Laurence Oliphant.

The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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Lebanon is a financial burden to the Porte. The
method of their collection is regulated by the condi-
tions of *' the settlements " arrived at after the mas-
sacres ; the people are thus spared the infliction of
the two curses of Turkish rule the foreign police-
man and the tax-gatherer.

On the top of the ridge behind Beteddin lies the
small plain upon which the battle between the Emir
Beshir and the Sheikh Beshir was fought. Here
we were met by a deputation of horsemen from
Mukhtara, led by the young Sheikh Nejib Jumbelat,
the eldest grandson of the Sheikh Beshir, and con-
sequently the head of the family. He was a good-
looking young man, mounted on a handsome Arab
gorgeously caparisoned ; but he apologised for the
steeds of his retainers, as he said the best horses
at this season of the year were all out at grass.
This, however, did not prevent one of them from
executing an equestrian ** fantasia " on the battle-
plain, to the great admiration of the rest of the
company, as he was celebrated for his skill in horse-
manship. Dashing forward at full gallop, he made
his long lance whirl rapidly round the neck of his
horse and his own body, till it spun like a Catherine
wheel ; then he twisted it with surprising rapidity
round his own neck ; then made it spin sideways,
first on his right side and then on his left, keeping


his horse meanwhile in full career, while both hands
were more or less engaged in performing these feats
with the lance, which he only once dropped in an
effort to surpass himself. Some of these men are
extremely expert in playing th.e.jereed, and the game
sometimes waxes earnest as hard knocks are given
and received ; but unfortunately they were not suf-
ficiently well mounted to exhibit their skill and
prowess on this occasion.

We now descended into another, and if possible
more richly cultivated, valley than either of those we
had already traversed, and the view from the top of
the ridge before we commenced the descent was so
striking as to compel a halt. At our feet, embedded
in foliage and situated on the angle of a bold pro-
montory, formed by the confluence of the two streams
Awati and Kharabeh, stood the palace of Mukh-
tara, more imposing for situation and more pictur-
esque in its architecture than even Beteddin. Away
to the right, its pointed crest, streaked with snow,
towering among the clouds to a height of 6100 feet,
rose the lofty Tomat Niha ; and on the plateau,
about half-way up the mountain, lay the town of
Yezzin. It is situated on the edge of a cliff, over
which the stream which supplies the town with water
precipitates itself in a fall of 1 50 feet. We could see
the thin white streak in the distance as it foamed
down to join the Awati. This river, which is the
ancient Bostrenus, falls into the sea about a mile to


the north of Sidon. At its confluence with the Yez-
zin brook stand four columns of Egyptian granite,
four feet thick and thirteen feet high, probably Phoe-
nician. The main range of the Lebanon, averaging
from 5000 to 6000 feet in height, dotted here and
there with stumps of fir or cedar, but otherwise
rugged and barren, closed the prospect immediately
in front of us. The whole view was gloriously illu-
minated by the setting sun ; and the tinted roofs and
white balconies of Mukhtara, crowded with spectators
in anticipation of our arrival, with its tributary vil-
lages nestling amid luxuriant foliage, gave an air
of comfort and civilisation to the scene, which con-
trasted most agreeably with the desolate - looking
range behind. After a short and steep descent we
reached the village of Jedeideh, where the whole
population turned out and lined the roadside, wel-
coming us with low salutations ; and then from the
opposite side of the valley burst upon our ears the
strange wild cadence of hundreds of voices chanting
the song of welcome. Plunging down into the gorge,
thickly wooded with oaks, poplars, and chestnut-trees,
we crossed the rushing torrent by a picturesque
bridge ; but its roar failed to deaden the chorus
which was now approaching, as groups of men, sing-
ing and clapping their hands frantically, came crowd-
ing down to welcome us. As we wound up the zig-
zag path leading to the palace the scene became
more and more dramatic in its effects. First herald-


