Imágenes de páginas

over them; upon the understanding, no doubt, that this service should not be forgotten in the present they were to receive at our departure.

As for themselves, they and their domiciles were certainly curiosities. The latter were a sort of cage, made of reeds like split ratans; and the largest of them did not exceed ten feet long by eight broad. As for any division of chambers for men and women nothing of the kind appeared to have entered their thoughts. Each shed was surrounded by a little space enclosed by walls of brushwood, which served for defence as well as for fuel. It was curious to see the great droves of buffaloes returning home in the evening, each going straightway to its master's hut, without driving or constraint of any kind. The human animals that issued from these dens at our approach, bore certainly as much the appearance of the dregs of the human species as can well be imagined.

The travellers at length reached the country of the Montefic, of which tribe mention has already been more than once made in these pages. This powerful clan, after a variety of struggles with the Turkish authorities, in some of which they suffered very severely, acquired, about the year 1744, dominion and right of taxation over a small tract of country below Sook el Shiook, themselves at the same time paying a stated sum to the sultan's treasury. One of their sheiks, however, thought fit to throw off this slight burden, and was, in consequence, surprised, and the people almost entirely destroyed by Solyman, a Mameluke officer, surnamed "Aboo Leila," or the Father of Night, from the rapidity of his nocturnal attacks. The troubles of the pachalic, however, enabled the Montefic again to raise their heads; and they have since contrived to appropriate the whole district, from the mouth of the Shut el Arab to Semavah, besides occupying the tract between the Hye and Korna, and extending their pasturerange as far as Hit and Anah on the Euphrates. The possession of so much territory has created a disposition to improve the soil, and a considerable number of the tribe are now fellahs or cultivators. It is true that the prejudice against a fixed life is still strong, and only the lowest of the tribe will condescend to remain stationary; but the change is in progress. The sheiks, who have all their own portions of land, regard it as their chief means of

subsistence, though cultivated by a peasantry whom they despise.

One of the signs of this change were the curious villages of reed-built huts which they occupied upon the banks of the Euphrates, superseding the usual black hair tents of the Bedouins. These houses stood in groups, surrounded by enclosures of the same materials, and many of them were constructed with great taste. The mode of building is simple enough: clusters of reeds, from fifteen to twenty feet high, are neatly bound with withes or bands made of the same, and planted in the ground at proper distances, in two rows, like posts. The small ends are then bent till those of the opposite clusters in each row meet in the form of an arch, when they are fastened together by smaller bundles, laid longitudinally on the roof, and tied to each post. This framework is covered, both sides and roof, with mats made of the split reeds, and ornamented with neat lattice-work, according to the fancy and skill of the architect. One would imagine that such slight structures were ill calculated to resist storms of wind and rain; but they are found to do so very effectually, and certainly they are more comfortable than a tent. But it is a strange piece of affectation to prefer such flimsy fabrics to the more solid houses composed of clay, inhabited by the peasantry of villages, merely because they imply a slighter deviation from nomadic habits.

But, notwithstanding this aversion to stationary dwellings, the chief mart of the country, Sook el Shiook, that is, "the market-place of the sheiks," is a walled town, constructed of sun-baked bricks, and containing, before the plague, 600 or 700 families. Seen from a distance, imbosomed in date-tree groves, it has a neat and attractive appearance; but the illusion is dissipated on a nearer approach. It is almost entirely a mass of ruined houses, among which a few, still tenanted, contain the small number who escaped the pestilence; and it is of all human abodes the most filthy and abominable. It is almost impossible to walk the streets without contamination; and the smell of the butchers' shops renders all ingress impossible to civilized nostrils. The bazars are rather extensive, but thinly tenanted, and most of the shops are filled with articles suited to Arab wants alone.

Into this emporium the sheik never enters; and he makes it his boast that he will at no time degrade himself by advancing within its walls. The Arabs have an instinctive dislike to such enclosures. From their black tents they can issue forth when they please; but some of them have, to their cost, found the case otherwise with walls of brick or mud.

The first interview of the travellers is thus described. Our watches pointed nearly to eleven P.M., when the meerza, entering our tent, told us that the bustle of the salaam being over, the great man could receive us in a suitable manner, and accordingly we sallied forth. The sheik had a white tent, part of the present of investiture sent by Ali Pacha; but not in this did he receive his friends and the public, it being only his sleeping-place. His hall of audience was a temporary hut of reeds, constructed in about twenty minutes for his accommodation. It was, indeed, extremely rude. On the floor, round the sides, was spread a narrow slip of matting; across the upper end was laid, in like manner, a ragged strip of carpet. A dim, dirty linen lantern, which hung from one of the reed-posts, shed a most dismal light upon two dense rows of savages, seated with their backs to the matted walls, and barely rendered visible what seemed a huge bundle of clothes raised a little above the rest of the assembly, on a thing like an old hencoop. A fissure in the upper part of this indescribable apparel disclosed a nose and two glittering eyes, which indicated the august presence of the sheik.

