The Land of Midian/Chapter 6
After a silly fortnight at old Madiáma, I resolved to march upon its seaport, Makná, the [Greek] of Ptolemy, which the people call also “Madyan.”100 We set out at seven a.m. (January 25th); and, after a walk of forty-five minutes, we were shown by Furayj a Ghadír, or shallow basin of clay, shining and bald as an old scalp from the chronic sinking of water. In the middle stood two low heaps of fine white cement, mixed with brick and gravel; while to the west we could trace the framework of a mortared Fiskíyyah (“cistern”), measuring five metres each way. The ruin lies a little south of west (241 deg. mag.) from the greater “Shigd;” and it is directly under the catacombed hill which bears the “Praying-place of Jethro.” A tank in these regions always presupposes a water-pit, and there are lingering traditions that this is the “Well of Moses,” so generally noticed by mediæval Arab geographers. It is the only one in the Wady Makná, not to mention a modern pit about an hour and a half further down the valley, sunk by the Bedawin some twenty feet deep: the walls of the latter are apparently falling in, and it is now bone-dry. But the veritable “Moses’ Well” seems to have been upon the coast; and, if such be the case, it is clean forgotten. True, Masá’íd, the mad old Ma’ázi, attempted to trace a well inside our camp by the seashore; but the Beni ‘Ukbah, to whom the land belongs, had never heard of it.
After marching about six miles, we entered a gorge called Umm el-Bíbán, “the Mother of Gates,” formed by the stony spurs of the Wady bank: the number of birds and trees, especially in the syenitic valleys, showed that water could not be far off. At 10.10 a.m. a halt was called at the half-way place, a bay or hollow in the left cliff, El–Humayrah—“the Little Red”—an overhanging wall of ruddy grit some eighty feet high, with strata varying in depth from a few lines to as many fathoms, all differing in colour, and all honeycombed, fretted, and sculptured by wind and rain. Above the red grit, weathered into a thousand queer shapes, stood strata of chloritic sand, a pale yellow-green, and capping it rose the usual dull-brown carbonate of lime. Large fossil oysters lay in numbers about the base, suggesting a prehistoric feast of the Titans. Amongst them is the monstrous Tridacna (gigantea), which sometimes attains a growth of a yard and a half; one of these is used as a bénitier at the church of Saint Sulpice, Paris. Amongst the layers were wavy bands of water-rolled crystals, jaspers, bloodstones, iron-revetted pebbles, and “almonds,” which, in the Brazil, accompany and betray the diamond.101 We had no time to make a serious search; but, when the metals shall be worked, it will, perhaps, be advisable to import a skilled prospecter from the Brazil or the Cape of Good Hope.
At noon we met the “heaven-sent, life-sustaining sea-breeze;” and now the broad and well-marked Wady Makná, with its rosy-pink sands, narrowed to a gut, flanked and choked on both sides, north and south, by rocks of the strangest tricolour, green-black, yellow-white, and rusty-red. The gloomy peak, which had long appeared capping the heights ahead, proved to be the culmination of a huge upthrust of porphyritic trap. Bottle-green when seen under certain angles, and dull dead sable at others, it was variegated by cliffs and slopes polished like dark mirrors, and by sooty sand-shunts disposed at the natural slope. Crumbling outside, the lower strata pass from the cellular to the compact, and are often metalliferous when in contact with the quartz: at these Salbandes the richest mineral deposits are always found. Set in and on the black flanks, and looking from afar like the gouts of a bloodstone, are horizontal beds, perpendicular spines, and detached blocks of felsitic porphyry and of rusty-red syenite, altered, broken, and burnt by plutonic heat. In places, where the trap has cut through the more modern formations, it has been degraded by time from a dyke to a ditch, the latter walled by the ruddy rocks, and sharply cut as a castle-moat. And already we could see, on the right of the Wady, those cones and crests of ghastly, glaring white gypsum, which we had called “the Hats.”
These gloomy cliffs, approaching the maritime plain, sweep away to the south, and melt into the “Red Hills” visited on our first excursion. They are known as the Jebel el-‘Abdayn—“of the Two Slaves:” this, perhaps, is the Doric pronunciation of the Bedawin for Abdín—“slaves.” Presently we sighted the familiar features of the seaboard, described in my first volume, especially the Rughámat el-Margas to the north; and westward the Gulf of ‘Akabah, looking cool and blue in the Arabian glare. After five hours and thirty minutes (= seventeen miles and a half) in the saddle we reached Makná.
