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duz, demanded nothing better than an excuse to destroy this rival port on the Euphrates, and at the time of our visit, nothing was spoken about but a proximate invasion of the Turks.
M. Fontanier, French Consul at Bassora, who fanned the flame of cupidity, with the zealous breath of international jealousy, says of Colonel Chesney's taking up his quarters at Mohammerah “that it was an insult to the Turks for Colonel Chesney to establish himself in a hostile town, without even notifying such an intention ; and to choose for the centre of his operations a spot, the prosperity of which, right or wrong, the government wished to destroy. It was still worse to make conventions with the rebel Sheikh of Mohammerah, and to promise him the protection of Great Britain."
Now, with regard to the latter reckless statement, I believe that I was with Colonel Chesney on the occasion of every visit made either to Haji Jabar, Sheikh of the Mohaisen, and Ahmed, Sheikh of the Haiyadar, sub-tribes of the Cha'bs, and both then dwelling in Mohammerah ; as well also to Sheikh Karayid who resided in Southern Mohammerah, and I do not believe that any such hopes were held out to those chiefs.
With regard to the right and wrong of the question, we have already seen that the country was originally held by the Afshar Persians ; that when the Cha’b Arabs expelled the Afshars, that they did go with the assistance of, and while acknowledging the supremacy of the Persian governor of Arabistan, and that from the time of Shah Abbas the Great they have paid tribute and acknowledged fealty to the Persian government. If there was any right in the question, it was for Shuster to complain of being defrauded of its dues, and not Bassora. When the news spread that Ali Riza Pasha had really left Baghdad to invade Mohammerah, Muhammed Taghi-Khan Bakhtiyar was directed by the Mo'tamid, or chief of Kirmanshah, to offer the sheikh assistance, provided the sheikh furnished the troops with the necessary supplies on their march, and as long as they required them ; but, unfortunately, the sheikh was lulled into security by the misrepresentations of Ajil, and Abd al Riza, the Sheikh of the Bawis, who had been tampered with by the Turks, and he refused this offer of aid.
Ali Riza Pasha, according to M. Fontanier's own account, did not know whether Mohammerah belonged to Persia or Turkey. To an ambassador, deputed to him to explain that the port belonged to Persia, he could return
The French consul accordingly came to his aid. I was apprehensive (says M. Fontanier) of other proceedings of the same kind, and had my fears, too, lest the Persians, taking advantage of the unsatisfactory answers of the pasha, should assert that the right was on their side. This would have been a reason for attacks and hostilities that national animosity would too readily have prompted, and which would, moreover, have afforded the English such a pretext as they ardently desired for inducing the belligerents to accept their intervention. With the help of Herbelot's Bibliothèque Orientale, in which I found an account of the Chahabs, and with what I already knew of the history of the country, I was not long in drawing up a note setting forth the indisputable rights of the Porte. M. Raymond translated it into Turkish, and went to deliver it to the pasha, accompanied by Ibrahim Agha, whom I had occasion to send to him, to present the compliments customary at the season of the Ramazan.
The reasons for the interference of the French consul are of a far more
wide-embracing character than would appear at first. M. Fontanier's political foresight enabled him to see far into the future.
It appeared to me (he says, alluding to the taking up of quarters at Mohammerah) that this was a neat way of settling two very important questions, and of acquiring, by a dexterous maneuvre, the domination of the river.
And elsewhere he says his remarks upon the subject were not much relished by Colonel Chesney.
I was, moreover, well aware that it would have suited him better to have been allowed to arrange his plans in secret, and that it would have been a glorious triumph for England to find herself in one day, to the great astonishnient of Europe, mistress of one of the noblest rivers in Asia !
The second time that I visited Mohammerah was after the disastrous attempt made to ascend the Euphrates at low water, when the cross-head of one of the pumps broke, and obliged us to retrace our steps. Colonel Chesney having started for Bombay, in the Hugh Lyndsay, the steamer Euphrates prepared to ascend the Karun to Ahwaz, and at the same time a party was got up to penetrate into the interior of Daurak, and visit the sheikh at his citadel
, after which the steamer might be joined by crossing the country to the north-eastward.
