William Joseph Harding King.

A search for the masked Tawareks online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam Joseph Harding KingA search for the masked Tawareks → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


r,aaag''!!?H-'Hf:c!;-



LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF
CALIFORNIA

SAN DIEGO



"N



J



si3Ra?SS«*E«*^W«










IJ^^I



'^m^M



A SEAECH

FOR

THE MASKED TAWAEEKS




A TAWAREK SERF



A SEAECH



FOR THE



MASKED TAWAREKS



BY



W. J. HARDING K[NG

M.R.A.S,, F.R.G.S.



WITH FORTY-ONE ILLUSTRATIONS
AND A MAP



LONDON •

SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
1903

[All rights reserved]



PEEFACE

The name Tawarek is also spelt Touareg, Tuareg
Tuarik, and in other ways besides. I have used the
form Tawarek, as it is, I think, the one that most
nearly represents the correct pronunciation. I am
indebted to the writings of the French authors,
General Hanoteau, Commandant Bissuel, and MM.
Duveyrier and Mercier, for much of the material
relating to the Tawareks, the Sahara, and Twat.
My thanks are also due to M. Marius Maure, of
Biskra, for permission to reproduce his photograph
of the serf who accompanied the Tawarek deputa-
tion to Algiers. The account of the Senoussia sect
is to a great extent taken from M. Duveyrier's
pamphlet upon the subject. The remainder of the
information was gathered from the natives them-
selves, and is, I believe, new.

W. J. H. K.
May 1903.



ILLUSTEATIONS



A TAWAREK SERF

FOOTPRINTS OF THE TAWAREKS .

GRAIN-SELLERS IN BISKRA MARKET .

THE FORTUNE-TELLER ....

A SNAKE-CATCHER

A ROUARA WOMAN

THE MARRIAGE DANCE ....

A STREET IN OLD TOUGOURT

ARCADE IN THE TOUGOURT MARKET

POOL IN OASIS OF TOUGOURT

DYERS AT WORK IN THE TOUGOURT MARKET

A STREET IN TEMASIN ....

INTERIOR OF TOUGOURT MOSQUE

THE TENT

WATERING CAMELS AT HASSI MAMAR .
PUZZLE— FIND THE ROAD

WARGLA

A GATEWAY AT WARGLA ....
THE RAMPARTS OF WARGLA.
A STREET IN WARGLA



Fr
To face



•ontisinece
page 2
5

11
34
46
50
68
88
88
91
102
105
115
121
121
135
139
15U
151



viii A SEARCH FOE THE MASKED TAWAREKS

OUR FLAT To face page 155

WALL AND MOAT OF n'gOUSSA .... ,,163

gazelle-stalking: APPEOACHING the gazelle „ 172

gazelle-stalking: the signal to TUEN . . „ 172

gazelle-stalking: the shot .... „ 174

a THIESTY COUNTEY „ 178

a GUEMEEEAH ,, 195

A BAD ROAD „ 200

PALM-GEOVES near el WAD .... „ 204

A KHOTAEA „ 207

EL WAD ,,214

A TAWAEEK eating „ 223

A DESERT MOSQUE ,,255

TENT FOE LADY ON CAMEL ,, 279

IN THE TAWAEEK CAMP „ 294

A TAWAEEK TENT „ 3U3

A GROUP OF TAWAREKS ,,305

IN THE TAWAEEK CHIEF'S TENT .... „ 310

THE 'LITTLE QUEENS* „ 314

A TAWAREK NOBLE „ 315

A TAWAEEK NOBLE AND SLAVE .... ,,316



MAP OF THE AUTHOE's ROUTE



334



A SEAECH

FOK THE

MASKED TAWAEEKS

CHAPTER I

Fae away to the south of Algeria, in the trackless
wastes of the Sahara, there lives a race of marauding
nomads, who, on account of their impious character,
have been named by the Arabs ' Tawarek,' or ' God-
forsaken.'

It is a significant fact that in the whole Tawarek
language there is no word for 'law.' The Arabs
claim descent from Ishmael, the ' wild man ' whose
'hand was against every man,' and against whom
every man's hand was turned, and they do their best
to live up to the reputation of their illustrious
ancestor. But the Tawareks are more Ishmaelitish
than even these Ishmaels themselves. It is not
often that they are seen, for they seldom come near
the oases ; but their presence is felt and dreaded
throughout the Sahara.

