|Avesta -- Zoroastrian Archives||Contents||Prev||peacock||Next||Glossary|
This electronic edition copyright © 2004, J.H. Peterson. If you find texts in this archive useful, please do not copy except for private study ("fair use").
The Yezidis have many customs and beliefs in common with Zoroastrianism, and this text has many observations of interest to students of the latter.
I have been trying to purchase a copy of this book for some time, but have always been outbid by extravagant amounts. Bidding was always vigorous, so I figured there was a fair amount of interest in this text. Therefore, I decided to create this HTML edition.
For an excellent recent book on Yezidism, see Philip Kreyenbroek, Yezidism - Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition (Mellen, 1995)
Note: All of the page numbers have anchor tags, so can be referenced individually, for example, http://www.avesta.org/yezidi/peacock.htm#p30. Likewise, the chapters can be referenced, for example, http://www.avesta.org/yezidi/peacock.htm#chap3. Obvious typos have been silently corrected.
Please let me know if you find any typos, or have suggestions for improving this e-text or web site. Thanks. -JHP, July 2004.
Author: Drower, E. S. (Ethel Stefana), Lady, b. 1879 Title: Peacock angel; being some account of votaries of a secret cult and their sanctuaries Published: London, J. Murray  Description: ix, 214 p. front., illus., plates, ports. 22 cm. Availability: TC Wilson Library 297 D839 Regular Loan Subject LC: Yezidis. Material Type: bks
Being some Account of Votaries of
a Secret Cult and their Sanctuaries
E. S. DROWER
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
|II||A YAZIDI WEDDING||18|
|III||SNAKES AND SHRINES||24|
|V||BAHZANÉ AND SHAIKH UBEKR||40|
|VII||THE MONASTERY ON THE ROCK||61|
|VIII||"SAIREY GAMP" AGAIN||70|
|IX||A JACOBITE SERVICE||79|
|X||LEGEND AND DOCTRINE||87|
|XI||THE EVE OF THE FEAST||97|
|XII||THE FEAST: THE FIRST DAY||102|
|XIII||THE FEAST: THE SECOND DAY||110|
|XIV||THE FEAST: THE THIRD DAY||124|
|XVI||SHAIKH 'ADI: THE TEMPLE PRECINCTS||151|
|XVII||THE SHRINES OF SHAIKH 'ADI||159|
|XVIII||A PLACE OF INFINITE PEACE||169|
|XIX||CONVERSATIONS WITH MY HOSTS||178|
|XX||STORM IN THE VALLEY||187|
|XXI||WITHIN THE TEMPLE||194|
|APPENDIX A: MARRIAGE CUSTOMS||207|
|APPENDIX B: BIRTH||208|
|The holy valley of Shaikh ‘Adi||Frontispiece|
|Two qawwâls of Baashika||facing24|
|The shaikh of Shaikh Mand and his daughter "Snake-Poison"||27|
|The sacred tree Faqir ‘Ali, with Tashid in the foreground.||28|
|"A bold wench ... asked me to take her photograph"||29|
|Shows how hair is shaved||33|
|The shrine of Shaik Mand, Bahzané.||38|
|Seen from the street: the courtyard of a Yazidi house, Bahzané||42|
|Women at the washing-pool, Ras al-‘Ain||54|
|Ras al-‘Ain: behind the rock in the foreground is the sacred cavern containing the rock sculptures||54|
|Sitt Gulé at the shrine of Mus-as-Sor||57|
|The Mutran, Deir of Mar Matti. (The monk Daud on his right.)||65|
|Yazidi women: mother and daughter.||65|
|Sitt Gulé's handmaiden at her spinning-wheel||95|
|Lamenting women at the tombs, Baashika.||98|
|The village washing pool, Baashika||98|
|A Yazidi girl in her festival clothes||104|
|The scene at Shaikh Muhammad on the eve of the vigil||115|
|The Baba Shaikh and his host, Sadiq ibn Rashid||122|
|Villagers streaming in for the feast||125|
|"As soon as they had entered, they fell to their knees"||130|
|Dancing the debka in the courtyard of Shaikh Muhammad||130|
|Beginning of the dance outside the shrine||130|
|Exterior of the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad on the feast day||132|
|Door of the temple: Shaikh `Adi||154|
|The baptism cisterns||160|
|Door to the girls' baptismal chamber.||161|
|Decorative ornaament at Shaikh `Adi||162|
|The shrine of Kadi Bilban||163|
|The phallic column in the cavern of Ustuna Mradha.||164|
|The shrine of Pir Hajjali||164|
|Decorative designs at Pir Hasil Mama||182|
|The Shaikh carving his oaken spoons||185|
|Door: Shrine of Shaikh ‘Adi||195|
Sincere thanks are offered to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Baghdad, to the Mutesarrif of Mosul, to His Highness the Mir of the Yazidis, and to Captain Corry, of the ‘Iraq Police. Mr. Evan Guest was kind enough to supply the botanical names of the plants mentioned in this book.
I must also add my very grateful thanks to my
daughter, Miss M. S. Drower, for correcting the proofs;
as I am out of England, it was impossible for me to do
Note.— The quotations at the heads of the chapters are, with
one exception, from Andrew Lang's Translation of Theocritus, Bion
and Moschus. (Macmillan, 1889).
"When the hoary deep is roaring, and the sea is broken up with foam, and the waves rage high, then lift I mine eyes unto the earth and trees...." -MOSCHUS, Idyll V.
I had invited the Yazidi princess to lunch with me in our house by the Tigris in Baghdad. She rang up from her hotel to reply. I said, "Who is it?" A voice replied, "Wansa; it is Wansa speaking." "Did you get my note, Mira Wansa?" "Yes, thank you very much. Madame, I will come. Madame, you are very gentle." She had learnt some English and French in Beirut, so what she meant was "it is very nice of you to ask me."
This girl had been expelled from Syria. When she ran away from her husband, the ruling prince of the Yazidis, she crossed the frontier by way of the Jebel Sinjar, her real home, to shelter with co-religionists in Syria, for assassination would have been her certain portion had she stayed. At twenty-four life is sweet, although the marriage arranged by her father, Ismail Beg, had been a tragic mistake, and although she had lost her only daughter Laila as well. She spoke of her with tears in her eyes: "Madame, I loved her!" Malaria, the curse of the Kurdish foothills, claimed this little victim and so snapped the only remaining link between the young princess and her husband.
The refugee was without a passport in wartime and the French authorities were suspicious. She was placed in an hotel under military supervision, but it was not  considered advisable to allow this charming young woman, whose name was suggestively "Amusement” (Wansa), to remain in the country. Considering the times, this was natural. Coming as she did from a country where nationalism takes the form of an active interest in neighbouring politics, she became the object of doubts. Finally, as “a menace to public security” "Wansa, Princesse des Yezidis" was sent back over the frontier again and placed herself under the protection of the ‘Iraqi Government. She established herself in an hotel in Baghdad, with her mother and brother, and was far from friendless, since several schoolfellows in Beirut, ‘Iraqi of origin, lived in that city. Whenever she goes out, however, she is guarded, for assassination lurks round the corner for her even in Baghdad, and to return to her own people would be suicide. When she came to see me, the policeman detailed to accompany her waited by the house till she came out. Yet she yearns for her hills, like that Median princess for whom the Babylonian king, her husband, built an artificial mountain, called misleadingly the Hanging Gardens.
She talked to me of her home in the Sinjar, and answered all my questions about the habits and customs of her people with an appreciation of the points which showed cultivated intelligence. She is the first Yazidi woman to be educated. Her father, Ismail, of the princely family, broke with tradition by sending her to school, and the failure of her subsequent marriage with the ruling prince, a man older than herself and himself unschooled, has led the wiseacres to shake their heads and say, "There, we said that no good would come of teaching a woman to read."
When I first visited the Yazidis in the north eighteen years ago, practically no Yazidi boy attended school, and none but a few of the religious shaikhs could read. Education was forbidden. Now it is different. At the  village of Baashika, where I spent part of April this year, many Yazidi boys attend the local Government school. A few have passed into the secondary schools, and before long there will be a supply of Yazidi school-masters to teach Yazidi children: indeed, there is one already in the Jebel Sinjar. The parents, mostly farmers, are not yet enthusiastic. They fear, and perhaps with reason, that if their sons go to school they will find agricultural work demeaning and will hanker, as often happens, to become clerks and petty Government officials. To remove this fear should be the task of the schools, and I hope that the Yazidi teachers, themselves not town-bred, will be able to implant in their pupils a true pride in work on the land which bred them, as well as interest in anything which may improve traditional methods of tillage. To exchange their natural heritage for the office-stool and coffee-house, for the empty life of the effendi, would be the sorriest of bargains. Too often, enthusiastic schoolmasters see in successful examination results and office employment the goal for every scholar, no matter what his origin, with the result that the peasant lad leaves his village and becomes a drug in the towns. This is to question the fairy gold which the Little People place at the cottage door, for which the punishment is that the gold turns to black coal.
As for the girls, their time will come: meanwhile, I wonder how much these peasant women lose by not being able to write their names or read the cinema captions, accomplishments which are, too often, the only result of education in a country where a woman rarely opens or reads a book after leaving school unless she has taken up a profession. No, these Yazidi women cannot read. They cannot read the fashion papers, or news columns, or even the advertisements of patent medicines.
But they grind the grain which their men have  harvested, they work in the fields, they bake, they cook, they milk, they make butter, they weave, dye, bleach, sew and wash clothes. All day and every day in Yazidi villages one hears the clop-clop of wooden clubs as they beat the family washing at the springs, great tablets of home-made olive-oil, soap beside them on the stones, and garments and cloths spread on the hot rocks to dry. The washing-pools are the women's clubs: here they gossip, and here reputations are made and lost. All this is in addition to the work of bearing and suckling children, which not a woman shirks or evades. I heard many charms for curing barrenness, but never of a contraceptive or of any spell for the prevention of child-birth.
I had intended to revisit the Yazidis for some years
past, and not as a quickly passing traveller, but to stay
long enough with them to know something of their
daily lives and doings. In the spring of 1939 I was
upon the point of starting when a rumour, started in
the bazaars after the sudden accidental death of the
young King Ghazi, led to trouble in the north. Anti-British
feeling had long been prevalent in the schools,
and in Mosul schoolboys led a rush to the British Consulate.
