Gordon Casserly.

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And on another wall is a framed printed paper in
French a warning of the danger of disease and advice
as to how to guard against it; official instructions
ordered by the municipal authorities to be exhibited in
every room of these Houses of Joy.

But this quarter is placed discreetly to one side of
Blida; and the respectable citizen and visitor knows
nothing of it. For them the band of the Tirailleur
regiment in garrison plays in the Place d'Armes, the
pleasant, tree-shaded square in the centre of the town
where the cafe tables are laid under the arcades of the
side-walks and the motor-diligences come from and go
to Algiers and Medea and the luggage-laden omnibus
rattle up from the railway station to the hotel with its
windows looking out on the square. There is, too, the
lovely Jardin Bizot, a bower of wonderful foliage and
flowers which takes its name from its creator, an
Engineer general who was killed in the trenches before
Sebastopol in 1855 at the age of 70. And further out
is the Sacred Wood, where gnarled olive trees shade
the tomb of the holy Sidi Yakoub to which devout
Moslem pilgrims come to pray.

Blida possesses a renowned Government horse-
breeding establishment where one can see the finest
specimens of pure-bred Arab and desert stallions

Although its proximity to Algiers and the frequent
service of trains and motor-diligences make it a spot to
which most travellers find their way, one to which the
hordes of transatlantic tourists from the big American
steamers are whirled in their one-day visit to Algeria,
Blida is not a town merely for sightseers, but an


important agricultural and mercantile centre with a civic
life of its own, a town that will grow with the years.

It was founded in 1553 by a famous traveller,
Ahmed-El-Kebir Ahmed the Great a holy marabout
who had visited Mecca, Damascus, Aleppo, Stamboul,
Cordova and Andalusia, but was nowhere tempted to
linger until he was captivated by the beauty of the site
on which he built Blida, which means " The Little
Town." But many termed it Ourida, " The Little
Rose." Barbarossa, the famous pirate Kheir-ed-Dinn
who was ruling Algiers, was his friend and helper, and
peopled Blida with Andalusian Moorish refugees,
driven out of Spain in 1499 by the victorious Christians.
Their descendants can be to-day distinguished from
their Arab and Berber fellow-citizens. A very holy
man was this Ahmed and gifted with the miraculous
power of making water gush from rocks when he struck
them with his staff. So says the pious legend ; but the
truth probably was that he had learned hydraulics and
irrigation from the Spanish Moors, past-masters in the
art, and applied his knowledge for the benefit of his

To these Andalusian refugees in the sixteenth
century is attributed the introduction of the orange, in
Arabic " narandj," which is a source of wealth to the
district around Blida. Yet some folk believe the
" Golden Apples " that Hercules sought in the
Hesperides to be simply the yellow fruit of the orange
trees growing in the shadow of giant Atlas now as in
that vanished age.

The mountains tower high above Blida; and from
the cedar-clothed summit of the Abd-el-Kader, 4,887
feet high, there is a glorious view over hill, plain and


sea. Away to the east are the Djurdjura Mountains
with the 7,500 feet Lella-Khadidja queening
it among their snow-clad peaks. To the west
are the imposing mass of the Chenoua and the Mouzaia
and the two Zaccar, to the north is the ocean, and to
the south the Ouarsenis and the fort-crowned Boghar
keeping its watch towards the far-away desert.

No need for the inhabitants of Blida to cross the
Mediterranean for winter sports ; for above their heads
on the snowy slopes of the Col of Chrea, 4,491 feet
above the sea, ski-ing has been introduced. And to
add to the amenities of life they have their own mineral
water from the springs of Les Glacieres seven kilo-
metres away, water that in chemical constituents
resembles the Eau d'Evian (source Cachet).

I drove away from this favoured little town in a
carriage drawn by two lean but tireless Arab horses on
an excellent road like most in Algeria, passing between
rose-bowered villas, fields of corn, barley, oats and
tobacco, groves of orange, mandarine and lemon trees,
vineyards and vine nurseries. To my left rose up the
long chain of the Atlas Mountains a mile or two away,
their lower slopes terraced by the industrious Berber
hillmen into green fields, their summits veiled in clouds.
Occasionally their continuity was broken, and from deep
ravines rivers flowed out into the plain. From bank
to bank of each French engineers had thrown fine
bridges, the first of which was over the Oued-el-Kebir.
Beside this stream higher up are the tombs of the holy
Ahmed and his sons.