A mystery seems to brood over these wild and
dreaded raiders. It is extraordinary how very little

B



2 A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS

is known about them. The Tawareks are, without
doubt, one of the most interesting races in Africa ;
but, though they inhabit a territory of about the
same size as Kussia, and but very Httle further
removed from our shores, it is probably well within
the mark to state that not one Englishman in a
thousand has ever even heard their name. Occa-
sionally a brief notice appears in the papers to the
effect that a party of these brigands have come up
out of the desert and have captured a French mili-
tary convoy, crippled an exploring party, or made a
successful foray upon some Arab camp or caravan,
and then have disappeared again in the same sudden
and mysterious manner as they came away into the
Great Unknown, and left no trace of their visit
behind them beyond a few mangled corpses — and
that is all we, in England at all events, hear about
them.

All over the Sahara they have stamped their
footprints into the ground in the shape of little
isolated graves or cemeteries marking the scenes of
their terrible raids.

The Tawareks are a Berber race, whose real
domain is in the heart of the great desert, far
removed from civilisation. A visit to this country
would require a small army as escort and a journey
of considerably over a thousand miles of desert
travelling. But occasionally, driven northward by
scarcity of water, lack of forage for their herds or
the desire to purchase something in one of the
desert towns, they encamp nearer to the northern
edge of the Sahara, and these camps, though difiti-



A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS 3

cult to find, can be visited by a journey of only some
five or six hundred miles. It was in search of one of
these that I set out. My object in going was partly
to see some members of this race, of whom, if I had
heard little that was good, I had heard nothing that
was not interesting, and chiefly to attempt to obtain
some photographs of their faces, which were badly
wanted by scientists and which might do something
to clear up the much disputed problem of the origin
of the Berber tribes.

The difficulty in obtaining these photographs lay
not only in finding the Tawareks, who are but thinly
scattered over an enormous area, but in the fact that
the men of this race, in accordance with a curious
custom, keep their faces rigorously concealed by a
mask from the gaze of even the members of their
own family circle.

For a guide I had secured the services of a
pleasant, but melancholy and hot-tempered, little
Arab named Aissa, whom I had previously employed.
As soon as I had settled with him our route and the
equipment which would be necessary for our journey,
I set out with him into the market to buy provisions
and other necessaries for our expedition.

The Biskra market is a large arcaded square
v^here the caravans coming laden with grain from
the North meet those coming from the oases in the
South, and exchange their charges for dates and other
necessaries before returning to their homes. Here
the Shawia tribesmen from the neighbouring Aures
mountains sell their mats of plaited halfa grass, and
the inhabitants of the Ziban oases bring sacks of

B 2



4 A SEAKCH FOE THE 3IASKED TAWAREKS

boiled locusts for sale. Fortune-tellers, draught-
players, snake-charmers, haboh cookers, vendors of
sour milk, and oil merchants cumber the ground in
all directions.

Under the arcades which surround the market
are a row of little den-like shops kept mostly by the
Mozabite traders.

These Mozabites are a curious race, who claim
to be descended from the Moabites of Canaan.
Their home is in the five oases of the Mzab con-
federation lying in the south of Algeria. They
never settle definitely in any other towns, but come
up into the Algerian cities to make their pile, and,
having made it, retire with their savings to spend
their old age in their desert homes. In ahnost
every town throughout Algeria a colony of these
merchants has established itself. Wherever they
have settled they are slowly driving, by their
capacity for business, not only the Arabs and other
natives of Algeria, but the very European colonists
themselves, from the field of commerce.

Into one of their shops Aissa took me. It was
a little den some twelve feet square, surrounded on
three sides by tiers of shelves crammed with
burnouses, bales of calico, and boxes containing
odds and ends. From the ceiling hung a profusion
of minor articles. Sacks of sugar, couscous, and
soap stood on the floor, while piles of Arab sandals
and slippers were heaped up in the corners. Not
an inch of space was wasted.

The proprietor, a shrewd, pleasant-looking old
Mozabite, standing behind the zinc-covered counter,



A SEAECH FOE THE MASKED TAWAEEKS 5

asked us our business, and supplied our needs with
quite a fatherly air.

I left the bargaining to A'issa, for I knew from
experience that he was a past-master in the art.
He squabbled over the price of everything. He
haggled over every sou, and spent as much time in
buying two balls of twine as would have sufficed a
European to buy a whole week's provisions.

