The Land of Midian/Chapter 5
By the blessing of Nebi Shu’ayb and a glance from his eyrie, I at once suspected that the western Shigd was the “Mountain on a mountain” alluded to by Haji Wali;87 and, on January 12, 1878, I ascertained that such was the case. The old man had given me a hand-sketch of the most artless, showing a gorge between two rocks, a hill of two stages to the left or west, and a couple of Wadys draining it to the sea; one (Wady Makná) trending northwest, and the other (Wady ‘Afál) south-west. The word “Ishmah,” affixed to the northern part of the route, is evidently the Hismá plateau, and not, as I had supposed it to be, the Jebel Tayyib Ism.
Nor had we any difficulty in discovering Haji Wali’s tree, a solitary Mimosa to the right of the caravan-track, springing from the sands of the Shigdawayn gorge. The latter is formed by the sister-blocks before alluded to. The western Shigd, on the right of the Wady ‘Afál, is composed of carbonate of lime and sandstones dyed with manganese, the whole resting upon a core of grey granite; the formation is the same as the eastern feature, but the lines of the latter are gentler, and the culminating tower is wanting.
The western Shigd, indeed, is sufficiently peculiar. It is the southern apex of a short range, numbering some four heads: the eastern flank discharges the Wady Kizáz, which feeds the ‘Afál; and the western the Wady Makná. The summit of the broken and spiny cone is a huge perpendicular block, apparently inaccessible as a tower, and composed of the dull yellow ferruginous conglomerate called “El–Safrá:” the tint contrasts strongly with a long line of bright white Rugham (gypsum), bisecting the head of the Wady Makná. Below the apex is a thick stratum of manganese-stained rock: the upper line, with a dip of 15 deg. towards the main valley, looks much like a row of bulwarks which had slipped from the horizontal, while still bluff between the north-east and east. Indeed, the shape is so regular that M. Lacaze, at first sight, asked if it was une construction.
As soon as the washing-trough was brought up from Sharmá, we opened operations by digging a trench, at least twelve feet deep, in the re-entering angle of the bed close to the Mimosa tree. The sand, pink above and chloritic yellow below, ended in a thick bed of water-rolled pebbles, not in ground-rock; nor did it show the couch of excellent clay which usually underlies the surface, and which, I have said, is extracted through pits to make sun-dried brick, swish, and other building materials. We also secured some of the blood-red earth from the eastern tail of the northern “Shigh,” the manganese-stained Tauá and the gravelly sand washed out of the Cascalho-gravel, the latter very promising. The result of our careless working, however, was not successful; the normal ilmenite, black sand of magnetic iron, took the place of gold-dust. And this unlooked-for end again made us suspicious of my old friend’s proceedings: the first occasion was that of his notable “malingering.” Had he bought a pinch of “Tibr” (pure gold) from the Bedawin, and mixed it with the handful of surface stuff ? Had the assayer at Alexandria played him a trick ? Or had an exceptionally heavy torrent really washed down auriferous “tailings”? I willingly believe the latter to have been the case; and we shall presently see it is within the range of possibility. Traces of gold were found by Lieutenant–Colonel W. A. Ross, through his pyrological process, in the sandy clays brought from the mouth of Wady Makná.
Meanwhile, despite our magnificent offers, the Arabs managed to keep inviolate their secret—if they had one. An old man, now a rich merchant and householder at Suez, had repeatedly declared to Mr. A. G. K. Levick, that in his young days the Bedawin washed gold in Midian, till the industry fell into disrepute. During my last visit he was unfortunately absent upon a pilgrimage; after our return he asserted that he had sent for specimens of the sand, but that it paid too little even for transport. This ‘Abd el-Hámid el-Shámi, interviewed, after our return, by Mr. Clarke, declared more than once, and still declares, that many years ago he obtained from the Wady Zibá, behind the settlement, a certain quantity of reddish sand which appeared auriferous. He roasted and washed the contents of three small baskets called “Coffas”88 by Europeans; and this yielded a pinch of “what looked like pure gold.”
In camp our men spoke freely of Tibr stored in quills, carried behind the ear, and sold at Suez—not at Cairo for fear of consequences. Yet neither promises nor bribes would persuade the poorest to break through the rule of silence. The whole might have been a canard: on the other hand, there was also a valid reason for reticence; the open mouth would not long have led to a sound throat. So our many informants contented themselves with telling us frequent tales of gold ornaments picked up after rain; they showed us a ring made from a bit found on the Tabúk road, and they invariably assure us that we shall find wondrous things—about the next station.
At Magháir Shu’ayb we wasted a whole fortnight (January 11–24, 1878) in vain works; and I afterwards bitterly repented that the time had not been given to South Midian. Yet the delay was pleasant enough, after the month which is required to acquire, or to recover, the habit of tent-life. The halting-day was mostly spent as follows: At six a.m., and somewhat later on cold mornings, the Boruji sounds his réveillé—Kum, yá Habíbí, sáh el-Naum (“Rise, friend! sleep is done”), as the Egyptian officers interpret the call. A curious business he makes of it, when his fingers are half frozen; yet Bugler Mersál Abú Dunya is a man of ambition, who persistently, and despite the coarse laughter of Europeans, repairs for quiet practicing to the bush. We drink tea or coffee made by Engineer Ali Marie, or by Quartermaster Yusuf, not by Europeans; two camels supply us with sweet milk; butter we have brought; and nothing is wanted for complete comfort but bread.