I had thought of encamping near the “Praying-place of Moses,” a fine breezy site which storms would have made untenable. As at Sharmá, camels must turn off to the right over the banks when approaching the mouth of the Wady Madyan, whose bed is made impassable by rocks and palm-thicket. We then proposed to pitch the tents upon the valley sands within the “Gate,” but this was overruled by the Sayyid, who told grisly tales of fever and ague. Finally, we returned to our former ground, near the old conglomerates and the mass of new shells, which ledge the shore of the little harbour. Approaching it, we were delighted to see the gunboat Mukhbir steaming up, despite the contrary wind, from Sharm Yáhárr; she was towing the Sambúk, which brought from ‘Aynúnah Bay our heavy gear, rations, and tools. This was a stroke of good luck: already we were on half rations, and provant for men and mules threatened to run short.
Our week at Makná (January 25—February 2) justified the pleasant impression left by the first visit, and enabled us to correct the inaccuracies of a flying survey.
This “Valley of Waters,” with its pink and yellow (chloritic) sands, is bounded on the right near the sea by a sandbank about one hundred feet high, a loose sheet thinly covering the dykes of syenite and the porphyritic trap which in places peep out. Possibly it contains, like the left flank, veins of quartz, lowered by corrosion, and concealed by the sand-drift spread by the prevalent western winds. The high-level abounds in detached springs, probably the drainage of the Rughámat Makná, the huge “horse” or buttress of gypsum bearing north-east from the harbour. The principal veins number three. The uppermost and sweetest is the Ayn el-Tabbákhah; in the middle height is El-Túyuri (Umm el-Tuyúr), with the dwarf cataract and its tinkling song; whilst the brackish ‘Ayn el-Fara’í occupies the valley sole. Besides these a streak of palms, perpendicular to the run of the Wady, shows a rain-basin, dry during the droughts, and, higher up, the outlying dates springing from the arid sands, are fed by thin veins which damp the rocky base. Hence, probably, Dr. Beke identified the place with the “Elim” of the Exodus: his artist’s sketch from the sea (p. 340) is, however, absolutely unrecognizable.
The high-level spring and the middle water rise in sandy basins; course down deeply furrowed beds of grit; and, after passing through a tangle of vegetation, a dense forest of palms, alive and dead, and open patches sown with grain, wilfully waste their treasures in the upper slope of the right bank. This abundance of water has developed a certain amount of industry; although the Bedawin tear to pieces the young male-dates, whose tender green growth, at the base of the fronds, supplies them with a “chaw.” A number of artificial runners has been trained to water dwarf barley-plots, whose fences of date-fronds defend them from sheep and goats; and further down the bank are the fruit trees which first attracted our attention.
The low-level water consists of two springs. The upper is the ‘Ayn el-‘Aryánah, springing from the sands under the date-trees which line the right and left sides: apparently it is the drainage of a gypsum “hat,” called El–Kulayb, “the Little Dog”—in their Doric the Bedawin pronounce the word Galáib. Further down the bed, and divided by a tract of dry sand, is the ‘Ayn el-Fara’i, which also rises from both banks, forms a single stream, sleeps in deep pellucid pools like fairy baths among the huge boulders of grey granite, and finally sinks before reaching the shore. When these waters shall again be regulated, as of old, they will prove amply sufficient for the vegetable and the mineral. Anton, the Greek, who everywhere saw the shop, was so charmed with the spot, that he at once laid out his establishment: here shall be the hotel; there the billiard and gambling room, and there the garden, the kiosk, the buvette—in fact, he projected a miner’s paradise.
On the crest of this right bank, above the vegetation, lies the traditional Musallat Musá (“Moses’ Oratory”), of which the foundations, or rather the base-stones, are in situ. The larger enceinte measures, without including two walls projecting from the north-east and north-west angles, an oblong of thirty-seven by twenty-five feet; and, as usual with Midianite ruins, it has been built of all manner of material. The inner sanctum opens to the west, the northern and southern basement-lines only remaining: the former is composed of eight blocks of gypsum resembling alabaster, five being larger than the others; and the southern of three. Upon these the Bedawin still deposit their simple ex-votos, oyster and other shells, potsherds, and coloured pebbles.102
The left or opposite bank, which wants water, is formed by the tall conglomerate-capped cliffs, which support the “Muttali’” or hauteville, and by the warty block called Jebel el-Fahísát. In “The Gold–Mines of Midian” (Chap. XII.) it is called El–Muzayndi, an error of my informants for El–Muzeúdi: the latter is the name of the small red hill north of our camp. I again visited the high town, which is about a hundred feet above the valley: presently it will disappear bodily, as its base is being corroded, like the Jebel el-Safrá of Magháir Shu’ayb. The walls still standing form a long room running north-south; and the two adjoining closets set off to the north-east and south-east. This sadly shrunken upper settlement covers the remnant of the rocky plateau to the east: there are also traces of building on the southern slopes. Ruined heaps of the usual material, gypsum, dot and line the short broad valley to the north, which rejoices in the neat and handy name, Wady Majrá Sayl Jebel el-Marú. Here, however, they are hardly to be distinguished from the chloritic spines and natural sandbanks that stud the bed. The only antiquities found in the “Muttali”’ were a stone cut into parallel bands, and the fragment of a basalt door with its pivot acting as hinge in the upper part: it reminded me of the Græco-Roman townlets in the Haurán, where the credulous discovered “giant Cities” and similar ineptitudes. Our search for Midianite money was in vain; Mr. Clarke, however, picked up, near the sea, a silver “Taymúr,” the Moghal, with a curiously twisted Kufic inscription. (A.H. 734).