ing US with their triumphant shouts, as with the
agihty of mountaineers they sprang up the steep
hillside, went the footmen ; then came the caval-
cade with sword and spear and flowing robes of
bright colours ; and now groups of women in white
veils, with only one eye exposed, came trooping down
the village paths, to swell the procession and add
their shrill greetings. When the piercing zalghoot
bursts from some hundreds of female throats for the
first time, one's immediate impression is that all the
women in the place are being beaten by their hus-
bands, for it ends in a kind of wail, hardly expressive
of joy or triumph ; but it acts upon the nerves of the
men as the pibroch of a bagpipe does upon a High-
lander, only, doubtless, far more effectively ; and,
indeed, these Druses are accustomed to be stimu-
lated very much, not merely by the voices, but by
the eye of beauty. It is true it is only one eye a
Druse woman never shows more than one eye but
probably from the fact that the rest of the face has
to be judged by this single orb, they throw more
expression into it than the Western female can con-
centrate in two ; at all events, these Druse women
certainly do play a very much more active part in
affairs generally than women who hide their faces do
elsewhere. No sooner did they set up their shrill
screams than the men began to sing more madly,
and clap their hands and fire off guns more wildly.
As we passed beneath latticed windows more women


looked out, and sprinkled rose-water over us, and
made long shrill speeches to us, which I could not
understand, but which I am told consisted of bless-
ings and praises ; and a boy came and poured coffee
under our horses' feet as a special mark of honour
and respect; and so at last, half stunned with
noise, we arrived under the lofty walls of Mukh-

Built against the steep hill, Mukhtara has a fa9ade
five storeys high, with curious projecting stone stair-
cases, ascending from one storey to the other on
the outside, and a terrace and fountains on the
fourth storey, where light graceful columns support
the blue-domed roofs, and where a large crowd was
now gathered, while the women were clustered like
flies upon the balconies and stairs. Here we were
met by the second brother, Nessib Bey, and con-
ducted up to the terrace, where all the most distin-
guished neighbours were gathered, and where we
were shown our sleeping apartments, and the pre-
parations which had been made for our accommoda-
tion. On two sides of the large quadrangular ter-
race were reception and dining rooms ; in the centre
of each was a fountain of the clearest water. On
the third side were the sleeping apartments ; while
the fourth was open, and from its lofty elevation
commanded a splendid view of the wild yet fertile
valley. This court was surrounded by light columns,
and in the centre of it was another fountain. We


sat down to dinner, a party of fourteen. Besides the
two brothers Jumbelat were several of the principal
family retainers, and the spiritual chief of the Druses.
To me this was the most interesting personage pres-
ent; a man of not more than forty years of age,
he is looked up to by the whole nation for his saga-
city and personal piety. He was a silent, reserved
man, of unusually dark complexion, a thoughtful
brow, and extremely soft eye and gentle expression.
There was a dignified repose of manner, a perfect
self-possession, and, withal, a keenness of intelligence
in his bearing, which w^ere well calculated to impose
respect. Although he had been only recently ap-
pointed to fill the important position he occupied,
he had already won golden opinions ; and the fact
that he owed his nomination chiefly to the influence
of our own Consul-General illustrates in a striking
manner the exceptional position which England
occupies among the Druses. When the occupant
of this high office enjoys the respect and esteem of
the nation, his authority among them becomes almost
paramount ; and it is important, therefore, that his
personal relations with the chief British political
authority should be of a cordial nature. Though
enjoying the highest consideration among thfe chief
families of the Druses, it is not necessary that their
religious head should be himself noble ; on the con-
trary, this man's father, who had wielded immense
influence in the same capacity, was of humble origin.


He was universally beloved and regretted, having
recently died at a great age. So far as I could
judge, his son seemed likely to prove a most worthy
successor. Though the appointments of the dinner-
table were European, the repast itself was thor-
oughly characteristic. After soup came a whole
sheep, stuffed with rice and seeds from the cone of
the pine (it had been boiled in lebe^i, or sour milk) ;
then there was couscoussu, or stuffed cucumbers ; then
egg-plant, also farci; with other preparations of
meat and vegetables all very palatable and an
excellent pudding. I observed that the sweet part
of the repast seemed the most popular among the
natives, who possessed a great capacity for dispos-
ing of it. After dinner came toasts, and the health
of the Queen and the Consul-General, and prosperity
to the family of Jumbelat was drunk. The wife
of the eldest son was at the moment in an inter-
esting condition, and the hopes of the family were
centred on the result. She had already had six
children four girls and two boys ; but both the
boys had died, and the family was without an heir.
The anxiety of the whole neighbourhood was intense
on the subject. I therefore ventured to propose
as a toast the health of the lady ; and as I did not
see that there was any reason why one should not
drink to the health of a child not yet born, I coupled
with it that of the infant. Perhaps it was some-
what premature to anticipate the sex, but I felt that


