The Land of Midian is by no means one of the late Prince Metternich's "geographical expressions." The present tenants of the soil give a precise and practical definition of its limits. Their Arz Madyan extends from El-'Akabah north (north lat. 29° 28') to El-Muwaylah with its Wady, El-Surr (north lat. 27° 40'). It has thus a total latitudinal length of 108 direct geographical miles. (149) South of this line, the seaboard of North-Western Arabia, as far as El-Hejaz, has no generic name. The Bedawin are contented with such vague terms, derived from some striking feature, as "the Lands of Zibá," "of Wady Salmá," "of Wady Dámah," "of El-Wijh," to denote the tract lying between the parallels of El-Muwaylah and of Wady Hamz (<Arabic>) in north lat. 25° 55' 15". Thus the north-south length of the southern moiety would be 105 direct geographical miles, or a little less than the northern; and the grand total would be 213 miles.
The breadth of this Egyptian province is determined by the distance from the sea to the maritime mountains. In Madyan Proper, or North Midian, the extremes would be twenty-four and thirty-five miles. For the southern half these figures may be doubled. Here, again, the Bedawin are definitive as regards limits. All the Tihámah or "lowlands" and their ranges belong to Egypt; east of it the Daulat Shám, or Government of Syria, claims possession.
I have taken the liberty of calling the whole tract Midian; the section above El-Muwaylah (Madyan Proper) I would term "North Midian," and that below it "South Midian." In the days of the ancient Midianites the frontiers were so elastic that, at times, but never for a continuity, they embraced Sinai, and were pushed forward even into Central Palestine. Moreover, I would prolong the limits eastward as far as the Damascus-Medínah road. This would be politically and ethnologically correct. With the exception of the Ma'ázah country, the whole belongs to Egypt; and all the tribes, formerly Nabathæan, are now more or less Egypto-Arab, never questioning the rights of his Highness the Viceroy, who garrisons the seaboard forts. Of the other points, historical and geographical, I am not so sure. My learned friend, Aloys Sprenger, remarks: "Let me observe that your extending the name 'Midian' over the whole country, as far south as the dominions of the Porte, appears to me an innovation by which the identity of the race along the shore of the Gulf of 'Akabah, coast down to Wajh and Hawrá, is prejudged. Would it not be better to leave Midian where it always has been, and to consider Badá (150) the centre of Thamûditis, as it was at the time of Pliny and Ptolemy, and as it continued to be until the Balee (Baliyy), and other Qodhâ' (Kudá') tribes, came from Southern Arabia, and exterminated the Thamûdites?" This is, doubtless, a valid objection: its only weak point is that it goes too far back. We cannot be Conservatives in geography and ethnology; nor can we attach much importance, in the nineteenth century, to a race, the Beni Tamúd, which had wholly disappeared before the seventh. On the whole, it still appears to me that by adopting my innovation we gain more than we lose; but the question must be left for others to decide.
In our days, two great Sultánis or "highways" bound Madyan the Less and Midian the Greater. The western, followed by the Hajj el-Misri (Egyptian caravan), dates from the age of Sultán Selim Khán the Conqueror; who, before making over the province to the later Mamlúk Beys, levelled rocks, cut through ridges, dug wells, laid out the track, and defended the line by forts. Before that time the road ran, for convenience of water, to the east or inland: it was, in fact, the old Nabathaean highway which, according to Strabo, connected Leukè Kóme with the western capital, Petra. Further east, and far beyond the double chain of maritime mountains, is the highway followed by the Hajj el-Shámi (Syrian or Damascus caravan), which sets out from Constantinople, musters at Damascus, and represents the Sultan. On both these main lines water is procurable at almost every station; and to them military expeditions are perforce limited. The parallelogram between the two, varying in breadth, according to Wallin, from 90 to 120 miles (direct and geographical), is irregularly supplied in places with springs, wells, and rain-pits, which can always be filled up or salted by the Bedawin.
The main body of the Expedition, Mr. Clarke, MM. Marie and Lacaze, Ahmed Kaptán, and Lieutenant Amir, set out from El-Muwaylah at 6.30 a.m. (February 19th), escorted by the Sayyid and the three salaried Shaykhs, including our friend Furayj. The Remingtons numbered ten, and there were also ten picks, of whom five waited upon the mules; of the sixty-one camels six were dromedaries, and as the road grew lighter our beasts of burden increased, somehow or other, to sixty-four. The caravan now loads in twenty minutes instead of five hours; and when politiké, or fear of danger, does not delay us, we start in a quarter of an hour after the last bugle-sound. This operation is under charge of Lieutenant Amir, who does his best to introduce Dar-Forian discipline: the camels being first charged with the Finátís ("metal water-barrels"), then with the boxes, and lastly with the tents.
After passing the ruins of Abú Hawáwit, we began at 9:15 a.m. to exchange the broad Wady Surr of the flat seaboard, with its tall banks of stiff drab clay, for a gorge walled with old conglomerates, and threading the ruddy and dark-green foot-hills of the main Ghát. As in the Wady el-Maka'dah and other "winter-brooks," the red porphyritic trap, heat-altered argil, easily distinguished by its fracture from the syenites of the same hue, appeared to be iron-clad, coated with a thin crust of shiny black or brown peroxide (?). This peculiarity was noticed by Tuckey in the Congo, by Humboldt in the Orinoco, and by myself in the São Francisco river; I also saw it upon the sandstones of the wild mountains east of Jerusalem, where, as here, air and not water must affect the oxide of iron. In both cases, however, the cause would be the same, and the polish would be a burnishing of Nature on a grand scale.
After six very slow miles we halted, for rest and refection, at a thread of water in the section of the Surr which receives the Wady el-Najil. The sides were crowded with sheep and goats, the latter, as in the Syrian lowlands, almost invariably black; and the adjoining rocks had peculiar attractions for hares, hawks, and partridge. In these upland regions water is almost everywhere, and generally it is drinkable; hence the Bedawin naturally prefer them to the coast. An umbrella-shaped thorn-tree, actually growing on a hill-top, and defined by the sky-line, excited our wonder and admiration; for here, as in Pontus--"Rara, nec hæc felix, in apertis eminet arvis
Indeed, throughout our journey this spectacle always retained its charms, aiding Fancy to restore the barrens to what they had been in the prosperous days of yore.