The ‘Ushash or frond-huts of the Maknáwi and the Beni ‘Ukbah were still mostly empty. At this season, all along the seaboard of North–Western Arabia, the Bedawin are grazing their animals in the uplands, and they will not return coastwards till July and August supply the date-harvest. The village shows the inconséquence of doors and wooden keys to defend an interior made of Cadjan, or “dry date-fronds,” which, bound in bundles, make a good hedge, but at all times a bad wall. One of its peculiar features is what looks like a truncated and roofless oven; in this swish cylinder they pound without soaking the date-kernels that feed their camels, sheep, and goats. A few youths, however, who remained in this apology for a “deserted village,” assisted us in night-fishing with the lantern; and they brought from the adjoining reefs the most delicate of shell and scale fish. The best were the langoustes (Palinurus vulgaris), the clawless lobsters called crawfish (crayfish) in the United States, and the agosta or avagosta of the Adriatic: it was confounded by the Egyptian officers with “Abú Galambo,”103 the crab (Cancer pelagicus). The echinidae of various species, large-spined and small-spined, the latter white as well as dull-red, were preserved in spirits.104 Amongst the excellent fish, the Marján (a Sciœna) the Sultan el-Bahr, the Palamita (Scomber), the Makli (red mullets, Mugil cephalus), and the Búri, were monstrous animals, with big eyes and long beaks like woodcocks; some of these were garnished with rows of ridiculously big teeth. I failed to procure live specimens of small turtle, and yet the huts were full of carapaces, all broken and eight-ribbed. One species, the Sakar, supplies tortoise-shell sold at Suez for 150 piastres per Ratl or pound; the Bísa’h, another large kind without carapace, is used only for eating: both are caught off the reefs and islets. An eel-like water-snake (Marrína = Murœna Ophis) showed fight when attacked. The Arabs do not eat it, yet they will not refuse the Shaggah, or large black land-snake.
The enforced delay at Makná gave us the opportunity of making careful reconnaissances in its neighbourhood. During the last spring I had heard of a Jebel el-Kibí‘t (“sulphur-hill”) on the road to ‘Aynúnah, but no guide was then procurable. Shortly after our return, a Bedawi named Jázi brought in fine specimens of brimstone, pure crystals adhering to the Secondary calcaire, and possibly formed by decomposition of the sulphate of lime. If this be the case we may hope to find the mineral generally diffused throughout these immense formations; of course, in some places the yield will be richer and in others poorer. Further investigation introduced us, as will be seen, to two southern deposits, without including one heard of in Northern Sinai. All lie within a short distance of the sea, and all are virgin: the Bedawin import their sulphur from the “Barr el-‘Ajam,” the popular name for Egypt, properly meaning Persia or any non-Arab land. Thus, in one important article Midian rivals, if not excels, the riches of the opposite African shore, where for a single mine thirty millions of francs have been demanded by way of indemnity.
Betimes on January 26th, a caravan of four camels, for the two quarrymen and the guide, set off southwards, carrying sacks, tools, and other necessaries. They did not return till the morning of the third day; Jázi had lost the road, and the Bedawin rather repented of having been so ready to disclose their treasures. Of course, our men could not ascertain the extent of the deposits; but they brought back rich specimens which determined me to have the place surveyed. Unfortunately I had forgotten a sulphur-still; and the engineer vainly attempted to extract the ore by luting together two iron mortars, and by heating them to a red heat. The only result was the diffusion of the sulphur crystals in the surrounding gypsum. This discovery gave me abundant trouble; the second search-party was a failure; and it was not till February 18th that I could obtain a satisfactory plan of the northern Jebel el-Kibrít.
At Makná I was much puzzled by the presence of the porous basalt, which had yielded to the first Expedition a veinlet of “electron”—gold and silver mixed by the hand of Nature. The plutonic rock, absent from the Wady Makná, appears in scatters along the shore to the north. Our friend Furayj knew nothing nearer than El–Harrah, the volcanic tract bounding the Hismá on the east, and distant some five days’ march. This was going too far; querns of the same material, found in all the ruins, suggested a neighbouring outcrop. Moreover, during the last spring, I had heard of a mining site called Nakhil Tayyib Ism, the “Palm-orchard (of the Mountain) of the Good Name,” in the so-called range to the north of Makná.
