F. M. (Frederick Mercer) Hunter.

An account of the British settlement of Aden in Arabia online

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their hair in the middle, and twist it into a number of thin plaits.
On feast-days flowers are worn, and a Somali girl on these occasions
resembles the pantaloon of the Christmas pantomime.

The women wear a single garment like that of the men, but it is
put on differently, being fastened round the waist like a petticoat,
with a number of folds behind ; one end is then brought up across
the left or right shoulder, and a lappet is left, which can be brought
over the head like a hood. The breeze is apt to discompose this
drapery, and girls before marriage wear a piece of string round the
waist to prevent the upper portion of their robe from being occa-
sionally indecorous. Married women are not so particular. The
petticoat portion is open in front, and very frequently the leg is
exposed far above the knee.

For a description of the ornaments see under that head.

Jews. — Round the waist is fastened the kilt (fotah) so common

' See under ' Ornaments,' p. 58.

= For description of these see Travels of Burckhardt, Niebuhr, Welsted, and

" See Burton's First Footsteps in Eastern Africa for a more complete account of
the Somali dress. * Some wear crimson sheepskin wigs.


among the Arabs, with a striped border ; this garment is allowed to
reach nearly to the feet. On the upper part of the body a long shirt
(khamis) is worn next the skin, reaching over the kilt to the knees,
and made of white cotton ; over this goes a sort of small cotton
sheet (thalith), with a hole in it, through which the head passes,
leaving the two ends hanging down before and behind, as low as
the hips. Above this is sometimes worn a waistcoat (sidairiah),
generally of silk, and embroidered at the pockets and edges. Lastly,
over all comes a sort of robe or gabardine, made of cotton, reaching
to the knee. In the hand, or over the shoulder, is carried the
' mandll,' of cotton or light semi-transparent silk ; this garment is
usually 2\ yards long by i J broad ; at each end there is a fringe, and
at each of the four corners is sewed a piece of coloured silk, generally
green, about 3 inches square ; in the centre of this there is a sewed
eyelet, through which four silken cords pass, which are knotted at
the distance of the eyelet from the edge of the ' mandll,' and the eight
ends are allowed to droop 1 1 inches long. The ' mandll ' is worn
at Divine worship over the head like a veil, but not hiding the face.
During the time prayers are being repeated the four corners are
held in both hands by the pendent strings ; these are at the conclusion
of each supplication raised first to the right, and then to the left eye,
then kissed : this is done at least eight times. The head is shaved
every Friday, except two scanty curls, one on each side of the fore-
head, and a sort of skull-cap of Surat-work is worn. Sandals, similar
to those used by the Arabs, are put on when proceeding out of

Women wear trousers 1 (sarwal) of cotton or silk, tight at the
ankle. Next, a garment resembling a sleeveless shirt, which reaches
nearly to the ground, of some striped material. Round the head is
bound a ' masr ' or handkerchief of coloured cotton or silk, com-
pletely hiding the hair, which it is not respectable to allow to be
seen. Over this handkerchief is thrown a ' makramah,' or sort of
veil, similar to that worn by Arab women.

The Jews of Aden are not, as a rule, very cleanly in their habits,
only washing and changing their clothes once a week.

Other Races. — Indians and other races wear their national

Food. — It is only necessary here to notice the various articles of
food used by each class of the eastern portion of the population.

Europeans live as in India.

' Not invariably worn.

FOOD. 47

Arabs. — The better class of Arabs subsist on wheaten bread
(hand-made), ghee, honey, rice, and meat, rarely using fish and

The lower classes use bread made of jowaree, dates, fish, rice,
and a kind of soup made of 'maithee'^ seeds, called 'holbah;'
they rarely eat meat.

Negroes subsist on the same food as Arabs.

As a beverage the husks of the coffee-berry are decocted and
flavoured with ginger, and sometimes cardamoms. This coffee is
drunk night and day in considerable quantities, and there are a
number of coffee-shops in the Settlement where it is sold to all

The Arabs do not use any stimulants except tobacco and kit.^
Playfair, on the authority of an old Arab writer of the sixteenth
century, mentions that formerly a decoction of kat was used in Aden,
but was superseded by coffee about 1420-30.^ Some of the upper
classes use coffee made of the berry.

