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BY A PALESTINE EXPLORER
From Llackwood's Magazine. not come to destroy the antiquities of the THE BELKA ARABS.
district, nor the European tourist to de face or to remove.
In the great age of the Antonines, or in The Belka, or "empty” land, is that the later period of Constantine and Jus. great plateau which extends eastwards tinian, the Belka supported a teeming above the Jordan valley from Arnon on the population. Cities, temples, and cathesouth to Jabbok on the north, and from drals rose in the wilderness, as if by magic, the crest of the mountains on the west to at the emperor's command; sculptured the Syrian desert on the east. It is about pillar-capitals, cornices, and friezes, long three thousand feet above the Mediterra. inscriptions in Greek and Latin, attest the nean, and four thousand feet above the wealth and civilization of the land under Jordan valley, and consists of rolling Antoninus Pius, or under the bishops downs, which are for the most part so who signed their names at the Council of bare that the trees can be counted on the Chalcedon. fingers of one hand. This last remark, But with Omar came the change which however, does not apply to the country has lasted ever since. The black tent north of Heshbon, which is dotted here takes the place of the palace, the rude and there with firs and terebinths.
worship of trees and stones is substituted The name Belka has been thought to for the ritual of the holy cathedral. The be connected with that of Balak, who was Hebrew, the Roman, and the Crusader king here when Israel, like the later have each had his day, and the inevitable Arabs, came up from the south and spread Arab has reappeared on the scene of his over the plateau. It is the land of Reu- ancestors' primeval wanderings; the 'Ad. ben and Gad, and the Moab of the later wân or the Ruala repeat the story of the historic period, when kings of Judah came Midianites and Moabites, or of the Naover to attack its strong places – not al. batheans and Himyarites and the Koreish way's with success, as the Moabite stone under Omar. shows us. Whatever the origin of the Another startling contrast is that be. modern name, it is very appropriate to the tween the plateau of the Belka and the country. The Belka is indeed an empty slopes of the mountain spurs beneath. It land. Empty of inhabitants, for the no- is a contrast similar to that which is so mads do not number more than ten souls often noticed in approaching Damascus; to the square mile; empty of houses and for in the burning East the zone of luxu. of corn; empty of water, and covered with riant vegetation is confined generally to huge, ruined, empty reservoirs; empty the immediate vicinity of water. The of trees and of vegetation, - a grey and river is green, and hidden among trees fawn-colored wilderness, where the eye and shrubs; but the mountains on either ranges for miles with but few objects hand are as bare and dry as any in tracts distinguishable amid the barren ridges, where no streams exist. Below the Belka though here and there the shattered walls the great gorges all run with clear perenof an old tower, the crumbling arches of nial streams; but the ridges are either once magnificent buildings, the ghost-like quite bare and of grey limestone, or else pillars of Roman cities, stand up against sparsely dotted with terebinth, oak, and the sky.line. On the slopes of the hills, fir. Lower down, the sides of the huge it is true, we have evidence of the former ravines are colored with yellow, orange, existence of great and energetic races; and purple — for the Nubian sandstone their dolmens are sown in hundreds on here becomes visible under the dolomite the mountain-sides above the gushing limestone. From the spurs a great land. streams, which break out of the mountains scape opens out on the west, including the some five hundred feet below the plateau, dark mountains of Judea and Samaria, the and rush down with a ceaseless murmur, white Jordan plain, with thorn groves and in cascades or over rocky bottoms fringed black streams fringed with tamarisk; the with cane, to join the turbid Jordan. The Dead Sea, shining like oil, and hemmed menhirs, the great circles, the huge cairns, in with high precipices, rusty or black, which cover the tops and slopes of the topped with peaks of white marl, and long spurs projecting westwards from the scarred with wintry watercourses. plaieau, are the delight of the antiqua. Again, the Belka contrasts with fertile rian, and are often indisputably connected Gilead on the norih, which, though also with episodes in earlier Hebrew life; but very rocky, possesses a rich red soil and in thein also we see the evidence of an abundant springs. Here, all day long, empty land, where the ploughman does the horseman may wind among ihe oak
woods, or through glades alternating with the rock," superior if anything in power corn-fields, beside the clear brooks and to the 'Adwân, whose country they appear frequent springs. He sees the deer flit. to enter at pleasure at all events, in iting under the trees, and hears the note time of peace – to water their camels at of the blackbird and thrush. In spring, the springs of Hesbân, 'Ammân, and in the English flowers deck the meadows of intermediate valleys. The 'Adwân posGilead, the delicate flush of the philox, sess far the richest country, and their the glory of the red anemone, of the wild chiefs own lands at Kefrein, Nimrîn, and tulip, the cyclamen and purple lupines and in the hills, which are rudely tilled for lilies, refreshes the eye, weary of the glare them by the Ghawârneh, or "men of the of the rocks. But it is with Moab, not Ghor,"and by other Arabs of lower caste. with Gilead, we have now to deal, and The 'Adwân' also own sheep, goats, and with the inhabitants rather than with cows, whereas the wealth of the Beni scenery and archæology that we are more Saklar consists almost entirely of camels. iminediately concerned.