Farther on road and railway were thus carried across
the deep and broad bed of the Chiffa which comes from


a wide opening in the mountains as seen from the plain,
giving no hint of the dark and narrow defiles through
which it has passed. As we followed its windings
among the hills it seemed to sink lower and lower as the
route rose higher and the slopes grew steeper, until we
were fairly in the famous gorge, hemmed in by tree-
clad walls several thousand feet above our heads. And
with a warning blast of a horn a big motor-diligence
swept by us crowded inside and out with passengers on
its way to Medea, a town fifty-two kilometres from
Blida and 3,000 feet above the sea.

A historical route this road that clings to the pre-
cipitous slopes and revetted sides of the deep ravine and
links up, not only MedeX but also Berrouaghia, Bog-
hari and the southern deserts with the Mitidja and the
coast. Pick in one hand, musket in the other, French
soldiers good and bad began it in July heat in 1842
the good were the ever-famed Zouaves and the 53rd
Infantry, the bad the army's hard bargains of the
Devil's Own, the " Companies of Discipline," to which
were sent the scoundrels and scapegraces of the mili-
tary world. Good and bad, all worked and fought
well ; for the mountain-tops swarmed with fierce Berber
tribesmen sworn to keep out the Christian dogs. But
the road went on, the railway followed it; and the
Beni-Salah, whose forefathers fought the French infidels
as their forebears had done the Andalusian Moors of
Ahmed-el-Kebir^ True Believers though they were,
come down to-day to earn French money from their high
hills where they cultivate and irrigate their small fields
and orchards in ways learned from those same Anda-
lusians. And they have well applied the knowledge






brought from Spain, as their loaded fruit-trees, peach,
fig, grenadine, orange, lemon and vine, attest.

A rumble, a roar and out of an unseen tunnel
below us at a bend of the road rushes a train on its way
to Boghari. Before the last carriage comes into view
the engine has plunged into another tunnel. For the
railway has not time to follow the windings of the hills
and bores straight through them. At one spot it crosses
the gorge by an iron bridge that simply links a tunnel
in a rocky cliff with one piercing the opposite cliff on
the farther side. At the entrance to the most attractive
part of the Pass is a lonely little railway station, Sidi
Madani, seven and a half miles from Blida, and another
at the end of the gorge, Camp des Chenes.

The carriage-road is not so pressed for time and
plays hide and seek round the shoulders of the hills
clothed with wild fig, wild olive, cork-oak, sweet acorn
oak and other trees springing up from dense and
tangled undergrowth. Wherever a patch of ground
can be seen wild flowers of brilliant hues abound. Five
or six thousand feet above the rocky bed of the river
the peaks of the Atlas Mountains tower; and cool
breezes sweep down from them between the rocky cliffs
of the winding gorge.

Where the road is carried by a bridge over a ravine
coming down to the Chiffa the driver checks his horses
and points up.

' Le Ruisseau des Singes (The Rivulet of the
Monkeys)," he says.

Down the recessed cleft in the steep mountain side
a stream tumbles swiftly, leaping from rock to rock,
eddying and swirling in little pools and plunging down



again in miniature cataracts ere rushing lost to sight
through tunnels of arching greenery. On either side
the trees lean out to meet over the precipices or hang
helplessly by their bared roots in the brown scars of
landslips. And above the white water roaring inces-
santly among the rocks and dropping in a gossamer fall
as it nears the road is a small hotel in this picturesque
setting that the Japanese would love as a site for an inn
or a tea-house. It takes me back in memory to many
ayadoya in the mountains around Nikkho and Chuzenji.

The carriage turns into a levelled space before this
hostelry, the Hotel du Ruisseau des Singes. And with
the silver laughter of the stream ringing in my ears I
sit down at a table outside the building and order lunch.

The young French waiter after taking my order

' Would you like to see the monkeys ? "

Then, a basket of nuts in his hand, he looks up at
the green-clad slopes and calls. High above us, right
and left, the branches of the trees are agitated, then
little brown faces peep out at us from leafy screens and
soon, leaping from bough to bough, swinging hand and
foot and springing across the voids, come the monkeys.
They perch on the roofs, on the balconies, on the rail
of the hand-bridge across the stream. They drop to
earth around the waiter, they spring on his shoulder,
they snatch at his basket. Small, doglike, tailless apes,
like their kindred at Gibraltar, with pretty, sad faces
and soft, plaintive cooings as they beg for titbits.

