Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XXXII

The author ships his companions on board a vessel for Gibraltar, and sets out himself to travel by land for Tangier—villany of his Jew companion—Account of a great Moorish saint—Description of the country—of the towns of el Ksebbah and Saffy.

Having recovered my strength, so as to be able to undertake a journey by land, and being desirous of viewing that part of the empire of Morocco which lies between Mogadore and Tangier, and also to visit the American Consul General residing at that place, in order to make effectual arrangements for the redemption of the remainder of my unfortunate crew, should they be yet alive, I shipped my companions on board a Genoese schooner that navigated under the English flag, bound for Gibraltar, where I intended to meet them. I drew bills on my friend, Mr. Horatio Sprague, of Gibraltar, for the amount of cash actually expended by Mr. Willshire in obtaining our redemption, and in furnishing us with clothing, though he had given* both to me and my men, many articles of his own clothing, for which he would not receive payment, nor would he accept of any compensation for his trouble, for our board, nor for the extraordinary expenses incurred in consequence of his exertions to render us every assistance, as well as every service and comfort in his power, during the whole of our stay with him for about two months. Elio Zagury, the Jew whom I have before mentioned, was also going to set out for Tangier by land, and^M^p^friend did not wish Ine to be troubled with the ammgements dor provisions, &c. on the road, he agreed with Zagury, for him to furnish me vVith every thing necessary during the journey, except a bed, and paid him the amount agreed on, beforehand, which was a handsome sum.

On the 4th day of January, 1816, €dl being previously prepared, the schooner sailed with Mr. Savage, Burns, Clark, and Horace on board. After seeing her safe out of the harbour, I went, accompanied by Mr. Willshire, into the Jews’ town, to the house of old Zagury, where I took my leave of the Jew priest before mentioned, and we proceeded without the northern city gate, where the Jews are., permitted to mount their mules or asses. I then found that the mule on which I was to travel, was already loaded with two large trunks, one mattrass, and provisions in proportion, and was told by Zagury that I must get on the top of this cargo, and ride the best way I could, as he should procure no other mule on my account. I was not at all pleased at this plan, hut my friend told me it was only a Jew’s trick, and such a one as every man may expect to be served who has any dealings with those villains: he then ordered his own mule to be brought- for me, which was ready saddled in the gateway, and kept there, I believe, for the purpose, anticipating deceit on the part of the Jew; though in this, as in every other instance, he endeavoured to lighten, as much as possible, the weight of the obligations he had laid me under. ■ His mule was one ©f the handsomest and finest I had ever seen—to have refused riding it at that time, would have^Jbeen to doubt his friendship—so I mounted the mule, and proceeded northward in company with Mr. Wiltshire and his trusty friend, Rais bel Cossim, on horseback. We rode on, conversing together for about two hours, along the sand-beach, when we stopped a few moments, and took some refreshments. It was there I took my leave of my benefactor. This painful parting, I shall not attempt to describe: a last look was at length taken, and a final adieu uttered, when he rode back towards the city, and I proceeded on my journey. We went silently along, and mounted up the bank: our company consisted of young Zagury; an old Jew named David; a Jew servant; two Moors, who were the muleteers, and an imperial soldier for our guide, well mounted on a high-spirited horse, and fully armed: he was a fine-looking fellow, though half negro, and possessed all that.suavity of manners, so conspicuous in a first-rate Moor or Arab. From these soldiers, the emperor chooses his Alcayds and officers for the army: if they only possess talents and bravery, their colour is disregarded. The Jews called him Alcayd, by way of making themselves appear more respectable, and me they styled el Tibib del Sultan , or the Sultan’s doctor.

We proceeded on till near dark through a dreary- country, when we came to the Omlays, or three springs; there we found a number of travellers watering their camels, mules, and asses. Having let our beasts drink, we turned aside a little to the south, in a ploughed field, near a few stone-houses, and pitched for the night. We had a bell tent, which was a very good one, made of two thicknesses of canvass; it was large enough to contain two bed-spreads out, and very tight, and left plenty of room besides for our other things. We had with us a box containing tea, coffee, sugar, &c. coals to make a fire, and all the utensils necessary for cooking : so we had a cup of tea, and ate some coos- coo-soo for our supper, and went to sleep very comfortably-. The soldier and the muleteers slept outside the tent on the ground, wrapped up only in their haicks: this is the constant practice of the Moors and Arabs when travelling, and they wonder that people of other nations do not prefer that method to any other: they carry this custom so far, that many of the male inhabitants of the cities sleep on the tops of their houses (which are flat) in preference to sleeping on their mattrasses under cover.

