AMONG THE WOMEN OF THE SAHARA MRS. ARTHUR BELL (N. D'Anvers) CHAPTER XIV. FROM TUGGURT TO IN-SALAH. If you draw a straight line on a map between Tuggurt and In-Salah it will pass through many deeply interesting districts, and if, coming from the Sahara, you follow your straight line, you will meet with examples of nearly every race of the desert. Tuggurt, a brown coloured town, inhabited by Ghuara, is very like Wargla in appearance, but its origin, or reputed origin, was very different. In this case the founder was a woman, and a woman of no very good reputation, who, having become rich through her evil ways, wished to buy forgiveness for her sins by building a refuge for the old and poor. Only unfortunately—and this, as a certain Brother Jean des Entommeures once said, is the gist of the story, other women of bad reputation came to live near the rescued poor who had now become rich, owning land in the Sahara ; so rich, indeed, that the money, dates, and kouskous so lightly come by were equally readily given away. The foundress in her despair tore the wool which represented her once plentiful tresses, but to her objurgations the intruders only replied : " Thou hast had thy turn, oh wealthy one : now it is ours ! At last the infant city, to which the very scandal connected with it attracted merchants and players of what the natives call khraUrab, fell into the stronger hands of a warrior of the neighbourhood, who began by turning out the inmates of the refuge to take up his own abode in it, and finally married its foundress to avoid any future disputes about ownership. This wise warrior was the first Sultan of Tuggurt, who reigned long, long before the Ben-Jellab dynasty. As we toiled wearily and painfully across the evilsmelling chott and dunes of the Southern Sahara,where the shifting sand gives away beneath the softly padded foot of the camel, I thought to myself that perhaps I had not said quite enough about the fassedett, as the professional beauties are called, in my account of the women of the desert. It is a painful subject, but no account of the people of the Sahara would be complete without a few words about it. To begin with, I must explain that it is a mistake to suppose that the paint, the henna, and the heavy golden ornaments, such as the Louis-d'or and the hundred-franc pieces, worn by the fassedett, are either the exclusive marks or the rewards of their profession, for all these are ornaments affected by married women on fete days. The unfortunate girls have really no distinctive costume, nothing to set them apart from their virtuous sisters, except perhaps the ostrich feather they all sport. The fassedett are often spoken of as Aulad-Nails, but that too is a mistake, for many of the almehs, or dancers and painted girls, whom men admire so niuch, do not belong to that tribe. Whatever their right name, however, I made up my mind to find out something about these wearers of the heavy gold necklaces and the diadems with the frontlets of smaller coins falling almost to the eyebrows above the jet-black eyes. Perhaps, as the attention I have given to them is so entirely disinterested, I may have been able to get a truer insight into their poor little souls than my brothers of the sterner sex, and truth to tell, I have found several of those souls, careless, frivolous and unconscious of the tragic elements of their position, though they be. not so very different from the virtuous souls of many legal wives. They are typical feminine souls of the race Mohammed knew so well ; to the women of whom he denied the possession of a soul at all, in accordance with the orders of Allah made known to him by the angel Jibril or Gabriel. The fassedett do not form a caste apart. Some few of them belong to the Aulad-Nail tribe, whose ideas are emancipated, but these go to Biskra and the Northern towns. Those who frequent the Southern districts of the Sahara belong to nomad tribes, chiefly those of the kusur, and are the children of poor parents. Many of them are very intelligent, even versatile. Children of the people, they retain their own mode of speech, their attitudes and their gestures ; but they can imitate to perfection the haughty dignity of the wives of the Caids, the expression of the mouth, the stiff pose of the head beneath the weighty diadem, which was the envy of their childhood. They are to the poor sokhrar, or camel driver, sheep seller or spahi, the very embodiment of beauty, and to the rich of luxury. To the latter, of course, they are mere temporary playthings in whom their admirers take pleasure, as they do in the other luxuries their wealth enables them to procure. Such are the fassedett of Southern Sahara. Look at one of them dancing who has not adopted the coarse and ugly fashion introduced from Egypt by the Turks. How mysterious is the twinkling motion of her feet, alike sensual and modest, how those feet seem to tremble with love, how imploringly her little hands are raised to Heaven ; with what sudden despair her wrists droop like the broken stem of a flower ; or again, how she poises with outspread arms as a bee hovers over some blossom, and at last sinks exhausted to the floor with limbs relaxed and trembling. She is to the dwellers in the extreme South of the Sahara, the very idealization of the real, the realization of the ideal. The dancer herself is quite aware that her life is sinful ; but she always hopes to wash away its guilt when she retires, by making a pilgrimage, by prayers, and by alms. Meanwhile, she seems thoroughly to enjoy the lot she has chosen, and does not mind the scorn of her married sisters in the least. She has ambition enough to keep her happy without any overstrain on her heart. One day I asked a young debutante in a little Saharian kasr if she was not vexed at owning so few jewels. " Oh, no," she answered, simply, " that does not trouble me, for I know I shall get some more— a few every day." Nothing could give any idea of the quiet candour of this reply. Tainted water often runs more quietly than a clear stream, no doubt, and where guilt is not felt there is no sting of remorse. Swallows of love, the fassedett migrate from kasr to kasr in the Sahara, and will be found at Wargla after passing through the little town of N'Guca, the present Caid of which claims descent from the nurse of the Prophet. The Said nomads of dignified presence, the Shaanba, the Otba Beni-Thur, and all the other wanderers of the desert, will be delighted to find them when they reach the crowded meeting places in their route.
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