The Wady Surr now began to widen out, and to become more riant, whilst porphyry was almost the only visible rock. After a total of ten "dawdling" miles, marching almost due east, we found our tents pitched in a broad and quasi-circular basin, called El-Safh ("the level ground of") Jebel Malíh ("Mount Pleasant"?), which the broad-speaking Bedawin lengthen to Malayh. Our camel-men had halted exactly between two waters, and equally distant from both, so as to force upon us the hire of extra animals. We did not grumble, however, as we were anxious to inspect the Afrán ("furnaces") said to be found upon the upper heights of the Shárr--of these apocryphal features more hereafter. Fresh difficulties! The Jeráfín-Huwaytát tribe, that owns the country south of the Surr, could not be reached under a whole day of dromedary-riding: in reality they were camped a few furlongs off, but anything to gain £8 per diem for doing nothing! Two Bedawi shepherd-lads promised to act guides next morning, and duly failed to appear, or, more probably, were forbidden to appear. They had also romanced about ruins, fountains, palms, and rushes in the Wady el-Kusayb, the south-eastern influent. At night Ahmed el-'Ukbi, surnamed Abú Khartúm, arrived in camp: he had travelled more than once to Tabúk, carrying grain, and though he had failed as a merchant, he retained his reputation as a guide. As regards the furnaces, he also, like Furayj, could speak only from hearsay. Opinions were divided in camp: I saw clearly that a stand was being made to delay us for four or five days; and, despite grumbling, I resolved upon deferring the visit till our return from the interior.
The first march had led us eastward, instead of north-eastward, in order to inspect the Wady Surr. From the seaboard, this line, which drains the northern flank of the Shárr Mountains, appears the directest road into the interior. We shall presently see, however, why the devious northern way of the Wady Sadr has become the main commercial route connecting El-Muwaylah with Tabúk. (151) During the evening we walked up the Wady Surr, finding, in its precipitous walls, immense veins of serpentine and porphyritic greenstone, but not a speck of gold. The upper part of the Fiumara also showed abundant scatters of water-rolled stones, serpentines, and hard felspars, whose dove-coloured surface was streaked with fibrils and at times with regular veins of silvery lustre, as if brought out by friction of the surface. I offered a considerable sum to a Jeráfín Bedawi if he would show the rock in situ; he was evidently ignorant of it, but, like others, he referred us to Jebel Malíh.
The whole of the next day (February 20th) was spent in northing. Leaving the noisy braying caravan to march straight on its destination, we set out (6.15 a.m.) up the Wady Guwaymarah, guided by Hasan el-'Ukbí, who declared that he well knew the sites of the ruined settlements El-Khulasah and El-Zibayyib. After walking half an hour we turned eastward into a feeder of the Surr, the Wady el-Khulasah, whose aspect charmed me: this drain of the inner Jedayl block was the replica of a Fiumara in Somali-land, a broad tree-dotted flat of golden sand, bordered on either side by an emerald avenue of dense Mimosas, forming line under the green-stone hills to the right, and the red-stone heights to the left. The interior, we again remarked, is evidently more rained upon, and therefore less sterile and desolate, than the coast and the sub-maritime regions; and here one can well imagine large towns being built. At last, after walking about an hour and a half (= four miles and a half) towards the Shárr, with our backs turned upon our goal, the rat-faced little intriguer, Hasan, declared that he knew nothing about El-Khulasah, but that Zibayyib lay there! pointing to a bright-red cliffy peak, "Abá'l-bárid," on the left bank of the Wady, and to others whose heads were blue enough and low enough to argue considerable distance. He had intended his cousin Gabr to be the real guide, and to take to himself all the credit; but I had sent off the parlous "judge" in another direction.
Mr. Clarke, whose cantering mule had no objection to leave its fellows, rode off with the recreant Hasan, whilst we awaited his return under a tree.
Instead of hugging Abá'l-bárid, behind which a watercourse would have taken him straight to his destination, he struck away from the Wady el-Khulasah. Then crossing on foot, and hauling his animal over, a rough divide, he fell, after six miles instead of two, into the upper course of the Wady Surr, which he reported to be choked with stones, and refusing passage to loaded camels--as will afterwards appear, the reverse is the case. The ruins of El-Zibayyib lie at a junction of three, or rather four, watercourses. The eastern is the Surr, here about five hundred yards broad, forming a bulge in the bed, and then bending abruptly to the south; a short line from the south-west, the Wady Zibayyib, drains the Aba''l-bárid peak; and the northernmost is the Wady el-Safrá, (152) upon which the old place stands à cheval. The western part is the larger and the more ruinous. The thin line, three hundred yards long by thirty broad, never shows more than two tenements deep, owing to the hill that rises behind it: here the only furnace was found. The eastern block measures one hundred yards by forty; both are razed to their basements, resembling the miners' settlement on the Sharmá cliff. They attract attention only by their material, red boulders being used instead of the green porphyries of the hills; and the now desolate spot shows no signs of water or of palm-groves.
Mr. Clarke rejoined us after a couple of hours, having lost the dog 'Brahim: under a sudden change of diet it had become too confident of its strength, and thus it is that dogs and men come to grief. We retraced our steps down the Wady el-Khulasah, whose Jebel is the crupper of the little block Umm Jedayl. The lower valley shows a few broken walls, old Arab graves, and other signs of ancient habitation; but I am convinced that we missed the ruins which lay somewhere in the neighbourhood. One Sulaymán, a Bedawi of the Selálimah-Huwaytát tribe, who had been rascalized by residence at El-Muwaylah, was hunted up by the energetic Sayyid; hoping, as usual, that no action would be taken upon mere words, he declared that El-Khulasah stood on the top of a trap-lump. We halted to inspect it, and Lieutenant Amir rode the Shaytánah, his vicious little she-mule, up and down steeps fit only for a goat. Again all was in vain.
We then travelled over granite gravel along the western foot-hills of Umm Jedayl, in which a human figure or statue had been reported to me: now, however, it became a Sarbút, or "upright stone." Along the flanks of the chief outlier, the Jebel el-Ramzah, distinguished by its red crest and veins, the slope was one strew of quartz, whole and broken; like that which we had seen to the north, and which we were to see on our southern journey. Despising the "rotten water" offered in two places by the Umm Jedayl, we pitched camp on the fine gravel of the Sayl Wady el-Jimm. Here I heard for the first time, after sighting it for many weeks, that the latter is the name, not of a mountain, (153) but of a Sha'b or "gully" in the Jebel Dibbagh where waters "meet." The Wady Kh'shabriyyah, separating the Umm Jedayl from its northern neighbour, the Dibbagh, looks like a highway; but all declare that it is closed to camels by Wa'r, or "stony ground." Of its ruins more when we travel to the Shárr. This day's march of four hours (= ten miles and a half) had been a series of zigzags--north, north-east, west, and again north.