At daylight on the morning of the 5th, all our company were in a bustle, being busily engaged in striking our tent, and loading the mules, while a cup of coffee was preparing, and some eggs boiling for our breakfast; and we set off on our journey long before sunrise. We travelled along this day on uneven ground, through groves of Arga trees, which grew thereabouts spontaneously, and were then loaded with the oil-nut of various sizes and colours, from a deep green through, to a lively yellow.' The very shrubs and bushes among which our path lay, were in blossom, and diffused a most delightful fragrance. We still heard the roaring of the troubled ocean, dashing against this inhospitable coast, and which had been constantly dinning my ears for more than two months; for it being urged towards this coast by the continual trade-winds, it never ceases its loud roarings, which may generally be heard at the distance of from twenty to thirty miles from the sea. The Atlas mountains were still in view, whose pointed tops, now covered with snow, seemed to glitter in the sun, though at a very great distance. About sunset, we came near a village consisting of about twenty stone-houses, flat roofed, one story high, and as many more built with reeds or sticks, in form of a sugar-loaf, with a small mosque or place of worship in the midst. Near this village, which was not walled in, the first I had seen of the kind, we pitched our tent, and soon after this was done, a great number of unarmed Moors, probably four or five hundred, came by turns to look at us, and inquire who I was. At the same time the owner of the village sent to tell us we were welcome, and that he was sorry it was not in his power to furnish barley for our mules, for his whole crops had been cut off by the locusts for the last three years: that he had bought twenty ducats worth that day, but it was all gone, as an unusual number of travellers had called on him; however, he sent us a loin of good mutton, which I was pressed to accept, and about two dozen of eggs: our Moors were also supplied with coos-coo-soo. I learned from Zagury, that this man was esteemed a great saint by all the Moors; that his name was Mohammed llfactesba; that he taught all pious Moors who wished it, to read in the Koran, and the Mohammedan laws; that he generally h^d from one to three hundred scholars or students, vyho came from every part of the empire; that he taught all who came, and supplied them with provisions gratis-—that his wife and one daughter prepared the victuals and cooked for all those people without any assistance whatever, which was considered by the Moors a continual miracle, and this, Zagury assured me, he for his own part firmly believed: that he entertained all travellers who chose to call on him, free of expense; but, added he, where all his property comes from to enable him to pay these enormous expenses, nobody knows.