But suddenly they scatter and leap away for safety.

" Ah! voila Zigomar!" exclaims the waiter.
" Bonjour, Zigomar! "


A big brown ape comes down with stately deliber-
ation, walks on all fours like a dog across the level to
the waiter, then stands on hindlegs and pulls impatiently
at the man's arm to bring the basket within his reach.
Both hairy paws are plunged into it ; and he crams the
monkey-nuts into his mouth and stuffs them into the
pouches under his jaws. And, when the waiter pulls
free of his clutch and throws a handful of nuts towards
the little apes, the tribal bully snarls at him with bared
teeth, then charges menacingly at his smaller brethren
who have rushed to scramble for the scraps from his feast.

A couple of automobiles drive in ; and the ladies in
them exclaim with delight at the sight of the monkeys.
The occupants of the cars get out and demand baskets
of nuts to feed the hairy visitors, which swarm around
them, and, to the dismay of the ladies, spring on their
shoulders and grab at their hats when attempts are
made to shake them off. One of the chauffeurs comes
over to see the fun, and is enjoying it when, chancing
to look towards his automobile, he sees that it is invaded
by monkeys big and small, some of which discover his
lunch and, tearing the package in pieces, pull out and
devour the bread, throwing the meat away.

On a big stone a mother ape sits pensively nursing
in her arms a tiny, pink-eared, blackfaced baby. She
extends a hand to take nuts offered her. One of the
men visitors stoops down to touch the infant and
Zigomar bounds swiftly across to him, leaps at him and
bites his arm savagely. The astonished man shakes
him off ; but the fierce ape, baring his formidable teeth,
is ready to renew the attack, until the waiter snatches up
a stick and drives him away.


This incident scatters the monkeys, which retreat
up the hillsides or spring into the trees and disappear.

But a little later on they came again when sum-
moned but they always made sure first that the caller
had food to offer them. I stayed for a few days at the
Hotel du Ruisseau, and entertainment was never lack-
ing when my simian neighbours were visible. The
arrival of a carriage or automobile generally brought
them to the trees close to the hotel, ready for a summons.
But often without that they played about the buildings,
sat on the roofs and balconies or walked like dogs on
all fours to the road. When food was offered them
there was no limit to their daring. They searched my
pockets, jumped on my shoulders, clutched at my hat,
sometimes biting me if I delayed to give them the nut?
or bread that I had for them. But they never permitted
any familiarities ; and an attempt to touch them was
angrily resented and drove them away.

The Gorge of the Chirfa practically ends about four
miles farther on from the Stream of the Monkeys at
Camp des Chenes, where there is nothing but the rail-
way station and a little hotel.

I had seen the Gorge previously on another occasion
from the window of a railway train when on my way to
Boghari. The line passed through many tunnels,
which prevented me from getting more than the briefest
glimpses of the attractive scenery. But it was raining
with almost tropical vehemence, and the clouds and
mists hid the mountain-tops.

The Chirfa in spate was rolling its brown and turbu-
lent waters swiftly, filling its bed that when I next saw
it held but a shallow stream. The month was March,


and my companion and I welcomed the foot-warmers
that were put in our compartment; for it was bitterly
cold up in the mountains, and the rolling-stock was old
and out of date. We passed Medea thirty-one miles by
rail from Blida and situated on a plateau over three
thousand feet above the sea, a commanding position
on which the Romans built a garrison town called Ad
Medias. The Due d'Aumale captured Medea in 1840
from Abd-el-Kader's followers ; and it is to-day just a
typical example of a thriving French Algerian inland
town with a population of some thousands. It is
surrounded by fertile and well-cultivated country which
produces wine, corn, olives, cattle and wool.

After another and a smaller town, Berrouaghia, also
built on the site of a Roman military post and in a popu-
lous and well-tilled district, the train passed through
more fine mountain scenery and, entering a plain in the
valley of the Cheliff River, reached Boghari.

