Laurence Oliphant.

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

. (page 5 of 35)
Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 5 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and blows are all that a girl receives from her father
and brothers ; and this treatment continues till she
is sought for as a wife, when she is sold for a sum
varying from five to fifty pounds. No religious ser-
vice takes place at marriage. The purchase-money
having been paid, the bride is brought to the bride-



40 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

groom's house by her family and friends. He with
his friends await her approach, and mounting the
roof of the house as the bride enters the doorway, he
strikes her two blows, one on the right side, and
the other on the left, as a foretaste of what she is
to expect if disobedient, and as a proof of her being
under his subjection.

If the marriage takes place among the peasants, a
tenth of the money paid by the bridegroom goes to
the chief or Mukkadam of the district : even should
the marriage take place at a distance, the money has
still to be paid to the Mukkadam of the district
where the bride was born. No woman can inherit
anything in the way of land, money, or goods on
the death of her husband or any relative. She is
looked upon merely as a means of production, and
for service in the house. It is not lawful to instruct
her in religion, excepting in one short prayer, the
words of which convey no meaning : for the An-
sariyeh say that woman is of the seed of Satan the
accursed, the enemy of God, and to reveal to her the
secret of their faith would be the same as to reveal it
to Satan ; and any man among them who attempts
to instruct a woman is considered an arch-enemy
and opponent of the Almighty.

Burial takes place immediately on decease, at times
even before the body has ceased to breathe. Bread
is then broken and eaten over the new-made grave ;
and seven days afterwards, the nearest relation of the



* ANSARIYEH CUSTOMS. 4I

deceased has to provide a feast for all comers. If
too poor, his relatives and neighbours assist with
provisions, and much firing of guns and beating of
drums goes on. As the soul is supposed to leave
the body by the mouth, that is kept open with great
care ; and in case of criminals in the hands of the
authorities, sentenced to be hung, their friends have
been known to beg as a great favour that they might
be impaled instead.

In the event of lawsuits, they never appeal to the
Government, but invariably settle them among them-
selves an appeal to the Mukkadam or chief being
final ; but that being costly, they prefer calling in
arbitrators among themselves.

The Ansariyeh are lazy and talkative, excepting
about matters concerning their faith, indiscretion in
regard to which they visit with severe punishment
as in the case of Soloman the Adanite, author of the
work on their religion, after he became a Protestant,
who, having imprudently ventured to return to the
neighbourhood of his own town, Adana, speedily
came to an untimely end.

Every sort of subterfuge is resorted to by the
Ansariyeh to avoid the conscription, in which they
in a great measure succeed, through bribes given to
the returning officer.

In their own mountains, the different tribes and
villages are constantly fighting among themselves ;
and these quarrels involve a great destruction of



42 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

crops and other property, thus increasing the gen-
eral misery and poverty which characterise the race.
Their total number is estimated at 200,000 souls.

It is worthy of notice that, in the year a.d. 1128,
the castle and town of Banias, and the surrounding
country, fell into the hands of the Jcindred sect of
Ismailians or Assassins, as the Ansariyeh are often
also called, and became the centre of their power in
Syria, until they transferred it, twelve years later, to
Massiat. At this time they entered into an alliance
with the Crusaders, under Rainier de Brus, for the
capture of Damascus, during which Ismail, the Grand
Prior of the Assassins, handed the castle of Banias
over to the Christian knight retaking it three years
later, however, when Rainier de Brus with his sol-
diery lay before Joppa with the King of Jerusalem.
What amount of fusion existed at that date between
the Ismailians and the Ansariyeh it is difficult to
determine, but it is a singular circumstance that,
according to the tradition which we received from
the sheikh of Ain Fit, they had occupied these vil-
lages 800 years ; and it is not, therefore, impossible
that they were the remnant of the Assassins with
whom Rainier de Brus made the unholy compact
which resulted in such dire disaster to the Crusaders,
on the occasion of their attempt to capture Damascus.