We then separate to our work, after telling off the quarrymen to their several tasks. Inveterate idlers and ne’er-do-weels, their only object in life is not to labour; a dozen of them will pass a day in breaking ten pounds’ weight of stone. They pound in the style of the Eastern tobacconist, with a very short stroke and a very long stay. At last they burst the sieves in order to enjoy a quieter life. They will do nothing without superintendence; whilst the officer is absent they sit and chat, smoke, or lie down to rest; and they are never to be entrusted with a water-skin or a bottle of spirits. The fellows will station one of their number on the nearest hill, whilst their comrades enjoy a sounder sleep; they are the greatest of cowards, and yet none would thus have acted sentinel even in the presence of the enemy. These useful articles all expect a liberal “bakhshísh” when the journey is done, with the usual Asiatic feeling: they know that they deserve nothing, but my “dignity” obliges me to largess. On this occasion it did not.
Those told off to dig prefer to make a deep pit, because fewer can work together at it, rather than scrape off and sift the two feet of surface which yield “antíka’s.” They rob what they can: every scrap of metal stylus, manilla, or ring is carefully tested, scraped, broken or filed, in order to see whether it be gold. Punishment is plentifully administered, but in vain; we cannot even cure their unclean habits of washing in and polluting the fountain source. Three Europeans would easily do the work of these thirty poor devils.
Mr. Clarke is our camp-manager in general: he is also our jäger; he shoots the wild poultry, duck and partridge, sand-grouse, and “Bob White” the quail, for half our dinners; and the Arabs call him the “Angel of Death belonging to the Birds.” He failed to secure a noble eagle in the Wady ‘Afál, whose nest was built upon an inaccessible cliff: he described the bird as standing as high as our table, and with a width of six to seven feet from wing to wing. He also brought tidings of a large (horned?) owl, possibly the same species as the fine bird noted at Sinai. The Arabs call it classically Búmah, and vulgarly Umm Kuwayk (“Mother of Squeaking”): the Fellahin believe that it sucks out children’s eyes, and hence their name, “Massásah.” Here, as in the Sinaitic Peninsula, “the owl and the hyena are used as charms; and the burnt feathers of the former, and the boiled flesh of the latter (superior filth!), are considered as infallible specifics for numerous disorders.” In other parts of Arabia the hooting of the owl portends death; and the cry, Fát—fát, is interpreted, “He is gone, gone.”
The two Staff-officers make plans and sketches of the new places, or they protract their field-books, working very hard and very slowly. I have but little confidence in their route-surveys: sights are taken from mule-back, and distances are judged by the eye. True, the protractions come out well, but this is all the worse, suggesting the process commonly called “doctoring.” For the style of thing, however, “dead reckoning” did well enough.
M. Lacaze is the most ardent. Accompanied by his favourite orderly, Salámat el-Nahhás, an intelligent negro from Dár-For, he sets out after breakfast with a bit of bread, a flagon of water, a tent-umbrella, and his tools, which he loses with remarkable punctuality, to spend the whole day sketching, painting, and photographing. M. Philipin is our useful man: he superintends the washing-cradle; he wanders far and wide, gun in hand, bringing us specimens of everything that strikes the eye; and he is great at his forge: the Bedawin sit for hours, gazing attentively as he converts a file into a knife, and illustrating the reverence with which, in early days, men regarded Vulcan and Wayland Smith.
At eleven a.m. the bugle sounds Tijrí taakul! (“Run and feed”), a signal for déjeuner à la fourchette. It is a soup, a stew, and a Puláo (“pilaff”) of rice and meat, sheep or goat, the only provisions that poor Midian can afford, accompanied by onions and garlic, which are eaten like apples, washed down with bon ordinaire; followed by cheese when we have it, and ending with tea or coffee. George the cook proves himself an excellent man when deprived of oil and undemoralized by contact with his fellow Greeks. After feeding, the idlers, who have slumbered, or rather have remained in bed, between eight p.m. and six to seven a.m., generally manage a couple of hours’ siesta, loudly declaring that they have been wide awake. One of the party seems to live by the blessing of him who invented sleep, and he is always good for half of the twenty-four hours—how they must envy him whose unhappy brains can be stupefied only by poisonous chloral!
At two p.m., after drinking tea or coffee once more, we proceed to another four hours’ spell of work. As sunset and the cold hours draw near, all assemble about the fire, generally two or three huge palm trunks, whose blaze gladdens the soul of the lonely night-sentinel; and, assembling the Shaykhs of the Arabs, we gather from them information geographical, historical, and ethnological. The amount of invention, of pure fancy, of airy lying, is truly sensational; while at the same time they conceal from us everything they can; and, more especially, everything we most wish to know. Firstly, they do not want us to spy out the secrets of the land; and, secondly, they count upon fleecing us through another season. During the whole day, but notably at this hour, we have the normal distractions of the Arabian journey. One man brings, and expects “bakhshísh” for, a bit of broken metal or some ridiculous stone; another grumbles for meat; and a third wants tobacco, medicine, or something to be had for the asking. I am careful to pay liberally, as by so doing the country is well scoured.