After a cool, pleasant night we set out at 6.30 a.m. (February 21st), across the broad Sayl, towards a bay in the mountains bearing north-north-west, the mouth of the Wady Zennárah. Entering the block, we made two short cuts to save great bends in the bed. The first was the Sha'b el-Liwéwi', the Weiwî of Wallin (p. 304)--wild riding enough; the path often winding almost due east, when the general direction was north-north-east. We saw, for the first time, pure greenish-yellow chlorite outcropping from the granite. The animals were apparently hibernating, and plants were rare; we remarked chiefly the sorrel and the blue thistle, or rather wild artichoke, the Shauk el-Jemel, a thorn loved by camels (Blepharis edulis), which recalled to mind the highlands of Syria. The second short-cut, the Wady el-Ga'agah, alias Sawáwín, was the worse of the two: the deep drops and narrow gutters in the quartz-veined granite induced even the Shaykhs to dismount before attacking the descents. This is rarely done when ascending, for their beasts climb like Iceland ponies. One of M. Lacaze's most effective croquis is that showing monture and man disappearing in the black depths of a crevice. Some of the hill-crests were weathered with forms resembling the artificial. At the mid-day halting-ground we saw a stone-mother nursing a rock-child, which might still be utilized in lands where "thaumaturgy" is not yet obsolete.
Our course thence lay eastward up the easy bed of the Fiumara, an eastern section of an old friend, the Wady Tiryam; it now takes the well-known name "Wady Sadr," and we shall follow it to its head in the Hismá. The scene is rocky enough for Scotland or Scandinavia, with its huge walls bristling in broken rocks and blocks, its blue slides, and its polished sheets of dry watercourse which, from afar, flash in the sun like living cataracts. On the northern or right bank rises the mighty Harb, whose dome, single when seen from the west, here becomes a Tridactylon, splitting into three several heads. Facing it, the northernmost end of the Dibbagh range forms a truncated tower, conspicuous far out at sea: having no name, it was called by us Burj Jebel Dibbagh. A little further to the east it will prove to be the monstrous pommel of a dwarf saddleback, everywhere a favourite shape with the granite outcrop.
MM. Clarke and Lacaze, who had never before seen anything higher that the hillocks of the Isle of Wight or the Buttes de Montmartre were hot upon ascending the almost perpendicular sides of the Burj, relying upon the parallel and horizontal fissures in the face, which were at least ten to twenty feet apart. These dark marks, probably stained by oxide of iron, reminded me of those which wrinkle the granitic peaks about Rio de Janeiro, and which have been mistaken for "hieroglyphs."
The valley-sole is parti-coloured; the sands of the deeper line to the right are tinctured a pale and sickly green by the degradation of the porphyritic traps, here towering in the largest masses yet seen; while the gravel of the left bank is warm, and lively with red grit and syenitic granite. Looking down the long and gently waving line, we feel still connected with the civilized world by the blue and purple screen of Sinai forming the splendid back-ground. Everything around us appears deserted; the Ma'ázah are up country, and the Beni 'Ukbah have temporarily quitted these grazing-grounds for the Surr of El-Muwaylah. We camped for the night, after a total march of eleven miles, at the Sayl el-Nagwah, a short Nullah at the foot of a granite block similarly named; and a gap supplied us with tolerable rain-water.
On the next day (February 22nd) we left the "Nagwah" at seven instead of six a.m., and passed to the right a granitic outcrop in the Wady bed, a reduced edition of the Burj. After an hour's slow walking we were led by a Bedawi lad, Hasan bin Husayn, to a rock-spur projected northwards from the left side and separating two adjacent Sayls or "torrent-beds," mere bays in the bank of mountains. A cut road runs to the top of the granite tongue, which faces the westernmost or down-stream outbreaks of the huge porphyritic masses on the other side of the Wady Sadr. The ridge itself is strewed with spalled stone, quartz broken from the veins that seam the granite, and with slag as usual admirably worked. Not a trace of human habitation appears, nor is there any tradition of a settlement having existed here; consequently we concluded that this was another atelier of wandering workmen. Below the rock-tongue we found for the first time oxydulated iron and copper, either free or engaged in trap and basaltic dykes: the former metal, also attached in layers to dark-red vermeilled jasper, here appears streaked with white quartz.
Resuming our ride, we dismounted, after four miles, at the half-way Mahattah ("halting-place"): it is a rond-point in the Wady Sadr, marked from afar by a tall blue pyramid, the Jebel el-Ga'lah (Jálah). We spent some time examining this interesting bulge. Here the Jibál el-Tihámah end, and the eastern parallel range, the Jibál el-Shafah, begins. The former belong to the Huwaytát and to Egypt; the latter, partly to the Ma'ázah and to Syria. The geographical frontier is well marked by two large watercourses disposed upon a meridian, and both feeding the main drain, the Sadr-Tiryam. To the north the Wady Sawádah divides the granitic Harb from the porphyritic Jebel Sawádah; while the southern Wady Aylán separates the Dibbagh from the Jebel Aylán, a tall form distinctly visible from the Upper Shárr. The rest of our eastward march will now be through the Shafah massif. It resembles on a lower scale the Tihámah Gháts; but it wholly wants their variety, their beauty, and their grandeur. The granites which before pierced the porphyritic traps in all directions, now appear only at intervals; and this, I am told, is the case throughout the northern, as we found it to be in the southern, prolongation of the "Lip"-range. At the same time there is no distinct geographical separation between the two parallels; and both appear, not as if parted by neutral ground, but rather as topographical continuations of each other.
While breaking our fast and resting the mules, a few shots ringing ahead caused general excitement: we were now on the edge of the enemy's country. Presently three of the Ma'ázah came in and explained, with their barking voices, that their people had been practicing at the Níshán ("target"); which meant "We have powder in abundance." One of them, at once dubbed El-Nasnás ("the Satyr") from his exceeding monstrous ugliness--a baboon's muzzle with a scatter of beard--kindly volunteered to guide us, with the intention of losing the way. The dialogue that took place was something as follows:--
What are your names ?