But a short while before, these same schoolboys
had been the Consul's guests, and it was his trust in their
friendliness which led to his coming down unarmed,
and to the brutal attack which killed him. It was not
their fault. They believed that we had treacherously
killed their king, and answered supposed treachery with
treachery. The lie still lingers, for truth is too simple
to be believed by a generation trained to expect intrigue
from every European. It is a disadvantage to Truth
in any Oriental country that she is naked. They expect
her, like every decent woman, to be well covered and
veiled. For this reason, plain statements of fact over
the radio have little chance of being credited. Coffee-house
wiseacres shake their heads. "It is all propaganda,
Both sides have their propaganda. Both sides
tell lies. It is natural."
As Mosul was my jumping-off place, this unfortunate affair wrecked my plans, and it was not until this spring of 1940, in the lull which preceded the German offensive, that I was able to carry them out. Wansa's visit to Baghdad was opportune, for she most kindly gave me a letter to friends in Baashika, as well as satisfying my curiosity about many things I wished to know.
Here I must apologize for this book. It is not a serious contribution to the literature about the sect, although when I went the ostensible reason of my visit was to see how the Yazidi spring festival fitted into the pattern of the other spring festivals of an ancient and conservative land. Being there, however, female inquisitiveness led me into byways, so that those who really do mean to study this interesting people scientifically and thoroughly, may find here scraps and tags of information which may be useful to them. I hope sincerely that some honest and skilled investigator may undertake the task, for I am convinced that most of what has been written hitherto about the Yazidis is surface scratching, often incorrect, based upon hearsay instead of upon prolonged direct investigation. Without a good knowledge of the Kurdish language it would be impossible to gain the confidence of the religious chiefs or to understand chants sung by the qawwâls.
In a book I wrote eighteen years ago, I repeated many tales about the Yazidis current amongst their neighbours, and others have taken their material from similar sources, and sometimes borrowed from my chapter. At all these legends, reports and current tales I look now with the utmost caution and suspicion. Years spent in studying another minority and another secret religion have taught me how unreliable hearsay evidence is, and in this book, therefore, I repeat only what  I gather from Arabic-speaking Yazidis themselves, or that which I myself witnessed.
The Yazidis are spoken of as Devil-Worshippers. Apart from the fact that Shaikh ‘Adi bin Musafir, their principal saint, was recognized in his time as an orthodox Moslem, my personal impressions are contradictory of this. I cannot believe that they worship the Devil or even propitiate the Spirit of Evil. Although the chief of the Seven Angels, who according to their nebulous doctrines are charged with the rule of the universe, is one whom they name Taw'us Melké, the PEACOCK ANGEL, he is a Spirit of Light rather than a Spirit of Darkness.
"They say of us wrongly," said a qawwâl to me one evening, "that we worship one who is evil."
Indeed, it is possibly the Yazidis themselves, by tabooing all mention of the name Shaitan, or Satan, as a libel upon this angel, who have fostered the idea that the Peacock Angel is identical with the dark fallen angel whom men call the Tempter. In one of the holy books of the Mandaeans the Peacock Angel, called by them Malka Tausa, is portrayed as a spirit concerned with the destinies of this world, a prince of the world of light who, because of a divinely appointed destiny, plunged into the darkness of matter. I talked of this with the head of the qawwâls in Baashika who, honest man, was not very clear himself about the point, for one of the charms of the Yazidis is that they are never positive about theology. It seemed probable to me, after this talk, that the Peacock Angel is, in a manner, a symbol of Man himself, a divine principle of light experiencing an avatar of darkness, which is matter and the material world. The evil comes from man himself, or rather from his errors, stumblings and obstinate turnings down blind alleys upon the steep path of being. In repeated incarnations he sheds his earthliness, his evil, or else, if hopelessly linked to the  material, he perishes like the dross and illusion that he is.
I say that this seems to me a probable conception, but I have no scrap of evidence that it is the Yazidi theory, no documentary proof, no dictum from the Baba Shaikh, who is the living religious head of the nation. One Yazidi propounded to me the curious theory that the accumulated experiences of various earthly lives was, on the Day of Resurrection, gathered into one over-soul, but that the individuals who had once lived those lives continued as separate entities, but how this was possible he did not explain.
However, as I have already intimated, I am not concerned here with Yazidi creeds, but with themselves and the shape of their daily life as I saw it. Whatever may be the vague beliefs of their religious chiefs, their practised religion is a mystical pantheism. The name of God, Khuda, is ever on their lips. God for them is omnipresent, but especially reverenced in the sun, the planets, the pure mountain spring, the green and living tree, and even in cavern and sacred Bethel stone some of the mystery and miracle of the divine lie hidden.
As for propitiation of evil, I can say sincerely that
I found less amongst them than their neighbours.
Moslems and Christians wear three amulets to the
Yazidi one, and though a Yazidi is not averse to wearing
a charm against the Evil Eye, many so-called devil-worshipping
children go without, though few Moslem
or Christian mothers would dare to take their babies
abroad without sewing their clothes over with blue
buttons, cowries, and scraps of Holy writ, either Qur'an
A third impression was of their cleanliness. In the
village of Baashika there was no litter, no filth, no mess
of discarded cans or scattered bottles. To be honest,
I saw a few rusty tins, but these had been carefully
collected, filled with water, and taken to a shrine,
there to be left as offerings. Petroleum-tins are utilized
to store precious home-pressed olive-oil, so that pitchers
and jars are still employed for water-carrying. Paper
is rarely used. What one buys in the bazaar is taken
home in a kerchief or in a corner of the robe. There
is no faint and revolting stench of human filth such as
there is in most Arab villages in central and southern
‘Iraq, or on the outskirts of the larger towns, where
any ditch or wall serves for a latrine. As a newspaper
is a rarity, one sees no untidy mess of soiled paper.
What they do with their dead animals I do not know,
but I neither saw, nor smelt, a decaying corpse, whereas
even in such a modern town as Baghdad, owing to the
laziness of municipal cleaners who dump dead animals
behind the city to save themselves the trouble of the
incinerator, any walk outside the city area may mean
breathing polluted air. I complimented the mayor of
the village, and he replied simply, "They are clean
people."1 Nevertheless, to the authorities belongs
the credit of tapping the pure spring water as it issues
from the mountain at Ras al-‘Ain and bringing it by
pipe to the centre of the village so that women can
fill their water-pots with good water.
||1. Layard comments upon Yazidi cleanliness.|
At Shaikh ‘Adi I realized what a danger people like
myself can be to such a place when I saw the result of
my giving a page of pictures from an illustrated paper
to the children of the guardian of the shrines. Quickly
tiring of looking at the images, they tore it up and the
untidy fragments were borne by the wind about the
flower-grown courts of the sanctuary.
To return to this book. It would be tedious to recount all the conversations which led to such information as is set down here about marriage and birth and such events. I have therefore woven them, I fear in a somewhat haphazard way, into the narrative of the  whole. The book is, therefore, merely a personal impression of day-by-day happenings and friendships.
To me this stay of a spring month with the Yazidis was a very lovely experience, and if I fail in transmitting its flavour and quality, it is that I am incompetent. To have escaped in the midst of a European war into places of absolute peace and beauty is an experience which one would gladly share with others.
An old friend of mine in this city of Baghdad, echoing
unconsciously an ancient belief, once told me that if
ear and spirit can be cleared of the din of this world,
one can hear at rare and high moments the separate
notes that the worlds give forth, the sun, the earth,
the moon and the stars, as they move and vibrate according
to the law of their being. The whole blends, he
said, into perfect harmony, into an exquisite chant of
joy. Whatever this music may be, and whatever its purpose
or purposelessness, I fancied that, for a moment or two,
during these weeks of escape, I caught a fleeting bar, a
faint echo of lovely and eternal harmonies, far removed
from the clash and fret of men.
Chapter I. BAASHIKA.
"Not of wars, not of tears, but of Pan would he chant, and of the neatherds he sweetly sang...." -THEOCRITUS.
I was to stay with friends in Mosul, and it was my host, Captain C., who had taken infinite trouble in arranging for me, with the permission of the authorities, lodging in the Yazidi village that I had chosen as my headquarters. The road thither is impassable in wet weather, and I felt apprehensive when Captain C. showed me pock-marks more than an inch deep in his flower-beds, and plants battered to the ground by hail which had fallen the day before. I was still more anxious when the sky darkened as if Sindbad's roc were approaching. Sure enough, rain followed, heavy and sharp, but the C.s comforted me. A sun next morning and a good wind would dry the road at this time of the year, they assured me.
And so it was. I woke to a blue, rain-washed day.
Whilst I paid calls upon the Governor and Mayor,
the roads were drying in the bright sun and fresh
wind, so that all was well for our start. A kindly
thought had led the local officials to allot me a Yazidi
policeman as guardian and guide, an honest-looking
lad who spoke Kurdish as well as Arabic, and therefore
could act as interpreter when the latter language failed.
As a guardian he was unnecessary, but he proved to be
a pleasant companion. He and his baggage were
stowed into our taxi and off we went.
The road to Baashika is only so-called by tradition.
It is really an unmade track through the cornfields and
it was still extremely soft and muddy. At times the
car waltzed disconcertingly, and here and there the
driver forged through the corn in order to avoid a bog.
At the worst places we got out and walked, and that
was enjoyable, for though our shoes became clogged
with mud as we walked through the corn and bean fields,
the larks were singing rapturously, the hills and snow
mountains grew nearer mile by mile, and wild flowers
grew amidst the blades. I was glad to find out that
Jiddan, our policeman, being hill-bred, knew the names
of the flowers, sometimes in Arabic and sometimes in
Kurdish. He never ceased to be amused by my passion
for knowing the names of flowers, trees, and herbs.
What did it matter? and indeed, what does it matter?
However, I liked, for instance, to be able to name the
small and extravagantly sweet yellow clover that grew
everywhere, nôfil,1 and to learn the familiar words by
which field plants and herbs are known to the countryman.