Dinner, at seven p.m., is a copy of what was served before noon. It is followed by another sitting round the fire, which is built inside the mess tent when cold compels. At times the conversation lasts till midnight; and, when cognac or whisky is plentiful, I have heard it abut upon the Battle of Waterloo and the Immortality of the Soul. Piquet and écarté are reserved for life on board ship. Our only reading consists of newspapers, which come by camel post every three weeks; and a few “Tauchnitz,” often odd volumes. I marvel, as much as Hamlet ever did, to see the passionate influence of the storyteller upon those full-grown children, bearded men; to find them, in the midst of this wild new nature, so utterly absorbed by the fictitious weal and woe of some poor creature of the author’s brain, that they neglect even what they call their “meals ;” allow their “teas” to cool, and strain their eyesight poring over page after page in the dim light of a rusty lantern. Thus also the Egyptian, after sitting in his café with all his ears and eyes opened their widest, whilst the story-teller drones out the old tale of Abú Zayd, will dispute till midnight, and walk home disputing about what, under such and such circumstances, they themselves would have done. To me the main use of “Tauchnitz” was to make Arabia appear the happier, by viewing, from the calm vantage-ground of the Desert, the meanness and the littlenesses of civilized life—in novels.
The marching-day is only the halting-day in movement. By seven a.m. in winter and four a.m. in spring, we have breakfasted and are ready to mount mule or dromedary; more generally, however, we set out, accompanied by the Sayyid and the Shaykhs, for a morning walk. The tents and, most important of all, the tent-table are left to follow under the charge of the Egyptian officers, who allow no dawdling. With us are the cook and the two body-servants, riding of course: they carry meat, drink, and tobacco in my big tin cylinder intended to collect plants; and they prefer to give us cold whilst we fight for hot breakfasts. After resting between ten a.m. and noon in some shady spot, generally under a thorn, we ride on to the camping-ground, which we reach between two and three p.m. This is the worst part of the day for man and beast, especially for the mules—hence the necessity of early rising.
The average work rarely exceeds six hours (= eighteen to twenty miles). Even this, if kept up day after day, is hard labour for our montures, venerable animals whose chests, galled by the breast-straps, show that they have not been broken to the saddle. Accustomed through life to ply in a state of semi-somnolence, between Cairo and the Citadel, they begin by proving how unintelligent want of education can make one of the most intelligent of beasts. They trip over every pebble, and are almost useless on rough and broken ground; they start and swerve at a man, a tree, a rock, a distant view or a glimpse of the sea; they will not leave one another, and they indulge their pet dislikes: this shies at a camel, that kicks at a dog. Presently Tamaddun, as the Arabs say, “urbanity,” or, more literally, being “citified,” asserts itself, as in the human cockney; and at last they become cleverer and more knowing than any country-bred. They climb up the ladders of stone with marvellous caution, and slip down the slopes of sand on their haunches; they round every rat-hole which would admit a hoof; and they know better than we do where water is. They are not always well treated; the “galloping griff” is amongst us, who enjoys “lambing” and “bucketing” even a half-donkey. Of course, the more sensible animal of the two is knocked up; whilst the rider assumes the airs of one versed in the haute école. The only difficulty, by no fault of the mules, was the matter of irons: shoeless they could travel only in sand; and, as has been said, the farrier was forgotten.
Amongst our recreant Shaykhs I must not include Furayj bin Rafí‘a el-Huwaytí, a man of whom any tribe might be proud, and a living proof that the Bedawi may still be a true gentleman. A short figure, meagre of course, as becomes the denizen of the Desert, but “hard as nails,” he has straight comely features, a clean dark skin, and a comparatively full beard, already, like his hair, waxing white, although he cannot be forty-five. A bullet in the back, and both hands distorted by sabre-cuts, attempts at assassination due to his own kin, do not prevent his using sword, gun, and pistol. He is the ‘Agíd of the tribe, the African “Captain of War;” as opposed to the civil authority, the Shayhk, and to the judicial, the Kázi. At first it is somewhat startling to hear him prescribe a slit weasand as a cure for lying; yet he seems to be known, loved, and respected by all around him, including his hereditary foes, the Ma’ázah. He is the only Bedawi in camp who prays. Naturally he is a genealogist, rich in local lore. He counteracts all the intrigues by which that rat-faced little rascal, Shaykh Hasan el-‘Ukbi, tries to breed mischief between friends. He is a walking map; it would be easy to draw up a rude plan of the country from his information. He does not know hours and miles, but he can tell to a nicety the comparative length of a march; and, when ignorant, he has the courage to say M’adri, “don’t know.” He never asked me for anything, nor told a lie, nor even hid a water-hole. Willing and ready to undertake the longest march, the hardest work, his word is Házir—“I’m here”—and he will even walk to mount a tired man. Seated upon his loud-voiced little Hijn,89 remarkable because it is of the noble Bishári strain, bred between the Nile and the Red Sea, he is ever the guide in chief. At last it ends with Nádi Shaykh Furayj!—“Call Shaykh Furayj”—when anything is to be done, to be explained, to be discovered. I would willingly have recommended him for the chieftainship of his tribe, but he is not wealthy; he wisely prefers to see the dignity in the hands of his cousin ‘Alayán, who, by-the-by, is helpless without him. He remained with us to the end: he seemed to take a pride in accompanying the expedition by sea to El–Haurá, and by land to the Wady Hamz, far beyond the limits of his tribe. When derided for mounting a pair of Government “bluchers,” tied over bare feet, with bits of glaring tassel-string from his camel-saddle, he quoted the proverb, “Whoso liveth with a people forty days becomes of them.” We parted after the most friendly adieu, or rather au revoir, and he was delighted with some small gifts of useful weapons:—I wonder whether Shaykh Furayj will prove “milk,” to use Sir Walter Scott’s phrase, “which can stand more than one skimming.”