It was raining heavily and the prospect was dismal ;
as with my companion, the well-known Canadian poet,
Charles G. D. Roberts, and a couple of very pleasant
Americans whose acquaintance we had made on the
train one a magazine writer, the other an artist
I trudged up an exceedingly muddy road towards what
was just a long European village of one street. Above
it on a bluff was the ksar (which means " a fortified
village "), the native town, while behind us across a
stretch of plain rose up a steep hill crowned with a fort.
This was Boghar, " the Balcony of the South," as it
is named, a mountain eyrie from which the French
eagles have for many years kept vigilant watch towards
the once troubled and mysterious Sahara.


It was still raining and bitterly cold as, after a wash
and a meal in the little hotel, we committed ourselves
into the hands of a guide, who led us through more
mud up to the Ksar of Boghari. Little known as this
name is to European travellers in Algeria it is a load-
stone through days and nights of weary marching and
camping to the camel-drivers and traders of the cara-
vans that come north from the desert. In toil and
privation and danger it draws them on ; for it promises
a rich reward of rest, refreshment and pleasure, of a
wealth of love, venal love, in the embraces of the dark-
eyed, passionate daughters of the Ouled-Nail, the tribe
that sends its girls forth to gain their dowries in debauch-
ery and wantonness. The steep and narrow streets of
this mountain village are lined by inns and cafe's where
to shrill, strange music the dancing-women will posture
and move in lascivious measures to delight the gaunt,
hard-bitten men of the desert and send the hot blood
rioting through their veins. From many windows, by
scores of doors, bold-eyed courtesans will beckon
enticingly, alluringly, to these sinewy sons of the
Sahara whose passions run high after weeks, months, of
a hard and ascetic life.

The ksar with its tiled roofs, strongly-built two-
storied houses and narrow, evil-smelling lanes is
reminiscent of an Italian mountain village. And the
black-haired, handsome women looking out from every
casement or standing outside every house are not darker
than Southern Italians. Indeed, many are quite fair
and decidedly good-looking even to European eyes.

They are mostly Ouled Nails ouled means
" tribe " whose country stretches from the Zab, the


district around Biskra, to the Djebel Amour with, as
the administrative centre, Djelfa, where the railway
ends seven and a half hours from Boghari. It is their
custom to allow their young girls to go far afield as
dancers and courtesans in order to gain money for their
dowries ; which object achieved they return to the tribe,
marry and settle down. This license originated hun-
dreds of years ago, they say, in the time of a tribal chief
famous both for his valour and his sense of justice. Hav-
ing married a young wife he confided her as a sacred
trust to his dearest friend when he had to go forth to lead
his warriors to war. The vicissitudes of campaigning
kept him in the field for years, at the end of which time
he returned home. He was furious to learn that during
his absence his wife had been false to him with his faith-
less friend. His first impulse, as an Arab's would be,
was to seek a bloody revenge. But his sense of fair
play made him realise that it was too much to expect a
young and beautiful woman to exist so long without love
so he pardoned the offenders and refrained from
interfering with their amour. This tolerance of light
conduct by their revered sheikh encouraged the other
women of the tribe to demand similar freedom from
moral restraint ; and it was granted them.

Their dancing girls turn the money they earn into
gold coins mounted as necklaces, circlets for the head
and other ornaments, and carry their fortunes in this
portable form. But this display of wealth is often their
ruin; for some of them are murdered for it by their
temporary lovers, lawless Arabs from the wild desert.
So Tragedy as w r ell as Romance stalks at night through
the narrow lanes of the Ksar of Boghari.



FROM Algiers look east across the bay to the jumbled
peaks of the snow-clad Djurdjura Mountains white
against the blue sky as the setting sun streams on
them ! You are gazing at the home of the descend-
ants of the aborigines of Algeria, the liberty-loving
Berbers who took refuge among these inaccessible
heights when the tide of Arab invasion swept over the
land. There through the long centuries of Moslem
conquest they preserved their independence and their

But in time they adopted Mahommedanism and
thus gained from the Arabs the name of Kebail
which is the plural of Kabyl, a word signifying " He
who accepts " because they had accepted the religion
of the Prophet. Hence they are known as Kabyles;
and the French call their country La Grande Kabylie,
this rugged maritime district where the mountains
come down to the sea. The old name of Berber is
now not often used in common parlance to designate
these hillmen or their kinsmen of the Dahra and the
Mozabites of the chebka of the M'zab or yet the
tribes of the Aures Mountains near the Sahara who



are usually known as the Chaouias (pronounced
Shaouias), a name which means " nomad shepherds,"
because the lack of cultivable land in their sterile hills
obliges them to wander with herds of sheep, goats
and cattle in search of pasture. These Chaouias,
like the better known Kabyles of the Djurdjuras,
have preserved the purity of the Berber stock by
their isolation in their remote mountains.