A. Na'akal wa nashrab! Our names are "We eat and We drink!"
Where do we find water to-day?
Furayj ejaculates, "The water of the Rikáb!"
A. No, by Allah! The Arabs will never allow you to drink! You should be killed for carrying off in Dumús ("skins") the sand of the Wady Jahd (alluding to Lieutenant Amir's trip).
We did not pay much heed to these evil signs. Ahmed el-'Ukbí had been sent forward to obtain a free pass from the chiefs, and we hardly expected that the outlying thieves would be daring enough to attack us.
Resuming our way, in a cold wind and a warm sun, up the upper Wady Sadr, we threaded the various bends to the south and south-east, with a general south-south-eastern direction. The normal dark-green traps and burnished red porphyries and grits were sparsely clad with the Shauhat and the Yasár trees, resembling the Salvadora and the Tamarix. The country began to show a few donkeys and large flocks of sheep and goats; the muttons have a fine "tog," and sell for three dollars and a half. The women in charge, whose complexions appeared notably lighter than those of the seaboard, barked like the men. They were much puzzled by a curious bleating which came from the mules; and hurriedly counted their kids, suspecting that one had been purloined, whilst they had some trouble to prevent the whole flock following us. All roared with laughter when they found that Mr. Clarke was the performer.
We crossed two short cuts over long bends in the Wady; and at the second found a pot-hole of rain-water by no means fragrant, except to nostrils that love impure ammonia. It has a grand name, Muwah (for Miyáh) el-Rikáb ("the Waters of the Caravan"); and we made free with it, despite the morning's threats. We again camped in the valley at an altitude of 2200 feet (aner. 27.80); and, though the thermometer showed 66° F. at five p.m., fires inside and outside the mess-tent were required. A wester or sea-breeze, deflected by the ravines to a norther, was blowing; and in these regions, as in the sub-frigid zones of Europe, wind makes all the difference of temperature. During the evening we were visited by the Ma'ázah Bedawin of a neighbouring encampment: they began to notice stolen camels and to wrangle over past times--another bad sign.
Setting out on a splendidly lucent morning (6:45 a.m., February 23rd), when the towering heads of Harb and Dibbagh looked only a few furlongs distant, we committed the imprudence of preceding, as usual, the escort. Our men had become so timid, starting at the sight of every wretched Bedawi, that they made one long for a "rash act." After walking about a mile and a half, we passed some black tents on the left bank, where the Sadr enters a narrow rocky gorge; and suddenly about a dozen varlets were seen scampering over the walls, manning the Pass, and with lighted matches threatening to fire. Then loud rang the war-song--
"Hill el-Zawáib, hilla-há;
W'abdi Nuhúdak kulla-há!"
"Loose thy top-locks with a loosing (like a lion's mane);
And advance thy breast, all of it (opponite pectora without shrinking)."
Other varieties of the slogan are:--
"O man of small mouth (un misérable)!
If we fail, who shall win?"
"By thy eyes (I swear), O she-camel, if we go (to the attack) and gird (the sword),
We will make it a day of sorrow to them, and avert from ourselves every ill."
We dismounted, looked to our weapons, and began to parley. The ragged ruffians, some of them mere boys, and these always the readiest to blow the matches of guns longer than themselves, began with high pretensions. They declared that they would be satisfied with nothing less than plundering us; they flouted Shaykh Furayj, and they insulted the Sayyid, threatening to take away his sword.
Presently the escort and the Arab camel-men were seen coming up at the double. The Ma'ázah at once became abject; kissed our heads and declared "there was some mistake." I had already remarked, whilst the matchlock-men were swarming up the Wady-sides, that the women and children remained in camp, and the sheep and goats were not driven off. This convinced me that nothing serious had been intended: probably the demonstration was ordered from head-quarters in order to strike us with a wholesome awe.
The fellows gently reproached us with travelling through their country without engaging (and paying) Ghafír--"guides and protectors." So far, as owners of the soil, they were "in their right;" and manning a pass is here the popular way of levying transit dues. On this occasion the number of our Remingtons sufficed to punish their insolence by putting the men to flight, and by carrying off their camels and flocks; but such a step would have stopped the journey, and what would not the "Aborigines Protection Society" have said and done? I therefore hired one of the varlets, and both parties went their ways rejoicing that the peace had not been broken.
The valley, winding through the red and green hills, was dull and warm till the cool morning easter, which usually set about eight a.m., began to blow. The effect of increasing altitude showed itself in the vegetation. We now saw for the first time the Kidád (Astragalus), with horrid thorns and a flower resembling from afar the gooseberry: it is common on the Hismá and in the South Country. The Kahlá (Echium), a bugloss, a borage-like plant, with viscous leaves and flowers of two colours,--the young light-pink and the old dark-blue,--everywhere beautified the sands, and reminded me of the Istrian hills, where it is plentiful as in the Nile Valley. The Jarad-thorn was not in bloom; and the same was the case with the hyacinth (Dipcadi erythraeum), so abundant in the Hisma', which some of us mistook for a "wild onion." The Zayti (Lavandula) had just donned its pretty azure bloom. There were Reseda, wild indigo, Tribulus (terrestris), the blue Aristida, the pale Stipa, and the Bromus grass, red and yellow. The Ratam (spartium), with delicate white and pink blossoms, was a reminiscence of Tenerife and its glorious crater; whilst a little higher up, the amene Cytisus, flowering with gold, carried our thoughts back to the far past.
Presently the great Fiumara opened upon a large basin denoting the Ras ("head") Wady Sadr: native travellers consider this their second stage from El-Muwaylah. In front the Jibál Sadr extended far to the right and left, a slight depression showing the Khuraytah, or "Pass," which we were to ascend on the morrow. Buttressing the left bank of the broad watercourse was the dwarf hill of which we had been told so many tales. By day its red sands gleam and glisten like burnished copper; during the night fire flashes from the summit: in truth, its sole peculiarity is that of being yellow amongst the gloomy heights around it; whilst the Wady el-Safrá, higher up to the left, discharges from its Jebel a torrent of quartz and syenite, gravel and sand. Abú Khartám, the author of the romance, was among the party: he only smiled when complimented upon the power of his imagination.