In such wild travel, the traveller’s comfort depends mainly upon weather. Usually the air of Magháir Shu’ayb was keen, pure, and invigorating, with a distinct alternation of land-breeze by night, and of sea-breeze by day. Nothing could be more charming than the flushing of the mountains at sunrise and sunset, and the magnificence of the windy, wintry noon. The rocky spires, pinnacles, and domes, glowing with gorgeous golden light, and the lower ranges, shaded with hazy blue, umber-red, and luminous purple, fell into picture and formed prospects indescribably pure and pellucid. But the average of the aneroid (29.19) gave an altitude of eight hundred feet; and even in this submaritime region, the minimum temperature was 42 deg. F., ranging to a maximum of 85 deg F. in the shade. These are extremes which the soft Egyptian body, reared in the house or the hut, could hardly support.
Darwaysh Effendi followed suit after Yusuf Effendi; it was a study to see him swathed to the nose, bundled in the thickest clothes, with an umbrella opened against the sun, and with a soldier leading his staid old mule. Bukhayt Ahmar and several of the soldiers were laid up; Ahmed Kaptán was incapacitated for work by an old and inveterate hernia, the effect, he said, of riding his violent little beast; and a sound ague and fever, which continued three days, obliterated in my own case the last evils of Karlsbad. We had one night of rain (January 15), beginning gently at 2.30 a.m., and ending in a heavy downfall—unfortunately a pluviometer was one of the forgotten articles. Before the shower, earth was dry as a bone; shortly after it, sprouts of the greenest grass began to appear in the low places, and under the shadow of the perennial shrubs. The cold damp seemed to make even the snakes torpid: for the first time in my life I trod upon one—a clairvoyante having already warned me against serpents and scorpions. There were also bursts of heat, ending in the normal three grey days of raw piercing norther; and followed by a still warmer spell. Upon the Gulf of El-‘Akabah a violent gale was blowing. On the whole the winter climate of inland Midian is trying, and a speedy return to the seaboard air is at times advisable, while South Midian feels like Thebes after Cairo. The coast climate is simply perfect, save and except when El–Aylí, the storm-wind from ‘Akabat Aylah, is abroad. My meteorological journal was carefully kept, despite the imperfection of the instruments. Mr. Clarke registered the observations during my illness; Mr. Duguid and Násir Kaptán made simultaneous observations on board the ships; and Dr. Maclean kindly corrected the instrumental errors after our return to Cairo.90
I had proposed to march upon the Hismá, or sandy plateau to the east, which can be made from Magháir Shu’ayb without the mortification of a Nakb, or ladder of stone. Thereupon our Tagaygát-Huwaytát Shaykhs and camel-men began to express great fear of the ‘Imran–Huwaytát, refusing to enter their lands without express leave and the presence of a Ghafír (“surety”). Our caravan-leader, the gallant Sayyid, at once set off in search of ‘Brahim bin Makbúl, second chief of the ‘Imrán, and recognized by the Egyptian Government as the avocat, spokesman and diplomatist, the liar and intriguer of his tribe. This man was found near El–Hakl (Hagul), two long marches ahead: he came in readily enough, holding in hand my kerchief as a pledge of protection, and accompanied by three petty chiefs, Musallam, Sa’d, and Muhaysin, all with an eye to “bakhshísh.” In fact, every naked-footed “cousin,” a little above the average clansman, would call himself a Shaykh, and claim his Musháhirah, or monthly pay; not a cateran came near us but affected to hold himself dishonoured if not provided at once with the regular salary. ‘Brahim was wholly beardless, and our Egyptians quoted their proverb, Sabáh el-Kurúd, wa lá Sabán el-‘Ajrúd—“Better (see ill-omened) monkeys in the morning than the beardless man.” As the corruption of the best turns to the worst, so the Bedawi, a noble race in its own wilds, becomes thoroughly degraded by contact with civilization. I remember a certain chief of the Wuld Ali tribe, near Damascus, who was made a Freemason at Bayrút, and the result was that “brother” Mohammed became a model villain.
By way of payment for escort and conveyance to the Hismá, ‘Brahim expected a recognition of his claim upon the soil of Magháir Shu’ayb, which belongs to the wretched Masá‘id. He held the true Ishmaelitic tenet, that as Sayyidná (our Lord) Ádam had died intestate, so all men (Arabs) have a right to all things, provided the right can be established by might. Hence the saying of the Fellah, “Shun the Arab and the itch.” Thus encouraged by the Shaykhs, the “dodges” of the clansmen became as manifold as they were palpable. They wanted us to pay for camping-ground; they complained aloud when we cut a palm-frond for palms, or used a rotten fallen trunk for fuel. They made their sheep appear fat by drenching them with water. The people of the Fort el-Muwaylah, determined not to déroger, sent to us, for sale, the eggs laid by our own fowls. And so forth.
