History Essay

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EGYPT, AND SYRIA.

Harvests food, &c.

In that part of the country where I resided are found neither

lakes, rivers, marshes, nor any other appearance of water but

the wells which are dug for domestic consumption, except

during the rainy season. At that period torrents, of greater or

less dimensions, intersect the country in all directions. The

rainy season lasts from before the middle of June to the middle

or end of September. This season is called Harif*.

I have observed that the rain, which is generally very heavy

and accompanied with lightning, falls most frequently from

3 P. M. till midnight.

The changes of the wind are not periodical but instantaneous.

It is with a southerly wind that the greatest heat prevails ; and

with a South-East that the greatest quantity of rain falls. When

the breeze is from the North or North-west it is most refresh-

of history of the progress of the {ajbab) early propagators of Mohammedism,

and which enumerated, if I mistake not, a tribe under the denomination of

Fur among their adversaries, after the taking of Bahnese in Middle Egypt,

and their consequent invasion of the more Southern provinces.

* If but a small quantity of rain fall, the agricultors are reduced to great

distress ; and it happened, about seven years before my arrival, that many people

were obliged to eat the young branches of trees pounded in a mortar.

o o ing,

TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

ing, but does not generally continue long in that quarter. The

hot and oppressive winds which fill the air with thick dust

blow constantly from the -South.

One day, while I was sitting in the market-place at Cobbe,

I observed a singular appearance in the air, which soon dis

covered itself to "be a column of sand, raised from the desert

by a whirlwind. It was apparently about a mile and a half

distant, and continued about eight minutes ; this phenomenon

had nothing of the tremendous appearance of the columns of

sand described by Bruce as rising between Assuan and Chendi,

being merely a light cloud of sand.

The harvest is conducted in a very simple manner. The

women and slaves of the proprietor are employed to break off

the ears with their hands, leaving the straw standing, which is

afterwards applied to buildings and various other useful pur

poses. They then accumulate them in baskets, and carry them

away on their heads. When threshed, which is awkwardly

and incompletely performed, they expose the grain to the sun

till it become quite dry ; after this an hole in the earth is pre

pared, the bottom and sides of which are covered with chaff to

exclude the vermin. This cavity or magazine is filled with

grain, which is then covered with chaff, and afterwards with

earth. In this way the maize is preserved tolerably well. In

using it for food, they grind it, and boil it in the form of

polenta, which is eaten either with fresh or four milk, or still

more frequently with a sauce made of dried meat pounded in a

mortar,

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 283

mortar, and boiled with onions, &c. The Furians use little

butter ; with the Egyptians and Arabs it is an article in great

request. There is also another sauce which the poorer people

use and highly relish, it is composed of an herb called Cowel or

Cawel, of a taste in part acescent and in part bitter, and gene

rally disagreeable to strangers.

As a substitute for bread, cakes of the fame material are also

baked on a smooth substance prepared for the purpose, which

are extremely thin, and if dexterously prepared not unpalatable.

These are called kijsery (fragments or sections) ; they are also

eaten with the sauce above mentioned, or with milk, or simply

water ; and in whatever form the grain be used, the rich cause

it to be fermented before it be reduced to flour, which gives it

a very agreeable taste. They also make no hesitation in eating

the dokn raw, but moistened with water, without either grind

ing or the operation of fire.

The Sultan here does not seem wholly inattentive to that

important object, agriculture. Nevertheless, it may be esteemed

rather a blind compliance with antient custom, than individual

public spirit, in which has originated a practice adopted by him,

in itself sufficiently laudable, since other of his regulations by

no means conduce to the fame end.

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At the beginning of the Harts, or wet season, which is also

the moment for sowing the corn, the King goes out with his

Meleks and the rest of his train, and while the people are em

ployed in turning up the ground and sowing the seed, he also

002 makes

284 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

makes several holes with his own hand. The fame custom, it

is said, obtains in Bornou, and other countries in this part of

Africa. It calls to the mind a practice of the Egyptian kings,

mentioned by Herodotus. Whether this usage be antecedent to

the introduction of Mohammedism into the country, I know

not ; but as it is attended with no superstitious observance, it

would rather seem to belong to that creed.