This was a day of excitement: even the mules kept their ears pricked up. After a short nine miles we had camped below the Jebel Kibár, and we had remounted our animals to ascend a neighbouring hill commanding a bird's-eye view of the Hismá plain. There was evidently much excitement amongst the Bedawi shepherds around us; and presently Ahmed el-'Ukbí, our messenger, appeared in sight, officially heading the five chiefs of the Ma'ázah, who were followed by a tail of some thirty clansmen. Only two rode horses, wretched garrons stolen from the Ruwalá, the great branch of the Anezah, which holds the eastern regions; the rest rode fine sturdy and long-coated camels, which looked Syrian rather than Midianite. (154) We returned hurriedly to make arrangements for the reception: our Shaykhs could not, without derogating, go forth to meet the strangers; but the latter were saluted with due ceremony by the bugler and the escort, drawn up in line before the mess-tent.
After the usual half-hour's delay, the "palaver," to speak Africanicè, "came up," and M. Lacaze had a good opportunity of privily sketching the scene. The Shaykh, Mohammed bin 'Atíyyah, who boasts (falsely) that he commands more than half the two thousand males composing the tribe, is a tall, sinewy man of about fifty, straight-featured, full-bearded, and gruff-voiced: his official style of speaking from the throat, a kind of vaccine low, imitated in camp for many a day, never failed to cause merriment. His costume rose to the height of Desert-fashion, described when pourtraying Shaykh Khizr the 'Imráni; his manners were those of a gentleman below the Pass, and above it he became an unmitigated ruffian, who merited his soubriquet El-Kalb ("the Hound"). On one side sat his son Sálim, a large, beardless lad, who had begun work by presenting us with a sheep--Giorgi (cook) said it cost us £40. On the other was his eldest brother and alter ego: the wrinkled Sagr (Sakr) has been a resident at Cairo, and still boasts that he received the "tribute" of a horse from the Viceroy, whom he affects to treat as an equal or rather an inferior. The others were old Sagr's ill-visaged son Ali, and, lastly, a cunning-eyed villain, 'Abayd bin Sálim, the rightful heir to the chieftainship, which, however, he had been unable to keep. All the Shaykhs were dressed in brand-new garments and glaring glossy Kúfíyahs ("head-kerchiefs"); they trade chiefly with Mezáríb in the Haurán; and, during the annual passage to and fro of the Damascus caravan, they await it at Tabúk, and threaten to cut off the road unless liberally propitiated with presents of raiment and rations. The Murátibah (honorarium) contributed by El-Shám would be about one hundred dollars in ready money to the headman, diminishing with degree to one dollar per annum: this would not include "free gifts" by pilgrims. The Ma'ázah are under Syria, that is, under no rule at all; and they are supposed to be tributary to, when in reality they demand tribute from, the Porte. In fact, nothing can be more pronounced than the contrast of the Bedawin who are subject to Egypt, and those supposed to be governed by the wretched Ottoman.
During the palaver all outside was sweet as honey, to use the Arab phrase, and bitter as gall inside. The Ma'ázah, many of whom now saw Europeans for the first time, eyed the barnetá (hat) curiously, with a certain facial movement which meant, "This is the first time we have let Christian dogs into our land!" They were minute in observing the escort, and not a little astonished to find that all were negroes--in the old day Egyptian soldiers, under the great Mohammed Ali Pasha and his stepson, Ibrahim Pasha, had made themselves a terror to the Wild Man. "What had now become of them?" was the mental question. When asked whence they had procured the two horses, they answered curtly, Min Rabbiná--"From our Lord," thus signifying stolen goods; and, like mediaeval knights, they took a pride in avowing that not one of their number could read or write. Finally a tent was assigned to them; food was ordered, and they promised us escort to their dens on the morrow.
During the raw and gusty night the mercury sank to 38° F., the aneroid (26.91) showing about three thousand feet above sea-level; and blazing fires kept up within and without the tents, hardly sufficed for comfort. On the morning of February 24th"Over the wold the wind blew cold;"
and the Egyptian officers all donned their gloves. The early hours were spent in a last struggle with our Shaykhs, who now felt themselves and their camels hopelessly entering the lion's lair. The sole available pretext for delay was that their animals could never carry the boxes and tents up the Pass; but, though very ugly reports prevailed concerning the reception of Ahmed el-'Ukbí, and the observations that had been made last night, not a word was suffered to reach my ears until our retreat had been resolved upon. Such concealment would have been inexcusable in a European; in the East it is the rule.
At 7.15 a.m. we struck the camp at Jebel Kibár, and moved due eastward towards the Pass. This north-eastern Khuraytah (Col) is termed the Khuraytat el-Hismá or el-Jils, after a hillock on the plateau-summit, to distinguish it from the similar feature to the south-west: the latter is known as the Khuraytat el-Zibá; or el-Thm, the local pronunciation of Tihámah. About two miles of rough and broken ground lead to the foot of the ladder. The zigzags then follow the line of a mountain torrent, the natural Pass, crossing its bed from left to right and from right again to left: the path is the rudest of corniches, worn by the feet of man and beast; and showing some ugly abrupt turns. The absolute height of the ascent is about 450 feet (aner. 26.70--26.25) and the length half a mile. The ground, composed mostly of irregular rock-steps, has little difficulty for horses and mules; but camels laden with boards (the mess-table) and long tent-poles must have had a queer time--I should almost expect after this to see an oyster walking up stairs. Of course, they took their leisure, feeling each stone before they trusted it, but they all arrived without the shadow of an accident; and the same was the case during the two subsequent descents.
We halted on the Sath el-Nakb ("the Passtop") to expect the caravan, and to prospect the surrounding novelties. Heaps and piles of dark trap dotted the summit like old graves; many of the stones were inscribed with tribal marks, and not a few were capped with snowy lumps of quartz detached from their veins in the porphyry. This custom, which appears universal throughout Midian, has many interpretations. According to some it denotes the terminus of a successful raid; others make it show where a dispute was settled without bloodshed; whilst as a rule it is an expression of gratitude: the Bedawi erects it in honour of the man who protected or who did a service to him, saying at the same time, Abyaz 'alayk yá Fula'n--"White (or happy) be it to thee!" naming the person. Amongst these votive stones we picked up copper-stained quartz like that of 'Aynúnah, fine specimens of iron, and the dove-coloured serpentine, with silvery threads, so plentiful in the Wady Surr. The Wasm in most cases showed some form of a cross, which is held to be a potent charm by the Sinaitic Bedawin; and on two detached water-rolled pebbles were distinctly inscribed lH and Vl, which looked exceedingly like Europe. Apparently the custom is dying out: the modern Midianites have forgotten the art and mystery of tribal signs (Wusúm). In many places the people cannot distinguish between inscriptions and "Bill Snooks his mark," and they can interpret very few of the latter.