It is only those Arabs who have become debauched by contact
with Europeans who drink spirits ; drunkenness is not common
among them. Nearly all smoke and chew tobacco.

Somalis. — The food of Somalis resembles that of Arabs, but
they do not eat fish or ' holbah.' They prefer half-baked meat with
boiled rice, and use an immoderate amount of ghee. Animal food
and milk are -their favourite food when at home ; but meat is too
expensive in Aden to be frequently indulged in. Somalis drink
coffee made of husks, similar to the beverage used by the Arabs.
Many Somalis are addicted to the use of tobacco,* which they chew
in the form of a powder, but few smoke, and none ever drink any
kind of intoxicating liquor. An inebriated male Somali has, it is
believed, never been heard of, but Somali women who have taken
to prostitution drink freely.

Jews. — The people of this race live almost entirely on jowari,
bread, dates, and fish, the latter forming their principal article of
diet Jews do not drink much coffee; they are much addicted,
however, to strong waters, and themselves distil from dates a kind
of spirit,' of which they partake in large quantities. Many male

' Fenugreek.

' Catha Edulis (Forsk.) See p.-ige 139 for a description of this drug.

' Playfair's History of ycnuti, p. 2a

' Surat tobacco, made into a quid called ' takhztnali. '

' See Manufactures and Industries, Part III., p- Sj.


Jews have a very dissipated appearance, probably from the effects
of over-indulgence in spirituous liquors.

Indians. — The natives of India eat precisely the same kind of
food in Aden, when attainable, as they would if at home. Hindus
find considerable difficulty in obtaining a sufficiency of vegetables.

Domestic Ceremonies. — The domestic ceremonies observed by
the Arabs will be first noticed ; they consist of those practised on
the occasions of birth, circumcision, marriage, and death.

N.B. — The ceremonies hereafter described are those which take
place in ordinary middle-class families ; riches or poverty enhance
or curtail the expense and ceremony.

Birth. — On the birth of a child a goat is sacrificed near the
infant, and the flesh is distributed to delations and neighbours. On
the seventh night after birth the child receives its name, either from
the parents, or a Moolah, or a relation. The ' Idthan,' or summons
to prayer, is whispered in the infantile ears. Relatives and neigh-
bours are summoned, and an empty dish is placed in the centre of
the assemblage, into which each person present casts a coin,
generally a rupee ; this money is given to the accoucheuse who has
attended the mother. The guests are then regaled ; rose-water,
incense, and other scents are handed round, and the company dis-

Circumcision. — On the day of the ceremony, which usually
takes place about the seventh, tenth, or twentieth day after birth,
friends and relations are called together, and a barber performs the
operation, and apphes the usual remedies. A dish, as in marriages,
is placed in the centre of the room for gratuitous contributions,
which are on this occasion appropriated by the barber. After about
a week the parents give an entertainment to friends and relatives ;
a religious session is held at night, when hymns are sung and much
kati is consumed.

Marriage. — When an Arab wishes to betroth his son, he sends
a messenger on his behalf to the house of the parents of the selected
damsel. If an understanding has been come to, the boy's father or
nearest relative goes to the girl's father, and settles with him the
' Dafa,' which is usually from I50 upwards.^ After a few days he
returns, accompanied by friends and relations to the number of
about fifty or sixty, in whose presence he delivers the ' Dafa ' to
the girl's father ; coffee, scents, and sweetmeats are then dis-
tributed to the assembly, after which they all take their leave.
' .See above,, ' i $=21 rupees.