One of the other Ansariyeh villages was quite
close to Ain Fit, perched just above It, and both
were surrounded by fairly cultivated fields and gar-



RUINS OF SUBEIBEH. 43

dens. As we ascended above them, we found our-
selves amongst scrub oak, and looked back over the
plain of the Huleh, with the village of Banias at our
feet, and the majestic ruins of the huge old castle of
Subeibeh crowning a conical hill. Originally, doubt-
less, a stronghold of the Phoenicians, it became in turn
a fortress of the Ismailians and the Crusaders, and is
the most massive and complete ruin of the kind in
Syria. Above all towered snow-clad Hermon. Be-
yond the Huleh, the mountains of Galilee closed the
prospect, with Jebel Jermak in the distance. The
ruins of the crusading castle of Hunin were visible
on the opposing ridge, and away to the right the
fortress of Belfort reared its lofty walls on the cliff
above the Litany. In old days it was said that who-
ever held the castles of Banias, Hunin, Belfort, and
Tibnin, was master of the whole country. From our
present position Tibnin was the only one not visible ;
but it was easy to see how completely the fertile
plains at our feet were at the mercy of the garrisons
of these formidable strongholds, and how difficult
they would be of invasion by a foreign enemy.
There were traces of an old Roman road which
must have connected Banias or, as it was then
called, Paneas with the cities of the Jaulanitis, the
district we were now entering ; and I observed sev-
eral old cisterns of considerable size, some of the
masonry of which was still intact.

At last we reached the summit of the ridge, where



44 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

the woods of Valonia oak gave way to grassy plains ;
and in the distance, not far to the right, we observed
the principal encampment of the Fudl Arabs an
important tribe, numbering 2000 fighting men, who
make these their grazing-grounds, and are celebrated
for their prowess in war. We were now at an
elevation of about 3000 feet above the level of the
sea, and on our right was a range of conical basaltic
peaks averaging from 500 to 1000 feet in height,
running in a due north and south direction, and
known as the Jebel Hesh. Some of these are
wooded on their western slopes with prickly oak and
terebinth, and others are high conical grassy mounds.
Altogether, the country presented an entirely dif-
ferent character from that to the west of the Jordan.
At some distance on our left were the lower spurs
of Hermon, which finally flatten out into this elevat-
ed grass plateau. With the exception of the Arab
encampment, we saw no people or habitations for
about four hours after leaving the Ansariyeh village ;
then we came upon a number of camels grazing,
with camel-cloths to protect them from the cold, and
looking altogether very different animals from the
miserable specimens we had seen at Nabatiyeh, the
half-starved property of the Metawaly. The herds-
man in charge of these told us that we were close
to a settlement of Circassian emigrants ; and shortly
after, we found ourselves in the midst of a scene of
an altogether novel character. About 300 Circassians



CIRCASSIAN COLONISTS. 45

were busily engaged in the first stage of building a
village for themselves. They had chosen a site which
had evidently been that of a town at some former
time, for large square blocks of stone were abundant.
Those who had not succeeded in getting a roof over
their heads were temporarily sheltered by roughly
improvised tents, and all were hard at work making
a new home for themselves. They were a fraction of
a large importation from Bulgaria, now at Kuneitereh,
and most of them came from the neighbourhood of
Widdin. In fact, it is not improbable that many of
them took some share in the "atrocities." They
were quite amiable so far as we were concerned, but
were too busy to bestow very much attention upon us,
and their residence in Bulgaria had accustomed them
to the sight of specimens of Western civilisation, so
that we were no novelty. The women and children
were hoeing and weeding in the newly-made gardens.
The men were either hauling stone in creaking arabas
drawn by bullocks a sight which must have been
altogether new to the neighbouring Bedouins, who
had never seen a wheeled vehicle in their lives or
were building the walls of the houses. They were
under the management of a chief, who was too busily
engaged in a discussion with an Arab to honour us
with much of his notice, so we sat under a half- built
wall to discuss our luncheon, and look on at this
interesting experiment in colonisation.

