A pilgrimage to Nejd 2
Rabhar, portrait in oilpaints
January 1879 finds the Blunts traveling on towards Jof and Haïl. They spend several days there. They made the mistake of severely underestimating the horses they saw there, they were still very much thinking about ”racing-stock” and the horses were looking their worst: in winter condition, with scruffy coats, tethered to the ground. And fairly small. Ponies, as the Blunts thought them.
We see how hospitable people were, and Mohammed finds a bride.
January 5th 1879
We pushed on to Jof and got to a spot where on the left a cleft in the hills showed a charming view of palm gardens and what seemed to be separate country houses, each standing in a walled garden on bare desert ground. At quarter to two we rode down the short steep hill past the foot of the castle with Mohammed and Awad, leaving the rest to follow, asking the way to the house of Husseyn, Mohammed’s relative. We had to go through a great part of the town of Jof and it’s gardens, full of palm-trees and of barley just coming up on wich I saw kids grazing, out of the town to our great satisfaction, towards one of those very detached houses we had been admiring from above.
Here we alighted (the camels arrived soon) and Husseyn the master of the house received us, kissed Mohammed, took us into the reception room and began the process of making coffee. Presently the other relative (there are two) turned up. His name is Muhammed and he complained that we had all gone to Husseyn instead of to him. Mohammed of course has to make all the excuses he can and promises to spend a day or eat a dinner there and somehow pacify the injured relative _ I should like to know who in England, if a party of people headed by a distant relation from the end of Scotland or Ireland, would be ready to quarrel for the possession and entertainment of the guests and their servants, horses, etc. Here people delight in relatives dropping, as it were from the clouds.
We had a very long sitting _ a little talking, a large bowl of the finest dates, two go’s of coffee, one with and one without cloves, then Mohammed had to go and pay a visit to the Sheyk (2nd Governor) of the town of Jof _ Dowass. he and Awad both went, and meanwhile Wilfrid and I arranged our things in the tent which had been pitched in Husseyn’s palm garden in a very nice place. We got out washing apparatus and are clean for the first time since three weeks or more. Mohammed came back saying that now the Sheyk is vexed at not having us and he has promised we will call on him in the morning.
We left pretty early. At the kasr we entered by what I think is the only door. It is always kept shut and whenever anyone goes in or out must be specially opened by a black slave whose sole business is that of porter. It seems that there is always a fear lest some insurrection should take place and at this moment Ibn Rashid has got the son of one of the Ibn Dirra, the best and nobelest family of Jof, at Haïl as a hostage.
While coffee was preparing a discussion took place about our coming to stay here. Of course it was necessary for Wilfrid to demur very much, it would be an aib for him to leave Hussayn etc. However, in the end, the Sheyk or 2nd governour insisted that Hussayn could not complain. I returned with Abdallah, Awad, Husseyn el Kelb and one of Ibn Rashid’s zellamys or soldiers to Husseyn’s house to get our things packed. The khayal was my companion on the way back, and amused me much by his conversation. He admired my mare much to my astonishment. He and others have all expressed unbounded admiration for Wilfred’s shagra besides a great deal of approval of mine ( the bay so called Abeyeh Sherrak from the Khryssa) and they say moreover that Ibn Rashid has not a single mare comparable to the shagra. This is puzzling, for I have always heard Ibn Rashid buys the best of the Sebaa and other tribes.
We went to the kasr in the evening and looked on and listened to a curious exhibition, an kind of sword dance with singing or chanting. One or two of the performers only held drums made of palmwood and camel, or horseskin, in their hands and drummed while they sang and danced, the dancing being a sollemn treading up and down, and to and fro. The others, who held their swords sometimes over their shoulders, sometimes in a perpendicular position in front of them, danced in the same solemn measure and every now and then introduced a scream into their chanting. The khayal, the Sheyk Dowass, two of the black slaves, the khawaji and others all took part.
There was talk of a bride, or possible bride for Mohammed and he could not tear himself away to go to the Jasi until after I had seen and reported on the young lady’s looks. I first paid a visit to Shemma the wife of Nassr (the only one I believe) whose sons Turki and Areybi we like. I then went on with Abdallah to Jasi’s house. The little girl’s face pleased me much. She is really pretty, with great large dark eyes taht look straight at one and with a fresh white complexion and pleasant voice. To see more of her I talked with the mother and bystanders all I could think of and I went with them round the gardens. I left them with a pleasant impression of the girl and i found that both Ibrahim al Quisa and Abdallah who managed to get a sight of her afterwards, admired her looks as much as I did and their opinion was much more to the purpose as far as Mohammed was concerned.
