Monthly scrap book, for October/The Camel; a Story of the Desert

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Monthly scrap book, for October  (1832) 
The Camel; a Story of the Desert






The extraordinary scent of the camel enables him to discover water at a great distance; and thus, in the wildest regions of the desert, the caravan is often preserved from destruction by this instinct. In the neighbourhood of wells, such as are found in the Hadj routes, the camels, after passing rocky districts, that fatigue them more than several days' march upon the plains, surfeit themselves with water. This renders them still weaker, and they often perish. Camels' carcases are as frequently found and in the accustomed roads as in the deserts; and when the pilgrimage leaves Mecca, the very way is corrupt with the bodies of camels that have died of exhaustion after performing the journey. On the road, when a camel falls, he is usually felled according to the Mahometan fashion, which is to turn his head towards Mecca, and cut his throat. On such occasions the Arabs wait in savage impatience the signal of the owner, ready to plunge their knives into the poor animal, and tear off a portion of the flesh. At seasons of great privation, the water which is found in the cells of the camel's stomach is eagerly swallowed by the Arabs.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth days' marches on the Cairo Hadj, through the deserts of Tyh, are exceedingly exhausting and dangerous. The weary pilgrims halt for a day and a night at the castle of Nakhel, in the middle of the desert where they replenish their water-skins; but they march again in the evening of the seventh day and, finding no water in their route, halt not till the morning of the tenth, when they have reached the plain and castle of Akaba. This district presents fearful monuments of the sufferings of the caravan. "Past the Akaba," says Burckhard "near the head of the Red Sea, the bones of dead camels are the only guides of the pilgrim through the wastes of sand." It is, perhaps, rarely that the pilgrims perish with thirst on the road, unless some of them wander from the main body; or the caravan, losing its way, overshoots the day's station. Where there are no landmarks but those which are formed by the traces of former devastation—by "the bones of dead camels"—such a circumstance is not difficult to happen even to the most experienced guides. The water-skins are in such cases, emptied, and horses and men perish in a state of miserable despair, while the wearied camels drop with exhaustation. Probably these afflictions happen more frequently to private caravans than to those of the pilgrimage. Burckhard relates an interestiug story of such an event in the Nubian desert, which beautifully illustrates the surprising instinct of the camel. It was told to him by a man who had himself suffered all the pangs of death:

"In the month of August, a small caravan prepared to set out from Berber to Daraou. They consisted of five merchants and about thirty slaves, with a proportionate number of camels. Afraid of the roboer Naym, who at that time was in the habit of waylaying travellers about the well of (illegible text)edjeym, and who had constant intelligence of the departure of every caravan from Berber, they determined to take a more eastern road, by the well Owareyk. They had hired an Ababde guide, who conducted them in safety to that place, but who lost his way from thence northward, the route being very unfrequented. After five days' march in the mountains their stock of water was exhausted, nor did they know where they were. They resolved, therefore, to direct their course toward the setting sun, hoping thus to reach the Nile, after two days' thirst; fifteen slaves and one of the merchants died; another of them, an Ababde, who had ten camels with him, thinking that the camels might know better than their masters where water was to be found, desired his comrades to tie him fast upon the saddle of his strongest camel, that he might not fall down from weakness; and thus be parted from them, permitting his camels to take their own way: but neither the man nor his camel were ever heard of afterwards. On the eighth day after leaving Owareyk, the survivors came in sight of the mountains of Shigre, which they immediately recognized; but their strength was quite exhausted, and neither men nor beasts were able to move any farther. Lying down under a rock they sent two of then servants, with the two strongest remaining camels, in search of water. Before these two men could reach the mountain, one of them dropped off his camel deprived of speech, and able only to move his hands to his comrade as a signal that he desired to be left to his fate, The survivor then continued his route but such was the effect of thirst upon him that his eyes grew dim, and he lost the road, though he had often travelled over it before, and had been perfectly acquainted with it. Having wandered about for a long time, he alighted under the shade of a tree, and tied the camel to one of its branches; the beast, however, smelt the water (as the Arabs express it), and, wearied as it was, broke its halter, and set off galloping furiously in the direction of the spring, which, as it afterwards appeared, was at half an hour's distance. The , well understanding the camel's action, endeavoured to follow its footsteps, but could only move a few yards; he fell exhausted on the ground, and was about to breathe his last, when Providence led that way, from a neighbouring encampment, a Bisharye Bedouin, who, by throwing water upon the man's face, restored him to his senses They then went hastily together to the water, filled the skins, and returning to the caravan, had the good fortune to find the sufferers still alive. The Bisharye received a slave for his trouble. My informer, a native of Yembo, in Arabia, was the man whose camel discovered the spring; and he added the remarkable circumstance, that the youngest slaves bore the thirst better than the rest, and that, while the grown up boys all died, the children reached Egypt in safety."

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.