Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XXXI

The present Arabs and ancient Jews compared.

Soon after I was seized on as a slave by the wandering Arabs of the great Western Desart, I was struck with the simplicity of their lives and manners, and contrasted the circumstances of their keeping camels, living in teiits, and wandering about from day to day, with the simplicity of the lives of the old Jewish patriarchs, who also lived in tents, had camels, and wandered about from place to place; possessed men-servants and maid-servants—that is, they owned slaves; but as they for the most part lived in countries where the soil was capable of culture, they also had flocks of sheep and goats, and herds of cattle, and asses; yet the patriarchs lived in a thirsty land for a part of the time, and were often in want of water, as well as of bread. My mind was also strongly impressed with the similarity between the patriarchal form of government, and that prevailing among the Arabs at the present day, which is, in the strictest sense of the word, paternal; the father of each family being its supreme and absolute head: the wandering Arabs will submit to no other control, and they actually reverence their fathers and the old men of their tribe next to the- Deity himself, and pay, without the least apparent compulsion, the most cheerful and implicit obedience to their orders and wnshes. When I became more acquainted with the Arabs, I observed that the manner of salutation between strangers was very much like that of the Jewish fathers, as recorded in Holy Writ, and which also prevailed among the inhabitants of the country where they sojourned. When a stranger approached an Arab’s tent, he first finds out which way it is pitched; then, going round until he gets directly in front, he draws near slowly, until within about one hundred yards, and stops, but always with his weapon in his hand, ready for defence, and then turns his back towards the tent: when he is perceived by those in and about the tent, (who are always upon the look out,) and they come forth, he bows himself nearly to the earth twice, and worships: upon which one from the tent takes some water in a bowl, and advances towards him; -this is done by the head of the family, if he be at home, or by his eldest son: if none of the males are present, one of the women goes forward with her bowl of water, or something else, either to eat or drink, if they have any; if not, they take a skin, or roll of tent-cloth, to make a shelter with for the stranger. As they come within a few yards of the stranger, they ask—“ is it peace ?” and being answered in the affirmative, they mutually say—“ peace be with you, with your father’s house, your family, and all you possess —then touching the finger^of the right hands together, they snap them, and carrying them to their lips, kiss them, which is the same with them as to kiss each other’s hand; and thence, I presume, is derived the compliment now in such general use among the polite Spaniards, which is to say, in saluting a gentleman, “ beso de usted las manos”—I kiss your hands ; if a lady, “ I kiss ypur feet.”

The Arab manner of worshipping the Deity, as I have already described, is by bowing themselves to the earth, and touching their faces to the ground: after bowing to the ground six times, they say, “ God is great and good, and Mohammed is his holy prophet:” this is their confession of faith. After that, they offer up their petitions, that God will keep them under his special protection; that he will direct them in the right way; that he will lead them to fountains or wells of living water; that God will scatter their enemies, and deliver them from all those who lie in wait to do them mischief—that he will prosper their journeys, and enrich them with the spoil of their enemies, &c. and they afterwards recite some poetry, which they call sacred. Since my being redeemed, I have been told that the form of worship now in practice among those people, was taught them by Mohammed; but as these forms do not differ materially from the forms of worship practised by Abraham and the ether old patriarchs, and those of the people among whom they dwelt in the land of Canaan and elsewhere, I am inclined to believe that the artful prophet did not change their ancient mode of worshipping the Deity, but on the contrary, sanctioned their long established custom, which had continued among that singular race of men ever since the time of Abraham; and that the only innovations or alterations he ventured to make in that respect, were in appointing set times for performing those religious duties; enjoining besides, frequent purifications, by washing themselves with water, and thus inculcating cleanliness, so indispensi- bly necessary to preserve health in hot countries, as a religious duty.

When travelling along the great Desart, near its northern border, we fell in with flocks of sheep and goats, which were kept by the women and children, Who were also obliged to water them; and when, after our arrival in Suse, while we were travelling on its immense plain, and many small cities or towns were in sight at the same time on every side, with high stone walls, gates, and bars, and I learned that each one was independent, and under the command or government of its own chief, who generally styled himself a prince; and when I heard the story of the destruction of Widnah , and other devastations committed by the wandering Arabs in their vicinity, I could not avoid figuring to myself, and observing to my companions at the time, that the country of Suse must now resemble in appearance the land of Canaan in the time of Joshua, both in regard to its numerous little walled cities; its fertile soil; and in many other respects; and that the frequent irrupt tions of the hordes of wild Arabs from the desart, destroying and laying waste the country, and the eities they are able to overpower, bore a strong resemblance to the conduct of the ancient Israelites, when led from the desarts of Arabia into the cultivated country near them; with this difference, however, that the Israelites were then particularly guided, supported, and protected by Divine power, and consequently were enabled to act in unison, and with decisive effect against those small, feeble, and Hl-constructed cities.

