Laurence Oliphant.

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

. (page 26 of 35)
Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 26 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as they call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were
manifestations of the remaining four Ministers of
Truth viz., the Soul, the Word, the Preceder, and
the Succeeder. These, after the " Mind," are the
noblest of all created beings. During the period of
creation, they were spiritual causes ; during the period
of the nomothetical religions, they were allegorical
teachers ; during the divine manifestations, they
were religious ministers ; and at the resurrection,
they will be truthful witnesses. The particulars of
this latter period, according to Dr Wortabet, are the
followinof :

"It will be ushered in by war between the Mo-
hammedans and Franks or Christians, in which the
^ Catechism appended to the book called ' Course of Time.'


former will attempt to or actually burn the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The Christians
will then seek the help of the king of the Abyssinians,
who will then be an incarnation of the Antagonist
(or Antichrist), and, in retaliation, march against the
Caaba In Mecca. The Mohammedans, to protect
the place, will also march to that city, and then,
while both the belligerent armies are preparing for
a great conflict, sudden news will be brought to
them of a mighty army coming from the East
against them. This new army will be under the
command of the Universal Mind (or the true Christ),
and will consist of two millions and five hundred
thousand of Chinese Unitarians, divided Into five
divisions, commanded severally by the four minis-
ters viz., Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Hamza.
The only course left to the Christians and Moham-
medans will be to give up the war among them-
selves, and unitedly to surrender to this new and
invincible king. Their kings and princes will there-
fore carry rich presents, and advance uncovered to
the approaching army. Passing the four divisions
and their four commanders (Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John), they will come up to the division which
forms the rear, and which is commanded by Hamza,
the Universal Mind (or true Christ). On drawing
near to him they will fall prostrate on the ground, and
pray that their presents may be graciously received,
and they clemently treated. Their presents will be


received, and they will be commanded to walk before
him to Mecca. Their arrival at that place will be
on Wednesday, the eighth day of the Mohammedan
month, Ze el Hadj. The next day will be the day
of judgment ; and Friday, which, according to Islamic
reckoning, will be the day of sacrifice, will be the
time appointed for the massacre of the infidels. On
Thursday morning, at sunrise. El Hakim will appear
in the human form which he had assumed at the
last manifestation in Egypt, and, mounted on his
white ass, will take his place on the top of the
temple El Caaba, carrying a drawn sword of gold.
With a loud and terrific voice he will recount the
number of his manifestations in the human form, the
numberless proclamations which issued by his com-
mand, touching his unity and the duty of all to wor-
ship him, and the obstinate rejection of them by the
infidels. By his command thunders and tornadoes
from heaven will descend and demolish the Caaba,
and raze its very foundations. The five ministers
will then sit in judgment on thrones of gold, studded
with the most costly gems, under canopies of the
richest silks, bespangled with rubies and pearls.
The believers will be graciously received, their sins
will be overlooked, and rich presents of clothes,
weapons, and horses will be given them. The king
of the Abyssinians will be bound by a chain, and
carried about the world, until he reach a certain
place, where his head will be cut off in a basin of


gold. At the same time, the beHevers under the
four inferior ministers will travel all over the world,
killing the infidels, destroying their governments,
plundering their treasures and riches. This is the

The dates from which the Druses predict the near
approach of this important crisis in the world's his-
tory are the following : They reckon nine centuries
as the time which shall intervene between the last
divine manifestation and the day of judgment, and
they say, as the woman with child is delivered in the
ninth month, so in the ninth century after the incar-
nation of El Hakim must these things come to pass.
Another sign which is recorded in their sacred books
is, that the F' ranks, or Christians, shall outgrow the
Mohammedans in strength, and shall prevail over
them ; and when the superiority of the former shall
become evident from the facts and events of history,
the end will be near. Now, if it is recollected that
w^e are approaching the end of the ninth century
since the last manifestation of Hakim in the year
A.D. loio, and that the late collision between Chris-
tendom and Islam has culminated in a war which
threatens the Turkish empire with dissolution, and
the disastrous consequences of which on Islam gen-
erally have yet to be developed, it will be easy to
imagine the intense degree of expectation raised by
these events in the minds of the Druse nation. The
invading wave of Christian influence rolling over the


