1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fezzan

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FEZZAN (the ancient Phazania, or country of the Garamantes), a region of the Sahara, forming a “kaimakamlik” of the Ottoman vilayet of Tripoli (q.v.). Its frontiers, ill-defined, run from Bonjem, within 50 m. of the Mediterranean on the north, south-westward to the Akakus range of hills, which separates Fezzan from Ghat, thence eastward for over 400 m., and then turn north and west to Bonjem again, embracing an area of about 156,000 sq. m.

Physical Features.—The general form of the country is determined by the ranges of hills, including the Jebel-es-Suda (highest peak about 4000 ft.), the Haruj-el-Aswad and the Haruj-el-Abiad, which between 14° and 19° E. and 27° and 29° N. form the northern edge of a broad desert plateau, and shut off the northern region draining to the Mediterranean from the depressions in which lie the oases of Fezzan proper in the south. The central depression of Hofra (“ditch”), as it is called, lies in about 26° N. It does not form a continuous fertile tract, but consists of a monotonous sandy expanse somewhat more thickly studded with oases than the surrounding wastes. The Hofra at its lowest part is not more than 600 ft. above the sea-level, and in this hollow is situated the capital Murzuk. It has a general east to west direction. North-west of the Hofra is a long narrow valley, the Wadi-el-Gharbi, which trends north-east and is the most fertile district of Fezzan. It contains several perennial springs and lake-like basins. One of these basins, the saline Bahr-el-Dud (“Sea of Worms”), has an extent of 600 sq. m., and is in places 26 ft. deep. Southwards the Hofra rises to a height of 2000 ft., and in this direction lies the oasis of Gatron, followed by Tejerri on the verge of the desert, which marks the southern limit of the date and the northern of the dum palm. Beyond Tejerri the Saharan plateau rises continuously to the Tibesti highlands. (See further Tripoli.)

Climate.—The average temperature of Murzuk was found by Rohlfs to be 70° F. Frost is not uncommon in the winter months. The climate is a very regular one, and is in general healthy, the dryness of the air in summer making the heat more bearable than on the sea coast. An almost perpetual blue sky overhangs the desert, and the people of Fezzan are so unaccustomed to and so ill-prepared for wet weather that, as in Tuat and Tidikelt, they pray to be spared from rain. Water is found almost everywhere at small depths.

Flora and Fauna.—The date-palm is the characteristic tree of Fezzan, and constitutes the chief wealth of the land. Many different kinds of date-palms are found in the oases: in that of Murzuk alone more than 30 varieties are counted, the most esteemed being named the Tillis, Tuati and Auregh. In all Fezzan the date is the staple food, not only for men, but for camels, horses and dogs. Even the stones of the fruit are softened and given to the cattle. The huts of the poorer classes are entirely made of date-palm leaves, and the more substantial habitations consist chiefly of the same material. The produce of the tree is small, 100 full-grown trees yielding only about 40 cwt. of dates. Besides the date there are numerous olive, fig and almond trees. Various grains are cultivated. Wheat and barley are sown in winter, and in spring, summer and autumn several kinds of durra, especially ksob and gafoli. Cotton flourishes, is perennial for six or seven years, and gives large pods of moderate length of staple.

There are no large carnivora in Fezzan. In the uninhabited oases gazelles and antelopes are occasionally found. The most important animal is the camel, of which there are two varieties, the Tebu or Sudan camel and the Arabian, differing very much in size, form and capabilities. Horses and cattle are not numerous. Among birds are ostriches, falcons, vultures, swallows and ravens; in summer wild pigeons and ducks are numerous, but in winter they seek a warmer climate. There are no remarkable insects or snakes. A species of Artemia or brine shrimp, about a quarter of an inch in length, of a colour resembling the bright hue of the gold fish, is fished for with cotton nets in the “Sea of Worms,” and mixed with dates and kneaded into a paste, which has the taste and smell of salt herring, is considered a luxury by the people of Fezzan.

Inhabitants.—The total population is estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000. The inhabitants are a mixed people, derived from the surrounding Teda and Bornu on the south, Tuareg of the plateaus on the west, Berbers and Arabs from the north. The primitive inhabitants, called by their Arab conquerors Berāuna, are believed to have been of Negro origin. They no longer persist as a distinct people. In colour the present inhabitants vary from black to white, but the prevailing hue of skin is a Malay-like yellow, the features and woolly hair being Negro. The chief languages are the Kanuri or Bornu language and Arabic. Many understand Targish, the Teda and the Hausa tongues. If among such a mixed people there can be said to be any national language, it is that of Bornu, which is most widely understood and spoken. The people of Sokna, north of the Jebel-es-Suda, have a peculiar Berber dialect which Rohlfs found to be very closely allied to that of Ghadames. The men wear a haik or barakan like those of Tripoli, and a fez; short hose, and a large loose shirt called mansarīa, with red or yellow slippers, complete their toilet. Yet one often sees the large blue or white tobe of Bornu, and the litham or shawl-muffler of the Tuareg, wound round the mouth to keep out the blown sand of the desert. The women, who so long as they are young have very plump forms, and who are generally small, are more simply dressed, as a rule, in the barakan, wound round their bodies; they seldom wear shoes, but generally have sandals made of palm leaf. Like the Arab women they load arms and legs with heavy metal rings, which are of silver among the more wealthy. The hair, thickly greased with butter, soon catching the dust which forms a crust over it, is done up in numberless little plaits round the head, in the same fashion as in Bornu and the Hausa countries. Children run about naked until they attain the age of puberty, which comes very early, for mothers of ten or twelve years of age are not uncommon. The Fezzani are of a gay disposition, much given to music and dancing.

