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ARABS

Arab cookery is of the simplest. Roughly-ground wheat cooked with butter; bread in thin cakes, prepared on a heated iron plate or against the walls of an open oven; a few vegetables, generally of the leguminous kinds; boiled mutton or camel’s flesh, among the wealthy; dates and fruits—this is the menu of an ordinary meal. Rice is eaten by the rich and fish is common on the coasts. Tea, introduced only a few decades back, is now largely drunk. A food of which the Arabs are fond is locusts boiled in salt and water and then dried in the sun. They taste like stale shrimps, but there is a great sale for them. Spices are freely employed; butter much too largely for a European taste.

After eating, the hands are always washed, soap or the ashes of an alkaline plant being used. A covered censer with burning incense is then passed round, and each guest perfumes his hands, face, and sometimes his clothes; this censer serves also on first receptions and whenever special honour is intended. In Yemen and Oman scented water often does duty for it. Coffee, without milk or sugar, but flavoured with an aromatic seed brought from India, is served to all. This, too, is done on the occasion of a first welcome, when the cups often make two or three successive rounds; but, in fact, coffee is made and drunk at any time, as frequently as the desire for it may suggest itself; and each time fresh grains are sifted, roasted, pounded and boiled—a very laborious process, and one that requires in the better sort of establishments a special servant or slave for the work. Arabs generally make but one solid meal a day—that of supper, soon after sunset. Even then they do not eat much, gluttony being rare among them, and even daintiness esteemed disgraceful. Wine, like other fermented drinks, is prohibited by the Koran, and is, in fact, very rarely taken, though the inhabitants of the mountains of Oman are said to indulge in it. On the coast spirits of the worst quality are sometimes procured; opium and hashish are sparingly indulged in. On the other hand, wherever Wahhābiism has left freedom of action, tobacco-smoking prevails; short pipes of clay, long pipes with large open bowls, or most frequently the water-pipe or “narghileh,” being used. The tobacco smoked is generally strong and is either brought from the neighbourhood of Bagdad or grown in the country itself. The strongest quality is that of Oman; the leaf is broad and coarse, and retains its green colour even when dried; a few whiffs have been known to produce absolute stupor. The aversion of the Wahhābis to tobacco is well known; they entitle it “mukhzi” or “the shameful,” and its use is punished with blows, as the public use of wine would be elsewhere.

In dress much variety prevails. The loose cotton drawers girded at the waist, which in hot climates do duty for trousers, are not often worn, even by the upper classes, in Nejd or Yemama, where a kind of silk dressing-gown is Dress. thrown over the long shirt; frequently, too, a brown or black cloak distinguishes the wealthier citizen; his head-dress is a handkerchief fastened round the head by a band. But in Hejaz, Yemen and Oman, turbans are by no means uncommon; the ordinary colour is white; they are worn over one or more skullcaps. Trousers also form part of the dress in the two former of these districts; and a voluminous sash, in which a dagger or an inkstand is stuck, is wrapped round the waist. The poorer folk, however, and the villagers often content themselves with a broad piece of cloth round the loins, and another across the shoulders. In Oman trousers are rare, but over the shirt a long gown, of peculiar and somewhat close-fitting cut, dyed yellow, is often worn. The women in these provinces commonly put on loose drawers and some add veils to their head-dresses; they are over-fond of ornaments (gold and silver); their hair is generally arranged in a long plait hanging down behind. All men allow their beards and moustaches full growth, though this is usually scanty. Most Arabs shave their heads, and indeed all, strictly speaking, ought by Mahommedan custom to do so. An Arab seldom or never dyes his hair. Sandals are worn more often than shoes; none but the very poorest go barefoot.

Slavery is still, as of old times, a recognized institution throughout Arabia; and an illicit traffic in blacks is carried on along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The slaves themselves were obtained chiefly from the east Slavery. African coast districts down as far as Zanzibar, but this source of supply was practically closed by the end of the 19th century. Slaves are usually employed in Arabia as herdsmen or as domestic servants, rarely in agricultural work; they also form a considerable portion of the bodyguards with which Eastern greatness loves to surround itself. Like their countrymen elsewhere, they readily embrace the religion of their masters and become zealous Mahommedans. Arab custom enfranchises a slave who has accepted Islam at the end of seven years of bondage, and when that period has arrived, the master, instead of exacting from his slave the price of freedom, generally, on giving him his liberty, adds the requisite means for supporting himself and a family in comfort. Further, on every important occasion, such as a birth, circumcision, a marriage or a death, one or more of the household slaves are sure of acquiring their freedom. Hence Arabia has a considerable free black population; and these again, by inter-marriage with the whites around, have filled the land with a mulatto breed of every shade, till, in the eastern and southern provinces especially, a white skin is almost an exception. In Arabia no prejudice exists against negro alliances; no social or political line separates the African from the Arab. A negro may become a sheik, a kadi, an amir, or whatever his industry and his talents may render him capable of being. This is particularly so in Nejd, Yemen and Hadramut; in the Hejaz and the north a faint line of demarcation may be observed between the races.

The Arabs are good soldiers but poor generals. Personal courage, wonderful endurance of privation, fixity of purpose, and a contempt of death are qualities common to almost every race, tribe and clan that compose the Military qualities. Arab nation. In skirmishing and harassing they have few equals, while at close quarters they have often shown themselves capable of maintaining, armed with swords and spears alone, a desperate struggle against guns and bayonets, neither giving nor receiving quarter. Nor are they wholly ignorant of tactics, their armies, when engaged in regular war, being divided into centre and wings, with skirmishers in front and a reserve behind, often screened at the outset of the engagement by the camels of the expedition. These animals, kneeling and ranged in long parallel rows, form a sort of entrenchment, from behind which the soldiers of the main body fire their matchlocks, while the front divisions, opening out, act on either flank of the enemy. This arrangement of troops may be traced in Arab records as far back as the 5th century, and was often exemplified during the Wahhābi wars.

Arab women are scarcely less distinguished for their bravery than the men. Records of armed heroines occur frequently in the chronicles or myths of the pre-Islamitic time; and in authentic history the Battle of the Camel, 656 A.D., where Ayesha, the wife of Mahomet, headed the charge, is only the first of a number of instances in which Arab amazons have taken, sword in hand, no inconsiderable share in the wars and victories of Islam. Even now it is the custom for an Arab force to be always accompanied by some courageous maiden, who, mounted on a blackened camel, leads the onslaught, singing verses of encouragement for her own, of insult for the opposing tribe. Round her litter the fiercest of the battle rages, and her capture or death is the signal of utter rout; it is hers also to head the triumph after the victory of her clan.

There is little education, in the European sense of the word, in Arabia. Among the Bedouins there are no schools, and few, even of the most elementary character, in the towns or villages. Where they exist, little beyond the Education. mechanical reading of the Koran, and the equally mechanical learning of it by rote, is taught. On the other hand, Arab male-children, brought up from early years among the grown-up men of the house or tent, learn more from their own parents and at home than is common in other countries; reading and writing are in most instances thus acquired, or rather