The Interior of Sheikh Saba's House at Rufa'a, Bahrein
Theodore Bent Receiving Visitors at The Mounds, Bahrein
A Mosque at Manamah, Bahrein
MANAMAH AND MOHAREK
The first Arabian journey that we undertook was in 1889, when we visited the Islands of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf; we were attracted by stories of mysterious mounds, and we proposed to see what we could find inside them, hoping, as turned out to be the fact, that we should discover traces of Phœnician remains.
The search for traces of an old world takes an excavator now and again into strange corners of the new. Out of the ground he may extract treasures, or he may not—that is not our point here—out of the inhabitants and their strange ways he is sure, whether he likes it or not, to extract a great deal, and it is with this branch of an excavator's life we are now going to deal.
We thought we were on the track of Phœnician remains and our interest in our work was like the fingers of an aneroid, subject to sudden changes, but at the same time we had perpetually around us a quaint, unknown world of the present, more pleasing to most people than anything pertaining to the past.
The group of islands known as Bahrein (dual form of Bahr, i.e. two seas) lies in a bay of the same name in the Persian Gulf, about twenty miles off the coast of El Hasa in Arabia.
Bahrein is really the name of the largest of the islands, which is twenty-seven miles long by ten wide. The second in point of size is Moharek, which lies north of Bahrein, and is separated from it by a strait of horse-shoe form, five miles in length, and in a few places as much as a mile wide, but for the greater part half a mile.
The rest of the group are mere rocks: Sitrah, four miles long, with a village on it of the same name; Nebi Saleh, Sayeh, Khaseifa, and, to the east of Moharek, Arad, with a palm-grove and a large double Portuguese fort, an island or a peninsula according to the state of the tide.
It was no use embarking on a steamer which would take us direct from England to our destination, owing to the complete uncertainty of the time when we should arrive, so we planned out our way viâ Karachi and Maskat; then we had to go right up to Bushire, and again change steamers there, for the boats going up the Gulf would not touch at Bahrein. At Bushire we engaged five Persians to act as servants, interpreter, and overseers over the workmen whom we should employ in excavating.
We had as our personal servant and interpreter combined a very dirty Hadji Abdullah, half Persian, half Arab. He was the best to be obtained, and his English was decidedly faulty. He always said mules for meals, foals for fowls, and any one who heard him say 'What time you eat your mules to-day, Sahib?' 'I have boiled two foals for dinner,' or 'Mem Sahib, now I go in bazaar to buy our perwisions of grub,' or 'What place I give you your grub, Mem Sahib?' would have been surprised.
He had been a great deal on our men-of-war; he also took a present of horses from the Sultan of Maskat to the Queen, so that he could boast 'I been to Home,' and alluded to his stay in England as 'when I was in Home.'
Abdullah always says chuck and never throw; and people unused to him would not take in that 'Those peacock no good, carboys much better,' referred to pickaxes and crowbars.
A Mosque at Manamah, Bahrein
He used to come to the diggings and say: 'A couble of Sheikhs come here in camp, Sahib. I am standing them some coffee; shall I stand them some mixed biscuits, too?'
I must say I pity foreigners who have to trust to interpreters whose only European language is such English as this.
With the whole of our party we embarked on the steamer which took us to Bahrein, or rather as close as it could approach; for, owing to the shallowness of the sea, while still far from shore we were placed in a baggala in which we sailed for about twenty minutes. Then when a smaller boat had conveyed us as near to the dry land as possible, we were in mid-ocean transferred, bag and baggage, to asses, those lovely white asses of Bahrein with tails and manes dyed yellow with henna, and grotesque patterns illuminating their flanks; we had no reins or stirrups, and as the asses, though more intelligent than our own, will not unfrequently show obstinacy in the water, the rider, firmly grasping his pommel, reaches with thankfulness the slimy, oozy beach of Bahrein.
Manamah is the name of the town at which you land; it is the commercial capital of the islands—just a streak of white houses and bamboo huts, extending about a mile and a half along the shore. A few mosques with low minarets may be seen, having stone steps up one side, by which the priest ascends for the call to prayer. These mosques and the towers of the richer pearl merchants show some decided architectural features, having arches of the Saracenic order, with fretwork of plaster and quaint stucco patterns.
On landing we were at once surrounded by a jabbering crowd of negro slaves, and stately Arabs with long, flowing robes and twisted camel-hair cords (akkal) around their heads.
Our home while in the town was one of the best of the battlemented towers, and consisted of a room sixteen feet square, on a stone platform. It had twenty-six windows with no glass in them, but pretty lattice of plaster. Our wooden lock was highly decorated, and we had a wooden key to close our door, which pleased us much. Even though we were close upon the tropics we found our abode chilly enough after sunset; and our nights were rendered hideous—firstly, by the barking of dogs; secondly, by cocks which crowed at an inordinately early hour; and, thirdly, by pious Mussulmans hard at work praying before the sun rose.
From our elevated position we could look down into a sea of bamboo huts, the habitations of the pearl-fishers: neat enough abodes, with courtyards paved with helix shells. In these courtyards stood quaint, large water-jars, which women filled from goat-skins carried on their shoulders from the wells, wobbling when full like live headless animals; and cradles, like hencoops, for their babies. They were a merry idle lot of folk just then, for it was not their season of work: perpetually playing games (of which tip-jack and top-spinning appeared the favourite for both young and old) seemed to be their chief occupation. Staid Arabs, with turbans and long, flowing robes, spinning tops, formed a sight of which we never tired. The spinning-tops are made out of whelk-shells, which I really believe must have been the original pattern from which our domestic toy was made. The door-posts of their huts are often made of whales' jaws; a great traffic is done in sharks; the cases for their swords and daggers are all of shagreen. The gulf well deserves the name given to it by Ptolemy of the Ichthyophagorum sinus.
Walking through the bazaars one is much struck by the quaint, huge iron locks, some of them with keys nearly two feet long, and ingeniously opened by pressure of a spring. In the commoner houses the locks and keys are all of wood. In the bazaars, too, you may find that queer El Hasa money called Tawilah, or 'long bits,' short bars of copper doubled back and compressed together, with a few characters indicating the prince who struck them.
The coffee-pots of Bahrein are quite a specialty, also coming from El Hasa, which appears to be the centre of art in this part of Arabia. With their long beak-like spouts and concentric circles with patterns on them, these coffee-pots are a distinct feature. In the bazaars of Manamah and Moharek coffee-vendors sit at every corner with some huge pots of a similar shape simmering on the embers; in the lid are introduced stones to make a noise and attract the attention of the passers-by. Coffee-shops take the place of spirit and wine shops, which in the strict Wahabi country would not be, for a moment, tolerated. In private houses it is thought well to have four or five coffee-pots standing round the fire, to give an appearance of riches.
Besides the coffee-pots, other objects of El Hasa workmanship may be seen in Bahrein. Every household of respectability has its wooden bowl with which to offer visitors a drink of water or sour milk; these are beautifully inlaid with silver in very elaborate patterns. The guns used by Bahreini sportsmen are similarly inlaid, and the camel saddles of the sheikhs are most beautifully decorated on the pommels in the same style.
The anvils, at which the blacksmiths in the bazaars were squatting, were like large nails with heads about six inches square, driven into the ground and about a foot high.
The old weapons of the Bedouin Arabs are still in use in Bahrein: the long lance which is put up before the tent of the chief when he goes about, the shield of camel-skin decorated with gold paint and brass knobs, the coat of mail, and other objects of warfare used in an age long gone by. Every other stall has dates to sell in thick masses, the chief food of the islanders. Then you may see locusts pressed and pickled in barrels; the poorer inhabitants are very fond of this diet, and have converted the curse of the cultivator into a favourite delicacy. As for weights, the stall-holders would appear to have none but stones, whelk shells, and potsherds, which must be hard to regulate.
An ancient Arab author states that in Oman 'men obtain fire from a spark, by rolling the tinder in dry Arab grass and swinging it round till it bursts into flame.' We often saw this process and bought one of the little cages, hanging to a long chain, which they use in Bahrein.