the exigencies of the occasion required it, and
so we drank to the future son and heir. I am
happy to say that we were fully justified in so doing
by the result. When we went back into the court-
yard we found that it was brilliantly illuminated
with coloured lanterns. The neighbouring villages
had responded to the display, and numerous lights
twinkled among- the foliage on the hillsides ; while
bonfires were lighted on their summits, to which
we replied with a display of rockets.

Some more notables had arrived during dinner,
and we found that a sort of levde was still to be
held before we could seek repose. Over coffee
and narghilds we listened to their professions of
devotion to England and to the Jumbelat family.
They were profuse in their expressions of esteem
for Mr Eldridge, our Consul-General, and gratitude
to him for the protection he had accorded, and the
benefits he had been able to confer upon the house
of Jumbelat; and they seemed most anxious to im-
press upon me, as a stranger, the great power and
influence in the Lebanon of my hosts. Indeed,
the Jumbelats appear to occupy among the Druses
very much the same position that the MacCallum
More did in old time among the clans in the High-
lands, and, like the Campbells, they have their rivals
and enemies, and lose no occasion to strengthen
themselves politically. They enjoy the special pro-
tection of England ever since Lord Dufferin rescued

2 A


the family from beggary and ruin. The two brothers
were then children ; the once magnificent property
of their grandfather, the Sheikh Beshir, had, as I
have already described, been confiscated ; and after
the massacres, the family seemed in a fair way to
become altogether extinguished, when our High
Commissioner took compassion upon them, and
succeeded in recovering some of their property,
placing the lads under the special guardianship of
the Consul-General. From that time their affairs
have been managed, and the young men themselves
have been brought up, more or less under British
supervision. They are now once more one of the
wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, family in the Leba-
non ; and as they feel they owe it all to England,
their devotion and gratitude are unbounded, and this
sentiment extends naturally throughout the whole dis-
trict, in which their influence is supreme. This ac-
counts for the extreme cordiality of our reception,
and for the warm demonstrations of goodwill of which
we were the objects. In an interesting conversation
which I had with the spiritual chief, he assured me
that the Druses of the Hauran, together with those
of the Lebanon, were one in sentiment ; that they all
acknowledged him as their religious superior; that
in the Hauran they were as devoted to England
as they are in the Lebanon, and that at any moment
that the Queen gave the word, they were ready to
turn out 25,000 fighting men who would go to war


for her in any cause. Since i860 a large emigration
has taken place from the Lebanon to the Hauran,
and it is estimated that the Druse population of
"The Mountain" is now not above 13,000, while
the Hauran contains about 50,000. Altogether the
Druse nation numbers probably between 70,000
and 80,000 souls, and constant communication is
kept up between the two parts of the country
in w^hich they are settled. The day may come
when it may be well to remember that we have a
warlike people in Syria absolutely devoted to us,
and only longing to prove that devotion in acts.
No doubt they believe that they would derive
ultimate advantage from a cordial co - operation
with England. All alliances are, in fact, based on
this anticipation ; but there are degrees of loyalty
and degrees of fighting capacity, and England may
look far before she would find a recruiting-ground
which could furnish so brave and loyal a contingent
as the country of the Druses. So firmly are they
penetrated with the closeness of their relations to
England, that I was surprised to find how many
knew a little English, that language being the only
foreign tongue they ever learn. The brothers
Jumbelat spoke and wrote it with ease.

The family now own about twenty villages, and
can put into the field from five to six thousand
fighting men. I was astonished to learn that about
half their tenants and retainers were Christians.