Presently ‘Brahim brought in his elder brother, Khizr bin Makbúl, about as ill-conditioned a “cuss” as himself. Very dark, with the left eye clean gone, this worthy appeared pretentiously dressed in the pink of Desert fashion—a scarlet cloak, sheepskin-lined, and bearing a huge patch of blue cloth between the shoulders; a crimson caftan, and red morocco boots with irons resembling ice-cramps at the heels. Like ‘Brahim, he uses his Bákúr, or crooked stick, to trace lines and dots upon the ground; similarly, the Yankee whittles to hide the trick that lurks in his eyes. Khizr tents in the Hismá, and his manners are wild and rough as his dwelling-place; possibly manly, brusque certainly, like the Desert Druzes of the Jebel Haurán. He paid his first visit when our Shaykhs were being operated upon by the photographer: I fancied that such a novelty would have attracted his attention for the moment. But no: his first question was, Aysh ‘Ujratí?—“What is the hire for my camels?” Finally, these men threw so many difficulties in our way, that I was compelled to defer our exploration of the eastern region to a later day.
After a week of washing for metals at Magháir Shu’ayb, it was time to move further afield. On January 17th, the Egyptian Staff-officers rode up the Wady ‘Afál, and beyond the two pyramidal rocks of white stone, which have fallen from the towered “Shigd,” they found on its right bank the ruins of a small atelier. It lies nearly opposite the mouth of the Wady Tafrígh, which is bounded north by a hill of the same name; and south by the lesser “Shigd.” Beyond it comes the Wady Nimir, the broad drain of the Jibál el-Nimir, “Hills of the Leopard,” feeding the ‘Afál: the upper valley is said to have water and palms. After a “leg” to the north-east (45 deg. mag.), they found the ‘Afál running from due north; and one hour (= three miles) led them to other ruins on the eastern side of the low hills that prolong to the north the greater “Shigd.” The names of both sites were unknown even to Shaykh Furayj. The foundations of uncut boulders showed a semicircle of buildings measuring 229 paces across the horseshoe. They counted eleven tenements—probably occupied by the slave-owners and superintendents—squares and oblongs, separated by intervals of from forty-five to ninety-seven or a hundred paces. On the north-north-east lay the chief furnace, a parallelogram of some twenty-three paces, built of stone and surrounded by scatters of broken white quartz and scoriæ. These two workshops seem to argue that the country was formerly much better watered than it is now. Moreover, it convinced me that the only rock regularly treated by the ancients, in this region, was the metallic Marú (quartz).
I had heard by mere chance of a “White Mountain,” at no great distance, in the mass of hills bounding to the north the Secondary formations of Magháir Shu’ayb. On January 21st, M. Marie and Lieutenant Amir were detached to inspect it. They were guided by the active Furayj and a Bedawi lad, Hamdán of the Amírát, who on receiving a “stone dollar” (i.e. silver) could not understand its use. Travelling in a general northern direction, the little party reached their destination in about three hours (= nine miles). They found some difficulty in threading a mile and a quarter of very ugly road, a Nakb, passing through rocks glittering with mica; a ladder of stony steps and overfalls, with angles and zigzags where camels can carry only half-loads. The European dismounted; the Egyptian, who was firm in the saddle, rode his mule the whole way. We afterwards, however, explored a comparatively good road, viâ the Wady Murákh, to the seaboard, which will spare the future metal-smelter much trouble and expense.
The quartz mountain is, like almost all the others, the expanded mushroom-like head of a huge filon or vein; and minor filets thread all the neighbouring heights. The latter are the foot-hills of the great Jebel Zánah, a towering, dark, and dome-shaped mass clearly visible from Magháir Shu’ayb. This remarkable block appeared to me the tallest we had hitherto seen; it is probably the “Tayyibat Ism, 6000,” of the Hydrographic Chart. The travellers ascended the Jebel el-Marú, trembling the while with cold; and from its summit, some fifteen hundred feet above sea-level, they had a grand view of the seaboard and the sea. They brought home specimens of the rock, and fondly fancied that they had struck gold: it was again that abominable “crow-gold” (pyrites), which has played the unwary traveller so many a foul practical joke.
During our stay at Magháir Shu’ayb the camp had been much excited by Bedawi reports of many marvels in the lands to the north and the north-east. The Arabs soon learned to think that everything was worth showing: they led M. Lacaze for long miles to a rock where bees were hiving. A half-naked ‘Umayri shepherd, one Suwayd bin Sa’íd, had told us of a Hajar masdúd (“closed stone”) about the size of a tent, with another of darker colour set in it; the Arabs had been unable to break it open, but they succeeded with a similar rock in the Hismá, finding inside only Tibn (“tribulated straw”) and charcoal. Another had seen a Kidr Dahab (“golden pot”), in the ‘Aligán section of the Wady el-Hakl (Hagul) where it leaves the Hismá; and a matchlock-man had brought down with his bullet a bit of precious metal from the upper part. This report prevails in many places: it may have come all the way from “Pharaoh’s Treasury” at Petra, or from the Sinaitic Wady Lejá. At the mouth of the latter is the Hajar el-Kidr (“Potrock”), which every passing Arab either stones or strikes with his staff, hoping that the mysterious utensil will burst and shed its golden shower. Moreover, a half-witted Ma’ázi, by name Masá’í, had tantalized us with a glorious account of the “House of ‘Antar” in the Hismá, and the cistern where that negro hero and poet used to water his horses. Near its massive walls rises a Hazbah (“steep and solitary hillock”) with Dims or layers of ashlar atop: he had actually broken off a bit of greenstone sticking in the masonry, and sold it to a man from Tor (Khwájeh Kostantin?) for a large sum—two napoleons, a new shirt, and a quantity of coffee. A similar story is found in the Bádiyat el-Tíh, the Desert north of the Sinaitic Peninsula. At the ruined cairns of Khara’bat Lussán (the ancient Lysa), an Arab saw a glimmer of light proceeding from a bit of curiously cut stone. “This he carried away with him and sold to a Christian at Jerusalem for three pounds.”91
Shaykh ‘Brahím had also heard of this marvel; but he called it the Haráb ‘Antar (“Ruin of ‘Antar”), and he placed it in the Wady el-Hakl, about an hour’s ride south of the Wady ‘Afál. Finally, a tablet in the Wady Hawwayi’, adorned with a dragon and other animals, was reported to me; and the memory of inscriptions mentioned in the Jihan-numá was still importunate. Evidently all these were mere fancies; or, at best, gross distortions of facts. The Bedawin repeat them in the forlorn hope of “bakhshísh,” and never expect action to be taken: next morning they will probably declare the whole to be an invention. Yet it is never safe to neglect the cry of “wolf”: our most remarkable discovery, the Temple at the Wady Hamz, was made when report promised least.