South of the Zerka Ma’în, or ravine of A residence of three months in Moab, Callirhoe, dwell various small tribes combined with former experience, allows known collectively as Hameidi, who have of some degree of familiarity with the no superior chief, and who are in fact detribes of the district, and permits of a pendants of the Beni Sakhr, as are the judgment bei formed, at least on those 'Abbâd and others of the 'Adwân. The Arab clans which claim to represent in proper method of treating the Hameidi Syria the pure blood of the Nejed and of appears to be to enter into treaty with the Yenien.
Beni Sakhr chiess, and visit this district The recent campaign in Egypt, with its under their escort. The Hameidi are, sad accompanying drama in Sinai, has however, allied to the notorious sheikh of given prominence for the moment to the Kerak; and the only hold which the ex. question of Bedawin character; and the plorer has over them lies in the fact that Nejed Bedawin have found a champion in they often carry corn to Jerusalem, and Mr. Blunt, apparently convinced of the may there be detained by the Turks as superiority of their race and of the high hostages. The Hameidi are a very dedestiny which awaits them.
graded and turbulent set, and without Froin the litile tribes of the Judean proper escort the traveller would probably desert or of the Jordan valley, and from be pillaged in their country, the impoverished clans round Beersheba East of the Beni Sakhr, on the borders and Gaza, oř those "cousins of the gip of the Syrian desert, are found many sies,” who represent in Galilee the once tribes of the great nation of the 'Anazel, powerful tribe of Akil Agha, it may not or “goat" Arabs, who extend north wards be possible to form a judgment of the east of Haurân. The tribes of Jebel Ajlûn Bedawin at their best; but the 'Adwân, (the Beni Hasan) appear to be scattered or “enemies,” who once held Judea in a and powerless, as the settled population continual condition of terror, and who here holds its own. For practical purraided as far as Jerusalem, and even to poses the explorer need therefore only Jaffa, are proud sons of the desert, who deal in the Belka with the 'Adwân and the yet range over a district of a thousand Beni Saklır. square miles, and who feign to consider The 'Adwân have two principal divi. the smaller and older tribes, such as the sions: the elder branch of Diab, whose 'Ajermeh, 'Abbâd, or Ghaneimât, as their present chiet is ’Aly, and who live chiefly tributaries or serfs, although they have of in the district north of Heshbon, descendlate years so decreased in power and pres. ing in winter to Nimrîn ; and the younger tige that the inferior tribes now hold the branch of the Nimr, those who follow position of allies and friends rather than Sheikh Goblan, and who encamp near that of dependants.
Heshbon, and descend to Kefrein. Both The 'Adwân own all the Jordan valley these divisions of the tribe are now very and Mount Gilead to the Jabbok, and on much diminished in numbers and in pow. the south their influence extends to the er; and since they have begun to cultivalley of Callirhoe and to Tell Ma'în. vate the land they have also sallen off in Their eastern boundary runs from near martial reputation. The young chief 'Aly this last place to Samik, and thence to Diab, a man of perhaps forty, has thrown Yedûden and El Kahf, and east of Am. in his lot with the Turks; while Goblan mân to the Kala't Zerka. On the east represents the native opposition, and ad. and southeast the dominant tribe is that heres to the old traditions of indepen. of the Sakhûr, or Beni Sakhr, “sons of dence.