Perhaps in the Garden of Eden, while Adam
was naming the animals, Eve named the flowers.
||1. One of the trefoils. Mr. Evan Guest suggests Trifolium procumbens.|
I had visited Baashika before. It lies at the very
foot of the hills of the Jebel Hamrin range, and the
white-washed cones of Yazidi shrines rise above the
olive-groves with which it is surrounded. We passed
by these groves and then by a very new and imposing
church, not at all unsightly, but, I discovered, not loved
by the Jacobite Christians of the village. "The Pope
built it for the Latins with Italian money," they say,
"whilst we paid for our church ourselves." Perhaps
I should not call them Jacobites, for they prefer to be
called Syrian Orthodox Christians. They have nothing
to do with the Pope and the Pope nothing to do with
them, and they look upon their ancient Oriental communion
as superior to that of the Latins. The Uniate
churches are monied and subsidized; the communities
of the Non-Uniates are poor but proudly independent.
Of that later. We were immediately concerned with arrival and settling into the tiny house which had been allotted to me. The house was clean, swept, and garnished. Two bedsteads, a table, two benches, and four chairs had been provided for us. It was all that we needed, indeed more, as I had already a camp-bed and such pots, pans, and household gear as were necessary. I had asked A. to come and spend a few days with me if she could, and had warned her that if she came she must bring her own bed and mug and plate. The house consisted of a tiny kitchen, a room on the ground level, a living-room and a small room off it, both two steps up from the grass-grown courtyard. Steps led to the flat roof, half-way up being the usual Oriental latrine, a hole in the floor. A dry basement was assigned to my servant, Mikhail, the little room off the living-room reserved for A. should she come, and Jiddan elected to sleep on the roof. So that we were all comfortable and happy.
I had just lunched, unpacked, and gone to salute the mayor of the village who was sitting comfortably on a bench in front of the police-post, when there was an arrival. Captain C., piling thoughtfulness on thoughtfulness, had arrived with a rug, some curtains, and one or two other details which he thought might add to our comfort. He had no time to stay; he just bestowed his benefits and made off again on the muddy road to Mosul.
The first thing to do was to get into touch with the Yazidis themselves. So I got out a letter which Mira Wansa had written for me to her friend Rashid the son of Sadiq, and went in search of him. The main village street had a deep ditch running down its centre to carry off winter torrents, but, though this was empty, it was not used as a rubbish dump. Jiddan walked modestly a pace or two behind me, and though we conversed  all the way, the dialogue was over my left shoulder.
The house of Sadiq stood at the farthest end of Baashika and, as he is a man of some substance, it was one of the larger houses of the place. A stone archway, in the shadow of which were seats, admitted us to a large courtyard full of fruit-trees, down which a clear stream ran in a paved bed. On two sides of this courtyard were living-rooms, those on one side being shaded by a pergola of vines. Outside these an aged lady wearing the Kurdish turban was engaged in some house hold task. She spoke nothing but Kurdish, but Jiddan explained as she came forward hospitably to meet us and place chairs for us in the shade, whilst someone went to find her son. Her husband, Sadiq, she told us, had gone to his estate in the Jebel Sinjar, but hoped to be back for the spring feast.
Even as she was speaking Rashid, her son, arrived. He was a young and good-looking man with a face full of energy and intelligence, for whom one immediately conceived liking and respect. I handed him Mira Wansa's letter, which he frankly admitted that he could not read. There is no shame here in admitting illiteracy. Reading and writing are priestly accomplishments, just as amongst the tribes, until recently, such soft and clerkly arts were despised by the shaikhs, each of whom kept a private scribe. Amongst the Yazidis, as already said, school education was until lately forbidden by religion. Rashid, however, is having his own children educated and has a brother who is a schoolmaster in the Jebel Sinjar. He told me laughingly that the learning of his brother was so much esteemed there that his opinion was asked about everything. "He is not only a schoolmaster, but a doctor, a lawyer and a judge, and they even ask him to write charms for them."
He busied himself about making tea for me, kindling  wood in a brazier and boiling a kettle in the capricious shade of the freshly-leaving vines, then pouring the clear brown tea into waisted Persian glasses, called istikâns. Meanwhile, Jiddan read him the letter, after which I tried to explain to him why I had come. I wanted to see the Spring Festival, and asked his advice as to the better place to be in for the feast-days, Baashika or Shaikh ‘Adi? Shaikh ‘Adi is the Mecca of the Yazidis, the great shrine to which all travel at least once in a lifetime and at every Feast of Assembly if they can. The Feast of Assembly, sometimes called the Great Feast, takes place annually in early autumn, but the Spring Feast, Sarisal or Sarsaleh, falls on the first Wednesday of Nisan in the Eastern calendar, which coincided this year with the middle of the Occidental April.
Rashid considered. "Your Presence has been to Shaikh' Adi," he said, "and so knows that at Shaikh ‘Adi there is the shrine and the valley, but no village. They keep the feast there, it is true, but not as we keep it here. This feast is the feast of the people, and here there are plenty of people, and Yazidis and Kurds come in from all the hills and neighbouring villages to see the feast and the tawwâfi. Here it is a much better thing than at Shaikh ‘Adi. People even come from Mosul and Kirkuk to see the dancing."
Jiddan corroborated him. "It is well known that the feast at Baashika is better than at any other place."
Without committing myself to any decision as yet, I tried to tell him my other purpose, which was, without inquisitiveness, to learn something about his people and his religion. "I feel sure," I said, "that much of what others say about you is false, and I have learnt that only what I see with my own eyes and verify for myself is true!"
Rashid promised to help me. "But as to religion,"
he said, "I cannot assist you, as we laymen know little.
It may be difficult for you. I will bring you some of
the qawwâls, but—" he broke off, doubtfully and
then added, "No doubt, when you get to Shaikh ‘Adi
the Shawish will tell you much about our religion, for
he talks Arabic as well as Kurdish and lives always at
Here I should explain that the Yazidi priesthood is
graded and subdivided. The religious chief, the Pope
of the cult, is the Baba Shaikh, who lives at Shaikhan
(‘Ain Sifni). He is head of all the shaikhs, who constitute
the highest order of priesthood. The shaikhs
are supposedly the lineal descendants of the companions
of the sect founded by Shaikh ‘Adi early in the twelfth
century, although these were so pure, says Yazidi legend,
that they created their sons without the assistance of
women. These miraculously begotten sons, however,
took wives to themselves and founded families. The
shaikhly families are of a racial type markedly different
from the Yazidi laymen, being darker and more Semitic
in appearance. They exercise what are almost feudal
rights over the laymen, each lay family being attached
to a certain shaikhly family. Only the shaikhly class
are instructed in the inner doctrines of the faith, and
until lately only the shaikhs, especially the family of
Shaikh Hasan al-Basri, could read or write. The
shaikhs officiate at marriages, at birth, and at death,
and it is from a shaikhly clan that every layman and
laywoman choose the "other brother" and "other
sister" whom he or she is bound to serve in this world
and the next. Of this more in a later chapter. Moreover,
a shaikh may not marry outside his caste, and
the portion of a daughter who marries outside it is
death. A sub-functionary to the Baba Shaikh is called
the Pesh Imâm.2 Below the shaikhs come the pîrs.
A pîr must also be present at religious ceremonies, and
acts to some degree as an understudy of the shaikh, as
he may take his place if no shaikh is available. Like
the shaikhs, they are credited with certain magic powers.
The qawwâls constitute the third religious rank. They
are the chanters, as their name signifies, and the chants
which they recite to music on all occasions are not
written down, but words and music learnt in early
youth are transmitted from father to son. They must
be skilled in the use of the daff, a large tambour, and
the shebâb, a wooden pipe. Like shaikhs and pîrs,
qawwâls may not marry outside their caste, and they
do not cut the hair or beard. Most of the qawwâls live
at Baashika or Bahzané, its sister-village, and it is they
who travel near and far with the images of the sacred peacock,
in order to visit which the faithful pay money,
so that they are usually men of the world, since their
tours until lately included Russia, Turkey, Iran, and
Syria. The next hereditary order is the faqîrs, but of
them I will speak when I come to my stay at Shaikh ‘Adi.
There are non-hereditary orders as well, the
kocheks, ascetics who wear nothing but white, dedicate
themselves to the service of the shrines, and are credited
with seeing visions and prophetic gifts, and lastly,
the nuns, the faqriyât, who are vowed to celibacy,
wear white, and spend their lives in the service of the
shrines at Shaikh ‘Adi. As to the Shawish, of whom
Rashid spoke, he has his permanent dwelling there,
but, not having seen or talked with him personally,
I am not clear as to his functions and powers.
||2. Lescot states erroneously that the Baba Shaikh and Pesh Imâm are one and the same person.|
Immediately helpful, Rashid at once sent in search
of a qawwâl who lived in the village; meanwhile,
I took up the tale of my wants. I hoped, I said, to
learn something of Yazidi ways, how women lived and
managed their households, brought up their children,
and lived their daily life. I should like, I said, to
talk to the village midwife and to go to a wedding,
should there be one.
 The midwife was easy, Rashid replied; he would send her to me, but perhaps I had heard that the coming month of Nisan was forbidden for marriage? The pity was that there had been two weddings in the village only last week.
Chapter II. A YAZIDI WEDDING
"In Sparta once, to the house of fair-haired Menelaus, came maidens with the blooming hyacinth in their hair. . . ." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XVIII.
I shall not easily forget what I saw when I stumbled upon a Yazidi wedding one October, in the village of Ba'idri, where we were staying the night with Wansa's husband, the mîr, at his qasr or castle on the hill girt about with sacred trees. On the slopes men and women were dancing to the pipe and drum, all in the gayest of colours, the huge silver buckles and silver headdresses of the women flashing in the sun as they swayed and stepped to the music. It was the round mountain dance, the debka, which I was presently to see in its original religious form at the Yazidi spring feast. Within an upper room of her father-in-law's house sat the twelve-year-old bride in semi-darkness, for a veil had been drawn across the half of the room where she sat on her-bridal bed, silent as custom insists. The sun must not shine upon her for a week, they said.
It was Mira Wansa herself who told me most of what I set down here, prompted by questions which I will leave out.