Of course pearl-fishing is the great occupation of the islands, and Manamah is inhabited chiefly by pearl merchants and divers. Bahrein has in fact been celebrated for its pearl-fishing ever since the days of the Periplus of Nearchus, in the time of Alexander the Great.
Albuquerque, in his commentaries, thus speaks of Bahrein pearl-fishing in 1510:—'Bahrein is noted for its large breeding of horses, its barley crops, and the variety of its fruits; and all around it are the fishing grounds of seed pearls, and of pearls which are sent to these realms of Portugal, for they are better and more lasting than any that are found in any other of these parts.' This is also the verdict of the modern pearl merchants, who value Bahrein pearls, as more lasting and harder than those even of Ceylon. Evidently Albuquerque got an order from his sovereign for pearls, for he writes, in 1515, that he is getting the pearls which the king had ordered for 'the pontifical of our lady.' To this day in their dealings the pearl merchants of Bahrein still make use of the old Portuguese weights and names.
The pearl oyster is found in all the waters from Ras Mussendom to the head of the Gulf, but on the Persian side there are no known banks of value. They vary in distance from one to ninety miles from the low-lying shore of 'Araby the Blest,' but the deep sea banks are not so much fished till the 'Shemal' or nor'westers of June have spent their force. The three seasons for fishing are known as 'the spring fishing' in the shallow water, 'the summer fishing' in the deep waters, and 'the winter fishing' conducted principally by wading in the shoals. The pearls of these seas are still celebrated for their firmness, and do not peel. They are commonly reported to lose one per cent. annually for fifty years in colour and water, but after that they remain the same. They have seven skins, whereas the Cingalese pearls have only six. The merchants generally buy them wholesale by the old Portuguese weight of the chao. They divide them into different sizes with sieves and sell them in India, so that, as is usually the case with specialties, it is impossible to buy a good pearl on Bahrein.
Diving here is exceedingly primitive; all the necessary paraphernalia consists of a loop of rope and a stone to go down with, a curious horn thing to hold the nose, and oil for the orifice of the ears. Once a merchant brought with him a diving apparatus, but the divers were highly indignant, and leaguing against him refused to show the best banks. In this way the fisheries suffer, for the best pearls are in the deeper waters, which can only be visited late in the season. The divers are mostly negro slaves from Africa; they do not live long, poor creatures, developing awful sores and weak eyes, and they live and die entirely without medical aid.
At present the pearl-fisheries employ about four hundred boats of from eight to twenty men each. Each boat pays a tax to the sheikh. The fishing season lasts from April to October.
Very curious boats ply in the waters between Manamah and Moharek; the huge ungainly baggalas can only sail in the deeper channels. The Bahrein boats have very long-pointed prows, elegantly carved and decorated with shells; when the wind is contrary they are propelled by poles or paddles, consisting of boards of any shape tied to the end of the poles with twine, and the oarsman always seats himself on the gunwale.
Perhaps the way these boats are tied and sewn together may have given rise to the legend alluded to by Sir John Maundeville when he saw them at the Isle of Hormuz. 'Near that isle there are ships without nails of iron or bonds, on account of the rocks of adamants (loadstones), for they are all abundant there in that sea that it is marvellous to speak of, and if a ship passed there that had iron bonds or iron nails it would perish, for the adamant, by its nature, draws iron to it, and so it would draw the ship that it should never depart from it.'
Many of the boats have curious-shaped stone anchors, and water casks of uniform and doubtless old-world shape. The sheikh has some fine war vessels, called batils, which did good execution about fifty years ago, when the Sultan of Oman and the rulers of El Hasa tried to seize Bahrein, and a naval battle took place in the shallow sea off the coast in which the Bahreini were victorious. Now that the Gulf is practically English and piracy at an end, these vessels are more ornamental than useful. His large baggala, which mounted ten tiny guns and was named the Dunijah, is now employed in trade.
Then there are the bamboo skiffs with decks almost flush with the side, requiring great skill in working. Boats are really of but little use immediately around the islands. You see men walking in the sea quite a mile out, collecting shellfish and seaweeds, which form a staple diet for both man and beast on Bahrein.
The shallowness of the sea between Bahrein and the mainland has contributed considerably to the geographical and mercantile importance of the Bahrein. No big vessels can approach the opposite coast of Arabia; hence, in olden days, when the caravan trade passed this way, all goods must have been transhipped to smaller boats at Bahrein.
Sir M. Durant, in a consular report, states it as his opinion that, 'under a settled government, Bahrein could be the trading place of the Persian Gulf for Persia and Arabia, and an excellent harbour near the warehouses could be formed.'
If the Euphrates Valley Railway had ever been opened, if the terminus of this railway had been at Koweit, as it was proposed by the party of survey under the command of Admiral Charlewood and General Chesney, the Bahrein group would at once have sprung into importance as offering a safe emporium in the immediate vicinity of this terminus. Bahrein is the Cyprus of the Persian Gulf, in fact. This day is, however, postponed indefinitely until such times as England, Turkey, and Russia shall see fit to settle their differences; and with a better understanding between these Powers, and the development of railways in the East, the Persian Gulf may yet once more become a high road of commerce, and the Bahrein Islands may again come into notice.
The Portuguese, who were the first Europeans after the time of Alexander to visit the Gulf, recognised the importance of Bahrein. Up to their time the Gulf had been a closed Mohammedan lake. The history of their rule in that part has yet to be written, but it will disclose a tale of great interest, and be a record of marvellous commercial enterprise. It was Albuquerque who first reopened the Gulf to Europeans.
Early in the sixteenth century (1504), he urged the occupation of the Gulf. In 1506 three fleets went to the East under the command of Tristan d'Acunha, with Albuquerque as second in command. Tristan soon took his departure further afield, and left Albuquerque in command. This admiral first attacked and took Hormuz, then governed by a king of Persian origin. Here, and at Maskat, he thoroughly established the Portuguese power, thereby commanding the entrance into the Gulf. From de Barros' account it would appear that the king of Bahrein was a tributary of the king of Hormuz, paying annually 40,000 pardaos, and from Albuquerque's letters we read that the occupation of Bahrein formed part of his scheme. 'With Hormuz and Bahrein in their hand the whole Gulf would be under their control,' he wrote. In fact, Albuquerque's scheme at that time would appear to have been exceedingly vast and rather chimerical—namely, to divert the Nile from its course and let it flow into the Red Sea, ruin Egypt, and bring the India trade viâ the Persian Gulf to Europe. Of this scheme we have only the outline, but, beyond establishing fortresses in the Gulf, it fell through, for Albuquerque died, and with him his gigantic projects.
The exact date of the occupation of Bahrein by the Portuguese I have as yet been unable to discover; but in 1521 we read of an Arab insurrection in Bahrein against the Persians and Portuguese, in which the Portuguese factor, Ruy Bale, was tortured and crucified.
Sheikh Hussein bin Said, of the Arabian tribe of Ben Zabia, was the instigator of this revolt. In the following year the Portuguese governor, Dom Luis de Menezes, came to terms with him, and appointed him Portuguese representative in the island.
A few years later, one Ras Bardadim, guazil, or governor of Bahrein, made himself objectionable, and against him Simeon d'Acunha was sent. He and many of his men died of fever in the expedition, but the Portuguese power was again restored.
Towards the close of the sixteenth century the Portuguese came under the rule of Spain, and from that date their power in the Persian Gulf began to wane. Their soldiers were drafted off to the wars in Flanders instead of going to the East to protect the colonies; and the final blow came in 1622, when Shah Abbas of Persia, assisted by an English fleet, took Hormuz, and then Bahrein. Twenty years later a company of Portuguese merchants, eager for the pearls of these islands, organised an expedition from Goa to recover the Bahrein, but the ships were taken and plundered by the Arabs before ever they entered the Gulf.
Thus fell the great Portuguese power in the Gulf, the sole traces of which now are the numerous fortresses, such as the one on Bahrein.