The Beni Sakhr* were until lately a named Fowaz. The names of the interunited and powerful tribe under a famous mediate generations have no special interchieftain, Fendi el Faiz. He left eight est. It may be noted, however, that sons, and after his death they quarrelled. Shadid and his descendants all married The tribe was thus split into two factions, into the Korda tribe (which has now dis. one allying itself with the 'Adwân, the appeared or become merged with the other under Satin making a league with 'Adwân) down to the time of Goblan's the 'Anazeh, once the bitterest of the grandfather Nimr, who took a bride of Beni Sakhr enemies.
the Beni Sakhr. Goblan's father Fadi In May, 1881, these parties came in col. married one of the 'Ajermeh, and he has lision near the 'Adwân border, and Satm thus in his veins some of the best and was slain in a skirmish. Nevertheless in oldest Arab blood of the country; for the the autumn of the same year, while we l’Ajermeh, though now a small and poor were yet in Moab, the sons of Fendi el tribe, belong to one of the clans which the Faiz patched up their quarrels, and were 'Adwân found in the Belka when their consequently regarded with much suspi. fugitive ancestor sought hospitality with cion by the 'Adwân. The principal chief the Korda in the sixteenth century. Satâm, brother of Satm, was in league The ease with which Goblan recounted with the Turks, to whom he gave informa. these pedigrees gives a good example of tion of our presence; and the malcon- the way in which such knowledge is orally tents of the Nimr are thus shut up in a preserved among a people entirely illitercorner between Satâm on the east and the ate. It is also remarkable that the tribes Turks in Es Salt, aided by their own rela- which came most recently from the Nejed tives of the elder branch. Such, roughly are those which consider themselves the sketched, have been the results of Turk- most noble, and which practically are the ish diplomacy beyond Jordan during the dominant clans. last fifteen years, and to these causes of The names of the smaller tribes of the decay among the Belka tribes is added the Moab plateau we carefully collected ; but fear of incursion from the south; for when it would be uninteresting here to enumer.
; Ibn Rashid and the Arabs of the Nejed ate them. The 'Ajermeh near Heshboo, came up in 1880 as far as Bozrah, the the Glaneimât north of the Zerka Ma'în, Belka Arabs all huddled together in the four divisions of the 'Abbâd round 'Arâk Jordan valley and the lower hills, and el Emîr, and the D'aja further east, aptheir invading kinsmen feasted joyously pear to be the most important of the thir. on captured camels of the Beni Saklr and ty-five tribes whose names, with those of the 'Anazeh.
their living chiefs, I collected in 1881 The bisiory of the 'Adwân tribe as re- within the boundaries of the 'Adwân lated by Sheikh Goblan is as follows. country. The groups of the Beni Sakhr About three centuries ago (or nine gener. are equally numerous, and we found that ations all known by name) Fowzân Ibn es there were six principal divisions of this Suweit, one of the Delîr tribe in the great clan stretching from near Kerak as Nejed, Bled, in consequence of having slain far as the Haurân, and including at least his cousin, to the 'Moab plateau, and twenty-four families or smaller tribes, of found refuge with the Korda tribe at Sâ. which the Fâîz family is the most impor. mik, east of Heshbon. He afterwards tant, Fendi el Faiz having ruled the whole married a daughter of Abu Heider, chief of the Beni Sakhr, and leaving eight of this Korda tribe, and bad two sons, sons, of whom Satâm, since the death Saleh, from whom descend the elder 'Ad' of his brother Satm, has now become wân branch called 'Asbîret Saleh, of the leader. whom ’Aly Diab is now chief; and Sha. As regards the numbers of these tribes, did, from whom Goblan claims to be the it is most difficult to form an estimate. eighth descendant. The beir of 'Aly Every father of a family has, however, Diab is a boy named Sultan; the heir of his tent, and five souls may as a rule be the Niinr or younger branch is Goblan's counted to a tent. The differences of son Fahed, " the lynx,” who has a boy rank and wealth are shown, not by the
number of tents, but by the length and * Some one, not apparently a philologist, has sug. newness of the family mansion. The gested that the Beni Sakhr are representatives of Beni considering the question whether the oid Je vish notion Diab, and his camp consisted of eighty i ssachar, and represent a "lost tribe;", but without longest tent I ever saw was that of ’Aly of " lost tribes," which we find perhaps first in 2 Esdras tents or four hundred souls. The small. (xiii. 40-46), has any foundation in fact, it may be remarked that the words Sakhr and Issachar have only est camp will consist of perhaps three
or four tents, generally found, however,
one letter - the final q- in common.