By the time that we had finished our marketing
the pile which represented our purchases had as-
sumed most alarming proportions. There was a
little tin saucepan for making coffee, a large iron
one for making soup, a frying-pan, and two out-
landish-looking earthenware pots, which Aissa as-
sured me were absolutely necessary for cooking a
kind of semolina known as co2iscous, which forms
the bulk of every Arab meal. These, with two
plaited grass baskets for carrying eatables, some
plates, cups, spoons and knives, a tin lantern, a
pound or two of candles, and two or three small tin
boxes containing salt, sugar, and pungent Arab
pepper, were all heaped up on the counter. Finally,
the last straw which looked as though it would
break our camel's back — came a huge sack containing
four francs' worth of couscous.

Leaving the things which we had bought in
charge of the shopkeeper to be called for with the
camel on the morning of our departure, we set out
to buy some coffee, which the Mozabite was for-
bidden to sell by the laws of the peculiar religious
sect to which he belonged.

Aissa took me off into a back slum, lying



6 A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS

between the market and the quarter of the Welad
Nayl dancing girls, to the shop of an old nigger,
whom he assured me was the best coffee-roaster in
Biskra, adding as a further recommendation that
not only he himself, but that the whole of his family
besides, never patronised any other establishment.
This, of course, was an unanswerable argument in
its favour.

Though the coffee turned out to be good, the
place in which it was prepared was by no means
prepossessing. It was a dark, windowless hovel,
overrun with pigeons and fowls. Several huge
stone mortars, furnished with iron pestles which
must have weighed nearly twenty pounds apiece,
were let into a sort of settle which ran all round
the sides of the room. These were all more or less
filled with the coffee already pounded.

Having bought the amount which we required
and left it with the remainder of our belongings in
the shop of the Mozabite, our preparations were for
the time complete, and I packed Aissa off down into
the desert to fetch his camel, which was grazing
under the care of an Arab herdsman, some distance
away to the south.

The first intimation that I received of his return
was on the third morning after his departure, when
I awoke at the unearthly hour of half-past five to
find him and a very sleepy, unshaved, and dis-
hevelled-looking waiter standing by my bedside. I
was told that the camel was waiting below, and
that it was time for me to get up.

Aissa cast an experienced eye over my various



A SEAKCH FOE THE MASKED TAWAREKS 7

belongings scattered picturesquely over the floor,
lifted each of them in turn to try the weight, and
then he and the waiter between them carried them
downstairs.

Through the open window I could hear the
camel snarling and growling in the road below as my
guide and a little crowd of loafers loaded him up.
Then came the final grunt of contentment as the
great beast rose to his feet and was driven off to
Aissa's house, where I had arranged to meet it.

My guide lived close at hand, and on reaching
his house I found the camel, a dyspeptic gouty-
looking beast, with his load on his back, kneeling
down in the road contentedly snarling and chewing
the cud, with a stalwart young cousin of Aissa's,
whom I afterwards found to be named El Haj,
standing over him, and keeping off, with curses and
blows from a thick stick, a crowd of 'street Arabs,'
who surrounded him and were anxious to inspect,
and if possible to appropriate, some of my belong-
ings.

I had not engaged and, in fact, had heard no
mention of El Haj until then, and as he was evi-
dently intended to form one of our party I thought
it as well to inquire into the reason of his coming.
Aissa explained that he had brought him on his own
account to keep him company and to help him in
his work. His reason for bringing him was not a
very complimentary one, but as his cousin was a
great strapping fellow who looked as though he
might be useful in a row, I raised no objections to
the arrangement.



>*^,

C'.^,



8 A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS

El Haj was a very different type from A'lssa,
The latter was an Arab who had been born and
brought up in the oases, and as he had lived for two
or three years as a servant in different hotels and
private families, had become to a certain extent
Europeanised. El Haj, on the other hand, had
spent the whole of his life in the desert, living with
his father and tending his herds of camels and goats.
He was about twenty years of age, tall and straight
as a lance. He had never spoken to or had any
dealings with a European until Aissa brought him
out with me. He was, in fact, about as wild and
mitamed a young blackguard as it would be possible
to find.

I and my actions and belongings were at first a
continual source of interest and mystery to him.
During the first week of our journey he hardly took
his eyes off me, and when we stayed in a caravan-
serai seized every opportunity to come into my room.
He would pick up the different articles of my cloth-
ing when he thought I was not looking, and
examine them minutely, with a mixture of awe,
amusement, and curiosity which it was very ludi-
crous to see.

He could not understand me at all. Why a
man should eat with a knife and fork instead of
with his fingers, why he should comb his hair
instead of shaving it off, why he should be so parti-
cular about having his boots and clothes brushed,
and why in the name of Allah, Mohammed, and
all the saints in the Moslem calendar he should
want to go to the trouble of ivasliing, unless he



A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS 9

were going to say his prayers, he could not in the
least understand.