It is the parents, she said, who arrange a marriage, but they often know already the wish of the son or daughter concerned. The parents of the young man approach those of his prospective bride. Her father asks the girl if she accepts, and her silence gives consent. Should the match be abhorrent to her, she is permitted to speak out and to refuse. The families  being agreed, the bridegroom's father, accompanied by a shaikh and a pîr, goes to the, girl's father to discuss the dowry (Kurdish, nekht). When this is settled — a sum of forty dinars is the average sum for a family of moderate means — the shaikh writes the agreement on paper, affixes his seal to the document and then reads prayers invoking the blessing of the Peacock Angel and other angels upon the union. The clan of Shaikh Hasan is considered especially fortunate at a marriage and a shaikh of this sinsila (clan) should be present at every wedding. The shaikh presents the bride with some earth from the shrine of Shaikh ‘Adi, and she, in return, gives money to him and to the pîr, or, it may be, gifts in kind such as a sheep and goat. The value of the gifts depends upon the means of the family. The period between this ceremony and the going of the bride to her future home varies: it may be a few days or some years.
Two days before the consummation of the marriage the bride takes a hot bath, and from this moment she must wear nothing but white. The next day, the hands of the bride and of all her friends are dyed with henna. A large dish of henna is prepared and taken round to the houses of neighbours and friends, sometimes to all the village. Women and girls help themselves to the henna and put money into the dish as a wedding gift.
If the bridegroom is of another village, the day before the wedding all the girls and youths of that village travel to the bride's village, the girls riding three or four on a mule, while the boys and young men mounted on horses gallop about the procession singing and shooting into the air. The young men sleep as guests in various houses, the girls stay that night with the bride. At about four o'clock in the morning the girls and women rise, go to the bride, and dress her in her bridal clothes and ornaments, while she remains  entirely silent. If she can weep, and, the mother can weep, it is of good augury. No matter how pleased both may feel inwardly at the marriage, weeping is not only a sign of modesty on the part of the bride, but also helps to keep away the Evil Eye.
The handsomest part of a Yazidi girl's gala dress is the huge embossed gold or silver buckle which fastens her belt, often wider than the girth of her slender waist. Only one girl is allowed to clasp this heirloom, and that is the bride's "other sister". I should explain what this "other sister" and "other brother" means. A lay girl and boy choose their "other brother" and "other sister" for themselves. The choice may not be made until after puberty and is sometimes left until late in life. The person chosen must be of the shaikhly class, either of the shaikhly family to which the young man or woman is hereditarily attached or of another, it does not matter which. The choice must be made and acknowledged at Shaikh ‘Adi and usually takes place at the great September feast at the time of the universal pilgrimage to the shrine. The ceremony is simple. The man (or woman) of the shaikhly caste chosen fills his (or her) right palm with water from the sacred spring of the shrine and the young commoner drinks it from the hand of the chosen liege lord or lady. Henceforth there is a close tie between the two. The "other brother" has duties to perform at marriage, birth, and death and must protect and help his brother in every way. The commoner on his part must make his "other brother" a present yearly and serve and help him always, "not only in this world, but in the next, even in hell". Yazidis look upon this curious dual duty as prolonged into other lives: the link between the two has existed before this life and they will come together in future lives. A girl must have an "other sister", but she may also choose an "other brother" if she wishes to do so, and so also with a boy.  This is not usual, but may happen, and implies a yearly offering and acceptance of gifts. The relationship is entirely platonic, though usually accompanied by admiration, and is a free choice, for to marry a commoner, however beautiful, is forbidden to a member of a shaikhly clan.
The final touch to the bride's robing is her veil, which is red, and when all is ready the veiled girl takes leave of her weeping mother and is set on a horse. A man of her own village, but not a shaikh or a pîr, holds the bridle and leads the horse as the procession forms and sets out. The young men of the bridegroom's village are careful to provide themselves with small coins before they start, for it is the duty of the small boys of the bride's village to pelt the young men in the procession with all the small stones and garbage they can find, while the young men distract these attentions by throwing money. All this is carried out, said Wansa, with much gaiety and jesting. Before the last house of the village, the bridegroom's party presents some money to the headman (mukhtâr).
When the procession has reached the bridegroom's village and house the mother-in-law, standing on the roof of the entrance, showers sugar, sweets, and flowers over the bride as she arrives on her horse. The bride's "other sister" helps her to dismount. Then the bridegroom's mother, coming down, hands the bride a jar filled with sugar and sweetmeats. Before the new daughter-in-law can enter, she must hurl this against the threshold-stone, so that it breaks, and the sweets are scattered. For these everyone scrambles as they bear good fortune. The bride steps into her future home over the broken fragments and also over the blood of a sheep whose throat they cut just by her feet.
Before she goes into the bridal chamber there is a mock battle between young men of the bride's party and those of the bridegroom for the possession of the  latter's headgear. When one or the other succeeds, the bride puts money into the bridegroom's cap and gives it to the youth who succeeded in capturing it.
Throughout all these merrymakings the bride remains
silent as an image, and is veiled in red. When she has
entered the bridal chamber, the shaikh and pîr tie a
curtain (sitâ) across the room. For seven days she
and the marriage bed must remain behind this curtain
or veil, and when she is forced to emerge in order to
obey a call of nature, she must be careful not to pass
over any water.
On the day that the bride comes to the house the
bridegroom himself stays away, remaining elsewhere
with his "other brother". Should the day of arrival
be a Tuesday, no consummation of the marriage can
take place that night. The bridegroom must spend
that night and the next day at another house in
the "other brother's" company, and join the bride
on the Wednesday night at midnight. This is because
Wednesday is the Yazidi holy-day and Tuesday night, as
we should call it, is for them "the night of Wednesday".
When the young husband enters the bridal chamber
at midnight, his "other brother" and two of his friends
wait outside the door of the room. The bridegroom is
allowed an hour to consummate the marriage.3 After
this has been announced, the young men and bridegroom
eat of some light food which the bride must
be mindful to take with her into the bridal chamber,
and then all go to sleep.
||3. See Appendix A.|
"At the end of the seven days the bride may leave
her room. She takes a bath, and women of the bridegroom's
village prepare a large dish of dates, together
with seven kinds of grain — wheat, lentils, oats, beans
(bajilla), fûl (another kind of bean), and round pease
(verra). These they boil together on the fire without
butter or fat or any other ingredient. Then, carrying
this porridge, they go out in gay clothing to the meadows,
taking the bride with them till they reach a stream
or running water. The bride must put seven handfuls
of it into the water, cross the stream, and eat it with
her friends. When the oleander is out," continued
Wansa, happy memories in her eyes, "this is a pretty
sight. We think that oleander is a powerful amulet
against the Evil Eye, and make necklaces of it. So the
women and girls who accompany the bride, sometimes
fifty or more, put the pink blossoms in their turbans."
During the imprisonment of the bride her friends feast and make merry. From dawn till ten of the morning flute and drum sound and men and women dance the debka. From ten till the early afternoon they rest and eat. Then dancing begins again and goes on till midnight.
"This is the time," said Wansa, "that young lovers prefer, for they may find themselves dancing near together and can hold hands in the circle."
Certain inauspicious women are forbidden to go near
a bride: a woman during her period, a woman from
a house of death, and a woman who has borne a child
until her forty days of uncleanness are ended and she
has taken the bath which makes her no longer dangerous.
Chapter III. SNAKES AND SHRINES
"Then these twain crawled forth, writhing their ravenous bellies along the ground and still from their eyes a baleful fire was shining as they came, and they spat out their deadly venom." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XXIV.
Before I left Rashid, his henchman had brought
in an ancient qawwâl, a bewildered old divine
whose sheep-like face had the blind look of one led to
the slaughter. I did not trouble his soul with any
onslaught on the secrets of his cult, for he was clearly
apprehensive, and we sat in amiable discourse which
gradually reassured him. Rashid told me aside that
the head qawwâl was more intelligent, and, after a little,
this personage too arrived. I suggested to the qawwâls
that perhaps they would honour me by a visit, so we
walked amicably down the village street to my little
house, where Mikhail prepared us tea. I began to
explain to Qawwal Sivu something of the purpose of
my visit, and then asked about the chants sung at the
spring feast and at burials, but as yet he was suspicious
and reticent. Their chants, he said with the air of
a trout whisking past a bait, were so secret and sacred
that no layman might know what they were; moreover,
he went on, "we ourselves do not write them
down. I learnt from my father and my son will learn
from me." We spoke of the seven angels,1 of whom
the chief is the Peacock Angel, and also of Shaikh ‘Adi,
who carries the souls of good Yazidis into Paradise on
his tray. Then we spoke of reincarnation, which is,
perhaps, the only positive form of belief which a Yazidi
holds. An evil man may be reincarnated as a horse,
a mule, or a donkey, to endure the blows which are the
lot of pack-animals, or may fall yet lower and enter the
body of a toad or scorpion. But the fate of most is to
be reincarnated into men's bodies, and of the good into
those of Yazidis.
||1. M. Roger Lescot in his Enquête sur les Yézidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sindjâr (Beyrouth, 1938) complains mildly that the list of the seven varied with every person he questioned. I corroborate this. The truth is that on this subject, as on others, the Yazidis are beautifully vague.|
Two qawwâls at Baashika.|
[Qawwâl Sivu on the left.]
Here the arrival of the mukhtâr, the head man of the village, put an end to such talk and Mikhail brought another cup. The headman was a tall, well-built man, a landowner who farmed his own land with his sons, and his fairish face was, like many we saw in the village, of an almost Scandinavian type. These Yazidis wear their hair in a bushy shock beneath their red turbans, and the younger men often shave the beard, leaving the moustache long, or shave the face completely. I saw several who could have sat for portraits of Hengist or Horsa; others reminded me of the youths in Perugino's pictures. Older men let their beards grow. Amongst the children of the village some were as flaxen-fair and blue-eyed as Saxons.
The mukhtâr overwhelmed me with hospitable offers
of food. He offered to send me milk from his own
herd as long as I stayed, and begged me to let him know
if I needed anything. All our visitors left together
and Jiddan and I started for a walk, for he considered
it his duty to accompany me like my shadow. I turned
my face uphill, for it was good after living in a flat plain
to see grassy heights rising behind the village. These
foothills are about as high as the Chilterns, though
abrupt in gradient, and behind them the altitudes
rise until snow-hills are reached.