In about a week the marriage takes place ; the boy's father erects a
covered shed or 'makhdarah' in front of his house, and sends written
invitations to his friends and relatives to attend the ' Makil'^ and
' Samrah.' ^ These continue for a day and a night ; the following
morning the bridegroom is bathed with henna or ' mahdi,' and is
clad in rich garments. He wears a sword and ' jambiah ' or dagger.
The plate is again present, and is filled by the company, the barber"
and musicians receiving the amount collected. The Kazi and the
girl's father are then summoned ; the former asks the latter and the
bridegroom if they both consent to the marriage ; on their replying
in the affirmative, the girl's father settles the amount of the ' mahr '
or dowry, usually ^60, more or less, with the bridegroom ; the
Kazi then joins their hands and utters some 'suras' (verses) from
the Koran, registers the marriage in the ' daftar ' or record, and
takes his departure after receiving his fee, generally eight annas to
one rupee. The same morning fifty to a hundred men proceed to
Maala Bunder, or the Barrier Gate, and bring into Aden with pomp
and ceremony a camel-load or more of kit,' which has arrived for
the bridegroom's father. The camels bearing the kat are adorned
with silver ornaments, and the kat itself is covered with an em-
broidered cloth ; the men accompanying the cavalcade sing, beat
drums, and burn incense up to the bridegroom's house, where the
camel-drivers receive a present of rich apparel. The camels are
unloaded, and the kat is taken into the shed before mentioned with
great ceremony.* As soon as the kat is fairly installed in the marriage
shed, the guests begin to arrive, each bearing kat (to the value of
from one to two dollars), tobacco, and water-vessels, for his own
use. This kat, etc., is in addition to what is provided by the
bridegroom's father. The day is passed is eating kat, singing
hymns,' smoking, and burning incense ; in the evening supper is
served, after which all retire to their houses. After nightfall they
again return, each person bearing three or four long wax-candles,
which being lighted he places near himself. The guests pass the
night in the same manner as the day, reclining on their sides on

' Makil — Day conversazione.

" Samrah — Night do.

' See under Food.

' The following reason is given for the veneration which k3.t receives on these
occasions : — It is said that devout and religious-minded men in Yemen have
always found kat of special service in producing wakefulness at night when they
consider adoration of the Almighty especially acceptable,



small low cots or chairs, the head resting on the arm, which is
supported by a pillow, and the snake-like tube of the hookah in
their mouths. These pipes are ranged in front, on long stools, with
candles burning in their midst ; the water-jugs rest on long brass
stands ; pots of flowering and other shrubs are ranged amongst the
hookahs ; the bridegroom sits on a dais about eight or nine feet high,
with a MooUah by his side. All the persons present occasionally
join together in song \ and the music, and the lights, and the gay
dresses, and the attitudes of the actors, combined, present a spectacle
worthy of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. In the harem the
women amuse themselves singing, dancing, and feasting, at the cost
of the bridegroom's father. All the guests in the marriage-shed
before leaving, present the bridegroom with one or two dollars, going
up the ladder to the dais to do so, and placing the money in his
hands ; the party breaks up about dawn.

The next day the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends and
relations, and preceded by musicians playing on drums and other
musical instruments, goes at nightfall to the bride's residence ; those
who accompany him remain outside, and are regaled with coffee,
sprinkled with rose-water, and scented with incense. The bride-
groom is taken inside and seated by his bride on a couch ; the
latter's face is covered with a veil ; rose-water is then sprinkled
freely on the face of the bridegroom, and one of his female relations
decorates his forehead with a row of gold or silver coins, the pieces
being kept in their places by wetting the side next the skin with
rose-water. Presently the coins fall ; they are then taken up and
placed on one side. Another of the women present repeats the
ceremony, which continues as long as any female is found willing
and wealthy enough to take advantage of the privilege each woman
possesses of performing it three times. The large sum of money
thus collected is distributed amongst the barbers, hired singers,
musicians, and drummers. The bridegroom then rises, and taking
the hand of the bride leads her to the door, where he leaves her
with his mother and the other women, who seat her in a carriage, in
front of which the bridegroom with some thirty companions pro-
ceeds to his father-in-law's house, where they are all hospitably
entertained. Female relatives of the bridegroom continue for four
days in his house enjoying themselves, singing, listening to music,

Marriages with widows or divorcees are not attended with any
beyond the religious ceremony and perhaps a small 'samrah' or


night conversazione. The ' Dafa ' is usually half what is given on
the occasion of marriage with a virgin.

Deaths. — As soon as the breath leaves the body, a MooUah or
priest is called, who bathes the corpse, which is then wrapped in a
white shroud and covered with a mat. The body is placed on a
cot, which is carried to the nearest mosque by the relatives or
friends of the deceased. Prayers are there offered up and blessings
invoked on the dead ; the corpse is then carried to the graveyard,
where it is at once buried. Some incense is burnt, and the Moollah
utters the requisite verses from the Koran ; bread, dates, and fruit
are distributed by one of the relations of the deceased to the poor
who may be present, after which all return home. For three days
all relatives and friends attend one of the Musjids nightly, and read
the Koran for two or three hours, the deceased's family paying the
expense of illuminating the house of prayer, and for light refresh-
ments, such as sweetmeats and coffee, which are given to those who
attend these readings. On the fourth day the family give an enter-
tainment according to their means. Mourning continues for four
days more, after which all betake themselves to their respective
avocations. All female relatives and neighbours visit the women of
deceased's household to condole with them for three days after
the death.

