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?rivHE northern skirting of the great African
,ty3 desert, hitherto, somewhat incorrectly, marked
-on our maps as the Beled-el-Jerid, or date-country,
is a region of sandy plains, covered for the most
part with coarse scanty grass, a few ligneous
'plants, and dry shrubs. Here and there are
furrows, in which the water collects after the rains
'of winter, forming the temporary streams called
wads, which give birth to numerous oases. These
fertile spots are favourable to the cultivation of the date,
which is their staple, though by no means their only pro
» 'duction, and hence the whole country has derived its name.
Two races, differing widely both in their origin and mode of
life, inhabit this region of scanty pasture-lands and fruitful
gardens. The older occupants are the Berbers, now formed,
through a succession of generations, into a distinct and homogeneous race, though descended from the mixed population that anciently arose in the Atlas region, through the settlement of Romans, Vandals, and others, among the primitive inhabitants. The dominant people are more recent immigrants of Arab descent, in character and manners very unlike the soft, apathetic, crafty, and servile Berbers. Various tribes of the former nation have poured themselves into Northern Africa since the Mohammedan conquest, and have settled in various parts of that fertile strip of country which is now again known as the Tell; while some of these hordes, more true to their vagabond instincts, despising the sedentary and agricultural life which naturally belongs to towns and arable-lands, have spread over the plains of Sahara, and made themselves masters not only of the open country, but of large portions of the lands of the oases. They have left the Berbers in peaceable possession of the ksars (villages of the oases), allowing them to cultivate the soil as their tenants or serfs, while they themselves range about with their numerous flocks and herds, never remaining more than ten or fifteen days in one spot, enjoying in perfection that wild, lawless, independent life, the taste for which seems to be the birthright of the Arab wherever he is found. Here there is full scope for the development of this singular character. Throughout the length and breadth of the Sahara, there is no regular government; 'blest of Allah, and far from sultans,' is their mode of proudly characterising their lot in this respect. The various tribes do not even form anything like a community among themselves; each has its own allies and enemies; but the alliances are voluntary and temporary, arising out of occasional circumstances, and forming the exception, while the rule is, that every tribe may be treated as an enemy by every other tribe. They have no written laws; their individual rights are maintained, and their wrongs redressed, by violences which no written code would sanction; yet there has grown up a collection of traditional usages which are generally submitted to, and which it would be unsafe to violate, from the danger of becoming an outlaw among outlaws. This code appears to us, indeed, little more than the organisation of brigandage; yet it suffices to prevent quarrels among brethren: it is sanctioned by their religion, and is openly invoked as of divine authority.
The manners arising out of this state of society must needs be very unlike our own, or those of the civilised nations with whom we maintain correspondence; perhaps quite as dissimilar are they to the usages of mere savage life on the one hand, or those of half-civilised sedentary populations on the other. It is no small part of the interest attaching to them, that they bear a striking analogy to those which prevailed in Europe during the feudal ages, and that almost every page of description with which our French neighbours furnish us, reminds us of the records of our chivalrous romances; of those days when, as we are led to believe, might was the surest right, when the sword and not the judge
and jury of a court decided questions at issue between gentlemen, and when the worshippers of the Prince of Peace continually invoked him as the 'God of battles.' *
This reign of violence, as it existed among us, was not found inconsistent with chivalrous piety, bravery, and courtesy; and neither is it so among the people we are describing. Chivalry, in the fullest sense of the term, is the normal life of the Arab of the desert—that is, of the noble, the master of the tent. War, hunting, prayer, and the cares of hospitality, are the only occupations worthy of his attention. Everything else is accidental, or falls to the lot of the Berber, the shepherd, the farrier, and the slave. We propose in the following pages to sketch this mode" of life, so far as we have been made acquainted with it by those who have passed many years in Northern Africa, and have collected their information among the natives themselves. If any of our readers should pronounce that Arab chivalry, as we describe it, is, in a moral and social point of view, as inferior to European as the Mohammedan religion is to the Christian, or the nomade tent to the turreted castle, we will not dispute with him. It is chivalry, such as the case admits of, based on the absence of regular government, fostered by a system of feudality, and characterised by the taste for aristocratic pastimes and wild adventures.
THE MAKHZEN, OR ARAB HORSEMAN.
Our knight of the desert—makhzen, as he is called, who 'lives in the stirrups '-—is a man of dry, nervous constitution, sunburnt visage, well-proportioned limbs, and somewhat tall stature. His eye is keen and certain: at the distance of eight or ten miles he can distinguish a man from a woman; and at twelve, a flock of sheep from camels. Everything in his mode of life tends to the developing and strengthening of the physical powers; he holds courage in the highest estimation, and he pities, but without scorning or insulting, those who are deficient in this respect. 'It is not their fault,' he says, 'that they were born without liver; it was the will of Heaven!'
The true makhzen must eat little, and drink less. If he cannot support thirst, he will never be a warrior; he is only a marsh-frog. He must train and feed his own horse, studying its temper and constitution in every respect. He must know how much barley agrees with him, as he knows with what measure of powder to load his gun; and he must accustom him to understand and obey the slightest intimation of his will.