Lieutenant Amir was despatched (January 27th) to seek for basalt, with a small dromedary-caravan, under the lead of Shaykh Furayj. After winding for about two hours along the shore, which is cut by the broad mouths of many a Wady; and whose corallines, grits, and limestones are weathered into the strangest shapes; he left to the right (east) the light-coloured Jebel Sukk. On the southern side of the Wady (Sukk) which drains it to the sea, a hill of the porous stone which the Arabs call “Hajar el-Harrah” appeared. The specimens brought home, si vera sunt exposita, if they be really taken from an outcrop, prove that volcanic centres, detached, sporadic, and unexpected, like those found further north, occur even along the shore. As will afterwards appear, another little “Harrah” was remarked by Burckhardt (“Syria,” p. 522), about one hour and a quarter north of Sinaitic Sherm. He says, “Here for the first and only time, I saw volcanic rocks,” and he considers that their extension towards Ras Abú(?) Mohammed may have given rise to the name [Greek].
Wellsted,105 who apparently had not read Burckhardt, makes the same remark. The many eruptive centres in the limestones of Syria and Palestine were discovered chiefly by my late friend, the loved and lamented Charles F. Tyrwhitt–Drake. It would be interesting to ascertain the relation which they bear to tile great lines of vulcanism in the far interior, the Haura’n and the Harrah, subtending the coast mountains. And Dr. Beke, another friend now no more, would have been delighted to know that his “True Mount Sinai” was not unconnected with a volcanic outbreak.
Beyond the Wady Sukk, a bad rough path leads along the base of the Tayyih Ism Mountain; then the cliffs fall sheer into the sea, explaining why caravans never travel that way. Yet there was a maritime road, for we know that Abú Sufyán, on his way from Syria to fight the battle of “Bedr” (A.H. 2), passed by a roundabout path for safety, along the shore of Midian. Thus compelled, the track bends inland, and enters a Nakb, a gash conspicuous from the Gulf, an immense cañon or couloir that looks as if ready to receive a dyke or vein. Curious to say, a precisely similar formation, prolonged to the south-west, cuts the cliffs south of Marsá Dahab in the Sinaitic Peninsula. The southern entrance to the gorge bears signs of human habitation: a parallelogram of stones, 120 paces by 91, has been partially buried by a land-slip (?); and there are remnants of a dam measuring about a hundred metres in length (?). About three hundred yards higher up, water appears in abundance, and palm clumps grow on both sides of it. Here, however, all trace of man is wanting; the winter torrents must be dangerous; and there is no grass for sheep. The crevasse now becomes very wild; the Pass narrows from fifty to ten paces, and, in one section, a loaded camel can hardly squeeze through; whilst the cliff-walls of red and grey granite (?) tower some two thousand feet above the thread of path.106 Water which, as usual, sinks in the sand, is abundant enough in three other places to supply a large caravan; and two date-clumps were passed. Hence, if all here told be true, the “Nakhil (palm-plantation) Tayyib Ism” reported to the first Expedition.
After covering sixteen miles in five hours, the caravan had not made more than half the distance to the Bir el-Máshi, where a small Marsá, or anchorage-ground, called El–Suwayhil (“the Little Shore”) nestles in the long sand-slope between the mountain Tayyib Ism and its huge northern neighbour, the Mazhafah block. From this “Well of the Walker,” a pass leads to the Wady Marsha’, where, according to certain Bedawin, are found extensive ruins and Bíbán (“doors”), or catacombs. The whole is, however, an invention; our Sayyid had ridden down the valley during his journey to El–Hakl.
On the next day another reconnaissance was made. I had been shown fine specimens of quartz from the Eastern highlands; moreover, a bottle of “bitter” or sulphur-water from the Wady Mab’úg, the “oblique” or “crooked” valley, mentioned in “The Gold–Mines of Midian,”107 had been brought to us with much ceremony. Those who tasted it, indeed, were divided as to whether it smacked more of brimstone or of ammonia. Accordingly, Mr. Clarke and Lieutenant Yusuf walked up the Wady Makná, and ascended the Mab’úg, where the mineral spring proved to be a shallow pool of rain-water, much frequented by animals, camels included. Search for the “Marú” was more successful: they found a network of veins in the sandstone grits (?) of the Jebel Umm Lasaf; and they thus established the fact that the “white stone” abounds to the east as well as to the south of Makná.