From 1622 to the present time the control over Bahrein has been contested between the Persians and Arabs, and as the Persian power has been on the wane, the Arabian star has been in the ascendent. In 1711 the Sultan bin Seif wrested Bahrein from Persia; in 1784 the Uttubbi of El Hasa conquered it. They have held it ever since, despite the attempts of Seyid Said of Oman, of the Turks and Persians, to take it from them. The Turks have, however, succeeded in driving them out of their original kingdom of El Hasa, on the mainland of Arabia opposite, and now the Bahrein is all that remains to them of their former extensive territories.
The royal family is a numerous one, being a branch of the El Khalifa tribe. They are the chiefs of the Uttubbi tribe of Arabs.
Most of them, if not actually belonging to that strict sect of Arabians known as Wahabi, have strong puritanical proclivities. Our teetotalers are nothing to them in bigotry. If a vendor of intoxicating liquor started a shop on Bahrein, they would burn his house down, so that the wicked who want to drink any intoxicating liquor have to buy the material secretly from ships in the harbour. Many think it wrong to smoke, and spend their lives in prayer and fasting. Church decoration is an abomination to the Wahabi; therefore, in Bahrein the mosques are little better than barns with low minarets, for the very tall ones of other Mohammedan sects are forbidden. The Wahabi are fanatics of the deepest dye; 'there is one God, and Mohammed is his prophet,' they say with the rest of the Mohammedan world, but the followers of Abdul Wahab add, 'and in no case must Mohammed and the Imams be worshipped lest glory be detracted from God.' All titles to them are odious; no grand tombs are to be erected over their dead, no mourning is allowed; hence the cemetery at Manamah is but a pitiful place—a vast collection of circles set with rough stones, each with a small uninscribed headpiece, and the surface sprinkled with helix shells.
The Wahabi would wage, if they dared, perpetual war not only against the infidel, but against such perverted individuals as those who go to worship at Mecca and other sacred shrines. The founder of this revival is reported to have beaten his sons to death for drinking wine, and to have made his daughters support themselves by spinning, but at the same time he felt himself entitled to give to a fanatical follower, who courted death for his sake, an order for an emerald palace and a large number of female slaves in the world to come.
In 1867 the Shah of Persia aimed at acquiring Bahrein, though his only claim to it was based on the fact that Bahrein had been an appanage of the Persian crown under the Suffavian kings. He instituted a revolt on the island; adopted a claimant to the sheikhdom, and got him to hoist the Persian flag. Our ships blockaded Bahrein, intercepted letters, and obliged the rebel sheikh to quit. Then it was that we took the islands under our protection. In 1875 the Turks caused trouble, and the occupation of Bahrein formed part of their great scheme of conquest in Arabia. Our ship the Osprey appeared on the scene, drove back the Turks, transported to India several sheikhs who were hostile to the English rule, and placed Sheikh Isa (or Esau) on the throne under British protection, under which he rules happily to this day.
We went to see him at Moharek, where he holds his court in the winter-time. We crossed over in a small baggala, and had to be poled for a great distance with our keel perpetually grating on the bottom. It was like driving in a carriage on a jolting road; the donkeys trotted independently across, their legs quite covered with water. We were glad when they came alongside, and we completed our journey on their backs.
The courtyard of the palace, which somewhat recalls the Alhambra in its architecture, was, when we arrived, crowded with Arab chiefs in all manner of quaint costumes. His majesty's dress was exceedingly fine. He and his family are entitled to wear their camel-hair bands bound round with gold thread. These looked very regal over the red turban, and his long black coat, with his silver-studded sword by his side, made him look every inch a king.
He is most submissive to British interests, inasmuch as his immediate predecessors who did not love England were shipped off to India, and still languish there in exile; as he owes his throne entirely to British protection, he and his family will probably continue to reign as long as the English are virtual owners of the Gulf, if they are willing to submit to the English protectorate.
We got a photograph of a group of them resting on their guns, and with their kanjars or sickle-shaped daggers at their waists. We took Prince Mohamed, the heir-apparent, and the stout Seid bin Omar, the prime minister of Bahrein. But Sheikh Esau refused to place his august person within reach of our camera.
During our visit we were seated on high arm-chairs of the kind so much used in India, and the only kind used here. They were white and hoary with old age and long estrangement from furniture polish. For our sins we had to drink the bitterest black coffee imaginable, which tasted like varnish from the bitter seeds infused in it; this was followed by cups of sweet syrup flavoured with cinnamon, a disagreeable custom to those accustomed to take their coffee and sugar together.
Moharek is aristocratic, being the seat of government; Manamah is essentially commercial, and between them in the sea is a huge dismantled Portuguese fort, now used as Sheikh Esau's stables.
The town of Moharek gets its water supply from a curious source, springing up from under the sea. At high tide there is about a fathom of salt water over the spring, and water is brought up either by divers who go down with skins, or by pushing a hollow bamboo down into it. At low tide there is very little water over it, and women with large amphora and goat-skins wade out and fetch what water they require; they tell me that the spring comes up with such force that it drives back the salt water and never gets impregnated. All I can answer for is that the water is excellent to drink.
This source is called Bir Mahab, and there are several of a similar nature on the coast around: the Kaseifah spring and others. There is such a spring in the harbour of Syracuse, about twenty feet under the sea.
The legend is that in the time of Merwan, a chief, Ibn Hakim, from Katif, wished to marry the lovely daughter of a Bahrein chief. His suit was not acceptable, so he made war on the islands and captured all the wells which supplied the towns on the bigger island; but the guardian deity of the Bahreini caused this spring to break out in the sea just before Moharek, and the invader was thus in time repulsed. It is a curious fact that Arados or Arvad, the Phœnician town on the Mediterranean, was supplied by a similar submarine source.
Sheikh Esau's representative at Manamah—his prime minister or viceroy, we should call him, though he is usually known there by the humble-sounding title of the 'bazaar master,' by name Seid bin Omar, is a very stout and nearly black individual, with a European cast of countenance. He looked exceedingly grand when he came to see us, in his under-robe of scarlet cloth, with a cloak of rustling and stiff white wool with a little red woven in it. Over his head floated a white cashmere shawl, with the usual camel-hair rings to keep it on, and sandals on his bare feet. He was deputed by his sovereign to look after us, and during the fortnight we were on the island he never left us for a single day. Though outwardly very strict in his asceticism, and constantly apt to say his prayers with his nose in the dust at inconvenient moments, we found him by no means averse to a cigarette in the strictest privacy, and we learnt that his private life would not bear European investigation. He is constantly getting married. Though sixty years of age he had a young bride of a few weeks' standing. I was assured that he would soon tire of her and put her away. Even in polygamous Arabia he is looked upon as a much-married man.
 P. 164.
 P. 328.
THE MOUNDS OF ALI
And now behold us excavators on the way to the scene of our labours. Six camels conveyed our tents, a seventh carried goat-skins full of water. Four asses groaned under our personal effects; hens for consumption rode in a sort of lobster-pot by the side of clattering pickaxes and chairs; six policemen, or peons, were in our train, each on a donkey. One carried a paraffin lamp, another a basket of eggs on the palm of his hand, and as there were no reins and no stirrups, the wonder is that these articles ever survived. As for ourselves, we, like everybody else, rode sideways, holding on like grim death before and behind, especially when the frisky Bahrein donkeys galloped at steeplechase pace across the desert.
For some distance around Manamah all is arid desert, on which grow a few scrubby plants, which women cut for fodder with sickle-like saws, and carry home in large bundles on their backs. Sheikh Esau's summer palace is in the centre of this desert—a fortress hardly distinguishable from the sand around, and consisting, like Eastern structures of this nature, of nothing but one room over the gateway for his majesty, and a vast courtyard 200 feet long, where his attendants erect their bamboo huts and tents. Around the whole runs a wall with bastions at each corner, very formidable to look upon. Passing this, the palm-groves, which are exceedingly fine, are soon reached, and offer delicious shade from the burning sun. Here amongst the trees were women working in picturesque attire, red petticoats, orange-coloured drawers down to their heels, and a dark blue covering over all this, which would suddenly be pulled over the face at our approach, if they had not on their masks, or buttras, which admit of a good stare.