We mounted past lime-kilns and juss2 pits on stony
and rocky paths where grass was scanty and the wild
flowers, mostly scarlet ranunculus, wild iris, anemones,
and campions, seemed the lovelier because of the sparseness
of the green. Young crops grew on the hillside,
wheat and barley, and here and there narrow stone
aqueducts led mountain springs down to the crops, the
kilns and the olive-groves. We climbed up until we
had a good view over the vast green plain which lies
between the hills and distant Mosul. In the midst of
it rose the mount of Tell Billa, looking just what it is,
a buried city. The Americans excavated it lately,
and it was Rashid who had been their right hand and
foreman during the excavations and was now responsible
for the watching of the site. From above, the
mound looked as if a large green counterpane had been
lightly thrown above the whole, and that if it were but
lifted, houses, fortress, and ramparts would appear intact.
Further along the plain rose Tepe Gaura, another buried
city, and beyond that again was Khorsabad, whence
lately two huge bulls had been unearthed and brought
down by lorry to adorn the new museum at Baghdad.
2. Juss is the Italian gesso, natural plaster.
As for Baashika, just below, with its imposing new
church and tumble of flat-roofed houses, it looked like
a flock of sheep, huddling together for protection. The
white, fluted cones of Yazidi shrines rose out of the
olive-groves and crowned farther hills. On a grassy
knoll by the village I could descry a group of villagers,
and as I passed them on my way back I saw sitting
amongst them the village priest in his black robes and
tall hat. They were enjoying the evening sunshine.
My first day at Baashika was over. I ate my supper
and went to bed betimes, falling into a refreshing sleep
which ended at dawn when I heard the scutter of hoofs
on the road outside as the flocks were led out of the
village to feed on the uplands. The spring air blew
sweet with herbs and flowers into our small courtyard
as I crossed it for breakfast, and I had hardly finished
before Rashid arrived. A shaikh of the clan of Shaikh Mand,
he said, was visiting the village with his daughter,
and they had brought snakes with them and were going
from house to house exhibiting their powers in return
for a small fee, so he had bidden them come to my house.
I had heard about the descendants of Shaikh Mand,
who claim to possess power over serpents and scorpions
and to be immune to their poison, and asked Rashid
if they really were what they claimed to be. He
assured me that they were, and that he had seen Jahera3
("Snake-Poison"), the small daughter of the shaikh,
handle unharmed a poisonous snake fresh from the
fields, and that the serpents they carried with them
had not had their fangs removed. "It has been
known," he conceded, "for a shaikh of that clan to die
from snakebite, but if this happens they say that he
was not a good man."
||3. The "J" is soft, as in French "je".|
The shaikh of Shaikh Mand and his daughter "Snake-Poison.
Rashid added that the shaikhs of Shaikh Mand ate serpents raw and suffered no harm.
The shaikh and his little daughter now entered our
courtyard. Large serpents, one brown and one black, were
draped about the necks of the man and child,
their tails falling behind like fur boas worn years ago
by European women. The shaikh unwound the big
black snake from Jahera's neck, and it slithered along
in the sparse grass looking very evil indeed. It was
some five or six feet in length and its body two inches
or more in thickness. He caught it again, returned it
to the child and then displayed his own. I disbursed
an offering and then the shaikh and the ugly little girl
posed for their photographs, holding the snakes' flat
heads close to their lips.
I wandered about the village, visiting the sacred trees
and some of the white cone shrines. I soon learnt that
all places of pilgrimage were called mazâr, the word
being applied indiscriminately to a tree, a tomb, a
cenotaph, a spring, a stone, or a cave. The name of
a shaikh may be given to several mazârs; for instance,
there is a "Shaikh Mand" at Bahzané and another at
Shaikh ‘Adi, and two "Shaikh Zendins" within easy
reach of each other, one a sacred stone and the other
a tomb-shrine. The name Shaikh Shams4 or Shaikh Shams-ad Din5
is not only given to the tomb-shrine at
Shaikh ‘Adi, but several flat rocks or enclosed spaces
on mountain-tops n Yazidi districts have that name.
Near Rashid's paternal house an ancient olive-tree,
enclosed by a low stone wall, just by a stream, is called
Sitt Nefisah, and between the villages of Baashika and
Bahzané a cone-shrine bears the same name. I could
never get a satisfactory explanation of these duplicate
and often triplicate shrines, but it was noticeable that
one might represent a spring, stream, sacred tree, cave,
or sacred stone, and the other be actually a tomb. As
for Sitt Nefisah, I asked for explanations, but all were
vague. The Lady Nefisah used to sit beneath the tree,
or, perhaps she had lived there, no one knew. But
every Tuesday and Thursday evening at sundown pious
hands never failed to place a votive wick saturated in
olive-oil into a cranny in the wall, its flickering light
lasting but a few minutes. Moreover, those suffering
from malaria6 come to it, scrape some sacred dust
from the small enclosure, and drink it in water, thinking
to be cured. By the same stream is another sacred
tree, called Faqir 'Ali. Indeed, most of the holy springs
and streams are coupled with a sacred tree, sometimes
more than one.7 Sacred trees are usually fruit-bearing
— the olive, fig, or mulberry.
4. Shaikh Sun.
5. Shaikh Sun-of-the-Faith.
6. himma mutheltha.
7. This recalls the sacred Aina u Sindirka of the Mandaeans, the mystical "Well and Palm-tree" which are explained by Mandaeans as representing the Female and Male principle respectively. In the Jebel Sinjar, however, according to Jiddan, there is a sacred spring without the sacred tree — Pira Hayi.
The sacred tree Faqir ‘Ali, with Tashid in the foreground.
Following the stream by the sacred trees up the valley where it wandered through beds of buttercups and oleander bushes — and one of the latter just below the imposing shrine of Melké Miran was hung with votive rags — I came, after crossing the stream more than once, to the upper washing-place known as Ras al-‘Ain. Jiddan remained modestly behind, for it is understood that if a man ventures near this pool in the morning he may surprise a bathing nymph. Several of the women who were beating their clothes on the stones by the pool were, actually, half-naked. Several of the girls were very handsome. The younger women wear caps of silver coins, one overlapping the other like scales; the turban wound around this cap is decorated with chains, and their heads, as they knelt to work, glittered from afar. Many wore beads, amber and scarlet, and long amulet-chains were suspended round their necks. The brides are always sumptuously dressed. One of the latter, a bold wench and far from comely, asked me to take her photograph and posed with her friend. I did as she asked, then she held out her hand for the picture.
"A bold wench ... asked me to take her photograph."
I explained, and promised to send her the picture when it had been developed if she would give me her name, but she refused, sulkily, convinced that I was not telling the truth.
Returning to the village, I found that Rashid had
brought me a bunch of flowers, some from the hillside
and others from his own garden. Seeing me hunting
for something to put them in, he disappeared, to return
quickly with a glass from his house. Such charming
courtesy was characteristic of him. He came, he said,
excusing his call, to tell me that the midwife would
call on me that afternoon.
Chapter IV. BIRTH
"Thy queen is Artemis, that lightens labour." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XXVII.
The midwife arrived. She had several names, and was usually addressed as "Mama" or, more politely, Hajjia, but I named her mentally Sairey Gamp. She was old: her white hair straggled about her face in wisps and she was far from clean. She spoke in a husky, confidential voice, nudging me occasionally to emphasize a point, and her Arabic was so queer that I had to call in Jiddan to interpret into more familiar language. Here, as in Baghdad, women of the villages use words and expressions which one rarely hears from men. Jiddan was not in the least embarrassed by obstetrical details, nor were we. Luckily there is no prudery about such matters in the East. A woman may veil her face, but she will describe in fullest detail before her young sons the bringing-to-bed of a neighbour.
Mira Wansa had already told me a good deal about
the way in which Yazidi children come into the world,
and now the old woman added detail illustrated by
gesture and much dramatic comment. Birth was her
all: she was its priestess, standing at the portals of
life and death, and I fear that many must have gone
out of the world by the latter instead of coming in by
the former owing to her ministrations. A good deal
of what she and Mira Wansa told me I have put into
an appendix,1 for it may be useful to the anthropologist,
but weights my narrative unduly here.
||1. Appendix B.|
Mira Wansa had told me that an expectant mother
should only look upon "good things". "If she sees
a snake or a toad, or an ugly thing, the child that is to
be born will be like them. I once knew a woman
whose baby was born with a head like a sheep, and the
mother told me it had happened because she had gazed
at a sheep."
Hajjia said that she was sent for when the labour pains began. The woman is usually hurried down to the cellar, which she is likely to share with goats, sheep, and fowls. The room is not crowded with women, but a mother, sister, and one or two female relatives may be present, and if possible, the "other sister". The woman does not lie for the birth but crouches, clinging to another woman, who comforts and encourages her, while the midwife massages her abdomen and squats behind ready to receive the child when it comes into the world. If labour is protracted, the midwife invokes supernatural help.
"O Khatun Fakhra help her!This, said Hajjia, was what she chanted over her patient. Now Khidhr Elias is the prophet Elijah, and Shaikh Matti is Mar Matti, the Christian saint to whom the ancient monastery of that name is dedicated, but who was the Lady Fakhra?