not far from a larger settlement; and retains his influence among poorer and these arrangements are constantly chang. weaker tribes in time of peace. ing, as the Arabs seem rarely to remain It is interesting in this connection to more than ten days or a fortnight in mark, among a people entirely unable to one place. Goblan estimated the various write, the way in which the virtues of the Beni Sakhr tribes as ranging from two dead are recorded. We found that on the hundred to twenty tents, and the average tombs of great chiefs were modelled in would probably be about sixty tents. The plaster the horseman with his sword and Beni Sakhr, not including those in the bow on one side; and on another, the Haurân, number, according to his esti- coffee cups, pestle and mortar, jug and mate, fifteen hundred tents, representing spoon for roasting - the paraphernalia, in a population of seventy-five hundred souls. short, of Arab hospitality. In this rude This is not likely to be an exaggerated manner the prowess and liberality of the estimate, as Goblan would not wish to dead man were set forth by descendants make them out more numerous than they who could only mark the tribe to which really are. Taking the same average for he belonged, and were obliged to coinmit the 'Adwân and their allies, we obtain a his name to the pious memory of his total of some twenty-two hundred tents or children. eleven thousand souls, giving a density of As regards Arab character generally, ten persons per square mile, which ap- the result of several years' experience is pears to be a very probable result for not by any means satisfactory; nor have such a district as that of the Belka. recent events tended to increase our reThese figures may not be without value spect for the Bedawin. The noble nomad, at a time when it becomes important to ranging free as air in the desert, is an be able to estimate the probable numbers original creation of Arab poetry, which of various Bedawin clans concerning has been somewhat clumsily copied by which but little is as yet known. those who see the possibility of turning Although the power of the dominant him to political account.
He is repre. tribes 'Adwân or Beni Sakhr has been sented as naturally high-minded, hospitamaterially diminished of late years, such ble, and observant of his word or oath, chiefs as’’Aly and Goblan still enjoy the brave to a fault, and generous to prodigalposition of great gentlemen in the desert. ity. But what we have learned of his When crossing the Jordan in 1881, I was actual character in Egypt or in Sinai only particularly struck by an incident which serves to strengthen the impression made occurred. Goblan was standing among by a sojourn of several months in the his retainers, all mounted on strong Belka. The recluse who would wish to horses, when a poor Arab, with a wise free from the hard struggle of Western and daughter, came down to the river civilized existence, — who is disgusted from the east, driving a diminutive don- with the insincerity, the jobbery, the key. The women were afraid to trust schemes and jealousies of European sothemselves in the water, even on its back, ciety, the strife and the meanness of public and looked hopelessly at the rushing life, and the banalité of domesticity, – streain; but the man invoked the help of will not find peace in the wilderness. He Goblan with that peculiar mixture of will find only the same passions, the same affectionate respect and simple familiar. objects, the same insincerity and absence ity which is one charm of nomadic society, of good faith among the mass of the Beand his womenkind were promptly hoisted dawin which he has deplored at home; and on the two tallest horses, behind two of although exceptions may exist, and men Goblan's relatives, who went back on of higher character may be recognized in purpose to the western shore, and again the desert, the European will certainly crossed the ford to the east.