The buttra is a kind of mask, more resembling a bridle than anything else. In shape it is like two diamond-frames made of gold and coloured braids, fastened together by two of their lower edges. This middle strip comes down the nose and covers the mouth, and the sides come between the ears and eyes. It affords very little concealment, but is very becoming to most of its wearers, particularly if they happen to be negresses. On their heads would be baskets with dates or citrons, and now and again a particularly modest one would dart behind a palm-tree until that dangerous animal man had gone by.
About half way to the scene of our labours we halted by the ruins of the old Arab town, Beled-al-Kadim.
This ancient capital, dating from a period prior to the Portuguese occupation, still presents some interesting ruins. The old mosque (Madresseh-i-abu-Zeidan), with its two slender and elegant minarets, so different from the horrible Wahabi constructions of to-day, forms a conspicuous landmark for ships approaching the low-lying coasts of these islands. Around the body of the mosque runs a fine inscription in Kufic letters, and from the fact that the name of Ali is joined with that of the Prophet in the profession of faith, we may argue that this mosque was built during some Persian occupation, and was a Shiite mosque. The architecture, too, is distinctly Persian, recalling to us in its details the ruins of Rhey (the Rhages of Tobit) and of Sultanieh, which we saw in the north of Persia, and has nothing Arabian about it.
Ruins of houses and buildings surround this mosque, and here in the open space in the centre of the palm-groves the Bahreini assemble every Thursday for a market; in fact the place is generally known now as Suk-el-Khamis, or Thursday's Market.
On our journey out not a soul was near, but on our return we had an opportunity of attending one of these gatherings.
Sheikh Esau has here a tiny mosque, just an open loggia, where he goes every morning in summer-time to pray and take his coffee. Beneath it he has a bath of fresh but not over-clean water, where he and his family bathe. Often during the summer heats he spends the whole day here, or else he goes to his glorious garden about a mile distant, near the coast, where acacias, hibiscus, and almonds fight with one another for the mastery, and form a delicious tangle.
Another mile on, closer to the sea, is the fine ruined fortress of the Portuguese, Gibliah, as the natives call it now, just as they do one of the fortresses at Maskat. It covers nearly two acres of ground, and is built out of the remains of the old Persian town, for many Kufic inscriptions are let into the wall, and the deep well in the centre is lined with them. It is a regular bastioned fortification of the sixteenth century, with moat, embrasures in the parapets, and casemented embrasures in the re-entering angles of the bastions, and is one of the finest specimens of Portuguese architecture in the Gulf, an evidence of the importance which they attached to this island.
Amongst the rubbish in the fort we picked up numerous fragments of fine Nankin and Celadon china, attesting to the ubiquity and commerce of the former owners, and attesting, also, to the luxury of the men who ruled here—a luxury as fatal almost as the Flanders wars to the well-being of the Portuguese in the East.
Our road led us on through miles of palm-groves, watered by their little artificial conduits, and producing the staple food of the island. Seid bin Omar talked to us much about the date. 'Mohammed said,' he began, 'honour the date-tree, for she is your mother,' a true enough maxim in parched Arabia, where nothing else will grow. When ripe the dates are put into a round tank, called the madibash, where they are exposed to the sun and air, and throw off excessive juice which collects below; after three days of this treatment they are removed and packed for exportation in baskets of palm leaves. The Bahreini, for their own consumption, love to add sesame seeds to their dates, or ginger powder and walnuts pressed with them into jars. These are called sirah, and are originally prepared by being dried in the sun and protected at night, then diluted date-juice is poured over them. The fruit which does not reach maturity is called salang, and is given as food to cattle, boiled with ground date-stones and fish bones. This makes an excellent sort of cake for milch cows; this, and the green dates also, are given to the donkeys, and to this food the Bahreini attribute their great superiority. The very poor also make an exceedingly unpalatable dish out of green dates mixed with fish for their own table, or, I should say, floor.
Nature here is not strong enough for the fructification of the palm, so at given seasons the pollen is removed by cutting off the male spathes; these they dry for twenty hours, and then they take the flower twigs and deposit one or two in each bunch of the female blossom. Just as we were there they were very busy with the spathes, and in Thursday's Market huge baskets of the male spathes were exposed for sale. The palm-groves are surrounded by dykes to keep the water in.
The date-tree is everything to a Bahreini. He beats the green spadix with wooden implements to make fibre for his ropes; in the dry state he uses it as fuel; he makes his mats, the only known form of carpet and bedding here, out of it; his baskets are made of the leaves. From the fresh spathe, by distillation, a certain stuff called tara water is obtained, of strong but agreeable smell, which is much used for the making of sherbet. Much legendary lore is connected with the date. The small round hole at the back is said to have been made by Mohammed's teeth, when one day he foolishly tried to bite one; and in some places the expression 'at the same time a date and a duty,' is explained by the fact that in Ramazan the day's fast is usually broken by first eating a date.
Amongst all these date-groves are the curious Arab wells, with sloping runs, and worked by donkeys. The tall poles, to which the skins are attached, are date-tree trunks. Down goes the skin bucket as the donkey comes up a steep slope in the ground, and then, as he goes down, up it comes again full of water, to be guided into the channel, which fertilises the trees, by a slave, who supports himself going up, and adds his weight to that of the descending donkey, by putting his arm through a large wooden ring hung at the donkey's shoulder. Day after day in our camp we heard the weird creaking from these wells, very early in the morning and in the evening when the sun had gone down, and we felt as we heard it what an infinite blessing is a well of water in a thirsty land.
Leaving the palm-groves and the Portuguese fortress behind us, we re-entered the desert to the south-west; and, just beyond the village of Ali, we came upon that which is the great curiosity of Bahrein, to investigate which was our real object in visiting the island: for there begins that vast sea of sepulchral mounds, the great necropolis of an unknown race which extends far and wide across the plain. The village of Ali forms as it were the culminating point; it lies just on the borders of the date-groves, and there the mounds reach an elevation of over forty feet, but as they extend further southward they diminish in size, until miles away, in the direction of Rufa'a, we found mounds elevated only a few feet above the level of the desert, and some mere circular heaps of stones. There are many thousands of these tumuli extending over an area of desert for many miles. There are isolated groups of mounds in other parts of the islands, and a few solitary ones are to be found on the adjacent islets, on Moharek, Arad, and Sitrah.
Complete uncertainty existed as to the origin of these mounds, and the people who constructed them, but, from classical references and the result of our own work, there can now be no doubt that they are of Phœnician origin. Herodotus gives us as a tradition current in his time that the forefathers of the Phœnician race came from these parts. The Phœnicians themselves believed in it: 'It is their own account of themselves,' says Herodotus; and Strabo brings further testimony to bear on the subject, stating that two of the islands now called Bahrein were called Tyros and Arados. Pliny follows in Strabo's steps, but calls the island Tylos instead of Tyros, which may be only an error in spelling, or may be owing to the universal confusion of r with l.
Ptolemy in his map places Gerrha, the mart of ancient Indian trade and the starting-point for caravans on the great road across Arabia, on the coast just opposite the islands, near where the town of El Katif now is, and accepts Strabo's and Pliny's names for the Bahrein Islands, calling them Tharros, Tylos or Tyros, and Arados. The fact is that all our information on the islands prior to the Portuguese occupation comes from the Periplus of Nearchus. Eratosthenes, a naval officer of Alexander's, states that the Gulf was 10,000 stadia long from Cape Armozum, i.e. Hormuz, to Teredon (Koweit), and the mouth of the Euphrates. Androsthenes of Thasos, who was of the company of Nearchus, made an independent geographical survey of the Gulf on the Arabian side, and his statements are, that on an island called Ikaros, now Peludji, just off Koweit, he saw a temple of Apollo. Southwards, at a distance of 2,400 stadia, or 43 nautical leagues, he came on Gerrha, and, close to it, the islands of Tyros and Arados, 'which have temples like those of the Phœnicians,' who were (the inhabitants told him) colonists from these parts. From Nearchus, too, we learn that the Phœnicians had a town called Sidon or Sidodona in the Gulf, which he visited, and on an island called Tyrine was shown the tomb of Erythras, which he describes as 'an elevated hillock covered with palms,' just like our mounds, and Erythras was the king who gave his name to the Gulf. Justin accepts the migration of the Phœnicians from the Persian Gulf as certain; and M. Renan says, 'The primitive abode of the Phœnicians must be placed on the Lower Euphrates, in the centre of the great commercial and maritime establishments of the Persian Gulf.' As for the temples, there are no traces of them left, and this is also the case in Syrian Phœnicia; doubtless they were all built of wood, which will account for their disappearance.