We rode for an hour more over the vast plain



46 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

before we arrived at Kuneitereh, and were passed
on the way by a most picturesque Bedouin sheikh
with poised lance, and kttfeiheh streaming in the
wind, as he urged his thorough-bred Httle Arab to
his full speed. He was bound to our destination,
and we pulled up shortly after him at the door of
the massive stone building which formed the resi-
dence of the Caimakam ; for Kuneitereh, though a
wretched collection of stone huts, is the chef lieu of a
district, and derived additional importance from the
Circassian immigration, of which it was the head-
quarters. It stands in the centre of a grassy plain
or steppe, on which no trees are visible, but which is
sufficiently well watered to be capable of sustaining
a large population. Burckhardt describes Kunei-
tereh in his day as being surrounded by a strong
wall, containing within its circuit a good khan and a
fine mosque, with several short columns of grey
granite. Within the last sixty years the wall, the
khan, and the mosque have all disappeared, and the
place has been abandoned until a few months before
our arrival, when 3000 Circassians arrived to people
it. On the north side of the village are the remains
of an ancient city perhaps Canatha but the ruins
consist of little more than foundations. The Caima-
kam's house had been recently built, and contained
all the Government offices, such as they were. The
lower storey was inhabited by horses and Circas-
sians, who all camped together in one spacious sort



KUNEITEREH. 47

of cellar. The upper was approached from without
by a flight of stone steps, leading to a terrace, upon
which opened the various rooms. These were dark
and dirty, and innocent of any furniture excepting
mats and quilts, with now and then a very untempt-
ing bed. The Caimakam was a small, sinister-look-
ing Turk, rather of the old school ; but he received
us with great cordiality, and insisted upon our taking
the seats of honour by his side while he presided
over the Medjliss which was sitting at the time.
The occasion was a most interesting one, and I was
glad of the opportunity of seeing the administra-
tive system in operation under such peculiar circum-
stances. Occupying by virtue of his rank the highest
place, was the celebrated chief Hassan Faour, Emir
of the Fudl, a very handsome man of between fifty
and sixty years of age, with a Jewish type of coun-
tenance, and great dignity of manner. Next to him
came the Sheikh Mousa, the chief of a tribe of Tur-
coman Arabs who have found their way, at some
former period, from their Eastern home, probably in
the neighbourhood of the Caspian, to the eastern
bank of the Jordan. I was sorry I had no oppor-
tunity of finding out from the sheikh something of
the history of his tribe. He was a man with a very
intelligent expression of countenance, and delicate
and pleasing features, and rules over a thousand
fighting men. Though he spoke Arabic, the tribe
retains its own dialect of Turkish. Then came in,



48 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

with no small swagger, the Arab who had galloped
past us half an hour before, and who turned out to
be no less a person than Sheikh Awad al Ahmed,
the sheikh of the Naim, the most celebrated among
all the Arabs of this region for his valour in the field,
and who rules over 4000 fighting men. There were
two or three other Arab chiefs of minor importance,
and opposite to them on our other side sat a group
of Druses with their sheikh, who came from the
village of Mejdel es Shems to protest to the local
Medjliss against a requisition of charcoal which had
been levied upon the Druse population of Mejdel es
Shems by the governor or Mutessarif of the pro-
vince, resident at Sheikh Sa'ad. There seemed to be
a good deal of sympathy manifested with the Druses,
but politeness did not warrant our staying to the
end of the discussion, so I don't know how it ter-
minated ; (but the fact that three or four Arab chiefs
should leave their tents to come and take part in a
council presided over by a Turkish official, to en-
tertain a grievance of Druse peasantry against the
governor of the province, was significant in many
ways. It is a distinct Indication of a sedentary ten-
dency on the part of the Arabs, and of their re-
cognition of the advantages of a settled system of
government. It is evident that when the chiefs of
the tribes become members of the local councils for
administering the country, they are to a great extent
pledged to good behaviour, while it must add very



THE CIRCASSIAN COLONISTS. 49

considerably to their sense of personal importance to
exercise functions which invest them with the char-
acter of referees or arbitrators in matters of dispute
between the governor of a province and the Druses.
They regarded us with an interest which we fully
returned, and made sundry little complimentary
speeches during pauses in the discussion. Then,
under the guidance of the Caimakam's secretary,
we went off to inspect our sleeping accommodation,
which turned out to be none other than the bedroom
of that functionary himself, which he vacated for us.
The day was yet young, so we went out to in-
vestigate the village and its Circassian occupants,
for there was no native population apart from these.
We paid a visit to Ismail Agha, their head man, and
found him a most pleasing and intelligent person.
When he found that I had not only been in Circassia,
but actually knew his native valley, he became quite
demonstrative in his expressions of goodwill, and I
only regretted that my Turkish was so limited that
the interchange of ideas was attended with difficulty.
He had been six years a prisoner with the Russians,
and spoke Russian fluently. He also spoke Turkish,
Circassian of course, and a little Arabic. He de-
lighted to talk of his native mountains, but spoke
sadly of his expatriation and the fate of his country-
men, allowed no rest, but ejected in a wholesale
manner, first from Russia to European Turkey, and
now from Bulgaria to Syria. The Circassians have

