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THE CHA'B ARABS.

BY W. FRANCIS AINSWORTH, ESQ.

A Nook of Land—Anglo-Turco-Persian Political Commission-Origin of the

Cha'b Arabs-Tenure of the Country-Sheikh Suleyman and his Piratical Exploits—Town of Mohammerah-Its Salubrity, Trade, and ImportanceJealousy of the French Consul at the Predilection of the English for this Port -Navigation of the Daurak Canal—Night in the Marshes, Metropolis of the Cha'b Arabs and Court of Sheikh Thamar.

In one of the most remote corners of the world, on a bit of alluvial soil, marshy, grassy, and sandy, as it passes into rock and desert ; in an angle formed by the scriptural and classic streams, the Oreatis, the Ulai, the Pasitigris, and the Euphrates ; fertilised in its heart by the drainage of a whole river, the antique Hedyphon-which the poets of olden time would have represented as a nymph dying in the embraces of that gloomy king whom all the goddesses refused to wed—there dwells a tribe of buffalo-feeding, degenerate, and once piratical Arabs, hitherto little known, and who, but for the said piratical habits, the restlessness of modern travellers, whom nothing can escape, and the miserable policy of a French consul in setting the Turks and Persians by the ears, would probably have long enjoyed the same enviable obscurity

But English adventurers entered into the heart of this remote country; French jealousy saw in this act an immediate intention on their part to possess themselves of the country ; Turkish soldiers devastated its rising little port, the Bakhtiyari mountaineers replaced its fallen sheikh, the Persians retorted by invading the metropolis, and a mixed Anglo-TurcoPersian commission has been sitting for two or three years at Erzrum, in Armenia, to decide as to whom this fragment of the Delta of the Euphrates, with its villages, castles, and palace-its rice-grounds, its buffalo pastures, and date-groves—and its poverty-stricken inhabitants shall belong:

It would have been a most desirable thing if the Cha'b Arabs, as the tribe in question is designated, could have decided the knotty question themselves, and proclaimed their independence alike of the Sublime Porte and the equally sublime Shahinshah. Unfortunately, their numerical strength was not equal to the task, so they remained and still remain in the unpleasant position of a bone to be contended for by Sunni and Shia'h dogs, who tear away at both sides at once.

We have not seen the blue-book which chronicles the labours of the commission; no doubt it will be called for during the present session of Parliament by a Chisholm Anstey, or an Urquhart, when impeaching a Secretary for Foreign Affairs, or by some laborious financier, to whom even the Cha’b Arabs shall not remain a mystery, if expenses have been incurred in dragging them from obscurity ; but we have visited their country on various occasions, traversed it in almost all directions, held long conferences with its sheikhs, in their ancient palace and citadel, have sympathised with them when flourishing, and pitied them when trod down by the iron tramp of oppression, and the Cha'b Arabs are not a mystery to us, nor shall they be so to others, if they will follow us, first in our historical, and then in our peripatetic notes.

The Cha'b Arabs emigrated from the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf, and they were, therefore, of independent origin. They were butlalo-herdsmen, and hence they settled on marshy territory, first in the district of Wasit, subsequently founding the town of Kobban, in Daurak, and which town is mentioned by the older Arabian geographers.

They soon afterwards ascended the Jerrahi (Hedyphon), and pitched their tents around an artificial mound—a ruin of some Susanian fabricand upon which arose the modern town of Fellahiyah. The Afshars objected to this encroachment on their territories; but the Cha’bs excused themselves by saying, that the pastures of the Jerrahi were better suited to their buffaloes than Kobban, where they did not prosper. Soon afterwards, a ditch was dug round the mound, upon which the Afshars again remonstrated. The Cha'bs answered, that the ditch was constructed to preserve their buffaloes, which were carried off almost every night by their neighbours. The Afshars were obliged to be satisfied. The following year, a stout mud-wall was raised within the ditch, and the Afshars finding that the Cha'bs were resolved to live in independence, invited the chief of a neighbouring tribe to assist them in expelling the Arabs from the country. This chief entered the field in the spring, but, falling ill, was compelled to return, and the expedition was deferred till the autumn. In the interval, the Afshars concluded a peace with the Cha'bs, which they intended to break as soon as it was in their power to do so. Of this the Arabs were aware, and they formed a design of defeating them before they could receive assistance. They accordingly made a feast, to which the Afshars were invited. As they were eating, the Cha'bs fell upon them and slew them to the number of fourteen, all of whom were chiefs. The Cha’bs then applied to the Wali of Arabistan, residing at Hawizah, who was the most powerful chieftain in the Delta of the Euphrates, to assist them in driving out the Persians. “ We are Arabs,” said they, " and, consequently, the sayyid is a brother. It is better that we should be his subjects; we are willing to render the same services and pay

the same tribute as the Afshars.” The Wali consented, and marched against the Afshars, who were expelled from Daurak, and took refuge at Lehrowi, where they built a castle, which, according to Layard, still bears their name.

