Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XXVI

An account of the face of the great African Desart, or Zahahrah—of its inhabitants, their customs, manners, dress, &c.— A description of the Arabian camel or dromedary.

In giving an account of the great western desart, or Zahahrah, and of its inhabitants, &c. it must be remembered, that in journeying across, or on the desart when a slave, I did not go over but a very small part, comparatively speaking, of that extensive region; I cannot therefore undertake to describe what did not come under my* own observation. I can, however, state, without fear of future contradiction, the following facts, viz. that the face of this desart, from about the latitude of 22 degrees north, where we were forced ashore in our boat, to near the latitude of 28 degrees north, and from the longitude of Cape Barbas, about 19 to 11 degrees west, is a smooth surface, consisting partly of solid rocks, of gravel, sand, and stones mixed, and in some places of what is commonly called soil: this mass is baked down together in most places, by the extreme heat of the sun, nearly as hard as marble, so that no tracks of man or beast are discoverable; for the footstep leaves no impression. The whole surface is as smooth, when viewed on every side, as the plain of the ocean unruffled by winds or tempests, stretching out as far as the eye can reach; not a break that might serve as a landmark, or guide to the traveller; not a tree, shrub, or any other object, to interrupt the view within the horizon; the whole is in appearance a dreary waste; the soil is in colour of a light reddish brown—not a stream of water (at least for many centuries past) has refreshed this region, which is doomed to eternal barrenness; but as we went foward on this flat hard surface, we met from distance to distance with small valleys or dells, scooped out by the hand of nature, from five to thirty feet below the plain—those we saw and stopped in, were ten, fifteen, and twenty miles apart, and contained from one,to four or five acres each—they seem to serve as receptacles for the little rain water which falls on the desart; for the inhabitants always expect some in the winter months, though they are frequently disappointed;' and none had fallen on those parts on which we were thrown for the last two years.

It was already September, and they were offering up prayers to the Almighty every day, and most fervently imploring him to send them refreshing rains. These little valleys are mostly scooped out in the form of a bowl, though in some the sides are steep, and bottoms nearly level, and the whole irregular. Here grows a dwarf thorn-bush, from two to five feet in height; it is generally scattered thinly over the valley. The leaves of this shrub, which is almost the only one that is to be found on that part of.the desart, are a fourth of an inch in thickness, one and a half inches in width, and from two to two and a half inches in length, tapering to a sharp point, and are strongly impregnated with salt, so much so, that neither myself nor my companions could eat them, though nearly perishing with hunger and thirst, and a green fresh leaf would have been a great relief to us, when neither meat nor drink was to be procured. Such is the face of the desart over which we passed, until we came within a short distance of Cape Bajador, where'we fell in with immense heaps of loose sand, forming mountains of from one to three or four hundred feet in height, blown and whirled about by^every wind, and dreadful to the traveller, should a strong gale arise whilst in the midst of them; for he and his beasts must then inevitably perish, overwhelmed by flying surges of suffocating sand.

The face of this part of the desart is still the same as that before described, when laid bare and seen between the sand hills, by reason of the sand being blown off. This sand has evidently been driven from the sea-shore, and in the same degree as the ocean has retired; by means of the trade-wind blowing constantly on to the desart, and that too very strongly in the night-time, through a long succession of ages. The heavy surf dashing perpetually among the rocks gradually reduces them to grit, which then mixes with the sand that is washed up upon the shore, where it is left by the tides^that rise on this coast to the height of twelve or fourteen feet;—this becomes dried by the excessive heat of the sun, and is whirled about and driven before this constant gale, upon the surface, and then into the interior of the desart. Such have unquestionably been the causes which have produced such astonishing accumulations of sand on that part of the desart; and I am further confirmed in this belief by the enormous strings of sand hills to be found all along the coast of Suse and Morocco, near the sea-shore. These accumulations are, in many parts, so great, as to have raised new bounds to the ocean some miles beyond its original limits, which have evidently been washed by the sea at a former period, and the intermediate spaces are filled up with loose sand hills; which circumstances all together amount, in my opinion, to a demonstration of the origin of the sand on this part of the desart.

Some authors have supposed that there were some fertile spots on the great western desart which were cultivated, &c. &c. but this is, I think, an impossibility: the whole desart being a level plain, it can produce neither spring or stream of water, and no herbage can consequently grow unless by means of rain, and this falls on the desart so seldom, and is so soon evaporated, as to render even a passage across it with a caravan of Arabs and camels, at all times dangerous in the extreme, as is proved by Sidi Hamet’s narrative of his journeys, connected with my own observations. That there are more shrubs growing in some parts than in others, is true, from natural causes. The small valleys or dells which now furnish a scanty subsistence for the hardy camel, and that only by feeding on the coarsest shrubs and leaves, serve as basons to catch the little water that sometimes falls there : this is immediately dried away by the intense heat of the sun, which beats down upon the surface in all parts most violently, and scorches like actual fire;—yet that moisture, little as it is, causes the growth of the dwarf thorn-bush and of two or three other prickly plants, resembling weeds; these grow only among sand, and there are spots on the desart which produce a shrub that grows up in a bunch at the bottom as thick as a man’s leg, and then branches off in every direction to the height of two feet, with a diameter of four or five feet. Each branch is two or three inches in circumference, and they are fluted like pillars or columns in architecture, and almost square at their tops: these are- armed with small sharp prickles all over,two or three inches long, and yield, when broken off, a whitish liquid that is very nauseous, and bites the tongue like aqua-fortis, so that the camels will nip it off only when they can find nothing else: they are so numerous in some places, that it is difficult for the camels to get- along amongst them, and they are obliged to dodge about between these bunches.