Population.

The number of inhabitants in a country in so rude a state as

this is at present, it must necessarily be extremely difficult to

compute with precision. Possibly the levies for war may fur

nish some criterion. The Sultan, for about two years, had

been engaged in a very serious war with the usurper of Kor-

dofan. The original levies for this war I have understood

consisted of about two thousand men. Continual reinforce

ments have been sent, which may be supposed to amount to

more than half that number. At present the army does not

contain more than two thousand, great numbers of them having

been taken off by the fmall-pox, and other causes. Even this

number is very much missed, and the army is still spoken of as

a very large one. It seems to me from this and other consider

ations, that the number of fouls within the empire cannot'

much exceed two hundred thousand. Cobbe is one of their

most populous towns ; yet from the best computation I have

been able to make, knowing the number of inhabitants in the

greater part of the houses, I cannot persuade myself that the

total

EGYPT, AND SYRIA.

total amount of both sexes, including slaves, much exceeds six

thousand. Of these the greater proportion are slaves.

The houses are separated from each other by wide intervals,

as each man chooses for building the spot nearest to the ground

he cultivates ; so that in an extent of about two miles on a line,

not much more than one hundred distinct inclosures properly

to be termed houses are visible. The number of villages is

considerable ; but a few hundred fouls form the sum of the

largest. There are only eight or ten towns of great popu

lation.

The people of Dar-Fur are divided into those from the river,

of whom I have already spoken, some few from the Weft, who

are either Fukkara, or come for the purposes of trade. Arabs,

who are very numerous, and some of whom are established in

the country, and cannot quit it ; they are of many different

tribes, but the greater number are those who lead a wandering

kind of life on the frontiers, and breed camels, oxen, and horses.

Yet they are not, for the most part, in such a state of dependence

as always to contribute effectually to the strength of the mo

narch in war, or to his supplies in peace. These are Mahmid,

the Mahrfa, the beni-FeJara, the beni-Gcrar, and several others

whose names I do not recollect. After the Arabs come the

people of Zeghawa, which once formed a distinct kingdom,

whose chief went to the field with a thousand horsemen, as it

is said, from among his own subjects. The Zeghawa speak

a different dialect from the people of Fur. We must then

enumerate the people of Be'go or Dageou, who are now subject

to

286 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

to the crown of Fur, but are a distinct tribe, which formerly

ruled the country. Kordofan, which is now subject to Fur,

and a number of other smaller kingdoms, as Dar Berti, &c.

Dar Rngna has a king, who is however dependent, but more

on Bergoo than on Fur. What are the numbers of each is very

difficult to fay, as there are few or no data whence any thing

satisfactory can be deduced.

Building.

This art, in which more refined nations display so much

ingenuity, and consume so much of their property, is here

limited by the necessity that produced it. A light roof shelters

the Furian from the sun and rain, and he fears not to be crushed

by the mass which he has raised for his security. The con

flagration may desolate his abode, but his soul is not appalled,

for he has raised no monument of vanity to become its prey.

The walls, wherever that material is to be procured, are built

of clay ; and the people of higher rank cover them with a kind

of plaster, and colour them white, red, and black. The apart

ments are of three kinds, one is called a Do?igay which is a

cube commonly formed in the proportion of twenty feet by

twelve. The four walls are covered with a flat roof consisting

of light beams laid horizontally from side to side ; over this is

spread a stratum of ushar, or some other light wood, or, by

those who can afford the expense, course mats ; a quantity of

dried horse's or camel's dung is laid over this ; and the whole is

finished with a strong and smooth coating of clay. They con

trive

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EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 287

