Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ian named Baraket, who proved to be shrewd, faithful, and useful. At Wadi Serhan, he first touched the kingdom of Shomer, and began to hear distinctly of its Sultan, Telāl-ebn-Rasheed. The Djowf was five or six days' journey farther on. The chief town of this oasis, also called Djowf, is situated in a deep, broad, fertile valley, and, with its tall, solitary tower, small, round turrets, and flat house-tops, half buried amid the garden foliage, presented “a lovely scene,” as the traveller approached it from the west. In this valley is another large town called Sekakah, nearly as large as Djowf. Mr. Palgrave thinks the two contain over thirty thousand inhabitants, and the whole oasis over forty thousand. He remained there eighteen days, practising medicine, selling his merchandise, and studying the people.

It would be useless, and probably unsafe, for a European to undertake such a journey without disguise. Therefore Mr. Palgrave travelled as a physician and a native of Damascus. A long residence in the East, an intimate acquaintance with the different sects, religious customs, and social peculiarities of the Mahometan world, and a perfect knowledge of the Arabic language, gave him unusual qualifications for such a tour of observation. At the Djowf he won general confidence, and received much favor from Hamood, who governs there as viceroy of the Sultan of Shomer. He found among the people “a rising civilization contending against preceding and surrounding barbarism,” with only a "tincture” of Mahometanism, “much hospitality and little good faith, sufficient politeness and no morals.” Meanwhile, he saw a promise of better things in Shomer proper, still before him.

From the Djowf he went across “the formidable sand passes called the Nefood,” and reached Hāyel, the capital of Shomer, under the guidance of ten or twelve Bedouin chiefs, who were going to the Sultan Telāl to give him satisfaction on matters touching their submission and allegiance to his government. The whole journey to Hāyel occupied nine days. The first view of the city is thus described:

“ We found ourselves on the verge of a large plain, many miles in length, and girt on every side by a high mountain rampart, while right in front of us, at scarcely a quarter of an hour's march, lay the town of Hãyel, surrounded by fortifications twenty feet high, with bastion-towers, some round, some square, and large folding gates at intervals. It afforded the same show of freshness, and even of something like irregular elegance, that had before struck us in the villages on the way. But this was a full-grown town, and its area might readily hold three hundred thousand inhabitants or more, were its streets and houses close packed, like those of Brussels or Paris. But the number of citizens does not, in fact, exceed twenty or twenty-two thousand, thanks to the many large gardens, open spaces, and even plantations included within the outer walls; while the immense palace of the monarch, alone, with

a

[ocr errors]

its pleasure-grounds annexed, occupies about one tenth of the entire city. Our attention was attracted by a lofty tower, some seventy feet high, of recent construction and oval form, belonging to the royal residence. The plain all around the town is studded with isolated houses and gardens, the property of wealthy citizens or of members of the kingly family; and on the far-off skirts of the plain appear the groves belonging to Kafar, 'Adwah, and other villages, placed at the opening of the mountain gorges that conduct to the capital. The town walls and buildings shone in the evening sun; and the whole prospect was one of thriving security, delightful to view, though wanting in the peculiar luxuriance of vegetation offered by the valley of the Djowf.” – Vol. 1. pp. 102, 103.

Telāl, the Sultan of Shomer, is described as a man of very remarkable capacity and character; wise, liberal-minded, a lover of commerce and building, secret in his designs, never known to break a promise or violate a plighted faith, severe in administration yet averse to bloodshed, affable towards the common people while reserved' and haughty towards the aristocracy, his rule is extremely popular and successful. Mr. Palgrave adds: “'Among all rulers or governors, European or Asiatic, with whose acquaintance I have ever been honored, I know few equal, in the true art of government, to Telāl, son of Abd-Allah-ebn-Rasheed.” The great qualities of this prince so won bis confidence and admiration, that he finally made known to him fully his real character, nationality, and purpose in visiting Arabia ; and Telāl met this confidence with the noblest generosity and good-will.