Meanwhile we were working hard at the Jebel el-Fahísát, the great discovery of the northern journey. I had been struck by the name of the watercourse to the north of the hauteville, Wady Majrá Sayl Jebel el-Marú—“the Nullah of the Divide of the Torrent (that pours) from the Mountain of Quartz.” Moreover, a Makna’wi lad, ‘Id bin Mohsin, had brought in fine specimens of the Negro or iridescent variety, offering to show the place. Lastly, other Bedawi had contributed fine specimens of Marú, with the grey copper standing out of it in veins. On the evening of January 27th we walked up the picturesque mouth of the Makná valley. After passing the conglomerate “Gate,” and the dwarf plantations on both sides above it, we reached in forty-five minutes the spot where the lower water, ‘Ayn el-Fara’í, tumbles over rocks of grit and granite. On the left bank, denoted by a luxuriant growth of rushes, is an influent called Sha’b el-Kázi, or “the Judge’s Pass.”108 Ascending it for a few paces, we struck up the broad and open Fiumara, which I shall call for shortness “Wady Majrá.” The main trunk of many branches, it is a smooth incline, perfectly practicable to camels; with banks and buttresses of green-yellow chloritic sands, and longitudinal spines outcropping from the under surface. It carries off the surplus water from the north-western slopes of that strange wavelike formation, the Jebel el-Fahísát, which bounds the right (southern) bank of the Wady Makná. Presently we sighted the Jebel el-Maru’, the strangest spectacle. The apex of the gloomy porphyritic trap is a long spine of the tenderest azure-white, filmy as the finials of Milan Cathedral, and apparently melting into thin air. Its crest seems abnormally tall and distant; and below it a huge grey vein, horizontal and wavy, cuts and pierces the peaklet of red rock; and is cut and pierced, in its turn, by two perpendicular dykes of porphyritic trap, one flanking the right and the left shoulders of the low cone. When standing upon the hauteville during my first visit, I had remarked this “white Lady” of a vein, without, however, attaching to it any importance.
After a quarter of an hour’s walk up the Wady Majrá, we came to the sandy base of the rocky Fahísát; and climbed up a torrent-ladder with drops and stiff gradients, which were presently levelled for the convenience of our quarrymen. A few minutes’ “swarming” placed us upon the narrow knife-like ridge of snowy quartz, so weathered that it breaks under the hand: this is the aerial head which from below appears so far. The summit, distant from our camp about one direct mile and a quarter, gives 355 degrees to the Gypsum-hill, Ras el-Tárah, on the shore; 358 degrees to the palm-clump nearest the sea, and due north (360 degrees, all magnetic) to the tents, which are well in sight. The altitude is about six hundred feet (aner. 29.40).
The view from this summit of the Fahísát is charming as it is extensive. Westward and broad stretching to the north-west lies the fair blue gulf that shows, on its far side, the broken mountains of the Sinaitic Peninsula. Northwards, at our feet, stretch the palm-groves of Makná, a torrent of verdure pouring towards the shore. A little to the left, sheltered from the boreal wind by the white gypseous ridge, Ras el-Târah (“the Head that surrounds”), and flanked at both ends by its triangular reefs, the Sharm Makná, the past and future port of the mines, supports the miniature gunboat no larger than a “cock,” and the Sambúk dwarfed to a buoy. Beyond the purpling harbour, along the glaring yellow shore, cut by broad Wady-mouths and dotted here and there with a date-clump, the corallines, grits, and sandstones are weathered to the quaintest forms, giant pins and mushrooms, columns and ruined castles. These maritime lowlands are bounded on the north by heights in three distinct planes: the nearest is the Jebel Sukk, low and white; farther rises Tayyib Ism, a chocolate-coloured mass studded with small peaks; while the horizon is closed by the grand blue wall, the Jebel el-Mazhafah. In places their precipices drop bluff to the sea; but the huge valley-mouths separating the two greater ridges, have vomited a quantity of sand, forming the tapering tongue and tip known as the “Little Shore.” Turning to the east and the south-east we have for horizon the Wady el-Kharaj (El–Akhraj?), backed by its immense right bank of yellow gypsum, which dwarfs even the Rughámat Makná, and over it we catch sight of the dark and gloomy Kalb el-Nakhlah, a ridge which, running parallel with and inland of the Fahísát, will be worked when the latter is exhausted.