Accordingly, on January 24th, I despatched, with Shaykhs Khizr and ‘Brahím as guides, Mr. Clarke and the two Staff-lieutenants towards El–Rijm, the next station of the pilgrim-caravan. Riding up the Wady ‘Afál, they reached, after an hour and three-quarters, the ruins known as Igár Muás—a name of truly barbarous sound. The settlement had occupied both banks, but the principal mass was on the left: here two blocks, separated by a hillock, lay to north-east and south-west of each other. Apparently dwelling-places, they were composed of a masonry-cistern and of fourteen buildings, detached squares and oblongs, irregular both in orientation and in size; the largest measuring eighty by fifty metres, and the smallest five by four. The material was of water-rolled boulders, huge pebbles without mortar or cement. There were no signs of a furnace, nor were the usual fragments of glass and pottery strewed about. To the north and running up the north-north-eastern slope stood a line of wall two metres broad and three hundred long: it ended at the south-western extremity in five round towers razed to their foundations. It was suggested that this formed part of a street, laid out on the plan of the Jebel el-Safrá, the hauteville of Magháir Shu’ayb. On the right bank of the Wady appeared a heap of stones suggesting a Burj. Fine, hard, compact, and purple-blue slate was collected in the ruins; and the red conglomerates on either side of the watercourse suggested that Cascalho had been worked.
After riding their dromedaries some three hours, halts not included, the travellers were asked why they had not brought their tents. “Because we expect to return to camp this evening!” Then it leaked out that they had not reached half-way to the “closed stone,” while the dragon-tablet would take a whole day. Unprepared for a wintry night in the open, some twelve hundred feet above sea-level, they rode back at full speed, greatly to the disgust of the Arabs, who, at this hungry season, rarely push their lean beasts beyond three and a half to four miles an hour. Lieutenant Amir, who is invaluable in the field, would have pressed forward: not so the European.
I did not see Shaykhs Khizr or ‘Brahím for many a day; nor did we attempt any more reconnaissances to the north of Magháir Shu’ayb.
Not the least pleasant part of our evening’s work was collecting information concerning the origin of the tribes inhabiting modern Midian; and, as on such occasions a mixed multitude was always present, angry passions were often let rise. As my previous volume showed, the tribes in this Egyptian corner of North–Western Arabia number three—the Huwaytát, the Maknáwi, and the Beni ‘Ukbah; the two former of late date, and all more or less connected with the Nile Valley. Amongst them I do not include the Hutaym or Hitaym, a tribe of Pariahs who, like the Akhdám (“serviles”) of Maskat and Yemen, live scattered amongst, although never intermarrying with, their neighbours. As a rule the numbers of all these tribes are grossly exaggerated, the object being to impose upon the pilgrim-caravans, and to draw black-mail from the Government of Egypt. The Huwaytát, for instance, modestly declare that they can put 5000 matchlocks into the field: I do not believe that they have 500. The Ma’ázah speak of 2000, which may be reduced in the same proportion; whilst the Baliyy have introduced their 37,000 into European books of geography, when 370 would be nearer the mark. I anticipate no difficulty in persuading these Egypto–Arabs to do a fair day’s work for a fair and moderate wage. The Bedawin flocked to the Suez Canal, took an active part in the diggings, and left a good name there. They will be as useful to the mines; and thus shall Midian escape the mortification of the “red-flannel-shirted Jove,” while enjoying his golden shower.
I first took the opportunity of rectifying my notes on the origin of the Huwayta’t tribe.92 According to their own oral genealogists, the first forefather was a lad called ‘Alayán, who, travelling in company with certain Shurafá (“descendants of the Apostle”), and ergò held by his descendants to have been also a Sherif, fell sick on the way. At El-‘Akabah he was taken in charge by ‘Atíyyah, Shaykh of the then powerful Ma’ázah tribe, who owned the land upon which the fort stands. A “clerk,” able to read and to write, he served his adopted father by superintending the accounts of stores and provisions supplied to the Hajj. The Arabs, who before that time embezzled at discretion, called him El–Huwayti’ (“the Man of the Little Wall”) because his learning was a fence against their frauds He was sent for by his Egyptian friends; these, however, were satisfied by a false report of his death: he married his benefactor’s daughter; he became Shaykh after the demise of his father-inlaw; he drove the Ma’ázah from El-‘Akabah, and he left four sons, the progenitors and eponymi of the Midianite Huwaytát. Their names are ‘Alwán, ‘Imrán, Suway’id, and Sa’id; and the list of nineteen tribes, which I gave in “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” is confined to the descendants of the third brother.