European provinces of Turkey is already felt in the
eastern portion of the Sultan's dominions. It has
swept over the Khanates of Central Asia, until it
has broken upon the colossal empire of the far
East, upon which are centred the hopes of the
Druses. Now that Russia has come into collision
with China, and we may hear any day of Chinese
legions swarming over the extended and imperfectly
defended frontiers of Southern Siberia, the predic-
tions of the sacred Druse books seem to them in a
fair way of fulfilment, and the Druses are eagerly wait-
ing for an Armageddon in which they believe them-
selves destined to take a prominent part.^ They do
not, however, arrogate to the Chinese and themselves
the exclusive monopoly of their religion, or the bene-
fits that are to flow from it, but hold that large num-
bers of true believers are disguised by professing
false religions in all the kingdoms of the world. At
one time they supposed, from the friendly attitude
which British officials held towards them, that the
whole British nation were Druses ; and if they have
now given up this hope, they still retain the idea
that a considerable body of believers exists among
them, who are represented chiefly by the sect known
in England as Unitarians. In consequence of this,
the whole British nation will enjoy the special favour

1 Two or three Druse villages in Carmel lie about twelve miles dis-
tant from Megiddo, which some suppose to be the Armageddon of the


of Hakim. Christianity generally they regard as the
religion of the Antagonist, or as being the inversion,
under a specious garb, of true Christianity in other
words, as Antichrist.

When a Druse desires to be initiated into his
religion, he is required to bind himself solemnly by

the following covenant : " I, , the son of ,

in sound reason, and with my full consent and pref-
erence, do now absolve myself from all sects and
religions which contradict the religion of our Lord
El Hakim of infinite power, and do acknowledge
that there is no adored God in heaven, or existing
Lord on earth, except our Lord El Hakim (may his
name be praised !). I do give up myself, soul and
body, unto him, and undertake to submit to all his
orders, and to know nothing but the obedience of
our Lord, who appeared in Egypt in the human
form. I shall render the homage due to him, and
to none else, whether past, present, or expected. I
submit to whatever he sees fit to decree respecting
me. I shall keep the secrets of my religion, and
speak of them to none but Unitarians. If I ever
forsake the religion of our Lord, or disobey any of
his commands, may I be absolved from the adored
Creator, and cut off from the privileges of the minis-
ters ; and I shall justly deserve immediate punish-
ment." The rite of induction is performed by the
Ukkul, when they simply place the books of wisdom
into his hands. The performance of holy ceremonies


of this nature, and the secret religious meetings of
the Ukkul, are held every Thursday evening (accord-
ing to Eastern computation, Friday) in small, square,
domed buildings, which may be seen plentifully scat-
tered over the hillsides. These are called kkalwets,
and will accommodate at most thirty or forty per-
sons. To these stances women are admitted, accord-
ing to the injunction of Hamza, who says, " You
should, moreover, instruct your sisters in the faith,
but let them be secluded by a partition, and let them
not lift up their voices." Nevertheless it is said that
many Druse women are very learned, and it is cer-
tain that they are not uncommonly very devout, and
that the teaching of their religion has a very marked
influence not merely in the development of their in-
telligence, but in the propriety of their lives. The
following is a specimen of a Druse prayer :

" Praise to thee, O Thou whose grace is invisible !
Praise to thee, O Thou who hast the best names !
Praise to thee, O Thou whose greatness is inim-
itable ! I pray thee, O God, the most generous of
hearers, through the five [ministers] and through
the three [ministers] who submitted themselves to
Thee, to grant me purity of heart, prayer in my
tongue, pardon to my end, a sufficiency of righteous
provision, and a translation to a pure and holy taber-
nacle not to the tabernacle of a wretched infidel.
I pray not for a reversal of Thy decrees, but that
grace may accompany them. O Thou whose com-