These Walis of Arabistan, although vassals of Persia, were of Arabian descent, the founder of the family being a sayyid, or descendant of the prophet, who quitted Medinah to settle, first at Wasit, in Chaldea, and subsequently at Hawizah, on the Choaspes, about the year 1350. There were, at that time, four Walis in Persia, who were considered as the chief vassals, or semi-dependent princes of the Shahinshah, or King of Kings. These were the Walis of Luristan, of Gurjistan, or Georgia, of Kurdistan, and of Arabistan. Shah Abbas the Great abolished the title of Ata Beg of Luristan, and conferred that of Wali on the chief of the province, which denomination has ever since been retained by the descendants of Husain Khan, the first who received the title.

The Cha'b Arabs did not, however, long remain peaceful occupiers of the land they had seized; for, at the accession of Shah Abbas to the throne of Persia, Imam Kuli Khan, governor of Fars, headed an expedition against them, and forced them to return their former possessions to the Afshars, compelling them, moreover, to pay a certain tribute to the crown of Persia.

Taking advantage, however, of the state of anarchy which succeeded the death of Nadir Shah, the Cha'b Arabs repossessed themselves once more of the country of Daurak, forcing the Afshars and sundry Turkoman tribes that pastured their flocks in the same territory, to decamp, and made themselves complete masters of all the countries that intervened between the Euphrates, the Karun, and the Hindiyan.

The name of the Cha’b Arabs became first known in this country about the latter part of the last century, in consequence of their piratical exploits on the Persian Gulf.* They had then attained their highest power under the intelligent and enterprising Sheikh Suleyman. This sheikh, the founder of the present family of the Ali Bu Nasir sheikhs, constructed dams across the rivers, dug canals, built houses and villages, planted date groves, and encouraged commerce. But, above all, he sought to aggrandise his dominions. He subjected all the less powerful tribes in his neighbourhood, and extended his conquests in the direction of Bassora, where Niebuhrt describes him as having in his time possession of all the islands and territories adjoining the Shat el Arab. The possession of the mouths of the Euphrates led this powerful chieftain to turu his attention to navigation. He constructed his first ship in 1758; and, in 1765, he had already ten large-sized vessels and seventysix small ones.

With these vessels he made war upon all European merchantmen that came to trade at Bushire and Bassora ; and he captured, among others, several English ships. He particularly assisted the tribes of the coast, south of Hindiyan, in destroying the Dutch factory at Kharaj, and he also made himself master of several large districts in Persia.

At length Kerim Khan, the successor of Nadir Shah, invaded his territories with so strong a force, that he was obliged to fly, with his treasure, beyond the Euphrates. The Persians, after sacking Fellahiyah, advanced westward, and broke down the dam which had been constructed to force the waters into the Kobban mouth of the river, but the plague having broken out in the army, it was obliged to retrace its steps. No sooner had the Persians withdrawn, than the Turks of Baghdad and Bassora advanced in their turn against Sheikh Suleyman, for violation of their territories ; and, thus tossed between two antagonist powers, the sheikh had no alternative but to seek an alliance with one, and he gave the preference to Kerim Khan, from whom he subsequently received, in return for signal service rendered to the Persians at the siege of Bassora, cession of the town of Hindiyan and its dependencies in perpetuity, but somewhat in the nature of a feudal tenure, on condition of paying 1000 tomans yearly to the Persian government.

So long as the sovereigos of Persia have been strong enough to enforce payment of this tribute, the Cha'b Sheikhs have met the demand; but, whenever they thought they could withhold their allegiance, they never failed to do so. This has led to constant petty warfare between the Arabs and the Persians. At the commencment of Fet'h-Ali-Shah's reign, they

Vincent's “Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients," &c., vol. i., p. 427. Fourth edition, 1807.

† “ Voyage en Arabie,” &c., tom. ii., p. 160. Swiss edition of 1780.

kept aloof, but Mohammed Ali Mirza, governor of Fars, having sent an expedition against Hindiyan, they were obliged to pay tribute partly in cash, and partly in a stipulated number of their noble breed of horses. In a similar manner, after the accession of the reigning shah to the throne, and while Colonel Shee, in command of the forces in Farsistan, was besieging the fort of Guli-Gulab, then in the bands of the warlike Mamaseni tribes, Manucha Khan, governor of Fars, summoned the Cha’b Arabs to supply the troops with provisions. The Sheikh made answer, that as there existed no precedent of the Cha’b Arabs ever having procured Sursat, or provisions for a Persian army, he could not comply with the demand; but after the fort had surrendered, he changed his mind, and in addition to the required supplies, paid several thousand tomans to the governor of Fars.

At the time of Sir John Macdonald Kinneir's visit to Persia, that is about forty years ago, that traveller describes the revenues of the Cha’b Sheikh as amounting to five laks of piastres (50,0001.) a year, and says that he could bring into the field five thousand horse, and twenty thousand foot.

