wooden tub with water. On being stirred up, the oil rises to the top, which they skim off with their hands and put into skins or jars; when thus skimmed, they pass the grounds or refuse through a sieve, the water running off; the stones and pulp are then saved for firing. But in this way much of the oil is lost, as may be seen by the greasy surface of the water below where this rude process is going on. Among the oil-women, we noticed a girl who would have been very pretty and fascinating had she washed herself instead of the olives. We entered an Arab house inhabited by some twenty persons, chiefly women, who forthwith unceremoniously took off our caps, examined very minutely all our clothes with an excited curiosity, laughed heartily when we put our hands in our pockets, and wished to do the same, and then pulled our hair, looking under our faces with amorous glances. On the hill overlooking the town, we also met two women screaming frightfully and tearing their faces; we learned that one of them had lost her child. The women make the best blankets here with handlooms, and do the principal heavy work.
We saw some hobaras, also a bird called getah, smaller than a partridge, something like a ptarmigan, with its summer feathers, and head shaped like a quail. The Bey sent two live ones to R., besides a couple of large jerboahs of this part, called here, gundy. They are much like the guinea-pig, but of a sandy colour, and very soft and fine, like a young hare. The jerboahs in the neighbourhood of Tunis are certainly more like the rat. The other day, near the south-west gates, we fell in with a whole colony of them — which, however, were the lesser animal, or Jerd species — who occupied an entire eminence to themselves, the sovereignty of which seemed to have been conceded to them by the Bey of Tunis. They looked upon us as intruders, and came very near to us, as if asking us why we had the audacity to disturb the tranquillity of their republic. The ground here in many places was covered with a substance like the rime of a frosty morning; it tastes like salt, and from it they get nitre. Captain B. thinks it was salt. The water which we drank was brought from Ghafsa: the Bey drinks water brought from Tunis. We marched across a vast plain, covered with the salt just mentioned, which was congealed in shining heaps around bushes or tufts of grass, and among which also scampered a few hares. We encamped at a place called Ghorbatah. Close to the camp was a small shallow stream, on each side of which grew many canes; we bathed in the stream, and felt much refreshed. The evening was pleasantly cool, like a summer evening in England, and reminded us of the dear land of our birth. Numerous plains in North Africa are covered with saline and nitrous efflorescence; to the presence of these minerals is owing the inexhaustible fertility of the soil, which hardly ever receives any manure, only a little stubble being occasionally burnt.
We saw flights of the getah, and of another bird called the gedur, nearly the same, but rather lighter in colour. When they rise from the ground, they make a curious noise, something like a partridge. We were unusually surprised by a flight of locusts, not unlike grasshoppers, of about two inches long, and of a reddish colour. Saw also gazelles. Halted by the dry bed of a river, called Furfouwy. A pool supplied the camp: in the mountains, at a distance, there was, however, a delicious spring, a stream of liquid pearls in these thirsty lands! A bird called mokha appeared now and then; it is about the size of a nightingale, and of a white light-brown colour. We seldom heard such sweet notes as this bird possesses. Its flying is beautifully novel and curious; it runs on the ground, and now and then stops and rises about fifteen feet from the surface, giving, as it ascends, two or three short slow whistles, when it opens its graceful tail and darts down to the ground, uttering another series of melodious whistles, but much quicker than when it rises.
We continued our march over nearly the same sort of country, but all was now flat as far as the eye could see, the hills being left behind us. About eight miles from Furfouwy, we came to a large patch of date-trees, watered by many springs, but all of them hot. Under the grateful shade of the lofty palm were flowers and fruits in commingled sweetness and beauty. Here was the village of Dra-el-Hammah, surrounded, like all the towns of the Jereed, with date-groves and gardens. The houses were most humbly built of mud and bricks. After a scorching march, we encamped just beyond, having made only ten miles. Saw quantities of bright soft spar, called talc. Here also the ground was covered with a saline effloresence. Near us were put up about a dozen blue cranes, the only birds seen to-day. A gazelle was caught, and others chased. We particularly observed huge patches of ground covered with salt, which, at a distance, appeared just like water.