trive to give the roof a flight obliquity, making spouts to carry

off the water. The roof thus constructed is a tolerable pro

tection from the rain, and the whole building is in a certain

degree secure from robbers, and the other inconveniences which

are there to be expected. The Donga is provided with a door,

consisting of a single plank, hewn with the axe, as the plane

and saw are equally unknown. It is secured by a padlock, and

thus constitutes the repository of all their property. The next

is called a Kournak, which is usually somewhat larger than the

Donga, differing from it in being without a door, and having

no other roof than thatch, shelving like that of our barns, com

posed of Kassob, the straw of the maize, and supported by light

rafters. This however is cooler in summer than the more

closely covered buildings, and is appropriated to receiving com

pany, and sleeping. The women are commonly lodged, and

dress their food in another apartment of the fame kind as the

last, but round, and from fifteen to twenty feet in diameter :

this is called Sukteia. The walls of the Donga are often about

twelve or fifteen feet high ; those of the other buildings seldom

exceed seven or eight, but this depends on the taste of the

owner. The floor of each, by persons who are attentive to

neatness, is covered with clean sand, which is changed as

occasion requires. An house in which there are two Dongas,

two Kournaks, and two Suktetas, is considered as a large and

commodious one, fitted to the use of merchants of the first

order. A Rukkuba (shed) is frequently added, which is no

more than a place sheltered from the sun, where a company sit

and converse in the open air. The interior fence of the house

is commonly a wall of clay. The exterior universally a thick

hedge.

288 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

hedge, consisting of dried branches of acacia and other thorny

trees, which secures the cattle, and prevents the slaves from es

caping ; but which, as it takes no root, is never green, and has

rather a gloomy aspect. The materials of the village houses

require no particular description ; they are commonly of the

form of the Sukteia, when they rise above the appellation of hut,

but the substance is the straw of the maize, or some other

equally coarse and insecure. Tents are not used, except by

the Meleks and great men, and these are ill-constructed. In

time of war materials to construct huts are found by the sol

diers, and applied without great difficulty ; and the Sarcina belli

of each man is a light mat adapted to the size of his body.

Manners.

The troops of the country are not famed for skill, courage,

or perseverance. In their campaigns much reliance is placed on

the Arabs who accompany them, and who are properly tributa

ries rather than subjects of the Sultan. One energy of barba

rism they indeed possess, in common with other savages, that

of being able to endure hunger and thirst ; but in this particu

lar they have no advantage over their neighbours. On the

journey, a man whom I had observed travelling on foot with the

caravan, but unconnected with any person, asked me for bread

—" How long have you been without it?" said I.—" Two days,"

was the reply.—" And how long without water ?"—" I drank

water last night."—This was at fun-set, after we had been march

ing all day in the heat of the sun, and we had yet six hours to

reach

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 289

reach the well. In their persons the Furians are not remark

able for cleanliness. Though observing as Mohammedans all the

superstitious formalities of prayer, their hair is rarely combed,

or their bodies completely washed. The hair of the pubes and

axillæ it is usual to exterminate ; but they know not the use of

soap ; so that with them polishing the skin with unguents holds

the place of perfect ablutions and real purity. A kind of

farinaceous paste is however prepared, which being applied with

butter to the skin, and rubbed continually till it become dry,

not only improves its appearance, but removes from it acci

dental sordes, and still more the effect of continued transpir

ation, which, as there are no baths in the country, is a consi

deration of some importance. The female slaves are dexterous

in the application of it, and to undergo this operation is one of

the refinements of African sensuality. Their intervals of labour

and rest are fixed by no established rule, but governed by in- .

clination or personal convenience. Their fatigues are often re

newed under the oppressive influence of the meridian fun, and

in some districts their nightly slumbers are interrupted by the

dread of robbers, in others by the musquitoes and other incon-

, veniences of the climate.

An inveterate animosity seems to exist between the natives of

Fur and those of Kordofan. From conversations with both

parties I have understood that there have been almost continual

wars between the two countries as far as the memory of in

dividuals extends. One of the causes of this hostility appears

to be their relative position ; the latter lying in the road be-

p P tween

290 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

tween Dar-Fur and Sennaar, which is considered as the most

practicable, though not the direct communication between the

the former and Mekka. Nor can caravans pass from Suakem

to Fur, as appears, but by the permission of the governors of

Kordofan. The jealousy of trade therefore is in part the origin

of their unvaried and implacable animosity.