In travelling from Mogadore to Tangier, in the empire of Morocco, and coming to those parts of the provinces of Abdah and Duquella, which are entirely peopled by Arabs living in tents, and in a primitive or wandering state, (their tents being formed of the same materials, and pitched in the same manner as those of the Arabs on the desart,) I observed that these people were of a much lighter complexion than those on the desart; but that circumstance in all probability, was owing to the climate’s being more temperate; to their being less exposed to*the rays of the sun, and better clothed; yet their, features were nearly the same, and those of both bear a strong resemblance to those of the Barbary Jjews, who also have black eyes pnd Arab noses, lips, hair, and stature, and whose complexion is but a shatfe or two lighter than that of the Moorish Arabs, which is chiefly occasioned by their different modes ofjife, the Jews all living in cities, and the Arabs in the fields: the Jews, however, are stouter men than’ the Arabs, owing, most likely, to the unrestrained intercourse between the lusty Moors and the Jewesses, &c. That these Arabs and those who live on the desart, are the same race of men, I have not the smallest doubt: their height, shape, eye/, noses, and other features, together with their customs, manners, and habits, being essentially the same. Between the Barbary Jews and the present Arabs, there is only a slight difference in their religious ceremonies and belief, and both very much resemble those forms which were followed by the old* Jewish patriarchs, and their fathers and brethren, as recorded in the Book of Genesis. Ther<5 is one more singular coincidence between the customs of the old Israelites and present Arabs, which, though seem- ingly unimportant, I shall, nevertheless, mention. The Arabs, both on the desart and in Morocco, when they have occasion to go abroad from their tent, in order to obey one of the most pressing calls of nature, always carry a stick or paddle with them, in the manner and for the same purpose as is mentioned of the ancient Israelites in the twenty-third chapter of Deuteronomy, the twelfth and thirteenth verses. The men always sit close to the ground to urinate, and compelled us, while slaves, to do the same.

In journeying through the province of Duquella, I learned from occular demonstration what was meant when certain personages are described in Holy Writ, as having* an abundance of flocks and herds, &c. We stopped, and pitched our tent one night within a Douhar, which I found in the morning to consist of one hundred and fifty-four tents: they were pitched in form of a hollow square, and about fifty yards apart, occupying a large space of ground, and all of them facing inwards: before each of these tents, tire owner had made his beasts lie down for the night. I felt a desire to know the number of animals each man possessed, and in order to make an estimate of the whole with correctness, I stopped, counted, and set down the whole number that lay in separate flocks before thirty of the tents nearest to where I was, and then made an average of their numbers for each tent, which were nineteen camels, eleven head of neat cattle, six asses, fifty-five Sheep, and fifty-two goats: the whole of the horses within the douhar, I counted separately: they amounted to one hundred and eighty-six. I think the flocks I counted were a fair average of the whole, and I compute them accordingly; that is, two thousand nine hundred and twentv-six camels ; one hundred and eighty-six horses; eight thousand seven hundred and seventy sheep; eight thousand and eight goats; and nine hundred and twenty asses:—they had besides a considerable number of dung-hill fowls, and a great plenty of dogs. I also Counted the number of inhabitants occupying fifty tents, which averaged, including slaves and children, nine to a tent, or one thousand three hundred and eighty-six in all. These Arabs lead a pastoral life, and though the amount of their flocks, at first sight, appears great, yet when it iS taken into view that their only employment is to feed cattle, in which consists their whole riches or wealth, and their daily support, the number will not be considered as unreasonably great. Thi^douhar was said to belong to the Sheick Mohammed ben Abdela, a very old man, (whom I saw,) and to consist of his family only—if so, this Arab must have been very rich and powerful, even like Abraham the patriarch, who had three hundred and eighteen servants born in his own house, able to go forth to war, (Genesis xiv. 14,) or like pious Job, who was pre-eminently blessed with flocks and herds, and was also, most probably, an Arab.


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