It was soon reported about that an English doctor was in the tent, and the old saint sent and begged me to call and see him: so takiug Zagury with me to act as interpreter, I was conducted by some Moors to his presence, w'here I was welcomed by a withered old man, who was seated on a mat on the outside, and leaning against the wall of his house— it was the saint: he requested me to sit down near him, and then inquired of Zagury who I was: Zagury satisfied him on that point, and gave him besides a short sketch of my late disasters—the saint said, he was a friend to Christians and men of every other religion; that w'e were all children of the same heavenly Father, and ought to treat each other like brothers; he also remarked, that God was great and good, and had been very merciful to me, for which I ought to be thankful the remainder of my life. He next informed me, that he was very lame in his legs, occasioned in the first place by a stone falling on one of his feet, that had lamed and laid him up for three or four months, and when he had so far recovered as to be able to ride out on his mule, the animal fell down with him, and injured his lame foot and leg so much that he had not since been able to use it: this, he said, happened about a year ago, and within the last few months, his other leg had become affected, and he had now lost the use of both of them, which were extremely painful: he said he did not murmur at his lameness, because he knew it came from God, and was a punishment for some of his sins; yet he hoped the Almighty would be merciful, and pardon his offences, and permit him to walk again, so that he might take care of his guests, and do more good in the world: he also told me that the number who were then studying the Sacred Writings with him, amounted to about three hundred. I examined his legs-; they were very thin, and yet seemed to be consuming with a feverish heat; no skin was broken, and I concluded that he laboured under an inveterate, chronic disorder, particularly as the joints were much swelled. I asked him, if he had ever applied any thing as a remedy, or taken any medicine for this disorder; he said, no, except that he had bound some Arabic writing round them, furnished by a man eminently skilled in the science of witchcraft; that he had also kept them wet with oil, but had received no benefit whatever from either of those applications: he further said, he knew some men were endowed with the gift of healing, and hopei that I Could prescribe something that would ease his pains. I told him, that 1 felt disposed to render him all the service in my power; that I would see what medicine I had, and would consider of his case: then assuming the air of a quack doctor, I retired to my tent with a very thoughtful countenance. Our conversation was carried on by the help of Zagury as an interpreter. I really wished to administer some relief to this good man, who was afflicted with such a painful disorder, and accord- ingly prepared some soap pills, which was the only medicine 1 had with me, and sent them to him, with directions how to take them. I also advised him to discontinue the use of oil; to rub his limbs frequently with flannel-cloths, in order to promote the due circulation of the fluids; to endeavour to walk every day with the assistance of two men, using his legs as mtieh as possible, even if they did pain him, and to bind them up in fine salt every night, while -the heat continued: this, I fancied, might allay the fever. I also directed a drink to be made for him, by boiling the roots of some particular herbs in water, and thus forming a kind of decoction. Having explained the nature of his disorder to him, in the best manner l was able, which gave him some encouragement, I retired to my tent. Many of the Moors came and wanted me to prescribe something for their various disorders, which I did according to the best of my judgment, and the medicines I had within my power. Among the rest, was a poor old gray-headed man; he came near, and th rusting his head under the tent, cried out—Tibib, Tibib: (doctor, doctor:) my guard was going to drive him away, but I told him to let him alone, that I might find out what ailed him, for he seemed to be in great distress—so I told Zagury to ask him what his disorder was: this he made known without ceremony— he said, he had been a husband to three wiyes; that two of them, who had died, loved him exceedingly; that his present wife was very young, fat, and handsome, and yet she was ,so cold, that notwithstanding all his caresses, she could not return his loVe: his case was, indeed, a very plain one, but to prescribe a remedy, needed some reflection—so the Jew told him to go away, and return in half an hour. When he returned, I pretended to sympathize with him in his afflictions, and recommended that he should set her about no kind of work ; that he should entreat her kindly; feed her on the dish called Shanah; i. e.'peas baked in an oven, and swimming in beefs- marrow, with a plenty of soft boiled eggs and rich spices in her coos-coo-soo, &c. &c.—that he should join with her in all her repasts, and chew opium himself, if he could procure any, and by no means to have intercourse with her oftener than once in two weeks. He promised very faithfully to obey my directions, though lie did not seem to relish the last item of advice; but I assured him, with much affected gravity, that I had done my very best; so he left me with a shower of blessings for my kindness, after having bestowed two dozen of fresh eggs on my Jew interpreter for his trouble. The Moors who were the-pupils of the saint, joined in prayer, and chanted over sacred poetry for about an hour on account of his disorder, begging of God to heal their benefactor, &c.

January the 6th, we started early in the morning, after I had taken leave of the good old man. We proceeded on our journey, descending the hills to the north about half an hour, when we saw one of the Moors who waited on the old man the night before, running after us, and hallooing very loudly to make us stop, which we did, and he soon came up,- bringing Zagury’s gold watch, which he had put under his head the night before on the ground where our tent was pitched, and had left it through forgetfulness and haste: this watch, together with an elegant gold seal, chain, and trinkets, was worth, at least, three hundred dollars: the Moor generously refused any compensation for his trouble, and I told Zagury, it was well for him that the people where he left it were not Jews: to this he assented, and said that he believed that the saint was the most honest man in the world.