We at once recognized the value of this discovery when, reaching the tents, we examined the quartz, and found it seamed and pitted with veins and geodes containing Colorado, earthy and crumbling metallic dust, chlorure, iodure, and bromure of silver, with various colours, red, ochre-yellow, and dark chocolate-brown. It stained the fingers, and was suspiciously light—n’importe. I must regret that here, as indeed throughout the exploration, all our specimens were taken from the surface: we had not time to dig even a couple of feet deep. The lad ‘Id almost fainted with joy and surprise when the silver dollars were dropped into his hand, one by one, with the reiteration of “Here’s another for you! and here’s another!” This lavishness served to stimulate cupidity, and every day the Bedawin brought in specimens from half a dozen different places. But the satisfaction was at its height when the crucible produced, after cupellation, a button of “silver” weighing some twenty grammes from the hundred grammes of what the grumbling Californian miners had called, in their wrath, “dashed black dust;”109 and when a second experiment yielded twenty-eight grammes (each fifteen grains and a half) and ten centigrammes from 111 grammes, or about a quarter of a pound avoirdupois. In the latter experiment also, the culot came away without the litharge, which almost always contains traces of silver and antimony. Hence we concluded that the proportions were 30:110—a magnificent result, considering that 12–1/2:100 is held to be rich ore in the silver mines of the Pacific States.110 The engineer was radieux with pride and joy. The yellow tint of the “buttons” promised gold—two per cent.? Three per cent.? Immense wealth lay before us: a ton of silver is worth 250,000 francs. Meanwhile—and now I take blame to myself—no one thought of testing the find, even by a blow with the hammer.
Alas! THE “SPLENDID BUTTONS” PROVED TO BE IRON, CONTAINING ONLY TWO AND A HALF GRAMMES OF SILVER TO ONE HUNDRED KILOGRAMMES.111
I can afford to make merry on the absurd mistake, which at the time filled the camp with happiness. The Jebel el-Fahísát played us an ugly trick; yet it is, not the less, a glorious metalliferous block, and I am sure of its future.
The rest of our time at Makná was given to the study of this discovery. The great quartz-wall or vein runs nearly due north and south, with a dip of 5 degrees west; it has pierced the syenite, forming a sheet down one peak, spanning a second, and finally appearing in an apparently isolated knob, that bore from the apex 215 degrees (mag.) The upper part, like that of the Jebel el-Abyaz, is apparently sterile: at a lower horizon it becomes panaché; and at last almost all is iridescent—in fact, it is the Filon Husayn, still richer in veins and geodes. The filets and fibrils of dust are exposed to sight in the flanks, and near the base of the great quartz-vein: we should never have been able to remove the barren upper capping.
Every day’s work brought with it some novelty. The Jebel el-Mará, the centre or focus of the formation, was found to push out veins to the north, extending within a few yards of the Wady Makná‘s mouth. Here, however, the quartz imbedded in grey granite appears cupriferous, producing fine grey copper (?); and the same is the case to the east of the Fahísát block. Other green-tinged veins were found bearing 205 degrees (mag.) from our camp. There is also a quartz-hill whose valley-drain, about a mile and a third long, leads down to the sea, about two minutes’ walk south of the southern clump of “tabernacles” occupied by the Maknáwis. The dust is richest, as usual, at the walls where the vein is in immediate contact with the heat-altered granites, whose red variety, containing very little mica, becomes quasi-syenitic. Certain of the Expedition thought that the Fahísát showed signs of having been worked by the ancients: my eyes could see nothing of the kind. And here, as in other parts of our strange country, there is a medley, a confusion of different formations.
On February 2nd, the day before we left Makná, the Arabs brought in heavy masses of purple-black, metalliferous rock, scattered over the gorges and valleys south of the Jebel el-Fahísát; while others declared that they could point out a vein in situ. Our engineer declared it to be argentiferous galena, but it proved to be magnetic iron. His assays were of the rudest: he broke at least one crucible per day, lamenting the while that he had been supplied with English articles, instead of creusets de Bourgogne. And no wonder! He treated them by a strong blast in a furious coal-fire without previous warming. His muffle was a wreck, and such by degrees became the condition of all his apparatus. However, as we sought, so we found: hardly a Bedawi lad in camp but unpouched some form of metallic specimens. The Shaykhs declared that the wealth of “Kárún” must have been dug here; and I vainly told them that the place of punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram is still shown by Christians in the Convent of Mount Sinai.112
On January 28th, after a ruddy and cloudy sunset, El–Ayli, the ‘Akabah wind, beginning at eleven p.m., gave us a taste of his quality. These northers are the Tyrants of the Gulf; which, comparatively unbroken by capes and headlands, allows them all their own way, carrying a strong swell, and at times huge waves, to meet the tide inflowing from the Red Sea. The storm began with a rush and a roar, as if it came from above. The gravel, striking the canvas, sounded like hail or heavy rain-drops; it then kicked down at one blow the two large tents: they had been carefully pitched above the reach of water, when wind only was to be guarded against. Fortunately most of our goods were packed, in expectation of embarking on the morrow; but the fall broke all the breakables that were not under cover, and carried newspapers and pamphlets, including—again, alas!—the Reseau Pentagonal of Elie de Beaumont, over the plain southwards till arrested by the heights of Jebel el-Fahísát. This Bora, as it would be called on the Adriatic, makes the air exceptionally cold and raw before dawn: it appears to abate between noon and sunset, and it is most violent at night: it either sensibly increases or lessens in turbulence with moonrise; and it usually lasts from three to seven days. We rigged up one of the native huts with the awning of a tent, till it looked very like a Gypsy dwelling, and in patience we possessed our souls, grumbling horridly like Britons.