This party consisted of Colonel Estcourt, Captain Charlewood, Mr. Rassam, and the author, and we started in a small native boat, propelled with poles by two Arabs. The first day we ascended the Karun, a distance of twelve miles, to the spot where formerly an artificial dyke turned the water into the Khor Kobban, but which, from its being now nearly dried up, is called the Karun el Amah, or the Blind Karun. We turned down this channel a short distance, to where it is joined by the Daurak Canal, which is derived from the Jerrahi or Hedyphon, and was, in the lower part of its course, barely six or seven feet in width. Between this canal and the Karun were the ruins of the village of Sablah, at this time deserted and uninhabited. Beyond all was a level, monotonous, grassy plain, across which we plied our way, cheered by the songs of our Arab boatmen, till night overtook us, and with it labour ceased, and the harsh notes of the Cha’bs were succeeded by the equally unmelodious screech of the night heron. Colonel Estcourt was one of those happy individuals whose constitution and habits of life enable them to despise creature comforts. Animal sensuality was so entirely superseded by spirituality, that he could spurn the coarser appetites, and as he had in Syria lived for months upon sweet and sour milk, so in Susiana he appeared determined to try the effect of pure air in supporting the animal economy. Certain it is that not even a biscuit had been put into the boat when it left the steamer, so that at nightfall, to myself
, who hold social conveniences in high respect, the prospect was as gloomy to the stomach as it was to the eye. Luckily, Rassam, who came in for part of the upbraiding that ensued upon this notable nocturnal discovery, announced the existence of a small packet of coffee. This was a gleam of sunshine to the gathering clouds, and we jumped ashore to search for the usual fuel of the Arabs, the dry droppings of quadrupeds of every description. While engaged in this ignoble research, two shadows popped out of the darkness. The shadows were as instantly challenged, for as we had not seen a human being since we entered the Cha’b country, it was deemed rather mysterious that they should thus make their appearance close to us at night. One of the shadows, accordingly, on being called to, approached us ; the other remained in the distance, looking like a pillar in the horizon.
Please, noble sirs," muttered a soft feminine voice, “ we wish to ask your permission to light a very little fire in your neighbourhood.”
We laughed. We were accustomed to this kind of question in the steamer, where it not only frequently happened that the natives asked permission to light their fires under our protection, but also in sad prostitution of all manly feeling, would ask permission for the females to carry on their daily labours in our presence.
The use of diminutives as “a very little fire," when asking a favour, is touchingly expressive in the Arabic language, and cannot be exactly rendered in ours.
We lay in our clothes all night, and the early dawn enabled us to light another fire, and get a cup of coffee before we started on our journey. We had also given some coffee to the poor Arab peasants. It was, as the day before, a tedious navigation in a grassy plain—there was not a thing to be seen. Nothing earthly would, indeed, have willingly remained in such a desolate country. “As we proceeded onwards the land became more marshy, and a few shrubs and patches of reeds decorated the banks of the canal. From these an occasional water-snake glided into the stream, flocks of white egrets dotted the plain, plovers fitted above, and soon the colossal heads of buffaloes were seen peering at us with their great staring eyes up to their flanks in mud and water. We were now fairly in what appeared to be an inextricable marsh. A flock of wild ducks took their way directly over our heads, and we shot, and with the help of the boat, bagged a brace. This, under existing circumstances, was very satisfactory incident. As evening was approaching, the marsh was succeeded by dry banks with groves of palms, amid which, the cottages of the Cha'b Arabs were nestled. The canal had now attained a considerable width, and the aspect of things appeared to us, probably by contrast, to be perfectly enchanting. Many of the cottages came down close to the water-side, and their picturesque outline was deeply shadowed forth in the calm pellucid stream. Men, women, and children came out into their little gardens to see the strangers go by, while from above beams of golden blue light were showered down with that radiance which is so peculiar to a sun-set seen through the green
fronds of palm trees.
Twilight overtook us in this delightful navigation, when suddenly our attention was called to a new feature in our journey. A palatial edifice of imposing magnitude was seen in the dim and uncertain light to rise out of the waters. It came upon us like the stately façade of one of those noble palaces, that alone would impart renown to the city of the Doges. The illusion was strengthened by the boat stopping at a watergate, one of the Arabs knocking loudly at the arched folding-doors. It was a long time, however, before the knocks were answered, when at length attendants and lights came, and we were admitted into a gloomy, sub-palatial aqueduct, which we were glad to exchange for an apartment. Even this, however, was a desert within four walls, for it had not a rag, a chair, or a table within it, nor a pane of glass to the windows. Luckily, it was fine weather, and chilly, but not cold at night. I had lost no time in picking up acquaintance with one of the attendants, who, I thought,
scowled a little less than the others, and drawing the ducks forth from obscurity, promised bakshish, if they were produced in a condition fit to be devoured. Colonel Estcourt and Mr. Rassam went to sleep. Charlewood and myself waited patiently, and without a murmur, till midnight. Light after light had disappeared from the palace precincts, doors were closed, not a sound was heard, save that of a gentle nasal harmony, to which no melody was imparted by distance, and the ducks were, most probably, at the bottom of the canal. We never saw them again.
