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Among the Women of 
the Sahara 

From the Fre?ich of 



author of 
"The Elementary History of Art" etc 

With Ninety Illustrations, after Drawings and Photographs by the Author 




All rights reserved 



This brightly-written narrative of several months' wander- 
ing in the Sahara between El - Aghuat and In - Saleh, 
forms a really unique revelation of a phase, or rather of 
several phases, of life hitherto little known to Europeans. 
Madame Pommerol, with a courage and perseverance 
worthy of Mrs. Bishop herself, penetrated into homes in 
daivar and kasr jealously closed as a rule to all outsiders, 
sometimes succeeding in making friends with the inmates 
and sometimes having to beat a hasty retreat, so fierce 
was their hostility. She has given the results of her 
experience in a series of very vivid word-pictures, sup- 
plemented by sketches and photographs taken under 
great difficulties, for the women of the Sahara look upon 
the camera as an uncanny sentient being with the power 
of the evil eye, and moreover they consider it a positive 
crime to allow their portraits to be taken. In spite of 
all opposition, however, many evidently good likenesses 
of typical faces were obtained by the indomitable 
traveller, and will no doubt add greatly to the value of 
her book amongst all students of character. 


20, QuAi EsPAGNOL, Bruges. 
September, igoo. 



1. — Who are they ? i 

II. — First Impressions of the Arab Race . . 13 

III. — Beauty amongst the Arabs . . . . 25 

IV. — A Difficult Chapter ..... 41 

V. — More about El-Aghuat ..... 49 

VI. — The Women of the Kusur .... 79 

VII. — The Wady M'zab and the Seven Holy Cities hi 

VIII. — Among the Mozabite Women .... 138 

IX. — Negress Slaves 161 

X. — The Quest for Water amongst the Nomad 

Arabs 171 

XI. — About Birth and Marriage amongst the 

Arab Tribes 181 

XII. — Divorce in the Sahara 215 

XIII. — Wargla : the Pearl of the Oases . . 229 

XIV. — From Tuggurt to In-Salah .... 245 

XV. — Life in the Dawar amongst the Nomad Arab 

Tribes 269 

XVI. — About the Camels of the Nomad Arab Tribes 309 

XVII. — On the Ideas of the Saharian Women . . 325 




To the question with which I have headed this first 
chapter of my account of my sojourn amongst the 
women of the Sahara, the fact that I am of their 
sex enables me to give a very true reply ; for as a 
woman I have been able to learn to know them 
well, to understand their unformed characters, 
breathing the samie air as they do, camping upon 
the same sands, and honoured by their intense 
and perhaps too demonstrative friendship. 

In every great tribe, in every small sedentary 
community, the women have their own special 
costume, their own peculiar amulets, their own 
manners and customs, setting them apart from 
every other group. Their dispositions, too, are 
modified by circumstances ; some gaining courage 
from their surroundings, whilst others grow more 
timid. Their figures, always supple, become thinner 



or plumper as the case may be. Their complexions 
are either sallow, tanned, nor pink ; but, in spite of 
these superficial differences of form or feature, their 
characters are radically the same, bearing the un- 
mistakable impress of the terrible climate, the 
restricted conditions of their life, and of the stern 

Mussulman faith, professed for some nine centuries 
at the least, by all the races of the Desert. 

Frivolous, childish and cunning, these women 
have no scruples, for they themselves believe the 
doctrine of Mohammed, that they have scarcely so 
much as half a soul apiece. Their natures are, in 
fact, as I have just remarked in other words, quite 
undeveloped ; and although they are remarkably 
plastic, they are incomplete, in the same sense as 
is a statue roughly outlined in the block. Greedy, 


voluptuous, spiteful and untruthful though they be, 
they are yet morally superior to the Arab and 
Berber women of the Tell, or Algerian Sahara. 
They have the proud, free carriage, so unlike that 
of their sisters of the North, of women accustomed 
to live in the open air. When young, there is 
something alike of the cat, the gazelle, and the 
antelope about them. They are indeed infinitely 
interesting, but much in the same way as are the 
animals to which I have compared them. 

Their black or greenish eyes, enlarged with kohl* 
from the very day of their birth, full of combined 
fascination, reticence and mystery, have never 
looked upon any other scene than the vast and 
gloomy stretch of white sand of their native land, 
broken only here and there by a few rocks or the 
declivities known as dunes, dotted with tufts of 
the grasses called diss and drinn, which are green 
for a short time in spring, but dry and grey for 
the rest of the year, and grow in considerable 
quantities at wide intervals, the sand collecting 
behind them. The only tree, and that of very rare 
occurrence, is the palm, decorative enough, no 
doubt, but somewhat melancholy. No variety any- 
where, except the scattered bones of dead camels, 
and over all the fierce sun, rising and setting in a 
furnace of a sky implacably blue. 

'- This is the stibium^ or antimony, with which the eyelashes are 
painted. — Trans. 


The eyes of these women have scarcely seen any 
shade but that thrown by the scattered tents or 
the yet more melancholy mud houses of their tribe ; 
and there are actually women of the towns — and 
oh, what towns those are ! — who have never entered 
a tent, and other women of the desert who have 
never been inside a house. As a matter of course 

the range of their ideas is restricted, and their 
vocabulary is as limited as are their thoughts. 

They know, for instance, that their fingers spin 
the fleece of the sheep and the coarse hair of 
the camels ; they know, too, who dyes the wool, 
who weaves it, and who knots it into fringes ; for 
it is their own industrious hands which prepare the 
colours, wring out the dye, and, in a word, get 


the raw material into shape for the market. But 
their knowledge stops there ; they do not know who 
makes the cotton stuffs and silk handkerchiefs 
brought to the desert by caravans. Understand 
well what I mean ; they don't know whether it is a 
man, an angel, a demon, or what they call a jinn, 
who produces these things. Of course, however, 
I am only speaking of those v/hom our effete 
civilization has not yet touched, or given a smatter- 
ing either of its science or its vice ; and these 
include the greater number, in fact, the mass, of 
the true women of the true Sahara. 

The dreary expanse of their native land does not, 
however, suppress their gaiety. Their laugh still 
rings out high and clear. The narrow limits of the 
tent or of the clay hut do not shackle the freedom 
of their movements ; the poverty of their language 
does not prevent them from instinctively recogniz- 
ing the innate poetry of the songs they transmit 
from generation to generation. And about them 
there is a something — I know not what, so difficult 
is it to define — irresistibly attractive to us Euro- 
peans, which is better than intelligence, and better 
than physical beauty. It is, maybe, that perfect resig- 
nation (after more than one crisis of furious revolt) to 
their fate, as fixed by the angel-writer, the scribe of 
Allah himself, combined with the absolute harmony 
of their voices, their smiles, their gestures, their 
costumes and their ornaments, with the piquant and 


fascinating environment, which has made them what 
they are. 

Gladly would I plunge at once into the subject 
of the inner life of the women about whom I am 
writing, for I know well that one carefully observed 
fact is worth any amount of theory. But in this 
case to abridge would really involve spinning out ; 
for to understand the great diversity of customs it 
is necessary, to begin with, to get a clear notion of 
the diversity of origins. I remember well what 
perplexities, or rather what maddening confusion, 
resulted at the beginning of my journey from my 
ignorance about differences of race ; a confusion 
which I can save others from sharing, by two or 
three pages of explanation ; pages the reader is 
free to skip, if he or she be impatient or already 
well up in the subject. 

About Race then. Race is a most important 
matter, the one chief factor in all the distinctions 
not levelled away by the climate of the Sahara, 
but to which those who study the country — still so 
little known — whether on the spot or from a distance, 
give far too little attention. Indeed, certain there 
be who confuse the Arab with the Berber race, and 
no one has ever looked upon the latter as aboriginal. 
As a matter of fact, however, it is the outcome of 
the fusion of several races from Asia, mixed in the 
North of Africa with Iberian, Etruscan, Carthaginian 
and Pelasgic elements, with a strain of the true 


aboriginal race, still almost a sealed book to 
science, yet of which undeniable traces have 
been recognized. In the South, the so-called 
Berbers have added to all these diverse elements 
certain Ethiopian, Egyptian, Persian and Tyrr- 
henian infiltrations. All the tribes of the Tigris 
and Euphrates basins, all those living on the Lower 
and the Upper Nile, have contributed their con- 
tingents of fugitive slaves and of refugees fleeing 
for safety in time of war. As a result, certain 
modern Saharian women are really incarnations in 
the present day, of races who have been swept away 
and are looked upon as extinct. 

It seems a pity to neglect the opinion of Sallust on 
such a subject as the Berber race, for he was well- 
informed and cautious — too cautious, it is said, to 
be fully relied on. But he was pro-consul of Africa, 
and the embezzlements with which he was charged, 
and which, by the way, were never proved, do not 
in the least detract from the value of his obser- 
vations. The Governor of a province, then looked 
upon as barbarous, exiled from Rome, consumed 
with ennui, he devoted himself to cross-questioning 
the "ancients " of the country as a distraction. He 
investigated the old traditions, even then beginning 
to die out, as he himself explains, and I am quite 
at a loss to imagine what motive he could have for 
insincerity. Now, according to him, the Moors of 
Mauritania (the present Tell el Moghreb) were 


Medes and Syrians, and Carthaginian colonies 
occupied the whole of the coast of what is now 
known as North Africa. Beyond them on the 
south were the Numidians, yet further away the 
Getuli, [and after them the Garamantes, whom 
Sallust refers to as dwelling in a country a very, 
very long-way off. 

To sum up : foreign races of ill-defined numbers 
wandered into the then unknown wilds of North 
Africa, where the enervating climate paralysed their 
energies and weakened their constitutions. Here 
they mingled with the yet older aboriginal people, 
all trace of whom is now nearly lost. Later, that is 
to say about the fifth century, whilst the Vandals 
were ravaging the coast districts, there were yet 
other incursions from the East (Abyssinia, Upper 
Egypt and Tyre) of races more modern than 
the first comers, but still ancient from our point of 
view, who were the remnants of a world in ruins — 
of that world we are always trying to build up anew, 
but never understand. 

All these foreigners had more or less to do with 
the production of the various groups of the so-called 
Berber race, the inappropriate and indefinite name 
of which we retain, simply because it has been 
sanctioned by constant usage. Three of these 
groups, namely, the people of M'zab, the Ghuara of 
the Wad-Gheir, and the Tuaregs, now occupy por- 
tions of the Sahara ; and in the hisilr, or fortified 


villages, dwell yet other inhabitants who are, as 
the saying goes, almost Berbers and almost true 

As for the Arabs, the last to arrive, and the 
most thoroughly in harmony with the wide stretches 
of sand over which they wander, it may be roughly 
stated that they occupy all the districts which the 
Berbers do not. They intermarry with the latter 
pretty often, though they look upon such unions 

as derogatory to their dignity, in fact, regular 
mesalliances. In spite of these lapses, however, the 
Arab race remains perfectly distinct, apart, and cha- 
racteristic, increasing, moreover, rapidly. Haughty, 
yet miserable, descended from Abraham and from 
Ishmael, they pride themselves on having given 
birth to the Prophet, and take a delight in the 
idleness and apathy distinguishing them from the 
activity and eager interest in life of the Berbers. 

" Deliberation is from God," says the Koran, 
" precipitation is from the Devil." 


The modern nomad tribes known as the Shaanbas, 
whose robberies have rendered them celebrated, 
with the more important Larbaas, the Aulad-Yaya, 
with the Said-Otba, Beni-Thor and many others, 
occupying the districts south of Algeria, are 
really Arabs dwelling, to quote Sallust once more, 
in those Saharian " regions consumed by the 

terrible heat of the sun ; where the heaven is 
without rain, the earth without springs, where 
the inhabitants are healthy and robust, inured 
to fatigue, skilled in the chase," etc. 

Really, that chapter of Sallust might have been 
written yesterday. 

From what has just been said, it will be seen that 
we have to distinguish between two great races 


of the Sahara, the differences of which are more 
accentuated in the feebler than in the stronger sex ; 
for, as we all know, feminine finery never loses 
its right to variety even in the desert, and is not 
as unchangeable as is the burnous of the masculine 

There are then to be considered Arab women 
and Berber women, with the sub-divisions of each 
into communities or families. 

Berber women are bigger and, when they are 
beautiful, more beautiful than their Arab sisters ; 
Arab women are more supple, more graceful, 
and have a more feline prettiness, when they 
are pretty, than the Berbers. All alike, how- 
ever, endure with equal fortitude the rigours of 
the sultry climate, and all become old before their 
time. But there is a wild beauty about their child- 
hood like that of the opening bud, and their brief 
youth is as full of charm as the flower of a day. 




Turning over my travelling note-book, I find the 
following passage marked with a line in the 
margin : 

'' El-AgJmat, Nov. 1898. 
" The Nomads of the Market. — Men dressed 
in white, of every condition of life, are hurrying 
busily to and fro, crying out, running hither and 
thither, disputing with each other. Some of them 
kneeling near their wares, are gesticulating and 
laughing. Others are lying about here and there, 
in the hot sunshine or the shade, fast asleep. Out- 
side the hovels, dignified by the name of cafes, are 
merry groups, playing games or chattering, all 
apparently in the highest spirits. Is the contem- 
plative Arab, seated in front of his tent, absorbed 
in the idea of the Maktub* then, after all a myth .'* 

■•■■' That is to say, what is written in the Book of Fate or on the 
leaves of the Tree of Paradise. — Trans. 


Anyhow, I do not find him here, and all I do 
recognize of any preconceived notions brought over 
unconsciously with my luggage, is the magnificence 
of the gestures of those about me. But these 
gestures of protestation, recalling the vehement 
dignity of the Biblical patriarchs, are not those of a 
chief swearing fidelity or hatred ; all the chiefs I 
have seen are very fat, and scarcely move even 
their arms. They are merely the gestures of 
some Weled-Sidi-Atallah, who offers to sell you a 
lean sheep, or of some beggar who hopes to get 
zilg- snrdi (a couple of sous) out of you. 

" 1 have been chatting with some experienced 
travellers from the Southern States, and what they 
tell me astonishes me greatly. We also questioned 
some of the people in the tents, nomad Hajajeh, or 
Maam'ra, of the great Larbaa tribe, and my illusions 
were dispelled one after the other. The love of the 
Arab of the Desert for his horse, for instance ? — A 
mere fiction. He rates his beast according to its 
marketable value, or according to the use it is to him; 
but he never caresses it, never speaks to it, any more 
than he speaks to the rocks of the Shebka. There 
are, moreover, I am assured, very few horses in the 
Sahara. And when I reach the south-east, or the 
south, they will disappear altogether, and the classic 
vision of a musket pointed from above a flowing 
mane, behind which regally floats a huge burnous, 
will become ever rarer and rarer. The musket itself? 



The beautiful bronzed weapon of romance is also all 
but a fiction. The nomad, it is true, never parts 
from his musket, and carries it slung awkwardly 
across his shoulders all day long — for all I know to 
the contrary, all night, too — but he takes very good 
care not to clean it. He mends it sometimes with 

bits of old European meat or biscuit tins. If he 
should fire it, the weapon would most likely fly 
to pieces in his hands. But could not his women 
look after it for him, and rub it up sometimes ? 
His women ? The plural is quite out of place in 
this case, for, with rare exceptions, our nomad only 
has one wife — at a time, at least, for he often 
changes her. Polygamy is the luxury of the Caid, 


just as are the beautiful horse and the good musket. 
Even the Caids, however, are often content with the 
two last-named indulgences. 

" Only one legitimate wife ! Just like some 
peasant of the Canadian La Beauce or Sainte Marie, 
or some worthy burgher of Nuremberg. It really 
seems incredible. 

" And how about concubines ? 

" The nomad has none, never has any, and it is 
rare for the sedentary Arab to indulge in such 
luxuries either. One wife is all he has as a rule." 

" DakJila : — The Agha Djellul - ben - el - Hadj - 
Lakhdar (son of the old chief Bach - Agha, who 
rules over all the tribes as far as Wargla) expresses 
to the best of his ability the astonishment aroused 
in his mind by our ideas about the women of his 
country. About his own wife, of course, he says 
never a word, to do so would be a great breach of 
etiquette. But about those of others the Mussul- 
man code of good manners allows him to speak 
in a general way ; and this is the upshot of what 
he tells me, another blow to my ideas on the 
subject of the customs of the nomads. 

" Firstly : the Arab woman of the Sahara is 
comparatively very happy. 

" Secondly : she is not shut up. 

"Thirdly : she never has to work hard, and she 
is never ill-treated, still less beaten, except in cases 


of unfaithfulness to her husband when she has 
been taken in the act. 

" Fourthly : she has only too much influence over 
her husband, and he has only too little influence 
over her. As for her grown-up sons, to quote 
the actual words of my informant, the mother makes 
them marcher kif-kif sozis la inatraqzie and is sur 
leur tete et sitr lezirs yezcx, which probably meant 
that she has them completely under her thumb. 

" Hum ! Hum ! I coughed politely. The good 
Agha seemed such a very worthy fellow. But I 
made up my mind to verify his assertions by every 
means in my power, for they were so very upsetting, 
confusing and revolutionary. If I once admitted 
that what he said was true, what would become 
of the precise and clear ideas imprinted on my 
brain by the writings of my predecessors } " 

I have quoted these notes verbatim, because they 
turned out to be absolutely borne out by facts, 
and are a revelation of the states of mind I had 
to pass through. I had arrived in the Sahara 
full of good intentions, meaning to observe 
accurately, and well stocked with information ! 
I thought I knew something about the geography, 
the history, the religion, and the social organization 
of the people. I had tried to learn a little of the 
languages, I had studied old books in Arabic, Latin, 
and Greek. I had even inspected certain celebrated 



papyri, such as those in the Rainer collection at 
Vienna. But, in spite of all that, I knew absolutely 
nothing of the Life of the desolate country which I 
felt it was to be my ,fate some day to love — nothing, 
nothing whatever ; and, unfortunately, many of 
those who have lived in it know no more than 
I did. 

Now, however, brought into direct touch with 

reality, my opinions, hitherto influenced by Roman- 
esque tradition, were altogether upset. It was all 
the better, too, for the poetry of convention is never 
equal to that of actual facts, when looked at face to 
face in the full, true light of day. 

I now went, every morning and every afternoon, 
into the streets and alleys to hunt out curious types. 
I met women packed up in their veils, followed 
them, and when they went into their low houses 


with the tortuous entrance passages, I went in after 
them without invitation. A pause would then 
ensue, during which they gazed at me with unveiled 
faces, either hostilely or with looks of surprise, and 
I noted everything about them, including the 
wretched holes, dark and bare, dignified by the 
name of rooms, opening from the narrow court. All 
the looms for weavino- as well as the cooking^ 
Utensils are kept outside ; and at the end of a kind 
of den, from which all air is excluded, are the piles 
of worn stones constituting the hearth, from which 
issues an acrid reddish smoke. Everything is shewn 
to me, and even explained, but at the same time 
there remains a wall of defiance between the women 
and myself, a wall I found it indeed difficult to 
break through. The farther I went, whether in the 
gardens of the oasis or towards the rocks at the foot 
o{ the fort, where the nomads pitch their camps, 
and the tent more and more constantly replaced 
\}\^g2i7'bi or house, the greater did this reserve seem 
to grow, till it almost deepened into hostility. 

My aim was not yet attained. It is true I could 
see the stuffs in which the women draped them- 
selves, such as the variegated inaliffa rolled about 
the body, kept in place on the shoulders by two 
long silver pins called richetts ; the white oiigaya 
which falls from the headdress, fastened above the 
breasts with a carved ni zima ; and the red, green, 
or blue silk inaharuia draped about their hair ; the 



bracelets on their slender arms and the khalkhats 
on their thin ankles. But their souls were abso- 
lutely closed to me. I could not read their very 
simplest thoughts or /understand their most ordinary 

Rather discouraged by the ill-success of my 
efforts, I made up for their failure by interest- 
ing myself in the various occupations of the men, 
who work at their forges, and do their polish- 
ing, carving, embroidering, and sewing in public. 
I made a great many delightful acquaintances 
amongst the makers of Turkish slippers, wool 
carders, leather cutters, etc., and I became quite 
at home amono-st the date merchants and sellers 
of beans and onions. I had long conversations 
with the big-wigs, or, as they are locally called, the 
big caboitsses of the neighbourhood, who used to 
stroll about in the sunshine in all the majesty of 
their ha'iks or lono- cloaks. And throuoh this 

o o 

quite a new feminine world opened out before 

In Europe it is through the women that one gets 
to understand the men a little, and to gain some 
idea of the working of their minds, with the motives 
of their actions ; the mother, .the wife, the mistress 
are the chief sources of information. In Southern 
Algeria, or the Sahara, it was, thanks to the Arab 
and Berber men, that I got to know anything about 
the women. It was the masculine o-ood-will which 


won for me the admission to the home life or heiirm 
(the harem as we call it), and secured for me a 
welcome there. This became more and more the 
case the farther I went from civilized districts, but 
at the very beginning of my travels it was evident 
enough that the men must be first conciliated. In 
the eyes of the notables and of the merchants I 
was a taleba, or a femme savante, a sort of hybrid 
between a doctor and a public writer ; one who 
could concoct grievances or grant favours ; in fact, 
an influential deputy, able to secure showers of 
decorations and appointments. The benevolent 
protection accorded to me by the military autho- 
rities gave support to these ideas. Hence the 
desire of many to oblige me, and of the more 
disinterested hopes of others that they should see 
me set right the mistakes of my predecessors 
amongst the rilmis,^ as they call all foreigners. 
Many poured out their own pet theories to me, but 
at the same time they gave me a chance to verify 
them. " You will see things as they really are," 
they would say, " you will recognize how much 
better they are here than in France." 

To use the popular and very expressive saying, 
I was free to take it or leave it, and I probably did 
get a lot of information from these men with 
hobbies that I could never have gained alone. And 
if the receptions which ensued, and at which the 

'-* The oriijinal meanintr of the word Rihni is Roman. — Trans. 


women evidently had orders to be amiable at any 
cost, seemed to me unnatural, forced, and artificial, 
I was generally able by going to the same home 
again and again to get into something like rappoi't 
with my hostesses. The confidence of a woman 
of the Sahara really begins exactly when she leaves 
off trying to please you and treats you as an 
unimportant person. She is then perfectly un- 

ceremonious and goes on with her usual occupa- 
tions, or she chatters with her friends, your presence 
affecting her no more than that of a piece of 
furniture, until she suddenly remembers you and 
worries you with offers of caonah, or coffee, chokes 
you with sweets, inundates you with rancid per- 
fumes, and overwhelms you with caresses, exclaim- 
ing : "You are my friend, you are my sister; my 
house and all that It contains are yours, and so is 


the life of my children, or my own life if you want 
it." And she gazes at you with her great deep 
eyes, and you feel as if you were watching a soul 
awakening from a sleep of long - past centuries. 
The soft orbs seem to be literally melting with 
passionate affection, a violent intermittent tender- 
ness, lasting a few minutes only, but almost sincere 
at the moment of expression. At last, however, 
it is over ; the fire goes out, the coffee gets cold, 
friendship folds her wings once more, and all this 
love changes at need into hatred, or sullen hostility, 
the unconscious reaction of over-strained nerves 
after oreat excitement. 



One day chance led me to a corner of an oasis 
occupied by the Aulad-Ziane nomads. The crum- 
bling walls of their huts of dried mud rose along 
a grey lane of the colour of the desert, and the 
low doors of their homes admitted only the 
initiated, that is to say, the husband and a negro 
gardener ; for amongst the Arabs, a negro is looked 
upon as of no account — he is just a slave, a kind 
of domestic servant. 

The nomads of the desert often have within 
what is called their kasr, or fortified village, a 
magazine or a garden, sometimes both ; the former 
serving as a shelter for the grain stored up for 
food or barter, whilst the latter is the camping 
ground, and the dates grown on the trees in it 
are carried away with them when the wanderers 
move on, either for their own consumption or to 
be sold. 

When I knocked at the low door of one of the 
little huts of the Aulad-Ziane settlement I had not 



yet obtained all the diplomatic privileges I described 
just now, so that the man who appeared in answer 
to my summons greeted me with no titles of honour, 
nor did he take me for a doctor. To him, too, 
however, I was a Rumiya, or a foreigner, a 
traveller who had been saluted by the spahis of 

the Arab authorities ! It was easy to see from 
the way in which he turned the clumsy wooden 
key, several inches long, in the primitive lock of 
his door, that he felt a certain deference for me, 
mingled with annoyance at my appearance. For 
these Saharian husbands are always jealous of any 
intrusion into their homes ; they are afraid of 
imprudent actions being suggested to their wives, 


or of ideas about the emancipation of women being 
put into their heads. 

So he said to .me laconically, as he stretched 
his arm out towards a group invisible to me : 
• " The women are down there." 
.' But where might " down there " be '^ 

I saw some square patches of garden, planted 
alternately with carrots and green barley, from 
which rose the hot perfume of tropical vegetation, 
with here and there groups of white fig-trees now 
shedding their autumn leaves ; the whole scene 
bathed in the tender charm of the evening light. 
And behind the rioid rows of the stiff and 
symmetrical palm trees — all too stiff and sym- 
metrical for beauty — the broiling sun was blazing, 
before it should suddenly disappear, as it always 
does, in this land where twilight is unknown. 
Divine hour, not exactly of peace, but of calm and 
sadness ;. instinct with the impression of nothingness 
which succeeds the brilliant tragedy of the day. 

" The women are down there," repeated the man 
who had opened the door, and he now led the way 
to them. My guide was the style of man admired 
by the fair in the glorious days of what they 
themselves call the fantasi'ya, one of those who 
surround themselves perpetually with a cloud of 
white smoke, like the aureole of noble victors in 
a fight. Suddenly, however, he effaced himself, 
and I came in sio-ht of the women behind an old 




and leafless pomegranate tree. Poor women they 
were, belonging to a poor family and wearing shabby 
clothes. One of therri, the wife, was young and, 
though slim and much sunburnt from living in 
the desert, was really quite pretty ; the other — the 
mother, not of the wife but of the husband — was 

a regular wreck, wrinkled and ugly, perfectly 
dried-up, so to speak. They had left their woollen 
tent, which was pitched close by, for a wretched 
little hovel made of bricks of dried earth, about 
three feet wide by nine feet long, with no door 
that would shut ; but the possession of which gave 
them the proud consciousness, or rather illusion,, 
of living in a house like the sedentary tribes. 


" M'sell KJicr Alikonvi /" said I, but they took 
no notice of my greeting, which I stammered 
out in their refractory language. They remained 
silent, apparently stupefied, and it was not until 
the man said something to them that they managed 
to reply : 

''M'sell K/ierf' 

The old woman was plying a distaff, whilst the 
young one was rocking a cradle, a little bassjir 
as she herself would have called it, made of inter- 
laced branches ; a nest without any bottom or sides, 
or comforts of any kind, just a support in fact, 
hung from the low roof on a rope of twisted grass. 
On this, completely hidden beneath a folded carpet, 
slept the baby. There was absolutely nothing else 
in this " town house " but this serial bed, the 
saucepan for the iiie^^ga, and two wretched old rugs 
or f^^dchias to be used as coverings during the 
night, now fast approaching. 

I could not draw out these women in any other 
way than by going through the everlasting dialogue 
with which every conversation begins here. 

" How are you .'^ " 

" Quite well. And you ? " 

" Quite well." 

"And your family ?" 

" Quite well." 

" And all those belonging to you ? '" 

" Quite well." 


" What is your name ? " 

" Mesauda." 

" How old are you j* " 

" I do not know. Allah knows." 

" How many children have you ? " 

" One, there it is." 

" Is it a boy ? " 

" Yes." 

" What is his name ? " 

" The name of his fathers." 

" How old is he } " 

" Allah knows." 

As the reader will perceive, there is not much 
to be found out by this kind of conversation, and 
I must add that any attempt to photograph any 
of the women here was hopeless. They begin to 
howl and veil their faces directly they suspect 
anything of the kind, and nothing but stratagem 
is ever any good. 

However, I don't think I had ever yet been 
so much impressed by a visit as I was on this 
occasion. I don't quite understand how it was, 
unless it was the harmony of the scene and the 
time of day, or perhaps the cosiness of the very 
small family in such a very small compass. 

Somehow, during the visits I paid the next day, 
the scene kept recurring to me, as it were, in spite 
of myself, and I saw again the shut-in garden, from 
which arose the perfume of vegetation, steeping 


in its somewhat acrid emanations, tent and house 
alike of my nomad friends. Poor they were, but 
not miserable ; simple but not savage ; primitive, 
no doubt, but with all the sensitiveness and 
reserve characteristic of the highest civilization. 

Were they at all in sympathy with me ? No, not 
in the least. Widely separated races never can be 
in sympathy with each other in any true sense of 
the word. And for this particular race which 
cringes, steals, sulks and shuffles, cheating and 
deceiving us on every possible opportunity, we 
feel a latent contempt, such as conquerors feel for 
the conquered. 


Why then should this group have constantly 
recurred to my memory ? The man with his 
dignified gestures, the child invisible in his little 
cradle, the venerable, Sybil-like old woman, almost 
sculpturesque in her immobility, and the beautiful 
young wife, tall and straight, refined and delicate, 
turning towards me with her finely-chiselled lips 
half parted by a smile, and her dark eyes limpid 
with an unfathomable expression. 

I know now why I cannot get them out of my 
mind. It is because they represent to me my idea 
of the Beautiful. 

Beauty, that many-sided and most fickle Sphinx, 
had so far not occupied my thoughts much on this 
journey, for too many novelties had enchained my 
attention. For all that. Beauty emanates from 
everything which lives, which breathes, or sighs. 
But we call this beauty quaintness when it clashes 
with our preconceived notions, ugliness when it 
shocks our prejudices, and we only give it its true 
name when it harmonizes with the ideal in our own 
minds, or the yet more hackneyed one with which 
our brains have been saturated by our education, 
our complicated civilization, our art and our respect 
for what other people think. 

Beauty to us is that which appeals to our instincts 
and our prejudices. It is alike the incense which 
enervates us, the pungent flavour which arouses us. 
There are then as many kinds of beauty as there 


are races, and, moreover, in every race as many 
kinds again as there are individuals. Peter's 
judgment is not the same as Paul's, nor is Paul's 
the same as Peter's, Everyone has different 
tendencies and feelings both with regard to details 
and to things as a whole. How can everyone then 
be made to agree ? How can all these different 
opinions be brought into harmony 'i A gigantic 
task and no mistake ! So I shall just content 
myself with saying that a colour, or a melody, or 
some charming attitude is beautiful, that is to say, 
it appears beautiful to me as a Rumiya, or to an 
Arab, as the case may be. And I can only hope 
the reader will not cavil at my conclusions, either 
because they are too entirely or not sufficiently 
my own ; I will endeavour at least that they shall 
be sincere. 

And yet, perhaps, there are certain scenes, certain 
lights, certain eyes, which so nearly approach the 
sublime that every human creature who gazes on 
them cannot fail to admire them, or realize that he 
is wrong if he cannot do so. I think this was 
the case on that autumn evening, with the deep, 
pathetic yearning eyes of my young nomad woman, 
the golden beams of the setting sun as it kissed 
the sand, the boundless infinity of the back- 
ground beyond the white and leafless fig-trees and 
the too rigid and monotonous branches of the great 
Saharian palms. 



But, after all, can vve honestly say that the Arab 
women of the Southern Sahara, not to speak as yet 
of the Berbers, are ' beautiful from the European 
point of view, which I suppose is primarily that 
of the Greeks and Romans, and secondarily that 
of Sir Edward Burne-Jones ? 

Yes, and no. 

In every kasr or fortified village, in every tribe, 
in every dazuar* or group of tents, there are certain 
very pretty women, but they are quite the excep- 
tion, and those who are considered ugly certainly 
fully merit the expression. 

As for those who hit the happy medium between 
these two extremes, they may be looked upon as 
typical ; they are better looking than their sisters 
in the country and in the small towns of France, 
if we compare those of fifteen years old with French 
girls of from eighteen to twenty. 

Now what are the physical defects of these 
typical women ? Scarcity of hair for one thing, 
which they make up for by naive imitations 
concocted out of the long hairs of camels' tails, or 

* The dawar consists of a group of tents, which are removed at the 
same time under the direction of a Kcbir or ancient. A collection 
of dawars of the same origin forms the tribe, commanded by a Caid. 
The tribes in their turn are grouped under an Agha^ and great 
confederations such as that of the Larbaa under a Bach-Agha. In 
some cases the place of Agha or chief of several tribes is taken by a 
Caid of Ca'ids. These groups and titles are in use in the Southern 
Sahara only, they are slightly different in Northern Algeria. 


of coarse dyed wool, A plentiful crop of hair is 
rare, and is much coveted, so everyone tries to 
seem to have immense quantities framing the 
whole face, and strong enough to bear the weight 
of heavy rings. 

Another fault in the faces of the Arab women 
is that their jaws are too heavy, and the lower one 
is too prominent, but this imperfection, so marked 
amongst the tribes of the Northern Sahara and 
of the mountains beyond, notably the Aulad-Nail, 
is much less marked in the people of the Southern 
districts, and the Shaanba women are not affected 
by it. However, the Arabs themselves think quite 
differently from us on the subject ; they like the 
aggressive chin, probably for what it suggests to 
them, and for this reason they consider a Ouled-Nail 
beauty more attractive than a Shaanbiya. Very 
seldom indeed did a native point out "a very 
beautiful woman " to me, who was not in my eyes 
afflicted with the disfiguring jaw. 

Another less repulsive defect is that the hips 
and the legs are often too thin, but the busts are 
always full and finely moulded, a distinctive beauty 
of the Arab race, contrasting greatly with the 
shrunken breasts of the women of the Coast 
districts and those of the Turkish harems. Here 
the young women have bosoms as beautiful as 
those of Greek torsi of the third period ; their arms 
are exquisitely formed, their necks finely curved, 


and they pose naturally in the most graceful and 
dignified attitudes. \ Even when their rare fits of 
anger break their ordinary calm, they are still 
charming. When lying at full length on the damp 
slabs of the vapour bath she delights in, an Arab 

woman of the Southern districts looks like a statue 
of fawn-coloured marble, chaste yet strangely self- 
willed, a sort of triple hermaphrodite, if I may coin 
such a name, for the upper part of her body is that 
of a true woman in her freshest bloom, whilst the 
torso resembles that of a European girl of thirteen, 


and the thighs, the knees, legs, and feet, those of 
a youth, such as the well-known Greek boy ex- 
tracting a thorn from his foot. 

Her feet are pretty enough, however, prettier 
than her hands. Her face is long, and her cheeks 
are rather flat. Her forehead, tattooed with a little 
design in blue, is broad and smooth, her nose is 
finely modelled and her lips are mobile, but her 
eyes make you forget all her other features, so 
fascinatingly soft are they, so seductive in their 
expression, their brightness enhanced by the use 
of kohl. Such eyes would redeem faces with no 
other charm, and they make up for the excessive 
use of vermilion, henna, and saffron, the piles of 
clothing and stuffs with which the figure is disguised, 
and the various odours emitted from them, in 
which musk and what they call krounfell pre- 

The freer the race is from Berber taint the 
browner is the complexion, and the brown varies 
in depth of colour according to worldly position ; 
the wealthy, and therefore idle, families of the 
sedentary tribes having clear skins of a brownish 
ivory colour, whilst the poor nomads, who are 
exposed to the heat of the sun and the sultry 
wind of the desert, are very much tanned. The 
pink and white complexions, which are of pretty 
frequent occurrence amongst the Arabs, betray the 
admixture of another strain of blood of some 


avowed or clandestine union of ancestors. The 
true unmixed Arab face is still that of Arabia, and 
of those fair dwellers in the Gardens of the Blest 
who, according to Mohammed, are to reward the just 
who on this earth keep to the paths of righteousness. 

" The faithful," says the prophet, " shall have 
given to them virgins with large black eyes, 
whose complexions will be of the colour of the 
carefully hidden eggs of the ostrich." (Koran : 
Surah xxxvii. 47.) " They shall have beauties who 
will gaze at them tenderly with eyes of the colour of 
the pearls in a necklace." (Koran : Surah Ixi. 22.) 

And in the Song of Songs, in which Solomon 
lovingly describes the charms of the Shulamite, 
the picture is completed of a type still to be met 
with here and there shrouded beneath the veils 
which no male Rvniis, as the Arabs call all 
foreigners, has the right to lift. 

" Thy teeth," says Solomon in this wonderful 
love-song, " are like a flock of sheep that are even 
shorn, which come up from the washing 
thy lips are like a thread of scarlet and thy speech 
is comely ; thy temples are like a piece of a 
pomegranate within thy locks .... Thy 
two breasts are like two young roes that are 
twins which feed among the lilies .... Thy 
lips drop as the honey-comb ; honey and milk are 
under thy tongue and the smell of thy garments 
is like the smell of Lebanon." 



A rhapsody forming, indeed, a fitting reply to 
the impassioned appeal of the beloved one to the 
lover, in which she exclaims : " Let him kiss me 
with the kisses of his mouth : for thy love is better 
than wine ; because of the savour of thy good 
ointments thy name is as an ointment poured forth, 
therefore do the virgins love thee." 

Alas ! the seductive charm of the Arab woman 
fades all too soon. The beautiful, graceful, but 
half-washed little Arab girl is like the buds of a 
magnolia soiled by the dust of the streets. Time 
slips quickly past, coquetry awakens, the sap flows 
quickly in the veins, and then comes the opening 
flower, quickly burnt up by the sun, so that it 
is faded almost before it has really lived. 


I have seen two or three well-preserved women 
who were still beautiful at thirty, but they were 
quite the exception, and in generalizing the ex- 
ceptions must be ignored. Poor, poor withered 
flowers ! The only consolation they have for their 
early decay is, amongst the great ladies of the big 
tents, to hide its ravages by paint, and, amongst 
their poorer sisters, to meet their lot with resigna- 
tion. But what is to make up to us foreigners 
for all the wrinkled faces and prematurely decrepit 
figures we see in the desert ? This : the beauty 
of that desert is not all concentrated in its women ; 
and the woman of the desert, to be in harmony 
with the spirit of its wide solitudes, has need 
of nothing but her own natural gestures, quite 
apart from what is strictly called beauty. 




I HAVE now to write the most difficult chapter of 
my book, which may possibly get me into disgrace 
with certain husbands in Southern Algeria and the 

For the fact is, even those who do not read a 
word of our language know everything which is 
written about them or their wives or their country. 
It is, alas ! quite impossible for an author to hide 
his or her light under a bushel ! Everything is 
known in the land of sun and sand — everything, 
absolutely everything — which is said or written or 
even hinted about the Southern districts, or the 
Desert. News, however trifling or insignificant, 
is spread abroad in mysterious ways, added to, 
transformed, and hushed up according to fancy. It 
travels from kasr to dawar, from dawar to caravan, 
to the great sand hills of Ergesh on the west, to 
Air or Asben in the south, to In-Salah in the oases 
of Tuat, to Timbuktu, to the Egyptian Sudan, and 
comes back again, sometimes by sea and sometimes 


by land, to make) what may perhaps be aptly called 
a second walking newspaper tour ; only by this time 
the original items of intelligence are so exaggerated 
and so disfigured, that the mediums of their 
transmission do not recognize them. 

Unfortunately, however, the second incognito 
tour takes place before the first. Moreover, my 
earnest desire to hurt nobody's feelings, above all 
not to wound those who have welcomed and helped 
me, is very hampering. I hesitate. Shall I or 
shall I not express my opinion ? In the end I 
reply to my own question : " Truth is one and 
indivisible, to hold my peace would be treason 
to her." 