In many valleys, the thorn-bushes furnish a few' snails. A few ground nuts are also to be found, resembling in shape and size small onions; and there are also to be seen under the shade of the thorn- bushes, an herb known by the name of shepherds’ sprouts in America; but like the other things before mentioned, they are very rarely to be met with. These are, as far as came within my knowledge, the whole of the productions of the desart.

It has been imagined by many, that the desart abounded in noxious animals, serpents^ and other reptiles; but we saw none, nor is it possible for any animal that requires water, to exist on the desart, unless it is under the care of, and assisted by m n in procuring that necessary article. I saw no animal that was wild, except the ostrich, nor can I conceive how that animal exists without fresh water, which it is certain he cannot procure, nor what kind of nourishment he subsists on. There are neither beasts, nor iirds, nor reptiles, to be seen on that dreary waste on which we travelled, and it is certain that there are other districts still worse, bearing not the smallest herb nor bush wherewith the camel can fill his stomach: but near the borders of thedesart, where more shrubs are produced, sheep and goats are fed in considerable numbers, and we saw many of those light-footed and beautiful animals, called the Gazelle , tripping across the sandhills, and near watering-places: some tigers also now and then made their appearance. Such is the great western desart, or Zahahrah, which can only afford a description as dry and as barren as its dreary surface. For its extent, see the map.

Nearly all parts of this vast desart are inhabited, by different tribes of Arabs, who live entirely on the milk of their camels, and wander from valley to valley, travelling nearly every day for the sake of finding food for their camels, and consequently food for themselves: they live in tents formed of cloth made of camels’ hair, which they pull off by hand, and spin with a hand spindle ; this they twist round with the fore-finger and thumb of the right hand ; after they have pulled out the thread sufficiently long from a bunch of camels hair, which they hold in their left hand, whilst the spindle descends to the ground, when . they take it up in their hand again, and wind off the yarn in a ball, and then spin another length in like manner: they afterwards double and twist it by hand, making a thread as thick as a goose-quill. When they have spun a sufficient quantity, and have agreed to stop for two er three days in one place, (which they always do when they can find sufficient food for their camels) they drive into the ground two rows of pegs, in parallel lines, sufficiently wide for a tent cloth, that is, about two and a half feet apart: they then warp the yarn round the pegs, and commence weaving it by running a kind of wooden sword through the yarn under one thread, and over another, in the manner of darning : this sword they carry with them, and it appears to have been used for ages: they then tuck through the filling by hand, after turning up the sword edgeways; haul it tight, and beat it up with the sword, as represented in plate No. 6. They weave it the whole length which they intend the tent to be, and then roll up the pieces or length, until they have made enough to finish a tent. This, in my opinion, must have been the very first method of weaving practised in the world, and the idea, I imagine, was taken from a view of the outer bark of the cocoa-nut tree, as I have before observed. The tent is then sewed together with the same kind •f twine, through holes made with an iron bodkin. After it is sewed together to a proper width, from six to ten breadths, they make four loops on its ends, by fastening short crooked sticks to the cloth, and two on each side. When they are about to pitch the tent, they spread it outstretching the cords by which it is fastened, and driving a stout peg into the ground for each cord: this is done with a hard smooth stone, which they always carry with' them, in place of a hammer ; then getting under the tent and raising it, they place a block, whose top is rounded like a wooden bowl, under its centre, and set the tent pole into a hole made for that purpose, and set the pole upright, which keeps the tent steady in its place. After the tent is raised, all the ropes that hold and steady it, (ten in number) artftautened : these ropes are made of skins partly dressed, or of camels’ hair, so that the tent is suspended in form of an oblong umbrella , and about two feet from the ground. In the day-time they raise up the south part of their tents (as those on the desart are always pitched facing the south) with two small stanchions fixed under the cords that hold it in front, so that they can go under the tent by stooping: this tent serves all the family for a shelter. Each family has a mat, which serves as a bed for the whole: they lie down on it promiscuously, only wrapped up in their haick or blanket, if they have one; if not, in the skin that covers their loins only, and lie close together, to keep off the cold winds which blow under the tents in the night: the children lie between the grown persons; their heads are as low, and frequently lower than their feet, and their long bushey hair, which is never combed, and resembles a woollen thrumb mop, serves them instead of a pillow. The families consist of the father, and one or more wives, and the children that are unmarried, (generally about four to a family, but sometimes six or eight) and their slaves, \vho are blacks.