Nothing resembling current coin is found in Soudan, unless

it be certain small tin rings, the value of which is in some de

gree arbitrary, and which alone obtains at El Fasher. In that

place they serve as the medium of exchange for small articles,

for which in others are received beads, salt, &c. These rings

are made of so many various sizes, that I have known some

times twelve, sometimes one hundred and forty of them, pass

for a given quantity and quality of cott6n cloth. The Austrian

dollars, and other silver coins, brought from Egypt, are all

sold for ornaments for the women, and some little profit at

tends the sale of them, but the use of them in dress is far from

general.

Gold not being found within the limits of Fur, is seldom

seen in the market ; when it appears there, it is in the form of

rings of about one-fourth of an ounce weight each, in which

state it comes from Sennaar. The Egyptian mahbub, or other

stamped money, none will receive but the people of that coun

try. The other articles chiefly current, are such as helong to

their dress, as cotton cloths, beadsr amber, kohhel, rhea, and on

the other hand, oxen, camels, and slaves.

The

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 291

The disposition of the people of Fur has appeared to me

more cheerful than that of the Egyptians ; and that gravity and

reserve which the precepts of Mohammedism inspire, and the

practice of the greater number of its professors countenances

and even requires, seems by no means as yet to sit easy on

them. A government perfectly despotic, and at this time not

ill administered, as far as relates to the manners of the people,

yet forms no adequate restraint to their violent passions *. Prone

to inebriation, but unprovided with materials or ingenuity to

prepare any other fermented liquor than buza, with this alone

their convivial excesses are committed. But though the Sultan

hath just published an ordinance (March 1795) forbidding the

use of that liquor under pain of death, the plurality, though

less publicly than before, still indulge themselves in it. A com

pany often sits from fun-rise to fun-set drinking and conversing,

till a single man sometimes carries off near two gallons of that

liquor. The buza has however a diuretic and diaphoretic ten

dency, which precludes any danger from these excesses.

In this country dancing is practised by the men as well as

the women, and they often dance promiscuously. Each tribe

seems to have its appropriate dance : that of Fur is called Secon

dary that of Bukkara Bendala. Some are grave, others lasci

vious, but consisting rather of violent efforts than of graceful

* The inhabitants of a village called Bernoo, having quarrelled with those of

another hamlet, and some having been killed on both fides, all the property of

both villages was forfeited to the king, the inhabitants being abandoned to

poverty.

p P 2 motions.

292 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

motions. Such is their fondness for this amusement, that the

slaves dance in fetters to the music of a little drum ; and, what

I have rarely seen in Africa or the East, the time is marked by-

means of a long stick held by two, while others beat the cadence

with short batons.

They use the games of Tab-u-duk and Dris-wa-talaite, de

scribed by Niebuhr, which however appear not indigenous, but

to have been borrowed of the Arabs.

The vices of thieving, lying, and cheating in bargains, with

all others nearly or remotely allied to them, as often happen

among a people under the fame circumstances, are here almost

universal. No property, whether considerable or trifling, is safe

out of the fight of the owner, nor indeed scarcely in it, unless

he be stronger than the thief. In buying and selling the parent

glories in deceiving the son, and the son the parent ; and God

and the Prophet are hourly invocated, to give colour to the most

palpable frauds and falsehoods.

The privilege of polygamy, which, as is well known, be

longs to their religion, the people of Soudan push to the ex

treme. At this circumstance the Muflelmans of Egypt, with

whom I have conversed on the subject, affect to be much scan

dalized : for whereas, by their law they are allowed four free

women, and as many Haves as they can conveniently maintain,

the Furians take both free women and slaves without any limit

ation. The Sultan has more than an hundred free women, and

many of the Meleks have from twenty to thirty. Teraub, a

late

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 293

late king, contented himself with about five hundred females as

a light travelling equipage in his wars in Kordofan, and left as

many more in his palace. This may seem ridiculous, but when

it is recollected that they had corn to grind, water to fetch, food

to dress, and all menial offices to perform for several hundred

individuals, and that these females (excepting those who are re

puted Serrari, concubines of the monarch) travel on foot, and

even carry utensils, &c. on their heads, employment for this

immense retinue may be imagined, without attributing to the

Sultan more libidinous propensities than belong to others of the

fame rank and station.