I feel bound, in fact, if I am to give any true 
picture of the life of the Saharian women, to touch 
on the delicate question of their code of morals. 
People know only too well what that of the men is, 
whether they be Arabs or Berbers. But how about 
the women ? — I mean the wives or future wives, 
ignoring those who omit the ceremony of marriage 

Now, it seems to me, though it is a hard thing 
to say, that the women have no code of morals 
properly so called, for they are more like the 
gazelles and the cats to which I likened them above, 
than to responsible human beings. No one would 
talk of the morals of a pet gazelle or cat, shut 
up from all possible communion with its fellow- 


creatures, and that is really what the Arab and 
Berber women are supposed to be by the men 
to whom they belong. They cannot get out, so 
where is the merit of their stopping in ? But it so 
happens that, in spite of all the locks and keys, 
they do get out sometimes, purely, be it explained, 
for the fun of the thing, rather than for any evil 
purpose. And, alas that it should be said ! there 
is always some evil-minded go-between, generally 
an old woman, ready to turn indiscretion into real 
mischief The husband makes fast the outer door 
with heavy bolts and strews sand outside it, that 
any trespassing footprints may remain as witness 
against intruders, but it is quite easy to get out by 
the terrace at the back, which is connected with the 
low wall above the narrow street. The go-between 
gets admission on some pretext, such as having 
fresh sweetmeats to sell, or she comes to beg alms, 
and when the master is safely away at the Moorish 
cafe, listening to the local gossip, or amusing 
himself in a less innocent way, the whole thing is 
easily enough arranged. The next morning, the 
master of the house will examine the sand on the 
threshold, and say to himself: " There is old Bielle 
the negro's footprint, and that was left by the nurse, 
and there is my own, but, Allah be praised, little 
Zorah's is not there ! " Poor deluded fellow ! his 
little Zorah jumped down like a cat from the wall 
at the back into the street as soon as her gaoler's 



back was turiled, and you saw nothing, heard 
nothing, knew nothing, or if you had any suspicions 
you kept them to yourself, for fear of ridicule or 
from an unacknowledged dread of some malignant 
jinn or evil spirit having been at work. 

In the dawar of the nomad tribes intrigues are 
alike more easily arranged and more romantic 
than in the towns. They are carried on between 

children of the same soil and of the same race, 
and there is about them something of the fierce 
passion characteristic of primitive manners. When 
the shades of night are just beginning to yield to 
the sweet influences of the tremulous dawn, at that 
witching moment when a glamour is thrown over 
everything, a corner of the tent is stealthily raised, 
and the lover, with bated breath and hushed foot- 
steps, glides into the very arms of the adored one. 



But beware, ye foolish ones ! Be not too sure that 
the jealous husband is not on the watch ; for if 
he is he may kill you both, or if he does not go 
so far as that he will certainly accuse him who has 
"robbed his tent " before the Cadi, and try to salve 
the wounds to his honour by extorting a good 
many dollars from the offender, so that the hour 

which began with kisses may very possibly end 
in tears. 

This kind of thing goes on in the town, the kasr, 
or beneath the burning open sky, with a simplicity, 
a naivetd, which is almost innocent, it is so utterly 
natural and unsophisticated. The fact is. It is not 
fair to judge these children of the desert by our own 
European standard, they are of a type so utterly 
different to any with which we are familiar. The 


sensuality is physical only, it does not affect the 
soul in the least. Highly nervous, impulsive and 
passionate, with but little intellect, the women of 
the Sahara are not depraved and their lapses from 
the straight path do not leave any real stain upon 
them. Old women quite forget the slips of their 
youth ; they were to them so natural, so entirely 
a matter of course, that they do not see any 
inconsistency in preaching to young girls on the 
subject of modesty, and over their own past a 
kind of delicate veil is thrown, which takes the 
place of the chastity on which they never set any 
real value. 

Of course, I did not find all this out at first. The 
remarks I have just made are the result of long 
study on the spot, and I need not dwell more on 
a painful subject, only I want my readers to bear 
what I have said in mind and to remember the 
significant native proverb : 

" Virtue will flourish amongst us when salt 
germinates and coal puts forth sprouts." 





Whilst I was still at El-Aghuat I began to be 
troubled with conscientious scruples, lest I should 
be seeing things too much from the European point 
of view, or note only such manners and customs as 
have been modified by French influence. I therefore 
determined to carry out my original project : to go 
forth across the limitless plains and seek for sure 
information beneath the vast dome of heaven and 
in the distant tent of the wandering Arab. 

Now back again, after many wanderings and many 
a halt, I do homage to El-Aghuat as an admirable 
centre ot exact information for those who know how 
to get at it. It is indeed the Paris of the Sahara, 
the Capital dreamt of and longed for by the sokhrar, 
or camel driver, as he plods along beside his clumsy- 
looking animals in their slow and leisurely progress 
across the sands. As the sokhrars keep vigil 
beneath the stars, they talk together in enthusiastic 
terms of the beautiful dancers and the brilliant cafes 
of El-Aghuat, where on the earthen floor in the low 



narrow rooms the luxury of a mat can be obtained, 
and the primitive earthenware stove is adorned by 
a magnificent coffee-pot which cost no less than 
thirty-five sous. Yes, it is just that, the life of the 
people is concentrated in the capital, and, however 
modified by distance, that capital is held in loving 
memory by them wherever they may be. 

I remember many exciting adventures I had in 
my wanderings whilst I was at El-Aghuat. The 
mornings were delightful, and I had to make the 
most of them, for the broiling heat of noon came all 
too quickly. How golden was the light, how 
pearl-like the sky, in those fair early hours when 
the spices in the market seemed redder, gleaming 
like splashes of blood ; when even the poor weary 
camels, resting near their discharged loads of tellis, 
or strong striped bags made of the fibres of alfa, 
looked poetic, the sunshine touching their coarse hair 
with glory and bathing them and the wretched 
objects about them in a kind of peaceful joy, of 
which they themselves were probably quite 

The markets in the Sahara are not in the least like 
those held in France, or even like the gay, many- 
coloured displays of Spain, and of countries under 
Turkish domination. If it were not for a few 
emerald-coloured children's robas, as they call frocks, 
the green note so effective in markets would be 
altogether wanting. The market consists chiefiy 


of a few radishes and onions, wretched-looking 
vegetables, wrung as it were from the dry soil, with 
here and there equally wretched little bunches of 
corn or of barley. I saw three bits of dry wood, 
about which quite an eager crowd of speculators 
had gathered, and a yet more keen competition was 
going on round a donkey and two sheep. The fate 
of a whole family — babies in arms and little toddlers, 
old grandmothers and camels — hung upon the result, 
the sum at issue being quite an insignificant one. 
Only the young women were absent, for they never 
appear in public here. Even those who go about 
freely in the dawar, where the custom of the veil 
has not yet been introduced, would not dare to 
show themselves in the town. 

Even after all the bargaining the decision of the 
buyer must be patiently waited for, and there is 
always a long break between the tumult and ex- 
citement of the morning and what may be called 
the Petite Boiwse of the evening. Nothing to do 
all the weary hours but to wait, wait, wait, drinking 
a few cups of caoua/i, or coffee, and invoking the 
Holy Prophet — May Allah preserve him. Amen ! 

All along the ramparts of the north similar 
scenes, slightly varied according to locality, are to 
be witnessed. A lover of paradox might indeed 
assert, without much exaggeration, that the nomad 
of the desert can be better studied in the market 
of El-Aghuat than in his own dawar, at all events 



unless a long stay can be made in that dawar. For 
when he is " at home," the man of the desert 
is either asleep, away at the chase, or taking his 
animals out in search of pasture. The old woman 
meanwhile, when " at home," is busy over the 
various avocations which appear to us so puerile. 
Whereas in the market, camped upon the hot 
ground, beneath the shadow of the walls or under 

the swaying branches of the lofty palm trees, the 
simple-hearted folk are seen to very much greater 
advantage. Intense curiosity, which, however, 
they dissemble as much as possible, rouses them, 
for a time at least, out of their mental apathy and 
sets free their souls. There they rest in idleness, 
divine idleness, as sweet as honey — el kessel kif 
I'assel — from their dreary marches and arduous 


But now the time changes, so does the scene 
and its setting, and all along the southern ramparts 
I wander unweariedly beneath the rays of the 
setting sun. Here there is water, precious water 
from the subterranean wady. There are women 
prattling and children laughing together. One 
washing-place succeeds another, long narrow basins 
level with the soil, frequented by washerwomen in 
bright garments picturesquely tucked up, who beat, 
soap and wring out the red maliffas or the blue 
veils, gaily dipping in the running water their 
khalkJials, or heavy flat or rounded silver anklets 
and their golden bracelets, of both of which they 
often wear a great number. 

This was my first and I may also say my chief 
school in what I shall call agricultural familiarity. 
For although in theory young women do not go 
to the washing-places any more than they do to 
other public places, it is only the newly-married 
wives, who have kept house but for a few months, 
or at the most a few years, who really keep away. 
There may be seen timid-looking young girls, big 
girls of marriageable age, such as are generally 
shut up at home, women still fresh and attractive, 
who are met with nowhere else except on the great 
occasion of a wedding. Very charming it all is, 
too, as they greet each other, chat together, joke 
and tease each other in their clear ringing voices : 
" Ya Fatma i " " Ya Mabruka ! " they cry, 


pushing each other about good-humouredly and 
splashing each other in fun. A pin falls out, a 
neckerchief slips down, a tress of hair is uncovered ; 
but if a man happens to pass, especially a Rtuni, 
the veils are all quickly closed, the twittering in the 
aviary stops all at once. What a pity ! but never 
mind, just wait a minute ; when the intruder is out 
of sight the warbling will begin again, and will be 
all the more eager to make up for the tiresome 
interruption. These chattering birds have claws 
and sharp beaks. 

I approach in my turn. 

" May thy day be a happy one, oh Rumiya ! " 

" May all blessing be upon thee." 

" How art thou ? " 

" Well." 

"And thy family } " 


" And all belonging to thee ?" 


And so on. 

This is how the Arab women always address me. 
I am to them the Rumiya, or foreign lady, who 
interests them so much and whom they adore, or 
at least protest to me that they do. 

I press their wet hands and help an old lady to 
readjust upon her bald head a big turban which 
has got out of place, through its owner's too 
vigorous gestures. 




"May Allah reward thee, oh Rumiya! 
He increase thy wealth ! " 

And so on, patiti, patita ! 

As I said before, they are like twittering birds. 
Of course they belong to quite the lower classes ; 
a grand lady would never demean herself by going 

to the washinpf-basins with their floatino; masses of 
frothy soap-suds. 

" Tell me, oh Rumiya ! Do they wash linen 
in thy country ? " asks one of the women, who 
evidently has her doubts on the subject of French 
cleanliness. Exclamations and questions are now 
poured out, and my usual companion, little Milud- 
ben-Ch'tiui, whose name will often recur in these 
pages, is overwhelmed with enquiries. 

" Oh, Milud, can thy mistress, the Rumiya, 
spin wool ? " 


" Oh, Milud, why does she wear no jewels ? " 

This not wearing ornaments astonishes them 
more than anything. They have quite made up 
their minds that I am rich, for I travel about without 
being obliged, and some one saw a five-franc piece 
in my purse the other day, so rich I undoubtedly 
am. But to be rich and sport neither bracelets, 
finger nor ear-rings, when they — though they are 
only women of the people — never take theirs off, 
is altogether beyond their comprehension. 

" My jewels, thou must understand, are a part 
of me!" they declare, adding: "We do not take 
our ornaments off, because we must enjoy them 
now, in this passing hour, for they will be nothing 
to us when we are dead." 

" I have seen thee before, oh Rumiya," says 
one, " I saw thee at the house of this one or 

" Perhaps thou didst. If thou wilt, I will go 
to thy house to-morrow." 

But I get no answer to this insinuating sugges- 
tion. They all hope I shall come near enough 
to them for them to touch my clothes, but they 
are frightened at the idea of my actually going to 
see them. I shall go, however, but not just yet 
awhile, so as not to alarm them too much. Then 
I begin to talk about something else, and watch 
them beating the linen with the big club of palm- 
wood they use for the purpose. 



" Fare thee well, oh Rumiya ! ' they all say 
as I turn away, but before I left the young girls 
had all disappeared, because they had seen some 
soldiers strolling towards the gate of the town ; 
and now there were only the poor old grandmothers 
with their dyed hair, and the little children with 
their solemn faces, who were pummelling each other 
with their hsts as they squatted in the huge gtiecas, 
as the big dishes are called, made of a single piece 
of wood cut horizontally from some tree of great 
diameter, which are used for making the rissoles 
of meat and flour called koiiskous by the Arabs, as 
well as for carrying the washing, the domestic 
utensils being of the simplest, consisting merely 
in fact of a bowl such as this, a sieve for straininof 
the alfa, and one saucepan. I must not forget to 
add that besides the Arab women there were a 
good many negresses at the washing-place, some 
hired from the country, others the wives of 
gardeners, or the servants of the well-to-do, many 
of them formerly slaves, accidentally liberated for 
one reason or another. 

I tore myself away at last and went further on 
to similar washing-places, where I found everything 
as bright and the women as playful and kitten-like 
as they had been in the scene I had just quitted. 
The limpid water, the ornaments of silver or of 
gold, the bead necklaces, the dark eyes and the 
white teeth ; all alike shone, gleamed, and sparkled 


in the hot oblique evening rays, whilst the colours 
of the robes in which the supple figures of the 
daughters of the Desert were draped, and of the 
garments spread out to dry on the burning sand, 
deep violet or vivid green and yellow, simply 
vibrated in the vivid light. 

Shall I be accused of preferring the women of the 
people ? Well, perhaps I do, for how can I describe 
my ceremonious intercourse with the wives of 
dignitaries, of native aristocrats of long descent, 
portly townswomen who have adopted the customs 
of the North and the fashions of Algiers ? I was 
well enough received, it is true, but the courtesy 
for which I am indebted to them was not exactly 
that of the Sahara. Their all too transparent 
pretty speeches, their very artificial manners and 
the ornaments of their reception rooms, such as 
gorgeous clocks on rickety marqueterie stands, are 
all alike constant reminders to me that the true 
Desert expires at the gates of Algiers. It is else- 
where — far, far away from it — that I must go to look 
for those I seek : the natural, simple, unaffected, 
I may almost say wild, daughters of the Sahara, 
such as was, probably, Hagar, the mother of 

Yes ; elsewhere, far, far away, in the desert 
solitudes, or I may perhaps meet with some of 
them in the wretched Ch'tett suburb, from which 
one can see the straight line of the horizon, where 


earth and heaven meet. Here the children of the 
town, mixed with those of the nomads, whose 
tents are pitched in the Desert hard by, play with 
their favourite knuckle-bones or pan pipes. Here, 
about five o'clock, old men with palsied limbs, 
and blind men of rigid aspect led by some little 

grandchild, come to pray, whilst in the narrow 
picturesque alleys the women come and go, gliding 
furtively from door to door. At sight of me they 
flee away as if terrified, but very soon they reappear 
armed with their distaffs, each surmounted by a 
bunch of feathers. Thev surround me and beo-in 
to ply me with inquisitive questions, and with their 


endless set greetings, " May all happiness attend 
thee," etc., etc. They tease each other, gesticulate, 
frolic together, run and dance about with mincing 
steps and fawn upon me all at the same time. 
Very typical is it all of the Orient, but the 
African Orient, the Orient of Arabia and Judaea, 
with its tinsel frippery no doubt, but without the 
lassitude and languor generally associated with the 

In the quaint old hilly quarter of the town, for 
instance, I one day saw a young girl of about 
thirteen or fourteen coming down a tortuous street, 
carrying a bowl of steaming soup, her slender 
fineers, with the nails stained with henna, almost 
meeting as she clasped the rough earthenware, 
and carefully threaded her way along on her bare 
feet, the fringed eyelids drooping over the soft dark 
eyes, as she looked down lest she should trip on 
some obstacle in her path. Her dress was of some 
purple hue, the deep purple of the after-glow when 
the sun has set. A thin white wrap called an 
otigaya floated about her delicate face and shoulders. 
Where was she going ? On some errand of mercy, 
or to some humble meal ? I cannot tell why, but 
somehow the former idea took complete hold of 
my fancy. And I was right, for a woman standing- 
near me certainly pronounced the word sadaya, 
which means almsgiving. As the child disappeared, 
her veil made me think, in spite of the sacrilege of 


the idea, of that worn by Mary, or, as the Arabs 
call her, Miriam, the mother of Jesus. 

The little maid had indeed the gentle, modest 
bearing, the child-like grace, of some Virgin on her 
way to the Temple to offer at the altar her vessel of 
burning oil. 

A dove with soiled plumage, it is true, my little 
sister of mercy, but a dove for all that. 

In every house I enter the women gather about 
me to examine me as closely as possible. My 
clothes interest them very much. They greatly 
covet a Cheviot tweed skirt I wear, of quite cheap 
material, which they consider "very fine stuff," and 
they express great surprise when I declare that I 
admire their loose, floating garments. Then all 
of a sudden they seemed quite indignant because 
I suggested that one of them should put my hat on 


her head for a minute. It would be a sin, a horrible 
sin, to cover the skull of a true believer with the 
baretta of an infidel ! 

" May Allah preserve us from such a thing! Our 
house is thine, oh Rumiya, but thy baretta might 
lose us our place in Paradise, and that of our 
children and our children's children." 

Directly I appear in a house there is a bustle to 
prepare coffee for me. It is only people of note 
who have to take it, such people as the Rumiya, 
the mother of the family, and the most important 
neighbours, for instance. Young girls do not drink 
it and children are too young they say. But I, un- 
fortunate victim of convention, have to absorb an 
incalculable number of cups a day ; one cup where 
I am a stranger, two or three w^hen I visit my 
" friends." Besides this, I must eat many cakes, and 
some of what they call kessra, a kind of bread, eaten 
hot, made without leaven and baked in the ashes, 
in very general use in these parts, to all which are 
added preparations of fruit and dates. " Eat, eat," 
they all say ; '* our house is thine ! " 

Our conversations are often somewhat noisy. 
Each one has a story to relate, and the stories are 
long and dreary. Then they tell me all about the 
weddings which are to come off ; I hear all the 
virtues of the father, or of the bridegroom. I am 
expected to listen to accounts of the children of 
each of the women present ; how many she has. 


whether they are girls or boys, how old they are, 
all about their birth, the anxiety their ailments have 
caused, every remark from me leading to interruption 
and additional information from the others. But 
the curiosity I myself inspire swallows up my 
own, so to speak, for every enquiry I make is 
answered by a question, 

"Why do you travel?" An enquiry repeated 
under a thousand forms. 

" Tell us, oh Rumiya, when thou returnest to 
thy beloved Paris, wilt thou spend all thy time 
playing cards ? " 

" Wilt thou eat a lot of cakes ? " 

" Wilt thou put on thy jewels, which thou hast 
not worn on thy journey ? " 

Always this question of jewels, which pursued me 
to Ghardaya, to Wargla, and to the most remote 
limits of my exploring expedition. The women 
have at last found the reason for my eccentricity : 
I do not wear my jewels because I am afraid of 
losing them. As for getting them to believe that I 
have none, or that if I have they are not like 
theirs, I give it up. And in the end I say " yes " 
to everything. " Yes, when I am back in Paris I 
shall play cards all day long, I shall eat quantities 
of cakes, I shall put on my jewels and my gold 
coins." Now at last they are satisfied, and I have 
imprinted yet another error on their brains just to 
purchase a little peace for myself! 




When I go unexpectedly into the quieter quarter 
of the seg2iias, my entrance does not cause quite such 
a commotion. Generally speaking I find the young 
women occupied in getting ready the evening meal, 
weaving carpets or spinning wool, etc., whilst their 
elders are busy preparing the woof, or are fetching 

wood for the fire. Then if I am already known to my 
hostess a confidential chat begins, and I watch the 
women at their work, which is interesting without 
being arduous, admiring their graceful, almost volup- 
tuous attitudes. They are only rapid in their move- 
ments when they run from one room to another — I 
have already described what wTetched places these 
rooms are — or when they hurry down the steps 
without railings leading from the terrace to the 


lower room to fetch me the inevitable caotia/i, of 
which I swallow down the grounds with smiling 
resignation, just as I accept the cup from which 
their painted lips have drunk. 

" Drink ! I have tasted it ! Thou art my friend, 
my sister ; our house is thine ! 

The husband of one of these friends of mine 
works in certain gardens of which he is the owner, 
that of another is a merchant in something, I am 
sure I don't know what ; these two men are 
brothers, and their old mother is present at my 
interview with the wives, gloating over the praises 
she hears of her sons. 

" Why should our husbands beat us, oh Rii- 
miya ? In the name of Allah, what can a man 
have to find fault with when the court has been 
swept and his winter bournouses have been spun 
and the merga (or soup)* is ready to be poured 
from the saucepan the moment he enters the 
house, after the prayer of the Maghrib." 

They are very indignant at hearing that the 
Rumis of France think they are often ill-treated by 
their husbands, 

"May they be anathema!" they say. "We do 
just what we like, oh Riimiya, we buy the food 
we know is best. We bring our children up just 

* The kouskous so often referred to are cooked in the steam 
from this soup, which resembles what the French call the bouillon de 



as we please, as long as we train them in the path 
of justice and mercy. The money we earn by our 
work is our own, and will be, as long as it pleases 
Allah to let it be so." 

All this is not, of course, said in such consecutive 
sentences as these, but comes out in exclamations 
abruptly repeated again and again, with sighs of 
indignation and regret. Then yet another cup of 
caouah is poured out for me, to cement our friend- 
ship and mark our confidence in each other. The 
neighbours, who have come in one by one, watch 
me drink it, and the peace of the hour wraps us 
about, whilst gentle hands press mine, their owners 
stealing their way into my heart. 

" Thou art of gold, oh Rumiya ! " 

It is true enough that they do what they like in 
the segziias, but they do it secretly and with circum- 
spection. It was edifying to see these Fatmas, 
Aishas or Yaninas, when the Sidi, the husband or 
the father, himself escorted me to his home. In 
addition to the respect shewn to me personally, of 
which I have already spoken, there was a marked 
deference to the master, quite superficial, no doubt, 
and the result merely of training in good manners, 
but still it was there. If by chance the husband 
knows how to read the Koran, the deference be- 
comes something like religious veneration. " He 
knows what Allah and the Prophet of Allah say ! " 
exclaim the wives. For all that, however, this 


veneration is often only skin deep, as betrayed by 
the following proverb, current among the women : 

" Before the Sidi my tongue says ' Yes, yes,' 
but behind his back it turns round and says, 
' No, no.' " 

When an Arab woman is not fiercely jealous she 
is always ready to praise her husband. She 
proudly shows off the presents he has given her, 
such as jewels, materials for dresses and finery. 
The husband gives the wife the money for the 
jewel she covets, and she takes it to the Jew gold- 
smith, who melts it to make the vzzima, or 
brooch, or the vichariffes, or earrings, she 
orders. Quantities of silver coins and Louis-d'ors 
are thus converted every year into barbaric jewel- 
lery, not to speak of the actual 20 or 100 franc 
pieces worn just as they are. 

An Arab woman glories in her husband's wisdom 
and boasts of his influence, but she delights in 
going where he does not wish her to go and doing 
what he has forbidden. It is just the same with 
the unmarried girls who are still under the sur- 
veillance of father and mother. For instance, I 
remember meeting two pretty young sisters who 
were amongst my friends, at a wedding, and they 
said to mie : " Whatever you do, oh Rumiya, do 
not mention to our lord and father that you saw us 
here, for we are come against his orders." 


Then when the wedding procession was to file 


m6re about EL-AGHUAT. 

out into the street they wrapped themselves up in 
one huge veil, with such pretty graceful motions 
of their supple little figures towards each other that 
I could not help being charmed, and thus disguised 
they passed beneath the very beard of the dreaded 
Argus, who happened to be there at the moment. 
He looked at them without the slightest suspicion 
who they were. They breathed heavily beneath 
the white covering, and when they laughed there 
was much fluttering of the nialiffa. With the one 
eye left visible and the one little finger holding the 
drapery against the swelling young bosoms, each 
girl made me some mischievous little signs, rogues 
that they were ! But for all their temerity they 
were really very frightened, and an hour later, 
when they were laughing over their adventures at 
the house of the bridegroom, with veils thrown 
aside, they were still trembling. Their cheeks 
glowed with delight beneath the dye put on for the 

" The Sidi never recognized us ! " they cried, 
" he did not know us in the least ! " 

It was a victory, and I seemed to them an 
accomplice in their success, as they began again 
the endless refrain : *' Thou art our friend, our 
sister ! " 

It was on this occasion, too, that I first re- 
member hearing the typical Oriental expression of 
cajoling endearment. 


" Oh, Rumiya, give me that piece of tulle thou 
art wearing, and I will put it over my face that I 
may feel thy very presence about me." 

Amongst themselves they say all manner of 
tender things like that, reminding one of the 
fawning motions of a purring cat, until something 
suddenly reveals the sharp claws beneath the velvet 
paws, ready to rend and wound. 

But I must tear myself away from these now 
familiar scenes, for the time has come to leave 
El-Aghuat and go to other his?h' less civilized 
and altogether more unadulterated. Farewell, 
farewell to many a home in which I was welcomed, 
and to which I was always glad to return, though 
I have not yet been able to describe them. I 
remember one in particular, where there was a 
dear old grandmother, an Hajajah, or one who 
had made the pilgrimage to Mecca or Cairo, who 
interested me extremely on account of the serene 
philosophy of her old-fashioned ideas. She was 
in fact one of those widows who, alone of her sex 
in these parts, offer up prayers or go to the mosque, 
and who are greatly honoured by the men. Then 
there was her little grandson, a charming urchin 
of six years old, whom I called El-Farrudje, or 
the Cock, because he was so fond of strutting on 
the terrace imitating the noises of the poultry yard. 
The pigeons cooed, the blue shadows deepened 



beneath the pillared portico, for it was a real house, 
the home of well-to-do citizens. There was a carpet 
on the floor beneath the arcades and a portrait of 
the Shereef of Mecca pinned against the wall. 
And on the top of a trunk there were some 
empty bottles, serving as candlesticks. Unwonted 
luxury ! 

Adieu, dear old grandmother ! i\dieu, little 
grand - daughters ! Adieu. El-Farrudje ! I have 
promised to come back again some day. Yes, I 
must come back ! 

I wend my way along the so-called Marguerite 
Avenue in the Rumi, or foreign quarter. The 
sun is beginning to set, and everywhere I can see 
the proud Caids strolling about attended by their 
courts. It is the hour for the promenade, when 
people exchange news and gossip about politics. 
There are no shrill cries here of " L'aJilib ! 
L all lib ! " or " milk ho ! " no little girls offering 
'' Krubs zitdjs!'' or bread for sale; such things 
would be considered quite beneath the dignity of 
this aristocratic quarter. They are all very well for 
the rabble, but they won't do here, where everyone 
is of noble birth and dignified bearing, and where 
people walk about slowly as becomes those of good 

And all the time in the densely populated Aulad- 
Nail settlement, down there in the steep street, 
the men are taking their rest during this time of 



repose in a different way, each seated at the 
threshold of his own hut, for every family has a 
separate dwelling, these dwellings being closely 
crowded together, with here and there an Arab 
cafe, from which, every evening, proceeds the noise 
of a mixed concert of tambourines, viols and reickas, 
or clarionets. Though it is now almost dark, the 
golden ornaments worn by the x\ulad-Nail gleam 
brightly, the flute-players are glad to rest their 
cheeks, swollen with much blowing, the violinists 
are repairing their strings. Someone is frying 
cakes hard by, and the soft air of twilight is laden 
with the acrid smell of hot honey. And in the 
narrower and steeper streets leading out of the 
principal square the old beggars are climbing up 
in the hope of getting some kouskotts, lugging 
along the inevitable old pots they always carry : 
Ya aJibab Rebbi ! " Oh, ye friends of the chief! " 

Night falls upon the town, and from the tops 
of all the mosques ring out the benedictions of 
the prayer of 'Asha : * 

" God is greater than all ! Allah akbar ! " 

* This is the prayer of supper-time, or night. The Moslems have 
five times of prayer : i. Subh, or dawn ; 2. Dkohr, or noon ; 3. ^Asr, 
or afternoon ; 4. Maghrib, or sunset ; and 5. 'Asha, or after dark. — 




The word Kiisilr is the plural of Kasr, and it is 
a very difficult one to translate. Indeed, as is the 
case with all definite names in use in the Sahara, 
it is almost impossible to find an exact equivalent 
in any European language. 

The kasr, in which will be found many women 
of Arab race much modified by the admixture of 
Berber blood, is a fortified villaofe, the refuQ^e of 
Arabs who are not nomads, or, to be strictly 
accurate, who only now and then lead a semi-nomad 
life. Grey walls, with loopholes for windows, grey 
hovels, grey alleys — the colour of the sandy earth 
of which they are built, stolen from the desert, 
but gradually returned to it, grain by grain and 
shred by shred, by the wind, which is ever eating 
away the very materials of the buildings. 

Crowded together in the kasr are men, women, 
and children — traders, camels, and female dancers, 
whilst near the kasr is the oasis, with its dusty 
palms and quaint-looking wells, and all around 



stretches the Sahara — sand, sand, nothing but sand, 
far away to the wide horizon, that undeviating mono- 
tonous Hne 'twixt earth and heaven. The dreary 
expanse of the desert is scarcely broken here and 
there by dunes and slight eminences or clumps of 
alfa and scattered bones, gleaming white beneath 
the burning sun of the day and the dew of the 


^w _ 



, 1^ 



night, for, although I am quite at a loss to explain 
the phenomenon, there actually is dew at night in 
spite of the all-pervading dryness of the soil. 

The nomads pitch their tents in the shelter of 
the walls of the kasr, and now and then caravans 
halt outside them, so that the kasr is the meeting- 
place, and the exchange mart where pretty well 
everything is sold, from dates to caresses. Indeed, 


the kasr of to-day reproduces a state of society 
but little altered since its grey gloom was the 
longed-for goal of a race very different from ours, 
and of an age long gone by, for the soul which 
looks out of the eyes of those who dwell there now, 
is wonderfully like that of the old wandering tribes. 
It seems as if the very spirit of the past — of a past 
so remote that its memory is dim — were gazing at 
us from those dark orbs, as if imprisoned souls, 
who never lived on earth, were making to us a 
mute appeal. 

Everything and everybody is closely huddled 
together within the crumbling mud walls of the 
kasr, and its inhabitants might be the contem- 
poraries of those who fed their flocks in the deserts 
of Arabia from that of Nefood to that of Dahna 
long before the time of Mohammed. I am not now, 
it must be remembered, speaking of the kusur 
of the Berber mountains, but of those of the Aulad- 
M'zi, which may be characterized as sentinels on 
the borders of the Sahara, of those kusur in which 
the Arab element — of later date than the Berber 
— has impressed its manners, customs, and ideas 
on the older residents, without being corre- 
spondingly affected by theirs ; for, at the most, 
the sedentary habits of the Berbers have taken 
very little root amongst the Arabs. 

Nothing, in fact, is more truly Arab in every 
respect than are these little villages in which 




the Inhabitants certainly cannot claim to be of 
pure Arab race. 

There are five kusiir belonging to the Aulad- 
M'zi : namely, Ain-Mahdi, Tadjemut, El-Hauita, 
El-Assafia, and Kasr-el-Hiran. In the South, how- 
ever, where the Shaanba live, the kasr is of 
rare occurrence, the wandering tribes, properly so 
called — who travel for long distances — are afraid 
of being brought under any control, even if purely 
nominal, and are content with mere temporary 
shelters for themselves and their grain, which they 
set up in the open desert near the groups of 
tents belonging to other races, whereas the kusur 
of the Aulad-M'zi enumerated above are regular 
towns of an almost permanent character, the noble 
origin and antiquity of which are a source of pride 
to their inhabitants, who boast to the people of the 
other kusur of their civil wars as if they were 
titles of honour. 

The warlike villages of the Aulad-M'zi, each 
with its own Caid, who, in his turn, is under a 
Caid of Caids, or an Agha living at a distance, 
afford us a very good idea of what El-Aghuat was 
two centuries, or less than two centuries, ago. But 
El-Aghuat has changed, whilst the little kasr has 
remained the same near its waterless wady. If 
by chance an Arab lieutenant, or some official 
bringing orders from the Agha, ventures into the 
village fortress, his appearance makes no more 


difference than a stone would, if thrown into a 
garden. The starHng, or zerziir, as the Arabs call 
it, one of the few birds of the desert, gives a cry of 
alarm, the branches shake, and a few ripe fruits 
fall to the ground ; that is all ; the garden is still 
exactly the same garden as it was before. 

Even so the kasr is still the same kasr. 

It does not matter in the least which of the five 
kusur I take you to. It will be built on a little 
eminence, not lofty enough to be called a hill, 
and of very limited area, for the village will 
completely cover the summit. Shall we go to 
Tadjemut, so proudly situated, so proud of its 
women ? — or shall it be to Kasr-el-Hiran, just as 
proud and self-satisfied. We will choose the latter 
for the sake of its picturesque name, which means 
the kasr of the little camels. 

I will begin by relating a legend about it as 
simple as all pastoral legends always are. Once 
upon a time, before the civil wars, which would be 
still going on if the French conquest had not put 
an end to them, a certain rich man owned many 
flocks, and his camels grazed upon the meagre 
patches of the grass called drinn, already referred 
to, on the far-stretching plain. The female camels, 
who were great with young and were soon to give 
birth to many little ones, were resting beneath the 
clear light of the beautiful stars. Then as he lay 
in his tent, their wealthy owner thought to himself: 



" How would it be if, with the aid of Allah, we were 
to make an enclosure on the little hill to protect the 
young camels ? " For you good folks at home must 
know that young camels, called Jiiran till they are 
six months old and ni khalil till they are two years, 
are delicate fragile creatures, as fragile as the young 
turkeys of European farms, and the slightest 

hardship or the least exposure to bad weather 
is enouQ'h to kill them. 

So a shelter was made to protect the little camels, 
hideous little beasts that they were, but for all that 
the hope of their rich owner. Then, when they no 
longer needed it, the enclosure was enlarged and 
men took up their abode in it, crowding out all the 
camels, bio- or little, for whom there was no louQ-er 


any room within the narrow space. They had and 
still have to camp outside with the nomad portion of 
the tribe, but the name of Kasr-el-Hiran applies 
equally to the outlying tents as to the town itself 

I have been at some pains to secure exact in- 
formation, and I have ascertained that there are 204 
families, making up altogether 964 inhabitants, in this 
village of Kasr-el-Hiran. Small as the population 
is, the people are crowded together in a painful way, 
and, strange to relate, all the sub-divisions of the 
tribes are carefully kept up. There are no less than 
four, each under its own sheik, who is in his turn 
under the orders of the Caid. The four sub-tribes 
are" the Nuirat under Sheik M'Barek-ben Khelifa, 
the M'taba under Sheik El-Hadj-Kuider-ben- 
Nebeg, the Aulad-Khelifa under Sheik El-Haj- 
Khelifa, and lastly, the Nomads who are not able to 
stop long in any one place, but who hang on, so to 
speak, to the kasr where their father and their 
brothers live. They disappear and re-appear 
spasmodically, generally remaining at Kasr-el-Hiran 
for a couple of months every autumn under the 
leadership of a fourth Sheik, Belgacem ben Null 
by name. All this for 204 families. 

The nomads own some thirty tents, which 
represent thirty families, and inside the kasr there 
are a few giirbis or small tents set apart for them, 
in which they store their grain. Except for the two 
months when, as I have said, they camp near the 


town, thev wander ceaselessly in the desert, letting 
their camels graze on the driini and alfa to be 
found here and there. 

It is the same everywhere throughout the Sahara, 
whether amongst the Mozabites, the Ghuara, or 
other sedentary tribes, who are, so to speak, en 
rapport with every kasr or fraction of a kasr. Bound 
together by their common interests, though of alien 
caste and race, the people of the towns and the 
nomads cannot do without each other. The 
wanderers need a shelter sometimes, those who 
stop at home need messengers, and carriers for 
their merchandise. Hence arise entanglements, 
jealousies, quarrels, feuds, razzias, and reconcilia- 
tions after mutual aggressions. If only one has the 
patience to wait and watch, there is, in fact, no place 
in the world more full of interest and romance than 
the Sahara. 

When the nomads have taken their departure 
after their annual visit, the three remaining tribes 
of Kasr-el-Hiran, the Nuirat, M'taba, and Aulad- 
Khelifa settle down to their ordinary life, and things 
go on as they did before. 

Five times a day the muezzin summons the 
men of the town to worship Allah and his prophet 
on the low terrace of the primitive mosque, and 
between whiles there are caonah to be drunk and 
one's private affairs to look after. 

Some of the men are merchants, and ply their 


trade in low dark shops, in which, except in those 
of the Jews, there seems to be absolutely nothing 
to sell. For all that, however, a great deal of 
business is done in these gloomy-looking holes, for 
stuffs, weapons, beads, vegetables and grain from 
Northern Algeria are bartered for the sheep and 
camels of the Larbaa and the carpets woven by the 
women of the kusur. In the Shaanba kusur, how- 
ever, at El Golea for instance, wares from the Tell 
are exchanged for ostrich feathers and other 
natural products from places as far south as 
Guarra and Timbuktu. 

Then there are skilled artificers in Kasr-el-Hiran, 
men who embroider saddles, make jewels, and do 
all kinds of needlework, for in these parts the men 
sew and the women weave. Most of them, how- 
ever, are gardeners, who till very small gardens ; 
but the crops they raise are enough, so little does 
the Arab need, to feed many inhabitants. Under 
these circumstances, the immense importance of the 
oasis will be readily understood ; the oasis where 
the wells, of which there are about two hundred 
belonging to the village of Kasr-el-Hiran, enable a 
little scanty vegetation to grow, and a few palms 
to flourish. The number of wells varies according 
to the size of the oasis, and in many places there 
are more than there are at Kasr-el-Hiran. No 
wells : no dates, no vegetables ; farewell to the 
slim tapering carrots ; farewell to the hard beans 


and the onions which give a relish to the kouskozts 
stew. For the Wady-M'zi, that river of sand, 
only yields a few drops of brackish water once 
every five years at the most. 

How shall I describe the well in the oasis ? 
Its mechanism consists merely of a double pulley 

worked by a double rope, which brings up a 
bucket peculiar to the country, made of goat- 
skin, which holds nearly forty quarts. This 
bucket ends in a long flexible tube, also of 
goat skin. To set the apparatus going, all 
available forces are pressed into the service, 
men, mules and camels being harnessed to the 
upper rope. These drag up the forty quarts of 



liquid, no light weight of course, but when the 
bucket is about to come out of the water, the 
lower cord is very gently manipulated in such a 
manner as to make the flexible cylinder at the 
bottom of the bucket bend upwards till its end is 
on a level with the brim of the latter. Then, 
when the whole apparatus gets to the top of the 
well, the tube is turned over the lower pulley, 
and the precious stream of water is emptied into 
the reservoir, whence it is carried to the trenches or 
segtiias, and thence to the patches of garden, which 
are watered by flooding them. 

These details may appear trivial, but my readers 
must pardon me for giving them, and remember 
what they imply, the possibility of living in our 
humble little kasr ! 

The women of the kasr only go into the gardens 
now and then, just for a little change, or to gather a 
few baskets of fruit. Of course, I am only alluding 
to the lower classes, for the wife of the well-to-do 
has other duties. She must never do anything in 
the least like the out-door work performed by the 
men ; indeed, she must never on any account go 
out of her house. 