The rich Arabs have one, two, or three slaves, male and female: these are allowed to sleep on the same mat with their masters and mistresses, and are treated in all respects like the children of the family in regard to apparel, &g.— they are not, however, permitted to marry or cohabit with the Arab women, under pain of death, and are obliged to take care of the camels and follow them, and to do other drudgery, such as getting fuel, &c. but they will not obey the women, and raise their voices higher than their master or any of his children in a dispute, and consequently are considered smart fellows. They maury among their own colour while they are slaves, with the consent of their masters, but the children remain slaves. After a slave has served his master faithfully for a long time, or has done him some essential service, he is made free : he then enters into all the privileges that the free Arabs enjoy, and can marry into any of their families, which he or she never fails to do, and thus become identified with the families of the tribe in which they were slaves, and may rise to the very head of it. The negroes are generally active and brave, are seldom punished with stripes, and those who drive the camels do not scruple to milk them when they are thirsty, but take care not to be discovered: they are extremely cunning, and will steal any thing they can get at to eat or drink, from their masters, or indeed any one else. If they are caught in the act of stealing, they are only threatened, and promised a flogging the next time. The father of the family is its absolute chief in all respects, though he seldom inflicts punishment: his wives and daughters are considered as mere slaves, subject to his will or caprice ; yet they take every opportunity to deceive or steal from him: he deals out the milk to each with his own hand, nor dare any one touch it until it is thus divided: he always assists in milking the camels, then puts the milk into a large wooden bowl, which has probably been in the family for ages: some of the largest bowls will contain five gallons: they are frequently split in every direction, and the split parts are fastened together with small iron plates, with a rivet at each end, made of the same metal. All the miik is thrown into the great bowl; then, if in the old man’s opinion, there is a sufficient quantity for a good drink round, he takes a small bowl, (of which sort they generally have two or three,) and after washing or rubbing it out with sand, he begins to distribute the milk, by giving to each grown person an equal share, and to the children in proportion to their size, measuring it very exactly, and taking a proportionate quantity to himself. If there is any left, (which was very seldom the case with those I lived among) he has it put into a skin, to serve for a drink at noon the next day: if there is not a sufficient quantity of milk for a good drink all round, the old man fills it up w r ith water (if they have any) to a certain mark in the bowl, and then proceeds to divide it as before related.

The camels are driven out early in the morning, and home about dark, when they are made to lie down before the tent of their owner, very near, with their tails towards it: a doubled rope with a large knot in one end is then put round the knee joint when the leg is doubled in, and the knot being then thrust through the double part at the other end, effectually fastens the knee bent as it is, so that the camel cannot get up to walk off, having but the use of three of his legs. This kind of becket is also fixed on the knees of the old camels that lead the drove; and the others remain quiet when their leaders are fast: in this manner they are suffered to lie until about midnight, when they have had time to cool and the milk to collect in their bags—the becket is then taken off, and as soon as they get up, the net which covers the bag to prevent the young ones from consuming the milk, is loosened: this is fastened on by two cords, that go over the back of the camel, and are knotted together. As each camel is milked, the net is carefully replaced, and she is made to lie down in the same place again: here they lie until daylight, when all the camels are made to get up; a little milk is then drawn from each, and the young ones are suffered to suck out the remainder, when the net is put in its place again, not to be removed until the following midnight. While the head of the family is busied milking the camels and suckling the young ones, assisted by all the males, the wife and females are striking and folding up the tent, selecting the camels to carry the stuff, and bringing them near, where they make them lie down and pack on them the tent and all their other materials. This being done, they fasten a leather or skin basket, about four feet wide, fitted with a kind of tree, like a saddle on the back of one of the tamest camels, in which the women place the old men and women that cannot walk, and young children, and frequently themselves, and proceed forward according to their daily custom. The women take care of the stuff and the camels that carry it, and of the children: the other camels are driven off by slaves, if they have any, if not, by some of the boys, and kept where there are some shrubs to be found, until night. The old man, or head of the family, generally precedes the women and stuff, after having described to them the course they are to steer. He sets off on his camel, with his gun in his hand, at a full trot, and goes on until he finds a fit place in which to pitch the tent, when he gives the information to his wife, who then proceeds with all possible despatch to the spot, unloads her camels, and lets them go; then she spreads her tent, puts all the stuff under it, clears away the small stones, and spreads her mat, arranges her bowls, hangs up the skins containing water, (if they have any,) on a kind of horse or frame that folds together, &c. &c. They start long before sun-rising in the morning, and calculate to pitch their tents at about four o’clock in the afternoon, if they can find a convenient spot; otherwise a little sooner or later. When one family sets off, the whole of that part of the tribe dwelling near, travel on with them; and I have frequently seen from five hundred to one thousand camels in one drove, all going the same way, and L was greatly surprised to see with what facility they could distinguish and separate them; each knowing his own camels, even to the smallest: they would sometimes march together for half a day ; then in a few njinutes they would separate, and each take his own course, and would generally pitch within a few miles of each other. As soon as the place is agreed on, the me n go out on their camels, with their guns, different ways, to reconnoitre and see if they have enemies near.

