Page images

nothing else, is their funeral dirge, and they repeat it over and over until they reach the grave.

See how those women toss their arms, swing handkerchiefs, and scream, and shriek at the top of their voices! Those are the relatives, I suppose?

Yes, and they go before to the grave; for it is not customary for women and men to walk together on such occasions.

But what are they about now? They have formed a circle, like a bull-ring at a country fight, and there are two or three men inside, as if they were the combatants.

Wait a moment, and you will see what it all means. Now they begin. Those two men in the centre are the choristers, and are singing one of their hymns. The whole performance is called a zikr.

How they shake their heads, and twist and jerk their bodies! and what do they repeat with such emphasis and solemnity?

This is but the commencement; the storm will burst out by degrees. They say nothing but Ya - Allah! Ya-Allah!1 beginning, as you see, very slowly. It will soon come-is coming faster and louder; as they grow warm, their motions become wild and frantic; the chant runs into a horrid, deep growl, like wild beasts, in which it is impossible to distinguish any words—merely Allah, Allah, Allah, which they drive through their throats at a most perilous rate. This they will continue until, from sheer exhaustion, they break down. Generally some one goes off into convulsions, and, foaming at the mouth like an epileptic, falls to the ground, when the zikr ceases. There goes one already. It is very kind and considerate in him to terminate the hideous performance so speedily. He is now supposed to be in a divine trance! There is nothing in all the customs of the East so outrageously repulsive and disgusting as this zikr. The men look like demons yelling, and stamping, and foaming around the dead. If there be demoniacal possessions in our day, it is seen, beyond a doubt, in this hideous ceremony.

1 O God! O God!

[blocks in formation]

January 10th.

I have been down at the castle watching the waves. They come in fast and thick, hills over hills, heaving and tossing their huge volumes against the island and the rocks of the harbor with uproar prodigious-the very "voice of many waters," so often sung by Hebrew poets. Now and then one mightier than the rest rolls right over every thing, thunders against the old castle, overrides the causeway, and rushes headlong on the houses, and up the lower streets of the city. Sidon's modern mariners may well be thankful for their sheltered beach along that ancient wall, whereon to lay their tiny craft for the winter.


This has always been the practice, I suppose. The Phoenicians never had a harbor where ships could ride in safety during the storms of winter, and hence they drew them up on shore. They could thus dispense with harbors, and could and did build towns along the coast, wherever there was a bit of sandy beach large enough for their vessels. I counted sixteen deserted sites on the shore between Sidon and Tyre—a distance of not more than twenty miles and not one of them ever had a harbor. spring opens, they launch their ships, rig up and re-pitch them, and prosecute their business until the next winter, when they again dismantle and haul them on shore. Nor was this custom confined to the Phoenicians. The Greeks did the same, even with their war-ships on the coast of Troy, which, by the way, is about as destitute of harbors as this of Syria. It is plain that Homer's heroes not only did so with their navy, but even built a fortification around their ships to protect them from the Trojans. Indeed, Sidonian ships were there to aid the beleaguered city. And it is a pleasing corroboration of the Biblical account of the ancient greatness of Sidon to find her pre-eminent in commerce and in art at that early day. The "king of kings and fierce Achilles" were proud to wear Sidonian purple, and fight their battles in her polished armor. And Homer's heroines also arrayed themselves in gorgeous robes,

"Which from soft Sidon youthful Paris bore,
With Helen, touching on the Tyrian shore."

And from Sidon came that

"Silver bowl, the largest of its kind,

The pride of kings, and labor of a god."

And, if we may so judge from the story of Menelaus, in the
fifteenth book of the Odyssey, the Sidonians were a kind of
Yankee peddlers in those olden times:

"A ship of Sidon anchor'd in our port,
Freighted with toys of every sort-
With gold and amber chains, etc., etc.
Each female eye the glittering links employ;
They turn, review, and cheapen every toy."

And the treacherous heroine of the story, "A fair Phoe-
nician, tall, full-sized, and skilled in works of elegance," was
from our city:

"I too from glorious Sidon came,

Famous for wealth by dyeing earn'd."

If such was Sidon's fame before Troy was burned or Homer sang, she not only may, but must have been "great" when Joshua conquered at Merom.

I have noticed, every morning since coming to Sidon, that women come forth very early to visit the graves. They move about under the trees and among the tombs in the gray dawn, wrapped up from head to foot in their white sheets, and looking for all the world like veritable ghosts. Sometimes I hear the voice of prayer, some weep and sob, while others sing or chant in a low, monotonous tone. The whole thing is very novel, and thus far deeply affecting.


You do well to limit the duration of your emotion, and may safely moderate its intensity as fast as possible. ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, this public manifestation is the work of that arch-tyrant, custom, and nothing more. The inquiry, What will the world say if I don't go and weep? sets all your ghosts in motion; and, unless your sympathy is directed toward the slave, it is merely thrown away. They themselves curse the tyrant they obey, as bitterly as the Moslem does the fast of Ramadan, which yet he ob

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]

serves. In either case, it is artificial, hypocritical, slavish. You observe that some of these performers have tents pitched above the graves which require to be wept over. These, however, afford but slight protection against this pitiless storm and piercing wind. The great majority have no cover, and the mourners go home to nurse rheumatisms and catarrhs, burn in fevers, or go blind with ophthalmia. The real weeping is in the houses. And when you farther know that many of these mourners and chanters are hired, and weep, howl, beat their breast, and tear the hair according to contract, your compassion will fail fast, or take another direction, and sigh for the victims of folly and fashion.

You must not suppose, however, that there is no genuine sorrow among this people. The voice of nature is far too strong to be stifled, even by this machinery of hypocrisy. Amid all this ostentatious parade, there are burning tears, VOL. I.-G

and hearts bursting in agony and despair. Many a Mary still goes to the grave to weep there, and true friends follow them thither with real sympathy.' But where iron custom compels every body to visit the bereaved, and to act well the part of comforters and mourners according to prescribed forms, much will, of course, be manufactured for the occasion; and so it is ad nauseam. Many of the women are admirable performers, and could put to the blush the most accomplished actress on the European stage. These customs date far back in the history of earth's sorrows: "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward."2 Job had his friends who came from a distance to comfort him, and many of the expressions now detailed with a glib volubility, which confounds us simple Americans, are copied from those celebrated dialogues. On similar occasions, lover and friend hasten from afar to mingle their condolence with the wretched, and sometimes with no kinder feelings than those of Bildad and his associates.

Even the custom of hiring mourners is very ancient. Jeremiah says, Consider ye, and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for cunning women, that they may come; and let them make haste, and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out with waters.3 Every particular here alluded to is observed on funeral occasions at the present day. There are in every city and community women exceedingly cunning in this business. These are always sent for, and kept in readiness. When a fresh company of sympathizers comes in, these women "make haste" to take up a wailing, that the newly come may the more easily unite their tears with the mourners. They know the domestic history of every person, and immediately strike up an impromptu lamentation, in which they introduce the names of their relatives who have recently died, touching some tender chord in every heart, and thus each one weeps for his own dead, and the performance, which would otherwise be difficult or impossible, comes easy and natural, and even this extempo

1 John xi. 31.

2 Job v. 7.

3 Jer. ix. 17, 18.

« PreviousContinue »