Somalis. — No particular ceremony is observed by Somalis on the
occasion of birth and circumcision ; the few that possess sufficient
wealth to indulge in such luxuries imitate the Arabs.

Circumcision. — This rite amongst the Somalis does not take
place until the seventh or eighth year. A very singular custom
prevails amongst the Somal — ' Hac in gente, ad castitatem servan-
dam, hujusmodi mos est. Puellarum vulvas filo ex corio confecto
constringunt ; has, cum connubiale jugum ferre poterint, magno cum
apparatu solvunt'^

Marriage. — As amongst more civilised nations, marriages usually
take place from mutual inclination. When a man is satisfied re-
garding the temper and qualifications of a girl, he addresses the
elders of her family, who betroth him to the chosen damsel. Three
or four members of the would-be Benedict's family visit the girl's
relations and settle the amount of the 'Dafa' 2 (which is seldom
more than $30), as amongst Arabs. After a year's probation five or
ten of the man's relations go to the girl's parents and present the
> Female circumcision is also practised as among the Abyssinians (Rigby).
^ See ante.


' Dafa ; ' they are hospitably entertained and treated. A few days
afterwards the religious ceremony or 'Akd' is performed by the
Kazi in the same manner as at Arab weddings. The bridegroom
now goes to live with his father-in-law for se\en days, during which
dancing is kept up with great spirit in front of the bride's house.
On the seventh day the guests are entertained by the girl's father,
and the bridegroom is permitted access to the bride. During the
ceremony the bridegroom wears his arms. Neither he nor his family
are put to any expense beyond the ' Dafa ;' he lives with his father-in-
law about a week, after which he takes the bride to his own house.

No ceremony beyond the religious one is observed in second
marriages ; widows frequently marry their deceased husband's
nearest relative.

Deaths. — The ceremonies observed by the Somalis on the
occasion of the decease of a friend or relative do not materially
differ from those practised by the Arabs, except that the ' Daras '
or reading is held in the house of the deceased in place of the
Musjid, and the mourning continues only two days.

Jews. — The following ceremonies are observed by the Jews : —

Birth. — As soon as a child is bom a goat is slaughtered under
the couch of the mother, and the flesh is distributed with wet dates
to the relatives and friends. On the seventh night some fifty
threads of twist are brought, a head of garlic is threaded on each,
and these are divided amongst relations and neighbours, who bind
them to the arms of their children. On the same day seven black
lines are drawn on each door of the house in which the child is
born, and three eggs are broken and thrown away, in the belief that
the above ceremonies will prevent the devil troubUng the child or
its mother.

The infant, if a girl, is named the same night (seventh) ; no enter-
tainment takes place.

If however the child be a boy it is at once circumcised by the
head priest (called Mori or Rabbi), no one else being allowed to
perform this ceremony, which takes place in the presence of an
assembly of men; at the same time the child is named by the
priest, who holds a glass full of wine in his hand and utters the
necessary form of prayer for the child's recovery from the effects of
circumcision, which at so early an age frequently proves fatal to
weakly infants. It is incumbent the ceremony should take place on
the eighth day. Soon after the naming a dinner is given by the
boy's father.