find that he has made a change for the Nor was this the only instance of liber.worse, and will miss that which is best ality and courtesy which we remarked and noblest among his fellow-countrymen. among the 'Adwân chiefs. Although A web of petty intrigue is spread all most exasperatingly greedy for money, it over the Bedawin country. Their quar. must be confessed that Goblan spent it rels, jealousies, and infidelities are with a princely lavish hand. The guests petty and short-sighted as any in the of his autumn feast, and the poor pilgrim West. There is but one object which the to Mecca, alike received a large share of Arab places steadily before his face, and the presents and wages given by the sur that is the acquisition of wealth. The invey party; and it is by such lordly munifi. Auence which a European may exert over cence and hospitality that a great sheikh / them depends, no doubt, in great measure
on personal character, and on knowledge Arab runner preferable to the telegraph, of the language, customs, and ideas of the Bedawi greater than the Briton; but those among whom he dwells. It does to such there is only one answer so in every quarter of the world; but the wish to study the question fairly and withmainspring of that influence proceeds out motive, go to the desert and see for from the idea that the Frank is master of yourselves." untold wealth, to be obtained, if not by Loving, warring, feasting, singing (but terrorism, then by flattery and servility, not whisiling to Eblis), marrying, and reby an affectation of affectionate esteem joicing over the first born; dying under which it is not in Arab nature to feel for the accursed cairn or in the foray, or a stranger, and also by secret intrigue and mourned by many friends; hating, back. petty larceny. The Arab will betray his biting, slandering, envying, quarrelling, friend for gold not less readily than the cursing, lying, running away, cringing, Frank. The Arab will cringe to the rich bullying, flattering, turning the cold shouland powerful, and will be cold or cruel to der; firting with maidens, beating (or the poor and helpless, not less than the stoning) wives, weeping over the dead, civilized dweller in Western cities. Ex: swearing brotherhood and forgetting the ceptions may, I believe, be found; and I oath), proud among his sons, scolded by have known Arabs who appeared worthy his womenkind, happy and irritated, anx. of trust, and who might perhaps be be ious or expectant, grasping, avaricious, lieved, when they spoke, to be telling the untrustworthy, even stupid, but also lavtruth. But as regards the Arabs in gen. ish and courteous, intelligent and full of eral, it seems probable that they may be information; superstitious and sceptical; divided into two great categories, - those fearing God and conscience, or without who have becoine sordidly avaricious and regard to either; rich and poor, good, bad, degraded by contact with civilization, who and indifferent, — I can recall the Arab have acquired some new ideas, such as under all such circumstances and aspects, those of cultivation, of keeping cows and but I never was able to discover that he goats – nay, who have even, like Go therein differed from the rest of mankind. blan, sent children to school, and trod the I never found a wilderness where peace deck of a gunboat; and, on the other and good-will reigned among the whole hand, the category of the Arab in all his people, or a tribe where all the moral vir. aboriginal savagery, stalking the desert tues Aourished unadulterated. with nothing but his shirt and his long The courage of the Bedawin is one of tuft or pigtail, a cautious, crafty, not to their most lauded virtues, but one which say cowardly barbarian, lurking for the within the present century has not been stray stranger, filching the camel of his conspicuously vindicated. I have seen friend, or joining the noble contest of ten more than once a tribe on a raid, and have against one. Every man, every family, heard more than one tale of Bedawin batevery tribe of the Arabs has its own char- tles. As a rule, the bulletin seems to be to acter. Some are rich, powerful, and hos. the following effect: “We bravely attacked pitable, of high reputation and great the enemy, which made its appearance in courage. Some are poor and evil, with a force of one to our ten. We took sevbroken fortunes, flying the consequences eral prisoners, and the enemy lost heavily, of a deed of violence, or joined to the two horses and several cows being slain. gangs of miserable thieves and outlaws At length his remaining forces withdrew, who skulk in the valley in summer, or and we found our casualties to include shiver in mountain caves in winter, and one mare hurt in the leg by a spear. We who are shot without mercy if their cut off the forefingers of our prisoners in thieving expedition be clumsily managed. remembrance of those of our tribe whose Human nature is perhaps at the bottom beards and hair had been burned off on not much different in the desert and in a former occasion, and letting them go, the city, but the Arab is without any such drove off the captured camels, and en. incentives to improvement as spring from deavored to conceal as far as possible the the religion and cultivation of the West; direction of our victorious retreat." and the idea of the noble dweller in the Such are the deeds which I have heard wilderness, superior in morality and mo. recounted; and although men are sometive to the Western Frank, is an enthu- times slain in battle, and Fahed en Nimr siast's dream, as mischievous as it un- has legs which have been peppered with founded. There are those who seem to small shot, it must be remembered that believe the camel to be a superior method to initiate a blood-feud is a inost serious of transport to the locomotive, the fleet circumstance in tribe life, and that the