For all that, however, out she does go, especially 
in a crowded place, such as Kasr-el-Hiran. The 
least thing is enough as an excuse for her absence ; 
she must go and see the neighbour who has just 
given birth to a boy ; she must visit her mother, 


her aunt or her cousin ; or it is her pious duty to go 
and pay her respects at the heaps of stones beneath 
which sleep her departed parents. In principle, a 
male member of the family ought to chaperone her 
in all these little outings, but, as a matter of fact, he 
is generally represented by an old woman, a very 
complaisant old woman too, as a rule, for amongst 
the Arabs the Rubicon is easily crossed. 

Observe, by the way, that it is the women them- 
selves who stickle for this apparent reserve, this 
rule of never going out, except when closely veiled 
and properly escorted. To them it represents 
good form, and they would feel it quite beneath 
their dignity to dispense with restrictions. When 
some husband imbued with French ideas, as they 
call it, tries to modify these tiresome customs in 
the very slightest degree, he is always dreadfully 
snubbed, accused of being a wretch, a coward, all 
manner of horrible things ; his wife declares he no 
longer respects her, he is treating her as if she were 
a bad woman, or a nomad, or of low caste. And 
the less the unlucky husband cares about her being 
always veiled and sequestered, the more she insists 
upon sticking to every detail of etiquette, for to her 
these things represent being what the Europeans 
call a woman of the world, a term capable in the 
desert, as in France or England, of bearing many 
different interpretations. 

It must, however, be remembered that these well- 


to-do and privileged women — and how few after all 
are the luxuries and privileges they enjoy ? — are 
quite in the minority, and there remain side by 
side with them the far more numerous wives and 
daughters of the poorer classes, who neglect the 
precautions taken by their wealthier sisters. At 
least they dispense with an escort, the veil is 
de rigueur everywhere. At the mere suggestion of 
their leaving it off, they will exclaim : " Do you take 
us for savage Shaanbiyett * } Did not Allah say 
to the Prophet, ' Tell the wives of the faithful to 
let their veils fall to their feet ' " ? In thus implying 
that Mohammed was the first to prescribe the use of 
the veil, the women of the kusur betray their igno- 
rance, for the custom is far older than that. Hagar, 
the mother of Ishmael, went about with her face 
uncovered because she was a slave, but Sarah, the 
wife, hid herself when the heavenly messengers 
came, and it was with her face covered that she 
left her tent to listen to the word of the Lord. 
The ruse practised by Tamar on her father-in-law 
could never have succeeded, but for the veil in 
which she wrapped herself, when she "sat in an open 

* This is the plural of Shaanbiya as the women of the Shaanba tribe 
are called. The women of the sedentary tribes know next to nothing 
of the manners and customs of the Nomads, for they never go to their 
tents, and they mix them all up together in their minds. Now and 
then some old or poverty-stricken women from the dawars come into 
the towns, and they are supposed to be typical specimens of their 
Nomad sisters. 


place by the way to Timnath." Judah could not 
recognise her, could not even guess who she was, 
for women do not wear veils in the presence of the 
men of their own family. She made herself a 
stranger to him by putting on the veil, and it was 
to the mystery in which she was shrouded that he 

Of course, the feminine society of the kasr is 
very limited, very exclusive, very prejudiced ; for 
all its members belong to the same tribe, and are 
actuated by the same, or very similar, motives. 
There is, in fact, what business men would call a 
certain solidarity or community of interests about 
the women. They all have much the same virtues 
and much the same faults. Just as at El-Aghuat, 
there are clandestine outings, clandestine meetings, 
and the wives are as frivolous and as fond of 
wasting money as elsewhere. The husbands must 
put up with it all as best they can. 

" Oh, Bakta ! " says one, " I forbid thee to go to 
the Jew ; I forbid thee to buy a new maliffa before 
the next fete day." 

But the only result is, that Bakta goes to the 
Jew or buys her maliffa a little sooner than she 
would have done, for forbidden fruits are sweet. 
She not only buys the maliffa, but she also indulges 
in some of the little mirrors the Arab women are 
fond of wearing at the waist, and a purse, and 
perhaps some ougayas for her daughter. In fact, 


she spends all the money she has, for the Jew 
gives nothing without actually receiving money 
down, no more do the Arab or the Mozabite 
merchants, alas ! 

Bakta will never learn reason till she gets her 

wrinkles, and then ■ she will never acquire a 

taste for economy till she is too old to climb into 
the bassur, or palanquin, in which beautiful women 
travel or are taken to weddings. Then, and not 
till then, she will begin to work hard and to know 
what real fatigue means. 

Until then, she takes her work in very small 
doses only : a little weaving, a little cooking and 
so on. The negresses do her washing for her, 
either as her resident servants or as poor women 
who go out by the day, and are paid for their 
labour with a measure of corn. Sometimes Bakta 
puts on a little spurt to finish a carpet she wishes 
to barter with the nomads for something else, and 
with the merchandize she Q-ets in exchang-e, such 
as grain or dates, she will open a new credit with 
the Jew. Oh, what beautiful silk handkerchiefs, 
what lovely cotton stuffs, he has ! Do you suppose 
that the Shulamite women were proof against 
similar temptations when a caravan arrived from 
El-Hedjaz ? Do you imagine that the Sanaa shops, 
which existed long before the time of the Prophet, 
differed so very much from these Desert Stores 
where such a heterogeneous collection of wares 


has accumulated ? Do you suppose that the old 
Assyrian merchant who boasted of yore of his 
beautiful saffron-coloured scarves was any less 
astute than his modern prototype of the Sahara, 
who knows so well how to manage simple-hearted 
Bakta ? No, indeed ; and Bakta's heart swells 
with childish joy, w4th almost fierce elation, when 
she looks at her purchases, just as did that of 
Rebekah, the sister of Laban, when she saw the 
presents bought for her by the servant of Abraham, 
who had come to win her as a wife for his master's 
son Isaac. 

It is ever the same in every age and clime. The 
heart of the young girl thrills at the sight of finery. 
In this one point, and this one point only, I note 
an affinity between a woman of the Sahara and a 
Parisian ; both turn pale or blush with emotion 
as they tenderly handle the chiffon they are about 
to choose, and a sort of nervous tremor passes 
through them as they finally take up their precious 

I used the w^ord solidarity just now, in speaking 
of the women of the Sahara. Well, there is a very 
real and often touching solidarity, or reciprocity 
of charity. I mean in the mutual help given and 
the little services rendered to each other. Men, 
too, are always ready to come to the help, on the 
very first appeal, of those who want to build a new 
house or repair their old one. Everyone is eager 


H /wiSii- 



to do what he can. Said will get the wood ready 
for the terrace, Messaud will bring the bricks, 
Bachir the soil for making the mortar. All work 
hard, all become quite excited over the matter ; 
and in next to no time the thing is done, without 
costing the owner of the dwelling anything but 
an " Allah ikettar kherek'' — may God reward you ! 
Payment is made when those who have aided now 
in their turn require a similar service. 

Amongst the women this mutual help takes 
a very pleasing and satisfactory form. I will try 
and give an example of what I mean. 

Bakta, with whom we have just made friends, 
Bakta, the fourth wife of Said-ben- Nebeg, is very 
anxious to finish a burnous, either to barter as 
already described, or because her husband has 
told her to make it for him, the winter being at 
hand. Bakta has got the warp ready for making 
this burnous, but not the woof or weft, which is 
never prepared till the last minute, for, being soft 
and fluffy, it spoils if it is kept too long. It is 
amongst her friends and the daughters of her 
friends that she will get this necessary work done. 
Surely no one will refuse to help Bakta, who is 
always ready to lend a hand herself 

Havinpf made sure that the stock of wool washed 
in the summer is sufficient, Bakta arrays herself 
in her visiting clothes, putting on all the finery she 
possesses. A chemisette with tulle sleeves, just like 



the one the Caid's wife wears, a green silk maliffa — 
but isn't it a little frayed, perhaps this blue one will 
be better ? No, no, we will keep that for the great 
fete. Now Bakta, who has been stooping over her 
toilette, draws herself up, she arranges her maliffa, a 
long, straight piece of woven material, and it falls in 
soft drapery, converted by a touch here and a touch 
there into a complete dress, gathered in at the waist 
by a sash and fastened above the arms. Then out 
comes the dye, two dabs on the cheeks, some saffron 
on the lips, some kohl on the eye-brows, a little oil 
on the hair, and some scent sprinkled over all. 
Then, the nails havino- been reddened with henna 
the day before, Bakta twists the violet and yellow 
silk scarf about her head, which keeps the ougaya 
or veil in position ; the ougaya, generally white, but 
sometimes coloured, being worn in the picturesque 
style of the queens and noble ladies of the middle 
ages, the silk scarf or a turban called the 
vm/iarum, taking the place of the crown, and the 
ougaya falling down the back below the waist. So 
far so good. Now Bakta dons her ornaments, her 
necklaces, her heavy ear-rings, three in each ear, and 
her many rings. She feels in her bosom to make 
sure that her silver reliquary containing a Si^irah 
from the holy Koran is safe in its usual place. Has 
she got everything now ? Yes, everything. She 
pulled out any grey hairs that may have appeared 
this mornino", and she washed herself — she doesn't 


remember when exactly. What could the most 
exacting critic desire more ? 

"Ahmed!" she cries, " Ahmed-ben -Nebeg ! 
Come here ! " 

Ahmed is her young brother-in-law, whom she 
now summons to escort her from door to door, and 
who, during her visits, will wait for her patiently out- 
side, for he must not enter the houses of women who 
are no relation to him. The two sally forth together, 
Bakta hermetically sealed up, so to speak, in her veil, 
which is thrown over her complete get-up, for you 
must know that the ougaya already described is 
no use as a protection ; the real veil necessary to 
decorum is a large piece of stuff, which the wearer 
holds against the breast with one hand, and which 
leaves only one eye visible. 

Ahmed, the little escort, is in his oldest clothes 
and carelessly carries an ancient matchlock. The 
companions pause at the door of Mabruka, the wife 
of Ben-Salem. Tap ! Tap ! Tap ! Nobody comes. 
Ahmed squats down in the sun or the shade as the 
humour takes him, and waits whilst Bakta goes on 
knocking. '^ Hell-el-Bab I open the door," she cries, 
and at last the door does open, and she disappears 
in the dark passage revealed for a moment. Ahmed 
goes to sleep or amuses himself by thinking of the 
games of chance he means to have presently with 
the nomads. 

I need not tell you, of course, that Bakta is 


received with the most Hvely expressions of affection. 
" Our house is thine ! etc." I will spare you the rest. 
If the modern caouah is not offered to her some- 
thing else is, for hospitality necessitates it. All 
this tender flattery, this eagerness to offer oneself 
and all that one owns to one's friend, is ingrain in 
the soul of the race to which these women belong. 
" Drink ! Drink, oh my guest ! " they cry, " eat 
until thou art satisfied." And even if interested 
motives come in sometimes, they really do not 
prevent the expressions of affection being sincere 
for the moment at least, even when the guests are 
Rumis. Those who do not understand this will 
never understand other peculiarities of these people, 
who hate all Europeans. 

The news having been exchanged, the offered 
food consumed and the various conventional re- 
marks made, Bakta makes up her mind to reveal 
the motive of her visit. She invites the young 
ladies of the household and the children to boot to 
come to her on such and such a day, if it please 
Allah, to help her with the g^iiam or woof of a 
burnous, this woof as already stated being light, 
fleecy and easily spoiled. 

" Oh yes, yes ; with all my heart ! " each one 

Bakta in her turn answers : 

" Thank you, may Allah increase thy knowledge 
of all o-ood things ! " 

O O 


Then, after expressing many other hopes she takes 
her departure and wakes up Ahmed-ben-Nebeg, 
who goes to sleep again a few steps further on. 

In the next house fresh caresses are exchanged, 

fresh dates consumed, fresh mint tea drunk out 

of little cups made of plaited alfa. In fact the whole 

scene, including the invitation to help with the 

guiam of the burnous, is repeated in every house. 

"With pleasure, with all my heart!" everyone 

And all these warm-hearted women, young and 
old, are punctual at the rendezvous, apologizing for 
not being en grande toilette. They have all come 
in their old clothes to help make the guiam of 
the burnous. 

The meeting is really a regular fete, a working 
fete if you will, but a very happy one, at which 
a lot of gay chattering is done. Plenty of mint 
tea keeps up the courage of the workers, for the 
task they have to perform is really a very tiring 
one. Three things are needed by each of the 
woof makers : a kind of flat dish or plate of wood 

or earthenware, a long spindle, and a I am 

almost afraid to mention the third thing, lest I 
should shock my European readers, who will, per- 
haps, faint when they hear what it is. Well, I 
will try to explain. The spinner, squatting on the 
ground, fastens the wool she has to draw out on 
to the end of her spindle, places the spindle upright 


on its other end in the wooden plate, and this plate 
she brings close to the third thing I am so shy 
of mentioninor, which — for the murder must out — 
is her own leg, her leg bared from hip to knee. 
Needless to add that her dress is pulled well up 
above her hip. Then the spindles, kept in place 
against the bare leg of the worker, are flung 
by her skilful hand, and go rapidly round and 
round, their gyratory motion aided by the 
glazed surface of the plate, which serves as a kind 
of trough, whilst the skin of the spinner's leg, 
held taut, so to speak, acts as a groove. Round 
and round they go, kept carefully balanced upon 
the side of the hip, and down again on the inner 
side of the knee. Nobody thinks any harm. The 
mischievous and fickle god of love has nothing 
to do with real work such as this, and, of course, 
only the women of the family are allowed to be 
present at these quaint spinning bees of the 

All the time the workers laugh and talk and tell 
each other stories. They are all thoroughly happy 
together ; it is a most charming, most innocent, and 
most useful meeting, which sometimes lasts for as 
long as three consecutive days. 

Truly, there is something very naive and touch- 
ing about the whole arrangement, it is all so per- 
fectly innocent and natural. Kindness, unselfish- 
ness, good-fellowship, are all involved in it ; virtues 


which the extravagance and display of the modern 
woman of fashion in Europe have done much to 

For observe : they all help Bakta, who is far 
from being poor, but they would be just as ready to 
help the most wretched woman of the kasr. They 
will go and stretch the threads of the web on her 
carpet frame for her, a piece of work requiring the 
aid of no less than ten skilful hands ; they will 
grind her corn for her, take care of her when she 
is ill, and feed her when she is hungry. All this 
should make amends for the bare legs, should it 
not ? And then, you know, the kasr really belongs 
to a time so very remote, although the actual date 
of the Kasr-el-Hiran is quite modern, for it was 
founded in the sixteenth century of our era, and 
only became the fortress it now is as recently as 
1 80 1, the Umm-el-KJwbeir, or year which was the 
mother of mallows, and was so fertile, so rich in 
blessings. This does not, however, destroy the 
impression of antiquity produced by this old-world 
town, for the people who dwell in it date their 
origin from thousands of years back. It is, indeed, 
the immense antiquity of its inhabitants, with their 
intense love for the traditions of a past so very 
remote, which makes the little settlement appear so 
ancient. Modern it may be so far as the materials 
it is built of go, but its soul, its inner ego, is the 
outcome of centuries upon centuries. 


It has been in the brief time since 1801, that 
all the wars, all the struggles, all the assaults 
through which Kasr-el-Hiran has passed, have 
taken place. 

Do not be afraid. I will not inflict them all 
upon you. You would be crushed beneath the 
weight of all the exciting annals, telling how the 
M'talia slew the Rahman, or betrayed the Aulad- 
Zanun, or revenged themselves on the M'khalif. 
All these conflicts seem to have culminated in the 
assault on Kasr-el-Hiran, when Abd-el-Kader de- 
manded the giving up of his treacherous lieutenant, 
el-Haj-el-Arbi, who had taken refuge within its 
walls, and was hidden by its inhabitants. Boiling 
oil, melted butter, and tar were poured upon the 
heads of the besiegers, and saucepans full ot cinders 
were flung down with a treniendous noise from 
the ramparts upon the dromedaries, who were 
driving the enemies of their masters before them. 
Pots were smashed, cinders and ashes flew about ; 
oh, it was a terrible scene ! 

This siege, worthy of description by an epic poet, 
had its heroine, a Joan of Arc with Oriental tresses, 
who wore many veils, many necklaces, and whose 
garments smelt of cloves and musk. This was a 
certain damsel named Aisha bint Mihud, called the 
most beautiful on account of her many charms, 
who, seeing the enemy planting his standard at 
the very base of the defences of the town, rushed 


down into the melee, and, seizing the banner of the 
foe, she turned to the warriors of the town, crying : 
" Cowards that ye are, ye men of Kasr-el-Hiran. 
Must a woman show you your duty, and set you 
an example of courage ? " 

The story goes that she promised to be the bride 
of the victor, and that after this appeal the men of 
Kasr-el-Hiran fought like lions, the followers of Abd- 
el-Kader were put to flight, but I have not been able 
to find out which of the victorious warriors received 
the reward. No one who hears this legend can 
justly accuse the men of the Sahara of looking 
upon woman as a mere beast of burden, a mere 
slave to their passions. No. I assert and shall 
always be ready to assert that the women of the 
Sahara, the women of the kusCir, however childish 
and limited their ideas may be, are not to be pitied. 
They are suited to their environment, to the position 
to which they are born. I consider them, indeed, 
far less to be pitied than the work or peasant woman 
of Europe, less to be pitied than the female clerks at 
home, who receive some forty or fifty pounds a year 
as wages and have to keep themselves out of that 
mere pittance. The household work the Saharian 
women have to do is very light, and they have 
plenty of the leisure they enjoy so much. Above 
all, they have what our European women certainly 
lack, and what at first sight no one would expect of 
the simple children of the Desert ; a true apprecia- 


tion, an intense love for the beauty of the brilliant 
sunshine, the soothing shade, the sublime harmony 
of their native land. This feeling for beauty makes 
up to them for the intellectual tastes with which, 
nowadays, we try to imbue the women of Europe. 
It gives them a taste of the very highest joy of 
which a human creature is capable. 

In a word, the women of the Sahara know how 
to dream, and more than that, they know of what 
they dream, every one of them, whether she be 
virtuous or not, rich or poor ; and when they gaze 
up into the dark blue sky at night and see the 
silvery stars shining so clearly and so brightly, just 
as they did in the days of the wise men of the East, 
these women, who are their descendants and their 
true daughters, have a foretaste of eternity in spite 
of the Koran — in spite of everything. 




I PiAVE already said that the kusur are inhabited 
by a mixed race, in which the Arab element pre- 
dominates over the Berber, but there are many 
purely Berber groups, some sedentary, others 
nomad, in the Sahara. Those who travel in 
caravans, whether merely to see the country, to 
trade, or to fight, must of necessity pass through 
one of these Berber settlements, that known as 
the Wady M'zab, where live the Beni-M'zab or 
Mozabites, who dwell, in the strictest, most carefully 
guarded seclusion, at the very point of junction of 
those untraced tracks across the desert, the great 
caravan routes between In-Saleh and Gabes, the 
Tell and Timbuktu, where the only sign-posts are 
the bleached bones of camels. 

It is not, however, be it remembered, the Beni- 
M'zab who have elected to settle on these routes 
of leisurely travel, it is the routes which have, so to 
speak, chosen to converge on their Wady. 

Oh, those quaint Beni-M'zab ! how utterly 


remote, lost, and out of the way their home 
appeared to me at first, yet now I look upon it as 
quite central. It is in fact like one of the inhabited 
islands dotted about in the vast expanses of the 
great Oceans. Only an island is generally above 
the level of the water, whereas the Wady M'zab is 

a hole below the level of the sand, a sudden rift 
in the plateau, an oval-shaped fissure some three 
hundred feet deep at its lowest point. 

Curious, little-known, little-appreciated country, 
the so-called occupation of which by the French 
took place as recently as 1802, but which so far 
has attracted no emigrants, not so much as a 


few humble miners. It has remained the Wady 
M'zab, with its queer, mysterious religion, and 
in our eyes wild and dissolute yet childish 
people, subject to the French, but as yet not 
assimilated in the very slightest degree. In this 
remote Wady there are wretched hovels and full 
purses, arid soil in which nothing will grow, and 
fertile gardens, loving-kindness and cruelty ; in a 
word, it is a land of strong contrasts, the people of 
which we quite fail to understand. I really believe 
that if we went to the planet Mars, the inhabitants 
would seem less strange to us than do these good 

It takes five Arabs, says a Saharian proverb, to 
get the better of one Algerian Jew, and five Jews to 
get the better of one Mozabite. Sometimes indeed 
it is quite impossible to be even with a Mozabite. 

In fact the Mozabite gets his subtle trading 
instinct from a very ancient source, it is in his very 
blood ; for Berber as he is, he traces his descent 
from the Phoenicians. Or, to speak more clearly, 
he is distinguished from the rest of the Berber 
tribes by an unmistakeable Tyrrhenian strain. The 
patient observer will not fail to find confirmation of 
this assertion in the habits, superstitions, and other 
peculiarities we shall notice in this chapter, as well 
as in the peculiar form of the monuments of the 
Wady M'zab. 

I will spare you the long course of reasoning 


on which I found my ethnological theory. You 
must know, however, that it is by no means arbi- 
trary. The Phoenician Carthage ruled for eight 
centuries over the seaboard of what is now Kabyle, 
and even after her destruction her influence was 
felt in the colonies. It is indeed an historical fact 
that the Mozabites were driven back from the coast 
into the desert on the South fifty years after the 
celebrated conquest of Alexandria by Omar. 
Moreover, the minarets of the Mozabite mosques, 
unique as they are now, are exactly like some I 
have seen represented in the precious papyri from 
Egypt and Tyre now in the collection at Vienna 
belonging to the Archduke Rainer. 

We grant then that the INIozabites are of 
Phoenician origin, with a dash of Numidian blood, 
and of that of yet more ancient native races. 
Descendants of the wealthy merchants who traded 
as far west as England, they, too, at the present 
day are most eager traders, carrying on their busi- 
ness throughout Algeria and in the Tell. They 
are to be met with in all the towns, in the dark 
recesses of the shops, noticeable for their stout 
figures, their crafty expression and their many- 
coloured ganduras. Every two years they return 
to the Wady M'zab to cheer the widowhood of 
their deserted wives, as is prescribed in the com- 
mentaries on the Koran, at least in those of the 
'Abadiyeh sect, to which they belong. 



For now-a-days they are Mussulmans, but 
dissenters of the fifth sect, there being four others 
recognized at Mecca and by the Sultan. They 
are alike schismatics and Puritans ; they fast to 
excess, and reject the mystic doctrines of the 
marabouts, who are venerated and subsidized by 
the rest of the faithful. They also make many 

prayers, at least when their devotions do not 
interfere with trade. 

To them an orthodox Arab is a dog, whilst they 
themselves are dogs to the orthodox Arab. This, 
of course, does not ease the wheels of their relations 
with their nomad neighbours. Indeed it was this 
which brought upon them, soon after their con- 
version to Islamism, the misfortunes resulting 



in the foundation of the remote settlement in that 
lonely rift of the desert converted by the hand 
of man into the present deep depression known 
as the Wady M'zab. 

This was how the whole thing came about ! 

To begin with, a rival sect, that of the Wahabi- 
Sufis, had driven the Mozabites from the coasts 
of the Mediterranean to the distant country in 
which rises the town of Wargla, where, for good 
or for evil as the case may be, they founded two 
colonies known as Khrima and Cedrata. Forty 
years after the foundation of the latter town their 
persecutors drove them out of it, because, dogs 
that they were, they would not abjure their heresies. 
They had just finished building a fine monument, 
which was at once destroyed by the fierce iconoclast 

A year or two ago the ruins of Cedrata, the site 
of which is indicated in old Mozabite chronicles, 
were dug out of the deep sand which had com- 
pletely buried them. They indicate a more 
advanced, in fact more Phoenician, civilization 
than do the modern Mozabite buildings. In the 
chief houses several fine rooms surrounded a central 
atrium, and the slaves' quarters were situated 
behind the kitchen. In contradistinction to the 
Arab custom — and this proves the difference of 
origin of the two races — none of the mouldings 
were in plaster, but a rather coarse-grained 


cement was used for decorative purposes and for 
the inscriptions on the walls. 

Truly our ex-merchants of Carthage found them- 
selves on the horns of a dilemma. Not knowing 
what to do to escape their persecutors, they took 
refugee in the most arid, the most desolate and 
deserted, place they could find in the Sahara. 
There was already a deep rift, a sudden gap in 
the lofty sterile plateau, choked up it is true with 
sand, sand, and yet more sand, but it was capable 
of development, and the Mozabites decided to 
take refuge in it. They made their mercenaries — 
for, fresh from Carthage, of course they too had 
their mercenaries — dig wells and plant palms, and 
had ere long established themselves on the little 
acclivities which broke the general desolation. 
These they fortified, and in course of time their 
settlements grew into towns. 

It will be readily understood that, as they had 
been persecuted for their belief, which they dignified 
by the name of religion, the Mozabites soon 
arrogated to themselves the title of saints. Their 
cities became holy cities, and one of them, Ben- 
Izguen, was declared to be the most holy of all. 
To this day no one enters it on horseback, and 
to smoke in it would be to commit sacrilesfe. 
No card-playing, no singing, no drinking is 
allowed in it. All profane pleasures are forbidden, 
Alas ! that I must add, evil tongues declare that, 


as elsewhere, the greater the saint the greater 
the sinner, and the people in the neighbourhood 
of Ben-Izguen liken it to Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Well, here we are at last, if by a bad road, safely 
arrived at Wady M'zab, as it was in the 19th 
century of our era ! Let us climb up on to the 
rugged height which dominates the valley. 

On every side we find death, nothing but death ! 
Black, melancholy-looking stones strew the arid 
soil. We have been marching for miles and miles, 
for days and days, through monotonous districts, all 
exactly alike, and have come quite suddenly, when 
we least expected it, upon the Wady M'zab lying 
stretched at our feet, with its holy cities looking, 
in spite of all the sand it contains, like a veritable 
Eden in the Desert. There are clumps of palms 
and there are towns, which, from a distance at 
least, are not unlike those of Europe. There 
are wells, gardens, vegetation, even flowers ! 
Forgetting the sins of its people, we feel as if 
we were approaching Paradise. And, truth to 
tell, the Mozabites — industrious, persevering and 
patient, as they are, with many virtues to set 
against their defects — really do deserve our 
gratitude and indulgence, if only for the delightful 
surprise their valley is to the weary traveller. 

Five of the holy cities in this Wady are within 
sight of each other, namely : Ghardaya, the 
capital, Melika, Ben-Izguen, Bou-Noura, and 



El-Ateuf. The other two, Berryan and Guerra, 
are on the upper plateau. The inhabitants of 
the whole valley number some 32,000 altogether. 

Seen from the brow of the plateau, the holy 
cities are all exactly alike, so much so, that one 
might easily be taken for the other ; for all 

have yellow or grey houses, with arcades and 
niches, looking from a distance like bee-hives. 
The minarets of the mosques are all alike, so 
are the little forts, so are the towers ! 

Each town is governed by a Caid and a sort 
of council, called a jemba, which looks after 


the affairs of the community as a whole, for the 
Mozabite settlements form a confederation, still 
maintained even since the French occupation ; 
but this confederation cannot be called a fraternity, 
for civil war has been of constant occurrence. 

Civil war and trade ; these are the two chief 
occupations of tlje Wady M'zab, and just now the 
latter is entirely in the ascendant. 

Honour to whom honour is due! We will 
consider trade to begin with, premising that it 
is honestly carried on. Everywhere we see the 
Mozabite behind his counter, his horn spectacles 
upon his nose, scribbling down columns of notes 
and figures in his account-book, writing them 
from left to right, as is the Oriental fashion. 

Trade may be divided into three principal 
sorts, namely, the caravan trade, of which one 
of the chief emporiums is the Wady-M'zab ; the 
trade carried on in shops in all the Algerian and 
Tunisian towns to which the Mozabites emigrate ; 
and the more modest retail home trade. 

It must not be forgotten that the Sahara — no 
single district of which produces all the necessary 
articles of consumption — lives by barter, and this 
barter is effected by the agency of the Mozabite. 
whose capital permits him to indulge in speculation. 
The Wady-M'zab is, therefore, one of the great 
markets of the Sahara. The most important 
transactions take place to a certain extent in 


private, but in the public streets a good deal of 
business of a less remunerative kind is done. 

The chief articles brought to the Wady-M'zab 
and sold in the shops are wool, grain, fruit, woven 
materials, embroideries, haberdashery, weapons and 
harness. Pawnbroking and lending money on 
usury are also practised, and the M'zab merchants 
do not disdain petty transactions in which only 
a few sous are risked. 

What may be called the trade carried on in the 
street, or partly in the street, is the most picturesque, 
but not nearly so lucrative as the more private 
business done. I mean, for instance, the sale of 
meat and of wood. The latter is a most valuable 
commodity, brought from a long distance off, for 
palm wood is useless as fuel. Each little stick 
is weighed separately, sometimes as often as seven 
times, and no end of discussion goes on before 
a bargain is finally struck. 

Most of the Mozabites are very religious and 
do a lot of praying before, during, or after their 
trading. They are very particular about their 
genuflexions, of which they indulge in a great 
number. If one of them is travelling in a public 
vehicle, it must be stopped in the open country, for 
him to get out and say his prayers at the right time 
according to the prescribed rites of his sect. 

Two of the Abadite mosques made an especially 
profound impression upon me. I often fancy myself 


back in the town of Berryan, having just left the 
presence of the Caid, a very typical personage, 
who, in spite of myself, I could not help fancying 
to have been a Carthaginian merchant of the 
already troublous times of Hasdrubal and Hamilcar. 
He was a very rich man, and what with his capital, 
his obstinate will, his moral and physical strength, 

his perseverance, his duplicity, his pride, and his 
versatility, well worthy to belong to that great 
Barca family. He only needed a wider sphere 
than the Wady M'zab to do as great things as 
the merchant princes from whom he was probably 
descended, for he had all the necessary qualities 
of a great merchant. 

Now I naturally supposed that a temple in which 


such important personages as my friend the Caid 
of Berryan worshipped God five times a day, 
praying Him to bless their enterprises, and to 
further their interests in every way, would be 
beautifully decorated, if not quite equal in splendour 
to the sanctuaries of Tanith, or Baal-Haman, 
and, behold ! here I was stumbling about in 
a wretched, gloomy little court, with miserable 
niches, dark corners, and tattered awnings. A 
humble building truly, very old for this land, 
where everything crumbles away, making me 
doubt whether, after all, these Mozabites are 
really of Carthaginian origin. But I was wrong, 
as the sight of the mines of Cedrata has since 
proved to me, not to speak of Punic architectural 
details on the top of the Berryan Tower itself 

What, I asked myself then, could be the cause 
of the dilapidated state of this miserable little 
mosque ? A moment's reflection sufficed to make 
the whole thing clear to me. In olden times, 
before the Exodus, first to the Wady Mya, and 
later to the primitive Wady M'zab, then quite 
uncultivated, the climate and the materials for 
building were such that no better structures could 
be produced. A habit of economy had been 
induced, and this habit tradition had confirmed. 
Evil tongues might, perhaps, say that love of 
money was really at the root of the matter, but 
this, I think, would be unfair. As I looked at 



the faithful jostling each other in the narrow 
passages, they seemed to be muttering some such 
explanation as this : "By the great sheikh, Jacob, 
Allah, the all-powerful, enjoys such splendour in 
the seven heavens, that He cannot distinguish the 
mean from the sumptuous at such a distance as 
He is above the earth down below. We have 

shade in which to say our prayers ; that is all we 
want. It is really better so, for we pray more 
earnestly in a poor church, because the eyes of 
the body find nothing in it to distract the eyes of 
the soul, and because our hearts are not affected 
by seeing money wasted ! '" 

Later, the worshippers I saw in the mosque at 
Ghardaya, the capital, gave me very similar im- 
pressions. The crumbling grey walls, the gaping 


arches, the wretched Httle places in which the 
vessels for ablutions were kept, were all of a most 
inferior description ; yet from the top of the terraces 
of the town, I could see in the foreground the 
solid iron doors of the private houses, and further 
away, the clean, well-built streets, opening on to 
good ramparts and bastions. 

The excellent Caid of Ghardaya, less Cartha- 
ginian, but more cheerful, than his brother of 
Berryan, pretended that he had sprained his foot, 
so as to get out of having to do the honours of 
.the mosque for us himself For here the presence 
in the sacred building of Rumis is looked upon 
as so great a profanation that he did not want to 
seem to sanction it. As for persuading the said 
Rumis to give up their sacrilegious visit, he had 
no hope of that. " By the name of Allah," he 
probably said to himself, "these victorious Rumis 
are incorrigibly curious." 

I can assert, however, that, Rumis though we 
were, we were very reasonable. We did aot 
contaminate by contact with our feet the praying- 
mats on which the faithful were prostrated in silent 
devotion. Our very presence, however, so evi- 
dently annoyed and distressed the worshippers, 
that we quickly withdrew to the summit of the 
cracked tower of the mosque, guided up the pitch- 
dark staircase by a semi-hostile sacristan with a 


From this tower a view is obtained of nearly the 
whole of the Wady M'zab. The symmetrical 
pyramids of the holy cities rise up so near to 
each other that, according to official documents, 
they could all five be enclosed in a circular wall 
measuring some three miles and a half. Every 
here and there, between the green patches of 
verdure of the oases and the russet-brown stretches 
of sand, were what looked like raised and paved 
platforms, gleaming white in the sunshine amidst 
the rough stones with which the desert was strewn. 

" What are they } " we asked of the sullen 

" Cemeteries," was the reply. " There are several 
for each town. Those raised white platforms you 
see are for the use of mourners who can go and 
weep in them for the departed, without any fear of 
soiling their fine burnouses." Truth to tell, these 
melancholy-looking platforms reminded me at this 
distance of the Towers of Silence of certain parts 
of India, only there were no dead bodies and no 

They are surrounded by tombs, which are mere 
piles of unworked stones with no inscriptions, not 
a sio-n to shew who rests beneath them. None 
but Saints and perhaps a few rich men have a 
rio-ht to the mausoleums which the sacristan 
pointed out to us down below : quaint-looking 
round or pointed cupolas made of sham stone rising 


up to Heaven in a manner which seems very 
incongruous here, and recalls the religious customs 
of Nineveh and Tyre. 

On the graves of those who have not achieved 
the dignity of sainthood, rags and broken pottery 
are thrown as well as stones. This custom is a 
relic of the worship of spirits to which I shall 
refer again later, and the accumulated debris serves 
also for identification of the tomb. Blind old 
women indeed sometimes recognize the last resting 
place of some loved one by feeling the pieces of 
broken pottery strewn on it. 

And we Riimis, aliens in a foreign town amongst 
a people sullenly hostile to us, as we look down 
from our minaret upon these tombs and platforms, 
seem to see in the broken pottery strewing the 
former, an emblem of the cup of life, drained and 
emptied by those cut off by death. And as the 
nasal droning of the Mozabite devotions is wafted 
up to us our melancholy becomes tinged with a 
kind of fatalist resignation. 

But it is time we left this lofty position with its 
depressing associations. Shall I talk to you 
instead of the school connected with every mosque, 
where the ^lozabite children are taught to recite 
the Koran ? Well, these schools are supported 
by a commercial tax on dates, a tribute paid in 
kind. Teachers, scholars, muftis, or doctors of 
the law, and iinans or priests, are all supported 



entirely by the impost on these sweet fruits. When 
there is any stock of them left at the end of the 
year, they are sold for the maintenance of the 
priests, or the proceeds are given away in alms. 

Or shall I talk to you about the social class, 
or rather the caste of the so-called tolbas or 
theologists ? These are the very pillars of virtue, 
the candidates for what I may call official sanctity, 
who move about in the streets with measured steps, 
and grave, modest demeanour, draped in fine white 
linen ; never indulging in any colour. They must 
lead, or appear to lead, pure and chaste lives, for, 
alas ! amongst the Mozabites to be, and to appear 
to be, are far more synonymous terms than they 
once were ! As is well known, these tolbas are 
the guardians of sacred tradition, the expounders 
alike of the civil and the ecclesiastical law in all 
Mussulman countries. In the Wady M'zab, they 
diligently keep up the schism between their sect 
and the rest of the Mahommedans, which schism 
consists in denying amongst other things the 
sacred books of the Arabs ; those three hadiiks, 
or precepts of the Sunna, as Mahomet's oral 
teaching is called, propagated after the death of 
the Prophet by his disciples, his nephew Ali, and 
his beloved young wife, Aisha, the daughter of Abu- 
Bekr. They eagerly discuss one preliminary point 
of the utmost importance : did this same Aisha, 
pretty frivolous girl that she was, forget her duty 


one day in company with the handsome Safrann ? 
Deeply interesting problem, about which the tolbas 
of Ben Izguen and those of Ghardaya were for 
long at daggers drawn, the theological dispute on 
the burning question being all the hotter because 
their brethren of El-Ateuf and Melika could not 
agree about it either. 

To us Europeans, this reads like a caricature 
of the truth. But there is really nothing exagge- 
rated or surprising about it, for there is something 
of the buffoon in every Mozabite, and with him 
there is always a comic element, even in the most 
serious subjects. 

The Mozabites are all stout fellows, and mounted 
on their donkeys, who have more spirit than they 
have, they are very like Sancho Panza, only there 
are no Don Quixotes in their country. They wear 
canary-coloured slippers, and their dress is much 
the same as that of the Arab, except for the striped 
ganduras or abayas they sport when in neglige 

From all that I have said about the absorption 
of the Mozabite in business and in prayer, it might 
be supposed that three-fourths of his time being 
consumed in them he would not be able person- 
ally to fulfil the precept of Voltaire's Candide : 
" Cultivate your garden," and yet the beautiful 
gardens of the oases prove that the land is certainly 


not allowed to lie fallow. Here is the explanation 
of the mystery : without counting his workmen 
and the cultivators of his distant farms, his kJiavmies 
at Wargla, for instance, the Mozabite has two 
sets of servants to help him with his home 
agriculture. These servants are slaves, nominally 
freed, and hired labourers, their employment being 
a survival of the old Carthaginian system, destroyed 
in principle by the French annexation of the 
country, but still in vogue for all that. 

The slaves are negroes brought from the Soudan 
by caravans, and since their forced emancipation 
in 1802, they have remained servants either with 
or without wages. Their position in the family, 
which was from the first a comfortable one enouo-h, 
is practically unchanged. How much there is to 
be said on that subject ! — but I shall recur to it 
again later ; for the moment we will speak of the 
hired servants or mercenaries only. 

The word mercenary sounds strange in our 
modern ears. It carries us back in imaoination 
to Carthage, to the ancient Hipponi, a Punic city 
even before the time of the Romans. We recall the 
later arrival of the warriors of Islam, the first ex- 
pulsions of heretics in the name of religious dogma ; 
and in so doing we get something of an inkling 
of the state of mind of the future Mozabites, the 
cowardly merchants .driven into the Sahara, 
bewildered in the vast trackless desert. " Alas ! how 


are we to defend ourselves," they must have cried, 
" how are we to fight ? " They were accustomed 
to buy and sell weapons, not to use them. 

Then, turning to account the money which I 
believe they took with them in their exile, they 
found a way out of their difficulty. Following 
the traditions of the old capital of their native 

country, they converted the pastoral people whose 
tents were pitched near their own infant cities 
into their mercenaries. That ancient Carthaginian 
tradition is a stubborn one, dying very hard — in 
fact, it is really not dead yet. 