I laid down upon the hard boards, and was dreaming that I had received an invitation to dine with the Lord Mayor, and had turned round twice with impatience at the dilatoriness of the turtle-soup, when I was awoke with the intelligence, that the Sheikh of all the Cha'bs wished to receive us. The Arabs are very early risers—they go to bed with the fowls and get up with them. It was just daybreak, but our toilette was soon made, and we were ushered across the court-yard to the state apartment, which, although of considerable magnitude, was already densely crowded. Sheikh Thamar sat in the right corner. He was a man in the prime of life, wore a turban instead of the usual Arab head-dress, and received us with the utmost civility. At his left hand was his vizier, Haji Mashal, of Nasara, who, as a pilgrim, also wore the turban. On his left sat Mir Madhkur, Sheikh of the Sherifah, and who, as descendant of the prophet, wore a green turban. Next to Mir Madhkur sat Ajil, the principal Sheikh of the Bawi tribe. Little did I think at the time of this our first introduction, that this sheikh would soon be shot dead in that very apartment. Beyond Ajil were two Persians in their black lamb-skin caps and national costume. They were envoys from the Mo'tamid, or governor of Kirmanshah, and had their suite in the room. To the left of the Vizier Haji Mashal sat the sheikh's secretary, and his writing materials occupied the cushions at the head of the room, and thus interposed themselves between the faithful and their infidel visitors, who were ceremoniously conducted to the left side of the apartment, each, after the usual preliminary compliments, having to be introduced personally, and his rank, pursuits, &c., detailed at length. The bottom of the room was occupied by that dense crowd of attendants and spectators, which is tolerated on all public occasions, for when it is supposed that any thing that concerns the tribe is on the tapis, patriarchal manners do not allow the sheikh to exclude the most destitute of his subjects. Conversation is, accordingly, at such public receptions made up of common places. I was very glad when it was over, for breakfast, consisting of dates, dried raisins, cheese, and sour milk, was then served up in our apartment. It was our first meal for forty hours ! We had not half satisfied our appetites, before Sheikh Thamar, with his vizier and secretary, pounced in upon us to receive his presents, and to talk politics. All ceremony was now cast aside, and some agreeable and interesting conversation took place.
This over, we went out to explore the muzif, or palace, and the town. The imposing aspect of the former had sadly diminished before the glare of broad daylight, and the crumbling material presented that usual appearance to the eye which is so happily lost in a drawing. The town of Fellahiyah is surrounded by a mud wall, with equidistant towers, mostly in ruin. Its main defences consist in its many deep canals and watercourses. The citadel occupies the summit of the artificial mound, and is also in a ruinous state. It was not without feelings of deep interest that we recognised among the guns several of English manufacture, obtained probably by acts of piracy and the robbery and murder of our unfortunate countrymen. Sheikh Thamar affected the character rather of an independent prince than of an Arab Sheikh, and was undoubtedly, for an Arab, a remarkable man. The country owed much of its prosperity to him. Agriculture and commerce were encouraged, and those engaged in such pursuits protected. Canals and water-courses, upon which the cultivation of the country can alone depend, were kept in good repair, and new works of the kind frequently undertaken. Caravans and travellers through his country were well protected, and cases of plunder were very rare.
He had not only rendered Mohammerah a free, and consequently a flourishing port, but he had also made Fellahiyah, in a great measure, the dépôt of merchandise supplied to Shuster and Dizful, and to the province of Khuzistan. Merchants connected with him were satisfied with the protection he afforded, and did not consider the dues levied by his tribes exorbitant. The annual sum paid by him to the Persian government was only 3400 tomans (17001.), an incredibly small sum, when the extent of the tribes and the productiveness of the country are considered. Seven tribes—the Ali Bu Nasir, Idris, Nasara, Mohaisen, Bawi, Beni Temin, and Haiyadar-acknowledged the authority of the Cha'b Sheikh. The second of these contains eighteen family subdivisions, the Mohaisen eleven, and the Bawi fifteen. Sheikh Thamar is generally respected by his subjects, and he exercises unlimited authority over them, extending to the infliction of death and other punishments. The tribes have lost much of the genuine Arab character, and their blood has become mixed with that of Persians, and Bakhiyari and Mamaseni Kurds.
They are also Shia'hs, or followers of Ali, and thus connected with the Persians by the ties of religion, as well as of country. The Persian envoys at the court of Sheikh Thamar favoured us with some most malevolent looks during our perambulation of Fellahiyah. It is probable that they supposed that we advocated the rights of the Turks over the country, a supposition to which a certain countenance was lent by our wearing the Osmanli red сар.
The account of our journey from the city of the Cha’b Sheikh to Ahwaz on the Karun, and of the twofold invasion of this unfortunate country, must be left to another chapter. Suffice it here that M. Fontanier is in error when, in his notice of this excursion, he says, “ some of the members of the expedition, having attempted to proceed by land whilst the steamer was going up to Karun, were seized and not allowed to continue their journey!"
Layard in Journal of R. G. S., vol. xvi., p. 37. In this able report the names of the subdivisions of tribes, villages, and canals in the Cha'b country are all recorded.