His name — El Haj — signifies * the pilgrim,' and
is, it is perhaps hardly necessary to explain, the
appellation which is affixed as a sort of title to the
name of any Mohammedan who has made the
pilgrimage to Mecca. As El Haj was only twenty
years of age, and certainly not overburdened with
this world's goods, I was at a loss to understand
how he had come by the right to use this distinction
until Ai'ssa explained to me that he was so called
after his grandfather, who had been a real pilgrim.

El Haj spoke with that musical high-pitched
voice occasionally to be found among the desert
inhabitants. Arabic is not a pretty language. As a
rule when an Arab speaks he gargles the words in
his throat, swears like a cat on the ' 'ain,' coughs
the ' H's,' clears his throat on the ' G's,' and spits
on the ' D's ' and ' T's.' But somehow when these
desert Arabs speak, with their soft melodious voices
and sing-song intonation, Arabic loses all its harsh-
ness and sounds quite a pretty and musical lan-
guage.

El Haj's duties were primarily to take charge of
the camel, to drive him out to feed in the evening
on the desert scrub, to walk behind him during the
daytime and whack him, swear at him, and twist
his tail to make him go ; and all these duties he
performed to admiration.

But in his other work he was not so successful.
He was also supposed to assist Aissa in his cooking
and scullery work. At this he was a dismal failure,



10 A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS

for he could never be made to understand the proper
management of spoons, forks, and crockery. When
set to wash a plate he generally commenced opera-
tions by breaking it. If he failed in this he wiped
it in the most perfunctory manner possible, and,
unless either Aissa or I stood over him to see he did
it properly, he would content himself by scrubbing
it with a handful of sand from the yard of the
caravanserai, or rubbing it over with the corner of
one of the camel bags, the end of his haik, or any
other piece of rag which came to hand.

He contracted, too, a nasty habit of wiping the
spoons and forks upon the rag which I used to
clean my gun with, and this, when I had caught
him the third time in the act and found that it was
hopeless to attempt to break him of it, compelled
me to remove him entirely from the kitchen depart-
ment and to relegate him exclusively to the stable.
At ' house-work ' he was a failure.

Aissa' s family had assembled at his house to see
us off. His womenkind were peeping at us through
the crack of his half-opened door, and his son and
heir, a little brat of about three years old, artistically
attired in an extremely skimpy shirt and a metal
talisman, hung by a cord round his neck for keeping
off the evil eye, was standing by El Haj with a
little switch in his hand assisting him in his duties
of driving back the crowd and guarding my belong-
ings.

Aissa, with a barefaced effrontery which deserved
to succeed, reminded me that on starting on a long
journey the Arabs consider it lucky to give someone




THE FORTUNE-TELLER.



A SEAKCH FOE THE MASKED TAWAEEKS 11

a present, and suggested his young hopeful as a
suitable recipient.

I gave him a few sous, which he promptly placed
for safe keeping in his mouth, whence Ai'ssa, in
order, as he said, to prevent him from choking him-
self, at once removed them and appropriated them
to his own use.

He folded his now howling son in an affectionate
embrace, El Haj kicked up the camel, and, sur-
rounded by a small crowd of loafing Arabs, we
started for the Mozabite's shop to pick up the rest of
our stores.

Our crowd of followers increased so fast and
became so x^ressing in their attentions during our
progress through the town, that, in order to get rid
of them, I took Ai'ssa with me into the market to
buy some fresh vegetables and meat, and left El
Haj to take on the camel alone.

In the market we found a man who read fortunes
in sand. I requested him to do a little prophesying
on our account, to read Aissa's fortune, and tell us
what was likely to happen to us on our journey.

He seated himself by the roadside, unknotted a
large handkerchief which he was carrying filled
with the fine white sand from the dunes of the Souf,
laid it open on the ground and carefully smoothed
over the surface of the sand with an air of great im-
portance and mystery.

He next commenced to question Aissa as to his
age, birthplace, name, and occupation. Ai'ssa replied
that his age was thirty, his birthplace Biskra, and
his name A'issa ben Jedu. His occupation was not



12 A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS

SO easy to define. Sometimes, he said, he worked as
servant in the hotels or as guide to the tourists ;
sometimes he made trading journeys with his camels ;
sometimes he worked in his palm-grove ; once he
had kept a small cafe ; sometimes he sewed bur-
nouses ; but usually he just lived with his family and
did nothing. The prophet hesitated for some time,
but finally classified Aissa, much to his disgust, as a
camel driver.