These pastoral tribes were soon organized into 
a kind of feudal militia, the Mozabites of 
Berryan pressing into their service the Aulad- 
Yaya, the people of Ghardaya, the Beni-Merzug 
with certain of the Shaanba tribes. The weapons 


and camels of the mercenaries became practi- 
cally the property of the new Mozabite masters, 
in whose pay their owners were, and it was the 
duty of these mercenaries to go forth against the 
enemies of their lords, to escort convoys and 
caravans as far as the Soudan, etc. The re- 
lations, practically those of master and serf are 
transmitted from father and son, neither dreaming 
of shirking his share of the bargain. I must 
add, however, that some of the Shaanba are not 
quite so faithful to their obligations, and will sell 
themselves to the highest bidders, not scrupling 
even to betray their masters sometimes. 

Sometimes, too, there are internecine quarrels 
between soff and soff^ as political parties are called 
in the Sahara, when, perhaps, the men of Ghardaya 
send their mercenaries to cut the throats of the 
people of Melika or vice-versa, for there is no one 
more pugnacious than the Mozabite when he is not 
in the way of receiving any blows himself Nothing 
but the vigorously enforced supremacy of the 
French has been able to suppress these constant 
civil broils, resulting in what can only be called 
assassinations and massacres. In spite, however, 
of the comparative tranquillity of the country under 
the new rdgime, the mercenaries are still necessary. 
Who but they will watch over the flocks ? Who will 
protect the stores and caravans against the raids 
of pillagers ? Who else, weapon on shoulder, will 


escort the camels, laden with valuable merchandise ? 
All these questions, moreover, can be asked the 
other way round. Who but the Mozabite will give 
employment to the mercenary ? Who else will 
repair his house ? Who will feed him, his wife, and 
his children, in bad years ? Who will replace 
the few beasts of burden owned by the mercenary 
when they succumb to sudden attacks of dis- 
temper ? 

All this seems logical enough, but I do not 
suppose that when that worthy old fellow Hamilcar 
Barca bought and sold, speculated and organized 
his mercenaries, or when he accumulated stores 
to re-victual his irregular troops, he foresaw these 
Carthaginian descendants of his who dwell in the 
desert of Sahara. 




Ever since my arrival in the Wady M'zab, I have 
been anxiously wondering if I should have to spend 
all my time looking at cemeteries and mosques, or 
wandering about amongst the shops, which, by the 
way, are curious enough. Should 1 have to leave 
the country without having seen any of the women, 
and be content with vague information supplied by 
those who have never set eyes on them either, and 
who used to say to me, shaking their heads, 
" Madame, it is quite impossible ! " 

Quite impossible to go and see the Mozabite 
women ! I felt not unnaturally Incredulous, spoiled 
as I had been by the kind welcome I had received 
from all the Arab and Berber women I had visited 
elsewhere. The more I insisted, however, the 
greater were the obstacles thrown in my way ; and 
the greater the obstacles, the more eager did I, of 
course, become to overcome them. I had heard 
that the M'zambiya, or Mozabite woman, has a pink 
and white complexion and is of rather a large build, 



and I was under the impression, though I could not 
be sure, for I rely on the evidence of my own eyes 
only, that she enjoys less freedom than any of her 
sex in the Sahara. She dwells behind lofty walls, 
of smooth, unbroken surface, which give to every 

house a misleading appearance of strength. She is 
scarcely ever allowed to visit the tombs of the dear 
ones she has lost, or to see the few friends she 
owns ; indeed, she only meets them at weddings ; 
and even on such occasions she is packed up, not 
in a veil, but in a huge thick woollen covering, 
either grey or white, from which not so much as 


the one bright eye I used to see at El Aghuat 
peeps out, and this veil so completely disguises 
her that no one can tell in the least what she is 
like or how she walks. 

I knew, too, this time not from mere hearsay, 
but for a well-authenticated fact, that the M'zabiya 
is protected alike by what are called the laws of 
emigration and — extraordinary expression ! — of the 
shirt ! Truly there is nothing more quaint in the 
Mussulman system of theology than this law of the 
shirt, retained, perfected, and added to by the 
Mozabite heretics and proudly boasted of by them 
as a guarantee of their conjugal felicity, an infallible 
means of patching up any flaws in the marriage 
contract or offences against marital fidelity. 

It will be remembered that the Mozabite mer- 
chant who leaves home on business has to return 
-every two years to look after his gardens and 
-console his wife for his absence. The latter, in fact 
has a right to divorce without appeal if he outstays 
his two years. Moreover, which is a far greater 
preventive of forgetfulness, she can take her 
husband's property away as well as her own when 
she leaves his roof. Now, to keep her patient 
whilst he is away, the Mozabite takes certain pre- 
cautions. When the sad moment for parting 
comes, he places one of his shirts in his own place 
on the nuptial couch, as a protection to his wife and 
as a guard of his honour. If on his return home. 


he finds an addition to his family, the child is his, 
bears his name, is accepted as legitimate. No one 
makes any invidious remarks ; a miracle has been 
wrought, that is all. 

I could not help feeling that it was rather absurd 
after this to make such a fuss about the admission 
of a woman, even if a Rumi, to a Mozabite home, 
so I resolved on a bold step. One day I watched 
and waited till I saw one of the bundles of wraps 
I knew to be a M'zabiya going along in a narrow 
alley. The bundle, as if suspecting my design, 
fled tremblingly before me, sliding against the 
white walls as if entreating those walls to swallow 
her up and protect her, as she tried to efface herself 
against them. But I had the advantage over her 
in my unfettered movements. I caught her up, this 
" Faffa " or " Mamma," and I touched her with my 
finger. She uttered a cry of distress. I made the 
usual polite remark in local use, " How beautiful 
thou art ! " at which she seemed to shudder. Then 
I tried, very gently of course, to draw aside her 
veil and I received a staggering blow, which took 
away all wish to persevere. After this she ran 
away and disappeared round a corner of the street, 
whilst I debated in my mind how I should achieve 
my object by less violent means. 

I resolved to go and see the Caid of Ghardaya 
whom I already knew, for that worthy functionary 
was the one whose strained ankle had prevented 


him from going with me to the mosque. There is 
nothing more convenient in the Wady M'zab than 
a strain ; it gets better or worse just as occasion 
demands. I found him installed in his adminis- 
trative office a long way from his private residence, 
but to my questions about the Mozabite women, he 
answered never a word. However, he offered to 
escort me to the chief oasis. His strained ankle 
was better, much better, he could ride quite well 

So we started together for the lovely gardens 
of the oasis, where the plaintive noise made by 
the pulleys of the wells — resembling the long- 
drawn-out notes of birds — never ceases day or 
night. It was spring time, and the trunks of 
the sturdy palms were draped with creeping vines, 
whilst beneath the shade of their spreading 
branches grew numbers of apricot trees, then in 
full flower, shedding the pink petals of their 
blossoms in the breeze. 

I again spoke to the Caid about the women, 
and he replied with remarks on dykes and water 
channels. He assured me that if all the inhabitants 
of the Wady M'zab were to be wrapt in an 
enchanted sleep for two months, there would be 
no Wady M'zab when they awoke. It would be 
dried up, done with — lost for ever ! Everything 
here is artificial. To human ingenuity is due 
every scrap of vegetation, for it is the hand of 



man alone, doling out water drop by drop, which 
gives to the torrid sand a temporary fertility. 

"You see the shady spot over there," said my 
guide. " Well, our families come out here to live 
in those little houses, or, rather, to cook in them, 

for they live and sleep, even the richest of them, 
out of doors under the trees." 

I began to question my companion again about 
the women. Did they and the young girls come 
out here, too ? But, alas ! the Cai'd began to 
dwell on the value of a palm tree, which re- 
quires some forty years of care to attain its full 
development. Suddenly, however, he fell into 
the trap, walking into it unconsciously, or, it 
may be, with his eyes open, for at last he began 


on the subject of which my mind was full by 
saying : 

"■ We are obliged to have gardens in order to 
be able to marry our sons. For the first question 
the father of a girl asks is, ' Has he got a good 
garden to give me as a dowry ? ' " 

I caught the ball at the rebound. " Why," 
I enquired, " do you marry your daughters so 
young } I do not think that Allah has ordained 
the sacrifice of mere children of eight or nine 
years old." 

He protested that such things do not happen 
now ; girls are not married till they are fourteen. 
When, however, I expressed my scepticism, he 
did not press the point, and I fancy he guessed 
that I was well informed. The fact is, the Caids 
shut their eyes to the evil, and allow local cadis 
to take refuge beneath the aegis of the law when 
such abuses are committed. 

" It is all for the best," remarked my guide. 
" Good dowries are easily lost it you do not make 
haste to secure them." And then he branched off 
into confidences about such things as the way 
the women dress their hair in these parts. Un- 
married girls, he told me, gather their hair 
into three very symmetrical little chignons, one 
at the back of the head, and one above each 
ear, but marriage changes all that, for the matrons 
wear one huge chignon very low in the neck, 


something in tlie Japanese style. On fete days, 
however, some of the hair is piled up above the 
forehead, and two long locks droop on either side 
of the face. 

" All the hair, you know, is well combed out, 
and kept very clean." 

Truth to tell, I did not at the time understand 
all the explanations given me by the worthy Caid, 
and it was not until some time later that I verified 
his description of the fashionable coiffure of the 
Mozabite women. 

" Is it true, Caid," I asked presently, " that your 
women never receive anybody } " 

At this point-blank question he poured out a 
volley of words, of which I could only distinguish 
a few, such as "no instructions — I don't know — 
very unfortunate," and so on. 

" But, Caid, I am a friend, you know. You will 
take me to see your wife, will you not ? " 

He turned pale ; he was evidently annoyed, and 
when I repeated my request, he said : 

" No, no ; it really is impossible. Do you think 
I would refuse anything to you that I could grant ? 
My wife would weep, and you would only feel 

Back again at the office, the Caid gave me some 
excellent coffee to drink, and also presented me 
with a big box of sweetmeats ; but nothing would 
induce him to alter his determination. 


" No, no ; with my wife or any other woman 
at Ghardaya, you would only find it very dull." 

The afternoon of the next day found me in the 
reception-room of a third Caid — that of Ben-Izguen 
— amongst piles of stuffs, rusty weapons, baskets, 
chests, etc. I had not the slightest hope of 
obtaining what I wanted here. In this dissolute 
town of rigidly virtuous aspect, hostile, too, as 
it was to the Rumis, how could I expect that 
barriers and obstacles would be removed to please 
me ? 

No, I had no hope ! I was fresh from my 
wanderings in the mysterious-looking streets, 
reminding me of the Carthage of olden times, with 
the fortress-like houses, the doors barred with iron, 
the footways raised about a foot and a half above 
the ground. But this modern Carthage was a 
Carthage in the desert, a bigoted Mussulman 
Carthage, where the merchants of sweet-smelling 
spices are not privileged to indulge in the " in- 
famous customs," described by Flaubert. The 
worship of Allah combined with a certain memory 
of that of Tanith, produces a curious mixture, 
and the traditional little bastion to each house, 
supposed to have been originally built by the 
angels to protect pious Mozabites from intrusion, 
is the only thing to distinguish Ben-Izguen from 
Ghardaya, and even that gives one the impression 
of an anachronism. 




But to return to my Caid. Presently I saw 
him bring forth from a chest a wonderful collection 
of tinsel finery, a perfect tangle of many-coloured 
ribbons. He placed the whole pile in front of me, 
and I made out several decorations, amongst which 
I recognized the well-known Academic palms. 

Evidently my Caid was ambitious. Did he 


aspire to the honour of wearing the red ribbon ? 
I wondered. Shall I be very much blamed for 
turninof to account his mistaken ideas of mv 
influence with the home authorities ? Without 
the slightest hesitation I said to him : 
" I should like to see your wife, oh Caid ! " 
He gave me a searching look, shook his head, 
and then disappeared into the heiirm, or harem. 


What was going on, I wondered, behind those 
walls ? What orders was the master issuing — 
what severe instructions ? Anyhow, a quarter 
of an hour later, I had been ushered into the 
sacred place, in other words, into a semi-covered- 
in court of considerable size, a kind of atrium, to 
which air and light are admitted by means of a 
large bay window, open to the blue sky of heaven. 

There she stood, the wife of the Caid, between 
her daughter-in-law and her sister-in-law, em- 
barrassed but smiling, stretching out her bare 
arms, loaded with bracelets, towards me. A veil 
embroidered with a floral design of many colours, 
fell from the fichu which served her as head 
covering', and was worn low on the forehead 


and fastened behind. A quantity of woollen 
drapery completed the costumes, evidently those 
of every day of the three women, indigo blue 
for the wife, dark red for her daughter, and dark 
green for her sister. This drapery was arranged 
about their well-formed, robust-looking figures, 
in wide folds, leaving the neck and shoulders, 
which were of gleaming whiteness, quite bare ; 
I never saw such milk-white complexions any- 
where else, except amongst the women of Sweden, 
as those of these Mozabites. The effect was 
heightened by the ebony of the hair and the 
jet of the eyes. 

" Enti zina." "Thou art beautiful," I said to 



each of the three in Arabic, for I did not know a 
word of their language, and they smiled at me in a 
contented way. Then they squeezed my hands 
and embraced me, pressing me against their 
breasts, in spite of all the formidable pins they 
wore, which were not unlike stilettoes. I felt rather 
as if I were being caressed by amiable panthers, 
and I should not have been sorry to have had 
some sure protector beside me, if only my little 
servant Miloud, who had been turned back at the 
door with gestures of horror at the idea of his 
comino- in. 

" Thou art amiable, thy house is beautiful, 
may Allah reward thee for thy kind welcome," 
I went on, but they did not understand me. They 
only stared at me in an inquiring way, with 
eyes in which I saw a dawning distress. 

The Caid began to laugh, and I said to him : 
" But, Caid, they understood what I said 
just now well enough," to which that profound 
psychologist replied in a peremptory tone, as he 
pointed a very fat finger upwards : "A woman 
always understands when she is told she is 

Then the women, who were not yet spoiled 
by the stoutness of middle age, placed their 
superb arms about my waist, and led me round 
the hall or atrium. In the middle of one of the 
walls, I noticed a strange - looking stove, a 


furnace in fact, used for washing, as well as cook- 
ing, judging by the gutters for carrying off water. 
In any museum it would be taken fof an altar 
of human sacrifice. The many-coloured decorations 
of the walls, the quaint-looking vases, etc., were 
all quite unlike anything I had seen amongst 
the Arabs, and there was about everything a 
barbaric sumptuousness, a reserved dignity, so to 
speak, which I found very impressive. 

"But come! " cried the Caid, and it was, alas! 
outside I had to come, for in his opinion my 
visit had lasted long enough. He cut short the 
gestures of farewell of the women ; he was evidently 
nervous and a little uneasy. 

" Do your women never go out, then ? " I 
asked. " Do they not find it dull during your long 
absences ? " 

"Why should they find it dull?" he replied. 
" They guard their virtue even as Khadija 

The reader will remember who Khadija was : 
the first wife of the Prophet, the venerable Mother 
of the Faithful ( Uinmu — Mtiviinin), the wealthy old 
female merchant, whom Mahomet so completely 
wheedled, and whom he left at home when he 
went to trade in Syria, Mesopotamia, or even 
as far away as Persia. Khadija believed blindly 
in his mission, even in his famous journey to 


To follow the example of Khadija! That 
means to say, the Mozabite women are to be 
content to remain alone for two years or more, 
whenever the exigencies of money-making require 
it. Admire your husband, ■ believe all he tells 
you, however improbable and absurd it may be, 
that is the advice ofiven to the Mozabite wife 
who, moreover, must wear mourning, nothing but 
black, and lay aside all her ornaments, during her 
lord's interminable absences. The only consolations 
and distractions she has are those of the shirt, 
already described, and the dances of her negress 
servants. They are dull, these poor women, what- 
ever the Ca'id of Ben-Izguen may say to the 
contrary. They are dull, though they live in fairly 
big towns, for they are not allowed to go beyond 
the narrow limits of their houses, they never get 
any change of scene whatever. Their beautiful 
limbs are enchained by the most rigid superstitions, 
they are a prey to the most harrowing nervous 
tremors. They are afraid of mere shadows, and 
they are consumed with ennui ; as a result, hysteria 
is rife amongst them, and it is no rare thing for 
one of them to go out of her mind. 

When the husband comes back the whole house- 
hold brightens up, and a regular fete is held in 
his honour. His arrival with his purse well filled, 
and his baggage full of presents for his women, 
is indeed cause for rejoicing. No more black 



garments, no more melancholy looks ! Out of the 
chest come the huge jewels, the costly, but heavy 
barbaric ornaments. The negresses give them- 
selves up to the preparations for feasting on a 
grand scale : a camel is roasted, whole sheep 
are boiled and served with rice, all manner of 
cakes mixed with oil are turned out, all to testify 
to the joy which the presence of the master causes 
— or ought to cause in the home. 

There is one very pretty custom connected 
with the return of the long-absent husband. The 
happy wife bids all the poor and beggars of the 
place to a feast, which is given in the cemetery, 
where all meet together. The hostess and her 
servants bring out great dishes of kouskous, meat, 
rice and bread, with big pitchers of water. Then, 
on the Tomb of her dead parents, the wife dispenses 
all these good things, which she calls alms, and 
after the meal, the pots and dishes from which it 
was served, are broken to the accompaniment of 
weeping and prayer. Amongst the piles of pieces 
of crockery on the tombs, a few provisions are 
left for the spirits of the departed — supposed to 
be always wandering near these homes of the 

" Do not persecute us, but rejoice with us in 
our happiness ! May Allah keep you in peace and 
health ! " 

Of course, I did not find out all this about the 


manners and customs of the Mozabite women in 
my twenty minutes' interview with the wife and 
sister of the Cai'd of Ben-Izguen. Emboldened 
by my first experience, and shutting my eyes to 
the fact that it was exceptional, I managed to gain 
admission to the women's quarter in several other 
houses. I went on knocking at the barred entrances, 
bristling though they were with iron, until at last 
they were opened to me. I slipped in behind the 
jealously-guarded and half-opened door, taking 
no notice of hostile or forbidding looks ; and in 
the end I recognized the wisdom of the Caid of 
Ghardaya, when he said to me in the oasis, " You 
would only find it dull." 

Everywhere the reception I met with was any- 
thing but pleasant. Several times, indeed, the 
hostility became active, and I was turned out bodily. 
In one or two instances I was even in danger. 

But I had my reasons for persevering in my 
efforts, unwelcome though they were. Was I to 
be content to learn nothing about these Mozabite 
women, when I had become quite familiar with 
the rest of their sisters of the Sahara ? No, indeed! 
So I went on, still interested but sad at heart, so 
very depressing was the hatred I met with on 
every side, the effect of which was like that of the 
ice and fog of winter, penetrating to the very joints 
and marrow. 

For all that, however, what poetic pictures I 


carried away in my memory. One family I 
remember especially, whom I visited in the twilight. 
There they were, all gathered together in the 
atrium, the pungent smoke from the juniper 
wood burning in the grate rising up to the blue 
patch of open sky above. Father, mother, several 
children, including the little fiancee of one of them, 
all putting a great restraint on themselves, holding 
themselves perfectly rigid, in fact, in their struggle 
to resist the desire to throw me out into the street. 
Their silence, their clenched fists, their mute 
attitudes of defiance, gave to them the fierce beauty 
of the conquered in the presence of the victorious 
enemy. Then in another house, a fine large 
residence, there was a camel in the ante-chamber, 
stretching out its long shaggy neck in the style 
of early sacred pictures, and, crouching on the 
hearth within, bending over a little child, was a 
woman past early youth, but still beautiful, and 
pathetic-looking. With a cold, dignified, almost 
aggressive simplicity, she raised seven of her 
fingers and uttered the Arab word, maoiU (dead). 
And her negress servant, as she escorted me out, 
thought it necessary to translate and comment 
upon that one word, for she remarked laconically 
and confidentially : Morto, sebba imUchatclui fini 
morto ! One of my sister Rumiyas, in fact, one 
of the sisters under Cardinal Lavio-erie, had 
caused all the trouble by wanting to wash one 


of the children. The touch of water the Mozabite 
women think is fatal to little ones, and this one 
touch had been enough to kill six others who had 
been brouQ-ht within the contagion. 

Then I often think of a little Mozabite with small 
delicately-moulded limbs who had already been 
married for four years, and was soon to become 
a mother, yet carried her burden with an ease 
and grace which were almost aesthetic, and are 
quite unknown to women disfigured by hard work 
and corsets. I don't know whether her husband 
was absent or at home just then, but I shall never 
forget her pretty attitude as she stood gently 
driving away the doves which kept coming to perch 
on her head and on her bare shoulders. This 
charming little woman was the only Mozabitya 
who did not tremble at my approach. 

"Oh, Allah, what shall we do?" she cried. 
" Here is the Rumiya coming into the house! " 

But she showed no ill temper about the tiring 
purifications she would have to see to after I was 
gone, to wash away the profanation caused by my 
Christian footsteps. 

A less pleasant episode occurred when I intruded 
on an assembly of women on the second day of a 
marriage fete. Whether they were excited by the 
games and dancing which had been going on, I do 
not know, but they behaved in a brutal way to me, 
and drove me out ignominiously. I took refuge on 



the terrace, where they dared not follow me, for fear 
they should be seen in my contaminating presence. 
I looked down in fear and trembling from my point 
of vantage, thinking how ugly their angry faces were 
as they gnashed their teeth at me. Loaded with the 
tinsel finery of their gala array, their cheeks painted 
white, red and gold, the tips of their noses and their 

chins touched with pitch, of all things in the world to 
use as an ornament, badly curled locks of hair falling 
along the sides of the temples, and heavy jewels 
here, there and everywhere, their appearance was 
certainly anything but attractive. Whereas the 
simple fichus and massive ornaments of their every- 
day costumes make them look like demure saints 
about to emerge from their shrines. 

As will be understood at once, I could not take 


up my abode for good in the niches or in the pigeon 
holes on the terrace. I had to get down again some- 
how, and when I set about doing so a terrible scene 
ensued. The bride of nine years old began to cry, 
the chief bridesmaid to scream ! some little wives 
married the previous year, one eight, the other ten 
years old — oh, Caid of Ghardaya, what did you tell 
me ? — yelled till they were out of breath. Then the 
rest of the women, the adults, flung themselves upon 
me, beating me, pushing me about, scratching me, 
and even pulling out a lock of my hair. Did they 
want to keep it as a souvenir, I wonder ? As for me, 
my recollection of them is anything but affectionate 
or grateful. The scene is still a nightmare to me, 
the one nightmare of my journey. Later, when the 
night-wind swept as was its wont across the desert, 
I fancied that I heard in my sleep the clamouring 
of the Mozabite women, and that their malienant 
hands were shaking my tent as if it were an old 
plum tree. 

" Oh, Allah ! oh, Allah ! " I seemed to hear them 
cry, "here is the Rumiya coming into the house ! " 




" Madame, would you not like to buy a pretty 
negress ? I know of one for sale, whom you can 
have for a hundred douros." * 

That is a question which was actually put to me 
during my recent visit to the Algerian Sahara. I 
must, however, hasten to add that there is really 
nothing revolting in the survival of a custom we 
Europeans consider barbarous. Slaves are never 
treated in this land of patriarchal manners with the 
harshness and cruelty which led to so much weeping 
over the Uncle Toms of the New World. The life 
of the negroes of the Sahara, in the Wady M'zab 
and at El Aghuat, is that so well described by 
Bernardin de Saint Pierre, in his " Paul et Virginie." 
Marie and Domingue, the good servants who were 
so devoted to their mistresses, who spoiled Paul, 
adored Virginie, and were looked upon in return as 
members of the family, were really, to all intents 

* A douro is worth about four shillings and fourpence in English 
money. — Trans. 


1 62 NEGjRESS slaves. 

and purposes slaves, the actual property of those 
to whom they gave themselves up so entirely and 
so willingly. 

When the decree for the abolition of slavery was 
promulgated in Southern Algeria, there was con- 
sternation amongst the masters, and grief amongst 
the negroes. The former enquired what crime 
there could be in feeding, clothing, and in return 
receiving easy service from those who, in their 
own land, would probably have been eaten by their 
stronger fellow countrymen, or would, if they escaped 
that fate, have succumbed to the privations and 
persecution to which they were subjected. The 
slaves, finding themselves alone in the desert free, 
really free, but without kouskoiis, without clothes, 
with no object in life, no one to love, or to love 
them, were in despair. For almost always, when a 
dog loses his master, it is the dog who grieves the 
most ; at least, this is how it is with country dogs ; 
I can't answer for those who have been perverted 
by living in a town 1 

The Arab offices now became thronged with 
weeping negroes, for the masters, afraid of dis- 
obeying, conformed at first to the new regula- 
tions, and, with the sorrow of death in their 
souls, turned away the companions of their 
wandering lives in the desert, and the guardians 
of their hearths. When caravans from a dis- 
tance arrived, white and black men wept together 


over an evil for which there seemed to be no 

" Who will help us with the work of irrigation ? 
Who will take care of our children ? Who will 
help our women in the house ? " sighed the 

And the answer was : 

" Keep your negroes as free servants, and pay 
them salaries." 

To which one and all replied : " But if we have 
no money ? " Whilst the slaves on their side 
urged : " What shall we do with money ? And 
if our masters die, what will become of us suppos- 
ing their heirs do not want to keep us .^ " 

So it went on ; murmuring and complaining on 
every side. And the civil and military establish- 
ments were full of weeping negroes, and everyone 
wondered how it would all end. 

In the course of a few years things settled down. 
Besides the negroes who came as emigrants to 
settle at Ghardaya or El Aghuat, who are perfectly 
free, and were established there long before the 
French occupation, there are three classes of blacks 
in the Sahara ; those who are treated like European 
servants, those who are nominally in receipt of 
wages — which are never paid — and those who have 
been made slaves in the good old-fashioned way, 
and whom the French leave in the condition in 
which they found them, a tolerant proceeding for 



which I, for one, do not blame them. The first 
comers amongst the negroes, the original emigrants 
alluded to above, live in colonies under the control 
of a Caid of their own. Their social organization 
is a system of mutual help, the women do the 
washing, etc., the men go out as gardeners by the 

The two classes of negroes who are practically 
the property of their masters, that is to say, those 
who never receive the wages they are nominally 
entitled to, and the actual slaves, now live exactly 
as they did before the time of the abolition 
decree. It is only the first of the three groups, 
those who are actually paid wages, who are really 
unhappy at the present time. With his wages 
the negro buys wine and raw spirits. He gets 
drunk, and loses his situation. Then he sinks 
into poverty and misery, and his one ambition is 
to find a good place as a slave or oticif. But this 
he rarely succeeds in doing, and charity alone, 
that virtue so much in repute amongst the Arabs, 
saves him from dying of hunger. 

The word oucif signifies in the Sahara either 
negro or slave, for the two things were identical 
in the old days when the dialect now in use was 
evolved. ]\Iost of the oucifs were born in the 
houses of the parents of their masters, but there 
are certain alien elements amongst them, for there 
is a constant influx of negroes from the Soudan. 


whose numbers are augmented by the gifts of 
slaves received by the great Arab merchants from 
the pious Mussulman population on the Niger. 

Very significant of how things were with them 
in their hot country are some of the stories 
told about these slaves from the Niger. A little 
girl who had not long been owned by a certain 
Arab Caid, and had been lent by him to the wife 
of a French officer, ran away from her comfortable 
situation at the end of a week, and threw herself 
at the feet of her real owner, her features haggard 
and convulsed, her whole form trembling with 
terror. "Oh, Ca'id ! Oh, my father!" she cried, 
"take me away from those people." The Caid 
at once jumped to the conclusion that the child 
had been cruelly ill-treated, but at last, between 
her sobs, she managed to explain the cause of her 
frantic despair : " Oh, take me away," she gasped ; 
"they give me too much food to eat!" The 
astonishment of the Caid can be imagined, and 
five notes of interrogation alone could do justice to 
his expression at hearing such a complaint. Good 
food naturally seemed to him a gift from Allah 
to be thankfully accepted, but at last, after much 
questioning, he elicited from the little negress the 
explanation : " Oh, Caid, dost thou not understand 
that they are fattening me up to eat me ? " 

I really do not know which is the more important 
in the Sahara, the negro or the negress. The 


latter is often a great favourite with her master, 
it is true, but the former is quite indispensable 
to him, and is entrusted with many a confidential 
mission. The devotion of both is absolutely un- 
limited ; they are as faithful as dogs to their 
owners. They have none of the laziness with 
which the blacks are so often charged. Then 
they are such sympathetic creatures, and so easily 
contented, these worthy negroes of the Sahara ! 
A very good and typical specimen is the old coffee 
roaster, Barka, who is eighty-seven years old, and 
whose philosophy is summed up in the brief 
sentence, " a good sou to buy tobacco and a good 
wife." Moreover, which is certainly very unlike 
what we have to put up with at home nowadays, 
young negro servants are as devoted as old ones, 
although, as is natural, their wisdom and experience 
are less than those of their predecessors. In all 
well-to-do families they are to be met with, and 
they are treated as children of the house. One 
young negro told me that his mistress had herself 
fed him from the breast when he was a baby, a 
very significant proof of the affection between 
mistress and servant. Indeed, the great kindness 
shewn by the women of the big tents to their 
negresses is one of the most pleasing characteristics 
of the quiet, secluded life they lead, shewing that 
their instincts are certainly by no means bad if they 
cannot, perhaps, always be called altogether good. 



It will be understood from all that I have 
said that in the Wady M'zab, annexed but a short 
time ago, slavery still exists, under a thin disguise. 
The slaves, in fact, play a very important part 
amongst the Mozabites. What would the gardens 
be like without the negroes ? What would become 
of the Mozabite ladies without the negresses ? 
At every turn in the streets you meet the latter, 
distinguishable by their blue draperies, hurrying 
about on their errands. They are alike musicians, 
singers, soothsayers, confidantes and accomplices. 
They are better than mere messengers, better 
than the best couriers, for they bring a little fresh 
air into the jealously-guarded harem, and, thanks 
to them, news does sometimes penetrate behind 
the strongly-barred doors. They represent all 
the life, the brightness and the activity of the 
gloomy interiors in which the women of the Sahara 
pass their lives, and their dancing and singing 
are the sole distractions of the evenings. 

The greatest indulgence is always shewn to 
the negresses and their husbands, for they all 
marry or form more or less legal unions. Presents 
are given to them, and they are even allowed 
to celebrate in their masters' houses the heathen 
fetes they still keep up, in spite of their conversion 
to Mohammedanism. Truly there is something 
very charming about the religious ceremonies of 
these negro slaves, invocations, sacrifices, super- 


stitions, mad dervish-like antics and all. Long 
may the good fellows amuse themselves, in their 
innocent way, for in the pious and hypocritical 
Wady M'zab, where never a trill of song is allowed 
to pass the lips of the native woman, where not a 
note of music is ever permitted to profane the 
air, except in the places — let them be accursed ! — 
protected by the wicked Rumis, the tinkling 
of the castanets and the ron ron of the tam-tavis 
or cymbals of the negroes goes on all night. 

"The joy of the slave," says the proverb, "is 
as a crown to the brow of his master." 

Yes, negresses of Ghardaya, Ben-Izguen and 
El-Ateuf, it is with beautiful arms and supple 
movements, and smiles showing your gleaming 
white teeth, that you place that crown of joy 
upon the heads of your masters ! 




But it is time for us to leave the Wady M'zab. 
I have compared it to an islet, alone in the vast 
expanse of waters. Truly this was a just com- 
parison, for the sandy districts surrounding it — 
the forbidding Chebka, the Shaanba Sahara, 
and the dreary Wady N'ssa differ less from 
the smiling districts occupied by the Mozabites, 
than do the poverty-stricken nomads from the 
wealthy heretic merchants. 

It is the nomads of the Sahara, whether they 
be mercenaries of the Mozabites or not, who 
seem to me to be the real inhabitants of the far- 
stretching arid wastes, which have their own magic 
and pathetic beauty. 

There is nothing particularly captivating or 
sublime about any one of these inhabitants, taken 
singly. It is, in fact, the environment which 
supplies the charm, and never did I see the human 
being harmonize more entirely with the frame in 



which he is set, than does the nomad of the desert. 
Never elsewhere did I more fully realize the 
insignificance of man as compared with nature ; 
for that great passing dream called life is like 
the dust driven by the wind, the accumulated 
grains of which make up the Desert. 

I loved them, then, these children of the Sahara, 

even as one loves the rocks of the mountains 
or the blast of the storm, and their memory abides 
with me much as does that of certain of the 
brute creation, which appeal to us in a language 
of which they themselves have no suspicion. 
The appearance, the customs, the modes of 
thought, of the nomads were a revelation to 

WHAT A wAdY is. 173 

me of the force of the elements in their native 
land, and also brought home to me the wonderful 
truthfulness of the descriptions in the writings of 
the ancients, which are so instinct with that feeling 
of awe inspired by the reality. Yea, I have greeted 
thee, oh Earth, which crumbles away and engulfs 
us ; Wind, which rends the rocks and effaces the 
dunes ; Fire, which burns and destroys ; Water, 
without which all life perishes ! 

Divine water, with which "Allah," says the Koran 
(Surah xvi. verse 69), " the all-merciful, resuscitates 
the earth when it is dead." Men bless it and 
women sing its praises, for truly it is a super- 
natural gift. Water, divine water, dominates 
the existence of these people ; nearly all their time 
is passed in seeking it. 

How can we camp, how can we settle down, 
without water ? they say ; how can we build our 
storehouses and our giirbis (huts) ? Whether 
nomad or sedentary, the dwellers in the desert 
must find what they call a r dir, or place where 
water filters through the sand, or a well already 
sunk, or they must themselves bore one in the 
wady, which is in the desert what the river is 

It seems a strange thing to talk about boring 
a well in a wady, or river, but it must be re- 
membered that a wady, strictly speaking, is the 
channel of a watercourse that is dry, except every 


two or three years, after a storm, when the water 
rushes tumultuously along, flecked with foam, like 
the waves of the sea. As a rule, the course of 
the rivers of the Sahara is subterranean, and by 
digging a few feet into the sand choking up the 
bed, a yellow brackish liquid is found. This 
water, never very abundant, quickly corrodes and 
absorbs the walls of the well sunk to obtain 
it, so that it soon becomes more and more like 

Do not cry out in disgust. The people of the 
Sahara drink this water with eager enjoyment and 
gratitude. You would drink it too, if your thirst 
were as great as theirs. Yes, you would drink it 
with intense delight, even after it had become 
tainted and stale by being carried for two or three 
days in skins in the hot sun ! 

In other districts, where there are no wadys or 
underground rivers, deeper wells are sunk, and a 
little water of a very inferior character is obtained, 
the wells being constructed of good masonry, and 
taken care of by a guardian or keeper, who 
is sometimes also the owner. A few palm trees 
are planted about these wells and are watered by 
hand. Just imagine what the life of the wife of 
this guardian, or of the wives of his sons, must 
be, tied down to this port in the ocean of sand, 
condemned to the isolation of the Desert, with 
absolutely no hope of change. How often must 



they be torn by conflicting emotions — pride in 
the ownership of their well, and pity for those 
who drag themselves to it in the hope of a 
drink. Their husbands often repeat to them frag- 
ments of the old Malekite code, by which the 

torrid South was ruled before the arrival of the 
Mussulmans : — 

"Article 1220. — The master of a well can dis- 
pose of it as of water in a vessel belonging to 

"Article 1221. — Nevertheless, he is bound to 
give to drink gratuitously to him who is in danger 


of perishing of thirst, and to others in return for 

" Article 1223. — But whosoever shall have dug 
a well in the dead districts of the Sahara (this 
is the great bone of contention — where do the 
cultivated districts end and the dead ones 
begin ?) shall be bound to let all use the water 
without payment, in the following prescribed 

"Article 1224. — First of all the traveller may 
drink, and the bucket for drawing up the water 
shall be lent to him ; after him the inhabitant of 
the district shall drink ; then the animals or the 
flocks of the owner of the well ; each one in his 
turn can drink of the water, but in case of urgency 
let him who is in danger drink first ! " 

Ah, danger ! That is the word, the one most 
important thing which binds together all the 
wanderers in the Desert. I remember one broiling 
day when we missed one of the subalterns of our 
escort, a silly young fellow named Tahar. We 
had exhausted our supply of water, but for all 
that the sokrhars and guides all declared that they 
would wait on those burning dunes, where it was 
as hot as in an oven, until Tahar was found. To 
go in search of him would only be to lessen his 
chance of joining them again. We should all 
drink, or nobody should ! The anxiety of all 


these good comrades was immense, although 
Tahar was neither the friend nor the relation of 
any of them. At last the camel drivers who had 
been sent to hunt for him came back, bringing 
the truant with them, who had hurt his leg and 
could only limp along. Well might we have 
quoted the proverb : " Make sure of your travelling 
companion even before you make sure of the 

Sometimes this much-prized water, comes in 
greater quantities than you care about ; there is 
no such thing as moderation in hot climates. At 
such times the lower parts of the plain are con- 
verted into a lake, with angry, tossing waves, which 
rush along, carrying tents, animals and men with 

The French soldiers were more than once 
surprised in this way in some wady they had 
not suspected of being a river in disguise, and 
several dozens of them met their deaths by drown- 
ing. The natives, warned by experience, are more 
careful, and choose the higher ground for their 
encampments ; but even they do not always 
escape ; as witness the disaster which, some 
fifteen years ago, overtook the dawar of the 
M'Khaliffs at a little distance from El-Aehuat, 

CD ' 

which was carried away bodily, leaving no trace 
behind it but a heap of corpses, the camels being 
all killed, as well as the women and children. But 




it was Maktub, or fate, said the surviv^ors, and 
they thought no more about it. Does a banker 
keep on dwelling on the accidents which take 
place in his gold mines ? Water is wealth, it is a 
sevenfold sacred thing and every mother teaches 
her children to use it sparingly and to hold it in 
reverent honour. 

" Throw no water away until thou hast found 

: i i l ^ iiri M iiUgiJi ||l<W!atWIJ8l *''°^'^f:' 

water," she says. " On the feet of the horse of 
thy father, or of the Caid, alone shalt thou pour 

When a child is leaving home, either to go with 
a caravan or to stay with some influential relations, 
the women who are to be left behind make him 
drink as a stirrup cup a bowl of water drawn 
especially for him from the nearest well. This 


water will act as a charm to bind him to the 
house or the tent of his fathers. " We shall not 
lose him/' they say, " he has drunk the water ; " 
the water, the short soft easy Arab name of which 
was the first to be stammered by his baby lips : 
" Ma-el-Ma ! " 






When a daughter is born in the tent of a dawar 
of the Arabs of the Sahara, there is no feasting 
or rejoicing. On the contrary, the event is passed 
over in silence, just as some slur on the family 
name would be. The father declines to look upon 
his progeny, and sometimes repudiates his wife 
for " giving him no children." For a girl is not 
looked upon as a child ; she is just a girl, and the 
contemporaries of Mohammed would have thought 
no more of burying her alive than Europeans do 
of drowning troublesome kittens. Mohammed him- 
self says, or, rather, Allah says, for the Prophet's 
words were inspired: "Will you attribute to God 
as a child with a soul the being which grows up 
decked in ornaments and finery, and always 
insists upon disputing without reason .-^ " 

It is very much the same amongst the sedentary 
tribes. Only they are less natural about it, and 
hide their disappointment at the birth of a girl 



better. Tolba — that being the plural for Taleb, 
or a man learned in the Koran and all sacred 
things — are invited to come and recite prayers, 
and the women who live near the mother hasten, 
one after the other, to see her during the nine 
days of her retirement. They console her by 
reminding her of the many heroines revered by 
the Mussulman religion, such as Khadija, the 

virtuous wife of the Prophet ; Aisha, his favourite 
young wife whom he held so sacred. May Allah 
preserve them all ! To go yet further back, there 
was the blessed Miriam,* and they appeal to the 
Koran itself — touching confession of the inferiority 
of the feeble sex — yet, at the same time, a proof 
of the glory which may yet occasionally accrue 
to a woman. 