70 Bash, means chief, as Bash–Mameluke, chief of the Mamelukes. It is a Turkish term.
71 This office answers vulgarly to our Boots at English inns.
72 Bismilla, Arabic for “In the name of God!” the Mohammedan grace before meat, and also drink.
73 Shaw says. — “The hobara is of the bigness of a capon, it feeds upon the little grubs or insects, and frequents the confines of the Desert. The body is of a light dun or yellowish colour, and marked over with little brown touches, whilst the larger feathers of the wing are black, with each of them a white spot near the middle; those of the neck are whitish with black streaks, and are long and erected when the bird is attacked. The bill is flat like the starling’s, nearly an inch and a half long, and the legs agree in shape and in the want of the hinder toe with the bustard’s, but it is not, as Golins says, the bustard, that bird being twice as big as the hobara. Nothing can be more entertaining than to see this bird pursued by the hawk, and what a variety of flights and stratagems it makes use of to escape.” The French call the hobara, a little bustard, poule de Carthage, or Carthage-fowl. They are frequently sold in the market of Tunis, as ordinary fowls, but eat something like pheasant, and their flesh is red.
74 The most grandly beautiful view in Tunis is that from the Belvidere, about a mile north-west from the capital, looking immediately over the Marsa road. Here, on a hill of very moderate elevation, you have the most beautiful as well as the most magnificent panoramic view of sea and lake, mountain and plain, town and village, in the whole Regency, or perhaps in any other part of North Africa. There are besides many lovely walks around the capital, particularly among and around the craggy heights of the south-east. But these are little frequented by the European residents, the women especially, who are so stay-at-homeative that the greater part of them never walked round the suburbs once in their lives. Europeans generally prefer the Marina, lined on each side, not with pleasant trees, but dead animals, sending forth a most offensive smell.
75 Shaw says: “The rhaad, or safsaf, is a granivorous and gregarious bird, which wanteth the hinder toe. There are two species, and both about and a little larger than the ordinary pullet. The belly of both is white, back and wings of a buff colour spotted with brown, tail lighter and marked all along with black transverse streaks, beak and legs stronger than the partridge. The name rhaad, “thunder,” is given to it from the noise it makes on the ground when it rises, safsaf, from its beating the air, a sound imitating the motion.”
76 Ghafsa, whose name Bochart derives from the Hebrew “comprimere,” is an ancient city, claiming as its august founder, the Libyan Hercules. It was one of the principal towns in the dominions of Jugurtha, and well-fortified, rendered secure by being placed in the midst of immense deserts, fabled to have been inhabited solely by snakes and serpents. Marius took it by a coup-de-main, and put all the inhabitants to the sword. The modern city is built on a gentle eminence, between two arid mountains, and, in a great part, with the materials of the ancient one. Ghafsa has no wall of enceinte, or rather a ruined wall surrounds it, and is defended by a kasbah, containing a small garrison. This place may be called the gate of the Tunisian Sahara; it is the limit of Blad-el-Jereed; the sands begin now to disappear, and the land becomes better, and more suited to the cultivation of corn. Three villages are situated in the environs, Sala, El–Kesir, and El–Ghetar. A fraction of the tribe of Hammand deposit their grain in Ghafsa. This town is famous for its manufactories of baraeans and blankets ornamented with pretty coloured flowers. There is also a nitre and powder-manufactory, the former obtained from the earth by a very rude process.
The environs are beautifully laid out in plantations of the fig, the pomegranate, and the orange, and especially the datepalm, and the olive-tree. The oil made here is of peculiarly good quality, and is exported to Tugurt, and other oases of the Desert.
77 Kaemtz’s Meteorology, p. 191.
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