THERE is no portion of the world so little known as Africa in general; and perhaps of all Africa there is no corner with which Europeans are so little acquainted as Barbary, which nevertheless is only separated from the continent of Europe by a narrow strait of four leagues across.
China itself has, for upwards of a century, ceased to be a land of mystery to the civilised portion of the world; the enterprising children of Loyola having wandered about it in every direction making converts to their doctrine and discipline, whilst the Russians possess better maps of its vast regions than of their own country, and lately, owing to the persevering labour and searching eye of my friend Hyacinth, Archimandrite of Saint John Nefsky, are acquainted with the number of its military force to a man, and also with the names and places of residence of its civil servants. Yet who possesses a map of Fez and Morocco, or would venture to form a conjecture as to how many fiery horsemen Abderrahman, the mulatto emperor, could lead to the field, were his sandy dominions threatened by the Nazarene? Yet Fez is scarcely two hundred leagues distant from Madrid, whilst Maraks, the other great city of the Moors, and which also has given its name to an empire, is scarcely farther removed from Paris, the capital of civilisation: in a word, we scarcely know anything of Barbary, the scanty information which we possess being confined to a few towns on the sea-coast; the zeal of the Jesuit himself being insufficient to induce him to confront the perils of the interior, in the hopeless endeavour of making one single proselyte from amongst the wildest fanatics of the creed of the Prophet Camel-driver.
Are wanderers of the Gypsy race to be found in Barbary? This is a question which I have frequently asked myself. Several respectable authors have, I believe, asserted the fact, amongst whom Adelung, who, speaking of the Gypsies, says: 'Four hundred years have passed away since they departed from their native land. During this time, they have spread themselves through the whole of Western Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa.' (22) But it is one thing to make an assertion, and another to produce the grounds for making it. I believe it would require a far greater stock of information than has hitherto been possessed by any one who has written on the subject of the Gypsies, to justify him in asserting positively that after traversing the west of Europe, they spread themselves over Northern Africa, though true it is that to those who take a superficial view of the matter, nothing appears easier and more natural than to come to such a conclusion.
Tarifa, they will say, the most western part of Spain, is opposite to Tangier, in Africa, a narrow sea only running between, less wide than many rivers. Bands, therefore, of these wanderers, of course, on reaching Tarifa, passed over into Africa, even as thousands crossed the channel from France to England. They have at all times shown themselves extravagantly fond of a roving life. What land is better adapted for such a life than Africa and its wilds? What land, therefore, more likely to entice them?
All this is very plausible. It was easy enough for the Gitanos to pass over to Tangier and Tetuan from the Spanish towns of Tarifa and Algeziras. In the last chapter I have stated my belief of the fact, and that moreover they formed certain connections with the Moors of the coast, to whom it is likely that they occasionally sold children stolen in Spain; yet such connection would by no means have opened them a passage into the interior of Barbary, which is inhabited by wild and fierce people, in comparison with whom the Moors of the coast, bad as they always have been, are gentle and civilised.
To penetrate into Africa, the Gitanos would have been compelled to pass through the tribes who speak the Shilha language, and who are the descendants of the ancient Numidians. These tribes are the most untamable and warlike of mankind, and at the same time the most suspicious, and those who entertain the greatest aversion to foreigners. They are dreaded by the Moors themselves, and have always remained, to a certain degree, independent of the emperors of Morocco. They are the most terrible of robbers and murderers, and entertain far more reluctance to spill water than the blood of their fellow-creatures: the Bedouins, also, of the Arabian race, are warlike, suspicious, and cruel; and would not have failed instantly to attack bands of foreign wanderers, wherever they found them, and in all probability would have exterminated them. Now the Gitanos, such as they arrived in Barbary, could not have defended themselves against such enemies, had they even arrived in large divisions, instead of bands of twenties and thirties, as is their custom to travel. They are not by nature nor by habit a warlike race, and would have quailed before the Africans, who, unlike most other people, engage in wars from what appears to be an innate love of the cruel and bloody scenes attendant on war.
It may be said, that if the Gitanos were able to make their way from the north of India, from Multan, for example, the province which the learned consider to be the original dwelling-place of the race, to such an immense distance as the western part of Spain, passing necessarily through many wild lands and tribes, why might they not have penetrated into the heart of Barbary, and wherefore may not their descendants be still there, following the same kind of life as the European Gypsies, that is, wandering about from place to place, and maintaining themselves by deceit and robbery?
But those who are acquainted but slightly with the condition of Barbary are aware that it would be less difficult and dangerous for a company of foreigners to proceed from Spain to Multan, than from the nearest seaport in Barbary to Fez, an insignificant distance. True it is, that, from their intercourse with the Moors of Spain, the Gypsies might have become acquainted with the Arabic language, and might even have adopted the Moorish dress, ere entering Barbary; and, moreover, might have professed belief in the religion of Mahomet; still they would have been known as foreigners, and, on that account, would have been assuredly attacked by the people of the interior, had they gone amongst them, who, according to the usual practice, would either have massacred them or made them slaves; and as slaves, they would have been separated. The mulatto hue of their countenances would probably have insured them the latter fate, as all blacks and mulattos in the dominions of the Moor are properly slaves, and can be bought and sold, unless by some means or other they become free, in which event their colour is no obstacle to their elevation to the highest employments and dignities, to their becoming pashas of cities and provinces, or even to their ascending the throne. Several emperors of Morocco have been mulattos.