As we ourselves, during the course of our excavations, brought to light objects of distinctly Phœnician origin, there would appear to be no longer any room for doubt that the mounds which lay before us were a vast necropolis of this mercantile race. If so, one of two suppositions must be correct, either firstly, that the Phœnicians originally lived here before they migrated to the Mediterranean, and that this was the land of Punt from which the Puni got their name, a land of palms like the Syrian coast from which the race got their distorted Greek appellation of Phœnicians; or secondly, that these islands were looked upon by them as a sacred spot for the burial of their dead, as the Hindoo looks upon the Ganges, and the Persian regards the shrines of Kerbela and Meshed. I am much more inclined to the former supposition, judging from the mercantile importance of the Bahrein Islands and the excellent school they must have been for a race which was to penetrate to all the then known corners of the globe—to brave the dangers of the open Atlantic, and to reach the shores of Britain in their trading ventures; and if nomenclature goes for anything, the name of Tyros and the still-existing name of Arad ought to confirm us in our belief and make certainty more certain.
Our camp was pitched on this desert among the tumuli. The ground was hard and rough, covered with very sharp stones; though dry, it sounded hollow, and it seemed as though there were water under it.
Our own tent occupied a conspicuous and central place; our servants' tent was hard by, liable to be blown down by heavy gusts of wind, which event happened the first night after our arrival, to the infinite discomfiture of the bazaar-master, who, by the way, had left his grand clothes at home, and appeared in the desert clad in a loose coffee-coloured dressing-gown, with a red band round his waist. Around the tents swarmed turbaned diggers, who looked as if they had come out in their night-gowns, dressing-gowns, and bath-sheets. These lodged at night in the bamboo village of Ali hard by, a place for which we developed the profoundest contempt, for the women thereof refused to pollute themselves by washing the clothes of infidels, and our garments had to be sent all the way to Manamah to be cleansed. A bamboo structure formed a shelter for the kitchen, around which, on the sand, lay curious coffee-pots, bowls, and cooking utensils, which would have been eagerly sought after for museums in Europe. The camel, which fetched the daily supply of water from afar, grazed around on the coarse desert herbage; the large white donkey which went into the town for marketing by day, and entangled himself in the tent ropes by night, was also left to wander at his own sweet will. This desert camp was evidently considered a very peculiar sight indeed, and no wonder that for the first week of our residence there, we were visited by all the inhabitants of Bahrein who could find time to come so far.
It was very weird to sit in our tent door the first evening and look at the great mound we were going to dig into next morning, and think how long it had stood there in the peace its builders hoped for it. There seemed to be quite a mournful feeling about disturbing it; but archæologists are a ruthless body, and this was to be the last night it would ever stand in its perfect shape. After all, we were full of hope of finding out the mystery of its origin.
The first attack next morning was most amusing to behold. My husband headed the party, looking very tall and slim, with his legs outlined against the sky, as he, with all the rest, in single file and in fluttering array, wound first round the mound to look for a good place to ascend, and then went straight up.
They were all amazed when I appeared and gave orders to the division under my command.
They looked very questioningly indeed, but, as the Persians had learnt to respect me, the Bahreini became quite amenable.
Theodore Bent Receiving Visitors at The Mounds, Bahrein
The dimensions of the mound on which we began our labours were as follows: 35 feet in height, 76 feet in diameter, and 152 paces in circumference. We chose this in preference to the higher mounds, the tops of which were flattened somewhat and suggested the idea that they had fallen in. Ours, on the contrary, was quite rounded on the summit, and gave every hope that in digging through it we should find whatever was inside in statu quo. At a distance of several feet from most of the mounds are traces of an outer encircling wall or bank of earth, similar to walls found around certain tombs in Lydia, as also round a tumulus at Tara in Ireland, and this encircling wall was more marked around some of the smaller and presumably more recent tombs at the outer edge of the necropolis; in some cases several mounds would appear to have been clustered together, and to have had an encircling wall common to them all.
We dug from the top of our mound for 15 feet, with great difficulty, through a sort of conglomerate earth, nearly as hard as cement, before we reached anything definite. Then suddenly this close earth stopped, and we came across a layer of large loose stones, entirely free from soil, which layer covered the immediate top of the tombs for two feet. Beneath these stones, and immediately on the flat slabs forming the roof of the tomb, had been placed palm branches, which in the lapse of ages had become white and crumbly, and had assumed the flaky appearance of asbestos. This proved that the palm flourished on Bahrein at the date of these tombs, and that the inhabitants were accustomed to make use of it for constructive purposes.
Six very large slabs of rough unhewn limestone, which had obviously come from Jebel Dukhan, lay on the top of the tomb, forming a roof. One of these was 6 feet in length, and 2 feet 2 inches in depth.
The tomb itself was composed of two chambers, one immediately over the other, and approached by a long passage, like the dromos of rock-cut Greek tombs, which was full of earth and small stones. The entrance, as was that of all the tombs, was towards the sunset. This passage was 53 feet in length, extending from the outer rim of the circle to the mouth of the tomb. Around the outer circle of the mound itself ran a wall of huge stones, evidently to support the weight of earth necessary to conceal the tomb, and large unhewn stones closed the entrance to the two chambers of the tomb at the head of the passage.
We first entered the upper chamber, the floor of which was covered with gritty earth. It was 30 feet long, and at the four corners were recesses 2 feet 10 inches in depth, and the uniform height of this chamber was 4 feet 6 inches. The whole surface of the interior to the depth of two or three inches above the other débris was covered with yellow earth composed of the tiny bones of the jerboa, that rat-like animal which is found in abundance on the shores of the Persian Gulf. There was no sign of any recent ones and only a few fragments of skulls to show what this yellow earth had been. We then proceeded to remove the rubbish and sift it for what we could find.
The chief objects of interest consisted in innumerable fragments of ivory, fragments of circular boxes, pendants with holes for suspension (obviously used as ornaments by this primitive race), the torso of a small statue in ivory, the hoof of a bull fixed on to an ivory pedestal, evidently belonging to a small statue of a bull, the foot of another little statue, and various fragments of ivory utensils. Many of these fragments had patterns inscribed on them—rough patterns of scales, rosettes, encircling chains, and the two parallel lines common to so many ivory fragments found at Kameiros, and now in the British Museum. In fact, the decorations on most of them bear a close and unmistakable resemblance to ivories found in Phœnician tombs on the shores of the Mediterranean, and to the ivories in the British Museum from Nimrud in Assyria, universally accepted as having been executed by Phœnician artists: those cunning workers in ivory and wood whom Solomon employed in the building of his temple, and, before the spread of Egyptian and Greek art, the travelling artists of the world. The ivory fragments we found were given into the hands of Mr. A. S. Murray, of the British Museum, who wrote to my husband as follows: 'I have not the least doubt, judging from the incised patterns, from bull's foot, part of a figure, &c., that the ivories are of Phœnician workmanship.'
The pottery found in this tomb offered no very distinctive features, being coarse and unglazed, but the numerous fragments of ostrich egg-shells, coloured and scratched with rough patterns in bands, also pointed to a Phœnician origin, or at least to a race of wide mercantile connection: and in those days the Phœnicians were the only people likely to combine in their commerce ostrich egg-shells and ivory. We also found small shapeless pieces of oxidised metal, brass or copper. There were no human bones in the upper chamber, but those of a large animal, presumably a horse.