Looking westward through the inverted arch formed by the two hill-staples of the Khuraytah, and down the long valley which had given us passage, the eye distinguishes a dozen distances whose several planes are marked by all the shades of colour that the most varied vegetation can show. There are black-browns, chocolate-browns, and light umber-browns; bright-reds and dull-reds; grass-greens and cypress-greens; neutral tints and French greys contrasting with the rosy pinks, the azures, the purples, and the golden yellows with which distance paints the horizon. From a few feet above the Col-floor appear the eastern faces of the giants of the coast-range; and our altitude, some 3800 feet, gave us to a certain extent a measure of their grand proportions.
We now stand upon the westernmost edge of the great central Arabian plateau, known as El-Nejd ("the Highlands"), opposed to El-Tihámah, the lowland regions. In Africa we should call it the "true" subtending the "false" coast; delightful Dahome compared with leprous Lagos. This upland, running parallel with the "Lip"-range and with the maritime Gháts, is the far-famed Hismá. It probably represents a remnant of the old terrace which, like the Secondary gypseous formation, has been torn to pieces by the volcanic region to the east, and by the plutonic upheavals to the west. The length may be 170 miles; the northern limit is either close to or a little south of Fort Ma'án; and we shall see its southern terminus sharply defined on a parallel with the central Shárr, not including "El-Jaww." (155) An inaccessible fortress to the south, it is approached on the south-west by difficult passes, easily defended against man and beast. Further north, however, the Wadys 'Afál near El-Sharaf, El-Hakl (Hagul), and El-Yitm at El-'Akabah, are easy lines without Wa'r ("stony ground") or Nakb ("ravines").
The Hismá material is a loose modern sandstone, showing every hue between blood-red, rose pink, and dead, dull white: again and again fragments had been pointed out to us near the coast, in ruined buildings and in the remains of handmills and rub-stones. Possibly the true coal-measures may underlie it, especially if the rocks east of Petra be, as some travellers state, a region of the Old, not the New Red. According to my informants, the Hismá has no hills of quartz, a rock which appears everywhere except here; nor should I expect the region to be metalliferous.
We ascended the Jebel el-Khuraytah, a trap hillock some 120 feet high, the southern jamb of the Khuraytah gate: the summit, where stands a ruined Burj measuring fourteen metres in diameter, gives a striking and suggestive view. After hard dry living on grisly mountain and unlovely Wady, this fine open plain, slightly concave in the centre, was a delightful change of diet to the eye--the first enjoyable sensation of the kind, since we had gazed lovingly upon the broad bosom of the Wady el-'Arabah. The general appearance is that of Eastern Syria, especially the Haurán: at the present season all is a sheet of pinkish red, which in later March will turn to lively green. On this parallel the diameter does not exceed a day's march, but we see it broadening to the north. Looking in that direction over the gloomy-metalled porphyritic slopes upon which we stand, the glance extends to a manner of sea-horizon; while the several planes below it are dotted with hills and hill-ranges, white, red, and black, all dwarfed by distance to the size of thimbles and pincushions. The guides especially pointed out the ridge El-Mukaykam, a red block upon red sands, and a far-famed rendezvous for raid and razzia. Nearer, the dark lumps of El-Khayráni rise from a similar surface; nearer still lie the two white dots, El-Rakhamatayn; and nearest is the ruddy ridge Jebel and Jils el-Rawiyán, containing, they say, ruins and inscriptions of which Wallin did not even hear.
The eastern versant of the Hismá is marked by long chaplets of tree and shrub, disposed along the selvage of the watercourses; and the latter are pitted with wells sunk after the fashion of the Bedawin. In this rhumb the horizon is bounded by El-Harrah, the volcanic region whose black porous lavas and honey-combed basalts, often charged with white zeolite, are still brought down even to the coast to serve as mortars and handmills. The profile is a long straight and regular line, as if formed under water, capped here and there by a tiny head like the Syrian Kulayb Haurán: its peculiar dorsum makes it distinguishable from afar, and we could easily trace it from the upper heights of the Shárr. It is evidently a section of the mighty plutonic outburst which has done so much to change the aspect of the parallel Midian seaboard. Wallin's account of it (p. 307) is confined to the place where he crossed the lava-flood; and he rendered El-Harrah, which in Arabic always applies to a burnt region, by "red-coloured sandstone."
The Bedawin far more reasonably declare that this Harrah is not a mere patch as it appears in Wallin's map, a narrow oblong not exceeding sixty miles (north lat. 27°--28°), disposed diagonally from north-west to south-east. According to them, it is a region at least as large as the Hismá; and it extends southwards not only to the parallel of El-Medínah, but to the neighbourhood of Yambú'. The upper region has two great divisions: the Harrat-Hismá or the Harrah par excellence, which belongs to the Ma'ázah, and which extends southwards through El-Sulaysilah as far as the Jaww. The latter region, a tract of yellow sand, dotted with ruddy hills, apparently a prolongation of the Hismá, separates it from the Harrat el-'Awayraz, in which the Jebel el-Muharrak lies. (156) This line of volcanism is continued south by the Harrat el-Mushrif (P.N. of a man); by the Harrat Sutúh Jaydá; and, finally, by the Harrat el-Buhayri. the latter shows close behind the shore at El-Haurá, in nearly the same latitude as El-Medínah, where we shall presently sight it. There is great interest and a general importance in this large coast-subtending eruptive range, whose eastern counterslope demands long and careful study.
Sweeping the glance round to south, we see the southern of the two Jilsayn, tall mounds of horizontal strata, with ironstone in harder lines and finial blocks. This is the Jils el-Dáim, so distinguished from the northern Jils el-Rawiyán. The lower edge of the Hismá swells up in red and quoin-like masses, the Jibál el-Záwiyah, and then falls suddenly, with a succession of great breaks, into the sub-maritime levels. During our next ten days' travel we shall be almost in continuous sight of its southern ramparts and buttresses. Far over the precipices lie the low yellow sands of the Rahabah, alias the Wady Dámah; and behind it rises the sky-blue mountain block, which takes a name from the ruins of Shaghab and Shuwák.