Above I have pointed out all the difficulties and dangers which must have attended the path of the Gitanos, had they passed from Spain into Barbary, and attempted to spread themselves over that region, as over Europe and many parts of Asia. To these observations I have been led by the assertion that they accomplished this, and no proof of the fact having, as I am aware, ever been adduced; for who amongst those who have made such a statement has seen or conversed with the Egyptians of Barbary, or had sufficient intercourse with them to justify him in the assertion that they are one and the same people as those of Europe, from whom they differ about as much as the various tribes which inhabit various European countries differ from each other? At the same time, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I am far from denying the existence of Gypsies in various parts of the interior of Barbary. Indeed, I almost believe the fact, though the information which I possess is by no means of a description which would justify me in speaking with full certainty; I having myself never come in contact with any sect or caste of people amongst the Moors, who not only tallied in their pursuits with the Rommany, but who likewise spoke amongst themselves a dialect of the language of Roma; nor am I aware that any individual worthy of credit has ever presumed to say that he has been more fortunate in these respects.
Nevertheless, I repeat that I am inclined to believe that Gypsies virtually exist in Barbary, and my reasons I shall presently adduce; but I will here observe, that if these strange outcasts did indeed contrive to penetrate into the heart of that savage and inhospitable region, they could only have succeeded after having become well acquainted with the Moorish language, and when, after a considerable sojourn on the coast, they had raised for themselves a name, and were regarded with superstitious fear; in a word, if they walked this land of peril untouched and unscathed, it was not that they were considered as harmless and inoffensive people, which, indeed, would not have protected them, and which assuredly they were not; it was not that they were mistaken for wandering Moors and Bedouins, from whom they differed in feature and complexion, but because, wherever they went, they were dreaded as the possessors of supernatural powers, and as mighty sorcerers.
There is in Barbary more than one sect of wanderers, which, to the cursory observer, might easily appear, and perhaps have appeared, in the right of legitimate Gypsies. For example, there are the Beni Aros. The proper home of these people is in certain high mountains in the neighbourhood of Tetuan, but they are to be found roving about the whole kingdom of Fez. Perhaps it would be impossible to find, in the whole of Northern Africa, a more detestable caste. They are beggars by profession, but are exceedingly addicted to robbery and murder; they are notorious drunkards, and are infamous, even in Barbary, for their unnatural lusts. They are, for the most part, well made and of comely features. I have occasionally spoken with them; they are Moors, and speak no language but the Arabic.
Then there is the sect of Sidi Hamed au Muza, a very roving people, companies of whom are generally to be found in all the principal towns of Barbary. The men are expert vaulters and tumblers, and perform wonderful feats of address with swords and daggers, to the sound of wild music, which the women, seated on the ground, produce from uncouth instruments; by these means they obtain a livelihood. Their dress is picturesque, scarlet vest and white drawers. In many respects they not a little resemble the Gypsies; but they are not an evil people, and are looked upon with much respect by the Moors, who call them Santons. Their patron saint is Hamed au Muza, and from him they derive their name. Their country is on the confines of the Sahara, or great desert, and their language is the Shilhah, or a dialect thereof. They speak but little Arabic. When I saw them for the first time, I believed them to be of the Gypsy caste, but was soon undeceived. A more wandering race does not exist than the children of Sidi Hamed au Muza. They have even visited France, and exhibited their dexterity and agility at Paris and Marseilles.
I will now say a few words concerning another sect which exists in Barbary, and will here premise, that if those who compose it are not Gypsies, such people are not to be found in North Africa, and the assertion, hitherto believed, that they abound there, is devoid of foundation. I allude to certain men and women, generally termed by the Moors 'Those of the Dar-bushi-fal,' which word is equivalent to prophesying or fortune-telling. They are great wanderers, but have also their fixed dwellings or villages, and such a place is called 'Char Seharra,' or witch-hamlet. Their manner of life, in every respect, resembles that of the Gypsies of other countries; they are wanderers during the greatest part of the year, and subsist principally by pilfering and fortune-telling. They deal much in mules and donkeys, and it is believed, in Barbary, that they can change the colour of any animal by means of sorcery, and so disguise him as to sell him to his very proprietor, without fear of his being recognised. This latter trait is quite characteristic of the Gypsy race, by whom the same thing is practised in most parts of the world. But the Moors assert, that the children of the Dar-bushi-fal can not only change the colour of a horse or a mule, but likewise of a human being, in one night, transforming a white into a black, after which they sell him for a slave; on which account the superstitious Moors regard them with the utmost dread, and in general prefer passing the night in the open fields to sleeping in their hamlets. They are said to possess a particular language, which is neither Shilhah nor Arabic, and which none but themselves understand; from all which circumstances I am led to believe, that the children of the Dar-bushi-fal are legitimate Gypsies, descendants of those who passed over to Barbary from Spain. Nevertheless, as it has never been my fortune to meet or to converse with any of this caste, though they are tolerably numerous in Barbary, I am far from asserting that they are of Gypsy race. More enterprising individuals than myself may, perhaps, establish the fact. Any particular language or jargon which they speak amongst themselves will be the best criterion. The word which they employ for 'water' would decide the point; for the Dar-bushi-fal are not Gypsies, if, in their peculiar speech, they designate that blessed element and article most necessary to human existence by aught else than the Sanscrit term 'Pani,' a word brought by the race from sunny Ind, and esteemed so holy that they have never even presumed to modify it.