" Oh, Lord," they quote, " all power is in Thy 

* Mary, the mother of Jesus. — Trans. 


hands, all good is in Thy hands, for Thou art 

" Thou dividest the night from the day and 
the day from the night, Thou bringest death out 
of life and life out of death. Thou givest food 
to whom Thou wilt. 

" God chose out from amongst all men Adam 
and Noah, the family of Abraham, and that of 
Imran. These families were descended the one 
from the other, Allah sees and hears all. 

" The wife of Imran having then received the 
promise of a child, prayed : ' Oh, Lord, I dedicate 
to Thee that which is in my womb.' And when 
she was delivered, she lamented : ' Oh, Lord, 
Lord, I have given birth to a girl.' Allah knew 
well what she had brought forth, for a boy is 
not like a girl. ' I have brought a girl into the 
world, and I have called her Miriam.' 

" Now the Lord had for all that caused her to 
bring forth a beautiful creature, and Zacharias 
the priest took care of the child. Every time he 
visited Miriam he found good food near her. 
'Oh, Miriam,' he said, 'whence hast thou this 
food?' 'It comes from God, for God feeds 
abundantly those whom He will, and does not 
dole it out bit by bit.' " 

According to the commentaries on the Koran, 
although Zacharias carefully closed the seven gates 
of the Temple, he always found winter fruit 


near Miriam in the summer and summer fruit in 
the winter. 

Touchingly significant of the ideal of a people 
who know so well what it is to suffer from 
hunger, is the reference to the delight in the good 
food supplied to her of Miriam, the gentle virgin 
who was to conceive, through the overshadowing 
of the Most High, Him whom the Arabs them- 
selves respectfully speak of as Sidna Aissa, our 
Lord Jesus Christ. 

I have quoted above the passage from the Koran 
because it is so very characteristic, showing as 
it does how the wife of Imran, whom we Christians 
call St. Anne, looked upon the birth of a girl 
when she had been promised — or thought she had 
been promised — a child, that is to say, a son. 
And I am reminded in this connection of the 
anxious face of a young Harazlia nomad whom I 
saw in his tent, pitched near the walls of Wargla, 
far away from El Aghuat, the head - quarters 
of his tribe. Beneath the tattered covering of 
that tent a woman, or rather a girl of fifteen, in 
a shabby red garment, was tossing in a feverish 
sleep. Her only ornaments were some copper 
bracelets and a little silver brooch, fastened at 
her breast. Evidently wife and husband were very 
badly off. 

Presently the latter said to me : " I am a poor 
man ; I come here to sell baskets of alfa. I do 



not want the tubib (doctor) of the French soldiers 
to come and see my wife, and I have no money 
to pay for a taleb cf our own. Give me some 
medicine (diia), then, oh, Rumiya ! " 

I enquired : " What is the matter with your 
wife ? Wake her, and let me examine her." 

Then he answered me : " There is nothing the 

matter with her, oh, Rumiya ; why should we 
wake her if Allah wishes her to sleep ? But her un- 
born child is ill, very ill. Oh, believe me, perhaps 
he will die ! and if it is a child (that is to say, a boy) 
I do not wish him to die. Oh, Rumiya, I have 
no child yet ! " 

His voice was choked with anguish, and when I 
looked meaningly at two tiny dirty little girls in 
tattered maliffas who were playing near, he added, 


in a surly voice, " They are only the girls of another 

" Are they not yours then ? "' I enquired. 

" Yes, they are mine ! " he replied. They were 
evidently, however, of no account compared to 
the unknown possible " child," who, according 
to his father, was in danger of never seeing the 
light. I must add that there is a word for 
boy in the Arab language, but it is hardly ever 
used ; a child always means a boy, and the ex- 
pression " I have no child,*' is as significant in 
the desert as " 1 have no son " would be in 

To die without male issue is considered a humi- 
liating misfortune, but to die without any issue at 
all is still worse, and means the loss of many 
chances of eternal life. 

Touched by the man's distress, I gave him a 
little bi-carbonate of soda, which could do neither 
harm nor good. I never found out whether the 
strange malady from which the unborn child was 
suffering, was cured, or whether three months after 
the young wife gave birth to a girl, and in her 
turn exclaimed piteously, " Oh, Lord, Lord, I have 
brought a girl into the world."' If it were so, no 
doubt the reception accorded to the new arrival 
was of the coldest. 

No doubt either that the old women of the 
Harazlia tribe belonging to the same dawar as the 


poor little wife secretly brought her the traditional 
caouah ; they wrapped up the baby girl, smeared 
her scarcely opened eyelids with kohl, manipu- 
lated her skull, invoking the name of Allah, and 
they bestowed on her, with prayer, the name of 
Khadija, or of Mesauda, meaning the daughter 
of her father. But it all had to be done mys- 
teriously, with hushed movements, in whispered 
tones, instead of with the noisy joy with which 
the birth of a real child, a son, would have been 

" My son ! my son, 02ildi ! ouldi ! " 

However, when the first bitterness of disappoint- 
ment is over, little girls and little boys are brought 
up in the same manner, equally petted and spoiled by 
their mothers. Dirty and covered with flies, they 
are jolted about on her shoulders as she carries 
them about, or they are left to play, with the goats 
and chickens in the warm soft sand which purifies 
everything. They are all happy enough, kindly, 
indeed tenderly, treated by their mothers and 
grandmothers, and sli// nioi'e loved by their fathers. 
To realise the one great moral beauty of the race, 
the intense love of childhood, you ought to see an 
Arab father carrying in his arms a little nmtchat- 
chit of two years old. If this great love sometimes 
degenerates into something less — for this torrid 
climate vitiates even nature — it still remains a 
fact that it is general, very constant and very 


Strong. And the father of the girl whose birth he 
so bitterly deplored, insists on her having, when 
she is but six months old, plenty of bracelets and 
earrings, her soft little ankles must be encircled by 
little khalkhals ; she must wear a little silk 
nniJianna on her head, fastened in the middle of 

Mi. \V- 

her forehead. The father will sell an extra sheep, 
and eat a koiiskous the less, so that his little 
Khadija may be properly decked out ! 

I have passed months amongst the Arabs of the 
Southern districts, I have dwelt with the wild and 
degraded desert tribes, and I hereby bear witness 
that I never once saw a child ill treated. Of no 
country of Europe, not even of France or of 
England, could such an assertion be made. 

So they roll about in the sand, these little men 


and women, the girls arranging their finery, the 
boys galloping on little donkeys ; it is delightful, 
in spite of their ignorance of soap and water, to 
watch them in their long Boating many-coloured 
garments, through which their supple naked limbs 
can be distinctly made out. Stains on those 
garments look like ornaments, rents serve for ven- 
tilation. The children, especially where ophthalmia 
is not so prevalent, may well be called the smile of 
the desert ; they live and enjoy life on scanty diet, 
milk and dates. They revel in all the freedom of 
wide-spreading horizons, they have constant change, 
happy little wild animals that they are, natural and 
unfettered by convention. 

All too soon, the boy becomes the nomad 
hunter, the warrior, the beast of prey, more cruel 
than his adult relations, because he has not yet 
learnt the bitter lessons of experience ; the little girl 
remains na'ive, arch, affected, very feminine, with 
something, in spite of brown skin, nudity and dirt, 
of the solemn gravity of Kate Greenaway's 
children. On fete days especially, in all her 
ornaments and with her new snow-white veil 
on, this resemblance of expression comes out 
in spite of the great difference of costume. 

Yes, childish haughtiness and quaint gravity 
are the predominatino- characteristics of the Arab 
maidens. I see them, as I write, those little 
Mesaudas, Fatmas, or Zuinas, etc., whom I 


used to meet on my way to and fro, look- 
ing at me with their big eyes, but anxious not 
to appear inquisitive. I remember the stiff dig- 
nity with which they made their brief answers 
to my questions, and their efforts to disguise 
the joy the gift of a pin or a French sweet- 
meat gave them. Their affected indifference, 
which was so amusing, seemed to me to be reahy 
much greater than that of the girls belonging 
to the sedentary tribes, my little friends, Zorah, 
Hauli, Fatma, Graira, Arrifa, and above all, the 
important four-year-old Kerah, who was so 
protectively condescending to the three-year-old 
Aisha-S'rira. These maidens, of the village or the 
town, know what good manners are, and exactly 
where to draw the line between the reserve 
demanded by convention and the interest required 
by courtesy. They fluttered about my room — or 
what served me as a room — like little doves, 
silendy opening my boxes to peep into them, or 
examining my toilette utensils, or they would linger 
about the fire, for the evenings and mornings in 
the Sahara are so fresh that a fire is necessary 
in spite of the great heat of the day. This fire 
is lit either in the da7' or house, in the street just 
outside it, or on the threshold of the tent. If the 
fire were in-doors, my visitors would squat down 
on the frkhias or soft woollen mats, watching the 
sparks with one eye and my slightest movement 


with the other. Happy hours they were, peaceful 
hours we spent together, after their early arrival 
in the morning, with their formal greetings, their 
mouths full of honeyed words, their hands full 
of presents, such as a white pigeon with shrivelled 
claws, a basket of dates, an orange the leader 
of some caravan had given them, all pretty dis- 
interested little attentions, amounting indeed almost 
to homage done to the Rumiya, whom the Sidi 
their father had ordered them to honour. 

Little by little my young guests, whether they 
belonged to the sedentary or the nomad tribes, 
revealed to me the gradual development of the 
Saharian character. Dear little birds of the 
Desert, solemn little parrots that they were, each 
replying mechanically to my question : 

" Wilt thou return to-morrow ? " 

" Yes, if it please Allah ! " 

Not one of them was ever guilty of a slip, even 
the Baby Aisha-S'rira when tossed up in the air 
in my arms never winced, but the instant the 
door was shut, or I went away for a minute, what 
a hubbub there was, what shouts of merry 
laughter, what a rapid exchange of opinions, 
exclamations of wonder and admiration, now that 
they were no longer constrained to moderation by 
courtesy or by my august presence ! 

In the Sahara you must be at least fifteen years 
old for it to be permissible to laugh before anyone. 


To be serious is everything. The greatest 
compliment one Arab mother can pay to another, 
about some httle Fatma of eight years old, is 
" Thank Allah, who has saved her from ever 
laughing ! " 

But they make up for all this enforced solemnity 
when they are alone with their intimate friends, and 
no mistake. 

At about ten or eleven years old, the little Arab 
girl begins to assume the important airs and graces 
of a woman. She is not yet very fully developed, 
and she is not very intelligent, but she observes 
that the old women of the dawar have to do all 
the household work. She sees them carrying the 
children about, furling and unfurling the tents, 
following the caravan on foot, with heavy bundles 
on their shoulders, when the family moves from 
one place to another, whilst the young women 
lounge lazily in the basstir or big palanquin, 
covered with fringed drapery, and perched upon 
the hump of the finest of the camels. She knows 
full well the value of the life just about to begin 
for her. She will have a husband, and a dowry 
will be given to her. She will receive the most 
beautiful jewels, and a veil spangled with gold. 
The guns will be fired in her honour on her 


wedding day. She will be the mistress of the 
tent during the many absences of her husband. 
She feels all this instinctively, the future 



downfall from her high estate, though she is 
scarcely conscious of it, really adding piquancy 
to her anticipations of the glory awaiting her. She 
is not afraid of the conjugal tyranny she has heard 
about. She knows that the Arab husbands very 
seldom strike their wives hard enough to hurt them, 
unless they are in fault. Her beauty and her 

tact, she feels certain, will make her husband kind 
to her and secure her happiness. You may be 
very sure that she has already noted and exagge- 
rated the effect of her dark eyes and graceful move- 
ments on the men of the dawar, for the women 
of the nomad tribes are allowed to go about the 
dawar without veils. Indeed, most of them own 
no veils, which prevents them from venturing 
into towns. As they cannot wear veils they 


hide themselves altogether from any but their 
own people. 

All the admiring glances she has seen, all that 
she knows of the happy triumphs of her friends 
who have become brides, give the maiden of the 
dawar something of the scornful pride, the self- 
absorbed egotism, of a young queen. 

She will enjoy one brief season of bloom, all 
too brief, indeed, but full of intense rapture. 
Her mother humours her, her father spoils her — 
as long as she treats him with respect. Now 
and then she spins a little white wool, chattering 
with her friends the while. That is all anyone 
expects of her. Sometimes she is as full of life and 
motion as a young starling, then again she sits 
moping and silent like a nightingale in a cage. She 
never for a moment forgets that she is a valuable 
piece of property, a glory which will last one or two, 
more rarely three, years only. Presently some 
old man asks her hand in marriage, her pride 
grows all the greater, but the happiness of her 
life is at an end. 

As I have just hinted, the first husband of a 
young girl, of from twelve to fourteen years old, 
is an old, or at least a middle-ao-ed man, whereas 
a repudiated wife, who has, of course, lost the first 
bloom of her beauty, often marries a boy of from 
thirteen to fifteen years old, which is, no doubt, 
one way of making the balance even. Marriage 


between two young people is, however, quite 
the exception. A married woman of a certain 
age is always either a widow, a repudiated, or 
a divorced wife, the word divorced being used 
when the marriage has been annulled in favour 
of the woman — a thing of very rare occurrence. 
Celibacy is quite unknown amongst the Arab 
women ; every girl of sixteen or eighteen is 

Whatever may be the age of the husband, 
the wedding ceremony is very much the same. 

The aspirant to the hand of a beautiful young 
woman sends his mother or some other elderly 
female emissary to pave the way for him by 
visits and flattery. 

"Oh, fair one! oh, cherished one! oh, daughter 
of gold!" begins the go-between. "Oh, virtuous 
mother, thy family seems to be under the special 
blessing of Allah ! " and so on. 

Then when they return to their employer, 
these messengers give him an account of the 
prosperity of the house they have visited, the 
talents of the young lady, how well she can cook, 
spin, etc. ; her health, her beauty. If the fiature 
mother-in-law is the ambassadress, she shows her- 
self punctilious and difficult to please, whereas 
more distant relations, friends, or paid emissaries, 
are very ready with their praise. Are not all 
women passionately fond of match-making ? Can 



there be anything more delightful than to contribute 
to the happiness of others, even if things do turn 
out all wrong sometimes ? 

"You should just see her," says the go-between ; 
" why, you might take her for a masterpiece 
turned out by some skilful jeweller. Her teeth 
are as white as milk, her lips are like the 

crimson flower of Paradise. Her face will charm 
you as does the moon in all her beauty, her 
supple, rounded limbs are like some vigorous tree 
which will yield much fruit. Truly she is the 
daughter of the star of the morning, and her 
eyes themselves are brilliant stars." 

It is related that on one occasion a go-between 
who, from the best of motives, had neglected to 
state that a certain Zorah squinted more than is 
consistent with beauty, replied to the remonstrances 


of the husband she had led to marry the poor 

" By Allah, who created thee, I told thee the 
truth. Remember, oh, Mabruk, oh, man, the 
words of my mouth! It is not the habit of my 
tongue to lie. Did I tell thee that she did not 
squint ? Did I not, on the contrary, warn thee 
that a surprise, a great surprise, awaited thee, to 
which the astonishment of Solomon would be but 
small ? " 

This refers to the intense surprise of Solomon 
when he saw the thousand camels given to him by 
Allah come out of the sea. The story goes that 
the miracle had such an effect upon him that 
for whole days he forgot to pray, and allowed a 
jinn to steal his throne. 

In a dawar, however, the husband-elect generally 
knows what he has to expect, and how much to 
believe of what the go-betweens tell him, for, as 
mentioned above, the girls go about with uncovered 
faces. Customs are very different in the kusur, 
for there he will not have had a chance of seeing 
the features of the bride since she was quite a 
child She may have changed greatly in the 
interval. Even in the dawar it as well to be 
cautious, for, of course, it is only the girls of his 
own particular tribe and encampment that the 
suitor has seen ; he never gets a glimpse of 
those of any other tribe. For instance : " Kebir- 


Mohammed-ben-Naceur of the Aulad-ben-Rir tribe 
has a beautiful daughter. Shall I enquire about 
her? The father is well off, but will she make 
a wife I can put up with ? " 

Serious questions these, and the poor candidate 
for matrimony has nothing to rely on but the 
poetic rhapsodies of the matrons he employs or 
the severe disparagement of his mother, who 
wants a daughter-in-law who will be a nonentity. 
He never dreams of going to the house of the 
family he wishes to enter, to do so would be a 
very great breach of etiquette. Except amongst 
the Shaanba of El Golea, where a suitor is 
allowed to take a furtive — but, at the same time, 
what may be called an official — look at a young 
girl, he has no means of seeing her ; and bear- 
ing in mind the number of Arab communities 
in the desert, this is of course a very rare ex- 
ception. So strict is the etiquette observed where 
marriage is in question, that even cousins who 
have been brought up together are separated 
directly there is any question of their union, which 
is arranged without consulting them by the parents 
_ on both sides. The two young people suddenly 
begin to pretend that they do not know each other, 
and those about them eagerly keep up the diplo- 
matic deception: "Let us walk in the straight 
path and avoid all appearance of evil." (May 
our Lord Mohammed preserve us from it, may 


Allah pour out on him and his the divine benedic- 
tion. Amen ! ) 

The husband is supposed to look upon his wife 
for the first time after marriage, but there are such 
things as sham first looks, just as there are sham 
orange blossoms. 

In spite of all the activity of the old women in 
the matter, the affair of a marriao-e is not much 
advanced by their efforts. The real business of 
negotiation does not begin until the solemn day 
when the father of Mabruk goes to call on the 
father of Zorah. 

Now ensues a perfectly indescribable discussion, 
not exactly comic, but terribly complicated. Pru- 
dence on the one side, vanity on the other, lead to 
endless debates, the dignified courtesy with which 
they are carried on concealing the intense excite- 
ment of those concerned in them, when the question 
of money comes to the fore. To fix the amount 
of the dowry, which to a certain extent repre- 
sents the price of the woman, to argue about the 
cost of the trousseau, the value of the jewels 
brought by the bride, and all without yielding 
anything or showing any temper — what a business 
it is ! But at last it is finished, and in the presence 
of Allah, who never sleeps and never dreams, 
the troth is plighted, Mabruk and Zorah are 

Zorah is not supposed to know anything about 


what is going on until all is arranged. You will 
easily guess, however, that she is not so ignorant 
as she seems. Still, there is all the desirable 
confusion about her well-assumed surprise when 
her father says to her one evening, " Oh, my 
daughter, if it please Allah, thou wilt be the 
wife of Mabruk-ben-Said. He is a sensible 
man, thou wilt walk by his side in the path of the 

After listening to what her father says, Zorah 
begins to cry, to pout and to protest, as is the 
fashion, but all the time she is really exultant, her 
married friends cannot look down upon her any 
longer, and those who are still unmarried will gnash 
their teeth with rage and envy. Oh joy, oh 
delight! And they are preparing the maliffas and 
countless ottgayas. And the grandmothers are 
weaving the rugs for the nuptial couch. And the 
mother is going to the nearest jeweller, to whom 
all the nomads flock on such an occasion as this. 
The father, meanwhile, is engaged in the more 
prosaic task of choosing the sheep which is to be 
roasted for the feast to be given to the men of the 

Oh joy, oh delight ! How the faithful will 
gloat over the full meal prepared for them, how 
they will eat it to the cheerful sound of the firing 
which will gladden their ears and charm their 


The weeks pass on full of feverish excitement. 
Every afternoon crowds of young friends invade 
the tent or house of the betrothed, they have come 
to laugh and dance, to handle the new stuffs, to 
drink tea, and to play at cards on the sly in the 
corners. Oh those wicked cards, how delightful 
they are. Spanish ones first introduced from 
Morocco, and which the caravan sokhrars get for 
you for ardda zurji (twopence). 

There is one very quaint custom peculiar to the 
kusur which gives a piquant flavour to a very inno- 
cent amusement. I refer to that known as steal- 
ing henna, a bit of fun in which those who are to 
be under the control of a master henceforth are 
allowed to indulge in freely before they go into 
the captivity of married life. Wearing old borrowed 
garments stained and torn — for in the Sahara a 
whole poem may be implied by tatters — wrapped 
up in a dirty veil an old negress would despise, 
the bride-elect is allowed to run about the town for 
eight days, escorted by girls not yet old enough 
to be shut up. Just imagine what this sudden 
freedom means after two or three years of 
seclusion ! It means more than a mere prank, it 
means adventure with all its thrilling possibilities 
of mischief 

Off they go, the little party of fugitives, half 
afraid of their own liberty, gliding along the grey 
walls, disappearing in the dark, gloomy alleys. 


The bride-elect leads the smallest children, whilst 
the bigger ones form a kind of moving rampart, or 
bodyguard to her. Though they laugh loud they 
scream with terror, running away every now and 
then, chirping like frightened sparrows. Then back 
they all trot, knocking at the doors of their friends, 
and even at those of strangers to them, in all the 
merry abandonment of a masquerade. '' Hell -el- 
Bab,'' "Open the door," they cry. '' Outna?'' 
"Who is there?" comes the reply from invisible 
and anxious enquirers. 

There is no answer, the knockers are wild with 

But presently, unable to contain themselves, they 
cry again : " Open the door, open the door, oh, 
ye friends of Mohammed ! We are the stealers of 
henna ! " 

]\Iagic words, which open to the speakers the 
most jealously closed doors. They are the stealers 
of henna, no need to ask any more questions ! 
It is a little bride-elect and her escort ; shall we 
refuse to give them the henna they have come 
to steal ? And so the merry, noisy troop rushes 
in and disperses in the winding passages of 
the house, where the inquisitive looks of those in 
the street cannot follow them. 

Here they are, all together again in the small 
court, where they are fussed over and petted. 
Then, whilst the water is being heated to make 



the caouah, the mistress of the house takes from 
its place near the fire the pot of plaited alfa in 
which the henna is simmering. With a rag soaked 
in the henna she dyes the bare hands and feet, 
first of the bride-elect, then of the little " thieves " 
with her. The application is repeated in every 
house the " stealers " go to, and by the even- 
ing the tender limbs thus anointed will be the 

colour of cinnamon, a few days later the colour 
of old leather. But what does it matter ? They 
have all had a good laugh, a bit of fun, they have 
been free ! Very often they remain all night, and 
sleep on ihe rugs or frechias in some hospitable 
house, and the hostess lets them share the evening 
kouskous. " Allah iketter kherekT " May Allah 
reward thee," or, more literally, " May Allah in- 
crease thy wealth or thy happiness ! " they say 
the next morning, after which they take their 


departure, to resume their timid, furtive gliding 
along the mud walls, their hurried flight through 
the gloomy alleys, to knock at other closed doors 
crying: "Open, open! we are the stealers of 
henna ! " 

On the eve of the wedding the house of the bride 
is like a teeming hive of bees, from which all the 
males have disappeared, for it is the fashion amongst 
the men in the kusiir to ignore an approaching 
marriage, and no one takes any notice of the 
bridegroom. It is just the reverse in Northern 
Algeria, as in Egypt and in Turkey, where he is 
made a great fuss over. In a kasr the father of 
the bride attends to his ordinary business with 
affected nonchalance ; the bridegroom, wearing an 
old burnous, goes with his friends to the cafe or 
the promenade, in fact leads his usual dolce far 
niente existence. If he is poor, he works in the 
garden or attends to the camels, just as if nothing 
was going to happen. It is only on the second 
day of the wedding festivities that the men on 
both sides meet at a bipf feast at which the women 
do not appear. 

Then all is changed in the dawar. The guns 
are fired, and the revels of the young men begin ; 
but not a man, not even the bridegroom, is allowed 
to penetrate beneath the tent where the ahrossa, 
or bride, is enduring being decked out with her 
finery — no man, except the musicians, who are 


scarcely worth mentioning, and the negroes, who 
do not count at all. 

Poor Zorah ! Unfortunate martyr! Whether 
she squints or not, whether she be as frightful as 
Shaitdn (the Demon) or as beautiful as an angel, 
to-day she is just a piece of wood, an idol, to be 
dressed, pushed, and carried about, in a word, to be 
tortured. Judge for yourself! Her mother began 
the proceedings in the morning by washing her head 
— I mean literally, not figuratively — with a black 
decoction full of little angular grains of some sort 
which remain in the hair. On the wet hair, for 
the mother does not dry it, is then poured a 
quantity of rancid oil, perfumed with jasmine, a 
scent the Prophet was fond of (" May Allah bless 
thy family ! Amen ! ") The oil trickles down on 
the water, the water drips under the oil. The 
appearance of Zorah is becoming quite lamentable, 
her beauty and grace are already being crushed 
out of her. 

*' May thy day be full of happiness ! May Allah 
shower blessings upon thee ! " say the relations, 
the inquisitive young girls and the old gossips, 
who arrive one after the other, with white veils 
completely hiding their precious gala costumes. 
Zorah cannot offer them her hands, for they 
are, alas ! completely swathed in linen. Yester- 
day evening melted candle-grease was dropped 
on to her fingers, and then over the grease 


henna was plastered. You will understand the 
reason for this torture of course ? When the 
candle grease is removed presently, beautiful 
pale patches will be left, if it can be managed 
at regular intervals, in the corrosive brown dye on 
Zorah's fingers. 

" By Allah ! How beautiful thou art ! " 
Beautiful ! Zorah may be beautiful generally, 
but she certainly is not so at this moment. How- 
ever, her mother now begins to paint her, and 
the musicians begin to blow upon their reithas 
as an accompaniment to the gJnialla, singing an 
epithalamium or nuptial song in praise of the 

" She is the honey which men rejoice in, 
The young girls have looked on her and called her blessed, 
She has won the praise of the pious and virtuous women." 

The reithas go on playing, the noise goes 
on increasing. Zorah, beneath her heavy white 
burden, feels her mother putting two dashes 
of rouge on her cheeks, not to speak of the saffron 
smeared on her lips, the painting of her forehead, 
the darkening of her eyes with kohl. The women 
crowd about her as she sits on a chest to be decked 
with her bridal array, others keep arriving till the 
court and the small rooms are full to overflowinof. 
Poor Zorah is squeezed, pinched and pushed about, 
everybody wants to touch her, to add a bit of 


rouge here, a touch of henna there, a little of 
anything, it doesn't matter what. 

" It is she, even she who will be a fruitful wife, 
She, the chaste one, who will be the joy of her husband." 

continues the nuptial song, and all the women 
cry in chorus, " Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! 
Yu!" These frantic cries of " Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! " 
go on, over every fresh article of toilette put on 
to poor Zorah, and on top of all her ordinary 
garments and all her festive array, no less than 
seventeen veils are piled up, one after the other, 
first a silk one, then a thick muslin one, alternately. 
Each veil is ceremoniously and slowly draped, 
to the accompaniment of shrill cries of " Yu ! 
Yu ! Yu ! " Zorah is beginning to be stifled. 
Every one of her relations wishes to pin on 
one veil. The poor martyr, for the bride-elect 
truly is a martyr, is shaken about, and pinched, 
whilst she gasps for air. Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! 
At last, on the top of the edifice the mother 
places a crown of gold, necklaces, chains, 
brooches, ear-rings and chains of a formidable 
weight. Yu ! Yu ! Yu ! Zorah is fainting, but 
nobody takes any notice of that, her sighs of 
distress are drowned in the noise made by the 
women, the nuptial song, and the nasal sound of 
the reithas. 


The confusion is now at its height. The crowd 
is no longer a meeting of acquaintances ; it is 
a seethine, indistino-uishable mass of feminine 
humanity, over which a big negro now begins with 
uplifted arms, to sprinkle perfume. Then from the 
terrace above grain and kouskous are flung down, 
as symbols of abundance and fertility, the women 

greeting each fresh shower with their endless Yu ! 
Yu ! Yu ! 

" May blessings be upon thee, oh Zorah, may 
the benediction of Allah be with thee ! " 

"Yu ! Yu! Yu! Yu! Yu! Yu!" 

I would not advise any one from Paris to 
venture into the awful crowd, from which rises 
up a mixed and oppressive odour of musk, cloves, 
and flesh and blood. A fainting fit would be 


sure to be the result, unless months of previous 
training have been gone through, and even 
then a bottle of very strong salts would be 
necessary. Poor Zorah, however, has to hold 
out in spite of her seventeen veils, one on top 
of the other. But even now it is not enough. 
She is pinched to bring her back to the exigen- 
cies of the occasion, and then a heavy covering 
is put on over all the veils, on top of which 
is placed a carpet. Thus swathed beyond recog- 
nition, the bundle is hoisted on to the shoulders 
of the negro, whose duty it is to place the bride 
on the mule which is to take her to the house of 
the bridegroom. Amongst the nomads a camel 
with a bassur, or palanquin, replaces the mule, 
but the ceremonial remains much the same in 
both cases. 

Well, there is poor Zorah on the back of a 
snorting mule, and astride behind her is a negress, 
whose business it is to keep the bundle from 
overbalancing itself, and tumbling off. The 
procession starts at last, the mule leading the way, 
whilst all the women follow on foot, with hastily- 
adjusted veils, keeping up their never-ending 
"Yu! Yu ! Yu ! " whilst a negress on another 
mule, also astride — it is the fashion in these parts 
— brings up the rear. Instead of the package 
containing the bride-elect, this second negress 
has a big bundle of frechias and cushions to look 


after, on the top of which is a chest, containing 
the trousseau, the wedding presents and the nuptial 

Five or six hours have now passed by. It is 
evening, just before the prayer of 'Asha. The 
female friends and relations of the bridegroom 
have just left his house, each carrying her 
diadem carefully wrapped in a handkerchief 
And where is Zorah ? She is reclining between 
her mother-in-law and her sisters-in-law, stupefied 
with fatigue, in all the reaction of the quiet 
pause which has succeeded the noise and 

The men have not yet reappeared, neither has 
the bridegroom put in an appearance ; for in this 
land of gentle manners there is none of the coarse- 
ness so often described by travellers amongst the 
Arabs of the Northern districts. In the South 
the father of the bride, however poor, protects his 
daughter carefully from any roughness, and there 
is none of the traffic in young girls which is a 
disgrace elsewhere. It is the father of the bride, 
too, who meets most of the expenses of the wedding, 
giving, in clothes, jewels, and rugs, more than 
equivalent for the modest dowry paid by the 

There is a delicacy, or apparent delicacy at 
least, observed in dealing with everything con- 
nected with marriage ; and, without being 


exactly what would be called prudish in Europe, 
the people of Southern Algeria have an almost 
exaggerated idea of what we understand by- 

But let us return to our Zorah. She has re- 

covered a little now from her tremors and the 
sufferings she endured during her toilette. She 
will have supper in the evening with the women 
of her husband's family, then she will be led 
into the nuptial chamber, a very simple little 
retreat, and there, amongst the feather pillows, 



she will await with trembling limbs and beat- 
ing heart the coming of Mabruk, who has re- 
mained away all day, and will steal into his home 
through the court like a thief. Let us draw a 
veil over the privacy of bride and bridegroom. 
The next night, and the next, Mabruk will 
steal in in a similar way, then he will resume 
his ordinary mode of life, and at the end of 
eight days, when the time of his wife is no 
longer entirely taken up by receiving the visits 
of her friends and playing with them, he will 
feel as if he had been married for eight cen- 
turies. Presently (unless he and Zorah are too 
young and inexperienced to keep house) he 
will take his bride to live with some old female 
relation in a little separate home, or in a new 
tent pitched in the dawar to which his parents 

For a year, sometimes for two years, the 
bride will not do any work. For that time she 
remains en toilette from the morning to the even- 
ing ; she is queen for the time being, giving herself 
airs and preening herself like some young turtle- 
dove. She is still the bride, and every one speaks 
of her as the ahrossa. 

I know that all too often her happiness is only 
apparent, and there is rarely much security about 
it when it is real. I know, too, what a reputa- 
tion for tyranny mothers-in-law have in the 


Sahara ; but for all that, is it not a charming 
custom thus to guard the precocious young 
flower, to try to arrest for a moment the in- 
evitable blight which the wear and tear of life 
must bring with it ? 




In the Sahara the terrible old verb, divorce, which 
in Europe means the destruction of family happiness, 
but there its best protection, is conjugated in a 
very simple manner. How shall I translate that 
conjugation ? Perhaps the following rendering will 
give a true idea of the position, "/want another 
wife, t/iozL wouldest be in the way, because she has 
a negress, thou wouldest not be wanted here to 
wait on her, so we will part ; yoic will take back 
your child and t/iey, everybody, will be satisfied." 
As for the parents of the fair one, or the ex-fair 
one, to be more accurate, to whom the second 
person plural refers, they will protest because they 
have no wish to have to refund the half-dowry paid 
by their son-in law, but would prefer that he should 
have to pay it to them. 

The bridegroom has, however, generally arranged 
some pretext for divorce before he ventures to moot 
the question. The fact is customs in Southern 
Algeria, the Algeria of the vast stretches of sand, 


of the simoon and the fevers it brings in its track, 
have still all the old simplicity of patriarchal days ; 
nothing has really changed since the time of 
Mohammed, and Mohammed himself did not modify 
in the very smallest degree the ways of the nomads, 
descendants of those who had kept the flocks of 
Babylon and of Tyre, who followed his standard 
into Africa from Arabia, Chaldaea, Mesopotamia 
and Bactria. 

Descendants of shepherds, and shepherds them- 
selves — whether they be called Larbaa, Said 
Otba, Shaanba - Berasga, or Shaanba - bou - Ruba, 
they are all used to wandering for long distances 
in search of pasturage, they are all brave and 
sturdy, they all dress and live simply, they all 
have the same — or very similar — divorce customs, 
and all are equally ingenious in proving the 
infidelity of their wives, or, to use the Arab 
expression, the violation of their tents, if it suits 
their purpose. 

The infidelity proved — or said to be proved — 
Zorah, Fatma, or Aisha is sent back to her parents, 
or given to the man she has preferred. However 
that may be, the husband loses nothing ; at least, 
he loses no money, for he does not have to pay 
the full dowry for a wife who has been unfaithful. 
Moreover, he gets back the instalment already 
given to the bride's parents, or, if they are unable 
to pay it, he tries to get it out of the new husband. 



We must not judge these husbands and wives 
of the Sahara too severely ; they act up to their 
lights, and there are many things tolerated in 
European society which will bear investigation 
far less than these Arab customs. We can never 
hope to understand thoroughly natures so unlike 
our own. In course of time we shall probably 
introduce amongst them certain European bad 
habits and vices, but we shall remain as ignorant 
as ever of what they really are. They are Asiatics 
dating their descent back for many thousand years ; 
Asiatics transferred to the sterile, arid soil of 
Africa. How can they help being fickle, crafty, 
and treacherous ? Should we judge prehistoric 
animals seriously, enquiring rigidly into their 
honesty or their morality ? Of course not. 
Neither then should we apply modern European 
standards to these survivals of a world gone by. 

It is life in the tent, with all its quaint, child- 
like customs, all its old-world superstitions, which 
is the foundation of society amongst the nomads, 
whether they belong to the Wady-Seb-Seb, the 
Wady-N'ca, or any other Wady. First the tent, 
then the dawar, and then the tribe. Above the 
tribe absolutely nothing in the way of organization, 
except the foreign officials — Turk or Riimi as 
the case may be — whom Allah has permitted to 
conquer the world provisionally, as a punishment 
for the sins of men. 


- Many families may be grouped under the 
authority of what may be called a tent chieftain ; 
families related to, or allied with, that chieftain, 
such as those of the son-in-law, brother-in-law, 
or nephew, but it often happens that the household 
— or, to coin a word, the tenthold — consists of 
the family strictly so called, that is to say, of 
the husband and his wife or wives, his young 
sisters, an old widowed grandmother, and a negress, 
whose little ones, black or brown, play about in 
the sand with the better cared-for children of paler 

All these niiitcJiatcJuis, as the Arabs call them, 
are, as a rule, brothers and sisters — on the father's 
side at least. " Happy," says Allah, " are the 
faithful who content themselves with their wives 
and the negresses they have won with their right 
arm (that is to say, those they have honestly bought 
or obtained in war), for they will never be re- 
proved." Four wives and as many black servants 
as they like, are all that are allowed to a good 
Mussulman. But, as I have already had occasion 
to remark, most Arabs are content with One wife ; 
few take two, fewer still three, and it is a very 
rare thing for any one to have four. Except 
amongst the very wealthy members of a tribe, 
there is only one legitimate wife in a family. But 
a nomad who has never had more than one wufe 
at a time will, perhaps, have had as many as 


fifteen in the course of his life, one replacing, or 
rather driving out, another, according to the fancy 
of the husband, or the indiscretions brought home 
to the wife for the time being. 

Now, what is the state of mind, in view of 
approaching divorce, of the woman to whom the 
Koran refuses so much, rarely allowing her any 
share in the life beyond the grave, and only then 
in the company of her husband (which of the 
successive husbands lived with on earth the sacred 
book does not say) ? Does she rebel against her 
fate ? What does she think and feel, especially 
when the moment comes for leaving the tent of 
her husband and returning to that of her father, 
who, summoned in all haste, has come to fetch 
her, the mute reproach in his eyes seeming but 
the earnest of other — less silent — reproaches to 
come ? 

This is what she feels : 

When the verdict has been spoken, she cries, 
she howls, she sobs, she tears her hair, and scratches 
her face. What, leave the tent, become a repu- 
diated wife — for she is only divorced when she is 
the complaining party — leave the saucepan and the 
kesskess or strainer in which she has so often 
prepared the kouskous for happy evenings gone 
by ? and the guecaa or big wooden mould, and the 
hand-mill in which she has ground the flour so 
many times, and with so much hard work. She 


rolls herself on the ground in her distress. What, 
are the carpets and frdchias of which she has been 
so proud to be hers no longer ; must her very 
jewels be left behind ? the big bracelets, the 
massive khalkhah or tinkling hair ornaments, the 
ringing sound of which keeps vermin away, and 
attracts the attention of admirers ? Oh, it is too 
terrible ! Her heart is wruno: with ano-uish. Sud- 

denly she starts up invoking the aid of Allah, 
and of Sidi-Abd-el-Kader-el Jilani, the saint of 
Bagdad. She begins to curse and to blaspheme. 
She makes up the wildest excuses for her conduct 
and fabricates the most unlikely stories. She 
threatens to kill her husband, herself, their children, 
if they have any, and when this is all over and 
it generally lasts about two days, she quietly 
mounts the camel or the mule which is to take her 


back across the melancholy desert. She no longer 
thinks of making up some fantastic story to turn 
aside the wrath of the Sidi, her father, who escorts 
her in a silence which bodes her no good, or to 
make him believe that it is with her ex-husband, 
not with her, that he should be angry. 

At least she is free now, should opportunity 
offer for another alliance, to choose for herself, a 
woman who has once been married being allowed 
to take any second husband she likes. The father's 
authority is only absolute in the case of the first. 

Before the drama of repudiation begins, however, 
some years, certainly some months, of married life 
have gone by, during which the husband and wife 
have passed through various developments and 
changes. First has come the traditional time 
of idleness for the bride. Then Mohammed-ben- 
Abder-Rahman sets about having his wife trained 
to her household work. With Zorah his first wife, 
or Graira his seventh, the same routine is gone 
through. The grandmothers of the family have 
already taught her to spin and weave, and she used 
to play at doing a little work at home when her 
mother was making a burnous or a carpet. Hitherto, 
the preparation of the flour for the kouskous and 
the suckling of the baby, if there is one, are all 
she has had to do, but now she must take her share 
in the daily work of the tent, which is light and easy 
enough, if we compare it with that of the poor 


old Arab women, or even of that of many women 
in the agricultural districts of Europe. 