By even the most careless observer the Kabyles
are easily distinguishable from Arabs by their lighter
colouring of skin and hair, which is frequently reddish
or sandy. They are usually of medium height with
square heads (possibly a heritage from Vandal
ancestors of the forests of Germany), prominent
features and sturdy frames. Their dress is similar
to that of the Arabs, though the headgear is simpler.
They are industrious and tireless workers, hardy,
unrivalled walkers and moderate in feeding. Their
food consists mostly of barley cakes cooked in oil,
couss-couss, lentils, dried peas and figs, milk, butter,
honey, fowl and eggs. They only eat meat when
sheep are killed for some big feast.

Long ages of incessant warfare, either inter-
tribal or against external foes, have taught them to
build their villages in commanding positions on the
summit of hills, with small fields hedged with cactus
or thorns. These villages consist of stone huts,
generally roofed with tiles, divided by narrow, filthy
lanes. Their dwellings are poor and almost bare of
furniture a few sleeping-mats, some earthen vessels,
a handloom.

The scarcity of arable land in the mountains has


made the Kabyles a race of careful husbandmen and
gardeners, who go in extensively for fruit and
vegetable growing. With iron-shod, wooden ploughs
and diminutive but strong oxen they turn up the stony
soil in their small, terraced fields in the mountains.
They cultivate figs, tobacco and olives, the last for
their oil, of which large quantities are produced
annually, every village having its oil-presses.

Though mainly agriculturists and market gardeners
there are among the Kabyles smiths, cobblers,
embroiderers and makers of silver or white metal
ornaments brooches, ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets.

The Kabyles, who owing to the difficulty of making
a living are economical to miserliness, are ready to go
far afield in order to make money. They descend to
the plains to work on European-owned farms at
harvest-time, which is naturally earlier there than in
the hills. Before compulsory service for natives
was introduced during the Great War they used to
enlist in the Tirailleurs Indigenes to earn a pension
which would enable them to return to end their days
in their beloved mountains. Many go to Algiers to
work in the docks or do other heavy labour that no
Arab would attempt. They do not hesitate to cross
the seas if beyond them there is a chance of making
money. You will see them in Marseilles, in Paris, in
London even, selling rugs and carpets in the street.
Since the war they go to France to work in factories.
But always their fixed purpose is to return again to
their hilltop villages.

Like most Orientals the family is the sacred unit
to which all its members owe duty and allegiance.


For it they sink their individuality; for it they toil.
To it all their earnings go. The old, feeble and
sickly are not turned out to starve but are supported
by the others. The property of a family may be said
to be owned in common ; and every member of it has
a right to subsistence.

The Kabyles hay,e many admirable qualities, but
they have their defects, too. They are patient,
energetic, sober, intelligent, hard-working and attached
to the soil the last so much that a note of warning has
been sounded by the Algerian press to call attention
to a danger similar to the Mozabite peril. The
Kabyles, having made much money during the World
War by their agricultural produce, are devoting it all
to buying back the land confiscated by the French
after the rebellion of 1871. So that there is a fear
that they will oust French husbandmen as the
Mozabites are supplanting the small shopkeepers in
the towns.

Although as Moslems they are permitted by their
religion and French laws which are careful not to
interfere with it to have four wives and as many
concubines as they please, they content themselves
as a rule with one spouse from motives of economy.
The rich dress and live as simply as the poor.

Among their bad qualities are selfishness and
litigiousness and the constant dissensions between
tribes, villages and families that hay,e throughout their
history always cost them dear when fighting external
foes. For though the tribes used to band together
momentarily against a foreign enemy they soon
quarrelled and broke away from each other. They


have their blood feuds to-day. In times of scarcity

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Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 8 of 18)