There was afterwarts endless talking and a solemn meeting was held on our carpet in front of our tent between Mohammed, backed up by Nassr (who is jasi’s first cousin), and the young lady’s father. Wilfrid being present to add to the dignity of the proceedings, and Abdallah and Ibrahim al Quisia both joining in teh conversation. When it was all over Mohammed said ”It’s all right”, ”khallas shoghl”
The marriage negotiations occupied the whole day but this evening all is arranged, the writing written, everybody pleased and we are to be off, inshallah, tomorrow.
A seven o’clock start. One of the camels, the ugly one which has not been well for some time, was so tired and thin and wretched that it’s load was put about among the others and it only carried Mohammed’s tent. Hanna’s delul was also tired, and the tall camel brought at mezarib. Our mares were all right _ they had each had three leggin or lekins (copper dish) full to drink last night. My mare showed symptoms of fatigue yesterday but only I think from thirst.
At eleven o’clock we passed close under one of the tells where several rainwaterpools were found near it’s top. We and the mares scrambled up and these drank up two of the pols. Wilfrid sat on the evry top and called out ( he says) to me to come up and look at some inscriptions with pictures of people fighting with spears and camels and horses but I did not hear _ and he had no book and made no drawings. However on proceeding at half past eleven we soon passed near another tell and saw on an upright flat face of rock some more inscriptions and pictures. i tried to make a hasty drawing of the writing but had no time to do the figures, except one or two, for we must not be seen drawing or writing or staring much at anything.
There was no great hurry about starting, we went a few minutes before 8. In less than an hour we saw, to our left through a gap between tells, a village, small with much fine ithel with the palms, well kept walls as far as one could see, about a mile off _ name El Akayt.
In the plain we found Radi waiting for us and it was with some anxiety that we watched his countenance and listened to his words. we had become rather uneasy as to the reception Ibn Rashid would give us. All was well however. The Emir had ordered a house prepared for us and for Mohammed and we should be welcome.
Haïl is like other oases only the buildings on a larger scale with some attempt at architecture and extremely well kept. Where we entered, we came directly into the princely residence, a palace fortress and next to housesof dependants, the streets level and clean. We rode along a winding street between high walls, in at a great doorway _ people with swords, red kefiyehs, white aghals and red jubbehs standing about and saluting us. At a doorway at the foot of a round tower is an immense long courtyard where we were met by a dignified official dressed in scarlet and with a handsome grey beard. He is the person who looks after visitors, recieving them and preparing houses or rooms for them. He led the way into the Khawah, a large apartment with five columns supporting the roof, about sixty or seventy feet long by thirty broad and twenty-three or twenty-four high.
We had not been there more than half an hour when there was a stir and the word was passed round ”yeji el Emir”. In a few moments he appeared at the door surrounded and followed by a dense crowd of armed retainers, his soldiers in fact. Everybody stood up as Mohammed ibn Rashid walked forward _ we advanced to meet him _ he held out his hand, Wilfrid doing the same, and after saying the ususal salutations we all sat down. The greetings then had to be repeated.
Mohammed ibn Rashid has a thin sallow and careworn face and well he may if he has on his hands the blood of his relations, his nephew Bender (Tellal’s son) and Bender’s 5 children and three children of his own brother Mtaab’s. He has the regulary barbaric love of finery for he was dressed in silk and gold and with an aghal half gold and he wears a gold and jewelled sword. We sat a short time and after drinking coffee the Emir retired. We were invited soon afterwards by the steward or servant,to follow him upstairs into a gallery which goes around a square court somewhere within the palace. Here carpets were spread all along the walls and we sat down and breakfast was served. It consisted of a tray of bread with a dish piled with dates on the top and a cup of melted butter again on the top of the dates. The bread was extremely well made and like crisp paper _ quite excellent and the flour must be of the very best.
From a garden we went into a yard full of mares, there may have been 16 or 18, each tethered by the feet to the ground by a square manger of sundried brick. In an adjoining yard were as many more mares.
To be continued! (it’s getting a bit too long)