All the menial tasks, including the care of the 
children, is done by the old women, but, in spite 
of all that is said to the contrary, the men take 
their full share in the really arduous work, and it 
is often only the obstinacy of the aged women 
themselves, which makes them undertake what is 
too hard for them. 

The wife will still find favour in the eyes of her 
husband, or rather of her master, as long as she 
can make herself pleasant to him, and he can take 
a pride in her beauty, and is assured of her fidelity. 
It must be remembered, however, that the woman 
of the desert is not veiled, not sequestrated, not 
even kept under any particular surveillance. She 
talks freely with any of the men of the dawar, and 
is careful and modest in her deportment when in 
public. The only restriction is, that she is for- 
bidden to allow a Rumi to approach her, and 
will flee away at the sight of a foreigner, as if in 
the greatest terror. 

Now to what does the modesty of the women 
of the dawar really amount ? What are the chances, 
for instance, of the fidelity of Graira, the seventh 
wife of Mohammed-ben- Abder- Rahman, chieftain 
of the tent ? 

Fidelity ! Half the time she does not know 
what the word or the thing itself means. Probably 


when the dawar happened to be camped near a 
zattia of merchants, her brothers may have learnt 
certain principles of morality, and a few verses of 
the Koran. But she herself, except for the short 
prayer of the prescribed Surah, and one or two 
invocations, knows absolutely nothing. In theory, 
her husband ought to be wise and prudent for her. 
He is the master, the moralist, the teacher of the 
hearth. It is for him to inculcate the lessons re- 
ceived from Allah by the Prophet. 

" Tell the wives of the faithful to lower their 
eyes, and observe continence, to allow only their 
outer ornaments to be seen, to cover their breasts 
with a veil ! Let them not move their feet so as 
to display the hidden jewels {khalkhals) of their 
ankles. Thus it will be more easy for them to 
escape misconstruction and calumny." 

With very rare exceptions, the husband does 
not trouble to explain the sacred precepts to his 
wife. He is content to issue his orders, and is 
not very much surprised if they are disobeyed. 
He does his share — not, perhaps half, nor a third 
nor a quarter, where polygamy is indulged in — 
gives his wife presents, and behaves courteously 
to her when she is still new, and still beautiful. 
After that, if he keeps her, he simply looks upon 
her as a servant, and treats her kindly, never 
molesting her in any way. 

But we have left the modesty and fidelity of 




Graira very far behind. Her modesty then consists 
in vaguely observing the precepts quoted above, 
that is to say, she does not tinkle her anklets, 
except when her husband is out of hearing, she 
refastens her drapery when it comes undone, and 
draws her oiigaya over her mouth and chin, when 


in the presence of a stranger. Her fidelity consists 
in yielding to every passing fancy, to being, in fact, 
a natural young animal, who is surprised at nothing. 
Naively she prays to the Sidi Abd-el-Kader, he 
who breaks the hearts of the evil doers, the pious 
lieutenant of Allah, to keep her husband, 
Mohammed, from suspecting her, for she naively 


supposes that her guilt may be proved, even 
if she is innocent, through the machinations of 
Iblis (the devil), or of some malevolent jinn whom 
she has unwittingly offended. She is equally 
convinced that, if guilty, her innocence may 
be triumphantly proved ; in fact, to her, guilt 
is not guilt, nor innocence innocence ; it is all 
a question of what her husband thinks. 





Guarded, so to speak, by the encampments of 
the great nomad tribes, Wargla, surnamed the 
Pearl, and the Queen of the Oases, lies brown 
and weary-looking, between the salt lake of the 
mirage and the burning oasis, where grow the 
stunted but fruitful palms for which the neighbour- 
hood is so celebrated. Indeed, the Wargla oasis 
alone owns something like a million and a half of 
these trees, nine hundred thousand of which are 
constantly watered ; for, to quote the saying of the 
Sahara, they have their feet in the water, and their 
heads in the fire. The annual yield of choice dates, 
including the celebrated variety known as the 
D eg let-en- Noitr, amounts to no less than 25,000 

Strange, mystic, mysterious town, whose sultans 
owned no Lord but Allah, until the French, the 
Rumis, came to it as conquerors. 

On that day of triumph for the Riimis and 
regret for the people of Wargla, some of the 


former may have learnt the legendary origin of the 
City of Roses, the Belle of the Desert, the Queen, ' 
the Pearl of Cities. I have noticed in the course 
of my travels, that every very ancient community 
has had, in popular report, some great man of 
the past as a founder ; some splendid hero who 
chose the site for himself out of all others, 
the further mythical history of the place having 
been evolved from the imagination of its in- 

Now in this case, it was Solomon, King of 
Jerusalem, master of the winds and of the clouds, 
Lord of the Spirits, who, out of the goodness of his 
heart, undertook the task of building Wargla, or, at 
least, of having it built by genii, jinns, and angels. 
The city rose up suddenly, with the houses, the 
streets, the walls, the very mosques of the present 
day, and that, too, many centuries before the time 
of Mohammed ! Yet more wonderful, by a supreme 
miracle, one of the female angels who aided in 
its construction still lives in one of the mosques, 
immured by order of the King between the walls of 
the minaret, there to act, whether she likes it or 
not, as guardian of the town and protector of all, 
the miserable or the happy, against the demon, 
or Satan, whom they call Shaitdn. 

During my stay in Wargla, I never was able 
to bring myself to believe in its supernatural 
origin. You may live there rocked in a dream 



of a very Oriental, and yet essentially African, 
nature, for the cooing of doves responds to the 
sighing of distant flutes ; of an evening, too, when 
from every closed door issue musty odours, and the 
sound of gentle merriment is heard, you can fancy 

yourself transported, not to Solomon's Palace, but 
to the wretched little town, with its mud houses, 
belonging to Bilkis,* Queen of Sheba, whom 

* Bilkis is not named in the Bible, but only referred to in certain 
Arab traditions, in which she is sometimes confused with Zenobia, 
Queen of Palmyra. There is a story about the Queen of Sheba in 
the Koran (Surah xxvii.— 20), but her name is not given. It is 
probably to this story that the author refers. — Trans. 


the Jewish monarch was, it is said, so fond of 

History gives us very little information about 
Wargla. The sedentary race occupying the dis- 
trict at the time of Sallust, whom he calls the 
Garamantes, were of a very different stock to the 
present inhabitants. An old manuscript refers to 
Wargla as a flourishing city in the year 937 of 
the Christian era, famous for its markets, its public 
buildings, and its schools, in which many learned 
tolbas were trained. It reached the culminatinpf 
point of its prosperity in the year 1238 (626 of 
Hegira), when a certain mosque, now in ruins, was 
built under the auspices of Abu-Zacharia. This 
was the great epoch, the culminating point, of 
Wargla's glory, but every apogee is of necessity 
followed by decadence. During the ten years pre- 
ceding the French conquest, or, rather annexation, 
of 1882, Wargla sank to the very lowest depth 
of decrepitude. Since then there has been some- 
thing of a revival ; and, submitting with a good 
grace to French authority, the people do not seem 
to regret the Sultans of whom they were once so 
proud. Truth to tell, they love strict government, 
and are not in the least fitted for freedom. 

The descendants of the ancient Garamantes are 
now called the Ghuara, and occupy the Wady-Mia 
with the whole of the basin of the Wady-R'ir, as 
far as beyond Tuggurt. 


Although they are generally classed with the 
Berbers, they really preserve almost unchanged 
the typical Hindu peculiarities they brought with 
them from the south, when, some five or six 
centuries before the Arabs, they came to settle in 
these torrid deserts. Thin but not emaciated, 
well-made but not robust, and with a very 
characteristic clear-brown complexion, those, es- 
pecially the men, who are of pure descent unmixed 
with negro blood, have regular features, and are 
■often very handsome. The faces of the women 
are not so pleasing, but they have charming 
figures ; and, although their waists are sometimes 
a little too long, the modelling of the bust 
and of the limbs leaves nothing to find fault 

At the risk of being laughed at for quoting 
myself, I must insert here a sentence from 
another book of mine, describing a passing pro- 
cession : 

" Draped in their red or green veils were old 
and young women. The latter wore their hair 
in curls falling right over their jet-black eyes, 
and their gleaming teeth were whiter than the 
cowries on their foreheads, and their anklets 
jingled against each other in a most seductive 
way, whilst their perfect arms held in place the 
transparent drapery swathing their mobile limbs. 
These were brunettes, lovely young brunettes, for 


whom admirers of complexions like theirs com- 
pose love songs : 

" ' She is like the black date upon its stem, 
Her lips are as red as the wax of a gem. ' " 

The women thus lauded are intelligent, and 
their frank and lively natures singularly combine 
playfulness and love of pleasure with common sense. 
I remember with what pride they used to shew 
me their rooms when I paid them a visit. Dark, 
gloomy little apartments ranged round a small court 
ot beaten earth, in each of which certain primi- 
tive and pathetic efforts had been made to make 
things comfortable. Instead of sleeping on the 
ground as the Arab women do, they use couches, 
spreading frechias, or rugs, over quite springy 
mattresses made of palm-stems. On the crumbling 
walls they stretch pieces of stuff, and against this 
background they arrange in symmetrical order, 
glasses, plates, cups, strings of beads, etc., which 
they have bought from caravans ; precious treasures, 
carefully hung up and daily thoroughly dusted. I 
do not quite know why, but I was infinitely touched 
by finding amongst these simple children of the 
Desert these ideas of Art drapery and decorative 

They did not say to me here : " Thou art our 
sister," but they cried: "Oh, how glad we are ta 


see thee ! What a pleasure ! Praised be Allah ! " 
This was just as gushing, but it seemed to me 
more sincere, than the oreetino-s at five-o'clock tea 

o o 

between European ladies. These Ghuara women 
were modestly proud of knowing how to speak 
Arabic, which is so different from their own 
language. Evidently they had some idea of what 
culture means, of using several different words to 
express the same meaning, and their intellects are 
certainly superior to those of their husbands or 
their brothers. 

Very peaceable and free is their life. They spin 
and weave a little after their household work is 
done, and in every home the wife is queen, for 
there is no polygamy here. They go out when 
they like, and their dignified bearing keeps their 
fellow-countrymen and foreigners alike at a distance. 
They are not a prey to the silly fears of the 
Mozabite women ; and different, indeed, was the 
treatment received here to that accorded to us 
by the inhospitable people of the Wady M'zab, 
where my young attendant, Miloud-ben-Ch'tiui, was 
always banished outside the door. Here the child 
became the pet and plaything of my hostesses, 
and was charged, from five o'clock in the morning 
till the evening, with constant complicated messages 
and bunches of roses for me. 

I alluded above to the love of amusement 
amongst the Ghuara. It is indeed very great, 


and in every alley the sound of the tambourines 
is constantly heard. Now a procession files along 
to the accompaniment of rhythmic song, now some 
pious offering is to be made, or a fete is suddenly 
improvised, or again, some invalid suffering from 
an obstinate headache, tries what may be called 
the dancing cure {ijioidet-er-rass). 

Some explanation of the dancing cure seems 
called for here. When a woman is affiicted with 
sick headache, she easily gets her husband to let 
her have the benefit of the moidet-er-rass, for 
which he will pay the singers, but of which he 
himself, poor man, will hear and see nothing, for 
the noisy meeting is attended by women alone. 
The husband's consent secured, the friends of the 
sufferer are summoned in haste, generally in the 
evening, or sometimes even in the middle of the 
night. Friends bring their friends, and these 
friends in their turn their acquaintances, till a 
dense crowd is assembled of women, with brown 
complexions, their black hair carefully curled and 
decked with little blue beads, their figures swathed 
in sombre-hued veils. 

The musicians are led by their gJmalla, or 
improvisatrice, doctress or divineress ; and very 
interesting did I find the female soothsayers or 
ghuallas with whom I became acquainted. I must 
introduce you specially to one of them, the 
attenuated Miluda, whose skill in various direc- 



tions, as a letter of blood and in applying French 
lettuce soap internally, has won for her a great 

But I must return to our moidet-er-rass ; the 
gJmallay Miluda herself, if you like, begins by 
reciting a long incantation. Then, whilst the 
assembled women sing a hymn in chorus, she 

burns a quantity of benzoin under the very nose 
of the patient. Rrrran, rrrran, rrrran, go the 
tambourines all the time. The singers redouble 
their efforts, the smoke from the benzoin rises up 
from an earthenware pan. At last, when the 
supplications and invocations are over, when the 
invalid is absolutely suffocated with the thick 
fumes of the burning resin, two of her com- 
panions approach her gently, and, still gently, 


raise her up by the arms and make her dance, 
dance, dance, dance — madly, distractedly, — amongst 
all the other dancers, whilst the tambourines 
continue their ceaseless Rrrran, rrrran, rrrran. 
" Yes ; dance, dance, sufferer, dance for hour upon 
'hour ; dance, the exercise will relieve the con- 
gestion of thy brain ; " and again rings out the 
strident chant, to the persistent Rrrran, rrrran, 
rrrran of the tambourines. 

The fact is, absurd as it may sound, the invalid 
always is quite well again the next morning, cured 
by the triple force of the dancing, the prayer, and 
the benzoin. We can but bow — and dance — to 
such a result as this ! 

Of course, no one dreams of depriving an invalid 
of the benefits of the inoidet-e7'-rass ! Then there 
are other impromptu amusements, not to speak 
of the wedding festivities, which are shared in by 
every one in the town, for all the marriages are 
solemnized on the same day, once a year. The 
bridegrooms and their escorts of men march jauntily 
along on one side of the street to the sound of in- 
struments of music, whilst the brides with their 
following of women walk in procession on the other, 
their supple limbs moving in unison and their 
anklets tinkling, as they trip along on their dainty 
feet. Draped in sombre-coloured veils, with their 
heads completely swathed in silk handkerchiefs, 
the little newly-married wives look like mysterious 



phantoms, and the sharp flo_n«flon of the reitha, or 
clarionet, is more impressive than cheerful. Truly, 
it is a strange spectacle, this long procession, which 
is repeated for seven consecutive days, winding 
through all the streets and squares of the town, 
none of those taking part in it ever showing any 
failure of courage or of enthusiasm. 

Imagine what must be the condition of the 

delicate brides, when at last the fetes and the 
dancing are over and they sink down, half-dead 
with fatigue, with bruised and weary limbs. 

The expression " innocent pleasure " seems 
hardly admissible here, for the over-fatigue does 
positive harm to health. But there is nothing 
immoral about any of the Ghuara customs, and 
it is rare indeed for a woman belonging to this race 
to be guilty of an indiscretion. In fact, this 


pastoral land is a true Arcadia, in which the men, 
as well as the women, lead pure and simple 

The stronger sex does not disdain impromptu 
dancing, and of an evening, at the cross roads 
and in the squares, you may see a very good 
imitation of the dances of the Ghuara women, 
or of those indulged in by the Tuareg and 
Shaanba warriors elsewhere. The sharp clicking 
of the metal castanets is accompanied by the 
beating of what is called a tar (a sort of large 
chest), harmonious singing, long drawn out and 
rapid notes, mingled with the plaintive sighing 
of solos on the flute from the distance, all combine 
to produce the wild seductive charm characteristic 
of Wargla. 

Somewhat similar is the effect, as the corner 
of some alley is turned, of the intermittent 
light from the torches of pine wood, bringing into 
vivid but brief relief the details of the strange 
scene ; fit symbol, in its transient radiance, of this 
Ghuara town, and the sudden fits of gaiety of its 
inhabitants, the gaiety of a gentle-mannered people, 
which, however, becomes just now and then some- 
thing like folly, if not madness. This is especially 
the case in the yearly saturnalia, when the men run 
about the streets stark naked (an extraordinary 
proceeding amongst the Arabs, who are generally 
so very modest), smeared with pitch and wild 


with excitement, flinging for one evening all 
restraint to the winds. 

The next morning, however, they are back again 
in the oasis gardens, watering the palms, and 
cultivating the grain. Artesian wells, which they 
owe to their predecessors, the Garamantes, and the 
secret of the borino- of which has never been dis- 
covered, provide them with a fairly good supply of 
water. And very considerable would be the harvest, 
or rather the profit, they would reap, if the greater 
portion did not go to the owners of the soil, 
either Mozabites or wealthy nomads, of whom 
the Ghuara are only the khanimes, that is to say, 
the farmers, who receive but a fifth part of the 
yield of the palms. 

The chief nomad tribes who encamp about 
Wargla include the Aulad-ben-Said and Aulad- 
Sma'il, the Shaanba, the M'khadma, the Beni- 
Thur, and the Said-Otba, representatives of all 
of which may be seen mingling with the 
brown-skinned Ghuara in the market-place, a 
large quadrilateral enclosure of arcades, with a 
monument in the centre. The four massive doors 
are closed every evening at the same time as the 
posterns in the walls of the city. The goods 
for sale in this market, are exposed in clumsy stalls, 
which swarm with flies ; horrible creatures, of an 
infinite variety, all tenacious of their prey, forming 
with scorpions and fevers the chief scourges of 




the country. Nothing and nobody is free from 
these persistent pests, which interrupt without 
ceremony the discussions going on in the shops, 
or near the tellis, as the loads of dates are called. 
Prayers are offered up near the shambles, where the 

camels are killed, and the flies disturb even the 
surgical operations, which are all performed in the 
market ; for the barber-surgeons co-operate in the 
treatment of patients with Miluda, and other female 
soothsayers, in the outlying portions of it. There 
people are bled cora^n popidi ; gashes are made 
behind the ear, a prophetic oration is pronounced over 


the wounds (the more incomprehensible it is, the more 
efficacious it is supposed to be), and behold ! you 
are cured, ready to dance, to beat yourself about 
and to hold forth eloquently amongst the old cronies 
in the covered-in alleys of the villages. 

Very extraordinary are these arched - over 
thoroughfares in the hamlets, in the neighbourhood 
of Wargla, such as Ruissat and Chott-el-Hajaja. 
They are met with even as far away as Tuggurt, 
and they are so pitch dark that the doors opening 
out of them are rather felt than seen. Here and 
there these passages widen sufficiently to enclose 
low blocks of masonry, used either as couches for 
taking siestas, or as seats for a friendly chat with 
a neighbour after a nap. At intervals where the 
alleys meet there are openings in the roofs, through 
which falls a dash of sunshine, making the surround- 
ing gloom appear yet greater. 

When the hour for prayer arrives, the old men 
issue from the alleys to go to the mosques, respond- 
ing to the musical summons of the muezzins, and 
as soon as ever the door-ways and siesta benches 
are vacated, the women come swarming out, and 
hordes of children, in many-coloured garments, 
rush forth from the mysterious recesses of the 
houses. A babble of feminine chatter, less childish 
here than amongst the Arab women, succeeds the 
grave and reserved discourse of the grey-bearded 
men, and the merry antics of the little Ghuara in 



their light raiment, the calm, dignified attitudes of 
their white-robed grandfathers. 

Presently, when prayers are over, the men 
return, and the troops of children, with many a 
shrill cry, run away again and disperse. Once 
more the politics of the Southern Sahara, its 
grotesque, its futile, and its complex ambitions, 
are solemnly discussed in the close obscurity of 
the hot, dark passages. 




If you draw a straight line on a map between 
Tuggurt and In-Salah it will pass through many 
deeply interesting districts, and if, coming from the 
Sahara, you follow your straight line, you will 
meet with examples of nearly every race of the 

Tuggurt, a brown coloured town, inhabited by 
Ghuara, is very like Wargla in appearance, but its 
origin, or reputed origin, was very different. In this 
case the founder was a woman, and a woman of no 
very good reputation, who, having become rich 
through her evil ways, wished to buy forgiveness for 
her sins by building a refuge for the old and poor. 
Only unfortunately — and this, as a certain Brother 
Jean des Entommeures once said, is the gist of the 
story, other women of bad reputation came to live 
near the rescued poor who had now become rich, 
owning land in the Sahara ; so rich, indeed, that the 
money, dates, and kouskous so lightly come by were 
equally readily given away. The foundress in her 


despair tore the wool which represented her once 
plentiful tresses, but to her objurgations the intruders 
only replied : " Thou hast had thy turn, oh wealthy 
one : now it is ours ! " 

At last the infant city, to which the very scandal 
connected with it attracted merchants and players 
of what the natives call kkrab'rab, fell into the 
stronger hands of a warrior of the neighbourhood, 
who began by turning out the inmates of the refuge 
to take up his own abode in it, and finally married 
its foundress to avoid any future disputes about 
ownership. This wise warrior was the first Sultan 
of Tuggurt, who reigned long, long before the Ben- 
Jellab dynasty. 

As we toiled wearily and painfully across the evil- 
smelling c/wU and dunes of the Southern Sahara, 
where the shifting sand gives away beneath the softly- 
padded foot of the camel, I thought to myself that 
perhaps I had not said quite enough about the 
fassedett, as the professional beauties are called, in 
my account of the women of the desert. It is a 
painful subject, but no account of the people of the 
Sahara would be complete without a few words 
about it. To begin with, I must explain that it is 
a mistake to suppose that the paint, the henna, and 
the heavy golden ornaments, such as the Louis-d'or 
and the hundred-franc pieces, worn by the. /assedeU, 
are either the exclusive marks or the rewards of 
their profession, for all these are ornaments affected 


by married women on fete days. The unfortunate 
girls have really no distinctive costume, nothing to 
set them apart from their virtuous sisters, except per- 
haps the ostrich feather they all sport. The fassedett 
are often spoken of as Aulad-Nails, but that too is 
a mistake, for many of the almehs, or dancers and 
painted girls, whom men admire so much, do not 
belong to that tribe. Whatever their right name, 
however, I made up my mind to find out something 
about these wearers of the heavy gold necklaces and 
the diadems with the frontlets of smaller coins falling 
almost to the eyebrows above the jet-black eyes. 
Perhaps, as the attention I have given to them is so 
entirely disinterested, I may have been able to get 
a truer insight into their poor little souls than my 
brothers of the sterner sex, and truth to tell, I have 
found several of those souls, careless, frivolous and 
unconscious of the tragic elements of their position, 
though they be, not so very different from the 
virtuous souls of many legal wives. They are typical 
feminine souls of the race Mohammed knew so well ; 
to the women of whom he denied the possession of 
a soul at all, in accordance with the orders of Allah 
made known to him by the angel Jibril or Gabriel. 

The fassedett do not form a caste apart. Some 
few of them belong to the Aulad-Nail tribe, whose 
ideas are emancipated, but these go to Biskra and 
the Northern towns. Those who frequent the 
Southern districts of the Sahara belong to nomad 


tribes, chiefly those of the kusur, and are the 
children of poor parents. 

Many of them are very intelligent, even versatile. 
Children of the people, they retain their own mode 
of speech, their attitudes and their gestures ; but they 
can imitate to perfection the haughty dignity of 
the wives of the Caids, the expression of the 
mouth, the stiff pose of the head beneath the 
weighty diadem, which was the envy of their 
childhood. They are to the poor sokhrar, or camel 
driver, sheep seller or spahi, the very embodiment 
of beauty, and to the rich of luxury. To the 
latter, of course, they are mere temporary play- 
things in whom their admirers take pleasure, as 
they do in the other luxuries their wealth enables 
them to procure. 

Such are the fassedett of Southern Sahara. 
Look at one of them dancing who has not adopted 
the coarse and ugly fashion introduced from Egypt 
by the Turks. How mysterious is the twinkling 
motion of her feet, alike sensual and modest, how 
those feet seem to tremble with love, how im- 
ploringly her little hands are raised to Heaven ; 
with what sudden despair her wrists droop like 
the broken stem of a flower ; or ap'ain, how she 
poises with outspread arms as a bee hovers over 
some blossom, and at last sinks exhausted to the 
floor with limbs relaxed and trembling;. She is 
to the dwellers in the extreme South of the Sahara, 




the very idealization of the real, the realization of 
the ideal. 

The dancer herself is quite aware that her life 
is sinful ; but she always hopes to wash away its 
guilt when she retires, by making a pilgrimage, by 
prayers, and by alms. Meanwhile, she seems 
thoroughly to enjoy the lot she has chosen, and 
does not mind the scorn of her married sisters in 
the least. She has ambition enough to keep her 
happy without any overstrain on her heart. One 
day I asked a young debutante in a little Saharian 
kasr if she was not vexed at owning so few jewels, 
"Oh, no," she answered, simply, "that does not 
trouble me, for I know I shall get some more — a 
few every day." Nothing could give any idea of 
the quiet candour of this reply. Tainted water 
often runs more quietly than a clear stream, no 
doubt, and where guilt is not felt there is no sting 
of remorse. 

Swallows of love, the fassedett migrate from 
kasr to kasr in the Sahara, and will be found at 
Wargla after passing through the little town of 
N'Guca, the present Caid of which claims 
descent from the nurse of the Prophet. The Said 
nomads of dignified presence, the Shaanba, the 
Otba Beni-Thur, and all the other wanderers of 
the desert, will be deliphted to find them when 
they reach the crowded meeting places in their 


Beyond the Wady Mia, however, these meeting 
places become more and more rare, for the accumu- 
lated sand, its surface swept and crumbled into 
dust by the wind, presents a most formidable 
obstacle to marching, and when the gaci, as the 
hardened ground is called, or the rocky Hamada 
district replaces the Ergesh sand hills, the fate 
of the traveller becomes even worse, for there are 
no wells and the w^ater stored in the skins soon be- 
comes tainted beneath the burning rays of the sun. 

Land of monotonous beauty, hated by many, 
but loved by its own children ! Yes ; the 
Shaanba wrapped in their burnouses, the Tuaregs 
swathed in their sombre veils, all love it, this 
, terrible desert. The French domination is grudg- 
ingly submitted to by the first, and hated by the 
second, not only for material and religious reasons, 
but because they are afraid that the foreigners 
may make changes in their deeply-cherished 

The two most out-lying inhabited points, the 
Zauia (chapel, refuge or convent) of Temassinin 
and the kasr of El-Golea, before you come to 
In-Salah and the Tuat oasis, are on the left and 
right of the imaginary line alluded to above. The 
Zama belongs to the religious order of the Tijani, 
one of the most liberal of the Southern Sahara, 
and it was with its members at Temassinin that 
the French explorer Duveyrier took refuge from 


the AzQueur and HoQfoar Tuareg-s. Here, too, is 
now the last French post in the direction of Air 
and Lake Tchad. The kasr of El-Golea, the 
occupation of which by the French aroused the 
jealousy of Morocco, is a kind of foretaste of Tuat 

and Gurara. The scenery changes greatly in 
character ; mountains begin to appear, and there 
is a difference about the oases, for you can 
actually see water gleaming amongst the palm 
trees. Once the constant resort of the Shaanba, 
it is now merely their market and storehouse. 


I fancy it will be very much the same thing 
with In-Salah, recently occupied by the French, 
and the other Tuareg harbours of refuge. In-Salah, 
the capital and fortress of the oasis of Tidikelt, 
is the key of the Tuat, Gurara, and Messaura, 
those rich, fertile and populous districts in which 
one oasis succeeds another as far as Igli, repre- 
senting an area equal to a third of France, dotted 
with a perfect chaplet of wealthy kusur, or fortified 
villages, of which there are no less than 349, 
owning amongst them twelve million date palms. 

Now, until recently the whole of this district 
was practically a teri'a incognita amongst the 
French possessions, represented in maps by a 
blank space, in the very heart of French Africa. 
Not only were the French not masters of it, they 
had not even the right of entering, still less of 
crossing, it ; a fact which was alike embarrassing 
and irritating, hampering all commercial as well 
as political dealings with the newly-annexed 
neighbouring territories. 

All, absolutely all, the trade carried on by 
caravan between the Soudan and the North, that 
is to say, Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli, 
passes through the Tuat oasis and In-Salah. The 
Hoggar Tuaregs, the fierce protectors of the 
convoys, compel the camel drivers and merchants 
to take this route because their own particular 
depot is at In-Salah. It is no light matter to cross 


the will of a Targui, as an individual member 
of the Tuareg tribe is called, for, if he gets out 
of temper, he is just as likely to rob as to pro- 
tect, and, instead of protecting, he sometimes 
slays. The money he has received as the 
price of his fidelity does not trouble him in the 

Properly speaking, In-Salah is not a town. It 
is a group of four little kusiir, built very close 
together, each with its citadel and fortifications, 
and the population of all four is only 3,200, with 
some 5,000 more belonging to the fifteen outlying 
villages of the suburbs. 

In-Salah, however, does not owe its prestige to 
the number of its inhabitants, whether merchants 
or warriors, but to the fact that it was supposed 
to be inaccessible. The people of the Tuat, Gurara, 
and Messaura oases expected, sooner or later, to 
see the French arrive from the North or West 
with the permission of Allah, when he should 
wish to chastise them for their sins ; but Tidikelt 
and In-Salah, in the east, were looked upon as 
absolutely impregnable ramparts. This popular 
delusion was shared by no less than 400,000 
souls, for that is the approximate total number of 
the inhabitants of the oasis, a large figure when 
compared with that of the population elsewhere in 
the Sahara. 

The French occupation of the Tuat oasis almost 


necessarily changed the course, still merely theoretical, 
of the Trans-Saharian railway. Better still, it won 
over many who had hitherto opposed the scheme 
of its construction ; for the trade between Tuat 
and Timbuktu, and Tuat and the Mediterranean, 
would do something towards lessening the enormous 
cost of the strategic line. For the Tuat oasis is 
undoubtedly rich, and gets its cereals, its meat — 
whether preserved or in the form of live stock — 
its cotton stuffs, its domestic and other utensils, 
its weapons, its soap, and above all its candles, 
so dear to the Arab, from a long^ distance off 

To set against these imports, it exports its dates 
to the four quarters of the globe, and owns such 
immense quantities that some of the poorer families 
live entirely on them, and they are the only food 
of all domestic animals, horses, camels, and mules, 
not to speak of the enormous stock which goes 
bad every year. The Tuat oasis also produces 
donkeys of a select breed, much sought after in 
Morocco, as well as the striped silks called haiks, 
in weavinof which the women excel, beautiful and 
delicate basket-work, passementerie, embroidered 
purses, and fringes, all made by the wives of the 
Tuareg warriors. 

The Gurara oasis, in which villages are grouped 
in rather a quaint way about a lake with very 
little water, produces very much the same commo- 
dities as does that of Tuat. Moreover, the soil of 


the Gurara districts is unlike that elsewhere, and 
there are actually certain vegetables which grow 
wild in it, such as cabbages and sorrel, the latter 
of a quality no cook would despise. To those 
who know the desert, the springing up of these 
wild vegetables appears little short of miraculous. 
Gurara is also celebrated for its skilful gardeners, 
negroes with a dash of Arab blood, who sometimes 
migrate with their families to El-Aghuat, Ghardaya, 
and the kzisih^ of the Wady M'zab, where they 
are known as Gttrari, and grow vegetables on 
square patches of the oasis. 

As for the third sub-division of the highly- 
favoured districts of which Tidikelt may be called 
the advanced guard, it is of a very pleasing 
appearance, for, throughout the whole length of 
Messaura extends a valley forming one vast forest 
of date palms. And this Messaura wady is 
one with a real, visible watercourse, not a mere 
dried-up bed of a river ; that is to say, it is a 
watercourse along which water actually flows for 
some eight days every year. A wonderful thing 
in a Saharian wady, for, to give but one or two 
examples, water flows in the Wady M'zab for 
two days only every five or six years, whilst in 
the Mia Wady it flows every twenty-five years as 
a rule, but twice it has neglected to do even that ! 
Whereas all the eastern wadys, that of Messaura 
above all, have never-failing subterranean rivers, 



with the aid of which the palms are kept constantly 

After the assassination of Colonel Flatters, the 
prisoners taken by the Tuareg warriors escaped to 
In-Salah, where they were well received and kindly 
cared for. Later they were not sparing in their 
praise of the affability of the Aulad el Moktar, the 
luxury of their houses, and the sumptuousness of 
their gilded furniture. Some allowance must be 
made for the over enthusiasm of the prisoners, mere 
nomads of the Desert, for it was, of course, easy to 
dazzle them. Still, in the narratives of the 
explorers of the Congo and the African lakes, we 
read that the Arab traders from Mozambique have 
gilded beds, silk draperies, and rooms with painted 
and carved decorations, all representing a kind of 
barbaric luxury, such as might also have prevailed 
at In-Salah. 

The dealer in slaves soon becomes rich, and 
there is no lack of slaves, either in the Gurara, or 
the Tuat oasis. The population is divided into 
the sedentary Arabs and Berbers, and the religious 
nobles known as Sherfa, which is the plural of 
shereef, who, besides a large number of slaves, 
have in their service many haratin, or half-serf 
cultivators. The Sherfa caste, which never takes 
up arms, the fighting being done for it by its 
slaves and haratin, is bitterly and fatally hostile 
to French influence, the more so, because some 




members of the great Gery ville and Wargla warrior 
sect, the celebrated A ulad-Sidi- Sheikh went with 
the French to In-Salah. 

This, of course, is quite easy to understand ; the 
more the influence increases in the Tuat oasis of 
other marabouts, such as the Tijani Naib, chief 
of the Kadria, or of the A ulad-Sidi -Sheikh who 
lead the faithful Sheikhia, and the more the haughty 
Sherfa of the country see the followers who enrich 
them, and whose obedience gratifies their pride, 
melting away, the less effective for evil will be the 
action of the followers of the powerful Sheikh el 

Amongst the various and mixed populations, 
intrigues and counter intrigues will, of course, con- 
tinue. It will be the wisdom of the French, whilst 
mitigating its worst results, to keep this rivalry well 
alive, for nowhere does the Machiavellian proverb, to 
rule you must divide, apply more forcibly than in 
the Sahara. 

1 hope to give the results of my study of the 
women of the Tuat oasis, and of the Tuareg women 
of the south and east in another book, but I cannot 

"•■' This Sheikh is the founder of a secret society, widely spread in 
North Africa and Asia, with members it is said even in Europe. He 
is supposed to be now Hving in the interior of Tripoli, where he 
exercises great influence, an influence extending even to the Soudan, 
where he has attempted to interfere with the English. By some he 
is looked upon as a Mahdi, and he seems likely to cause the French 
some trouble in their organization of North Africa, but his power is 
greatly exaggerated. — Trans. 



refrain from saying a few words here on the last 
named tribe, the fiercest of all the people of the 
Sahara. I have a friend (?) amongst the Azgueur- 
Tuareg, for the excellent Targui Wen-Titi by 
name, brother-in-law of the great chief Aghitaghel, 
honoured me with his confidence on certain 
psychological questions. Truly, his views were 
by no means usual, and I can fancy him still as 
he held forth, a big burly fellow, wearing a hood 

and a blue veil, and holding his spear in his right 
hand and his dagger in his left. 

He was very severe on the Arabs — for to a 
Targui the Arabs, especially the Shaanba Arabs, 
are the great rivals of the Tuareg tribes, in the 
art of plundering — for hiding their women as 
they do. 

" You see," he said to me, speaking very 
slowly, "we warriors hide our faces, so that the 
enemy may not know what is in our minds. 


peace or war, but women have nothing to con- 
ceal, for the enemy never approaches them ! " 
Then he added : " The woman is the mother of 
good counsel and of wisdom. If there were 
only women amongst us, we Tuareg would van- 
quish the world, we should own everything as far 
as Paris." 

This enthusiasm, expressed though it was in 
hyperbolic language, does honour to the Targuiyett, 
as the Tuareg women are called, that being the 
plural for Targuiya. The Mussulman yoke has not 
subdued their spirit, they have evaded it whilst 
accepting the dogmas of Mohammed. The fact is, 
these Tuareg tribes have too strong a sense of 
humour to make good converts. Can they, I 
wonder, have any Franco-Norman blood in them } 
I am afraid not, though there is something very 
attractive about the idea ! It has been said that 
it was necessary to convert them to Islamism by 
force seven times in succession. And when be- 
fore that they adopted the Christian faith, their 
religious belief cannot have been much more the 
result of conviction than was their later creed. 
That in olden times the Tuareg tribes were 
Christians, is a fact too well established to need 
discussion here. It has been accounted for in 
three different ways, some saying that Christianity 
was introduced from Abyssinia, others that it was 
the result of the influence of Christian Rome 


in North Africa, yet others, that some of the 
Crusaders of Saint Louis of France remained in 
Africa after the death of that king, becoming later 
merged in the Berber tribes, and being with them 
driven into the Desert by the Arabs, a theory at 
which I hinted above. Whatever the cause, the 
Tuareg tribes retained many foreign superstitions, 
some of which it must be owned, such as the behef 
in enchanted forests and wonderful fish, are very 
like those of Brittany and other districts on the 
English Channel. They still wore the cross, which 
indeed is retained amongst them to this day, but 
for all that they remained heathen to the back- 

The Targuiya or Tuareg woman enjoys real 
independence and exercises great influence. She 
ventures alone, on the back of her mehari or 
thorough-bred camel, into the remote districts of 
the Desert. She shares the councils of her husband, 
and if she survives him as a widow she inherits 
his power. Moreover, property is inherited amongst 
the Tuareg through the female line, and a child is 
the heir, not of his father, but of his uncle, for 
there is often really no certainty as to who the 
father is. 

Poor, but intensely proud as they are, it is simply 
impossible to reduce the Tuareg to submission. 
They remain free, hating the Rumis and Shaanba 
about equally. Listen to one of the satirical songs 


which the Targuiyctt improvise on the Shaan- 
biyett, about whom they really have none but 
hearsay knowledge. See how, with the spiteful 
hatred only women indulge in, the raillery 
stings and cuts, outraging all the most sensitive 

" Ah ! Ah ! There she goes, the woman in the 
veil ! 

" She is afraid to show herself because she is 
so ugly. 

" She knows well enough that she is just a big 
sack full of cold fat. 

" A skin full of nothing but stupidity and 
vanity ! 

" She obeys like a dog, this bitch, the daughter 
of a bitch ! 

" When the warriors return from the fio-ht she 
does not bind up their wounds. 

" She thinks of nothing but sleeping, and adding 
to the size of her huge body. 

" And when she catches sight of food she writhes 
with delight and neighs, 

" Yes ; she neighs like a horse at the sight of 
his fodder." 

Pure calumny, exaggerated calumny of course, is 
this fierce song of exultation over the Shaanbiya, 
for though, no doubt, she is stout for a Saharian 
Arab, I do not think she is stouter than any of 
her sisters of the Desert. I confess that, as far as 


I am myself concerned, my sympathies are with 
the Arab rather than the Tuareg race. The 
women may be less intelligent and less energetic, 
but their mode of life has never changed since 
the palmy days of Chaldea, and they have not 
been altered by their modern environment simply 
because it resembles that of their ancestors ; 
indeed, that environment has made on them 
a yet deeper impression, an impression intensi- 
fied in its transmission from one generation to 

Poor Shaanbiyett ! The Tuareg tribes make fun 
of them, and the Arabs of other districts despise 
them. The Agha Jellul, who is chief of the 
Laarba tribes, said to me one day in his picturesque 
French : 

" What do you see in these Shaanba women ? 
Why, they are less beautiful on their wedding 
day than ours are when they are making 
kouskous ! " 

Truth to tell, they have few silk rohas^ few 
figured vialiffas, few handkerchiefs brocaded 
with gold. Their garments are made of pink 
or blue linen, and their ornaments are of humble 
silver, not of gold. But for all that, their 
mode of life, their manners and customs, are 
identical with those of the nomad Arabs. And 
if you go with me to the dawar, to the few 
scattered tents forming a little world in them- 



selves in the Desert, you will see a true specimen 
of the true life of the Sahara, whether of the east 
or of the west, of the Laarba, the Aulad-Mia or 
the Aulad-N'ssa. 