Both Jiddan and Hajjia hastened to inform me. She was the mother of holy shaikhs, Shaikhs Sajjaddin, Nasruddin, Fakhruddin, and Babaddin, and is the especial patroness of women in child-birth. After a safe delivery a thankoffering should be made in her name, and unleavened bread, a simple dough of flour, salt, and water called khubz fatîr, is baked and distributed to the poor. If the family is well to do, a sheep is killed and its meat added to the thankoffering. "If this is not done, she appears to them in dream and says to  them, 'Why have you not given to the poor in my name? I helped you and you have done nothing in return! ' "
"Shaikh Matti, thou with thine own hand help
me!" chanted Hajjia, returning again from the Yazidi
to the Christian saint. "That is what I pray over
|Another way of hastening the birth, she said, was to procure the gopâl (stick) of the Baba Shaikh, who always carries one, and to beat the woman with it gently seven times. When the child is born, the mother must remain in bed seven days. She is never left alone lest she see angels or demons in various shapes and go mad. A particular danger is an evil fairy, the Rashé Shebbé or Shevvé, who may substitute a changeling for the human child, or harm mother and babe. On the seventh day after birth the mother gets up, takes a hot bath and then goes with her friends to running water or a spring and throws in seven handfuls of seven grains boiled in water (like a bride), and then crosses the water and eats the porridge with her friends. A similar ceremony takes place when the child cuts its first tooth. The father names the child, and when he does so, usually slaughters a sheep, or a fowl, and distributes the meat. The name chosen is often that of a dead relation, a grandfather, parent, brother, or deceased child, and some think the new-born infant a reincarnation of the person after whom it is named.2||2. Mira Wansa told me this. She has discussed reincarnation with the shaikhs, and said that when she described a curious dream she had in which she was a soldier, the shaikh told her that she had probably seen a past life in dream. Formerly, when a person died, the kocheks claimed to have the power of foreseeing in a vision how the departed soul would incarnate, but when I spoke of this to Qawwal Sivu in Baashika, he denied it and said, somewhat naively, that the kocheks had given up their visions nowadays "because they are frightened of the Government".|
 When the child is forty days old, the shaikh comes to the house and cuts from its scalp two locks of hair, one for himself and the other for the pîr, and receives a present from the parents. No scissors must touch the child's head until this is done. [I noticed that Yazidi children have a wide bar shaved on the crown, from which bar another is shaved to each temple, the square of hair remaining being trimmed into a fringe which falls over the forehead.]
Shows how head is shaved.
Hajjia promised that she would fetch me to assist at her next case. "I bring some thirty babes into this world each year in Baashika," she told me. I gave her some money and promised more if she kept her word.
Hajjia then told me of a trick that the Rashé Shevvê
had once played on her.
|"I had delivered the woman," she said, "and was back at my house, which had no door to the courtyard. That night there came one shouting outside my room, 'Come, come! So-and-so is in labour!' Now this was the woman in whose arms I had laid a babe that very day, but, thinking perhaps that a twin child was to be born, I hurried out into the dark. I followed the figure, which was very tall — for you must know  that the Rashé Shevvé is very long, like the tantal,3 and it went before me and led me, not to the house, but outside the village! When I saw whither I was being taken, I was very afraid and ran and ran till I reached my own place. After that, khatûn, I had a door made to my house!"||3. The tantal is a hobgoblin with the power of appearing immensely tall.|
* * * * *
It was my duty to pay several calls. First, there were the official calls, and I drank tea by invitation one day with the mayor of the village and his comely wife, a girl of Mosul, a kind and hospitable pair. Then there was the schoolmaster. He was a widower with children, so it was his mother whom I visited. She was of a Baashika family and had taken over the task of bringing up his children when her daughter-in-law died in child-birth. She was a simple peasant woman herself, a Christian of the Latin persuasion, and a picture of the Pope hung on the wall. I liked her generous manner and smile, and thought the schoolmaster a lucky man to have such an excellent soul to look after his orphans. Then there was the Yazidi mukhtâr. I went one morning to return his call and found that he and all his family were out in the fields, hoeing onions, so returned later. They were expecting me and I was taken to a pleasant upper room, white-washed, its unglazed windows overlooking the olive-groves and the lovely green plain. It was reached in the usual Kurdish way by a steep outer stair unprotected by ledge or rail, upon which tiny children and kids clambered up and down.
Rugs and cushions were spread for the guest, and the mukhtar and his friends sat round the room smoking long pipes with small clay bowls filled from capacious woollen tobacco bags, and discussing crops, prices, and  local politics. In this village, where there is neither radio nor newspaper, no telephone, telegraph or even daily post-car, the war only meant the increased price of certain commodities; the rest was mere polite inquiry for my benefit.
"This Hitler — has he not yet made peace? By the power of Allah, he shall be brought low!" Or, sometimes, with a slight note of anxiety, "Khatûn, think you that the war will come here?" "If God wills, no," I made reply, and a fervent echo "Inshallah!" went round the room.
With the Yazidis it is the host or his son who prepares tea or coffee for the guest, for it is a ceremonial gesture, not a household task relegated to women. I brought with me, as is my habit, a small bag of chocolates and sweets for the children, and these regarded me with shy favour from the doorway.
I was on my way from the mukhtâr's house when I was waylaid in the street by a qawwâl whom I had not yet seen. He had a snub nose and a humorous face, and was to become a friend.
"Khatûn," he said, "have you not yet been to see the American?"
"The American?" I repeated, surprised.
"Yes, there is an American missionary who lives down the hill — a good man; if you wish, I will take you to him."
I shall never know whether it was the missionary who sent him or whether Qawwal Reshu acted on his own initiative, but I found myself presently admitted to the outer courtyard of a house by an Assyrian woman and led into an inner court, where a chair was placed for me. I learnt then that the missionary was not a real American, but an Assyrian trained by American missionaries. He appeared after an interval, during which he had donned the most European plus-fours I had seen for some time. As I happened to be speaking  Arabic, the conversation was begun in that language, although I was shamed to find out later that his English was fluent. He had the massive physique and strong features of the true-born Assyrian, and was both well-read and intelligent, in fact I enjoyed our talk. He told me several things that I wanted to know, while warning me that it was unlikely I should find out much for myself, as the Yazidis were bigoted and secretive to the highest degree, and would not admit a stranger to their ceremonies. I told him that I knew that, and that my only purpose in coming was to see as much as I could of the spring feast, and get to know the Yazidi women.
In the afternoon I decided to go to the neighbouring village of Bahzané, for I had heard that a Yazidi shaikh, said to be skilled in magic, lived there in exile, and I wished to meet him. Jiddan and I set out. The road passes through crops of young wheat and beans in flower. On either side rise grassy hills and knolls crowned here and there with conical shrines, round which clustered a quantity of graves. Jiddan told me that Yazidis like to place a fluted cone over the grave of a young man or boy who has died after reaching puberty without being married, that is, he is treated as a saint provided that he is beloved and his family have the means to raise such a monument. The attitude of the Yazidis towards celibacy is curious and seems to suggest Christian influences. Shaikh ‘Adi never married, his brother is said to have created a son without the aid of a woman, and tradition says that other companions of the saint provided children for themselves in the same manner. I have often heard from Yazidis of a saint, "He was very pure: he never married", an attitude entirely opposed to Jewish and Mandaic ideas, for people of these races look upon an unmarried man as a sinner against Life.
Most of the Yazidi graves are marked with a rough  stone placed at the foot and head, although here and there a tomb is wholly covered with masonry, or has an elaborate headstone bearing an inscription, local marble being used for the slab. The inscription usually states in Arabic that So-and-so passed into the mercy of God on such-and-such a date. All face east. A few are decorated with simple incised carvings: at the side of one I saw was a shaikh's gopâl (stick with a hooked handle), and rough representations of a dagger and powder-horn. We learnt afterwards that this dead shaikh had been stabbed to death. A stone saddle over another grave records that the departed died from a fall when riding. I have seen plaits of hair attached to headstones in these graveyards, for it is the custom of widows in their grief to cut off their hair and leave it on the tomb.
The air bore sweetness from the hills, for these were covered with grass and flowers except where the rock crops through. Here and there were olive-trees, and groves, and gardens lay between the cultivation and the lower plain beyond. Storks paced about the field solemnly, rising and flapping their wings in slow flight when we came near. No one kills these privileged birds.
Bahzané is built on a mound, and the houses, flat-roofed, clustered close together, with the green hills rolling right up to the walls. Here, too, there is absolute absence of rubbish, and no dead dogs or filth pollute the outskirts. The streets are so narrow that with arms extended one can almost touch the houses on either side, and three or four persons at most can walk abreast. They are roughly paved, with a rain-gutter down the centre, so that one can walk dry shod on either side.
We skirted the village and kept to the outermost street. In the middle of the way rose a curious mortared hump, some four feet high, with a small opening in  front which showed within a flat sacred stone. The aperture was blackened by votive wicks. A passer-by told me that it was named Shaikh Zendin. Passing steeply downhill again and coming outside the village, we found ourselves at the celebrated shrine of Shakih Mand, which is lodged just where a narrow ravine above Bahzané debouches into the plain. A mountain stream flows through. the rocks and passes just above Shaikh Mand into the washing-pool at which the women of Bahzané beat their household linen. Shaikh Mand possesses its own sacred spring. Before the shrine is a small herb-grown courtyard enclosed by a low wall. Here I found the snake-eater, sitting with the four guardians of the tomb and other scarlet-turbanned Yazidis in a peaceful circle before the shrine conversing in low tones and smoking their qaliûns. We were invited to join them, but I passed first behind the white-washed building to lay, at the direction of one of the guardians, my small offering by the clear water which welled from the rock. Then I returned, and Jiddan and I sat awhile, glad to rest, whilst one of the men in the circle produced a lute he had made himself from the wood of a mulberry-tree. The wire strings were four in number, the keys at the top of the neck were like those of a guitar, but the low bridge slanted at an angle. Round sound-holes were bored in the lower part of the belly and also at the sides of the instrument. "We call it a tanbûr," they said, putting it into my hands. The lute player's pleasant music, at once intricate and primitive, mingled agreeably with the voices of the children playing and splashing at the pool above, where only a few women now lingered.
The shrine of Shaikh Mand, Bahzane.
But we could not stay, and were directed to the
shaikh's house in the village. The shaikh, dark and
lean of countenance, greeted us politely when we
arrived and took us up to sit on his roof in the evening
sunshine, but it was plain that all was not well. We
soon learnt the cause of his distraction: his little girl
of four years old had fallen earlier in the day from
the roof upon a heap of rough stones in the courtyard.
As the roofs of Kurdish houses, used as sitting-rooms
and playgrounds, are rarely protected by a wall, it was
a matter of marvel to me that more children did not
fall from them. I was taken to the living-room where
the child lay on a bed covered with a quilt, motionless,
but alive. A mujebbir (bone-setter), they said, had told
them that no bones were broken. I begged them to
keep her quiet, but before we left the mother had
picked the little thing up and was carrying her
in her arms. It seemed impossible that the child should
survive. We left.