2 c


mands none can put away, and whose decrees none
can frustrate, Thou art the High, and Thou art the
Great ! " In these khalweis they also chant epic
poems. There was one just under the house at
which we stayed at Ain Anub on a Thursday even-
ing, and at nightfall I watched for the flicker of a
light, and listened for the strains of a hymn for
they sing a millennial anthem, chanting the advent
of Hakim and his armies from China, and their
triumph over Moslem and Christian unbelievers ;
but though it was the night of their meeting, neither
light nor sound issued from the mysterious little

Here also they discuss politics and the interests
of the nation. They have secret signs of recogni-
tion, and are in fact organised as a powerful political
as well as secret society. In order to provide for
a universal union of sentiment and action, two or
three distinguished khalwets, which have constant
communication between each other, take the lead
by common consent. Of these the principal are the
one near Hasbeya, one in the Jebel Druse, and one
at Baaklin, the village near which we had passed on
our way to Mukhtara. From them information and
orders are issued to the minor khalweis, and from
them the news is spread to the local meetings of
every village. This order of proceeding is so well
kept up, that in time of war there is a general secret
understanding pervading the whole community, from


which a series of acts ensue that are sanctioned by
the highest dignitaries of the Druses, and which form
an integral part of the general policy adopted by
them. This organisation they have already once
turned to formidable account, and it may be that
they are yet destined to play an important part in
the destinies of the country. As brave as they are
subtle, skilled in the use of firearms, with a spirit of
independence which has never brooked oppression,
and which the Turkish Government has sought
rather to cajole than to control, loyal to their friends
and merciless to their foes, nothing but their inferi-
ority in point of numbers has prevented them from
exercising a supreme influence in Syria.

The Druses never engage in trade as a sole
means of livelihood, but always have more or less
landed property, which they cultivate, and from
which they derive their living. The money which
they get in exchange for goods, when they have
reason to apprehend it was obtained in some im-
proper way, they always exchange with some Chris-
tian or Jew. During the whole period of their
existence as an independent nation or sect, ex-
tending over an epoch of nearly a thousand years,
the Druses have only produced one man of real
celebrity. This was the Emir Fakr-ed-din, who
ruled over the Lebanon in the early part of the
seventeenth century. This remarkable man an-
nexed Beyrout and Sidon, threatened Damascus,


and extended his sway as far as the Lake of
Tiberias and Mount Carmel, where the Druse vil-
lages, which I visited, still exist. He was finally-
captured by the Turks near Jezzin, brought to Con-
stantinople, and decapitated. Another very singular
personality among the Druses was a princess of the
house of Ruslan, who last century governed most
successfully a part of the Lebanon. She heard and
judged cases, sitting behind a curtain, and her deci-
sions gave great satisfaction. This circumstance
furnishes a striking illustration of the exceptional
position which women occupy among the Druses,
of which I had personal evidence in the deference
paid to the mother of my hosts.

In physique the Druses have nothing in common
with the Bedouin Arabs, from whom they are sup-
posed by some to be descended ; while others, with
far more reason so far as their stature is concerned,
consider them to be the modern representatives of
the ancient house of Amalek. Polygamy does not
exist among them ; and as I have before remarked,
they are exceedingly jealous and strict in their rela-
tions with w^omen. It is doubtless owing to the fact
that Druses do not indulge in a plurality of wives,
that woman exercises so much more influence in
the family than in polygamous countries. Although
so carefully veiled, there are no harems in the Turk-
ish sense, and the windows of my bedroom opened
on a yard surrounded by kitchens and offices always