The dawar is beginning to wake up. The first 
faint rays of dawn have but just begun to appear 
in the East, yet already the old men have all 
come out of the tents to make their morning 
prayer, the prayer of El-Fejur,* beneath the wide 
dome of the quiet sky. 

Yes, the prayer of El-Fejur, into which are 
gathered up all the tremors of the dark night, 
scarcely past ; all the feelings induced by the 
awful silence, when all light is absent ; the silence 
of utter nothingness, when the creature, all too 
conscious of his weakness, cries aloud to his all- 
powerful Creator : 

"In the name of the All-Merciful and Pitiful, 
I seek a refuge with the Lord of the Dawn, against 
the wickedness of the beings created by Him, 

* This is the same prayer as the Subh. The word comes from 
Fejr, dawn.^TRANS. 



against evil and night, when they overtake us 

The voices rise as if the petitioners were in 
despair, then they gradually drop, and the words 
come slowly, softly, musically, persuasively, 
breaking at last into sudden sobs. And as one 
listens, one seems to hear the sighs, the complaints, 
the groans of all humanity. The race which daily 
uses a prayer such as this may be degraded. 

torpid, what you will, but for all that it assuredly 
retains some noble souls imbued with profound 
faith in God, profound pity for their fellow creatures. 
This prayer breathes forth, no doubt, emotions and 
feelings different from our own, but not so 
different as to exclude our sympathy and com- 
prehension. Such a petition applies alike 
to the solitary and the social life, and nowhere 
do the solitary and social life so nearly touch each 
other, or so nearly merge the one in the other, as 
in the dawar. 


The faith represented by that prayer is needed 
to enable the people of the dawar to bear their 
terrible isolation in the midst of the oppressive vast- 
ness surrounding them ; its wide charity is needed 
to aid them in rearing their orphans, caring for 
their aged, nursing their sick, aiding their infirm, 
and I must add that what may perhaps be called its 
brutality, which is but a form of combativeness, 
is an absolute essential in the struggle for life 
in the Desert. 

But now the little ones in their turn slip out 
from the tents into the open air. Their big black 
eyes gaze at the grand scene before them without 
comprehending it in the least. To them the 
glorious sun, rising in his might from the sandy 
bed, suddenly brings the clay, which nothing can dim 
till the evening, when his equally sudden departure 
ushers in the dark night that swallows him up. The 
young men come out also, still half asleep, 
enervated by the long hours of repose. The 
women alone, busy with their domestic affairs, 
remain in the canvas home. They can be heard 
calling to each other or scolding, asking for wood, 
reproaching those who have not yet gone to fetch 
the water they want. 

" Patience, patience," mutter the old men. Then, 
shaking their heads, they quote to each other the 
Moslem proverb : " It is better to be patient than 
to desire ; it is better to hope than to despair." 


By degrees, however, the hearths begin to glow, 
thanks to the last sparks of the fire always 
carefully kept up through the night. The bad 
water from the neighbouring r dir is boiling in 
the saucepan, and the penetrating odour of 
the caouaJi, now in general use, fills the whole 

Of course, the tents of the dawar are only 
pitched for any length of time in places pro- 
vided with water. The term rdir is applied to 
the little pools left in the impermeable soil by 
previous rain, or which has been obtained by 

When the caouah is ready all are summoned to 
drink. " Drink big ones, drink little ones," and 
they all drink, munch up a few dates, and wipe 
their mouths on their burnouses. Then the 
children run away, and the men and the women 
who have come to years of discretion exclaim : 
" Thanks be to Allah ! Praised be the Lord, 
who understands men and provides for their 
needs ! " 

The morning wears on. The heat will be 
bearable until about eio-ht o'clock. The work 


is now begun, which will be finished without fail 
in the evening, when the heavy shadows that 
usher in the night have fallen. 

All the work of the dawar, which, by the way, 
is by no means hard, is done day by day 




in this way, during the few less painful minutes 
of the day : when those who do not know what 
temperate climates are, imagine there is a certain 
freshness about the air. Husbands and brothers 
go off to fill the water skins, to collect brushwood, 
or to seek for pasturage or a fresh spot contain- 
ing water. Some have to look after the animals, 
which is a light task enough, others are sent to kill 
vipers. Belgacem sharpens his razors, Messaud 
mends a saddle, Bailich sews a gandura. But the 
most important part of the labour falls on the 
women, or at least so they persuade themselves 
and try to persuade others. " Oh, Zorah ! Oh, 
Aisha! Oh, Yam'ina ! What worry, what a lot of 
trouble we have ! To beat the butter, to grind 
the grain, to knead the bread ! .... to 
mould the clay for pottery, to weave jerbis, to 
spin wool from our sheep — wool so white that 
that of the North cannot possibly be more beau- 
tiful. We are exhausted with fatigue, we have 
been at it all long enough, beating and rubbing 
the wool, washing it with native soaps, and 
then rinsing it out flock by flock in the 
stream in the nearest wady, which is such a long 
way off" 

A relative activity then is going on in the dawar. 
Would you like a glimpse of the inside of a 
tent ? You can very well imagine what the outside 
is like. A great expanse of stuff, made of bands of 



brown woollen material stitched together, stretched 
over poles fixed in the ground, and kept in place 
by pegs. Here is the whole establishment, the 
residence of the entire family, separated into two 
unequal parts by a tissue division. But such as 
it is, it is a true home, and the primitive tissue 
division is the unmistakable sign of civilization. 
It is only the most unsophisticated of savages 
who have one common lair for all. There is no 
need to go to Australia or New Caledonia to meet 
with such lairs, for I have seen whole families of 
European origin — Montenegrins, Wallachians, and 
Ruthenians — with their beasts and cattle huddled 
beneath one skimpy awning. What does it matter 
to me if the Arabs have evolved this division into 
two parts in their mobile dwellings ? I find in 
it an indication of feelings more refined than mere 
instinct, a suggestion of reserve, of a desire for 
privacy, and many other things on which I need 
not dwell. 

Do not, however, jump to the conclusion that 
every tent is a delightful retreat. Oh, no ! very 
far from it ! There are too many things wanting 
for that, and one of the first of these is cleanliness. 
The carpets and frechias used as beds are piled 
up anyhow, and are full of holes. In one corner 
is a bale of camels' hair, in another a mutchatchu 
is asleep. From the tent poles hangs a fox's skin, 
and in the chest is some harness, with a lot of 


rags and some old broken pots. The drawbacks 
under which work is done in the dawar are great 
enough, but they would be still greater if it were 
not possible to take refuge in the open air, amongst 
the sheep and goats, the remains of yesterday's 

cooking, camels' saddles, torn bags, broken bassurs 
or palanquins, wooden platters, baskets, saucepans, 
and sieves for straining alfa, etc. But fortunately 
this resource of the open air is there, and it is con- 
stantly turned to account. It is with the vast wastes 
of the desert around us, and beneath the immense 
dome of vivid blue sky, that we pay our visit to 


Fatmah, the wife of the tall and thin Taieb-ben- 
Schetti, and watch her at her daily work, in 
company with her mother, El-Haja, 'her daughter 
Kerah, and her young sister-in-law, Mesauda the 

I hope when you have finished reading my 
account of house-keeping here, that you will be 
able to undertake the charge of any tent, no 
matter which, in the da war. 

We must begin at the very beginning, that is 
to say, with the grinding which converts grain into 

The mill used by the Arab women, the soft 
sound of the pounding in which is heard as soon 
as a dwelling is approached, does indeed emit 
what may be called the " Song of the Hearth " 
in the Sahara, just as on the hearths of other 
climes does the chirping of the cricket or the 
bubbling of the boiling pot. The mill supplies 
material for the koitskoiis of festive eveninos, the 
kessra of every-day life, the broth of invalids, 
and of the poor who have no hearths of their 
own, as well as the so-called rutna of the traveller 
and the warrior, which is made of corn first parched 
and then ground, and is carried in the hood of 
his burnous by the wayfarer, who eats it just as it 
is, moistened with water. The mill is under the 
special benediction of Allah. The two little grind- 
stones of these mills, the upper one of which is 

GRIXniXG THE I' LOUR. z-jf) 

worked with a handle, are not merely necessary- 
accessories of the Arab menage, they are actual 
ingredients of it, and without her mill an Arab 
woman of the South would no more seem to me a 
true Arab woman, than she would if she wore a cap. 

Mesauda and Kerah are turninof the mill this 
morning. Look at them, seated on the ground 
opposite each other, with the mill between their 
knees, working it slowly and rhythmically, the 
drapery of their loose robes falling back and display- 
ing their beautifully moulded arms as they make the 
curious alternate motions of the handle. They 
stoop more than is necessary ; for, like children, 
they play over their work, laughing as they finger 
the reddish flour falling into the sheep s skin spread 
upon the ground beside them. They throw pinches, 
even handfuls, of the flour at each other, and 
become sprinkled with splashes of it, giving them 
a very funny appearance. 

" Oh, thou white one ! " they cry : " Oh, thou 
sweet one ! " 

The mother, who is making butter a little way 
off, indignantly remonstrates with them. 

" Oh, Mesauda ! Oh, Kerah ! it is sacrilege 
to waste flour like that. Thou mightest as well 
tear a page of the Holy Koran ; thou mightest 
as well think evil of the Holy Prophet, whom may 
God bless, he and his family, and give them 
health ! " 


Then the girls, piqued at being chidden, get 
angry ; Fatmah, without leaving her butter, gets 
angry too. They are good-for-nothing girls, she 
says, Mesauda has been no use since she began 
to give herself airs ; yes, since she noticed how 
the handsome Ahmed looked at her. But the 
handsome Ahmed is not really giving a thought 
to Mesauda, she may be sure of that. He 
prefers the girls he can see in the towns, and 
who never say him nay. And even if Ahmed 
did admire her, is that any reason why Mesauda 
should be so conceited and so idle ? And Kerah, 
too, she is just the same, imitating Mesauda's 
bad example. Stupid children ! Why can't they 
be reasonable, and do the very little work asked 
of them properly ? Scarcely an hour's work a 
day ! 

Mesauda, who is now furious, replies: "We do 
things because we like them, because they amuse 
us. The Sidi," as she calls Taieb-ben-Schetti, the 
father of Kerah and her own elder brother, "never 
gave orders that we were to work." 

And, crimson with rage, she gets up, and leads 
away Kerah, who looks very uneasy, as a tame 
pigeon might if persuaded to fly off with a wild 

" By Allah, you are a pair ! " cries Fatmah. 
" What ! you would leave the mill i Oh, you are 
two wicked girls, who " 


But the grandmother, El-Haja, who is full of 
indulgence for the children, interrupts the blas- 
phemous speech. Smiling and sighing, she says : 

" Take care, oh Fatmah, that thy tongue does 
not lead thee from the straight path. What do 
you expect } It is only because they are young. 
They will have time enough to work when they 
are married." 

As she speaks the good old El-Haja goes 
to the innocent mill, which has remained on the 
ground as if it awaited the hand to set it in 
motion again (this is El-Haja's expression, not 
mine), and the dear old lady sets to work herself,, 
turning and turning the handle. Then she sifts 
the flour from the grit, reciting a prayer the 
while, the litany of the hundred names of the Lord, 
the All-Powerful, the Creator, the Sanctifier, the 
Pitiful, the Merciful, etc., winding up with " Allah 
is greater than all." 

Meanwhile Fatmah, who is now calm again, has 
gone on swinging the skin containing the camels' 
milk to be made into butter. The brown object, 
hung from two poles, sways backwards and 
forwards in regularly graduated jerks, in which 
there is more skill than would appear. In spite 
of the heat, butter will be produced, but it is 
allowed to get rancid on purpose, and it is always 
flavoured with a horrible grass which sniells of 



" The butter," or dWiaiui as she calls it, 
" is very good to-day," says Fatmah to El- 

" Well, the Sidi can eat it insh Allah (please 
God) with the kessra and so can the boys. As it 
happens, we had nothing left but a few dates." 

" Mother, look at the sun ! Is it not time to 
think about the kessra ? " 

Fatmah says this in a tone which betrays, better 

than any commentary could do, the fact that it is 
the grandmother who sees to the mid-day meal, for 
El-Haja is the head baker and cook of the tent. 
And sure enough, the old lady, without leaving her 
place, draws towards her the big gueca, or wooden 
bowl, in which a fowl has been soaking for some 
time. In it, with the aid of a little turbid water — 
for, alas ! the people of the dawar have no water 


that is not turbid — she damps some of the coarse 
flour just ground. Then she rolls the paste thus 
produced into a ball. Observe, she has added 
neither butter, salt, fat nor leaven of any kind, for 
the magnesia in the water takes the place of any 
other ingredient. The paste is already made, ab- 
solutely finished, there is nothing left to do but to 
put it into the oven. 

Where is that oven } 

Truth to tell, it is simple enough. El-Haja 
is going to make it, or rather to demolish it ; for, 
to begin with, the fire still burning in front of the 
tent, quite close to the entrance, must be removed. 
You remember the fire, do you not, which was made 
for preparing the caouaJi? Well, El-Haja sets 
about removing it, aided by the clumsy little fingers 
of the mutchatchus who are playing about ; some 
are her own, that is to say, the children of her 
son-in-law, the others belong to her neighbours. 
That does not make any difference ; they all call 
her grandmother, and they all press about the fire 
the more they are told to keep away from it, and 
not to touch it. " Oh, Said, do not tear thy 
gandura," and then, " Oh, Nassur, take care what 
you are doing with the cinders. Come, come, 
do as I tell thee ! When the Prophet (may Allah 
preserve him ! ) was a little boy living with his 
nurse Sahd'ia (may the Lord bless her ! ) he obeyed 
her in everything. And when the virtuous Sahd'ia 


said to him : ' Oh, Mohammed, do not dig up the 
sand with thy left hand,' Mohammed never used his 
left hand again, never ! never ! So he became the 
friend of God, the venerated, the Father of the 

From this harangue you will guess that El-Haja 
is actually digging in the sand, with the aid of 
Nassur and Said, Kheir and Mabruka. She 
makes a hole of wide extent, but little depth, just 
in the hottest place, cleared of coal and cinders. 
"Aye! yah!" screams Said, "the hole burns my 
fingers." El-Haja takes no notice of him. The 
moment is far too solemn and too grave. I am 
reminded of the French cook on some fete day, 
who with anxious mien awaits the moment for 
putting her masterpieces in the oven. Now look. 
Said, Nassur, Mabruka! El-Haja is putting the 
ball of paste in the middle of the hot hole in 
the naked sand. Then she quickly covers it 
over with the lukewarm debris of the previous 
fire. Now bring the brushwood, the twigs, the 
scanty wood of the Desert, for a brasier must 
be made on top of the oven, which is to be heated 
from above. 

I have not quite told you all yet ; do not cry out 
with disgust, as you read further. This useful 
brasier, this furnace, which is to draw slowly and 
not to be too fierce, do you know with what El- 
Haja feeds it ? Well, not to put too fine a point 


upon it, with camel dung, which makes capital 
fuel, simply invaluable in the Desert, and which 
there is nothing to replace. Some was used 
this morning in the fire for making the coffee, 
and a bit not quite burnt away may have actually 
touched the excellent kessra. All the world will 
tell you that camel dung is not dirty. El-Haja 
would deny that it is, so would Fatmah and her 
husband Taieb-ben-Schetti. So would Kerah, and 
even that conceited girl Mesauda. 

No, no, ye people of Europe, there is nothing 
disagreeable about camels' dung. The sand 
of the Desert purifies all it touches, still more all 
it covers up. How can you suppose that the 
kessra of the tent is anything but clean and sweet, 
nay more, delicious and scantified } 

" Then said the holy marabout to the man, ' As a 
reward for thy piety and the services thou hast 
rendered to me I will, if God permit, give to thee 
as wife the daughter of the Sultan. 

The grandmother is telling a story to her willing 
helpers whilst she watches over and feeds the oven 
above the kessra. This is a departure from her 
usual custom of only telling stories in the evening. 
But Nassur must be amused, for he is not very 
well, and that is considered quite excuse enough for 
him even if he has been naughty. Allah, who sees 
all, will pardon the fault because of the intention. 


" ' How can you make me marry the daughter of 
the Sultan ?' asked the man." 

Here ensues a parenthesis. El-Haja explains 
how impolite such a question was. No one, big 
or little, should ever allow himself to ask rude 
questions. So little Kheir dares not ask the 

question trembling on his lips, " Grandmother, what 
was the name of the man ? " Fortunately, El- 
Haja seems to have guessed what he wanted to 
know, for she went on : 

" The man was called Ali-ben-Kaddur, and he 
was a good Mussulman, walking without stumbling 
in the ways of Allah. Just for that and that only, 


his rudeness was pardoned by the marabout, and 
the marabout deigned to reply to him : ' Oh, my son, 
be not anxious about the deaHngs of the Divine 
Wisdom with thee, AHah knows best. Follow my 
teaching and all will be well with thee. Pick up 
the stones thou seest all round about us. The 
bigger they are the better. Fill the skirt of thy 
gandura with them. Go on picking them up, do 
not be afraid of the weight, for nothing but the 
burden of sin need be feared, and may Allah pre- 
serve thee. Amen ! ' " 

El-Haja imitates the scene in pantomime, 
stooping down and picking up imaginary stones ta 
put them into an imaginary gandura. Whilst 
she is thus employed the young girls approach 
her, the timid Kerah and the conceited Mes- 
auda, who have now got over the sulks. "An 
Hekaia " (a story), they cry ; " oh, how splendid." 
And, in spite of the increasing heat from the 
oven, they squat down round the fire of camels' 
dung. The grandmother has now six eager 

" ' Oh, Ali-ben-Kaddur,' resumed the marabout, 
' go to the Sultan with thy stones, and say to him : 
"Oh, noble upholder of religion, noble Prince of 
the Faithful, I come to ask thee to give me 
thy daughter in legal marriage, and I bring thee 
some stones as her dowry. 

"By Allah! What an idea!" cries Mesauda,. 


the only one of the audience who dares to express 
her opinion. 

" Hearing these words, poor Ali-ben-Kaddur felt 
his very heart and liver turn cold. ' Surely, when 
the Sultan sees these stones he will get into a 
just rage. He will say to his mokhazni, " Stone 
that insolent fellow, that wretch who dares to offer 
those pieces of rock to me ! " ' So, as Ali-ben- 
Kaddur, the man of little faith, was marching 
towards the Palace of the Sultan, he threw the big 
stones on the ground like this, as if he didn't know 
what he was doino; .... All the time he 
was thinking ' that pointed one would have killed 
me when they began to stone me ; bah, I'll throw 
it away. This big one would have broken my leg, 
bother ! away it goes ! This rough one would have 
torn the skin off my head, away it goes ! ' And 
if the holy marabout had not accompanied him, 
insJi Allah, he would have thrown them all away, 
forgetting that a good marabout should have 
no will of his own, for that which is written will 
happen, whatever he does. It is Maktub. At last ; 
one of the two throwing stones away and the 
other looking on, they arrived at the Palace of the 

The audience listens with bated breath, all the 
more because the narrator has paused for a moment 
to take a necessary look at the kessra through a 
little hole ad hoc. Some men have now actually 



joined the little boys and the youno' i^irls, and even 
the handsonie Ahmed hiniseh" is hoverino-, like a 
falcon over its prey, round the group by the fire;, 
amongst whom is the beautiful Mesauda. 

" Zid ! Lai I a El-Haja ! go on ! " 

The grandmother carefully notes the behaviour 
of Ahmed and Mesauda ; she also gives a search- 

ing glance at Kerah, for v^ho can tell at what 
moment Shaitan may first whisper his evil counsels? 
However, she goes on : 

" So here they are, arrived at the Palace of the 
Sultan. Silly Ali-ben-Kaddur is trembling with 
fear. He feels his teeth chattering, going clouk ! 
clak ! clik ! like the bill of a stork. Then the holy 
marabout, who pretends he has noticed nothing, 
issues the order, * Go to the audience chamber of 



the Sultan, ask of him the hand of his noble 
daughter and present to him thy beautiful stones.' 
Ali-ben-Kaddur, almost as dead with terror as if 
he had been killed the year before, is obliged to 
obey. As he goes along he keeps groaning to him- 
self, ' Oh ! oh ! oh ! oh ! my beautiful stones, my poor 
beautiful stones, they will do finely to stone poor 
Ali-ben-Kaddur. Oh ! oh ! oh ! oh ! ' Oh children, 
what a man of little faith ! There he is approach- 
ing the throne of the Sultan. Here he is actually 
addressing the Sultan. ' Oh, all powerful lord, be 
thou about my head and about my eyes ! Be 
generous to me. Do not kill me, but grant to your 
humble little one the hand of thy noble daughter. 
Accept as dowry these little offerings I have 
brought with me against my will. Oh, do not kill 
me,' and his knees knock together, and he casts 
down his eyes as he turns away, muttering to him- 
self all the time, ' Oh, dear me ! oh dear ! oh dear ! 
oh dear ! Oh ! oh ! oh ! '" 

The audience is consumed with delight at the 
old lady's realistic imitation of the terrors of the 
cowardly Ali-ben-Kaddur. 

'"Oh dear ! oh dear ! oh ! oh ! Ah ! ah ! ' All of a 
sudden his terror is redoubled. Aye, yah ! yah ! 
The awful hand of the Sultan is stretched out 
towards the stones and grips the gandura as if 
it were some coveted prey. It is all over now ! 
Ali is dying of horror. Brou ! Brou ! Brou ! Brou 


Brou ! When lo ! oh marvel of marvels ! When 
lo, suddenly" — the old lady pauses. 

" When suddenly ! oh, grandmother ! oh, Leila 
El-Haja ! go on, go on. Zid ! Zid !'' 

" When suddenly the Sultan says grandly, but 
kindly : ' Oh, my son, oh Ali-ben-Kaddur. not only 
do I give to thee my daughter to do with her what 
thou wilt, but I make thee my Khelifah (representa- 
tive) in thy province, and my heirs to come will 
thank thee for having enriched my throne and my 
treasury.' " 

" Thus joyfully did the great, the magnanimous, 
Sultan speak, for lo ! the stones of Ali-ben-Kaddur 
had become changed into emeralds of huge size 
and exquisite colour ; so beautiful, that beside them 
those of the wife of a caid would look mere rubbish, 
and the diamonds of King Solomon would be 
eclipsed by them, just as the light of the stars is 
eclipsed when the mighty sun appears ! " 

A murmur of admiration runs through the 
audience. The little ones open their mouths wide 
in their astonishment, the young girls shudder with 
a kind of envy of the bride who had such a dowry. 
The men, who are more sceptical, or, at least 
pretend to be, for all these people feel profoundly 
even the fictions they recognise as such, the men 
want to know how it all ended. 

" How it ended ! " cries the grandmother, " I'll 
tell you that in three words, although it is high 




time I saw to my kessra. Ali-ben-Kaddur, as. 
proud as any vizier, went back home again, taking 
with him the dauQ^hter of the Sultan. She was a 
virgin, and more beautiful than the moon on the 
fifteenth day of the month. Besides his wife, Ali- 
ben-Kaddur had received from the Sultan, not to 
speak of a beautiful sword and costly stuffs, one 
hundred camels, five hundred sheep, ten negroes, 
and twenty negresses, carpets, frechias, all he could 

need, to live very happily till the time came for his 
cup to be drained. . . . And the Celestial 
gardens will reserve the same happiness for all of 
you who walk in the way of the All- Merciful, the 
All-Pitiful Allah ! " 

After these last words a silence falls upon the 
group. But it is suddenly broken by the voice of 
little Nassur, who says to his cousin Said, in an 
aside, that everybody hears : 

" Ali-ben-Kaddur was not polite, he was not 


obedient, he did not believe, did he, oh SuVd ? But 
he got a lot of beautiful rewards, didn't he ?" 

What shouts of laughter PTeeted the insidious 
remark of little Nassur ! The poor mutchatchu 
hid his face in the hood of his burnous. He would 
have liked to hide in the earth instead of the kessra, 
which was at that very moment taken out, all smok- 
ing hot, from its hole. His little Arab soul cannot 
be consoled for having called attention to himself 
and made the grown-ups laugh at his expense. He 
sighs all through the meal, whilst he is eating the 
portion of kessra given to him by his father in a 
corner of the tent. He still ooes on sio-hingf when, 
the frugal repast over, the adult and old men chant 
the prayer of Dhohr or noon. 

Then he forgets his troubles in the heavy torpor 
of the inevitable siesta in which everybody in the 
dawar indulges after the mid-day repast. 

After the siesta, the relations between the different 
families of the dawar can be more easily studied 
than in the morning. With the exception of Aisha, 
the wife of the Kebir, who, accompanied by her 
negress, her mother and her sisters, goes to the 
wady, all the women are at leisure, that is to say, 
there is nothing they are obliged to do, so they go 
and pay visits to each other, now to one, now to 
another ; quite unlike the visits paid by Hakta to 
the women of the kasr which we described in a 
previous chapter, but they are visits for all that. 



informal, free and easy, very much so in fact, in 
which, under pretence of spinning wool, they gossip 
and talk scandal, retailing the latest misdemeanours 
of their neighbours, etc. 

" The camel sees not its own hump," says a 
proverb of the Sahara, " but it sees that of its 

They begin by picking the character of Aisha, 
the wife of the Kebir, to pieces. Why does she go 

hers(^lf to wash the linen at the wady instead of 
just sending her negress } Why, just to make 
people think that she has such a lot of inalifas and 
oiigayas that one poor negress cannot wash them all ! 
By Allah, what nonsense it is ! And then — it is our 
friend Fatmah who adds this insinuation — "she has 
perhaps yet another motive," " What is it, oh 
Fatmah .^ By the Sidi Abd-el-Kader, tell us, do 
tell us ! " 


After much pressing- Fatmah at last decides to 
tell. She declares that Aisha likes to play the 
young woman, the pretty girl, that she tlutters about 
like a pigeon, begging her uncle to escort her to the 
river as if she were still a little bride needing to be 
taken care of, or as if there were Rumis going 
about in the neighbourhood. "By the venerable 
Khadija, mother of the Faithful, isn't that last idea 
perfectly ridiculous ? . . . unless " — that word 
"unless" loosens the tongues, the tongues which 
may compromise the salvation of men, and lose 
women their one chance of entering the celestial 

" Unless she has o'ood reasons of her own for 
thinkino so ! " 

" Unless by always getting a burnous to dance 
attendance behind her veil she wants to disarm 
suspicion when " 

" When they see another burnous near not worn 
by a member of the faniily." 

" Ah ! ah ! ah ! How amusing you are, Fatmah ! " 

" Ah ! ah ! ah ! You will make us split with 
laughter, like the frog of the oasis." 

" It really is true that Aisha's manners are any- 
thing but proper." 

" Well, but why did the Kebir marry her "^ " 

" One of the Aulad Sidi Atallah ! " 

" Almost a beggar ! " 

Here some charitable woman intervenes by say- 


ing that the accused, far from being a beggar, had 
brought to the Kebir's household many carpets, and 
since the marriage had inherited sheep and camels. 
But she does no good, this charitable advocate. 

" All the more shame to her, if she is rich, to 
behave as she does." 

'* And the Kebir only took her for her money, for 
he has an eye to the main chance." 

" Yes, we all know that, to our cost. He keeps, 
tight hold of what he gets ; his right hand will never 
give anything to his left." 

"He has forgotten the proverb : ' Marry a well- 
born woman, even if you have to sleep on a mat.' " 

" But what would you have ? Is it not written ? " 

" It is written ! " 

Then that strange silence, the outcome of the 
silence of the Desert, falls on them all, and they 
become mute, with heads bowed, at this reminder 
of the beyond, of Maktub, or Fate ; which does not, 
however, mean ouite the same to them as it does to 
Europeans, when they speak of resigning themselves 
to their fate. To them Maktub represents the 
mystery, the power, and the magic of an often cruel 
Will. Very curious and dream-like is their con- 
ception of the Angel-scribe, the arbiter of Fate of the 
Mussulman, who in the third Heaven writes in a 
register the future of men. They try to understand 
him, to make a mental picture of his appearance — 
his terrible appearance. The distance between his 


eyes, as you know, was measured by the lloly 
Prophet, on that blessed night when he was able to 
ascend to the very Throne of the Merciful God. 
Ask El-Haja, she will tell you without hesitation that 
this distance is equal to that which a sturdy traveller 
could walk in seventy thousand days. Seventy 
thousand ! — only from one eyebrow to the other ! 

El-Haja knows a lot of other things. Plying 
her distaff, now in a quiet corner where the old 
gossips congregate, now listening unnoticed to the 
chatter of the young girls over the doughty deeds 
of Mabruk or of Ahmed. She hears everything. 
She has learnt to understand the language of the 
stars and the meaning of what the sand and the 
wind say to each other. Of a happy temperament, 
she is yet able to aid others through her own ex- 
perience of sorrow ; and if there ever were such a 
thing as a female sage, I should certainly say that 
El-Haja deserved the title. 

Very skilful is El-Haja in weaving the jevbis, 
those stuffs with a purple ground which to us 
Europeans seem too thin for carpets, too hard 
for bed-covers, too thick for clothes, yet which 
serve all these purposes in the Sahara, not to 
speak of forming the partition in the tent and the 
chief material of the palanquin. 

El-Haja teaches novices the art of casting 
the threads of the weft from one peg to another 
and arranging these threads vertically in the 


primitive looms, made of wood, string, and reeds. 
She teaches them too how to dye wool, and how 
to mix the different shades of colour ; but one 
thing she jealously guards, and that is the secret 
of the hieroglyphics ; those mysterious and cabalistic 
designs, such as squares, zigzags and arabesques, 
which represent sometimes an object, sometimes 
an idea, and sometimes a phrase. Only to a few 
initiated does El-Haja teach, and that grudgingly, 
this ancient writino-, which she herself does not 
fully understand, enshrouding as it does the thoughts 
of races long since passed away. 

The influence exercised by this old woman is 
good. Many a bit of scandal is stopped when 
she is by ; many a squabble is appeased by her 
mere presence ; tor she is in harmony with the 
soothinQf si:)irit of the hour, for the hour of verity 
approaches now, the gilded hour of peace and 
calm which precedes the evening. The men are 
coming back to the tents which they left after the 
prayer of the 'Asha. The austere horizon is bathed 
for a time in a divine tenderness, and the dreary, 
meagre, restricted nomad life, so wanting in comfort 
and enjoyment, shares for a brief space the gentle 

Chattering suddenly ceases ; the women who have 
been busy over their household cares, silently 
disperse and rest from their toil, to gaze, with 
eyes half-closed and their little ones about them, 


into the dim distance, in all the delight of idleness, 
the negative joy of contemplation. 

Soon the splendour of the golden glow begins to 
fade, and the violet shadows of the tufts of drinn 
grow longer and longer upon the sands. The 
goats bleat and the camels draw near to the dawar. 
The supreme moment has come of the death of the 
Sun in full view of the spectators ; the old men 
and many of the children prostrate themselves. 

''La I ah it Allah Mohammed Rasul Allah / " * 

It is the declaration of Mogreb or the faith. 

The afternoon does not, however, always pass 
over so entirely without events. Now and then, 
very rarely of course, a caravan passes. Sometimes 
the gum, or native militia, are called out by the 
Bailek or Q-overnment official, and immediate obe- 
dience to the first call is compulsory. Then ensue 
great agitation, confusion and all the bustle of pre- 
paration. The birth of a little camel, too, is almost 
as important an event as the arrival of a baby 
nomad, and causes a vast amount of acclamation 
and of running to and fro. Or, again, a wandering 
minstrel of the female sex arrives, who plays the 
tambourine, and whose presence is the excuse 
for dancing, full of passionate gesture. Nothing, 
however, so completely upsets the repose of the 
dawar as the death of one of its members. Of 
course, I mean the upsetting of the usual ways of 

* No God but God JMohammed the Messenger of God. — Tr.ans. 


the place, not of the effect on the hearts of the 

From dawar to dawar the news spreads rapidly 
and is eagerly commented on. Every one hastens 
on foot or on camel to pay the last duties to the 
deceased. The men come to carry the body, for 
the Prophet has declared : 

" Every step you take in carrying a dead body 
will be worth to you the remission of ten sins, and 
the substitution of ten good actions for each of 
those ten sins." 

The women come to mingle their grief with that 
of those more immediately concerned and to en- 
deavour to console them for their loss, but if they 
happen to meet visitors not related to the deceased 
at a little distance from the tents, the most animated 
conversations take place. It is a grand occasion 
for gossip and the news of the different tribes is 
eagerly exchanged. The son of Musa-ben-Bashir, 
of the Beni-Merziig tribe, is going to marry the 
daughter of Abdallah-ben-Embarek, of the Sidi- 
Atallah tribe. The wealthy Tahar-beni-Salem, 
of the Aulad-Sidi-Ziaine, is going to repudiate 
his third wife, Gr'gaya, but he is keeping two 
and talks of marrying a fourth, which is likely to 
lead to complications in the future and cause food 
for gossip. It would be very dull in the desert 
if the men did not sometimes indulge in poly- 


Suddenly, however, the talkers arrive at the tent 
where a so-called " white death " has struck down 
its victim ; white death meaning a natural, whilst 
" red death " means a violent end, as in war, 
through assassination, or by accident. The women 
all at once begin to weep, to cry aloud and to tear 
the skin of their faces with their nails, as if the loss 

in this family, of which they really know next to 
nothing, had driven them to despair. 

And truth to tell, the despair, though sudden, 
is real. The nomad rarely sheds tears in the 
ordinary course of his existence, and the nomad 
women, except when they sob with anger or 
jealousy, are equally chary of weeping. These 
melancholy occasions act as a kind of safety valve 

304 LIFE IN THE DA]]\-iR. 

to the nervous nature of the nomad woman. 
She simply revels in grief, gloats upon all the 
sufferings of the past, and anticipates those she 
fears for the future. On the other hand, the 
women belonging to the afflicted family redouble 
their expressions of grief on the arrival of each 
new-comer, and a concert ensues which becomes 
ever more and more impressive, like the raging of 
the sea on the night of a storm. 

" My father ! my father ! my father ! my father!'' 
they cry, the voices rising, ' swelling, vibrating, 
till the noise becomes deafening ; now it dies 
down, now it increases again, until it breaks into 
one last effort, one long-sustained superhuman 
scream of an agony vying with that of all other 
suffering. Oh, the passionate tragedy of the funeral 
lament ! How thoroughly in accord is it with the 
nature of these people, who put forth all their 
energies into every transport of woe, who are 
moved from their ordinary calm so rarely, but 
when they are moved feel so intensely. 

"My father! My father! My father! My 
father ! " 

"Oh, my mother! Oh, my sister! Oh, my 
husband ! " 

Two cries in the two appeals always run into 
one word, as it were, full of convulsive feeling, 
penetrating through the bodily ear to the very 
soul of the listener. Each mourner addresses his 


various laments to his own dead, whetlier the 
loss has been recent or was sustained long 
ago. A gJmalla, or improvisatrice, adds to the 
clamour by playing on her thebel or tambourine, 
and chanting in her penetrating voice such a 
refrain as the followins: : 

" He was the pride of his tent. 
He was the ornament of the dawar. 
He was the bravest of the brave. 
He was the honour of the womb that bore him. 
He had the prudence of a jackal. 
He had the strength of King Daoud (David) 
And the patience of Job. 
His hand gave alms secretly. 
His tongue was gentle. 

He taught his children to walk in the true path of Allah ! 
He was the pride of his tent. 
He was the ornament of his dawar." 

These stanzas are presently interrupted by a 
fresh burst of grief. The women of the family 
fling themselves upon the body of the dead, who 
lies on the ground, wrapped in seven shrouds, if 
he were rich enough to afford such luxury, and 
covered over with a carpet. The women claw at 
their own faces, and all the assistants begin to claw 
at theirs. They rend their garments, and every 
one else does the same, or at least pretends to 
do so. 

"My father! My father! My father! My 
father! " 



The tears flow in torrents, the mourners are 
almost choked with their sobs. Gradually, how- 
ever, the shrillness of the laments of the younger 
and less really sorrowful assistants decreases, but 
the least thing starts them off again, and they 
re-commence their monotonous chant, a more wildly 
savage one, I do believe, than that of the 
mourners of olden times ; a maddenino-, heart- 
rending lament, which slowly invades the deep 
silence of the Desert, and as slowly subsides. 

The tears are, however, soon dried. Mourning 
for those not members of the family scarcely lasts 
twelve hours, and the day after the women set to 
work again to spin wool, weave jerbis, and back- 
bite Aisha, the wife of the Kebir. So wags the 
world, even in the Sahara, indeed, above all in the 
Sahara, where the fatalism of the people leads 
them to look upon ruin and death without much 
regret. And when the evening comes, whether 
they have laughed or whether they have wept, 
the kessra must be prepared again as it was in 
the morning, if the men and the little ones are to 
have any supper. 

So they begin the whole ceremony over again, 
and with it comes again the whole collection of 
stories appropriate to the time, for the traditional 
hour for story-telling has arrived. Before every 
tent and around every fire of the dawar, the 
mingled skein of romance is wound or unwound. 



as the case may be, with all its subtle humour 
and dream-like pathos. Happy, in spite of all their 
miseries, are the people who know how to tell 
tales ! Happy are the people who know plenty of 
stories ! 

For in these stories their somewhat coarse love 
affairs are touched with the clamour of romance, 

although they neither know that this is the case 
nor wish that it should be so. Their heavy slumbers 
are lightened by facetious fancies, and they are 
rocked in their dreams on the voluptuous wings 
of thejinns or jinuneh and fairies they believe in. 

Those who prefer visions of a more mystic 
character seek them in their hopes of the celestial 
gardens, the Paradise of Allah, whilst the very old 
and pious find their happiness in dreaming of the 



them, that is to say of perfection or the state of 
ecstasy, the utter annihilation of self, in which the 
soul, set free from the body, flies away from its 
mortal coverino-. 


Nearly all are sleeping now beneath the tent 
and under the stars. The Angel-woman has long 
since come to strew the blue sky with diamonds. 
Only the guardians of the fire still watch, and some 
few old men, repeating late the prayer of 'Asha : 

" There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is 
the Prophet of Allah. 

" Allah is greater than all. Allah akbar ! " 

Then follows the supplication from the Koran 
(Surah cxiv.) for courage, for strength to endure 
more bravely the terrors of the night now be- 
ginning : 

" In the name of Allah, the Pitiful and Merciful, 
Behold, I seek a refuge near the Saviour of mankind. 
King of men. 
God of men. 
Against the wickedness of the hidden one, who suggests 

wicked thoughts. 
Who whispers evil to the hearts of men. 
Against genii and against men ! " 




Camels of the Sahara, who have nearly shaken 
me to death upon your high and flabby humps, 
on whose dry and tasteless flesh I have fed, 
Camels of the Sahara, I am about to proclaim 
your virtues ! 

I will dwell on your endurance, which is greater 
than that of your brothers of the North, for if you 
are uglier than they are, more ragged-looking, 
more mangy, you are not a bit less robust. I will 
laud your fleetness — your relative fleetness, I mean 
— your proverbial and paradoxical sobriety. I will 
praise the hair of your meagre mane, I will laud 
the milk of your chaste spouses, I will dwell on 
the elegance of your little tail and the breadth of 
your softly-padded feet ! 

But after that, oh. Camels of the Sahara, you 
must permit me to cavil at your execrable characters. 
Will you allow me to enquire why your temper is 
so very peevish, and why you growl in such a very 
unpleasant manner ? Why do you begin to snort 


directly your drivers begin to load you ? Why do 
you growl when they remove your loads ? Why do 
you carry on as if you were going to be killed 
every time any one dares to approach you, or to 

touch your primitive-looking harness with so much 
as a single finger ? 