We breakfasted upon the Khuraytah crest; and Mr. Clarke set out to shoot the fine red-legged "Greek" partridges (caccabis) that haunt the hilltops, whilst the rest of us marched with the caravan to the nearest camping-ground. About a mile from the Col, and lying to the west of the Jils el-Rawiyán, it is supplied with excellent drinking-water by the Miyáh el-Jedayd, lying nine hundred to a thousand metres to the south-east. On the other hand, fuel, here a necessary of life, was wanting; nor could the camels find forage. Thus we were camped upon the western edge of the Hismá. The Ma'ázah Shaykhs, who vainly urged us forwards, showed a suspicious disappointment at our not reaching their quarters on the far side, where, they said, a camel was awaiting to be slaughtered for our reception.
Meanwhile, we were enjoying the reverse of hospitality. The Bedawin evidently now held that all which was ours had become theirs. Their excessive greed made them imprudent. Not satisfied with "eating us up," with a coffee-pot ever on the fire, with demanding endless tobacco, and with making their two garrons devour more barley than our eight mules, they began to debate, aloud as usual, how much ready money they should demand. This was at last settled at four hundred dollars; and the talk was reported to me by the Básh-Buzúk Husayn, whom they had compelled to cook for them. At the same time unpleasant discussions were beginning: "This man stole my camel!" "That man killed my father," already took the form of threats; in fact, I almost repented having brought the Huwaytát and their camels into the trap. Still they all respected Furayj, as might be seen by their rising and making room for him whenever he approached the fire.
At last an evil rumour arose that the Ma'ázah had determined to supply us with transport, and had sent messengers in all directions to collect the animals. This step looked uncommonly like a gathering of war-men. I was sorely disappointed, for more reasons than one. The state of affairs rendered a distant march to the east highly unadvisable. The principal object of this journey had been to investigate the inland depth of the metalliferous deposits; in fact, their extent from west to east. Their north-south length would be easily ascertained, but the width would still remain unknown. The "Land of Midian," through which we have been travelling, has evidently been worked, and in places well worked; thus the only chance of finding a virgin California would be in the unknown tracts lying to the east of the "Harrahs." Too bad to be thwarted in such a project by the exorbitant demands of a handful of thieves!
The disappointment was aggravated by other considerations. From all that I had heard, the Hismá is a region full of archæological interest. Already we were almost in sight of the ruins of Ruáfá, lying to the north between the two white dots El-Rakhamatayn. Further eastward, and north of the pilgrim-station Zát-Hajj, are the remains of Karáyyá, still unvisited by Europeans. Finally, I had been shown, when too late to inspect the place, a fragment of a Nabathæan inscription, finely cut in soft white sandstone: (157) it had been barbarously broken, and two other pieces were en route. The stone is said to be ten feet long (?), all covered with "writings," from which annalistic information might be expected: it lies, or is said to lie, about two hours' ride north of our camp, and beyond the Jils el-Rawiyán famed for Hawáwít. At first I thought of having it cut to portable size; but second thoughts determined me to leave it for another visit or for some more fortunate visitor. Lastly, we were informed, a few weeks afterwards, that the Ma'ázah Shaykhs had carried it off to their tents--I fear piecemeal.
It was not pleasant to beat a retreat; but, under the circumstances, what else could be done? No one was to be relied upon but the Europeans, and not all even of them. The black escort, emancipated slaves, would have run away at the first shot; except only Acting-Corporal Khayr. And when I told the officers assembled at mess that we should march back early next morning, the general joy showed how little they relished the prospect of an advance. Then came out in mass the details--many doubtless apocryphal--which should have been reported to me, and which had carefully been kept secret. The Ma'ázah, when our messenger first notified our visit, had declared that they would have no Nazarenes in their mountains; that they did not care a fico for Egypt. Why had not "Effendíná" written to them? they were his equals, not his subjects! It was then debated whether they should not raise a force of dromedary-men to fall upon us. Some of them proposed to summon to their aid the rival chief, Ibn Hermás; but the majority thought it would be better to reserve for themselves the hundred dollars per diem, of which they proposed to fleece us.
Of course, everything around us was intrigue; the Máyat taht el-Tibn ("water under the straw") of the Arab saying. Furayj, it is true, looked serene, and privately offered me to fight the affair out; but he was alone in the idea. The Sayyid was tranquil, as usual; Hasan the 'Ukbi wore an unpleasant appearance of satisfaction, as if he had been offered a share in the plunder of the Huwaytát; and 'Alayán, a brave man on his own ground, could hardly conceal his dejection. I might, it is evident, have seized Shaykh Mohammed, placed a pistol to his ear, and carried him off a prisoner; but such grands moyens must be reserved for great occasions. The worst symptoms in camp were that the Ma'ázah at once knew the whole of my project; while the Egyptian officers were ever going to their tents, and one stayed talking with them till near midnight.
February 25th was a day of humiliation. I aroused the camp at 4.30 a.m., and at once gave orders to strike the tents and load. The command was obeyed in double quick time; but not before Shaykh Mohammed had visited us to propose a march to his home in the east. He was not comfortable; probably his reinforcements had still to arrive: his face was calm, as the Eastern's generally is; but his feet trembled, and his toes twitched. I drily told him of our changed plans, and he left us in high dudgeon. The tragi-comedy which followed may be divided into six acts:--
1. The Ma'ázah mount their horses and camels: I walk up to them, and expostulate about so abrupt a departure without even drinking a friendly cup of coffee.
2. They dismount, and squat in council round the fire, sending on three dromedary-riders to crown a hill commanding the pass. The "burning question" is now whether armed clansmen are or are not lurking behind the heights.
3. Shaykh Mohammed comes forward, and demands blackmail to the extent of two hundred dollars. I offer one hundred dollars.
4. Our hosts break off the debate in a towering rage; refuse coffee, and declare that the caravan of "Effendíná" (the Viceroy) shall not be loaded. Mohammed's feet twitch more violently as the camels are made to kneel.
