Page images
PDF
EPUB

king; the members of it, attached to him by the ties of blood, acknowledge and submit to his power. When the master of the family dines, the women stand, and frequently hold the basin for him to wash, serve him at table, and on all occasions behave to him with the extremest humility and reverence. The women of the wealthier classes spend their time principally among their slaves, in works of embroidery.”

When a rich man intends to dine with one of his wives, he sends a slave to give her notice; she prepares the most delicate dishes, and receives him with the utmost attention and respect.

Notwithstanding the general degradation of the sex, a virtuous and sensible woman can make herself greatly respected, even in degenerate Egypt. “The favorite wife of Mohammed Ali possessed an astonishing degree of influence over her impetuous husband, who always regarded her as the foundation of his good fortune. She was, likewise, much esteemed and beloved by the people; for her power was uniformly exercised on the side of justice and mercy. Much of her time was occupied in receiving petitions; but she seldom had to refer them to the pacha, as her ascendency was too well known by the ministers to require this last appeal. If, however, in consequence of any demur on their part, she was obliged to apply to him, he answered their remonstrances by saying, ‘’T is enough. By my two eyes! if she requires it, the thing must be done, be it through fire, water, or stone.’”

The Turkish conquerors have carried into Egypt the enervating despotism and luxurious voluptuousness, which characterize their own land. The favorite residence of the pacha's harem is at Shoubra, three miles below Cairo. In the garden are groves of fruit-trees, and walks shaded by evergreens, paved with pebbles in mosaic. A most splendid bath is inclosed by a quadrangular platform of white sandstone, on which rests a handsome corridor. At each corner of the bath is a dressing room, and between each of these a magnificent divan, the canopy of which is supported by white marble pillars beautifully sculptured. In the centre of the bath is a seat for the pacha himself, from which he may behold his innumerable wives floating in the water around him. A highly sculptured gallery extends all around in front of the divans, resting upon the heads of four large crocodiles of white marble, from whose mouths the bath is partly supplied with water. In the centre is a grand jet d'eau ; marble vases filled with flowers are dispersed about ; and large statues of lions guard the doors. Water for this enormous bath is brought from the Nile by Persian wheels. The interior of this palace is rich with gilding, carved work, embroidery, and velvet hangings. The dress of the pacha's favorites corresponds to the splendor of their residence. Some American ladies, who recently obtained permission to visit his harem, say that even the attendants wore head-dresses covered with diamonds.

No glass windows are seen in Egypt, except in a few houses built by Christian residents. A very close wooden lattice-work conceals the inmates of the house, excludes the air, and gives rather a dismal appearance to the streets. The quadrangular court in the centre (always formed by the eastern manner of arranging the walls of their buildings) is, however, open to the breezes, and generally kept wet and cool by a fountain playing on marble or stone pavements. This, as in other Mohammedan countries, is the usual place where the women sit at their weaving and embroidery, and are amused by the gambols of their children, or the dances of their attendants. The Arabs who live in cities keep their wives in very close seclusion. In the large towns of Egypt these women rarely have more than one apartment, in which they eat, drink, and sleep. At night a piece of carpet is spread on the floor, and they lie down to rest, generally without changing their clothes. No male stranger is ever allowed to set his foot within the harem, and the ladies are not suffered to go out of it without being guarded and screened. The Arabs always decorate these bird cages with as much gilding, painting, carving, mosaic, and silk hangings, as their wealth will possibly allow ; and they indulge their captives, to the utmost of their power, in rich shawls, muslins, silks, pearls, emeralds, and diamonds. In summer the common people often sleep on the flat roofs of their dwellings. The Egyptian women, beside a large white veil over the head, usually wear a black handkerchief tied under the eyes and falling below the chin. Two sparkling eyes are the only part of the countenance that is visible. This, with their long loose robes tied up to the throat, gives them a strange spectral appearance. In cities many of these figures are seen gliding about, selling the embroidered handkerchiefs, so much used in the East, as parting presents to guests, and to wipe the fingers after eating sweetmeats, of which they are universally fond. A' The country girls, closely veiled, are frequently employed in selling melons, pomegranates, eggs, poultry, &c. Their arms are often tattooed in fanciful patterns, and sometimes their faces are disfigured in the same way. It is a general custom to stain the eyebrows black and the fingers red. Everywhere on the banks of the Nile, the poorer sort of women may be seen bringing up water from the river, in pitchers on their heads, or shoulders. In consequence of this habit, their motions are universally firm, well balanced, and graceful. The Syrian women who reside in Egypt retain the customs of their country, and of course have more freedom than the Mohammedans. They seldom if ever go into the public streets without veils; but at home they eat and drink with their husbands, and are introduced to their guests. Even the wealthiest personally assist in the domestic occupations of the family, and hand refreshments and embroidered handkerchiefs to their visiters. The Syrian women are said to be generally distinguished by the peculiar beauty of their hands and arms. A great number of slaves, of all colors and shades,

are sold in Egypt; and these scenes are characterized by all the brutal and disgusting particulars which must necessarily everywhere attend the sale of human beings. When the French army left Egypt, shameful transactions were witnessed upon the quay at Rosetta. The French were busily employed in selling to the British troops the women who had lived with them during their stay in the country. Several of the English soldiers bought very pretty girls for one dollar each. These scenes occurred between two Christian nations ! There are public dancers in Egypt, of a character similar to those in India, but said to have less skill and grace. One of their most common dances at weddings, and other entertainments, is very similar to the Spanish fandango, but abundantly more indelicate. After three o'clock in the day the women have the public baths to themselves; and here, as in Turkey, they are a favorite place of resort. Those Egyptians who have not private baths, often hire one of the public ones for an entire day, and indulge themselves in the luxury of taking with them their dinners, women, dancers, and story-tellers. With regard to a change of garments, the Egyptians are very uncleanly. The marriage ceremonies are like those of Turkey. The Egyptian women often wear amber or glass beads on the right wrist, and the left is almost always encircled with a brass twist. Sometimes they

« PreviousContinue »