Chapter V. BAHZANÉ AND SHAIKH UBEKR
"May spiders weave their delicate webs over martial gear, may none any more so much as name the cry of onset!" -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XVI.
"KHATÛN! Will you speak to the chaûsh (sergeant) of the police? He is angry and says he will stay here no longer, and the other policemen want you to come and persuade him."
It was Jiddan, with my servant Mikhail, who spoke, seeking me early the next morning.
The police were our neighbours, and I knew the sturdy Kurdish sergeant, baked by many summer suns, as a most respectable man. As I went along, both explained what had happened. A Yazidi man had run off with a woman outside his caste, and the lives of both were in danger. They had fled for protection to the police, who counselled them to leave Baashika. The lovers were poor and could ill afford the car which the police subordinates, wanting to get to Mosul quickly for reasons of their own, tried to make them hire. The sergeant had taken the part of the eloping couple.
"Wallah, my afrâd are not good men," he chided. "They will not obey me, and I shall resign." Close by sat the couple in the taxi summoned by the police. The men looked sheepish, when I did my best to reason with them, and declared that they had only one wish, and that was that the sergeant should not leave them. The matter was settled with ludicrous speed, the sergeant would stay "for your sake", the taxi was dismissed, and the couple escorted whither they wished.  I could not imagine why I had been called in at all; perhaps it was to witness the sergeant's impeccability, unless I had heard only a part of the story.
I wanted to return that morning to Bahzané to inquire after the injured child. As we set out, Jiddan inquired diffidently whether I would turn aside a moment to visit the house of his shaikh? Jiddan is hereditarily attached to the clan of Shaikh Sajaddin, and on the night of our arrival he had eaten supper with them. That very morning, a shower having fallen during the night, I had seen a comely girl on the roof spreading out to dry the gay woollen rug in which Jiddan wrapped himself to sleep, and on asking who she was I heard that she was of the household of Jiddan's shaikh. Jiddan told me that his shaikh was in prison and that the old shaikha his mother, the women, and the children were exiled from the Sinjar and lived in Baashika.
"What has your shaikh done?"
"Khatûn, he had trouble when the law about conscription came in. He helped some Yazidis who escaped into Syria."
Military service is an old grievance. It caused a rebellion most bloodily quelled in Turkish times before the Great War. The trouble was settled by certain concessions at the instance of Sir Henry Layard, the Assyriologist, through the mediation of the British Ambassador at the Porte. War is not actually contrary to the Yazidi creed, but close contact with infidel companions in arms, who eat foods that are polluting, and force the Yazidi to break his ritual laws, is abhorrent to them. The very dress of a soldier contravenes the faith, for a lay Yazidi wears a shirt with a wide collar cut loosely in front and fastened behind, and at prayer-time he lifts the hem of the neck to his lips.
Accordingly, when the ‘Iraqi Government introduced conscription the Yazidis again showed opposition, and Bekr Sidqi, the general who murdered Jaafar Pasha and  was responsible for the Assyrian atrocities, quelled them with brutal severity. It was the religious leaders who were behind the resistance; some were hanged, others sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The majority of the younger men now accept the situation, and it may be that the European war has done more than a little to convince them that a man can no longer live securely within his own religious and racial palisade.
The shaikha lived near by. When I entered the courtyard she came forward to meet me, a frail but dignified figure clad in white cotton, a white woollen meyzar (a kind of toga) slung over her shoulder, and the white veil from her turban brought wimple-wise over her chin. Jiddan told me her name, Sitt Gulé. There were marks of poverty about the place, nevertheless tea was brewed for me, and they insisted that I should eat some mouthfuls of the paper-thin bread dipped in a bowl of cream and sugar, and a bowl of butter and sugar. The butter and cream were the products of their own cow, and were wholesome, though flies swarmed above them and a few of the cow's hairs were visible. One ignores such trifles, and I ate a mouthful or two and praised the flavour, watched by the shaikha, three younger women and eight children, two being babies in arms. I took leave when politeness permitted, and continued my way.
Seen from the street: the courtyard of a Yazidi house, Bahzané.
We returned to Bahzané by way of the little gorge and the shrine of Shaikh Mand. The sound of the rushing stream was punctuated by the thump-thump of the women's clubs at the washing-pool where clothes were spread out on the hot rocks and naked children bathed whilst their mothers worked. The upper stream passes by the shrine and I sat on its bank to rest. A few children gathered round me, shy but gentle-mannered. One boy, about eleven, with an intelligent merry face like one of Murillo's beggar boys, was, he informed me, the son of the Qawwal Salman, whom I had met in  Bahzané on the previous day, and had promised to visit. Two little girls carried baby brothers. When they pressed too close in friendly curiosity, Salman's son, whose name he told me was Khidhr, ordered them back, and when I crossed the stream by the stepping-stones he offered me his hand. By the swift stream grew a sacred mulberry-tree; "Hajji Khalu," Khidhr told me, and its cult being probably connected with that of the sacred spring of Shaikh Mand. Khidhr begged that I should now come to his father's house. So we set off through the narrow streets, dogs barking on the wall-tops just by our heads. "They bark at any stranger from another village," explained Khidhr.
Qawwal Salman was expecting us and met me in the courtyard, but before going to sit with the men upstairs, I asked that Khidhr might take me to his mother. The small living-room was crowded with women, and as usual a mattress and cushions were dragged out, upon which they insisted I should sit.
We began to talk clothes, and amidst much merriment
I wrote down the names of all their garments, undergarments,
and jewellery. Only younger women wear
the flashing headdresses of coins, amongst which I once
espied an English sixpence. The helmet-cap is called
the cumédravé, and as soon as a woman has passed her
thirtieth year, or even before, she hands on the heirloom
to a younger daughter or niece. Older women
wear only a turban, a dark-coloured kerchief being
folded across the forehead, and matrons bring the white
wimple, a loose white veil called the lachek, placed over
the turban, across the lower part of the face.
Girls wear more ornaments than their mothers. The
turban, the jamadâni, is composed of several silk kerchiefs,
and into these are stuck a silver pin with a ball
head, to which a second pin is attached by a chain1
so arranged that the chain is draped at one side of the
turban. The centre of the head is uncovered by the
turban and shows the cumédravé in all its glory. The
dress is elaborate. A long chemise2 and baggy trousers3
are worn, and above these in chilly weather a short
sleeveless jacket.4 Next comes an outer jacket5 and
over all is draped the meyzâr, a woollen toga or shawl
which hangs loose and square behind, and which is
brought under the left arm and knotted on the right
shoulder. This is homespun, and the women dye it
red, yellow, or orange, often adding embroidery in other
colours. As for jewellery, they wear earrings,6 usually
of gold filigree with a stone or two, and often triangular
in shape. Bracelets,7 hinged and fastened with a pin
securing the two halves, are of silver or gold, and sometimes
set with precious or semi-precious stones. Yazidi
girls wear no anklets, but prefer several necklaces of
beads and wear a long silver chain round the neck to
which is attached a large crescent-shaped ornament8
like an amulet-case and triangular silver boxes on either
side of it. These three cases are further decorated with
small silver bells — nine hang from the crescent and
three apiece from the triangles. I asked if these boxes
contained talismans, but they told me No, they were
filled with bees' wax.
2. Krâas or kirâz.
3. Darpeh (accent on last syllable).
Round the waist the girls wear a soft folded sash9;
brides, and even some of the unmarried girls, wear a
stiff belt about an inch and a half wide fastened with
a huge embossed silver buckle, secured by a silver pin.
When it came to looking at their tattooing, the women
laughingly shooed away the men who waited at the
doorway. But of tattooing I will speak elsewhere.
I could no longer keep my hosts waiting, and Khidhr took me from the courtyard by the outside stairway to the upper room.
 The qawwâls, a bearded man with a gentle expression, had prepared tea, and I stayed his hand as he prepared to fill the tea-glass with sugar. "What kind of tea is that?" they all exclaimed with feigned disgust, for their own tea is a syrup. Later on my kind host roast, ground, and made me coffee. In this upper room were benches of a width convenient for sitting cross-legged, and a number of guests were gathered round the room.
Conversation fell upon foods forbidden to the Yazidis,
and I asked Qawwal Salman to enlighten me on this
matter as I had heard conflicting reports.
"Cabbage we may not eat," he said, "but cauliflower
is allowed. Lûbia (broad-beans), ladies'-fingers10 and
lettuce are forbidden."
||10. Bâmia: a glutinous vegetable, often dried for future use.|
Some of the men protested. "Not lûbia!"
"In the Sinjar they eat broad-beans," he insisted, "but here it is forbidden. As to ladies'-fingers, there are those who eat them, but it should not be. Fish is harâm because it cannot be slaughtered in the proper way, but as for other meats, we may kill and eat any creature permitted by Moslem law, including gazelle and birds. Like Moslems, we eat no pig."
I asked the qawwâl about sowing and harvest, for the Sabba in the south will neither sow nor transplant in the dark of the moon. He replied that the Yazidis had no preference for the crescent moon.
When I rose to go, he offered to take me to an olive-grove about half an hour away from Bahzané to see the mazâr of Shaikh Ubekr. (In repeating the name I said Shaikh Abu Bekr, but was corrected. "The name is Shaikh Ubekr," said someone in the room, "and it means a pure man who is not married.")
Accordingly we set out, crossing the stream by the olive-trees under which ganders and geese with families of yellow goslings cropped the grass and hissed at us as  we passed. Farther up the valley were olive-presses cut in the living rock. On a sloping shelf of rock a barefoot man stood treading out the oil from a sack of olives. Near him water was being heated in pots, and from time to time a basinful was handed to him as he kept up his measured dance on the olives. He poured the hot water over the sack as if it were a libation to some god of increase, not ceasing the while to tread. The oil which oozed from the sack ran over the rock, fell into a cistern of water beneath and gathered on the surface, to be skimmed off later and stored in petroleum-tins.
The shrine of Shaikh Ubekr lies to the north-west. The building is surmounted by a conical fluted spire, the courtyard is surrounded by a low wall, and at the back of the shrine is a room and kitchen for pilgrims. Its real sanctity, however, lies in the cave beside it, the floor of which is partly submerged in ice-cold clear water from a spring in the rock. This water in flowing out has cut its way deep through ferny banks to irrigate an olive-grove. In the sacred pool are small fish and what appear to be enormous tadpoles, but which are neither black nor of the usual shape. Maiden-hair grows on the steep banks of the stream — good, said Jiddan, for curing warts. By the sacred spring, as usual, stood the sacred tree, a mulberry, to which many votive rags had been tied.