The following is an account of the Dar-bushi-fal, given me by a Jew of Fez, who had travelled much in Barbary, and which I insert almost literally as I heard it from his mouth. Various other individuals, Moors, have spoken of them in much the same manner.
'In one of my journeys I passed the night in a place called Mulai- Jacub Munsur.
'Not far from this place is a Char Seharra, or witch-hamlet, where dwell those of the Dar-bushi-fal. These are very evil people, and powerful enchanters; for it is well known that if any traveller stop to sleep in their Char, they will with their sorceries, if he be a white man, turn him as black as a coal, and will afterwards sell him as a negro. Horses and mules they serve in the same manner, for if they are black, they will turn them red, or any other colour which best may please them; and although the owners demand justice of the authorities, the sorcerers always come off best. They have a language which they use among themselves, very different from all other languages, so much so that it is impossible to understand them. They are very swarthy, quite as much so as mulattos, and their faces are exceedingly lean. As for their legs, they are like reeds; and when they run, the devil himself cannot overtake them. They tell Dar-bushi-fal with flour; they fill a plate, and then they are able to tell you anything you ask them. They likewise tell it with a shoe; they put it in their mouth, and then they will recall to your memory every action of your life. They likewise tell Dar-bushi-fal with oil; and indeed are, in every respect, most powerful sorcerers.
'Two women, once on a time, came to Fez, bringing with them an exceedingly white donkey, which they placed in the middle of the square called Faz el Bali; they then killed it, and cut it into upwards of thirty pieces. Upon the ground there was much of the donkey's filth and dung; some of this they took in their hands, when it straight assumed the appearance of fresh dates. There were some people who were greedy enough to put these dates into their mouths, and then they found that it was dung. These women deceived me amongst the rest with a date; when I put it into my mouth, lo and behold it was the donkey's dung. After they had collected much money from the spectators, one of them took a needle, and ran it into the tail of the donkey, crying "Arrhe li dar" (Get home), whereupon the donkey instantly rose up, and set off running, kicking every now and then most furiously; and it was remarked, that not one single trace of blood remained upon the ground, just as if they had done nothing to it. Both these women were of the very same Char Seharra which I have already mentioned. They likewise took paper, and cut it into the shape of a peseta, and a dollar, and a half-dollar, until they had made many pesetas and dollars, and then they put them into an earthen pan over a fire, and when they took them out, they appeared just fresh from the stamp, and with such money these people buy all they want.
'There was a friend of my grandfather, who came frequently to our house, who was in the habit of making this money. One day he took me with him to buy white silk; and when they had shown him some, he took the silk in his hand, and pressed it to his mouth, and then I saw that the silk, which was before white, had become green, even as grass. The master of the shop said, "Pay me for my silk." "Of what colour was your silk?" he demanded. "White," said the man; whereupon, turning round, he cried, "Good people, behold, the white silk is green"; and so he got a pound of silk for nothing; and he also was of the Char Seharra.
'They are very evil people indeed, and the emperor himself is afraid of them. The poor wretch who falls into their hands has cause to rue; they always go badly dressed, and exhibit every appearance of misery, though they are far from being miserable. Such is the life they lead.'
There is, of course, some exaggeration in the above account of the Dar-bushi-fal; yet there is little reason to doubt that there is a foundation of truth in all the facts stated. The belief that they are enabled, by sorcery, to change a white into a black man had its origin in the great skill which they possess in altering the appearance of a horse or a mule, and giving it another colour. Their changing white into green silk is a very simple trick, and is accomplished by dexterously substituting one thing for another. Had the man of the Dar-bushi-fal been searched, the white silk would have been found upon him. The Gypsies, wherever they are found, are fond of this species of fraud. In Germany, for example, they go to the wine-shop with two pitchers exactly similar, one in their hand empty, and the other beneath their cloaks filled with water; when the empty pitcher is filled with wine they pretend to be dissatisfied with the quality, or to have no money, but contrive to substitute the pitcher of water in its stead, which the wine- seller generally snatches up in anger, and pours the contents back, as he thinks, into the butt - but it is not wine but water which he pours. With respect to the donkey, which APPEARED to be cut in pieces, but which afterwards, being pricked in the tail, got up and ran home, I have little to say, but that I have myself seen almost as strange things without believing in sorcery.
As for the dates of dung, and the paper money, they are mere feats of legerdemain.
I repeat, that if legitimate Gypsies really exist in Barbary, they are the men and women of the Dar-bushi-fal.
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