crowded with busy, active, and talkative women,
doubly fussy in consequence of the important event
which had taken place, and evidently controlling
matters to their hearts' content. I could even pass
through the midst of them without causing that con-
sternation and general stampede which would have
been the case had they been Turkish women. In
my walks abroad this was still more strikingly the
case : instead of that shrinking, cringing manner
which the Moslem female thinks fit to exhibit in
the presence of a stranger of the other sex who
in fact feels guilty of an impropriety if he dares so
much as to address her the Druse woman boldly
talks to him from behind her veil, daringly, and yet
not immodestly "fixing" him with her one eye, and
evidently much too proud to be a victim to bash-
fulness or timidity. Strolling alone through the vil-
lage in the afternoon, to get away from the noise
and see a little of the surrounding country, I came
upon many groups of females, all in holiday attire,
talking and laughing merrily, who, when they saw
me, gave a scream of welcome, and then in most
winning tones showered blessings upon my country
and myself. Now and then one would come for-
ward and present a rosebud, so that I had quite a little
bouquet before I had gone very far. They seemed
far more anxious to conceal their faces than the upper
part of their persons, which the peculiar cut of their
costume somewhat lavishly displayed. I soon got


clear of the houses and followed a steep path down
to a roaring brook, embowered in foliage, which,
later in the day, I ascended to a most enchanting
spot, where it tumbled over the rocks from a height
of some thirty feet into a cool grotto, which I found
was a favourite picnic resort of the Jumbeldts, and
where a clear pool formed a tempting bath. Climb-
ing up the steep hill on the other side, amid magni-
ficent chestnut-trees, I came to a spot from which
there was a good view of the palace, with its tall
cypress and chestnut trees standing boldly out on
the shoulder of the hill, and I sat down to sketch
it, but was soon surrounded by a group of villagers
returning from the fete, who would not hear of my
going back until I had paid a visit to their village,
which turned out to be nearly an hour distant. I
was amply repaid, however, by the extreme beauty
of the walk, and the hospitality of the reception
which I received. They took me to the house of
the old sheikh, who was very ill, and, I fear, will
never rise from the bed upon which he nevertheless
insisted upon receiving me. Here I was regaled
with coffee and lemonade, the room soon becom-
ing full of guests ; and we made the most laugh-
able struggles to understand each other, the eternal
friendship of the English and the Druses being the
theme upon which our conversation centred, for
any attempt to get much beyond compliments and
expressions of mutual admiration ended in confusion.


Here, too, the women came to the doors, and both
they and their hubands insisted that I should keep
on paying visits, which, as it would have involved
an endless absorption of coffee, I was obliged to
decline ; but I went up to the flat roof of the highest
house and revelled in the glorious prospect. This
was the village of Ain Matur, celebrated, as I after-
wards heard, for the turbulence and independence
of its inhabitants. On more than one occasion, it
would seem, they had acquired an unenviable noto-
riety. But I can only speak of them as I found
them; and if I experienced at last some difficulty
in making my escape, it was from nothing more
dangerous than hospitality.

Altogether, Mukhtara and its neighbourhood pos-
sessed so much fascination, that it was with regret I
found myself unable to accept the invitation of my kind
hosts, and prolong my stay over another day. I was
obliged to leave the rest of the party here, and push
on by myself to Damascus. The route I proposed
to take was one very little traversed, and it was neces-
sary to find a guide in the village who knew it. I can
imagine no more delightful headquarters for excur-
sions than Mukhtara. Not only does the scenery
possess a special charm of its own, but ruins, all of
more or less antiquarian interest, are scattered over
the country ; and the remains of ancient art lie buried
among the beauties of nature.

Our last evening was spent in comparative calm.


The villagers, exhausted with their exertions, had
gone home ; the young mother and child were doing
well, in spite of all they had gone through ; and
considering how little rest we had any of us en-
joyed for the last thirty-six hours, there was a general
disposition to retire early. As I intended to start
before my hosts were up, I took a cordial leave of
them, and not long after sunrise on the following
morning found myself alone en route, with Mukhtara,
now silent, behind me, and before me the towering
peaks of the Lebanon, across which lay my day's






The first part of the road from Mukhtara to Damas-
cus is little better than a staircase. The faculty of
climbing, which is inherent in Lebanon ponies, en-
ables them to overcome difficulties that would seem
insurmountable in civilised countries ; and although
it was often necessary to dismount and drive my
pony before me, he scrambled up the steep moun-
tain-side like a goat, too well pleased to be rid of
his burden to make any objections to the path he
was called upon to travel. Even up here, amid
overhanging rocks, and on the precipitous hillsides,
every inch of available ground was cultivated, chiefly
with vines. These are neither trellised nor dwarfed
into standard bushes, but trailed over the rocks : the
grapes are thus kept out of what little soil there is,
and ripened by the heat of the stone.