The chamber immediately beneath was much more carefully constructed; it was exactly the same length, but was higher, being 6 feet 7 inches, and the passage was wider. It was entirely coated with cement of two qualities, the upper coat being the finest, in which all round the walls at intervals of two feet were holes sloping inwards and downward. In similar holes, in one of the other tombs we opened, we found traces of wood, showing that poles on which to hang drapery had been inserted. The ground of this lower chamber was entirely covered with a thin brown earth of a fibrous nature, in appearance somewhat resembling snuff; it was a foot in depth, and evidently the remains of the drapery which had been hung around the walls. Prior to the use of coffins the Phœnicians draped their dead, and amongst this substance we found traces of human bones.
Thus we were able to arrive at the system of sepulture employed by this unknown race. Evidently their custom was to place in the upper chamber broken utensils and the body of an animal belonging to the deceased, and to reserve the lower chamber for the corpse enshrouded in drapery. For the use of this upper chamber our parallels are curiously enough all Phœnician. Perrot gives us an example of two-storied tombs in the cemetery of Amrit, in Phœnicia, where also the bodies were embedded in plaster to prevent decay prior to the introduction of the sarcophagus, reminding us of the closely cemented lower chambers in our mounds. A mound containing a tomb with one chamber over the other was in 1888 observed in Sardinia, and is given by Della Marmora as of Phœnician origin. Here, however, the top of the tomb is conical, not flat, as in our mounds, which would point to a later development of the double chamber which eventually blossomed forth into the lofty mausolea of the later Phœnician epoch, and the grandiose tombs of Hellenic structure.
Also at Carthage, that very same year that we were in Bahrein, i.e. 1889, excavations brought to light certain tombs of the early Phœnician settlers which also have the double chamber. In answer to Perrot's assertion that all early Phœnician tombs were hypogea, we may say that as the Bahrein Islands offered no facility for this method of sepulture, the closely-covered-in mound would be the most natural substitute.
Before leaving the tombs we opened a second, and a smaller one of coarser construction, which confirmed in every way the conclusions we had arrived at in opening the larger tomb. Near the village of Ali, one of the largest mounds has been pulled to pieces for the stones. By creeping into the cavities opened we were able to ascertain that the chambers in this mound were similar to those in the mound we had opened, only they were double on both stories, and the upper story was also coated with cement. Two chambers ran parallel to each other, and were joined at the two extremities.
Sir M. Durand also opened one of the mounds, but unfortunately the roof of the tomb had fallen in, which prevented him from obtaining any satisfactory results; but from the general appearance, it would seem to have been constructed on exactly the same lines as our larger one. Hence we had the evidence of four tombs to go upon, and felt that these must be pretty fair specimens of what the many thousands were which extended around us.
 II. 89.
 XVI. iii. 4.
 Hist. des langues sémitiques, ii. 183.
 Perrot, History of Art in Phœnicia.
OUR VISIT TO RUFA'A
During the time that we spent at Ali we had numerous visitors. The first day came five camels with two riders apiece, and a train of donkeys, bringing rich pearl merchants from the capital; these sat in a circle and complacently drank our coffee and ate our mixed biscuits, without in any way troubling us, having apparently come for no other object than to get this slender refreshment.
Next day came Sheikh Mohammed, a young man of seventeen, a nephew of Sheikh Esau, who was about to wed his uncle's daughter, and was talked of as the heir-apparent to the throne; he was all gorgeous in a white embroidered robe, red turban, and head rings bound in royal gold. He played with our pistols with covetous eyes, ate some English cake, having first questioned the bazaar-master as to the orthodoxy of its ingredients, and then he promised us a visit next day.
He came on the morrow, on a beautifully caparisoned horse, with red trappings and gold tassels. He brought with him many followers and announced his intention of passing the day with us, rather to our distress; but we were appeased by the present of a fat lamb with one of those large bushy tails which remind one forcibly of a lady's bustle, and suggests that the ingenious milliner who invented these atrocities must have taken for her pattern an Eastern sheep. This day 'Prince' Mohammed handled the revolver more covetously than ever, and got so far as exchanging his scarlet embroidered case, with red silk belt and silver buckle, for my leathern one.
Sheikh Mohammed was very anxious to see how I could shoot with my revolver, so a brown pot containing about half a pint of water was put on a lump of rock as a mark. I was terrified; for I knew if I missed, as I surely expected, I should bring great discredit on myself and my nation, and there was such a crowd! My husband said I must try, and I am sure no one was more astonished than I was that I shattered the pot. If I had not it would have been said that I only carried the revolver for show.
That afternoon a great cavalcade of gazelle huntsmen called upon us. The four chief men of these had each a hooded falcon on his arm, and a tawny Persian greyhound, with long silky tail, at his side. They wore their sickle-like daggers in their waistbands; their bodies were enveloped in long cloaks, and their heads in white cloths bound round with the camel-hair straps; they were accompanied by another young scion of the El Khalifa family, who bestrode a white Arab steed with the gayest possible trappings. Thus was this young prince attired: on his head a cashmere kerchief with gold akkal; he was almost smothered in an orange cloth gown trimmed with gold and lined with green, the sleeves of which were very long, cut open at the ends and trimmed; over this robe was cast a black cloth cloak trimmed with gold on the shoulders, and a richly inlaid sword dangled at his side, almost as big as himself, for he was but an undersized boy of fifteen. The sportsmen made a very nice group for our photography, as did almost everything around us on Bahrein.
Any excavator would have lost patience with the men of Bahrein with whom we had to deal; tickets had to be issued to prevent more men working than were wanted, and claiming pay at the end of the day; ubiquity was essential, for they loved to get out of sight and do nothing; with unceasing regularity the pipe went round and they paused for a 'drink' at the bubble-bubble, as the Arabs express it; morning, noon-tide, and evening prayers were, I am sure, unnecessarily long. Accidents would happen, which alarmed us at first, until we learnt how ready they were to cry wolf: one man was knocked over by a stone; we thought by his contortions some limb must be broken, and we applied vaseline, our only available remedy, to the bruise; his fellow-workmen then seized him by the shoulders, he keeping his arms crossed the while, shook him well 'to put the bones right again,' as they expressed it, and he continued his work as before.
The bazaar-master and the policeman would come and frantically seize a tool, and work for a few seconds with herculean vigour by way of example, which was never followed. 'Yallah!' 'hurry on' (i.e. Oh God); 'Marhabbah!' 'very good,' the men would cry, and they would sing and scream with a vigour that nearly drove us wild. But for the occasional application of a stick by the bazaar-master and great firmness, we should have got nothing out of them but noise.
One day we had a mutiny because my husband dismissed two men who came very late; the rest refused to work, and came dancing round us, shouting and brandishing spades. One had actually got hold of a naked sword, which weapon I did not at all like, and I was thankful 'Prince' Mohammed had not yet got the revolver. For some time they continued this wild weird dance, consigning us freely to the lower regions as they danced, and then they all went away, so that the bazaar-master had to be sent in search of other and more amenable men. Evidently Sheikh Esau, when he entrusted us to the charge of the bazaar-master and sent policemen with us, was afraid of something untoward happening. Next day we heard that his majesty was coming in person with his tents to encamp in our vicinity, and I fancy we were in more danger from those men than we realised at the moment, fanned as they are into hatred of the infidel by the fanatical Wahabi; thirty years ago, I was told, no infidel could have ventured into the centre of Bahrein with safety.
Another important visitor came on Saturday in the shape of Sheikh Khallet, a cousin of the ruling chief, with a retinue of ten men, from Rufa'a, an inland village. We sat for awhile on our heels in rows, conversing and smiling, and finally accepted an invitation from Sheikh Khallet to visit him at his village, and make a little tour over the island. Accordingly, on Sunday morning we started, accompanied by the bazaar-master, for Rufa'a, and we were not a little relieved to get away before Sheikh Esau was upon us, and escape the formalities which his royal presence in our midst would have necessitated.