The kingdom of Shomer comprises five provinces, and, in addition, nearly three fourths of the Bedouins of Central Arabia are subject to its government, most of these nomads being in the northern part of the peninsula. The kingdom of Nejed embraces eleven provinces; but there seems to be, in reality, but one nation in Central Arabia, and in ancient times there was probably but one supreme government. At one time, the Wahhabee dynasty of Nejed, not now much over a century old, had complete dominion over the whole; and even now there is in Shomer a kind of nominal admission of the supremacy of the Sultan of Nejed. As Feysul, the Wahhabee Sultan, is very old and stone blind,” while Telāl, who represents the growing national reaction against the Wahhabee fanaticism, is only about forty years of age, it does not require very great sagacity to foresee, near at hand, important political changes in that secluded part of the world.

Mr. Palgrave gives an interesting account of his intercourse with the people of Hāyel as a physician and otherwise. He remained there about six weeks, and then went to Bereydah, in Lower Kaseem, accompanied and guided by certain natives of that province. He noticed that the show of civilization constantly increased as he proceeded

[ocr errors]

eastward; Kaseem being as much superior to Shomer, in this respect, as Shomer was to the Djowf. Kaseem is a very old seat of Arabian civilization. The city of Bereydah contains over twenty-five thousand inhabitants, and 'Oneyzah over thirty thousand. Here is Mr. Palgrave's description of the magnificent plain of Lower Kaseem, in which these cities are situated :

“ Before us, to the utmost horizon, stretched an immense plain, studded with towns and villages, towers and groves, all steeped in the dazzling noon, and announcing everywhere opulence and activity. The average breadth of this populous district is about sixty miles, its length twice as much or more; it lies full two hundred feet below the level of the uplands, which here break off like a wall, and leave the lower ground to stretch uninterruptedly far away to the long transverse chain of Toweyk, that bounds it to the south.” — Vol. I.

p. 239,

[ocr errors]

He was detained at Bereydah nearly three weeks by great difficulty in securing guides for the journey to Riad, the capital of Nejed. Every one refused to go there with him ; almost every one seemed afraid to go. The people of Kaseem fear and hate the Wahhabee despotism. Mr. Palgrave says, “The central region of Nejed, the genuine Wahhabee country, is to the rest of Arabia a sort of lion's den, where few venture and fewer return.” While waiting for guides, he made excursions to the neighboring villages, and found them “ clean and pleasant, and not unlike those of Jafnapatam and Ceylon.” The soil belongs in full right to its cultivators; and the people seemed free from want, although heavily burdened by the excessive Wabhabee taxes. At length, through his companion, Barakat, he became acquainted with a very important personage named Aboo 'Eysa, a native of Syria, but long an adventurer, and now an employé of the Sultan of Nejed. This person was going to Riad, and readily consented to receive our travellers into his company. Along with them went also a Persian of high rank, to seek redress for grievances suffered by a company of Meccan pilgrims with which he was connected. They took a circuitous route to Riad, and passed through the important province of Sedeyr, where Mr. Palgrave found a elegant and copious hospitality," and much dignity and politeness in the manners of the people. He says, “ Tho dominant tone of society, especially in Sedeyr, is one of dignified and even refined politeness.”

On this journey he passed through the town of Horeymelah, the birthplace of Mohammed-ebn-Abd-el-Wahhab, the great prophet and founder of the Wahhabee sect. This remarkable man was born there about the middle of the last century, began his life as a travelling merchant, and visited various countries, going as far as India. At length his mind was stimulated to develop the ideas that have since inspired

and directed Wahhabism. He became a prophet and reformer. His aim was to restore the primeval spirit and image of Mahometanism. Finally, he sought the co-operation of another remarkable man, Sa'ood, the Prince of Derey'eeah, and said to him, “ Make the cause of God your cause, and the sword of Islam your sword, and you shall be sole monarch of Nejed.” Sa'ood accepted the mission, became a devoted Wahhabee, and conquered province after province, until the promise to him was fulfilled. He became sole monarch of Central Arabia. He was great-grandfather of Feysul, the present Sultan of Nejed. The power he established received a terrible blow after his death from Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, in return for the capture of Mecca and Medina by the Wahhabees under his son Abd-Allah, which nearly destroyed it for a time. It was restored by the father of Feysul, but has not recovered all its former greatness.