When they rise in the morning, after having first milked their camels, and suckled the young ones, they next attend to prayers, which is done in the following manner: they first find a sandy spot, then unwrap themselves, and take up sand in both their hands; with this they rub their faces, necks, arms, legs, and every part of their bodies, except their backs, which they cannot reach: this done, as if they washed with water, they stand erect, facing towards the east; wrap themselves up as neatly as they can in their blankets or skins; they look up towards heaven, and then bow their heads, bending their bodies half way to the ground, twice, crying aloud at each time, Allah Hooakibar. They next kneel down, and supporting themselves with their hands, they worship, bowing their faces in the dust, twice successively; then, being still on their knees, they bend themselves forward, nearly to the ground, repeating, Hi el Allah-Sheda Mohammed—Rasool Allah; then rising, they again repeat, Allah Hooakibar , two or three times; and this is the common mode of worshipping four times a day. In addition to this, at sun-setting, they implore the Almighty to send rain to moisten the parched earth; to cause the food to grow for their camels; to keep .them under his special care, with their families and tribes; to enrich them with the spoils of their enemies, and to confound and destroy them that seek their hurt: they thank the Almighty for his past mercies, for food, raiment, and his protection, &c. &c.—they then repeat part of a chapter from the Koran, in which God’s pretended promises to the faithful are made known by their prophet; and repeating at all times the Hi el Allah, or, “great is the Almighty God, and Mohammed is his holy prophet.” Their times of prayer are, before sun-rising in the morning, about noon, the middle of the afternoon, about sunsetting, and again two or three hours after the sun has set: this makes five times a day, washing themselves (at least their faces and hands, when they have water) before praying; when they cannot get water, (which is always the case with those on the desart,) they perform their ablutions by substituting sand. Mohammed, their prophet, when he arrived with an army on the desarts of Arabia, found that there was no water either for himself or his followers to wash in; yet by the laws he had already promulgated, ablutions could not be dispensed with: anew chapter, however, of revelation, soon relieved him from this dileinma, and he directed his followers to use sand, when no water was to be had. In the ninth chapter of the BookTof Numbers, it appears that Moses, in a similar dilemma, found it necessary to apply for a new command from the Lord on a particular subject.

The Arabs always wash when it is in their power, before they eat, nor does any business divert them from the strict observance of their religious ceremonies: and with respect to particular stated times, while pursuing their journeys, and going on in the greatest haste, when the time for pravers arrives, all stop, make the camels lie down, and perform

What they conceive to be their indispensable duty: praying, in addition to the usual forms, to be directed in the right course, and that God will lead them to wells of water, and to hospitable brethren, who will feed them, and not suffer them to perish far from the face of man: that he will enrich them with spoils, and deliver them from all who lie in wait to do them mischief; this done, they mount again cheerfully, and proceed, encouraging their camels by a song, a very lively one, if they wish them to go on a trot; if only to walk, something more slow and solemn.

The Arabs who inhabit the great western desart, are in their persons about five feet seven or eight inches in height; and tolerably well set in their frames, though lean: their complexion is of a dark olive: they have high cheek bones, and aquiline noses, rather prominent; lank cheeks, thin lips, and rounded chins: their eyes are black, sparkling, and intelligent: they have long black hair, coarse, and very thick; and the men cut theirs off with their knives, to the length of about six or eight inches, and leave it sticking out in. every direction from their head. They all wear long beards—their limbs are straight, and they can endure hunger, thirst, hardships, and fatigues, probably better than any other people under heaven: their clothing in general is nothing more than a piece of coarse cloth, made of camels’ hair, tied found their waists, hanging nearly down to their knees; or a goatskin so fastened on, as to cover their nakedness; but some of the rich ones wear a covering of linen or cotton cloth over their shoulders, to their knees, hanging something like a shift or shirt, without sleeves, and some have, besides, a haick or a woollen blanket, about four feet wide, and four yards long, which they wrap about them; but this is the case only with the rich, and their number is very small. These haicks, and blue shirts, they get from the em> pire of Morocco, in exchange for camels’ hair and ostrich-feathers; the only commodities in which 'they can trade. The Arab women are short and meager; and their features much harder and more ugly than those of the men; but they have long black hair, which they braid and tuck up in a bunch on their heads, and fasten it there by means of thorns. They generally wear strings of black beads round their necks, and a white circular bone, of three inches in diameter, in their hair, with bands of beads or other ornaments around their wrists and ankles. Their cheek bones are high and prominent ; their visages and lips are thin, and the upper lip is kept up by means of the two eye-teeth. They take great pains to make these teeth project forward, and turn up quite in front of the line of their other fore-teeth, which are as white and sound as ivory. Their eyes are round, black, very expressive, and extremely beautiful, particularly in the young women, who are generally plump and lascivious. The women wear a dress of coarse camels’ hair cloth, which they manufacture in the same way they make their tent cloth: it covers their shoulders, leaving their arms and breasts naked: it is sewed up on each side, and falls down nearly to their knees; they have a fold in this, like a sack, next their skin on their shoulders, in which they carry their little children; and the breasts of the middle aged women become so extremely long, lank, and pendulous, that they have' no other trouble in nursing the child which is on their backs, when walking about, than to throw up their breasts over the top of their shoulders, so that the child may apply its lips.