At each reply which he received he consulted the
tables which his book contained, and took from them
dot- and dash-like markings which he copied in lines
on the sand.

Having finished his catechism, he gave Aissa a
handful of dust and told him to scatter it over the
writing. He then took hold of the handkerchief by its
two nearest corners and gave it a sharp jerk towards
him, thus still further obliterating the markings
and causing them to form fresh combinations. He
inquired how many of us were going, where we were
going to, and when we intended to start, and on
being told, consulted his book again and gave his
verdict.

Between Biskra and Tougourt we should lose
something of importance. Between Tougourt and
El Wad we should get into a bad sandstorm and
would for a time lose our way. If from Tougourt
we went on to the south to Wargla instead of pro-
ceeding east to El Wad we should be attacked by
highwaymen during the daytime, we should suffer
much from thirst and sandstorms, and we should
have a very bad time generally. He did not think



A SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS 13

that we should find any Tawareks at Tougourt, El
"Wad, or Wargla, or anywhere in the neighbourhood
of these towns, but if we did they would be friendly
and they would give us something which we greatly
desired. We should in the end return safely.

To what extent these prophecies were fulfilled
this account of our Journey itself must show.

Having completed our marketing we set out in
pursuit of El Haj, whom we caught up in the road
between the palm-groves of old Biskra and the
modern French town. Here the camel was made to
kneel down. El Haj caught hold of the beast by the
long hair of his neck and cleared his throat at him
in as loud and revolting a manner as possible, and
at the same time dragged his neck downwards and
hit him violently on the shins with his stick. This
brutal proceeding was merely the ordinary signal
for him to kneeL The camel dropped down on his
knees with a grunt, and Aissa proceeded to charge
the beast with the result of our recent marketing.

The Arab method of loading a camel is very
simple. A pad — formed of a long bolster-like sack
with the two ends fastened together — is placed along
the beast's back in such a manner that the hump
and spine lie between the two arms of the pad.

This is secured in its place by a sort of saddle of
cross pieces of wood lashed together with raw hide,
placed on the top of the pad just in front of the
hump, and to this saddle the girth — a strong rope of
plaited hair and wool — is affixed, which, passing
under the belly of the camel, keeps the whole
arrangement firmly fixed in its place.



14 A SEAKOH FOR THE MASKED TAWAEEKS

A huge sack about four feet long by two feet
ill width, called a kerrata, hangs on either side of
the camel. Into these as much as possible of the
load is crammed. The wooden boxes containing our
store of provisions and the heaviest baggage went
in first, on the top of these were placed the lighter
articles — my camp-bed and the hold-all containing
my blankets, rug, and pillow ; the little dried goat-
skins full of couscous or dates, the baskets in which
were placed the provisions and the cooking utensils
which would be required during the day's journey,
and any articles of a crushable or breakable nature.

In loading a camel the sacks are leant up against
him on either side. To each corner of the top end
of the herratas is fixed a small loop of rope. The
sacks are lifted slightly until the loops of the sack
on the one side can be passed through the corre-
sponding loops in the sack on the other, and se-
cured in their places by passing through them a
short piece of stick. Other articles, such as the skin
water-bag, which cannot be placed in the herratas,
are tied by cords to the saddle and allowed to hang
down below the sacks, or else secured on the top of
the pad.

The water-bag used in the Sahara is usually
formed from the skin of a goat well cured with pitch
to make it waterproof. They call the thing a
gurbah, and as soon as you have drunk out of one
you will know that it is most appropriately named
' gurr-bah-ughr ! '

While we were reloading the camel all the beggars
and loafers in Biskra assembled round us from all



A SEAECH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS 15

directions, and by the time that the operation was
finished all the halt, the maimed, and the blind which
the oasis contained — and a halter, a maimer, and a
more cross-eyed crew it would be difficult to find —
seemed to have collected together to see us off.
Gradually, largely owing to El Haj and his stick,
we got rid of our followers, and by the time that
we had got among the mud houses and the palm-trees
of the villages of old Biskra we had completely
shaken them off. We followed the road for some
two or three miles through the palms, and then
emerged from the oasis into the desert beyond.



16 A"^ SEARCH FOR THE MASKED TAWAREKS



CHAPTER II

There is perhaps no part of the world which so
little conforms to our preconceived ideas as the
Sahara. One's first sight of this great desert is


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam Joseph Harding KingA search for the masked Tawareks → online text (page 1 of 21)