Mr. Palgrave's description of his first view of Riad and the beautiful region around it is very picturesque.

- Before us stretched a wild, open valley, and in its foreground, immediately below the pebbly slope on whose summit we stood, lay the capital, large and square, with high towers and strong walls of defence, a mass of roofs and terraces, where, overtopping all, frowned the huge but irregular pile of Feysul's royal castle, and, hard by, the scarcely less conspicuous palace of his eldest son, Abd-Allah. Other edifices of remarkable appearance broke here and there through the maze of gray roof-tops. All around, for full three miles, over the surrounding plain, waved a sea of palm-trees above green fields and well-watered gardens. On the opposite side, southward, the valley opened into the great and even more fertile plains of Yemamah, thickly dotted with groves and villages, among which the large town of Manfoohah, hardly inferior in size to Riad itself, could be clearly distinguished.” — Vol. I. p. 390.

Our traveller remained fifty days at Riad. At first he encountered threatening difficulties; but these gave way, and his success in winning favor, both at court and among the people, went beyond his expectations. At length the fanatical and ferocious Abd-Allah became excited against him, and sought to prevent his departure from the city. For a time it seemed impossible for him to get away; and it was only through the assistance of the friendly Aboo 'Eysa that he made his escape, and went safely to Hofhoof in Hasa. He had spent nearly six months in Central Arabia. The remainder of his time was given to Hasa, Katar, the Bahreyn Islands, and Oman.

Mr. Palgrave adds nothing to our knowledge of Southern Arabia ; but, without having explored in that direction, he describes a wide region between Southern Nejed and the districts known as Yemen, Hadfamant, and Mahrah, as “the great desert.” A better knowledge of

that region would probably show that it is not wholly a desert; that portions of it are inhabited; and that much of it is like the Syrian desert, of which he says, “Those very lands, now so utterly waste, were in old times, and under a better rule, widely cultivated and full of populous life, as the numerous ruins strewn over their desolation yet attest.”

In Katar he fell in with two Arabs who went from Nejed, spent two months in this “great southern desert,” and crossed it to Maa’reb in Yemen. They found in it wells and dates; and so little did they dread it that one of them declared his readiness to pilot our traveller across it to Dofar and Hadramant. We hope the next competent explorers in Arabia will give careful attention to this desert, to the district called Neiran, and to the inner regions of Yemen and Hadramant. This was the foremost portion of Arabia at that remote period when the Arabians and Phænicians, a kindred people, monopolized the commerce of the world. Here was a great civilization, much older, probably, than that of Egypt. Here are the great ruins and the inscriptions which may yet tell us something more definite concerning the ancient history of that country.

Mr. Palgrave's estimate of the Arabian people is very high. They are not only better governed and in better condition than the neighboring people of Asia, but he maintains that they are far superior to any other Asiatic race. In fact, he says: “The Arabians of inhabited lands are one of the noblest races on earth. Indeed, after having travelled much, and made pretty intimate acquaintance with many races, African, Asiatic, and European, I should hardly be inclined to give the preference to any other over the genuine unmixed clans of Central and Eastern Arabia." The people here specified belong to the Katanite or Cushite race; and, by the general consent of tradition throughout the peninsula, this is the oldest race existing there, and its original seat was Yemen. The old language of the Katanites, or Cushites, is still spoken in some districts. We have also specimens of it in the inscriptions already discovered. It is sometimes called the Himyarite; and the linguistic investigations of the French scholars, Fresnel, Arnaud, and others, according to Renan, in his “ Semitic Languages,” indicate that it is the language of the old Chaldæan or Babylonian inscriptions, and that the Ghez dialect of Abyssinia is closely related to it.

The volumes of which we have given some account show intelligence, good sense, and great aptitude for ready and successful observation. They are interesting and valuable. It is, however, to be regretted that

ur traveller shows but little interest in the antiquities of Arabia. There must be old ruins in Kaseem, Sedeyr, and elsewhere in Central Arabia, that should be discovered and described. Mr. Pal

« ZurückWeiter »