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expedition into Kurdistan and Mesopotamia, Sofuk was amongst the chiefs whose power he sought to destroy. He knew that it would be useless to attempt it by force, and he consequently invited the Sheikh to his camp on the pretence of investing him with the customary robe of honor. He was seized and sent a prisoner to Constantinople. There he remained some months, until deceived by his promises, the Porte permitted him to return to the tribe. From that time his Arabs had been the terror of the Pashalics of Mosul and Baghdad, and had even carried their depredations to the east of the Tigris. However, Nejris, the son of Sofuk's uncle, had appeared as his rival, and many branches of the Shammar had declared for the new Sheikh. This led to dissensions in the tribe; and, at the time of our visit, Sofuk, who had forfeited his popularity by many acts of treachery, was almost deserted by the Arabs. In this dilemma he had applied to the Pasha of Mosul, and had promised to serve the Porte and to control the Bedouins, if he were assisted in re-establishing his authority. This state of things accounted for the presence of the white tents of the Hytas in the midst of his encampment.
His intercourse with the Turkish authorities, who must be conciliated by adequate presents before assistance can be expected from them, and the famine, which for the last two years had prevailed in the countries surrounding the desert, were not favorable to the domestic prosperity of Sofuk. The wealth and display, for which he was once renowned amongst the Arabs, had disappeared. A few months before, he had even sent to Mosul the silver ankle-rings of his favorite wife-the last resource - to be exchanged for corn. The furred cloaks, and embroidered robe, which he once wore, had not been replaced. The only carpet in his tent was the rag on which sat his principal guests; the rest squatted on the grass, or on the bare ground. He led the life of a pure Bedouin, from the commonest of whom he was only distinguished by the extent of his female establishinent -- always a weak point with the Sheikh. But even in his days of greatest prosperity, the meanest Arab looked upon him as his equal, addressed him as “ Sofuk," and seated himself unbidden in his presence. The system of patriarchal government, faithfully described by Burckhardt, still exists, as it has done for 4000 years, in the desert.
The usual Arab meal was brought to us soon after our arrival - large wooden bowls and platters filled with boiled fragments of mutton swimming in melted butter, and sour milk; and when we had eaten, Sofuk came to our tents and remained with us the greater part of the day. He was dejected and sad. He bewailed his poverty, inveighed against the Turks, to whom he attributed his ruin, and confessed, with tears, that his tribe was fast deserting him. Whilst conversing on these subjects, two Sheikhs rode into the encampment, and hearing that the chief was with us, they fastened their high-bred mares at the door of our tent and seated themselves on our carpets. They had been amongst the tribes to ascertain the feeling of the Shammar towards Sofuk, of whom they were the devoted adherents. One was a man of forty, blackened by long exposure to the desert sun, and of a savage and sanguinary countenance. His companion was a youth, whose features were so delicate and feminine, and eyes so bright that he might have been taken for a woman; a profusion of black hair which fell, plaited into numerous tresses, on his breast and shoulders, added to his feminine appearance. An animated discussion took place as to the desertion of the Nejm, a large branch of the Shammar tribe. The young man's enthusiasm and devotedness knew no bounds. He threw himself upon Sofuk, and clinging to his neck covered his cheek and beard with kisses. When the chief had disengaged himself, his follower seized the edge of his garment, and sobbed violently as he held it to his lips. “I entreat thee, O Sofuk!” he exclaimed, “say but the word; by thine eyes, by thy beard, by the Prophet, order it, and this sword shall find the heart of Nejris, whether he escape into the farthest corner of the desert, or be surrounded by all the warriors of the tribe.” But it was too late, and Sofuk saw that his influence was fast declining.