Marriage Ceremony. — The preliminary arrangements are settled
by the female relatives, after which the father of the proposed
bridegroom sends two persons to the girl's parents to obtain confir-
mation of the betrothal. These envoys are received hospitably,
and, if all goes well, a few days afterwards two females on the part
of the bridegroom proceed to the bride's house and present her
with half a guinea and one dollar. A few months after the mar-
riage ceremony commences, and lasts for fourteen days. On three
or four days ' Samrah,' or evening meetings are held in the bride-
groom's house, when coffee and wine are handed round ; hymns are
also sung on these occasions. Each party give two or three enter-
tainments to friends and relations. On the first day of the marriage
a boy or girl is despatched to the bride's house with the ' Dafa,' or
preliminary offering, which consists of clothes and ornaments. The
same day the bridegroom's head is anointed, and he is then bathed
with henna and dressed up in rich apparel. Friends and relations
are called together, and the dish for voluntary offerings is passed
round. The contributions seldom exceed four annas from each
person, and are given to the barber. An entertainment is held on
the tenth day by the bride's father, when the bridegroom, accom-
panied by a priest and ten or twenty companions, proceeds to the
bride's father's house, where a heifer covered with rich housing and
decorated with silver ornaments is brought before the assembly.
The priest slaughters the animal, holding the hand of the bride-
groom, who previously touches the knife. The 'Akd' or marriage
settlement is effected during the first week of the ceremony, usually
on a Monday night, at the bridegroom's house, where the priest and
the bridegroom sit side by side facing the bride's father and the
relations of both contracting parties. The priest then produces a
written certificate of marriage, which has been previously prepared.
He presents the document, holding in his hand a glass filled with
wine, both of vi^hich the bridegroom takes, and after drinking the wine
returns the bond to the priest ; the latter then reads it aloud. After
this the writing is kissed once by all present, and two of the guests
sign it as witnesses. The remainder of the day is passed in singmg
hymns and drinking coffee, etc., until two a.m., when the priest and
bridegroom accompanied by ten friends proceed to the bride's
house. The bride is concealed by a screen, behind which the priest
takes the bridegroom, and the latter presents the bride with the
written certificate, and causes her to drink a glass of wine which he
hands her; the bridegroom and bride reciprocally inquire one


another's names. The witnesses to the writing are called, and the
bride is permitted to see them and hear them testify to their signa-
tures with their own lips; the bridegroom then presents another
glass of wine to the bride, which she drinks. The marriage certifi-
cate is retained by the bride as long as she lives. It is merely a
declaration or certificate of marriage. The dower is usually sixteen
dollars. On the following Friday the bridegroom goes to the
synagogue, and after prayers proceeds to his father-in-law's house
accompanied by a few friends; they are hospitably received, and
after a short session all depart except the bridegroom, who from
that time remains in his father-in-law's house for life, provided the
latter is willing and able to pay the young couple's expenses, other-
wise the bridegroom resides for a short time only, returning with
his bride to his father's house.

Deaths. — As soon as a male Jew dies the body is bathed,
wrapped in a winding-sheet, and placed on a cot, which is carried to
the synagogue, where prayers are offered up. The corpse is then
taken to the cemetery and interred. During the latter operation
the priest who accompanies the procession uses some religious form
of words, and all then return home. Soon after death the oldest
male of the deceased's family rends his upper garment and wears it
torn for seven days as a sign of mourning. The dead bodies of
females and children under the age of one month are not taken to
the synagogue, but are carried direct to the cemetery. Three days
after death a light is burnt under the bedstead on which the deceased
expired. On the third day the person engaged for the purpose
removes this light, which consists of a small earthen vessel with oil
and a wick ; he also takes away a water-jug and a small drinking
cup. These he breaks over the grave of the deceased. For seven
days visits of condolence are made, and on the last day of mourn-
ing coffee is handed round. Jewish women visit the graves of rela-

Other Races. — Indians follow the custom of their own country
in carrying out domestic ceremonies, but of course those who marry
Arab women are obliged to a certain extent to introduce modifica-
tions suitable to the taste of the bride's family. Seedees follow
Arabs in a humble way. Hindus seldom if ever bring their families
to Aden.

Religion. — The great majority of the inhabitants of Aden are
Mahomedans, among whom are town and country Arabs, Somalis,
Seedees, Persians, Indians, including Mehmons, Borahs, Khojas,
Shaikhs, Kokanis, Pathans, etc.


The Persians, Borahs, Khojahs, and a few other Indian sects are
Shiahs. The Arabs of Yemen, from the districts north of Taizz,
Jibla, and Ibb, are Zaidis (Shiahs) ; the remainder of the Arabs that
visit Aden are Sunnees, as are also the Somalis, Seedees, and other

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Online LibraryF. M. (Frederick Mercer) HunterAn account of the British settlement of Aden in Arabia → online text (page 5 of 23)