This cultivation extended for about an hour, and
ceased at the village of Khorabeh, the highest in-
habited spot in the valley, and the limit of cultiva-
tion. Here I found some traces of ancient ruins,
the remains of walls composed of huge blocks of
stone, some arches still standing, and all the indi-
cations of what may have been, in the time of the
Crusaders, or possibly before that time, a frontier
fort. We still had some more climbing to do before
making a sharp descent into a wild, desolate valley ;
and then we found ourselves at the foot of the high-
est range of the Lebanon.

It was a long, dreary pull up the steep mountain-
side, with nothing to relieve the fatigue except the
views back over the country I had left. All around
was bleak and barren : the path was so little tra-
versed that it was a mere track ; and I did not meet
a soul after leaving Khorabeh till I reached the first
village, at the foot of the mountain on the other
side. At the summit of the pass, which I estimated
at about 6000 feet above the level of the sea, I
crossed a patch of snow, and then, with a last look
westwards, eagerly pressed on to the view which I
knew was awaiting me in the opposite direction.

The last few minutes before reaching the crest of
a high mountain-range when one has no idea of
what is to be seen beyond is always a period of
most agreeable suspense and anticipation ; and when
the glorious panorama unfolds, and the extensive


landscape bursts upon one in all its novelty and
beauty, how amply does it compensate for the mon-
otony and fatigue of the ascent! From the point
where I was then standing, Coelesyria lay mapped
out at my feet. To the right, the snowy peaks of
Mount Hermon closed the prospect ; and from its
shoulder, stretching away northward, was the range
of the Anti-Lebanon. Immediately below, the plain
of the Buka'a, dotted with villages, and watered by
the Litany, gradually tapered to the gorge by which
that river forces its way to the sea, through the
Lebanon range, while it spread out, in all its rich
luxuriance, in the opposite direction, as far as Baal-
bec, fifty miles distant. Map in hand, I could re-
cognise every village, and stood no longer in need
of a guide, although I kept him with me for my
night quarters, though still distant, were almost vis-
ible. Then we plunged down the precipitous de-
scent, and once more found ourselves in the midst
of an abundant vegetation and a busy population.
Travellers by the main road to Damascus and
Baalbec are so familiar with the Buka'a that I will
spare them a description of it, though I descended
upon it by a little-known route, and entered it to the
south of the tourist's track.

After a delightful plunge In the turbid waters of
the Litany for the heat of the valley after the
snow-tipped ridge struck so sharp a contrast that
a bath was doubly grateful I pushed on into the


spurs of the Anti-Lebanon, reaching, a little before
dark, the Christian village of Aithi, where I had
some difficulty in finding accommodation. It was
an inhospitable, uninviting place ; and in this re-
spect contrasted most unfavourably with the Druse
quarters I had just left. The people first stared at
me, and then quarrelled over me, the dispute being,
so far as I could gather, who should not have the
honour of entertaining me as a guest. After one or
two vain attempts had been made to induce me to
accept accommodation which an Irish pig would
have scorned, I finally found my way to the best-
looking house in the village, which turned out to be
the sheikh's. As that dignitary was absent, I was
somewhat coldly regarded by the female part of his
establishment, who, however, at last consented to
put me up, on the distinct understanding that I was
not to turn them out of the only decent room in the
house, but share it with them. This prospect was
by no means tempting, considering the operation
which one fat woman was performing upon the head
of another, the generally " insecty " look of the place,
and the number of babies which were promiscuously
lying about and squalling when they were not en-
gaged in sustaining nature. So I wandered about
helplessly, making vain attempts to force myself

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 26 of 35)