After travelling about two hours in a northerly direction, we came near the ruins, or rather the walls of an old town or fortress—it was situated on the left bank of the river Tensift: the walls were built in a square form; were about one mile in circuit, and flanked with thirty small towers, with embrazures, where cannon might have been mounted. A part of the southern wall had fallen down; it was very thick, and within was nothing but a heap of stones and ruins. On inquiry, I was told by my guard, that this town was built by the former.Sultan, Sidi Mohammed, in order to secure a passage across the river, when the people of the province of Abdah rebelled against him; that it was well garrisoned, apd mounted with a great many cannon, and called el Ksebbah ; or the strong lion-like fortress ; that it was dismantled by the present emperor, who took away the cannon, and that the garrison and all the inhabitants were destroyed a few years ago by the plague, since which no soul has ventured to live in it. We rode on, and crossed this stream, dignified by the name of river, but which, in fact, is no more in the dry season than an American brook. The country, in its valley, which is very wide, is rich and level; is said to be overflowed in a rainy season, and was at this tfme cultivated in many parts. We went along its right bank, and saw the site or ruins of what is called old Swearah, on its left bank, near its entrance into the sea: there are now only a few huts and four saint-houses to be seen; all the other parts of the town are buried in sand, blown from the sea-shore. The river, near its mouth, is both deep and wide, and the soldier said, it was once a considerable port, where vessels could enter, but its mouth is now entirety dammed up with sarld; only leaving a small passage for the water, which runs off in a shallow stream to the sea, over a beach of two hundred yards in breadth, and so high, that the tide cannot enter the river’s mouth. From the banks of this river, we proceeded towards the sea-shore, and descending the high steep bank, we entered between it and the first bank from the ocean, and travelled along a delightful inclined plane, about four miles in breadth: the surface of this plane was covered w r ith verdure, and flowers of all the variegated colours of the rainbow, resembling in appearance the richest Turkey carpet. x About the middle of the afternoon, we met a courier fourteen days from Tangier; having an ink- horn and paper with me, I wrote by him a few lines to my friend Wiltshire, and we proceeded along towards Saffy, pronounced by the natives S’fee. This inclined plane was the most beautiful that can be imagined; speckled over with herds of cattle and numerous flocks of sheep, which were quietly grazing on its rich herbage. As it was the sixth day of the week, and the Jews with me were obliged by their religion to stop the seventh, during their Sabbath, I had a mind to pitch our tent on this delightful plain, and pass the Sabbath of rest, by reposing on its downy bosom, and inhaling its delicious fragrance; but Zagury assured me it was not safe to lodge there, and that he must enter S’fee in •order to recruit his stock of provision, for that a Jew could eat no kind of meat except it was killed by a priest of his nation. He was exceedingly superstitious, though educated in England, and we kept on towards Saffy. When in sight of the walls of that city, we came near a large saint-house, on a cliff near the sea’s brink—here our soldier and muleteers made the Jews dismount, and pass this house barefooted, though at half a mile’s distance from our path: he told me that the house was built over the remains of a great saint; that every man who was not a Moslemin must walk past it barefooted; that people came to visit it from all quarters to be cured of their diseases; but, added he, as you are a good man, and very weak, you may ride past, but must pay the saint one dollar towards keeping his house in repair. I did not much relish this mode of giving away my money, and told the soldier so; but he replied, that no Christian must pass it without this tribute, and that it would be demanded from him on his entrance into S’fee. I Was convinced it was only a trick of his to extort money; but there was no getting off, and so I paid him the dollar, telling him at the same time I should set it down as a debt to the saint’s account, and presumed he would have no objection to repay me in another world: “ no, (said he,) that saint was very liberal in this world, and will, no doubt, pay you both principal and interest in the other, and intercede for your admission into paradise into the bargain:” he was a shrewd fellow, and understood my feelings on the subject perfectly.

After the Jews had walked about a mile, they were again permitted to ride. We approached the city on its south-east or fortress side; some ruins of its ancient walls were still visible, which proved it to have formerly been, at least, four times larger than at present. It was near night, and we went round the fortress, which appeared to be very strong, and was defended by a double wall; it is situated on an eminence, which not only commands the city that is attached to it below, but is also well situated for defending all the entrances into the town, and has a good number o£ cannon mounted on it : the whole appears extremely well calculated for defence, and I imagine it must originally have been constructed by some eminent European engineer. A small brook of water runs from the east near the northern wall of the city. We entered it at the eastern gate, and proceeded through a crowd of spectators to the house of Zagury’s Jew friend. The Jews were obliged to dismount, and walk into the city, but they allowed me to ride. Having entered the court, (for the building was very spacious^ but had very much decayed, and was fast crumbling to the ground,) we ascended a broken staircase to the gallery of the first story, and were conducted to a small room that had been shut up, apparently, for a long time; the unhinged door and shattered window-shutter were, however, removed to accommodate our company, and I took a peep into the apart- metit; it was about ten feet square, and nearly filled with filth of almost every description; the whole fermenting in rancid Argan oil, which far exceeded in scent the most stinking fish or blubber oil. The effluvia arising from this newly opened bed of nastiness entering my olfactory nerves, was immediately transmitted to the stomach, and brought on an instantaneous vomiting, which continued for about two hours without intermission, until my stomach was completely empty, and it threw up besides a considerable quantity of fresh blood: this abominable stench caused nausea even in the Jews’ stomachs: however, as there was no other place to lodge in, and the weather looked likely for rain, they cleared out this chamber, washed »it with hot-water, and fumigated it afterwards with burning charcoal and brimstone; Zagury taking care to observe, by way of recommendation, that this house was built by a Christian, and that its occupants, who were his father’s friends, were the most respectable Jews in S’fee. The house was, indeed, large, and had been very commodious, but its Jewish tenants, consisting of about twenty miserable dirty families, did not choose to lend nor let to us a better apartment, and after refreshing myself with a cup of strong tea, my stomach became composed, and I went through, in the course of the evening, their religious ceremonies, in company with the Jews, as I have before described.