All the Arabs go barefoot; the children, both male and female, before they come to the age of puberty, run about Entirely naked, and this exposure to the sun is one great cause of their black colour. The males are all circumcised at the age of eight years, not as a religious rite, but because it is found necessary as a preventive of a disease incident to the climate. The men are very quick, active, and intelligent—more so, taken collectively, than any other set of men I had ever come across in the different parts of the world I had before visited. They are the lords and masters in their families, and are very severe and cruel to their wives, whom they treat as mere necessary slaves, and they do 1 not allow them even as much liberty as they grant to their negroes, either in speech or action : they are considered by the men as beings without souls, and consequently, they are not permitted to join in jthejr devotions, , but are kept constantly drudging at something or other, and are seldonl allowed to speak when men are conversing together. They are very filthy in their persons, not even cleansing themselves *’th sand, and are covered with vermin. The continual harsh treatment, and hard drudgery to which they are subject, have worn off that fine edge of delicacy, sensibility, and compassion, so natural to their sex, and transformed them into unfeeling and unpi- tying beings; so much so, that their conduct towards me and my ct^npanions in distress, was brutal in the extreme, and betrayed the extinction of every humane and generous feeling.

The Arab is high-spirited, brave, avaricious, rapacious, revengeful; and, strange as it may appear, is at the same time hospitable and compassionate: he is proud of being able to maintain his - independence, though on a dreary desart, and despises those who are so mean and degraded as to submit to any government but that of the Most High. He. struts about sole master of what wealth he possesses, always ready to defend it, and believes himself the happiest of men, and the most learned also; handing down the tradition of his ancestors, as he is persuaded, for thousands of years. He looks upon all other men to be vile, and beneath his notice, except as merchandise: he is content to live on the milk of his camels, whicjfeje takes great care to rear, and thanks his Gcjr daily for his continual mercies. They considered themselves as much above me and my companions, both in intellect and acquired knowledge, as the proud and pampered West India planter (long ^accustomed to rule over slaves) fancies himself abqve the meanest new’negro, just brought in chains from the coast of Aiffica. They never correct their male children, but the females are beat without mercy. The men were not cruel to us farther than they thought we were obstinate, and always gave us a small share of what they themselves had to subsist on.

I never witnessed a marriage among them, but was told that when a young man sees a girl that pleases him, he asks her of her father, and she becomes his wife without ceremony. Polygamy is allowed, but the Arabs of the desart have but very seldom more than one wifef unless amongst some of the rich ones, who have need of servants, when they take another wife, and sometimes a third.

They all learn to read and write: in every family or division of a tribe, they have one man who acts as teacher to the children : they have boards of from one foot square to two feet long, and about an inch thick by eighteen inches wide: on these boards the children learn to write with a piece of pointed reed ; they have the secret of making ink, and that of a very black dye : when a family of wandering Arabs pitch their tents, they set apart a place for a school: this they surround with, broken shrubs in the desart to keep off the wind—here all the boys who have been circumcised, of from eight to eighteen or twenty ^ears old, attend, and are taught to»read and to write verses from the Koran, which is kept in manuscript by every family on skins: they write their characters from right to left—are very particular in the formation of them, and make their lines very straight: all the children attend from choice or for amusement.— The teacher, I was, told, never punishes a child, but explains the meaning|tf things, and amuses him bv telling tales that entertaining and instructive; he reads or rehearses chapters from the Koran or some other book, for they have a grear many poems? &c. written also on skins: when the board is full of writing, they rub it off with sand, and begin again: they enumerate with the nine figures now in use among all European nations, and in America, and were extremely astonished to find that I could make them, and understand their meaning, saying one to another, “ This man must have been a slave before to some Arabian merchant, who has taught him the manner of using the Arabic figures, and contrary to his law, unless indeed he is a good man and a believer.” The boards on which they wrote seemed to have lasted for ages—they had been split in many places, and were kept together by small iron plates on each side, fixed by iron rivets: these plates, as well as their rude axes, of which each family has one, are made of tempered iron by the smiths which belongs to and journey with the tribe. I saw several of them at work. They burn small wood into charcoal, and carry it with them on camels: their anvil is made of a piece of iron a foot long, and pointed at the end—this they drive into the ground to work on— the head of the anvil is about six inches over : they make their fire in a small hole dug in the ground for that purpose, and blow it up by means of two skins curiously fixed ; so thht while one is filling with air, they blow with the other, standing between them— with a hand placed on each, they raise and depress them at pleasure. By means a£ a clumsy hammer, an anvil, and hot irons to bore with, they manage to fix the saddles for themselvesfto i||fe on, and to make knives and a kind of needles, and small rough bladed axes. This, forge is carried about without the smallest inconvenience, so that the Arabs even of the desart are better provided in this respect than the Israelites were in the days of Saul their King, Samuel, chap. xm. verses 19 to 23—“ Now there was no smith in all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears.”