D



50 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

such an evil reputation, that to undertake their de-
fence, even with the Turks, is an ungrateful task ;
but I know few races who possess such noble quali-
ties, though they have been subjected to experiences
which have tried them beyond their power of endur-
ance. It is probable, if a few Highland clans had
been dotted about the southern counties of England
a hundred and fifty years ago, and told to provide
for themselves, that their former habits of life, com-
bined with the absence of any sufficient means of
subsistence provided for them by Government, would
have resulted in their taking what did not belong to
them.

The chronic condition of warfare in which the
Circassians had always lived, engaged in a lifelong
struggle for independence against an overpowering
enemy, developed in them sanguinary instincts, to
which, in fact, they owe their successful resistance
during so many years ; while the methods by which
the Russians conducted the war were precisely those
which they were themselves accused of using in
Bulgaria. The severity of the order of the Russian
general commanding in Circassia, immediately prior to
the Crimean war, is matter of history; and the people
could not therefore know the extent to which they
were outraging civilised instincts by following the
example of their Christian enemies. There can be
no doubt that the exasperation following their con-
quest and expatriation, their extreme poverty and



THE CIRCASSIAN COLONISTS. 5 1

distress, and the close contact Into which they
were brought in Bulgaria with people of the same
race and religion as their hated and traditional foes,
proved a combination of influences more powerful
than a high-spirited and almost totally uncivilised
people could resist; but they are capable of the
strongest personal attachments, and of the most
generous and chivalrous instincts. If their ideas
as to the value of life and the sacredness of pro-
perty differ in degree from those of Europe, it is
not because by nature they are greater murderers
and plunderers than other people, but because they
have lived under circumstances which made mur-
der and robbery the necessary conditions to their
existence.

Ismael Agha said that there were altogether about
3000 Circassians in Kuneitereh and its vicinity, who,
although they had only been there a few months,
were already establishing themselves in comparative
comfort. They were grouped in seven villages, all
of which they had themselves built, and had brought
enough property with them to purchase a few cattle,
so that they were not in absolute want, though some
of them were very poor. The Government was
still supplying scantily the necessities of those who
needed it ; but it is evident that a Government whose
resources are not sufficient to buy food for its own
army, cannot do much to feed scores of thousands of
Circassian and Moslem refugees from all parts of



52 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

European Turkey. The chief expressed himself toler-
ably well satisfied with his new location. In the first
place, there were no neighbours, and there was there-
fore no temptation to plunder. In the whole district
of Jaulan, which, it is said, once contained three
hundred villages, only ten now remain, and these
afforded no great stimulus to predatory propensities ;
the others had all been abandoned in consequence
of Arab raids. The presence of the Circassians did
not, therefore, inspire the inhabitants, accustomed to
live in terror of the Arabs, with any additional feel-
ing of insecurity, but rather the contrary. The Cir-
cassians, being a sedentary people, and having pi'o-
perty to protect, might be expected to make common
cause with them against the Arabs. These latter
were, however, being rapidly reduced to order ; and,
indeed, the tribes most feared were not those inhabit-
ing the Jaulan, but those which made incursions into
this rich pastoral country from the eastern deserts.
As it is, this region could sustain ten times its pres-
ent population ; and in ancient days, when it con-
tained, according to Porter, 127 cities, the sites of
many of which still remain, the population must
have been comparatively dense. There should be
no reason therefore, why, if the Circassians are left
undisturbed, they should not prosper. Unfortu-
nately, they are so much more accustomed to fight
than to work, that some time will probably elapse
before they acquire habits of industry; while they



THE CIRCASSIAN COLONISTS. 53

Still, to a certain extent, regard their daughters as
a legitimate source of revenue. Neither parents
nor children have any objection to marriage or
servitude under these conditions ; and there can be
no doubt that the fact that they are always able to
dispose of their children to wealthy Turks, has pro-
vided them with a means of averting the pressure
of famine by reducing their families, and obtaining
money for those who were left. At the same time,
it is a great question whether, considering the diffi-
culties with which they have to contend, their natural
improvidence and idleness, and the great dispropor-
tion of male to female children, in consequence of
the sale of the latter, the race is likely to exist much
longer as a distinct people.