The Huwaytát tribe is not only an intruder, it is also the aggressive element in the Midianite family of Bedawin; and, of late years, it has made great additions to its territory. If it advances at the present rate it will, after a few generations, either “eat up,” as Africans say, all the other races or, by a more peaceful process, assimilate them to its own body.
We also consulted Shaykh Hasan and his cousin Ahmed, alias Abú Khartúm, concerning the origin of his tribe, the Beni ‘Ukbah. According to our friend Furayj, the name means “Sons of the Heel” (‘Akab) because, in the early wars and conquests of El–Islám, they fought during the day by the Moslems’ side; and at night, when going over to the Nazarenes, they lost the “spoor” by wearing their sandals heel foremost, and by shoeing their horses the wrong way. All this they indignantly deny; and they are borne out by the written genealogies, who derive them from “Ukbah, the son of Maghrabah, son of Heram,” of the Kahtániyyah (Joctanite) Arabs, some of the noblest of Bedawi blood. They preserve the memory of their ancestor ‘Ukbah, and declare that they come from the south; that is, they are of Hejázi descent, consequently far more ancient than the Huwaytát. At first called “El–Musálimah,” they were lords of all the broad lands extending southward between Shámah (Syria) and the Wady Dámah below the port of Zibá; and this fine valley retains, under its Huwayti occupants, the title of ‘Ukbíyyah—‘Ukbah-land. Thus they still claim as Milk, or “unalienable property,” the Wadys Gharr, Sharmá, ‘Aynúnah, and others; whilst their right to the ground upon which Fort el-Muwaylah is built has never been questioned.
The first notable event in the history of the Beni ‘Ukbah was a quarrel that arose between them and their brother-tribe, the Beni ‘Amr. The ‘Ayn el-Tabbákhah,93 the fine water of Wady Madyan, now called Wady Makná, was discovered by a Hutaymi shepherd of the Beni ‘Ali clan, while tending his flocks; others say that the lucky man was a hunter following a gazelle. However that may be, the find was reported to the Shaykh of the Musálimah (Beni ‘Ukbah), who had married ‘Ayayfah, the sister of Ali ibn Nejdi, the Beni ‘Amr chief, whilst the latter had also taken his brother-inlaw’s sister to wife. The discoverer was promised a Jinu or Sabátah (“date-bunch”) from each palm-tree; and the rivals waxed hot upon the subject. The Musálimah declared that they would never yield their rights, a certain ancestor, ‘Asaylah, having first pitched tent upon the Rughámat Makná, or white “horse” of Makná. A furious quarrel ensued, and, as usual in Arabia as in Hibernia, both claimants prepared to fight it out.
To repeat the words of our oral genealogist, Furayj: “Now, when the wife of the Shaykh of the Musálimah had heard and understood what Satan was tempting her husband to do against her tribe, she rose up, and sent a secret message to her brother of the Beni ‘Amr, warning him that a certain person (Fulán) was about to lay violent hands on the beautiful valley of El–Madyan. Hearing this, the Beni ‘Amr mustered their young men, and mounted their horses and dromedaries, and rode forth with jingling arms; and at midnight they found their opponents asleep in El–Khabt,94 the beasts being tied up by the side of their lords. So they cut the cords of the camels, they gagged the hunter who guided the attack, they threatened him with death if he refused to obey, and they carried him away with them towards Makná.
“When the Musálimah awoke, they discovered the deceit, they secured their beasts, and they hastened after the enemy, following his track like Azrail. Both met at Makná, when a battle took place, and Allah inclined the balance towards the Beni ‘Amr. The Musálimah, therefore, became exiles, and took refuge in Egypt. And in the flow of days it so happened that the Shaykh of the Beni’ Amr awoke suddenly at midnight, and heard his wife, as she sat grinding at the quern, sing this quatrain:—
‘If the handmill (of Fate) grind down our tribe We will bear it, O Thou (Allah) that aidest to bear! But if the mill grind the foeman tribe, We will pound and pound them as thin as flour.’
“Whereupon the Shaykh, in his wrath, seized a stone, and cast it at his wife, and knocked out one of her front teeth. She said nothing, but she took the tooth and wrapped it in a rag, and sent it with a message to her brother, the Shaykh of the Musálimah. Now, this chief was unable to revenge his sister single-handed, so he travelled to Syria, and threw himself at the feet of the great Shaykh of the Wuhaydi tribe, who was also a Sherif.
“The Wuhaydi despatched his host together with the warriors of the Musálimah, and both went forth to do battle with the Beni ‘Amr. The latter being camped in a valley near ‘Aynúnah, tethered their dogs and, some say, left behind their old people,95 and lit huge bonfires; whence the name of the place is Wady Umm Nírán (‘the Mother of Fires’) to this day. Before early dawn they had reached in flight the Wady ‘Arawwah of the Jibál el-Tihámah. In the morning the Musálimah and the Wuhaydi, finding that a trick had been practiced upon them, followed the foe, and beat him in the Wady ‘Arawwah, killing the Shaykh. And the chief of the Musálimah gave his widowed sister as wife to the Wuhaydi, and settled with his people in their old homes. The Beni ‘Amr fled to the Hismá, and exiled themselves to Kerak in Syria, where they still dwell, owning the plain called Ganán Shabíb. There is now peace between the Beni ‘Ukbah and their kinsmen the Beni ‘Amr.”