This people exceeds in indulgences with women, and pays

little regard to restraint or decency. The form of the houses

already described secures no great secrecy to what is carried on

within them, yet even the concealment which is thus offered, is

not always sought. The shade of a tree, or long grass, is the

sole temple required for the sacrifices to the primæval deity. In

the course of licentious indulgence father and daughter, ion and

mother are sometimes mingled. The relations of brother and

sister are exchanged for closer intercourse ; and in the adjoining

state, (Bergoo,) the example of the monarch countenances the

infraction of a positive precept, as well of Iflamism, as of the

other rules of faith, which have taken their tincture from the

Mosaic dispensation.

But however unbridled their appetites in other respects may

be, paederasty, so common in Asia and the North of Africa, is in

Soudan little known or practised. The situation, character, and

treatment

294 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

treatment of women is not exactly similar, either to that which

marks the manners of Asia, and other parts of Africa, or to that

which is established in Europe. In contradistinction to the wo

men of Egypt, in Soudan, when a stranger enters the house,

one of the more modest indeed retires, but she is contented to

retire to a small distance, and passes and repasses executing the

business of the house in the presence of the men. In Egypt, a

veil is invariably the guardian of real or affected modesty. In

Dar-Fur none attempt to conceal their faces but the wives of

the great, whose rank demands some affectation of decency—

who from satiety of indulgence become coquets, or whose vanity

induces them to expect that concealment will ensnare the inex

perienced with the hope of youth which has ceased to recom

mend them, or beauty by which they could never boast to be

adorned. The middle and inferior rank are always contented

with the flight covering of a cotton cloth, wrapped round the

waist, and occasionally another of the fame form, materials, and

size, and equally loose, artlessly thrown over the shoulders. They

never eat with the men, but shew no hesitation at being present

when the men eat and drink. The most modest of them will

enter the house, not only of a man and- a stranger, but of the

traders of Egypt, and make their bargains at leisure. On such

occasions, any indelicate freedom on the part of the merchant is

treated with peculiar indulgence. The husband is by no means

remarkable for jealousy, and provided he have reason to suppose

that his complaisance will be attended with any solid advantage,

will readily yield his place to a stranger. Nothing can (hock

the feelings of an Egyptian more than to fee his wife in con

versation with another man in public. For similar conduct,

individuals

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 295

individuals of that nation have been known to inflict the last

punishment. A liberty of this kind has no such effect on a

FA •

unan.

Defendit numerus, junttaque in umbone phalanges.

The universality of the practice prevents its being esteemed

either criminal or shameful.

Some of the most laborious domestic offices in this country

are executed by women. They not only prepare the soil and

sow the corn, but assist in gathering it. They alone too are

engaged in the business of grinding and converting it into bread.

They not only prepare the food, in which (contrary to the

practice of the Arabs) it is esteemed disgraceful for a man to

occupy himself, but fetch water, wash the apparel, and cleanse

the apartments. Even the clay buildings, which have been

mentioned, are constructed chiefly by women. It is not uncom

mon to fee a man on a journeyt mounted idly on an ass, while

his wife is pacing many a weary step on foot behind him, and

moreover, perhaps, carrying a supply of provisions or culinary

utensils. Yet it is not to be supposed that the man is despotic

in his house : the voice of the female has its full weight. No

question of domestic ceconomy is decided without her concur

rence, and, far from being wearied with the corporeal exertions

of the day, by the time the fun declines, her memory of real or

imaginary injuries affords matter for querulous upbraiding and

aculeate sarcasms.

Who-

i96 TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

Whoever, impelled by vanity, (for no profit attends it,) re

ceives to his bed the daughter of a King or powerful Melek,

(women of this rank are called Miramj) finds her sole modera-

trix of his family, and himself reduced to a cipher. Of his real

or reputed offspring he has no voice in the disposal, govern

ment, or instruction. The princess, who has honoured him

with the limited right over her person, becomes not the part

ner, but the sole proprietor, of all that he possessed; and her most

extravagant caprices must not be thwarted, least her displeasure

should be succeeded by that of the monarch.

