Travels In Syria And The Holy Land By John Lewis Burckhardt


























































 -  The Szowaleha, and Aleygat, the
latter originally from the eastern Syrian desert, were then living on
the borders of Egypt - Page 190
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The Szowaleha, And Aleygat, The Latter Originally From The Eastern Syrian Desert, Were Then Living On The Borders Of Egypt, And In The Sherkieh Or Eastern District Of The Delta, From Whence They Were

[P.559] accustomed to make frequent inroads into this territory, in order to carry off the date-harvest, and

Other fruits.[Some encampments of Szowaleha are still found in the Sherkieh.] Whenever the inundation of the Nile failed, they repaired in great numbers to these mountains, and pastured their herds in the fertile valleys, the vegetation of which is much more nutritious for camels and sheep than the luxuriant but insipid pastures on the banks of the Nile. After long wars the Szowaleha and Aleygat succeeded in reducing the Oulad Soleiman; many of their families were exterminated, others fled, and their feeble remains now live near Tor, where they still pride themselves upon having been the former lords of this peninsula. The Szowaleha and Aleygat, however, did not agree, and had frequent disputes among themselves. At that period there arrived at Sherm four families of the Mezeine, a very potent tribe in the Hedjaz, east of Medina, where they are still found in large numbers, forming part of the great tribe of Beni Harb. They were flying from the effects of blood-revenge, and wishing to settle here, they applied to the Szowaleha, begging to be permitted to join them in their pastures. The Szowaleha consented, on condition of their paying a yearly tribute in sheep, in the same manner as the despised tribe of Heteym, on the opposite coast of the gulf of Akaba, does to all the surrounding Arabs. [Arabic]. The high spirited Mezeine however rejected the offer, as derogatory to their free born condition, and addressed themselves to the Aleygat, who readily admitted them to their brotherhood and all their pastures. Long and obstinate wars between the Szowaleha and Aleygat were the consequence of this compact. The two tribes fought, it is said, for forty years; and in the greatest and the last battle, which took place in Wady Barak, the Mezeine decided the contest in favour of the Aleygat. “So

[p.560] great,” says the Bedouin tradition, “was the number of the Szowaleha killed in this engagement, that the nails of the slain were seen for many years after, the sport of the winds in the valleys around the field of battle.”[No nation equals the Bedouins in numerical exaggeration. Ask a Bedouin who belongs to a tribe of three hundred tents, of the numbers of his brethren, and he will take a handful of sand, and cast it up in the air, or point to the stars, and tell you that they are as numberless. Much cross-questioning is therefore necessary even to arrive at an approximation to the truth.] A compromise now took place, the Szowaleha and Aleygat divided the fertile valleys of the country equally, and the Mezeine received one-third of their share from the latter. The Sheikh of the Szowaleha was, at the same time, acknowledged as Sheikh of the whole peninsula. At present the Mezeine are stronger than the Aleygat, and both together are about equal in number to the Szowaleha.

Besides the Towara tribes, three others inhabit the northern parts of the peninsula; viz. The Heywat [Arabic], who live towards Akaba; the Tyaha [Arabic], who extend from the chain of the mountain El Tyh northwards towards Ghaza and Hebron; and the Terabein [Arabic], who occupy the north-west part of the peninsula, and extend from thence towards Ghaza and Hebron. These three tribes are together stronger than the Towara, with whom they are sometimes at war, and being all derived from one common stock, the ancient tribe of Beni Attye, they are always firmly united during hostilities. They have no right to the pasturages south of Djebel Tyh, but are permitted to encamp sometimes in that direction, if pasture is abundant. The pastures in their own territory, along the whole of the northern parts of Djebel Tyh, are said to be excellent, and to extend from one side of the peninsula to the other.

I believe that the population of the entire peninsula, south of a

[p.561] line from Akaba to Suez, as far as cape Abou Mohammed, does not exceed four thousand souls. In years of dearth, even this small number is sometimes at a loss to find pasturage for their cattle.

The Towara are some of the poorest of the Bedouin tribes, which is to be attributed principally to the scarcity of rain and the consequent want of pasturage. Their herds are scanty, and they have few camels; neither of their two Sheikhs, the richest individuals amongst them, possesses more than eight; few tents have more than two; it often happens that two or three persons are partners in one camel, and great numbers are without any. There are no horses even among the Sheikhs, who constantly ride on camels; but asses are common. Their means of subsistence are derived from their pastures, the transport trade between Suez and Cairo, the sale at the latter place of the charcoal which they burn in their mountains, of the gum arabic which they collect, and of their dates and other fruits. The produce of this trade is laid out by them at Cairo in purchasing clothing and provisions, particularly corn, for the supply of their families; and if any thing remains in hand, they buy with it a few sheep and goats at Tor or at Sherm, to which latter place they are brought by the Bedouins of the opposite coast of Arabia.

When Egypt was under the unsettled government of the Mamelouks the Towara Bedouins, who were then independent, were very formidable, and often at war with the Begs, as well as with the surrounding tribes. At present they have lost much of the profits which they derived from their traffic with Suez, and from the passage of caravans to Cairo; they are kept in awe by Mohammed Ali, and have taken to more peaceful habits, which, however, they are quite ready to abandon, on the first appearance of any change in the government of Egypt.

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