We had an exceedingly hot ride of it, and the wind was so high that our position on our donkeys was rendered even more precarious than usual. The desert sand whirled around us: we shut our eyes, tied down our hats, and tried to be patient; for miles our road led through the tumuli of those mysterious dead, who once in their thousands must have peopled Bahrein; their old wells are still to be seen in the desert, and evidences of a cultivation which has long ago disappeared. As we approached the edge of this vast necropolis the mounds grew less and less, until mere heaps of stones marked the spot where a dead man lay, and then we saw before us the two villages of Rufa'a. Of these, one is known as Rufa'a Shergeh, or South-western Rufa'a; the other, which belongs to the young Prince Mohammed, is called Rufa'a Jebeli. The Rufa'a are much older than Moharek, or Manamah; they are fortified with castellated walls of mud brick. Many of the El Khalifa family reside here in comfortable houses. South-western Rufa'a is quite a big place, and as our arrival became known all the village turned out to see us. The advent of an English lady among them was something too excessively novel: even close-veiled women forgot their prudery, and peered out from their blue coverings, screaming with laughter, and pointing as they screamed to the somewhat appalled object of their mirth. 'Hade bibi!' ('there goes the lady'), shouted they again and again. No victorious potentate ever had a more triumphant entry into his capital than the English 'bibi' had on entering South-western Rufa'a.
Sheikh Khallet was ready to receive us in his kahwa or reception-room, furnished solely by strips of matting and a camel-hair rug with coarse embroidery on it; two pillows were produced for us, and Arabs squatted on the matting all round the wall, for it was Sheikh Khallet's morning reception, or majilis, just then, and we were the lions of the occasion. Our host, we soon learnt, rather to our dismay, was a most rigid ascetic—a Wahabi to the backbone. He allows of no internal decorations in his house; no smoking is allowed, no wine, only perpetual coffee and perpetual prayers; our prospects were not of the most brilliant. Some of the Wahabi think even coffee wrong. After a while all the company left, and Sheikh Khallet intimated to us that the room was now our own. Two more large pillows were brought, and rugs were laid down; as for the rest we were dependent on our own very limited resources. We had brought our own sheets with us.
The Interior of Sheikh Saba's House at Rufa'a, Bahrein
Sheikh Saba, who had married Sheikh Khallet's sister, was a great contrast to our host; he had been in Bombay and had imbibed in his travels a degree of worldliness which ill became a Wahabi. He had filled his house, to which he took us, with all sorts of baubles—gilt looking-glasses hanging on the walls; coloured glass balls in rows and rows up to the ceiling, each on a little looking-glass; lovely pillows and carpets, Zanzibar date baskets, Bombay inlaid chests, El Hasa coffee-pots, and a Russian tea-urn—a truly marvellous conglomeration of things, which produced on us a wonderful sense of pleasure and repose after the bareness of our host's abode. Sheikh Saba wore only his long white shirt and turban, and so unconventional was he that he allowed his consort to remain at one end of the room whilst my husband was there.
The courtyards of these houses are architecturally interesting: the Saracenic arch, the rosettes of open-work stucco, the squares of the same material with intricate patterns—great boons in a hot land to let in the air without the sun. There is also another contrivance for obtaining air; in building the house a niche three feet wide is left in the outer wall, closed in on the inner side except for about a foot. It is funny to see the heads of muffled women peering out of these air-shafts, into which they have climbed to get an undisturbed view. Here some of the women wear the Arabian buttra or mask, which, while it hides their features, gives their eyes full play. They are very inquisitive. Some of the women one meets on Bahrein are highly picturesque when you see them without the dark-blue covering.
I was fetched to one harem after the other, always followed by a dense crowd, to the apparent annoyance of my hostesses, who, however, seemed powerless to prevent the intrusion. I saw one woman holding on to the top of the door and standing on the shoulders of one who was squatting on the floor. One good lady grew enraged at the invasion, and threw a cup of hot coffee in an intruder's face.
In the afternoon we rode over to Mountainous (and, it might be added, ruinous) Rufa'a.
It is built on a cliff, 50 feet above the lowest level of the desert; from here there is a view over a wide, bleak expanse of sand, occasionally relieved by an oasis, the result of a well and irrigation, and beyond this the eye rests on Jebel Dukhan, 'the mountain of mist,' which high-sounding name has been given to a mass of rocks in the centre of Bahrein, rising 400 feet above the plain, and often surrounded by a sea-fog; for Bahrein, with its low-lying land, is often in a mist. Some mornings on rising early we looked out of our tent to find ourselves enveloped in a perfect London fog—our clothes were soaking, the sand on the floor of our tent was soft and adhesive; then in an hour the bright orb of heaven would disperse all this, for we were very far south indeed, on the coast of Arabia. Alas! on arrival we found that our young friend Sheikh Mohammed was out, for he had to be in attendance on his uncle, Sheikh Esau, who had just arrived at his tent near our encampment, and he had to provide all his uncle's meals; we saw a donkey with a cauldron on its back large enough to boil a sheep in, large copper trays, and many other articles despatched for the delectation of the sovereign and his retinue. Sheikh Mohammed's mother, quite a queenly-looking woman, was busying herself about the preparation of these things, and when she had finished she invited us to go into the harem. My husband felt the honour and confidence reposed in him exceedingly, but, alas! all the women were veiled; all he could contemplate was their lovely hands and feet dyed yellow with henna, their rich red shirts, their aprons adorned with coins, their gold bracelets and turquoise rings. However I assured him that with one solitary exception he had lost nothing by not seeing their faces. In one corner of the women's room was the biggest bed I ever saw: it had eight posts, a roof, a fence, a gate, and steps up to it; it is a sort of daïs, in fact, where they spread their rugs and sleep, and high enough to lay beds under it too. Occasionally we got a good peep at the women as they were working in the fields, or cutting with semi-circular saws the scrub that grows in the desert for their cattle.
Half-way between the two Rufa'as we halted at a well, the great point of concourse for the inhabitants of both villages. It was evening, and around it were gathered crowds of the most enchanting people in every possible costume. Women and donkeys were groaning under the weight of skins filled with water; men were engaged in filling them, but it seems to be against the dignity of a male Arab to carry anything. With the regularity of a steam crane the woodwork of the well creaked and groaned with a sound like a bagpipe, as the donkeys toiled up and down their slope, bringing to the surface the skins of water. It was a truly Arabian sight, with the desert all around us, and the little garden hard by which Sheikh Saba cultivates with infinite toil, having a weary contest with the surrounding sand which invades his enclosure.
The sun was getting low when we returned to our bare room at Sheikh Khallet's, and to our great contentment we were left alone, for our day had been a busy one, and a strain on our conversational powers. Our host handed us over to the tender mercies of a black slave, Zamzam by name, wonderfully skilled at cooking with a handful of charcoal on circular stoves coloured red, and bearing a marked resemblance to the altars of the Persian fire-worshippers. He brought us in our dinner: first he spread a large round mat of fine grass on the floor; in the centre of this he deposited a washing basin filled with boiled rice and a bowl of ghi or rancid grease to make it palatable; before us were placed two tough chickens, a bowl of dates, and for drink we had a bowl of milk with delicious fresh butter floating in it. Several sheets of bread about the size and consistency of bath towels were also provided, but no implements of any kind to assist us in conveying these delicacies to our mouths. With pieces of bread we scooped up the rice, with our fingers we managed the rest, and we were glad no one was looking on to witness our struggles save Zamzam with a ewer of water, with which he washed us after the repast was over, and then we put ourselves away for the night.