Poor Captain Mohammed of the Mukhbir, who had already escaped one shipwreck, was in mortal terror: he at once got up steam, and kept his weary vigil all night. He was perfectly safe, as the northern reef, under which the Sambúk Musahhil rode easily as if in smooth water, and the headland, Ras el-Tárah, formed a complete defence against the Aylí, while the natural pier to the south would have protected him from its complement, the Azyab or “south-easter.” But it would have been very different had the storm veered to the west, and the terrible Gharbi set in. The port of Makná, which has been described in “The Gold–Mines of Midian,”113 can hardly be called safe; on the other hand, its floor has not been surveyed, and a single brise-lame seawards would convert it into a dock. I should propose a gallegiante, a floating breakwater, tree-trunks in bundles strongly bound together with iron cramps and bands, connected by stout rings and staples and made fast by anchors to the bottom. And, at any rate, on the Sinaitic shore opposite, at the distance of thirteen knots, there is, as will appear, an admirable harbour of refuge.
Next day the cloud-veil lifted; and the mountains of Sinai and Midian, which before had been hidden as if by a November fog in London, again stood out in sharp and steely blue. I proposed to board the gunboat. Afloat we should have been much more comfortable than ashore in the raw, high, and dusty-laden wind. The Egyptian officers, however, quoted the unnautical Fellah’s favourite saws, El-barro birr li-Ahlihi—“Earth is a blessing to those upon her”—Zirtat el-Jimál, wa lá tasbíh el-Samak—“The roar of the camels and not the prayer114 of the fish;” and the sailors’ saying, Kalb el-Barr, wa lá Sabá el-Bahr—“Better be a dog ashore than a lion afloat.” The public voice was decidedly against embarking; so two more days of gale were spent in adding to our collection of mineralogy. On the other hand, the Sayyid and the three Shaykhs were anxious for a speedy return to El–Muwaylah, where the Hajj-caravan was expected on Safar 10 (= February 11th), and where their presence would be officially required.
On the last day of January I boated off to the Mukhbir several tons of the specimens collected during the northern march; including the iron, the sulphur, and the fine white gypsum, crystalline and amorphous, which forms the Rughámat Makná Lieutenant Yusuf and M. Philipin were directed to remain in camp until they should have collected and placed upon the seashore, ready for embarkation on our return, one ton of white quartz, three tons (= one cubic metre) of the iridescent variety, and four boxes half full of the “silver” (iron) dust whose veins and pockets seam the Negro. They were also to wash in the cradle two tons of the pounded Cascalho (conglomerate gravel); one ton of the green-yellow chloritic or serpentine sand forming the under surface of the Wady Makná, reduced to four Girbahs or “water-sacks;” and five tons of the dark metal (not argentiferous galena). After that they were to visit the northern Sulphur-hill; estimate its contents, trace, if possible, its connection with adjoining formations; map the country and prospect for wood, water, and harbour. Lastly, they were ordered to march with the whole camp, including our mules, upon El–Muwaylah, and there to await my return.
The three normal days of El–Aylí had come and gone; still the Fortuna115 did not fall. The water, paved with dark slate, and domed with an awning of milky-white clouds, patched here and there with rags and shreds of black wintry mist that poured westward from the Suez Gulf, showed us how ugly the Birkat ‘Akabah can look. As in Iceland also, the higher rose the barometer, the higher rose the norther; the latter being a cold dry wind is, consequently, a heavy wind. And when the sky was comparatively clear and blue, the display of cirri was noticeable. In some places they formed filmy crosses and thready lozenges; in others the wrack fell into the shape of the letter Z; and from the western horizon the curl-clouds shot up thin rays, with a common centre hid behind the mountains of Sinai, affecting all the airs of the sun.
Before leaving Makná I must give an account of its peculiar tribe, concerning which “The Gold–Mines of Midian”116 contained sundry inaccuracies. These men are not the “pauper descendants of the wealthy Midianites; they cannot boast of ancient race or of noble blood; and their speech differs in nothing from that of the Arabs around them. There can be no greater mistake than to suppose that they represent in any way the ancient Nabathæans. In features, complexion, and dress they resemble the half-settled Bedawin around them; and, like these, they show a kind of connection with the Sinaitic tribes. The Magáni,117 to whom only the southern clump of huts at Makná belongs, call themselves Fawá‘idah, Zubáidah, and Ramázání, after families of the Juhayni stock; and the Fawá‘idah have, by descent, some title to the name. They are, however, considered to be Khaddamín (“serviles”), like the Hutaym race, by their neighbours, who give tile following account of their origin.