I must endeavor to convey to the reader some idea of the domestic establishment of a great Arab Sheikh. Sofuk, at the time of our visit, was the husband of three wives, who were considered to have special claims to his affection and his constant protection ; for it was one of Sofuk's weaknesses, arising either from a desire to impress the Arabs with a notion of his greatness and power, or from a partiality to the first stage of married life, to take a new partner nearly every month; and at the end of that period to divorce her, and marry her to one of his attendants. The happy man thus lived in a continual honeymoon. Of the three ladies now forming his harem, the chief was Amsha, a lady celebrated in the song of every Arab of the desert for her beauty and noble blood. She was daughter of Hassan, Sheikh of the Tai, a tribe tracing its origin from the remotest antiquity, and one of whose chiefs, Hatem, her ancestor, is a hero of Eastern romance. Sofuk had carried her away by force from her father, but had always treated her with great respect. From her rank and beauty, she had earned the title of “Queen of the Desert.” Her form, traceable through the thin shirt which she wore like other Arab women, was well proportioned and graceful. She was tall in stature, and fair in complexion. Her features were regular, and her eyes large, dark, and brilliant. She had undoubtedly claims to more than ordinary beauty; to the Arabs she was perfection, for all the resources of their art had been exhausted to complete what nature had begun. Her lips were dyed deep blue, her eyebrows were continued in indigo until they united over the nose, her cheeks and forehead were spotted with beauty-marks, her eyelashes darkened by kohl; and on her legs and bosom. could be seen the tattooed ends of flowers and fanciful ornaments, which were carried in festoons and network over her whole body. Hanging from each ear, and reaching to her waist, was an enormous earring of gold, terminating in a tablet of the same material, carved and ornamented with four turquoises. Her nose was also adorned with a prodigious gold ring, set with jewels, of such ample dimensions that it covered her mouth, and had to be removed when she ate. Ponderous rows of strung beads, Assyrian cylinders, fragments of coral, agates, and parti-colored stones hung from her neck ; silver rings encircled her wrists and ankles, making a loud jingling as she walked. Over her blue shirt was thrown, when she issued from her tent, a coarse striped cloak, and a common black kerchief was bound loosely round her temples by a rope of twisted camel's hair.
Her ménage combined, if the old song be true, the domestic and the queenly, and was carried on with a nice appreciation of economy. The immense sheet of black goat-hair canvass, which formed the tent, was supported by twelve or fourteen stout poles, and was completely open on one side. Being entirely set apart for the women, it had no partitions, like the tent of the common Arab, who is obliged to reserve a corner for the reception of his guests. Between the centre poles were placed, upright and close to one another, large goat-hair sacks, filled with rice, corn, barley, coffee, and other household stuff ; their mouths being, of course, upwards. Upon them were spread carpets and cushions, on which Amsha reclined. Around her, squatted on the ground, were some fifty handmaidens, tending the wide cauldrons, baking bread on the iron plates heated over the ashes, or shaking between them the skins suspended from three stakes, and filled with milk to be thus churned into butter. It is the privilege of the head wife to prepare in her tent the dinners of the Sheikh's guests. Fires, lighted on all sides, sent forth a cloud of smoke, which hung heavily under the folds of the tent, and would have long before dimmed any eyes less bright than those of Amsha. As supplies were asked for by the women, she lifted the corner of her carpet, untied the mouths of the sacks, and distributed their contents. Everything passed through her hands. To show her authority and rank, she poured continually upon her attendants a torrent of abuse, and honored them with epithets of which I may be excused attempting to give a translation ; her vocabulary equalling, if not exceeding, in richness, that of the highly educated lady of the city.* The combination of the domestic and authoritative was thus complete. Her children, three naked little urchins, black with sun and mud, and adorned with long tails of plaited hair hanging from the crown of their heads, rolled in the ashes, or on the grass.
Amsha, as I have observed, shared the affections, though not the tent of Sofuk--for each establishment had a tent of its own -with two other ladies; Atouia, an Arab not much inferior to her rival in personal appearance; and Ferrah, originally a Yezidi slave, who had no pretensions to beauty. Amsha, however, always maintained her sway, and the others could not sit, without her leave, in her presence. To her alone were confided the keys of the larder -- supposing Sofuk to have had either keys or larder - and there was no appeal from her authority on all subjects of domestic economy.
Mrs. Rassam was received with great ceremony by the ladies. To show the rank and luxurious habits of her husband, Amsha offered her guest a glass of “eau sucrée,” which Mrs. Rassam, who is over nice, assured me she could not drink, as it was mixed by a particularly dirty negro, in the absence of a spoon, with his fingers, which he sucked continually during the process.
In the evening Amsha and Ferrah returned Mrs. Rassam's visit; Sofuk having, however, first obtained a distinct promise that they were to be received in a tent from which gentlemen were to be excluded. They were very inquisitive, and their indiscreet curiosity could with difficulty be satisfied.
Sofuk was the owner of a mare of matchless beauty, called, as if the property of the tribe, the Shammeriyah. Her dam, who died about ten years ago, was the celebrated Kubleh, whose renown extended from the sources of the Khabour to the end of the Arabian promontory, and the day of whose death is an
* It may not perhaps be known that the fair inmate of the harem, whom we picture to ourselves conversing with her lover in language too delicate and refined to be expressed by anything but flowers, uses ordinarily words which would shock the ears of even the most depraved amongst us.