5. The caravan shows too much emotion. I pay the two hundred dollars into the chief's hands. He at once demands his Sharaf ("honour") in the shape of a Kiswah, or handsome dress, and, that failing, an additional twenty-five dollars for each of the five headmen. I promise that a robe shall be sent from El-Muwaylah. (158)
6. The caravan sets out for the Pass, when the three dromedary-riders open with the war-cry: it is stopped with much apparatus by the Shaykhs, who affect to look upon it as dangerous.* * * * *
We now marched without delay upon the Col, which was reached at 8:15 a.m.; Mohammed bin 'Atíyyah having meanwhile disappeared. We descended the Khuraytat el-Jils in twenty-six minutes, and dismissed the remainder of our Ma'ázah escort at the foot. I vainly offered them safeguard to El-Muwaylah, which they have not visited for the last dozen years; all refused absolutely to pass their own frontiers.
Au revoir Mohammed ibn 'Atíyyah and company!
Having broken our fast and sent forward the caravan, we at once began to descend the southern Pass, the Khuraytat el-Zibá. Here the watershed of the Wady Surr heads; and merchants object to travel by its shorter line, because their camels must ascend two ladders of rocks, instead of one at the top of the Wady Sadr. The Col was much longer and but little less troublesome than its northern neighbour; the formation was the same, and forty-five minutes placed us in a gully, that presently widened to a big valley, the Wady Dahal or El-Khuraytah. We reached it at 12:30 p.m., and laid down the distance from the summit of the northern Col at about five miles and a quarter. The air felt tepid, the sun waxed hot; drinking-water was found on the left of the bed, and a hole in the sole represented a spring, which the people say is perennial: we were dismounting to quench our thirst at the latter, when Juno plunged into it, and stood quietly eyeing us with an air of intense satisfaction.
We spent that night at a place lower down the Wady Dahal, known as the Jayb el-Khuraytah ("Collar of the Col"). The term "Jayb" is locally applied to two places only; the other being the Jayb el-Sa'lúwwah, which we shall presently visit. A larger feature than a Wady, it reminds us of a Norfolk "broad," but it is of course waterless. Guards were placed around the camp; and a wholesome dread of the Ma'ázah kept them wide awake. The only evil which resulted was that none dared to lead our mules to water; and the poor animals were hardly rideable on the next day.
Of the Hismá in its present state, we may say as of Ushant, Qui voit Ouessant, voit la mort. Nothing can be done towards working the mines of Midian until this den of thieves is cleared out. It is an asylum for every murderer and bandit who can make his way there--a centre of turbulence which spreads trouble all around it. Under the sham rule of miserable Shám (Syria), with its Turkish Wális, men like the late Ráshid Pasha, matters can only wax worse. Subject to Egypt, the people will learn discipline and cease to torment the land.
Happily for their neighbours there will be no difficulty in reducing the Ma'ázah. They are surrounded by enemies, and they have lately been obliged to pay "brother-tax" to the Ruwalá as a defence against being plundered: the tribute consists of one piece of hair-cloth about twenty cubits long. On the north, as far as El-Ma'án, they meet the hostile Beni Sakr (Jawázi), under the Shaykh Mohammed ibn Jázi; southwards the Baliyy, commanded by Shaykh 'Afnán, are on terms of "blood" with them; eastward stand the 'Anezah and the warlike Sharárát-Hutaym, who ever covet their two thousand camels: westward lie in wait their hereditary foes, the Huwaytát. Shaykh Furayj, the tactician, has long ago proposed a general onslaught of his tribesmen by a simultaneous movement up the Wadys Surr, Sadr, Urnub, and 'Afál: they seemed to have some inkling of his intentions, as they hastened to conclude with him a five months' 'Altwah or "truce." Finally, a small disciplined force, marching down the Damascus-Medínah pilgrimage-road to the east, and co-operating with the Huwayta't on the west would place this vermin between two fires.
The tale of my disappointment may conclude with an ethnological notice of those who caused it.
The Ma'ázah is a Syro-Egypto-Bedawi clan, originally Arab, or rather Syrian, but migratory, as are all Arabs. It now extends high up the valley of the Nile, and it is still found in the Wady Musá (of Suez) and on the Za'faránah block. Even in Egypt it is turbulent and dangerous: the men are professional robbers; and their treachery is uncontrolled by the Bedawi law of honour--they will eat bread and salt with the traveller whom they intend to murder. For many years it was unsafe to visit the camps within sight of Suez, until a compulsory residence at head-quarters taught the Shaykhs manners. The habitat in Arabia stretches from the Wady Musá of Petra, where they are kinsmen of the Tiyáhah, the Bedawin of the Tíh-desert; and through Ma'án as far as the Birkat el-Mu'azzamah, south of Tabúk. Finally, they occupy the greater part of the Hismá and the northern Harrah.
According to Mohammed el-Kalb, these bandits own the bluest of blue blood. Their forefather was one Wáíl, who left by his descendants two great tribes. The first and the eldest took a name from their Ma'áz ("he-goats"); while the junior called themselves after the Annáz ("she-goats"): from the latter sprung the great Anezah family, which occupies the largest and the choicest provinces of the Arabian peninsula. Meanwhile genealogists ignore the Ma'ázah.
Wallin would divide the tribe into two, the Ma'ázah and the "Beni 'Atiyá:" of the latter in Midian I could hear nothing except that they represent the kinsmen of the Shaykh's family. We find "Benoo Ateeyah" in maps like that of Crichton's (1834), where the Ma'ázah are laid down further south; and northwards the Beni 'Atiyyah are a powerful clan who push their razzias as far as the frontiers of Moab. My informants declare that the numbers of fighting men in the Midianite division of the race may be two thousand (two hundred?), and that they are separated only by allegiance to two rival Shaykhs. The greater half, under Ibn Hermás, is distributed into five clans, of whom the first, 'Orbán Khumaysah, contain two septs. Under Mohammed ibn 'Atíyyah (El-Kalb) they number also five divisions. Amongst them are the Subút or Beni Sabt, "Sons of the Sabbath," that is, Saturday; whom Wallin suspects to be of Jewish origin, relying, it would appear, principally upon their name. The ringing of the large bell suspended to the middle pole of the tents at sunset, "to hail the return of the camels and the mystic hour of descending night," is an old custom still maintained, because it confers a Barakat ("blessing") upon the flocks and herds. Certainly there is nothing of the Bedawi in this practice, and it is distinctly contrary to the tradition of El-Islam; yet many such survivals hold their ground amongst the highly conservative Wild Men, and they must be looked upon only as local and tribal peculiarities.
End of Vol. I.