Towns and Trade.—Murzuk, the present capital, which is in telegraphic communication with the town of Tripoli, lies in the western corner of the Hofra depression, in 25° 55′ N. and 14° 10′ E. It was founded about 1310, about which time the kasbah or citadel was built. The Turks repaired it, as well as the town-wall, which has, however, again fallen into a ruinous condition. Murzuk, which had in 1906 some 3000 inhabitants, is cut in two by a wide street, the dendal. The citadel and most of the houses are built of salt-saturated dried mud. Sokna, about midway between Tripoli and Murzuk, situated on a great gravel plain north of the Suda range, has a population of about 2500.

Garama (Jerma-el-Kedima), the capital under the Garamantes and the Romans, was in the Wadi-el-Gharbi. It was a flourishing town at the time of the Arab conquest but is now deserted. Among the ruins is a well-preserved stone monument marking the southern limit of the Roman dominions in this part of Africa. The modern Jerma is a small place a little north of the site of Garama. Zuila, the capital under the Arabs, lies in a depression called the Sherguia east of Murzuk on the most direct caravan route to Barca and Egypt. Of Traghen, the capital under the Nesur dynasty, which was on the same caravan route and between Zuila and Murzuk, little besides the ruined kasbah remains.

Placed roughly midway between the countries of the central Sudan and Tripoli, Fezzan serves as a depot for caravans crossing the Sahara; its commerce is unimportant. Its most important export is that of dates. Slave dealing, formerly the most lucrative occupation of the people, is moribund owing to the stoppage of slave raiding by the European governments in their Sudan territories.

History.—The country formed part of the territory of the Garamantes, described by Herodotus as a very powerful people. Attempts have been made to identify the Garamantes with the Berāuna of the Arabs of the 7th century, and to the period of the Garamantes Duveyrier assigns the remains of remarkable hydraulic works, and certain tombs and rock sculptures—indications, it is held, of a Negro civilization of ancient date which existed in the northern Sahara. The Garamantes, whether of Libyan or Negro origin, had certainly a considerable degree of civilization when in the year 19 B.C. they were conquered by the proconsul L. Cornelius Balbus Minor and their country added to the Roman empire. By the Romans it was called Phazania, whence the present name Fezzan. After the Vandal invasion Phazania appears to have regained independence and to have been ruled by a Berāuna dynasty. At this time the people were Christians, but in 666 the Arabs conquered the country and all traces of Christianity seem speedily to have disappeared. Subject at first to the caliphs, an independent Arab dynasty, that of the Beni Khattab, obtained power early in the 10th century. In the 13th century the country came under the rule of the king of Kanem (Bornu), but soon afterwards the Nesur, said to have been a native or Berāuna dynasty, were in power. More probably the Nesur were hereditary governors originally appointed by the rulers of Kanem. In the 14th century the Nesur were conquered and dethroned by an Arab tribe, that of Khorman, who reduced the people of Fezzan to a state of slavery, a position from which they were rescued about the middle of the 16th century by a sherif of Morocco, Montasir-b.-Mahommed, who founded the dynasty of Beni Mahommed. This dynasty, which came into frequent conflict with the Turks, who had about the same time that Montasir secured Fezzan established themselves in Tripoli, gradually extended its borders as far as Sokna in the north. It was the Beni Mahommed who chose Murzuk as their capital. They became intermittently tributary to the pasha of Tripoli, but within Fezzan the power of the sultans was absolute. They maintained a bodyguard of mamelukes, mostly Europeans—Greeks, Genoese, or their immediate descendants. The annual tribute was paid to the pasha either in money or in gold, senna or slaves. The last of the Beni Mahommed sultans was killed in the vicinity of Traghen in 1811 by El-Mukkeni, one of the lieutenants of Yusef Pasha, the last sovereign but one of the independent Karamanli dynasty of Tripoli. El-Mukkeni now made himself sultan of Fezzan, and became notorious by his slaving expeditions into the central Sudan, in which he advanced as far as Bagirmi. In 1831, Abd-el-Jelil, a chief of the Walid-Sliman Arabs, usurped the sovereign authority. After a troublous reign of ten years he was slain in battle by a Turkish force under Bakir Bey, and Fezzan was added to the Turkish empire. Towards the end of the 19th century the Turks, alarmed at the increase of French influence in the neighbouring countries, reinforced their garrison in Fezzan. The kaimakamlik is said to yield an annual revenue of £6000 only to the Tripolitan treasury.

Authorities.—The most notable of the European travellers who have visited Fezzan, and to whose works reference should be made for more detailed information regarding it, are, taking them in the order of date, as follows: F. Hornemann, 1798; G. F. Lyon, 1819; D. Denham, H. Clapperton and W. Oudney, 1822; J. Richardson, 1845; H. Barth, 1850–1855; E. Vogel, 1854; H. Duveyrier, 1859–1861; M. von Beurmann, 1862; G. Rohlfs, 1865; G. Nachtigal, 1869; P. L. Monteil, 1892; H. Vischer, 1906. Nachtigal’s Sahara and Sudan, vol. i. (Berlin, 1879), gathers up much of the information in earlier works, and a list of the Beni Mahommed sovereigns is given in A. M. H. J. Stokvis, Manuel d’histoire, vol. i. (Leiden, 1888), p. 471. Miss Tinné (q.v.), who travelled with Nachtigal as far as Murzuk, was shortly afterwards murdered at the Sharaba wells on the road to Ghat.