The first time I visited the Cha’b Arabs, I joined the Euphrates steamer, then lying off the town of Mohammerah, in a Persian open boat, in which I had made the traverse from Bushire. The bustle of this little port, and the picturesqueness of the environs, charmed the eye at once. The Pasitigris, or Karun, after emptying part of its waters into the Khor Bahmehshir, a wide and noble estuary, flows on in a limpid stream by the Haffar channel to the Shat el Arab. This channel is an artificial cut, and is about three-quarters of a mile in length, from three to four hundred yards in width, and it receives three-fifths of the waters of the Pasitigris. "It has depth of water for vessels of any

burden. Its banks, when not occupied by buildings, are fringed with an undergrowth of liquorice plant, acacias, and pomegranates, behind which are continuous groves of stately palms. On the south side was an extensive mud fort, enclosing a few dwellings tenanted by Karayid, Sheikh of the Nasara, and his followers; on the north side was the town of Mohammerah, consisting, at the most, of a few wretched hovels, and a kind of temporary bazaar, constructed chiefly of matting and date fronds; but as the town had been declared a free port by the Sheikh of the Cha’bs, : most active bustling trade was thriving, the Haffar was crowded with every variety of shipping, there were great heavy brigs from Oman, clumsy Persian bagalas from Bushire, Arab boats from Bahrain and Koweit, and craft of motley rigging from more distant seas. So, also, in the town itself, an infinite variety of costume and physiognomy presented itself. The white-turbaned, loose-robed, clear, and smooth-skinned opium dealer from Surat and Bombay was a novelty to us. Red and yellow shoe merchants from Cairo, Fez dealers from Tripoli

, tobacco vendors from Shiraz, Tajiks, Turks, Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds were more familiar, but still filled

up
the

canvass with distinct forms and striking contrasts. Add to this, that from the deck of the steamer, the swift flowing waters of the Karun, the broad channel of the Bahmehshir, and the lake-like expanse of the great Shat el Arab, with its boundless forests of palm trees, could be all brought under the eye at the same moment, reducing town and forts and bustling traders to the semblance of an ant-hill in motion amid such a

am

silent expanse of waters, palm forests, and interminable plains, and it will be felt that Mohammerah was a site calculated to make an impression never to be effaced. And it was so healthy, too! The sky was as bright as the waters were clear and limpid, not a cloud furrowed the horizon, not a sightless object or a streak of mud sullied the current, once drunk by none but kings, and the air was pure sky and water ; we had not a sick man on board, and the lightness and activity around imparted cheerfulness to every one. Lieutenant Selby bears equally strong testimony to the salubrity of the place, which is of so much importance in a country so low and flat as the Delta of the Euphrates.

I enabled (he says)* from a personal knowledge of it (Mohammerah) for some years, to bear witness to its superiority in this respect over any other part of the adjacent country; so much so, that when, during the hot months, duty called me from Baghdad to the town of Basrah, or its vicinity, I invariably remained at, or near, Mohammerah, to which, in a great measure, I attribute the entire absence of that deadly fever which committed such havoc in the second expedition under Captain Lynch, at its outset, and which can only be ascribed to its having been compelled to remain so long at Basrah.

The salubrity of the one place, and the unhealthiness of the other, are easily accounted for. Bassora is situated a mile from the river, up a stagnant canal, and is, for a great portion of the year, surrounded by a miasmatic marsh and inundation. Again, the temperature of the Karun and Euphrates is very different. The Karun, fed by the melting snows of the Persian Apennines, loses, in its short and rapid descent of about one hundred and sixty miles, little of its freshness and invigorating coolness. In the month of August, when the Shat el Arab has attained a temperature of 91 deg. Fah., the Karun never exceeds 80 deg. Hence, probably, the celebrity

of its waters. No wonder that Colonel Chesney should have preferred this locality, possessed at once of such great natural and artificial advantages, for a station to Bassora. From its admirable position, having the Karun to the north-eastward, by which it communicates with the fertile provinces of Khuzistan, and the possessions of the Cha'b sheikhs ; the Shat el Arab, to the north-westward, by which there is an uninterrupted communication with Bassora, Kurnah, Hillah, Baghdad, and, in fact, all the countries watered by the Euphrates and the Tigris, and a passage to the sea by both the Khor Bahmehshir and Shat el Arab ; its merchants well informed, energetic, and enterprising men, and the people active, and much less bigoted than the Turks, Mohammerah must even yet, after its invasion and devastation by Turks and Persians, rise up from its ashes, and become one of the most important places on the rivers of Mesopotamia. In a naval, a military, a commercial, and a sanitary point of view, it is unrivalled.

Unfortunately, however, the opening Mohammerah as a free port, had induced the traders who had previously resorted to Bassora, where the duties are very high, to resort to the latter place, which had not only caused a great diminution in the custom-house revenues of Bassora, which were very considerable, but likewise of the revenues of the Pasha of Baghdad, which are in part derived from the same source. Ali Riza Pasha having terminated his campaign against the rebel chief of Rawan

• Journal of R. G. S., vol. xiv., p. 223. Jan.-VOL. LXXXII. NO. CCCXXV.

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