We wandered afterwards through the village, con-
sisting of about a hundred small stone huts ; and
everywhere the Circassians whom we met seemed
kindly disposed, and ever ready to gossip. Even
though their costume was generally more or less
in rags, there is a chic about it which remained
among the tatters. Their bearing was as proud
and independent as if the magazines they carry on
their breasts were still supplied with ammunition
as if their girdles were still garnished with the hand-
some daggers of old, now long since sold for bread,
and the rifle with its hairy cover was still swinging
at their backs. Their small feet, once cased in the
neatest of red leather buskins, were now often bare.



54 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

and their head-gear improvised ; but none would
ever condescend to wear the red fez. Yet, with all
this, their swagger was undiminished. Their fair
complexions, blue eyes, and red beards, seemed to
establish a sort of kinship with our own race ; and
in the manly and somewhat defiant expression of
their handsome faces, it was impossible not to feel
that there was something sympathetic.

We had a discussion afterwards with the Caima-
kam's secretary as to the relative prowess in war of
Druses, Circassians, and Bedouins. He gave the
palm decidedly to the latter, and placed the Circas-
sians last. I should have thought that between
Druses and Circassians it would have been hard to
choose, but that either race would prove more than
a match for the same number of Bedouins. I am
aware that Circassians do not, as a rule, distinguish
themselves as an irregular force attached to a regular
army, and my own personal observations during a
campaign with the Turkish army in the Caucasus
in 1855 were entirely to this effect; but they are
under no discipline, and are never supplied with
rations. They naturally, under these circumstances,
do not think of anything but plunder, and they trust
to the army to do the fighting, in which, when their
own homesteads are not in question, they do not feel
especially interested. But they have performed feats
of valour in the guerilla warfare of their own moun-
tains which equal anything in the history of the
Highlands of Scotland or of the Alps.



55



CHAPTER III.

JAULAN JEDUR THE LEJAH ITS IMPREGNABILITY AND STRA-
TEGICAL IMPORTANCE WE LOSE OUR WAY ASCENT OF TEL

EL FARIS MAGNIFICENT VIEW FIK, THE ANCIENT APHEK
AND HIPPOS THE COMING OF ANTICHRIST, AND END OF
THE WORLD, ACCORDING TO THE KORAN TSEIL THE MON-
ASTERY AND TOMB OF JOB THE LAND OF VZ THE WORSHIP
OF BAAL AND ASHERAH THE SITES OF ASHTAROTH AND
ASHTAROTH CARNAIM.

Jaulan takes its name from the Golan of Scripture
its chief city in early days in regard to which
we are informed that ** unto the children of Gershon,
of the families of the Levites, out of the other half
tribe of Manasseh, they gave Golan in Bashan with
her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer.'*
The site of the city has never been satisfactorily
identified : the district of which it was the centre
formed part of Perea, and belonged at the time of
Christ to the tetrarchy of Philip, the brother of
Herod. The remaining cities of Jaulan of which we
have any record were Hippos, Gamala, Bethsaida,
Seleucia, and Sogane. Of these, only Gamala and
Bethsaida have been identified. The province ex-
tends southwards as far as the Yarmuk or Sheriat



56 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

EI Mandur, the ancient Hieromax, and was one of
the old divisions of the land of Bashan, the other
three being Trachonitis, Auranitis, and Batanea.

Intervening between Jaulan and the volcanic re-
gion of Trachonitis, and running south - eastwards
from Kuneitereh and the eastern slopes of Hermon,
is the district of Jedur. It takes its name from
Jetur, the son of Ishmael, and was subsequently-
known as Ituraea. Standing on the terrace of the
Caimakam's house, we looked over the plains upon
which " the sons of Reuben, and the Gadltes, and
half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men
able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with
bow, and skilful in war, forty and four thousand



Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 5 of 35)