There appeared to be no kind of sickness or disease among the Arabs of the desart during the time I was with them : I did nothear of, nor see the smallest symptom of complaint, and they appear to live to a vast age : there were three people I saw belonging to the tribe in which I was a slave, namely, two old men and one woman, who from appearance were much older than any I had ever seen: these men and the woman had lost all the hair from their heads, beards, and every part of their bodies—the flesh on them had entirely wasted away, and their skins appeared to be dried and drawn tight over the sinews and the bones, like Egyptian mummies : their eyes were extinct, having totally wasted away in their sockets, the bones of which were only covered by their eye-lids : they had lost the use of all their limbs, and appeared to be deprived of every sense, so that when their breath should be spent and their eittrails extracted, they would in my opinion be perfect mummies without further preparation; for from their appearance there was not sufficient moisture in their frames to promote corruption, and I felt .convinced that a- sight of such beings (probably on the desarts of Arabia) might have given the Egyptians their first idea of drying and preserving the dead bodies of their relations and friends. An undutiful child of civilized parent might here learn a lesson of filial piety and benevolence from these barbarians: the old people always received the first drink of milk, and a larger share than even the acting head of the family when they were scanted in quantity: whenever the family moved forward, a camel was first prepared for the old man,’ by fixing a kind of basket on the animal’s back ; they then put skins or other soft things into it, to make it easy, and next lifting up the old man, they place him carefully in the basket, wii a child or two on each side, to take care of Ri steady him during the march, while he seems to sit and hold on, more from long habit than from choice.—As soon as they stopped to pitch the tents, the old man was taken from his camel, and a drink of water or milk given him, for they take care to save some for that particular purpose. When the tent was pitched, he w'as carefully taken up and placed under it on their mat, where he could go to sleep:— this man’s voice was very feeble', squeaking, and hollow. The remarkably old man I am speaking of belonged to a family that always pitched their tent near ours, so that I had an opportunity of witnessing the manner of his treatment for several days together, -ivhich was uniformly the same.

After I was redeemed in Mogadore I asked my master Sidi Hamet of what age he supposed this old man to have been, and he said about eight Zille or Arabic centuries. Now an Arabic century, or Zille, is forty lunar years ofitwelve moons in each year, so that by this computation he must have been nearly three hundred years old: he also told me that it was very common to find Arabs on different parts of the great desart, five Zille old, retaining all their faculties, and that he had seen a great many of the ages of from'seven to eight Zille. He further said, that my old master from whom he bought me had lived nearly five Zille or centuries, though he was very strong and active; and from the appearance of a great many others in the same tribe I could have no doubt but they were much older. I then asked him hpw they knew their own ages, and he answered—“ Every family keeps a record of the ages and names of its children, which they always preserve and pack up in the same bag in which they carry the Koran.”—I told him that few people in other parts of the world lived to the age of two Zille and a half, and the people ®fthose countries would not believe such a story.

“ The Arabs who live on the desart (said he) subsist entirely on the milk of.their camels ; it is the milk of an animal that we call sacred, and it causes long life : those who live on nothing else, have no sickness nor disorders, and are particularly favoured by heaven ; but only carry the same people off from the desart, and let them live on meat, and bread, and fruits, they then become subject to every kind of pain and sickness when they are young, and only live to the age of about .two Zille and ahalf at the most, while a great many die very young, and not one-tenth part of the men or women live to the age of one Zille. I Myself (added he) always feel well when I live on the milk of the camel alone, even though I do not get half as much as I want, for then I am strong and can bear heat, and cold, and fatigue, much better than when I live on flesh, and bread, and fruit, and have plenty of good fresh water to drink, and if I could always have as much camel’s milk as I could drink, I would never taste of meat again: but I love bread and honey very much.”—This account from an Arab who was my friend and the preserver of my life, and one who had traversed thedesartin many directions, and who w r as also a good scholar for an Arab, and on whose veracity I could rely, together with what fell under my own observation, has removed all doubt from my mind on that subject, and I am fully of opinion, that hundreds and thousands of Arabs on this vast expanse of desart, actually live to the age of two hundred years of our calendar. My reasons for this belief, in .addition to those already given, are,

1st. That their lives are regular, from the day of their birth to the day of their death.

2d. That there is no variation in their food, which is of the most pure and nutritive kind, and cannot cause in them disorders originating from indigestion, &c. (&C.

3d. That the climate they inhabit, though hot, is perfectly dry, and consequently must be healthy for those born there ; and,

4th. That in their wandering life they are never subjected to hard bodily labour, and their daily movements afford them sufficient exercise to promote a due circulation of the fluids ; nor do they ever taste wine or any ardent spirit, being entirely out of the'way of those articles, and are besides strictly forbidden by their religion. I am no physician, and cannot therefore enter into any learned disquisition on this subject, but merely give my own impressions respecting it, without pretending to be less liable to err in judgment than others. It cannot be doubted but that the Arabs existed as a wandering race long before the time of the Greeks, and it is possible that they possessed in those early ages the art of writing, and reckoned time by the same method they do at this day; say forty lunar years for a Zille or century, and that in translating or quoting from their writings, a Zille may have been taken for a hundred of our years.

The tribe of Arabs to which I belonged, owned V four horses, or rather mares: they were the general property, and were fed on milk, and wate^fed every two days: with these animals they hunt the ostrich, and with this view, having agreed on the time and place, the whole of the men assemble before daylight on their camels, and surround a certain spot of ground where they calculate on finding ostriches, with the horses to windward, and their riders with loaded muskets in their hands: they then approach each other until they start the ostriches, who seeing themselves surrounded on all sides but one, run to the southward before the wind, followed by th« horses, which it is said run extremely swift, and pressing on the ostrich very hard, the bird runs himself out of breath in about three hours, when the men on horseback come up and shoot him: but let these birds run against the wind, and no horse can overtake them, for then they do not lose their breath.