But though extremely temperate, and capable of enduring great privations, our Saharian Arab never neglects an opportunity of eating much and well in obedience to the claims of hospitality. His ordinary food is simple, and displays little variety; but, on great occasions, guests are feasted most worthily; and let there occur the patronal banquet of a tribe or duar in which he has friends, he will not insult them by withholding his company; should it cost him a journey of eighty or a hundred miles, he will be there, and do ample justice to the good cheer. He feels that he is ready to render the like hospitality when occasion offers: he has not to do with the mercenary niggards of the towns, whose utmost stretch of hospitality reaches only to offering four square feet of carpet to sit down, with a pipe of tobacco, and a cup of coffee without sugar, or mayhap, sweetened only after a lengthy preliminary dissertation on sugarless coffee.
The necessity for having grain, were it only for the horses, obliges the nomade to visit the Tell once a year, at the end of summer. Here he obtains cereals, butter, firearms, &c., and finds a market for such of his sheep or camels as he chooses to dispose of, with the wool of his numerous flocks, the ostrich feathers and eggs which have rewarded his sporting prowess, and the dates and woollen manufactures that are the result of the industry of his Berber dependents in the oases. Some individuals, as well as tribes, are much wealthier than others, and make a considerable display of Saharian luxury. They have princely hunts, banquets of venison, thorough-bred horses, richly chased arms, ample hirnooscs (cloaks), fine hykes (scarfs), kennels of greyhounds, and falcons trained for sport. Their women wear silken girdles and kerchiefs, silver ornaments for the ankles, wrists, arms, and fingers, with necklaces made of pieces of money, mother-of-pearl, coral, jet, and cloves.
General Daumas took the trouble of making a particular inventory of the itinerating establishment of a wealthy individual of this class. It included, in the first place, four wives—the number allowed to the Mussulman by the Koran; four sons, of whom two had a wife and son each. If he had daughters or granddaughters, they were married, and removed from his protection. Then there were two male and two female servants, besides four male and four female negro slaves. The animals privileged to live as inmates of the tent were the stallion of the master, six thorough-bred mares for his sons and grandsons, two common ones for servants, six asses, and two greyhounds.
To shelter this family there was a very large tent, made of sixteen pieces of woollen stuff, each forty cubits long and two wide. Within was a scarlet-coloured carpet, twelve cubits long and four broad, for separating the men's apartment from that of the women. There were two Arab beds, of scarlet woollen carpets, fifty cubits long and five broad; six cushions filled with woollen garments, used for sleeping on; and six in antelope skin tanned, serving to contain clothes and spun-wool, and to lean upon in the tent; six palanquins, or woollen hammocks, in which the females travel on camel-back; and six red hykes (large scarfs, or what in Scotland are called plaids) to cover them. Twenty woollen sacks for carrying grain; and six for money, jewels, cotton stuffs, morocco, &c. The supplies consisted of six hamal, or loads of corn, twelve of barley, and eight of dates; fifteen ox-skins of water; twelve sheep-skins of butter; and four of honey. A store of gunpowder, balls, and flints. The domestic utensils seemed to include only one copper pot for cooking meat; two large vessels for making Twoskoos; four copper and six wooden vessels for drinking; three wooden plates for handing food to strangers; ten pair of shears for clipping sheep; and some half-dozen tools for pitching the tent. The weapons included for each of the gentlemen a silver-mounted gun, sabre, and pistol; for each of the servants, also, a gun; and for each negro, a pistol and sabre. There was, besides, a smaller tent, with its carpets and cushions, for travelling and entertaining strangers. The livestock out of doors was 8000 sheep, 530 camels, and ten goats, whose only use was to lead the sheep. The pets were two tame gazelles, a young antelope, and an ostrich.*
But a man of this importance has depots in three or four of the dependent oases. The underground stores, called silos, contain
farments, dates, corn, barley, butter, &c.; and he has probably a ouse in one of the ksars, in which money, jewels, and other valuables are deposited. The following is the estimate that has been made of his whole property:—tents, with their furniture, 741 dollars; a suit of clothes for each of the family, with the women's trinkets, 815 dollars; weapons, 219 dollars ; horse equipments, 376 dollars; horses, cattle, &c., 20,988 dollars; house in the ksar, 60 dollars; goods in the stores, 1100 dollars; money, 2200 dollars: total, 26,499 dollars. Of this money, it is supposed that he carries perhaps 600 dollars about with him, and the rest is in the ksar, being partly deposited in the house and partly lent among the inhabitants.
The women of the family perform the cooking, and weave the coarser fabrics required-—such as the materials of the tents, the carpets, sacks, horsecloths, &c.; while the negresses perform the more servile domestic labours—such as carrying wood and water. The finer fabrics used for personal clothing are made in the ksars. The male-servants seem to be chiefly employed out of doors, but some of them repair the horse-trappings and other accoutrements.
The chief of every tribe administers justice—an easy task where the delinquencies are few, and provided against by fixed penalties. He who steals a sheep forfeits sixty bovjous; he who clandestinely visits his neighbour's wife, ten sheep; he who commits murder is punished with death, or, if he escapes by flight, all his property is confiscated except the tent, which is spared to shelter his wives and children.
These forfeits are kept by the jemah (council of the tribe), and
* Some individuals are known to possess 2000 camels, and four times as many sheep.