They were not to be distinguished from Druses
except by the absence of the white turban, and
jpined in the manifestations of joy as heartily as the
Druses themselves. One of the brothers told me
that they were careful to make no distinction be-
tween Christians and Druses in their treatment of
them that they all lived most harmoniously toge-
ther ; and certainly, so far as demonstration went, the
popularity of the family seemed unbounded among
their own followers, whether Druse or Christian.

After the levSe was over, the mother of our hosts
came to pay us a visit. Indeed she was really our
hostess, and controlled the affairs of the family.
To her tact and ability, aided by British assistance,
is largely due the restoration of its fallen fortunes ;
and it was easy to perceive, after a few moments'
conversation, that she was by no means an ordinary
person. She was dressed in Druse costume, cut
away exceedingly in front her ample bosom con-
cealed by a gauze under-garment, and on her head
a veil, one corner of which she held before her
mouth, but evidently more from habit than from
any real desire to conceal her features, her age
and long intimacy with the Consul- General render-
ing her somewhat indifferent in this respect. In her
expressions of welcome and solicitude about our
comfort, she did the honours as one accustomed to
rule, and ^2l^ grande dame jusqit au bout des angles.

After the fatigue and excitement of so long a


day, I was not sorry when at last the moment came
for retiring to rest, though, as it turned out, that
rest was destined to be of short duration ; for at about
two o'clock in the morning I was awoke by a shrill
scream, apparently from a room in the immediate
neighbourhood, which made me start in alarm lest
some dreadful catastrophe had occurred. It was
followed by another and another, and in a moment
I recognised that it was the zalghoot. I at once
inferred that the expected event had occurred, and
that it was a boy ! Not for the birth of any female
infant would the Druse women have set up such a
scream of rejoicing : a girl indeed would have been
considered a profound misfortune, and the congrat-
ulations which we were prepared to shower upon
the head of the happy father would in that case
have been converted into condolences. It was evi-
dent there was to be no more sleep for any one
that night such a bustle, and a hurrying to and
fro, and shrill screaming went on until dawn, when
enthusiastic clansmen began firing off guns under
the young mother's window, just at the moment
when she most needed quiet. So as sleep was no
longer possible, I rose with the first peep of day, to
see how the birth of a young Druse chief was cele-
brated in the heart of the Lebanon. To the left of
the terrace, and thirty or forty feet below it, was a
court through which flowed a stream of sparkling
water into a square cistern, near which stood two


or three handsome trees. The roofs of the buildings
which enclosed this court were crowded even at this
early hour with women, who were looking down and
screaming their applause at the picturesque groups
as they came trooping in, firing their guns and wav-
ing them in the air, to join in the dance of triumph.
In the centre of the court the crowd had formed a
circle, and in the midst of it danced a lithe active
figure in bright attire, who, waving his drawn sword
in one hand and the scabbard in the other, was per-
forming a sort of war-dance to the music of loud sing-
ing and clapping of hands, accompanied by squealing
pipes, and drums made after the fashion of Indian
tom-toms. Every now and then men rushed out
of the crowd and fired their guns into the tank.
Sometimes the volleys poured into the water literally
lashed it into foam. What with the loud chanting,
the discordant music, the perpetual firing, the clap-
ping of hands, and the screaming of women, the
clamour became almost deafening. All this time,
as the more distant villages sent in their contingents,
each led by its headman, the crowd kept increasing
and the hubbub waxing louder. More circles were
formed, in some of which two performers danced and
went through a sort of mock combat, changing their
step and the measure of their sword-cuts with the
time of the music, which itself changed as the village
poets arrived and circulated scraps of paper on which
were written songs appropriate to the occasion.