After ray arrival at Mogadore, I heard of the Heirie, or sraali swift camel of the desart, but I never saw any camel that differed from the common one either in size or shape, and can only suppose that it may be a camel of the same race trained for running swift, and fed on milk like the horses. The common camel can easily travel one hundred miles in a day. A gooff new milch camel gives at one milking when on the desart about one quart, which is very rich and good: this is besides what suffices to sustain the young cainel, and is drawn at midnight—they only draw about a gill in the morning.

Most of the Arabs are well armed with good double-barrelled French fowling pieces, (which have excellent locks) and with good scimitars and knives: each has a kind of bag to carry his slugs, &c. in, slung by his neck and hanging down to his waist on the left side: their big powder-horn is suspended in like manner: this contains coarse pow,der, and is used tor loading the muskets, but they all have a little horn in which to carry their fine powder for priming. Many of the gun barrels that I saw were worn through, and the holes were stopped up by brazing:—they have procured many of their guns no doubt by shipwrecks on the coast of the desart; many more from caravans that they have overpowered, and others in the way of trade from the French settlements of Senegal, and from Tunis, Tripoli, and others ports on the Mediterranean Sea. I did not see a single Moorish musket or lock during the time l was among the Arabs of the desart: they were all made in Europe, and generally in Paris, with the Maker’s name on the locks. They have tolerably good powder, which they say they know how to manufacture, but do not make it fine, so that first rate English or French musket powder is much in request, and looked upon as invaluable for priming. Their swords or scimitars they most probably obtain by the same means as their muskets: they are ever ready to attack an inferior, or even an equal force, and fight for the sake of plunder.

Their language is the ancient Arabic; is spoken with great fluency, and is distinguished for its powerful emphasis, and elegant cadence. When they converse peaceably, (and they are much given to talking with each other) it thrills on the ear like the breathings of soft wind-music, and excites in the soul the most soothing sensations; but when they speak in anger, it sounds as hoarse as the roarings of irritated lions, or the most furious beasts of prey. They attack the small towns in the vicinity of the desart, on all sides; which are walled in to ward off their incursions: if they are successful, they put all to the sword, burn the towns, and retire again to the desart with- their spoil. Such is the wandering Arab of the great African Desart: his hand is against every man, and consequently every man’s hand is against him.


The Arabian camel, called by the ancients and by naturalists, the dromedary, is, perhaps, the most singular, and at the same time one of the most useful animals in nature. He is, when full grown, from eight to nine feet in height, and about ten to twelve feet in length, from the end of his nose to the root of his tail; his body is small, compared with his height; his neck resembles in shape that of a goose more than any other animal, being long and slender* and it seems to grow out of the lower part of his body, between his fore legs : he raises his head to the height of his back, poking his nose out horizontally, so that his face looks directly upwards, and his nose bone so high as to be on a line with the top of the bunch on his back: his head is small, his ears short; his eyes are of various colours, from a black to almost a white; bright, and sparkling with instinctive intelligence, and placed on the sides of his head in such a manner, that he can see before, behind, and on every side at the same time. His tail is short, and hangs like that of a cow, with a small bunch of hair at the end: his legs are long and slender, though their joints are stout and strong: his feet are divided something like those of an ox; but he has no hoof except on the extreme points of the toes; in other parts they are only covered with skin, and are soft and yielding: the soles of his feet are not thicker than stout sole leather: he is generally of a light ash colour, but varying from that to a dark brown, and sometimes a reddish brown: many of them are also marked with white spots or stripes on their foreheads, and on different parts of their bodies: the hair on his body is short and fine, like the finest of wool, and serves the Arabs instead of that necessary article, with which they make their tent cloth and coarse covering: it is pulled or else falls off once a year: the hair about his throat and on the hump is eight or ten inches in length, and hangs down: he has a high bunch on his back, which rises from his shoulders, and comes to a blunt point at about the centre of his back, and tapers off to his hips: this bunch is from one to two feet high above the back bone, and not attached to it nor to the frame of the camel, so that in skinning him, the Arabs take off the bunch with it, which is larger or smaller, as the camel is fat or lean. He who rides on a camel without a saddle (which saddle is peculiarly constructed so as not to touch the bunch) is forced to get on behind it, where the breadth of the body keeps the rider’s legs extended very wide, while he is obliged to keep himself from slipping off over the beast’s tail, by clenching both hands into the long hair that covers the bunch.

The camel is a very domestic animal; he. lies down on his belly at the command of his master, ' folding his legs under him something like a sheep; there he remains to receive his rider or his burden, when he rises at a word, and proceeds in the way hje is driven or directed, with the utmost docility and cheerfulness, while his master encourages him by singing. The Arabs use neither bridle nor halter, but guide and manage the camel (whose head is quite at liberty) by means of a stick, assisted by words and sounds of the tongue; having one sound to urge him on faster; one to make him go slower; and a third, which is a kind of cluck with the tongue, to make him stop. He chews his cud like an ox, and has no fore teeth in his upper jaw; but his lips are long and rough, so that he nips off the rugged shrubs without difficulty, on which he is obliged to feed. The camel seems to have been formed by nature to live on desarts: he is patient, fleet, strong, and hardy; can endure hunger and thirst better than any other animal; can travel through deep and dead sands with great ease, and over the flinty parts of the des- art without difficulty, though it is hard for him to go up or down steep hills and mountains, and to travel on muddy roads, as he slips about add strains himself; but he is sure-footed, and walks firmly on a hard dry surface, or on sand. I have never made the natural history of animals my study, and it cannot be expected that I should be acquainted with the particular formation of their interior parts; but I will venture to say a few words in regard to those of the camel, without fear of contradiction from any one who shall see and examine for himself, having assisted in butchering three camels while a slave.