The man cannot take another wife with the same ceremonies

or dowry ; and if any dispute arise concerning inheritance, the

right is always decided in favour of the Miram. Finally, he is

almost a prisoner in the country, which he cannot leave, how

ever distressed, and however he may be inclined to retrieve his

fortune by trade, without special permission from the Sultan,

and the immediate and unqualified forfeiture not only of the

dowry he gave, but of all the valuables he received in conse

quence of the honourable alliance.

Previously to the establishment of Islamism* and kingship, the

people of Fur seem to have formed wandering tribes, in which

state many of the neighbouring nations to this day remain. In

their persons they differ from the negroes of the coast of Gui

nea. Their hair is generally short and woolly, though some are

* About a century and a half ago.

seen

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 297

seen with it of the length of eight or ten inches, which they

esteem a beauty. Their complexion is for the most part per

fectly black. The Arabs, who are numerous within the em

pire, retain their distinction of feature, colour, and language.

They most commonly intermarry with each other. The slaves,

which are brought from the country they call Fertit, (land of

idolaters,) perfectly resemble those of Guinea, and their lan

guage is peculiar to themselves.

In most of the towns, except Cobbe', which is the chief

residence of foreign merchants, and even at court, the vernacu

lar idiom is in more frequent use than the Arabic ; yet the lat

ter is pretty generally understood. The judicial proceedings,

which are held in the monarch's presence, are conducted in

both languages, all that is spoken in the one being immediately

translated into the other by an interpreter {Tergiman).

After those who fill the offices of government, the Faqui, or

learned man, i. e. priest, holds the highest rank. Some few of

these Faquis have been educated at Kahira, but the majority of

them in schools of the country. They are ignorant of every

thing except the Koran. The nation, like most of the North of

Africa, except Egypt, is of the sect of the Imam Malek, which

however differs not materially from that of Shafei.

q_q^ Revenues

t

TRAVELS IN AFRICA,

Revenues of Dar-Fiir.

1. On all merchandize imported the king has a duty, which

in many instances amounts to near a tenth ; as for instance, on

every camel's load of cotton goods brought from Egypt, and

which commonly consists of two hundred pieces, the duty paid

to the king by the merchants of Egypt is twenty pieces : the

Arabs who are under his government and the natives pay

more ; some articles however do not pay so much.

2. In addition to this, when they are about to leave Dar-Fuf

on their return to Egypt, another tax is demanded on the slaves

exported, under pretence of a voluntary douceur, to be exempt

from having their slaves scrutinised. This, on our caravan,

which comprised about five thousand slaves, amounted to 3000

mahbubs, between 6 and 700I. to be paid to the Chabir on

their arrival in Egypt.

3. All forfeitures for misdemeanors are due to the king ; and

this is a considerable article ; for in case of a dispute in which

blood is shed, as often happens, he makes a demand of just

what proportion he thinks right of the property of the village

in which the offence was committed, of the whole, of an half,

of a third, of every species of possession, and this most rigor

ously estimated.

4. In

EGYPT, AND SYRIA. 299

4. In addition to this, every one who is concerned in a ju

dicial proceeding before him, must bring a present according to

his rank and property : this is another considerable source of

revenue.

5. Of all the merchandise, but especially staves, which are

broughtfrom the roads, as they call it, that is, from all quarters

except Egypt, the king is entitled to a tenth ; and in cafe of

a Selatea, that is, an expedition to procure slaves by force,, the

tenth he is entitled to becomes a fifth, for the merchants are

obliged to wait six weeks or two months before they can fell

any of their slaves, and then are obliged to pay in kind one

tenth of the number originally taken, one half of which is by

that time generally dead.

. . •

6. At the time of leathering the kettle-drum, which happens

every year on the 27th of the month Rabia-el-awil, all the prin

cipal people of every town and village, nay, as I have under

stood, every housekeeper, is obliged to appear at El Fasher,

with a present in his hands, according to his rank and ability.

This is …