An Egyptian silk-seller, who accompanied the Hajj-caravan, happened to fall asleep at Kubázah, between the stations of ‘Aynúnah and Magháir Shu’ayb. His companions went their ways, and he, like a “bean-eater” as he was, fearing to follow them alone, made for Makná. Having married and settled there, and seeing in the fertility of the soil a prospective spec., he sent to his native country for Fellahín—cultivateurs and peasants—who were collected from every part of Pharoah-land and its neighbourhood. The new-comers were compelled to pay one-half of their harvest, by way of El–Akháwah (“the brother-tax”), in token of subjugation, to the Beni ‘Ukbah, the owners of the soil. They have gradually acquired Milk (“legal title”) to the ground. According to some, they first settled at Makná in the days of the Beni ‘Amr, whom they subsequently accompanied to the Hismá, when flying from the victorious Musálimah. After peace was patched up, they were compelled to make over one-fourth of the date-harvest as El–Akháwah to the ‘Imrán-Huwaytát and to the Ma’ázah; whilst the Tagaygát-Huwaytát claimed a Bursh, or “mat of fine reeds,” as a poll-tax from every head of man. Under these hard conditions they are left unmolested; and everything taken from them is restored by the Shaykhs who receive tribute. They have no chief, although one Sálim ibn Juwayfili claims the title.
Before 1866 the Magáni numbered about a hundred tents: the Wady Makná was then, they say, a garden; and its cultivators were remarkable for their goodness and hospitality to strangers. But in that year a feud with the Beni ‘Ukbah was excited, as often happens, by the belli teterrima causa; the women quarrelled with one another, saying,
“Thy husband is a slave to my husband,” and so forth. The little tribe, hoisting two flags of red and white calico with green palm-fronds for staves, dared the foe to attack it; after a loss of four killed and sundry wounded, all ran away manfully, leaving their goods at the mercy of the conqueror. Shaykh Hasan el-‘Ukbí was assisted by the Ma’ázah in looting the Magáni huts, and in carrying off the camels, while Shaykh Furayj vainly attempted conciliation. Shortly afterwards the Maknáwis went in a body to beg aid from Hammád el-Sofi, Shaykh of the Turábín tribe, which extends from Ghazzah (Gaza) westwards to Egypt. Marching with a host of armed followers, he took possession of the palm-huts belonging to the Beni ‘Ukbah, when the owners fled in turn, leaving behind their women and children. Furayj hastened from ‘Aynúnah to settle the quarrel; and at last the Sofi said to him, “Whilst I protect the Magáni, do thou protect the Beni ‘Ukbah.” Whereupon the latter returned from their mountain-refuge to El–Muwaylah. The Magáni at the present time are mostly camped about ‘Aynúnah; and only some fifteen head, old men, women, and boys, who did not take part in the fight, and who live by fishing, remain at Makná under the protection of the Beni ‘Ukbah. Hence the waters are waste and the fields are mostly unhoed.
Such is the normal condition of Arabia and the Arabs. What one does the other undoes; what this creates, that destroys. Professor Palmer tells us, “Another misconception is that all Arabs are habitual thieves and murderers.”118 Fear of the terrible vendetta, the blood feud and the blut-geld, amounting to about eight hundred dollars, prevents the Bedawin, here as elsewhere, slaying any but strangers. The traveller’s experience, however, was chiefly of the Towarah or Sinaitic Bedawin, a race which, bad as bad could be in the early quarter of the present century, has been thoroughly tamed and cowed by the “fear of Allah and the Consul.” And the curse pronounced by the Jews against their brother Ishmael, “his hand shall be against every man,” etc., must, as was known even in the days of Gibbon, be taken with many a grain of salt.
Yet the Bedawin of Midian have till late years been a turbulent “mixed multitude,” and are ready to become troublesome again. It is only by building forts and by holding the land militarily, that the civilized can hope to tame this vermin. I repeat, however, my conviction that the charming Makná Valley is fated to see happy years; and that the Wild Man who, when ruled by an iron hand, is ever ready to do a fair day’s work for a fair wage (especially victuals), will presently sit under the shadow of his own secular vines and fig-trees.
About midnight on February 2nd, the tempestuous northerly gale, which had now lasted four days and five nights, ceased almost suddenly: the signs of the approaching calm were the falling of the mercury, the increased warmth of the atmosphere, and the shifting of the wind towards the east. All hailed the change with joy. The travellers looked forward to ending their peregrinations, while the voyagers, myself included, hoped safely to steam round the Gulf el-‘Akabah, and to trace, as correctly as possible, the extent, the trend, and the puissance of the quartz-formations. At Cairo Mr. Consul Rogers told me he had found them in large quantities veining the red grits of Petra; and I thought it possible that the “white stone” may extend under the waters of ‘Akabah into the peninsula of Sinai.