The camel is described by naturalists as having, besides the four stomachs common to ruminating animals, a fifth bag, exclusively as a reservoir for water, where it remains without corrupting or mixing with the other aliments: this is a mistake—*■for the bag that holds the water contains also the chewed herbage, and is in the camel what a paunch is in an ox. Into this bag all the rough chewed herbage enters, where it is softened by the water, thrown again into the mouth, chewed over, and passes off by another canal, and the fceces are so dry, that the day after they are voided, the Arabs strike fire on them instead of touchwood or punk. Having to draw water for these animals, I am certain that the largest sized ones drink at least two barrels of water at one time, when they have been long without it, and that the whole of the camels belonging to the tribe by whom I was made a slave, which were then at a well, did not again get a drop of water within twenty days: these camels were at least two thousand in number, and were then on one of the hottest and dryest parts of the great western desart, where there was scarcely a green leaf or shrub to be found, and their owners knew how far it was back to the same watering-place at which myself and crew were seized, and to which they drove them again at the end of that period—and even that water was almost as black as ink, owing probably to its stagnant state in the well, and very brackish, because it filtered through the sand beach from the ocean, which was not more than three hundred yards from the well; and these camels went twenty days without water:—under such circumstances I have not the smallest doubt but that they can go thirty or forty days without water before they would die with thirst. At the end of fifteen days after watering the camels, my old master, Mohammed Bessa , killed an old and very poor camel, and I was obliged to assist in dressing, though not in eating it, for its flesh, bones, and intestines, were divided among the whole tribe; a small piece to each family: they cut open the paunch of this camel, (for he had no other bag to contain water) and dipped out the contents, though thick with foeces, in order to boil the intestines in it, as well as to drink. When my master, Sidi Hamet, killed a camel to give me and my companions some meat, and procure something to sustain us on our journey across the desart, the paunch was rolled out of the camel, and the water taken from it, thick as it was, to boil the uncleansed intestines. After drinking this stuff we put the remainder (about two gallons) with the filth it contained, into one of our bottles or goat skins, and it served to sustain life, though the most rank and nauseous both to the smell and taste that can be imagined.

The camel is considered by the Arab as a sacred animal: with him he can transport a load of merchandise of several hundred weight with certainty and celerity through desarts utterly impassible with any other animal: on him the wandering Arab can flee with his family from any enemy across the trackless waste one hundred miles or more in a single day if he wishes, and out of the reach of his pursuers, for the desart, like the ocean, neither retains nor discloses any trace of the traveller. Its milk is both food and drink for the whole family, and when they have a sufficiency of that article, they are contented, and desire nothing more: with his camel the Arab is perfectly independent, and can bid defiance to all the forces that uncivilized foes can send against him: with him they collect in strong bands, all well armed, and fall upon the caravans, slaying without mercy all they can overpower, and divide their spoil: should they meet with a repulse, they can flee and soon be out of sight: they also attack the settlements and smaU ffvalled towns in the cultivated country near the desart, and if strong enough, destroy all the inhabitants, and drive off the cattle: all the goods of the slain they carry away on their camels, and return to the desart, where no force can pursue them without meeting with’certain destruction.

The camel’s motions are extremely heavy and jolting; his legs being long, he steps a great distance, and though he appears to go slowly when on a walk, yet he proceeds at about the rate of four miles an hour, and it is difficult for a man to keep pace with him without running. When the camel trots, he goes very fast; the small trot being about six, and the great one about eight miles an hour—this they can do with great ease with light loads for a whole day together, and will replenish their stomachs at night with the leaves and twigs of the sullen thorn-bush, that is barely permitted by nature to vegetate in that most dreary and desolate of all regions. The flesh of the camel is good for food; and that of the young ones is esteemed preferable to that of the ox: they bring forth a single young one at a time, and generally once in about two years, their time of gestation being about one year. When the camel is in a heat, he is extremely vicious, so that none dare come near him: his organ in some measure resembles that of a horse, but it has a contrary direction, so that the water is voided behind; and when obeying one of the most important instincts of nature, he is obliged to make his approach in a retrograde manner. In the year 1804 I was in the island of Lanza- rote, one of the Canaries, and loaded my vessel (the brig Eliza and Mary of New-York) with barilla, which I carried to Belfast in Ireland;—the barilla is brought from the interior of the island to the port on camels, from whose backs I received and weighed it. Their common loads were from nine to twelve quintals of one hundred pounds; but many loads overran that weight, and one load in particular weighed over fifteen hundred pounds. Those were the same kind of camels used in Barbary, and on the desart, and indeed I never saw any other kind: they are said to come to their full growth in six or eight years, and to live, in many instances, to the age of fifty or sixty.


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