In Safly, the Jews live in company with, i. e. promiscuously among the Moors in adjoining houses. On their Sabbath, all the men belonging to the house went to the synagogues, and the women, in the mean time, decked themselves in their best attire; they had already stained the insides of their hands and fingers, between every joint, and their finger-nails, yellow; had borrowed and put on fine ear-rings and necklaces of pearl and amber, and golden chains, golden hearts, and other trinkets; these hung down upon their naked bosoms: they wore bracelets on their ankles and wrists, and had put on clean linen, or rather, cotton chemises , which was to them a real luxury. Their hair, which was long and black, was newly braided, and greased over smoothly with Argan oil: they had painted their eyes and eyebrows black, and the most of them wore slippers: thus tricked up in all their finery, two of the most handsome and stylishly dressed damsels, with a number of the second-rate, came round to that side of the gallery where I sat quietly and alone, writing down notes for my journal: they first expressed their wonder at my manner of writing from left to right; then at the letters I formed, &c.—and having, by this method, succeeded in diverting my attention from what I was about, the two Smartest looking girls, who were about sixteen and eighteen years of age, with quite pretty faces, and richly dressed,' invited me to go with them, and see their father’s room : my curiosity prompted me to comply, and I suffered them to lead me along into their chamber, where their mother, a very fleshy middle aged woman, was sitting on a mattrass; and as they had no other seat, they invited pie to sit down on the same bed beside her. After due salutations, the old lady left the room, shutting the door after her. The object of these sirens was to get money from me; but finding I was able to withstand all their temptations, they at last permitted me to retire, but not before they had tried every indelicate art and enticement, of which they were complete mistresses, to effect their purpose. After I had withdrawn From the room, I was shown into .all the other apartments on that floor, in succession, and their artifices were still played off to win me, or rather my cash, until, at length, finding that all their wiles proved abortive, they next had recourse to begging for money, but I had none to spare them.

The Jews in Saffy are very poor and miserable; they were generally about half clothed, and that with filthy rags. Safly is a small place, and has no trade; so that the Jews are hard put to it, and are obliged to resort to every base expedient in order to gain a mere subsistence. I could not but pity their condition, and lament the depravity to which they all seemed to be prone, though, perhaps, oftentimes plunging into guilt from sheer necessity.

This day I went in company with my guard to view the town and port of S’fee: the town is small, and strongly walled in on all sides: the walls, for the most part, are made of rough stone and lime, like those of Mogadore or Swearah, except that part next the sea, which is laid up with large hewn stone, and appears very strong; the walls are flanked with four towers, besides the el Ksebbah, on which cannon are mounted, and a battery at the water-port. The town lies very low, and is surrounded on all sides by hills, and appears to be the receptacle of all the filth of the country near it. Its streets are very narrow, crooked, irregular, and not paved : the houses are built of rough stone and lime; have few windows next the streets; are from one to three stories high, and flat-roofed; but, like the houses in the cities in Spain, have a court, the interior of which serves for a stable. The public buildings are three mosques, with high square towers, and a large hewn stone building, formerly occupied as a custom-house, but nqw uninhabited and falling to pieces. The Jews have also twelve small rooms for the purpose of worshipping, which they call synagogues. The number of inhabitants in Saffy is pomputed at twenty thousand, that is, sixteen thousand Moors and four thousand Jews. The walls ot the present town, including the fortress, are about one mile in circumference. The inhabitants of the city are supplied with good water, brought in kegs on asses from the brook that washes its northern walls. All the cattle, sheep, &c. that are owned in and feed near S’fee, are driven within the walls every night, and from its appearance, no dirt is ever carried out of the city: the filth in the streets was in many parts two feet deep at the least, so that it was quite impossible for me to get along through the mire without being besmeared with it up to my knees. Passing along one street as well as I CQuld pick my way, I lost both my shoes in the mud, but some Jew boys recovered them again; for which service I had to pay them half a dollar.

The bay of Saffy is formed by the projection of Cape Cantin; is very spacious, and well defended by that cape from the common trade winds. Vessels visiting that place are obliged to anchor very broad in the offing, and where the ground is said to be very foul: the landing-place is either on a sand beach, upon which the surf breaks with considerable violence, or else in among some rocks, where there was formerly a kind of basin, which is now nearly filled up with sand. There were about twenty fishing boats on this beach, which were in a bad state of repair. The port of Saffy has been shut by order of the Sultan for several years. A circular fort stands on a hill to the north, and within half cannon shot of the town, and which completely commands it: it had been lately dismantled, and the cannon carried into the city for fear it would be taken possession of by the field Moors and Arabs during the late rebellion. The land in the vicinity of this city is for the most part uncultivated.


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