Seated on the ground as spectators were the Ukkul
or " initated," and the Uwhahid who aspire to a still
greater degree of sanctity. The Druse is always to
be distinguished by the white turban wound round
his tarboosh or fez ; but the learned in the mysteries
of their religion wear, in addition to this, an abeih
or wide-sleeved cloak with black and white stripes.
They were too grave and reverend seigniors to take
any more active part in the festivities than that of
silent and approving spectators. They abstain from
excesses of any kind, never taste wine or tobacco,
and preserve a severe and sedate deportment upon
upon all occasions. In conversation they never use
a bad word, or oath, or even an expression which
the most fastidious taste of the country does not pro-
nounce to be perfectly proper. Indeed, all the Druse
men are distinguished for their abstemiousness and
moderation, as their women are remarkable for their
virtue ; and although upon this occasion the fes-
tivities were kept up until the evening, and must
have been participated in by about two thousand
persons of both sexes, there was no unseemly boister-
ousness or excess of any kind, nor, so far as I know,
was any beverage stronger than coffee provided
by the munificent hosts who had during the day to
feed this immense crowd. Mutton and rice were the
staple articles of diet, and I am afraid to say how
many sheep were killed and how much rice was con-
sumed. After the novelty of the scene had worn


off, it must be admitted that the dancing became
somewhat monotonous, and the noise wearisome and
confusing. I thought of the poor sick woman in
whose honour it was all done, and contrasted these
deafening demonstrations with the straw -strewn
street which insures quiet to the London fashion-
able patient under similiar circumstances.

Once the performances were varied by a sort of
burlesque, and a group of men and women, pre-
ceded by capering men fantastically dressed, and
performing on pipes and drums, appeared. Some
of the men were disguised as women, one especially
represented a bride, and another a decrepit old hag.
The latter, nearly bent double, carried a basket and
a knife, while from her forehead projected the Druse
horn a part of female attire which has now entirely
fallen into disuse. She was supposed to be an alle-
gorical representation of "the past;" "the present"
was symbolised by the handsome young bride, who,
attended by one of her maidens also a youth in
girl's attire ^ proceeded to execute a fantasia not
unlike a nautch-dance in the middle of the group,
while the old woman kept getting in the way, dig-
ging up roots with her knife and putting them in her
basket, performing various sly antics all the while,
and keeping the spectators in a high state of mer-
riment, the more especially when she and a man
dressed as a buffoon had a passage of arms in which
the latter got decidedly the worst of it. The women,
who were looking on from the balconies of the pal-


ace and the neighbouring roofs, seemed especially to
enjoy the fun, and in their excitement occasionally
afforded me a glimpse of the other eye. Indeed, I
had more than once an opportunity of seeing a re-
markably pretty face ; but as a rule, the Druse women
veil their beauty more jealously than Turkish wo-
men, while in other respects they seem to take a far
more active share in the affairs of life, and to enjoy
a considerable amount of independence. On the
other hand, divorce consists in the simple formality
of a man saying to his wife that she had better go
back to her mother. After this has been repeated
three times, she has nothing for it but to return to the
bosom of her family a custom which it is evident
must serve as a wholesome check upon mothers-in-
law. Considering the great facility of the operation,
it is much to the credit of the Druses that divorce
among them is not so common as it would be if they
were English, and had to apply to a judge for it.

In the eyes of our venerable hostess and her two
sons our visit seemed quite an auspicious event : it
had served as a sort of signal for the appearance of
the long-wished-for son and heir. In consequence of
the confidence with which I had proposed his health
the night before, I think I was suspected of having
exercised some sort of occult influence, and enjoyed
a corresponding amount of consideration. At all
events, I had the privilege of seeing not only the
old lady and heaping upon her my congratulations,
but a young married daughter, who was dressed in



European costume, and whose veil was not too thick
or jealously worn to conceal her fair features.

I tried, later on in the day, to get my friend the
spiritual chief into a quiet corner, and converse with
him on the subject of his religion. But I found the
one task as hopeless as the other. The noise pene-
trated everywhere, but the holy man was impene-
trable, and skilfully evaded all approach to the
mysterious topic, so I was forced to have recourse
to other sources of information ; and I am chiefly
indebted to Dr Wortabet of Beyrout, who formed
one of our party to Mukhtara, to Captain Phibbs,
and to Mr Chirol, with whom I afterwards travelled
in the country of the Maronites, for the particulars

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 24 of 35)