Very early next morning we were on the move for our trip across the island. The journey would be too long for donkeys, they said, so Sheikh Khallet mounted us on three of his best camels, with lovely saddles of inlaid El Hasa work, with two pommels, one in front and one behind, like little pillars, capped and inlaid with silver. We—that is to say my husband and I and the bazaar-master—ambled along at a pretty smart pace across the desert in the direction of a fishing village called Asker, on the east coast of the island, near which were said to exist ancient remains; these, of course, turned out to be myths, but the village was all that could be desired in quaintness; the houses were all of bamboo, and the floors strewn over with little white helix shells; in one of them we were regaled with coffee, and found it delicious after our hot ride; then we strolled along the shore and marvelled at the bamboo skiffs, the curiously-fashioned oars and water casks, the stone anchors, and other primitive implements used by this seafaring race. The bazaar-master would not let us tarry as long as we could have wished, for he was anxious for us to arrive before the midday heat at a rocky cave in the 'mountain of mist,' in the centre of the island. We dismounted from our camels, and proceeded to examine Jebel Dukhan, an escarped mass of limestone rocks with rugged outline and deep caves. From the gentle elevation of the misty mountain one gets a very fair idea of the extent and character of Bahrein. The island has been likened to a sheet of silver in a sea of pearl, but it looked to us anything but silvery, and for all the world like one of the native sheets of bread—oval and tawny. It is said to be twenty-seven miles long and twelve wide at its broadest point. From the clearness of the atmosphere and the distinctness with which we saw the sea all around us, it could not have been much more. There are many tiny villages dotted about here and there, recognisable only by their nest of palm trees and their strips of verdure. In the dim distance, to our left, arose the mountains of Arabia; beyond, the flat coast-line of El Hasa, encircling that wild, mysterious land of Nejd, where the Wahabi dwell—a land forbidden to the infidel globe-trotter.
Yet another sheikh of the El Khalifa family was introduced to us, by name Abdullah; he owns the land about here, and having been advised of our coming, had prepared a repast for us, much on the lines of the one we had had the evening before.
We much enjoyed our cool rest and repast in Abdullah's cave, and for two hours or more our whole party lay stretched on the ground courting slumber, whilst our camels grazed around. Another sheikh was anxious to take us to his house for the night, but we could not remain, as our work demanded our return to camp that night, so we compromised matters by taking coffee with him on a green oasis near his house, under a blazing sun, without an atom of shade, and without a thing against which to lean our tired backs. Then we hurried back to Rufa'a, to take leave of our friend, Sheikh Khallet, and started off late in the evening for our home.
Soon we came in sight of Sheikh Esau's tent; his majesty was evidently expecting us, for by his side in the royal tent were placed two high thrones, formed of camel saddles covered with sheepskins, for us to sit upon, whilst his Arabian majesty and his courtiers sat on the ground. As many as could be accommodated sat round within the walls of the tent. Those for whom there was no room inside continued the line, forming a long loop which extended for some yards outside the tent. Here all his nephews and cousins were assembled. That gay youth Sheikh Mohammed, on ordinary occasions as full of fun as an English schoolboy, sat there in great solemnity, incapable of a smile though I maliciously tried to raise one. When he came next morning to visit us he was equally solemn, until his uncle had left our tent; then his gaiety returned as if by magic, and with it his covetousness for my pistol. Eventually an exchange was effected, he producing a coffee-pot and an inlaid bowl, which had taken our fancy, as the price.
On the surrounding desert a small gazelle is abundant. One day we came across a cavalcade of Bahreini sportsmen, who looked exceedingly picturesque in their flowing robes and floating red kaffiehs, and riding gaily caparisoned horses, with crimson trappings and gold tassels. Each had on his arm a hooded falcon and by his side a Persian greyhound. When the gazelle is sighted the falcon is let loose; it skims rapidly along the ground, attacks the head of the animal, and so confuses it that it falls an easy prey to the hounds in pursuit. Albuquerque in his 'Commentaries' says: 'There are many who hunt with falcons about the size of our goshawks, and take by their aid certain creatures smaller than gazelles, training very swift hounds to assist the falcon in catching the prey.'
In their ordinary life the Bahrein people still retain the primitiveness of the Bedouin.
There are about fifty villages scattered over the islands, recognisable from a distance by their patch of cultivation and groups of date-palms. Except at Manamah and Moharek they have little or nothing to do with the pearl fisheries, but are an exceedingly industrious race of peasants who cultivate the soil by means of irrigation from the numerous wells with which the island is blessed. There are generally three to six small wheels attached to the beam, which is across the well, over which the ropes of as many large leathern buckets pass. When these buckets rise full they tilt themselves over, the contents is then taken by little channels to a reservoir which feeds the dykes, transferred thence to the palms in buckets raised by the leverage of a date-trunk lightly swung by ropes to a frame, and balanced at one end by a basket of earth into which it is inserted; it is so light to lift that women are generally employed in watering the trees.
To manure their date-groves they use the fins of a species of ray fish called awwal, steeped in water till they are putrid; awwal, by the way, was an ancient name of the Island of Bahrein, perhaps because it was the first island of the group in size, awwal in Arabic meaning first.
The area of fertility is very rich and beautiful; it extends all along the north coast of the island, and the fishing village of Nayim, with its bamboo huts nestling beneath the palm-trees, is highly picturesque; and all this fertility is due to the number of fresh-water springs which burst up here from underground, similar, no doubt, to those before alluded to which spring up in the sea. The Arabs will tell you that these springs come straight from the Euphrates, by an underground channel through which the great river flows beneath the Persian Gulf, doubtless being the same legend alluded to by Pliny when he says, 'Flumen per quod Euphratem emergere putant.' There are many of them—the Garsari well, Um-i-Shaun, Abu Zeidan, and the Adari, which last supplies many miles of date-groves through a canal of ancient workmanship. The Adari well is one of the great sights of Bahrein, being a deep basin of water 22 yards wide by 40 long, beautifully clear, and full of prismatic colours. It is said to come up with such force from underground that a diver is driven back, and all around it are ruins of ancient date, proving that it was prized by former inhabitants as a bath. The water is slightly brackish, as is that of all these sources, so that those who can afford it send for water to a well between Rufa'a Jebeli and Rufa'a Shergeh—called Haneini, which is exceedingly good, and camels laden with skins may be seen coming into Manamah every morning with this treasure. We obtained our water supply thence. The other well, Abu Zeidan, is situated in the midst of the ruins known as Beled-al-Kadim, or 'old town.'
Two days later our camp was struck, and our long cavalcade, with Seid-bin-Omar, the bazaar-master, at its head, returned to Manamah. He had ordered for us quite a sumptuous repast at his mansion by the sea, and having learnt our taste for curiosities, he brought us as presents a buckler of camel-skin, his 8-foot-long lance, and a lovely bowl of El Hasa work—that is to say, minute particles of silver inlaid in wonderful patterns in wood. This inlaying is quite a distinctive art of the district of Arabia along the north-eastern coast known as El Hasa; curious old guns, saddles, bowls, and coffee-pots, in fact everything with an artistic tendency, comes from that country.
The day following was the great Thursday's Market at Beled-al-Kadim, near the old minarets and the wells. Mounted once more on donkeys, we joined the train of peasants thither bound; I being as usual the object of much criticism, and greatly interfering with the business of the day. One male starer paid for his inquisitiveness, by tumbling over a stall of knick-knacks, and precipitating himself and all the contents to the ground.
The minarets and pillars of the old mosques looked down on a strange scene that day. In the half-ruined, domed houses of the departed race, stall-holders had pitched their stalls: lanes and cross lanes of closely-packed vendors of quaint crockery, newly-cut lucerne, onions, fish, and objects of European fabric such as only Orientals admire, and amongst all was a compact mass of struggling humanity; but it was easy to see that the date-palm and its produce formed the staple trade of the place. There were all shapes and sizes of baskets made of palm-leaves, dates in profusion, fuel of the dried spathes, the male spathes for fructifying the palm, and palm-leaf matting—the only furniture, and sometimes the only roofing of their comfortless huts.
The costumes were dazzling in their brilliancy and quaintness. It was a scene never to be forgotten, and one of which a photograph, which I took from a gentle eminence, gives but a faint idea. It was our last scene on Bahrein—a fitting conclusion to our sojourn thereon.