He did not rise to welcome us, but bowed, and at the same time uttered certain sounds, which were understood to express satisfaction. With no small difficulty we made our way upward to his right hand, where we seated ourselves; after which, for some time, we all remained in silence. But his highness, happening to discover that one of his guests was a physician, immediately became animated. He began a most lively detail of his numerous ailments, and ended by asking whether the doctor would feel his pulse that night or the morrow. But he instantly replied to his own question, and a bony arm was thrust forth from the mass of coverings. It was not easy to tell whether the chuckling laugh with which he received the medical man's report, that "he could find nothing the

matter with his worship," was one of approval or of disappointment.

The state of his health having been amply discussed, he began to unlock the stores of his own wisdom and knowledge on other subjects. The affairs of Persia having been mentioned, and a remark made concerning the shah's death, he desired to be informed "who was the shah?" On being satisfied in this particular, and, moreover, being told that the said ruler had expired at Ispahan, the chief of all the Montefics repeated the word "Ispahan? Ispahan? what is it? where is it?-a country? a city? or what?" On this head, also, due intelligence was afforded him; and he then continued, in the most amiable and condescending manner possible, to gather knowledge and show forth his own ignorance, without betraying the smallest symptom of that affectation under which some are apt to cloak their deficiencies.

In the mean time, ginger tea and bitter coffee were handed round by a slave. The first was sweet, hotly spiced, and excellent; the latter, like all of Arab manufacture, was strong as brandy, and bitter as gall, but warm and refreshing. Midnight being close at hand, we thought proper to withdraw. With regard to the mode of proceeding on our journey, guides, and other matters, the sheik vouchsafed us scarcely one word. It was intimated to us, indeed, that he meant to remain there the next day, and would then make all the necessary arrangements for our comfort; but we learned in the morning that he had risen at an earlier hour than we, and carried off his nobility to Koote, a place farther up the river, leaving us to follow at our leisure.


Religion, Character, Manners, and Customs of the Inhabitants of Modern Mesopotamia and Assyria.

Variety of Races.-Arabs.-Countries inhabited by.-Religion.-Character.-Blood-feuds - Sketches of the Arabs on the Euphrates by Elliot.-Beni Saeed.-Hamet ul Khaleel Their Women.-Costume.Camp of the Al Fadhlee.-Food.-Jungle Arabs.-Mode of decamping and encamping.-Contrast between the Jungle, or Fellah and Bedouin Arabs.-Kurds.-Religion.-Points of Similarity with the Scottish Highlanders.-Manners in Society and in Domestic Life.-Selim Aga.-Roostum Aga.-National Character.-Personal Appearance.Women.-Turkomans. -Christian Population.-Nestorians, Chaldeans, or Syrians.-Divisions of Sects.-Early Progress of Christianity in the East.-Christian Bishops and Sees.-The Nestorian Heresy.-Condemnation of its Author.-Rise of the Jacobite Schism.-Its wide Dissemination.-Number of Sees.-Armenians and Roman Catholics.Character of the Christian Population.-Chaldeans of Mount Jewar.Sabaans.-Origin.-Tenets.-Persecution. -Places of Abode, and supposed Numbers.-Manicheans.-Doctrines of Manes.-History of the Sect.-Yezidees.-Supposed Origin.-Various Appellations.-Secrecy observed by them concerning their Religion.-Account of their Tenets so far as is known.-Tribes of the Sinjarli Yezidees.-Their Sacred Fountains and Repositories of Treasure.-Character by Rich.-Shaitan Purust and Chirag Koosh.-Their Origin.-Ali Ullahis.

THE extensive and interesting countries which we have been endeavouring to describe, have at all times been inhabited by a very mixed population, consisting of many races, distinguished from each other by religion, by language, and by customs. Some of these have been already noticed; but it will be proper to particularize them somewhat more distinctly.

The great bulk of the inhabitants, besides the dominant race of Turks, is made up of Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Christians, and Jews. The first, as a matter of course, compose a considerable proportion of the population of the towns and large villages, filling nearly all civil and military offices; and they differ in no respect from the ordinary Osmanlis of the Turkish empire. With regard to the second, we have already remarked that Mesopotamia, from the line of the Hermas and Khabour southward, in

« AnteriorContinuar »