The second event in the history of the tribe, the “Tale of Abú Rísh,”96 shall also be told in the words of Furayj:—“After the course of time the Beni ‘Ukbah, aided by the Ma’ázah, made war against the Shurafá, who were great lords in those days, and plundered them and drove them from their lands. The victors were headed by one Salámah, a Huwayti who dwelt at El-‘Akabah, and who had become their guest. In those ages the daughters of the tribe were wont to ride before the host in their Hawádig (‘camel-litters’), singing the war-song to make the warriors brave. As Salámah was the chief Mubáriz (‘champion in single combat’), the girls begged him to wear, when fighting, a white ostrich feather in his chain-helmet, that they might note his deeds and chant in his name. Hence his title, Abú Rísh—the ‘Father of a Feather.’ The Sherifs, being beaten, made peace, taking the lands between Wady Dámah and El–Hejaz; whilst the Beni ‘Ukbah occupied Midian Proper (North Midian), between ‘Dámah’ and ‘Shámah’ (Syria).
“Abú Rísh, who was a friend to both victor and vanquished, settled among the Sherifs in the Sirr country south of Wady Dámah. He had received to wife, as a reward for his bravery, the daughter of the Shaykh of the Beni ‘Ukbah; and she bare him a son, ‘Id, whose tomb is in the Wady Ghál, between Zibá and El–Muwaylah. On the Yaum el-Subúh (‘seventh day after birth’), the mother of ‘Id followed the custom of the Arabs; and, after the usual banquet, presented the babe to the guests, including her father, who made over Wady ‘Aynúnah in free gift to his grandson. Now, ‘Id used to lead caravans to Cairo, for the purpose of buying provisions; and he was often plundered by the Ma’ázah, who had occupied by force the Wadys Sharmá, Tiryam, and Surr of El–Muwaylah.
“This ‘Id ibn Salámah left, by a Huwayti woman, a son ‘Alayán, surnamed Abú Takíkah (‘Father of a Scar’) from a sabre-cut in the forehead: he was the founder of the Tugaygát-Huwaytát clan, and his descendants still swear by his name. Once upon a time, when leading his caravan, he reached the Wady ‘Afál, and he learned that his enemies, the Ma’ázah, and the black slaves who garrisoned El–Muwaylah, were lurking in the Wady Marayr. So he placed his loads under a strong guard; and he hastened, with his kinsmen of the Huwaytát, to the Hismá, where the Ma’ázah had left their camels undefended: these he drove off, and rejoined his caravan rejoicing. The Ma’ázah, hearing of their disaster, hurried inland to find out the extent of the loss, abandoning the black slaves, who, nevertheless, were still determined to plunder the Káfilah. ‘Alayán was apprized of their project; and, reaching the Wady Umm Gehaylah, he left his caravan under a guard, and secretly posted fifty matchlock-men in El–Suwayrah, east of the hills of El–Muwaylah. He then (behold his cunning!) tethered between the two hosts, at a place called Zila’h, east of the tomb of Shaykh Abdullah,97 ten camel-colts without their dams. Roused by the bleating, the negro slaves followed the sound and fell into the ambush, and were all slain.
“‘Alayán returned to the Sirr country, when his tribe, the Huwaytát, said to him, ‘Hayya (up!) to battle with these Ma’ázah and Beni ‘Ukbah; either they uproot us or we uproot them!’ So he gathered the clan, and marched to a place called El–Bayzá,98 where he found the foe in front. On the next day the battle began, and it was fought out from Friday to Friday; a truce was then made, and it was covenanted to last between evening and morning. But at midnight the enemy arose, left his tents pitched, and fled to the Hismá. ‘Alayán followed the fugitives, came up with them in the Wady Sadr, and broke them to pieces. Upon this they took refuge in Egypt and Syria.
“After a time the Beni ‘Ukbah returned, and obtained pardon from ‘Alaya’n the Huwayti, who imposed upon them six conditions. Firstly, having lost all right to the land, they thus became ‘brothers’ (i.e. serviles). Secondly, they agreed to give up the privilege of escorting the Hajj-caravan. Thirdly, if a Huwayti were proved to have plundered a pilgrim, his tribe should make good the loss; but if the thief escaped detection, the Beni ‘Ukbah should pay the value of the stolen property in coin or in kind. Fourthly, they were bound not to receive as guests any tribe (enumerating a score or so) at enmity with the Huwaytát. Fifthly, if a Shaykh of Huwaytát fancied a dromedary belonging to one of the Beni ‘Ukbah, the latter must sell it under cost price. And, sixthly, the Beni ‘Ukbah were not allowed to wear the ‘Abá or Arab cloak.”99
The Beni ‘Ukbah were again attacked and worsted, in the days of Sultan Selim, by their hereditary foe, the Ma’ázah. They complained at Cairo; and the Mamlúk Beys sent down an army which beat the enemy in the Wady Surr. They had many quarrels with their southern neighbours, the Baliyy: at last peace was made, and the land was divided, the Beni ‘Ukbah taking the tract between Wadys Da’mah and El–Muzayrib. Since that time the tribe has been much encroached upon by the Huwayta’t. It still claims, however, as has been said, all the lands between El–Muwaylah and Makná, where they have settlements, and the Jebel Harb, where they feed their camels. They number some twenty-five to thirty tents, boasting that they have hundreds; and, as will appear, their Shaykh, Hasan el-‘Ukbi, amuses himself by occasionally attacking and plundering the wretched Maknáwis, or people of Makná, a tribe weaker than his own.