Oh, Camels of the Sahara ! do not reply that 
your other qualities are such that you can dispense 
with amiability, nor that your miserable lot prevents 
you from being gracious. Such a reply would be 
ridiculous. All wretched churlish creatures have 
made that plea ever since the world began. Allah 



would favour you more, oh camels, if you did not 
sniff in such a sulky way, and if your spirit were 
not quite so rebellious ! For, really, you are the 
only creatures in the Desert whose leanness is 
unaesthetic, and you are, moreover, the only 

ones who, after rebelling for a time, have not 
resigned themselves to the inevitable in the very 
slightest degree. 

However, in spite of all these exceptions to your 
virtues, I must admit your indispensability. But 
for you, oh Camels of the Sahara, the admirable 
country you perambulate would still be an un- 


known land. I hear you growl that that would have 
been very little loss, very little loss indeed. Well, 
of course you would have escaped having to carry 
the weight of one female traveller and her luggage. 
But that does not really make any difference to 
you ! And I could not do less now than sing your 
praises ; yes, to sing your praises in all sincerity. 
I repeat, you are the only creatures without whom 
it is impossible to live in the arid plains of sand, 
for, without you, none could find their way in the 
pathless wastes. 

Yes ; I will praise you. You are to the poor 
nomad, carriage, horse, and cow. You will hold 
out without food for four days, and without drink 
for eight. You growl no more when you are 
hungry, you howl no more when you are thirsty, 
and you make no objection to your brown fleece 
being shorn when the women want to weave the 
roofs of their homes. 

Why, when I acknowledge all this, should I 
quarrel with you again about a few other trifles ? 
Because you are dirty, for instance, and do not 
smell very nice ? There is not the slightest doubt 
that you would prefer smelling nice if you could. 
Is it fair to quote the occasions when you lose your 
heads and become (dare I say it ?) mahbiili^'' bound ") 
to use a classic expression ? When you give way 
to this peculiar state of mind, you upset all your 
comrades, and travellers and packages suddenly 


find themselves kissing the grassless soil rather 
too fervently. 

No, no ; I will not dwell upon your faults. No 
man is perfect, neither is any camel ! I prefer 
to look upon you as the humble martyrs you 
often are, victims of a horrible climate and the harsh 
treatment of man. You always work till you drop, 
and, perhaps, who can tell ? the sulky temper you 
are charged with is a presentiment of the lonely 
agony of your end, far away over there, when the 
ungrateful sokhrars abandon you to your fate, 
leaving you to die in solitude. 

A great pity fills my soul when I think of you, 
I esteem you, and in the end I quite love you ! 

This is why, oh camels of the Sahara, who have 
fed me with your tasteless flesh, who have jolted 
me about on your high and flabby humps, this 
is why I mean to celebrate your virtues. 

The caravan started at day-break with the loaded 
camels. The men were up long before the first 
rays of light appeared in the East, for loading 
the animals is a long business, requiring the 
greatest care, and when the loading was done the 
prayer had to be said, and after that came the 
caouah. Then at last, slowly, painfully, awkwardly, 
oh, ye camels ! you got up from your knees, stretch- 
ing out your ugly necks, and your inordinately long 
legs. Bit by bit the caravan is in niotion. 

Let us suppose it is a convoy of dates, going 



from the Wady M'zab to El-Golea. The men of 
the dawar have left their tents in good spirits 
under the guardianship of Allah, the All-powerful, 
and the guidance of a few elders of the tribe ; 
joyfully they came, driving you before them, oh 
ye camels, on their way to take the tellis of dates 
to some wealthy old Mozabite, and now they 
joyfully start again, thinking of the profits of 

the journey. Already in imagination they are 
touching with their clumsy fingers the silk maliffa 
and tinkling necklaces of some dancer whose 
affections they covet, but who is the dread of 
their wives, for it is for her sake that they depart 
from the right way. 

And the leader of the caravan, perched upon 
one of your loads, swinging about on top 
of the pack-saddle above the various sacks, is 


calculating and dreaming. When he has paid the 
tax he will hardly have enough over to buy a 
certain mule he is ambitious of possessing. As 
for indulging in any pleasure, alas ! he must avoid 
all that now, no fassedett for him ! It is not 
as he would poetically express it, that the snow 
has fallen on the garden of his youth, he is not 
yet old, and is, in fact, thinking of taking a 
legitimate wife soon, she will be the eleventh, to 
replace one he has just repudiated. But though 
not old, he is middle-aged, and has reached the 
period of life when the Mussulman becomes 
virtuous for fear of losing the joys of Paradise. 
But what struggles he will have against tempta- 
tion ! How hard is the path of virtue, how 
severe is Allah in the restrictions He puts on 
the faithful who would walk in the right path. 

You hear him sigh, oh ye camels, do ye not ? 
You hear the brave chief of the caravan sigh ? 
But he soon controls himself, he resigns himself 
and repents having doubted the goodness of the 
Most High. " Which of the blessings of God 
have you denied ? " he murmurs. Then he 
recites a whole Surah, and he regains his old zest 
for life, which is so full of relish when it is free, 
free in the great Sahara, as the wind from the 
South and the wind from the North. 

Forward then, oh camels ! Ouche ! Ouche ! 
Emchi ! 


Until the time of Moghrib or evening prayer, the 
caravan pursues its wandering way from tuft to tuft 
of grass, from grazing ground to grazing ground. 
Now it advances in single file, looking like 
a string of beads, now it widens out like the 
advance guard of an army, pressing on in undula- 
ting waves for its goal, like some tireless serpent, 
camping at last, it would appear, just because 
camp it must. 

Then at dawn the next day it will start again 
with its loaded camels. 

You are the very pillars of commerce, oh ye 
camels ! you are the swift carriers of important 
missions, and you are not afraid of trotting (oh, what 
a trot is yours!) for thirty miles without stopping. 
But your role is most important, most touching, 
most intimately connected with your master's life, 
when the whole dawar is flitting from one place 
to another, when even women and children are 
seeking fresh pastures in a new district. Then 
you become the bearers of the sacred treasures, 
the lares and penates of the nomads, and you are 
in very deed and truth part of the Saharian family. 

Oh wandering race, who shall draw the veil from 
all that those two words conceal of the inexplicable, 
incomprehensible mystery in which your life is 
shrouded '^ Long ago I sought the solution of the 
enigma amongst the Ziganes of the Hungarian 
plains, and now again I seek it here with no better 


success. It seems to me that wide stretches of 
space entice the human race to travel. For all that, 
there are people in many parts of the world 
occupying apparently limitless plains, who do 
not lead a wandering life. They are poor, yet they 
abide where they are, they are short of food for their 
children and their animals where they live, yet they 
stop there. They would gain much by exchanging 
at a distance the products of their own land, but 
still they do not travel. Ingrain in them is their 
love of the same soil, just as in the nomad tribe is 
ingrain the necessity of constantly changing the 
soil on which they live. 

Ever new, yet ever the same, the problem 
becomes ever more insoluble, why the Arab of the 
Desert, who knows of cultivable countries on the 
north of his own land, has never made any attempt 
to establish himself there. Still more incomprehen- 
sible does it seem that, although he has actually 
often conquered portions of those fertile districts, he 
has been content to pillage and deface them, never 
making the slightest effort to preserve them. Incur- 
able laziness is not really the reason for such strange 
indifference, the Arab of the South is quite capable 
of work, even of hard work. The truth is, that he 
likes to wander, or rather that some unknown 
force, stronger than himself, wills that he should 

Even if I do not fully understand it, I too feel that 


grand beauty of the Desert which prevents those 
who dwell in it from dreaming of any other beauty. 
I too can realise that to wander from sand to sand, 
and return to the old camping ground without ever 
retracing one's steps, is to live, as it were, in that 
beauty. Yes, I too feel it, though maybe I do not 
understand it. 

Camels of the Desert ! Gloomy Sphinx of the 
waste ! I am quite unable to read the riddle you set 
me to solve, yea, or any of your other enigmas ! 
So we will leave that question aside for a bit, and 
go back to the good fellows who, thanks to you 
camels, are about to move on, the nomads of our 
dawar. And having seen them decamp, we shall 
practically have seen, as it were at one stroke, the 
breaking-up camp of all dawars, for the ways of the 
nomads in the vast solitudes of the Desert are every- 
where the same, and their customs do not vary in 
the very least. 

Do not suppose — observe I am now speaking, 
not to the camels, but to my European brothers and 
sisters — do not suppose that the nomad has no par- 
ticular aim in view, when he starts on his travels. 
Neither must you imagine that in making for his 
goal, a hundred and fifty, two hundred, or even more 
miles away, that he travels as we should, stopping 
as little as possible by the way. Not a bit of it, he 
will camp by the way, meaning to rest for a couple 
of days, but very likely remaining for fifteen. The 



whole party halts beneath the walls of the towns of 
M'zab valley, and then beneath those of the kusur 
of the Wady M'zi. This is what wandering means, 
as distinct from our own stupid way of travelling. 
Let us look in at the departure of the little fraction 

r .*t^- T 

under the immediate control of the avaricious Kebir, 
whose wrongs, and those of his much defamed wife 
Aisha, we described above. The dawar, generally 
so quiet, is now as busy and agitated as an ant-hill. 
The termite colonies which explorers in equatorial 


districts come across, would certainly look very 
much like a dawar about to decamp, when they 
decide to leave their temporary ant-hill. " Ya 
Moharnmed ! ya Bachir! Ya Buhausah ! Ruha 
fezza ! " you hear on every side. And those who look 
after the housekeeping, or rather tent keeping depart- 
ment, are more busy than all the rest. " Bebbi Sidi ! 
my Lord ! my Master ! mind you don't forget any- 
thing. I have lost this ! I have lost that ! Fasten 
the bassur carefully, and this caotiah simply won't 
boil ! Ya Kerah ! ya Mesauda ! ya Ghraira ! Ya 
Mabruka ! Oh great Sidi Abd-el-Kader ! " 

The tents are furled. You ought to see those 
tents when the pegs have been taken out of the 
ground and the canvases are swinging from the 
central pole, as if suddenly seized with delirium, or 
in the grasp of an earthquake. " Ya Fatmah ! Ya 
Mabruka ! " The voices of the women who are 
fussing about underneath the folds are smothered 
and indistinct, and presently the huge fabric falls 
down flop, just as a dead bird drops from the sky. 

Then upon your backs — I am speaking to you 
again now, oh ye camels of the Sahara ! — on your 
backs, with their cushion-like humps, are piled up 
innumerable nameless objects. Yes, objects, with- 
out name, without colour, without form. And some- 
times on the top of everything else are perched a 
few venerable patriarchs, very, very old men, and 
venerated ancestors. As for the young petted women, 


they are huddled up with the children in the bassur, 
the palanquin already described, made of branches 
bent by the heat of a fire and covered over with 
red, violet or pink vialiffas, the flaming sails of a 
fantastic vessel, subject to the pitching and tossing 
of the sea of the Desert. 

For if you, oh, ye camels, are called the ships 
of the Desert, it must have been with some 
knowledge or prevision of the bassur, that bark 
so completely open that its sole coverings are the 
maliffas, that cabin so badly fastened to your saddle, 
and so very insecure in itself. Sea-sickness is the 
result of travelling in it to all but the thoroughly 
seasoned. And I could wish my enemies — if I 
have any, and I am sure I don't know if I have 
— no worse torture than to have to travel some 
fifty miles or more in this pre-historic equipage. 
Oh, poor, unfortunate enemy ! Pity him, oh, ye 
camels of the Sahara ! 

Arab women, however, are proud to submit to 
this martyrdom, for, through long custom, to ride 
in the bassur is equivalent to a proclamation of 
youth and beauty. To suffer and be considered 
beautiful, and to have one's vanity tickled — what 
is more natural, and what more delightful ? The 
old women, who with their attractions lose the 
privilege of riding in the bassur, trot behind 
with the men of the family. They would not 
consider it the thing to get into the palanquin, 



even if they were overwhelmed with fatigue. " By 
Allah, oh my son, do you take me for a bride- 
elect ? " 

Yes ; the old women trot along in the hot sand. 
And the whole dawar is on the march, the camels 
with the baggage, the camels with the bassurs 
— one to each tent at least — the women and the 
donkeys, the little boys leading the goats, and 
the men of different ages, all press on in the 
best of spirits, looking forward to fresh pastures 
in a new district. Surely you share their hopes, 
oh ye camels ! bearers of the sacred treasures, the 
la7^es and penates of the nomads, and, so sharing 
them, you are in very deed part of the Saharian 
family ! 

The sight of you recalls many an impression, 
arouses many a memory, and evokes many a 

The melancholy chant of your drivers in the 
pure clear air thrills the ear like a caress. And 
when it is accompanied by the faint rhythm of 
the shrill-toned flutes, the Desert itself seems to 
break into song. 

Yes, oh ye camels ! ye recall many an impression, 
many a memory, many a dream. 

The women get used to your very painful 
motions, and they actually manage, incredible as it 
may seem, huddled up as they are in the bassur, 
to orind the flour for the evening: kessra, holdino- 



the mill between their knees. And the charming 
voice of the mill serves as bass to the chant of 
the sokhrars, the sounds, petty and fugitive though 
they intrinsically are, widening, deepening, broaden- 
ing into solemnity in the boundless wastes of the 
ever-changing horizon. 

Thus, oh ye callers-up of impressions, of 

memories, and of dreams, do ye add to the 
happiness of those about you ' 

The women live once more through the happy 
journeys of their childhood. They recall the pride 
and emotion with which they went — in the nuptial 
bassur — from the tent of their father to that of 
their husband. Oh, that wonderful day ! The 
smoke of the powder fired off in their honour 
took the form of broken grey clouds. The land- 



scape traversed was just like this, or just like that, 
as the case may be. They saw that very same 
undulating dune of sand, that very rock glowing 
like fire in the intense heat of the sun. Then, 
when the night fell, the silvery wady scintillated 
beneath the moon rays in its setting of boundless 

Yea, oh ye camels ! ye will ever be callers-up 
of impressions, of memories, and of dreams ! This 
is why, oh camels of the Sahara, who have fed 
me with your tasteless flesh, who have shaken me 
up on your lofty and flabby humps, I choose to 
sing your praises. 




I CANNOT help asking myself whether I have 
succeeded in making my readers fully understand 
the various characteristics which go to make up 
the woman, the eternal woman, of the Sahara — 
the ideas, the tastes of these creatures of instinct, 
the opinions of these ignorant minds, the super- 
stitions of these childish souls, so agitated by the 
thoughts of the beyond. 

The Prophet, when he denied all culture to a 
Mohammedan woman, made her an inferior creature 
who knows herself to be inferior. And it is only 
the wives of Cai'ds, Aghas, and Sherifs, with, it 
must be acknowledged, a few courtesans, who 
retain any traditions of the olden times, or of 
the ways of their great-great-grandmothers, who 
lived before the time of Mohammed, in the golden 
days of Arab life, when women too were intel- 

Even then the Arabs were poor, but how 
beautiful was the dawn of the spirit, when lyric 


poetry was born, when songs of love were sung 
among the sands of the desert of Nefood, near 
the sources of the Hedjaz in Arabia, in Mesopo- 
tamia and in Egypt, whither migrated their 
fathers' fathers in the good old days. Then the 
seven golden poems, selected as the most beautiful, 
were left exposed to the admiration of crowds within 
the walls of the Sacred Kaabah, said to have been 
built originally by Adam, and rebuilt by Abraham, 
now preserved at Mecca, where it is protected, by 
the devotion of the Faithful, with a huge cloth pall.* 
Then the women, who were treated with, chivalrous 
courtesy, sometimes distinguished themselves as 
authors. Trials of skill in verse-making were held 
before them, and thev it was who bestowed the 
prizes on the victors. 

But Mohammed came, succeeded in his religious 
ambition, and all was changed. 

He drove out from the Kaabah the 360 gods 
who had been gathered together there by the 
piety of different families, and replaced them by 
the one true God, Allah. From a theological jDoint 
of view, there is no doubt that this meant real pro- 
gress, but, poetically considered, it was a disaster. 
I mean that it destroyed that latent poetry which 
every one of the old deities brought in his or 
her train, whether that deity were the Jehovah of 
the Hebrews, Mithra, who glowed with all the 

* The veil or Holy Carpet renewed every year. — TRANS. 



glorious light of the sun, the mysterious Isis or 
her husband Osiris, the powerful protector of the 
dead, the goddess Myliltta, the cruel but voluptuous 
Venus of Asia, or the gods of Tyre and Carthage, 
Baal-Haman, Beldir, Bakax, or Ifru, the Pan of 
the West, not to speak of all those who were 
adored under the form of stones or fruits. All 
alike drifted to the Kaabah, where even the creed 

of the Brahmins was represented, and the name 
of Jesus Himself was not unknown. 

All were driven out now, and with them went 
a certain indefinable something — a spiritual ex- 
altation — an unconscious sense of glory in the 
individual soul, for which the fierce triumphs of 
the conquerors of later centuries did not by any 
means make up. 


Under the heavy mantle of Islam perished also 
the liberty and intelligence of woman. Mohammed 
is supposed to have ameliorated her lot, but this 
is a profound error. What has he decreed about 
her } What did the angel Gabriel dictate to him 
about her ? 

1. He confirmed the rule of succession already 
in force. 

2. He declared that a woman has no soul, or, 
at least, that her soul is not the same as the soul 
of man. A correct theory perhaps, and since then 
it has become truer than ever, only it does not 
do to publish every truth abroad. 

3. That the number of legitimate wives should 
never exceed four, with as many slaves over and 
above as the master cares to take. 

4. That fathers should no longer have the right 
to bury living daughters on the day of their 

I am pretty sure, and I have good grounds for 
my conviction, that these premature inhumations 
were really very rare. And as for the rule about 
the number of wives, that was made for the sake 
of the moral and physical well-being of the stronger, 
rather than of the weaker sex. For the dis- 
advantage of living with three or with five legiti- 
mate rivals, if disadvantage it be, is, I should say, 
fairly equal. I do not see quite clearly what 
innovations in favour of women were introduced by 


Mohammed, though his legislation against her inte- 
rests is apparent enough. He wrapped her up in 
veils, secluded her, and forbid her, as it will be re- 
membered, to practise any religious customs ; in a 
word, he separated her from man in intellect as 
he had already done in soul. He stifled her as 
he stifled the voice of the poets and of those who 
composed love romances. " They are senseless 
fools, inspired by the Devil," says the Koran, " they 
say what they do not do." 

A fine speech from the merchant who won the 
heart of the portly Khadija, by knowing how to 
repeat : " two and two make four." 

Just now I alluded to polygamy. The reasons 
for the decline, I might almost say the suppression, 
of the custom are many, but difficult to define, 
and to enter into them would be beyond the scope 
of this work, for to do so would be to study men, 
not their female companions. One question however 
I feel I have a right to ask, and that is : 

What does the woman of the Sahara think of 
the present state of things .-* 

She thinks according to the way the wind blows ; 
much that is good and much that is evil, or, rather, 
she gives vent to her fleeting fancies in optimistic 
or pessimistic feelings as the case may be, yielding 
herself up entirely to those feelings with a kind of 
resigned frenzy, a fierce but fleeting passion, which 
is the very essence of her originality. 


Jealous as her pride and her sensuality make her, 
the Saharian woman does not feel perfect security 
in the monogamy which is now the general rule. 
Hence she is always on the qtd-vive, always anxious 
about the future, and apparently eager to keep in 
the straight path. Hence the way she gloats 
over being the only wife, a fact which panders 
to her vanity, and is the chief glory of her daily 

It is not only the rival wives who have the privilege 
of exciting jealousy, it is felt as much for the 
fassedett in whose society husbands forget their 
duties and lose their mxoney. Abomination of 
desolation ! May Allah confound their audacity ! 

Very bitter are the tongues of the virtuous 
wives on this subject, when they get together in 
private, that is to say, when friends of the same 
age are alone, for if a mother or respectable 
elderly relation approaches the group of talkers, a 
sudden silence will ensue. If the newcomer should 
be an old grandmother, not a word is said on 
the scandalous subject under discussion, it would 
never do for the ears of the venerable saint to be 
shocked by it, " may the Prophet bless those ears 
and the twelve friends of the Prophet and the 
Angels Azrael and Gabriel. Amen ! " 

But the concert begins again, as soon as the 
old grandmother has turned her back. 

" May she be accursed, daughter of a dog ! " 



says one. " May her tomb be desecrated the very 
day of her burial ! May the Lord make her hke 
unto the handle of a door, which ever remains 
on the outside." 

The wives of the chief men in the Sahara, 
however, the ladies of the Desert, refrain from 
indulging in such very strong language as this, it 

would not be considered o-ood form to do so ; 
although, as a matter of fact, they really suffer 
more from polygamy and from the rival attrac- 
tions of fassedett than do their more lowly sisters 
amongst the common people. Their somewhat 
more advanced civilization only makes happiness 
rarer for them. They have no individual life of 
their own, such as is enjoyed by the lower classes ; 


they feel all the disadvantages of existence in the 
Desert, without enjoying the compensating 
advantages. No gossipping with their neighbours, 
no social gatherings for them, no mutual work. 
Idleness is their portion, only very rarely relieved 
by what is called a dhiffa or hospitable meal given 
by the husband, for which the wife superintends 
the necessary preparations from a distance ; but 
as it is men, not women, who do all the work, wait 
on the guests, and look after the roasting of the meat 
in the open air, the poor sequestrated women have 
not even the melancholy consolation of listening to 
the chatter of the servant girls. 

The number of ladies in the Sahara is, of course, 
very limited, but of those few, some are very 
intelligent, though they can scarcely be called 
well educated. They rarely have a chance, 
however, of turning their abilities to account, 
unless they happen to be left widows, with a son 
under age, who is the heir of his father's title. 
Their dreary, monotonous days are passed in the 
big tents of their husbands, decorated with carpets, 
and lined with stuffs of as many colours as those 
in a stained glass window. They are stupefied by 
perfumes, and gradually sink into a state of chronic 
ennui. Indeed the passion which rouses them now 
and then, is more like that of some haughty Oriental 
Sultana than of the free and easy lovers, the foolish 
virgins, foolish wives and foolish repudiated women. 


whose hearts flutter and palpitate in the great 

Yes, love, sensual love, brief but passionate, the 
love of which poets sing, the love on which the 
Arab story-tellers dwell in the " Thousand and One 
Nights," sets at nought les convenances with many 
a Saharian woman, who is neither strictly virtuous 
nor really depraved, but something between the two ; 
who is not exactly held in honour, but at the same 
time is not looked down upon. There are such 
women in every kasr and in every tribe, to whom, 
as in Arabia at the time of Solomon, the song of 
the Shulamite is the true song of love. 

" I sought him, whom my soul loveth, I sought 
him, but I found him not. 

" I will rise now, and go about the city, in the 
streets, and in the broad ways, I will seek him whom 
my soul loveth, I sought him, and I found him 

" The watchmen* that go about the city found me, 
to whom I said : ' Saw ye him, whom my soul 
loveth ^ ' 

" It was but a little, that I passed from them, but I 
found him whom my soul loveth ; I would not let him 
go until I had brought him into my mother's 
house, and into the chamber of her that conceived 

« The night watchman is still employed, both in the kasr and 
the dawar. 


I have often been asked what influence French 
ideas have had upon the women of the Sahara, 
since the occupation, and I reply, so far absolutely 
none. As for new ideas, all I have discovered have 
been ideas about the French or about French 
inventions which do not affect the minds of those 
who conceive them in the very smallest degree. 

The horror of photography from which I myself 
have suffered so much, for I have had to resort to 
all manner of extraordinary ruses to obtain my 
ends, is the result of one of these ideas, not to 
speak of the fact that the Saharians think it a 
positive sin to represent the human figure, for has 
not Mohammed forbidden it ? To them the camera 
is a personal enemy. The sokhrars of the caravans 
from the North have described it so well, that every 
strange object is taken for it. Women attribute to 
it the evil eye, and they believe that if their portraits 
are seen, they will themselves be carried off by 
force to be shut up in the harems of Paris ! 

The Sahara women have other convictions on the 
subject of the French, which have nothing to do 
with the photography they consider so terrible. For 
instance, they are quite sure that the Rumis of 
Algeria, El Aghuat and Tuggurt — officers, officials, 
merchants, and all — have been transported so far 
from their own land as a punishment for great 
crimes. In their eyes they are all guilty, all under 
legal condemnation, all convicts, in fact. 


Another general and deeply-rooted belief is that 
the French Government can make gold at will. 
Make no mistake ; that government actually pro- 
duces that gold, makes it out of nothing by some 
magic recipe. Then it (the government) distributes 
it amongst its employes lavishly, without counting it. 
These employes do not even have the trouble of 
asking for it. They receive millions, the amount 
only limited by the difficulties of transport. 

The women of the kusur, such as the nomad 
Larbaa, who come most directly under French 
influence, have evolved an idea, and that of course a 
deplorable one, about French women. According 
to them, a French woman is absolutely depraved 
in morals, perfectly shameless, absurdly emancipated, 
but only too strong physically, for she does not 
pull out her grey hairs ! This is why, according 
to Arab matrons, so many Rumi marriages are 
barren. Fatmah, Zorah, Kerah and El Haja will 
all assure you that the culpable negligence of the 
infidels about pulling out their grey hairs, makes it 
quite impossible for them to have children. The 
women of more distant tribes have not acquired all 
this information. Their ignorance of the people who 
have conquered their country is supreme. I remem- 
ber once, when I went unannounced into a house 
near Wargla, that the mistress received me with 
screams and every sign of the greatest terror. Sur- 
prised at such excitement in a country I had found 


friendly, I tried to calm her. " Don't come near me, 
don't come near me," she cried. "Oh Rdjil, oh 
Devil ! " She took me for a man, in spite of my 
thoroughly feminine costume. When her tremors 
were soothed, and her alarmed modesty had re- 
covered from the terrible shock it had received, she 
confessed to me that she had believed there were 
no women in the country of the Rumis, in fact, 
that the female sex only exists in the races of the 
Sahara ! All the time she was talking she was 
looking at me out of the corner of her eye in a 
furtive way, much as we should look at some un- 
known animal, which may, perhaps, for all we know, 
be ferocious. 

Without holding any special creed, or believing in 
any religion properly so called, the women of the 
Sahara are much influenced by religious ideas, the 
result probably of contact with the fanaticism of the 
men. And when old and young, without the know- 
ledge of their husbands or their sons, go to take an 
offering to the pile of stones, marking the last resting 
place of some holy marabout, when they sacrifice a 
cock to propitiate some unknown divinity, or when 
they hang upon the bushes near their homes pieces 
torn from their garments, they are subject to fear, 
to an awful dread of a terrible destiny, a sentiment 
really quite opposed to that of the Maktub, or the 

For all that, however, the two ideas jostle each 



Other, I do not know how, in their brains, so that 
their characters are a mixture of almost careless 
gaiety, feverish pride, and melancholy indifference, 
combined sometimes with a highly strung nervous- 


^^^^^B .' '-ioktt^^'^^H 

ness, resulting now and then in hysteria, more rarely 
in madness. 

All nature seems to them to be instinct with life ; 
full of legions of invisible beings, marvellous crea- 
tures, such as jinns or jinuneh, ogres, vampires, 
demons, and even angels, whose aid, when given to 
mortals, is not without its perils. And then there 
is the awful ghoul, Tesawira, the soul of one 



who has been assassinated, who tries to drag the 
livinP; into his tomb. 

The jinn, however, is the being who is most 
active, and is most frequently invoked. Like the 
gobHn of the hearth amongst the Highlanders of 
Scotland, he is sometimes friendly, but more often 
mischievous. He is the familiar genius who breaks 
crockery, tangles wool, and revenges neglect by 
breaking a leg or otherwise upsetting the plans of 
those who have despised him. Nearly all the 
customs of the Sahara, which seem queer to us, 
are practised to please, or to avoid displeasing some 

A large volume, perhaps many volumes, might be 
written on the superstitious legends and beliefs in 
the supernatural of the Sahara women. Add to 
these their faith in diviners, omens, amulets, charms, 
love philtres made from the brains of hyenas, cooling 
philtres, such as those distilled from a certain 
grass, which cool bih-fih (instanter) the ardour of 
the most impassioned lover. 

On the subject of that most precious element, 
water and its uses, many are the ideas of the 
Saharian woman. I have already referred to some 
of them, and the religious importance of ablutions 
and purification amongst the Arabs is well known. 
Durinsf the time of mourninp-, no matter how 
long it lasts, none of the women of the Sahara 
wash themselves, they must not even roll the kous- 


koLis, or mould the clay for making pottery, lest 
they should soil their fingers with the damp sub- 
stance. For the rest, women never waste water ; 
from long custom they have learnt to do without it 
when they are obliged, and they are often deprived 
of it for a long time. I should rather like to ask, 
whether those who are so ready to criticise them, 
would keep as clean as they do under similar cir- 
cumstances ^ 

The people of the Orient (and here we are dealing 
with the emigrant Orient, so to speak) do not 
understand the necessity of making frequent toilettes. 
A fine head of hair is meant to be admired, not 
to be constantly combed. " Do you suppose that 
the angels Harut and Marut, who were so hand- 
some, but now, alas, are damned, re-curled their 
locks perpetually ? 

'' Instead of attending to such frivolities, ask 
pardon of the Lord, for He loves to pardon." 

There are also superstitions connected with 
domestic remedies for illness. Sufferings are 
welcomed as salutary for the soul. When a man 
or a woman has been ill more than three days, 
his or her sins are forgiven. Allah said to the 
Angel on the left hand : " Leave off writing down 
his or her misdeeds," and He said to the Angel 
on the right hand: "Write down his or her good 
actions, and make them better than they are." 

Linumerable, too, are the traditions of the Sahara, 


some pleasing, some melancholy, all more or less 
mysterious. These traditions are repeated, believed 
in, acted upon. The secret Night when the earth 
opens is invoked, and legends are told of the 
roses, the falling stars, the butterflies, and the 
lotus flowers, which herald the approach to Paradise. 
To every animal is given a voice, to every bird 
a special plaint. Some of these fancies inspire 
those who indulge in them with real terror, and 
timid souls tremble when they hear the screech owl 
demanding blood, or the brown owl whispering 
fears to the heart of a mother. Poor brown owl. 
One day, long ago, her son, whose name was 
Jacob, went on a long journey, and never came 
back. The brown owl still calls him, still awaits 
his return. 

" Rebia ja au la Yakub ! 
The spring returns, but not Jacob ! Jacob ! 
The summer returns, but not Jacob ! Jacob ! 
Jacob ! Jacob ! " 

The cry of the brown owl is seldom heard ; its 
grief is too excessive for much speech. Great 
sorrow is generally silent. But in spite of herself, 
her lament is heard on stormy nights, for then 
she is thinking of the dangers her Jacob must be 
incurring. '• Jacob ! Jacob ! " she cries again and 

In a word, the ways of the women of the Sahara 


are full of contradictions ; contradictions of feelings 
of sentiment, but everything is more or less childish 
with them, even their dancing, of which they are 
insatiably fond. I have already spoken of the 
dancing of the women of Wargla, but the love 
of this amusement is general in the Sahara, and 
women dance before each other in a manner not a 
bit more modest than that of the fassedett, though 
it is decidedly less graceful. Between their cups 
of tea they give themselves up to posing in all 
manner of attitudes, twisting their bodies about 
in a manner often anything but pleasing, holding 
themselves rigid, whilst the spectators stare at 
them, and assuming indifferent, passionate, polite, 
or disdainful expressions, according to the mood 
of their audience. They seem to like to practise 
what will please the opposite sex when no repre- 
sentatives of that sex are present. Although they 
are not aware of it themselves, there is, in fact, 
something voluptuous about them, an unconscious 
struggling after an erotic ideal in their dancing, 
the ornaments they wear, and the perfumes they 

To please ! To please ! That is their one desire, 
and they have so very few opportunities of pleasing 
the opposite sex. For all that, in this country 
where those who wish to be attractive have not 
yet hit upon the idea of low-necked bodices, they 
accumulate fine clothes, piling them up one on top 


of the others, with a view to the delectation of 
husbands and lovers. Brocaded silks, spangled 
tulle, tissues of gold and silver, some real, some 
imitation, falling in straight folds, gleaming dis- 
guises, mysterious covering, suggesting the hidden 
charms. And all this glittering metallic lustre, 
this raiment of gold, is the very condensation 

of the dreams of many races, the synthesis of all 
the confused mirages emanating from the sultry 
sands of the Desert. No idea has yet been con- 
ceived of any other luxury than that of sensuous 
form. Genii, angels, phantoms — whether infernal 
or divine — have no other ; Paradise itself promises 
nothing more as a reward to the faithful. 

Sacred draperies, these, such as were worn by 
matrons in the movable and venerated tents of 


the patriarchal family in times long gone by. 
Unchanging forms, immutable lines, still every- 
where in use except where tradition has been 
modified by the bad taste of the North. Immu- 
table! How full of meaning is that word! For 
how many, many centuries have women aroused 
the love of men by the attractions of the same 
ornaments ? Woman, eternally young, one genera- 
tion rapidly succeeding another, blossom of the 
perfect flower that is to be, is ever there, even 
as one wave replaces another in the ocean, and 
the colour, the light, and the shade, appeal with 
the same force to the eyes of the men of to-day, 
as they did to those of past ages, and will appeal 
to others yet unborn ! 


13, Great Marlborough Street, 

London, W. 

Hurst & BLACKETTS New List 



(Late Captain "The Buffs"). 

Now Ready, in Demy 8vo. , Cloth. Price 12s. nett. 



By Capt. M. H. HAYES, F.R.C.V.S. 

Fully Illustrated by numerous Reproductions of Photographs 
taken especially for this work. 


Second Edition. Super-Royal Svo., Cloth, Gilt Top, Price 34 -, 

Points of the Horse. 


The present Edition has been thoroughly revised and contains numerous 
additions, including specially-written Chapters on the Breeds of English 
and Foreign Horses, with over Two Hundred beautiful Illustrations 
reproduced from Photographs, the larger number of which were taken by 
the Author and have never before been published. 

" An elaborate and Instructive compeudium of sound knowledge on a subject of great 
moment to all owners of liorses, by a writer of established anthorlty on all matters 
connected with the hoi-se." — Times. 

'■• Vi'e hail the advent of a work on the subject by such a pastmaster of the arts 
hippie as Captain Horace Hayes, late of 'The Buffs,' and a Fellow of the Boyal College of 
Veterinary Surgeons, the author of several of the most simple and thoroughly instructive 
treatises upon riding, breaking, and veterinary treatment of the horse." — Land and 

" There is not a page in the book that does not display knowledge, and those who 
<lesire to become familiar with tlie character of the horse will find the work invaluable. 
It is scientific in its method and practical in its purpose." — Army and Aavij Gnzftte. 

"A soldier, a certificated veterinarian, a traveller, and a successful rider, the autlior 
is well (]Ualified to treat on all that pertains to the subject before ns."— Mature. 

Demy 8vo., Cloth. Price los. 6d. nett. 


= = = OF ANIMALS. 

Being Part I of Friedberger and Frohner s Veterinary 


With a Chapter on Bacteriology by Dr. G. Newman. D.P.H. 

Translated ami Edited 

By Capt. M. H. HAYES, F.R.C.V.S. 

" The plan of the work is e.xcellent, and the arrangement all tliat could be 
desired ; while the translation has been aptly done, and the awkwardness of 
rendering the original German into English, so common in translations, has 
been avoided. t)r. Newman's notes on bacteriology form an acceptable 
addition to the volume This is a work which no veterinary practitioner who 
is anxious to be thoroughly up-to-date in his professional knowledge can afford 
to be without." — G/as^ozv Herald. 


Fifth Edition. Revised and Enlarged. Lar<5e Crown 8vo. Price 15s. 

Veterinary Notes 
for Horse Owners. 



This Edition is revised throughout, considerably enlarged, and incorporates 
the substance of the Author's "Soundness and Age of Horses." 

The ehief new matter in this edition is — articles on Contracted Heels, 
Donkey's Foot Disease, I-'orging or Clicking, Rheumatic Joint Disease, Abscess, 
Dislocation of the Shoulder Joint, Inflammation of the Mouth and Tongue, 
Flatulent Distention of the Stomach, Twist of the Intestines, Relapsing Fever, 
Cape Horse Sickness, Horse Syphilis, Rabies, Megrims, Staggers, Epilepsy, 
Sunstroke, Poisoning, Castration by the Ecraseur, and Mechanism of the 
Foot (in Chapter on Shoeing). 

"Is a thorouglily jjractical work aud may be recommendeil with confidence."' — The 

" Is a valuable addition to our stable literature ; and the illustrations, tolerably 
numerous, are excellent beyond the reach of criticism."— Sn^Mrda;/ Review. 

" Leaves nothing to be desired on the score of lucidity aud comprehensiveness." — 
V^terinal•y Journal. 

" A necessary guide for horse-owners, especially those who are far removed from 
immediate professional assistance."— 7'Ae Timeg. 

'• Simplicity is one of the most commendable features in the book. What Captain 
Hayes has to say he says in plain terms, and the book is a very useful one for everybody 
who is concerned with horfes." ~ lUiutrated Sporting and Dramatic News. 

" The usefulness of the manual is testified to by its popularity, and each edition has 
given evidence of increasing care on the part (jf the author to render it more complete 
and trustworthy as a book of reference for amateurs." — The Lancet. 

Large crown 8vo. 10/6. 

The Horsewoman. 

By MRS. HAYES. Edited by CAPT. M. H. HAYES. 


With Numerous Illustrations and Drawings from Photographs 


"A large amount of sound, practical instruction, very judiciously and pleasantly 
imparted." — The Times. 

" This is the first occasion on which a practical horseman and a practical horsewoman 
have collaborated in brlngiug out a book on riding for ladies. The result is in every way 
satisfactory, ami, no matter how well a lady may ride, slie will gain much valuable 
information from a perusal of ' The Horsewoman.' The book is happily free from self- 
laudatory passages." — The Field. 

" A most useful and practical book on side-saddle riding, which may be read with 
real interest by all lady riders."— The Queen. 

"Mi-s. Hayes is perhaps the best authority m these countries on everything connected 
with liorsemauship for Xntiies,." —Freeinan'.i Journal ( Dublin). 

"With a very strong recommendation of tliis Ijook as far and awav the best guide to 
side-saddle riding that we have seen."— Saturday Review. 


Imperial i6mo. Second Edition, 2is. 



By Capt. M. H. HAYES, F.R.C.V.S. 

This Edition has been entirely fe-written ; the amoii7ii of 

the letterpress more than doubled ; and /j reproductions of 

Photographs have been added. 

"It is a characteristic of all Capt. Hayes' books on horses that they are 
eminently practical, and the present one is no exception to the rule. A work 
which is entitled to high praise as being far and away the best reasoned-out 
one on breaking under a new system we have seen." — The Field. 

"The work is eminently practical and readable." — Veterinary Journal. 
Fifth Edition. Revised. Crown 8vo. 6s. 

Training and 
Horse Management in India. 

By Capt. M. H. HAYES, F.R.C.V.S. 

"A useful guide in regard to horses anywhere. Concise, practical, and 
portable." — Saturday Review. 

" We entertain a very high opinion of Capt. Hayes' book on ' Horse 
Training and Management in India,' and are of opinion that no better guide 
could be placed in the hands of either amateur horseman or veterinary surgeon 
newly arrived in that important division of our empire." — Veterinary Journal. 

"We have always been able to commend Captain Hayes' books as being 
essentially practical, and written in understandable language. As trainer, 
owner, and rider of horses on the flat and over country, the author has had a 
wide experience, and when to this is added competent veterinary knowledge, it 
is clear that Captain Hayes is entitled to attention when he speaks. '' — The 



DT Pommerol, Jetm 

337 Among the women of the 

P773 Sahara