I asked the qawwâl how the shrine-spires are made. "First," he said, "a tall pole, of the wood called ispindar (poplar) is brought as an offering, together with thinner poles of the same wood. A disc pierced with holes is fitted to the top of the centre pole, and into these holes, slanting outwards at the bottom, are placed the thinner poles. Then they are cemented over, that is, they are covered with juss."
We returned, and on the way back saw children collecting something from the surface of a rock.
"Khatûn, they are collecting dust to put between the babies' legs when they are small. You buy botra (powder) from a chemist for your children; we use this dust, which is free."
Chapter VI. SITT GULÉ.
"He set his knee stoutly against the rock, and straightway by the spring poplars and elm-trees shaded a shadowy glade, arched overhead they grew, and pleached with leaves of green." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll VII.
No water was laid on to our house nor to any house in the village, so once a day a donkey, with earthenware pitchers slung across its back, clattered into the courtyard and water was poured into the large porous jar which stood there on a wooden stand. The filtered water dripped into a smaller pot beneath.
When Mikhail and I had finished our daily conference on food — meat was not always obtainable in the village and fowls not easy to buy, for everyone had their own — Jiddan and I set off up the mountain-side, meaning to reach the ruins of an ancient stone fortress visible on the heights above. As we mounted we met and chatted with peasant women who complained that though rains in the early year had been good, more showers were needed because of the blight that had attacked the barley. They pointed to yellowing and drooping blades and said that rain would give the young shoots strength to resist it, and rains were still due before the summer drought. They scanned the sky with watchful eyes.
The crops in the hill-country are not irrigated by
rivers as in the south, but are, like English fields,
dependent upon the sky. I asked the mukhtâr one day
what was done in a dry season and he told me of a rain
charm. A boy and girl go from house to house in the
village and perform a dance, at the end of which each
householder throws water upon them. At the same time
I learnt that at the beginning of the harvest a sheep is
sacrificed, and another when the last sheaf is gathered in.
The higher we travelled by the rocky track, the
more numerous and varied were the flowers. Besides
umbelliferae, buttercups, ranunculus, and the red and
yellow adonis, there were many strange to me. Especially
lovely was a flower like a yellow rock-rose, with a leaf
and stem like a flaxplant.1 Jiddan gathered a
bunch of it, and it perfumed our living-room for days.
Thistles were plentiful and in particular a handsome
thistle with milky markings called kivâr2 by the Kurds.
It is common in Sicily, a country of which I was reminded
at every step, and the peasants there explain
the white markings by saying that the Virgin's milk
was so generous that as she sat in the fields with the
Holy Child, it spurted out and marked the green leaves
for evermore. Another thistle was the kaûb.3 It is
edible, and as vegetables were difficult to come by in
Baashika except as gifts, Mikhail had made us a dish
of these the night before, sprinkled with cheese, and
extremely good it was. I tasted kaûb first in the desert
when I was the guest of the Shammar Bedouin.
Another vegetable that we gathered for ourselves is
called khubbâz by the Arabs; it is a common weed, with
a leaf like the mallow, and tastes like spinach.
1. Possibly Linum mucronatum.
2. Silybum Marianum.
3. Gundelia Tournefortii.
We found that we had missed the path to the qasr,
which was separated from us by a ravine, so climbed
up rocks to a plateau from which we could see over
long plains and blue hills for fifty miles or more. Here
we added our stones to a cairn at the highest point.
Jiddan gazed towards the Jebel Sinjar, where he had
left his wife and two young children, and praised its air
and scenery. Near his home, he said, was a mazâr
called Shaikh Abu-l-Qasim. Pilgrims who visit it and
abstain from animal food for seven days and nights are,
he said, sure to get their desire, but they must not
forget to pay the guardian as much as they can, twenty
fils, fifty fils, or even one hundred. (That is, two
shillings — cheap for the wish of one's heart.) I asked
about the cleft in the rocks said to be in the Jebel Sinjar,
into which money and jewels have been cast by Yazidis
for centuries. Of this I heard a story. A Yazidi,
thinking of the treasure lying at the bottom of the
chasm, had an idea. He lowered a piece of wood,
thickly smeared with pitch, into the depths on a long
rope. Fishing like this, he managed to secure some
coins and ornaments. He could not keep his El Dorado
to himself, however, and when his secret leaked out,
the inhabitants of the mountain chased him and he
fled in terror of his life.
"Over there," said Jiddan, pointing north-east, "is Shaikh ‘Adi, whither, God willing, khatûn, we shall go together." He would go gladly, for he had not been there on pilgrimage since he was taken as a child.
On the way down we paused before a stream gushing from a green pocket on the hillside. We followed it to the spring which fed it, where grass grew lush beneath the poplar-trees. Here at the fountain-head was a tiny shrine with a minute fluted spire and a guardian qawwâl. The usual sacred tree had withered, but nevertheless was adorned with rags of many colours, and a sacred stone beneath the cone was in a recess, closed by a stone disc, like a cupboard. Within it was an olive-oil lamp of classic pattern. Some two-three women with their children were whiling the time by the spring: the girls had put red ranunculus in their hair. Their hands and arms were tattooed, and they were amused by my interest in the designs. The qawwâl, bearded and benign, told me that his wife was a daggâga, a tattooist, by profession. We asked  about the shrine as the qawwâl removed the disc so that we might place an offering by the stone. "Those who have fever," he said, "tie rags to the tree and, by the mercy of God, it leaves them."
The patron of this small shrine, enclosed by a rough wall between the stones of which grew borage, ranunculus, and thistles, was Azrael, yet in such a spot He, the Death-Angel, seemed far away. Even when I returned to our own courtyard, where the happy twitter of swallows filled the archway as they darted to and fro to their nestlings, it was hard to realize when I opened letters from Baghdad, that He was active and that bombs and machine-guns were scattering death in Norway. The news was troubling, for, till now, the absence of radio and daily papers had almost persuaded me that war was an evil dream.
* * * * *
On the previous morning in Bahzané, seeing in the village street the exiled shaikh on a neighbouring roof, I shouted across to ask after his little daughter. He shouted back "Better!" and when Rashid arrived to ask me to drink tea at his house, news came that the child was still alive. With Rashid came the aged shaikha, Sitt Gulé, to return my visit to her and to tell me that she purposed to journey to Mosul where her son was imprisoned, to plead with the Mutesarrif for his release. There was injustice, she said. Men judged by the courts-martial had been given sentences of fifteen years, whereas her son had been sentenced by a civil court to eight. Amnesty had been granted to those imprisoned by the courts-martial, but her son, convicted of a lighter offence, still languished in prison. Would I, whose husband was of the hukûma, in the Ministry of Justice, write a letter to the Mutesarrif and secure his liberty?
How difficult it was to explain to her as gently as I  could that to reverse or influence a sentence passed by the courts was neither in my power nor my husband's. In this country where public duty is often subordinated to the claims of family interest or private friendship, the cold Western ideal of absolute impersonality in official matters seems both unnatural and inhuman. I tried later to explain this to Rashid, when I returned with him ,to sit under his pergola of young vines. He boiled a kettle and made me a glass of tricolour tea, white at the bottom where sugar had melted with hot water, above that an infusion of young lemon leaves, pale green, and above that the amber of the tea. "True," said he, but still perhaps a little puzzled. "You English have other ways. But I understand something of the manners of English and Americans, for I was long with them when they were working at Tell Billa." He went on to talk of the excavators, especially of his admiration for Dr. Speiser, of whom every one in the village spoke well. This led us on to speak of the change that was coming over the ideas of the people with the introduction of the State schools. Rashid pointed out that the difficulty was that the cultivation of the land was almost entirely in the hands of the Yazidis, and at some seasons farmers could ill spare. the help of their children. Moreover, they feared that the schools would rob them of their sons and send them to the cities.
I assured him that with that point of view I was in sympathy and that education authorities no doubt would eventually realize these difficulties and meet them. Inwardly, I contrasted the good manners of the peasant lads I met with those of elder lads in Government khaki that I met coming from school. These were inclined to talk loudly, and for my benefit as I passed, although, when I had occasion to speak to them about anything, their nationalistic assertiveness deflated, and their natural courtesy reasserted itself. Moreover, it seemed to  me that the children I saw in the fields had not only the advantage in manners, but were equal in intelligence and quickness to any of the school-bred youngsters.
It soon got abroad that letters had been brought to me and I was questioned about the news. This happened every time that a police car brought me mail, and if I could say that some successes had fallen to the Allies, there were smiles and "Allah be thanked!"
Sitt Gulé had offered to conduct me to some of the shrines; accordingly, in the later afternoon, after I had shared my news with the mudîr of the village, she came to fulfil her promise. She had been handsome in her youth and still carried herself as erect as a girl. Her ankles, thrust into worn old slippers, were slim, and her skin almost as white as her clothes. As we walked uphill she told me, in a disjointed way, more of her history. We paused by the water-mill to enjoy the wholesome smell of flour and watch the water swirling up from beneath the wheel, then continued past the olive-presses, following the stream between the green hills.
"Yes," she said, "I have known trouble, much trouble. My husband was in prison fifteen years, kept there by the Turks. He was a good man, never killed anyone, nor stole nor —" but I forget the string of negative virtues. His crime, it seemed, was of having opposed the Government in some vague way — the Yazidis have got the habit of thinking all "Governments" their natural oppressors, and accept them like the drought or the storm.
That was not all. "I had three children, khatûn; two sons, my son that is in prison in Mosul and another, his younger brother, and the third was a daughter. Lady! Before me, in my very presence, my younger son slew my daughter: he cut her throat before my eyes." Her voice grew deep as we picked our way over the stones.
"There was Talk," she answered darkly. "The girl was sweet and there was Talk about her."
"Talk" ((hâchi in the vulgar Arabic) often means scandal about the girl's chastity, but I learnt later that there was no question of this, it was only a case of love outside the caste. The old shaikha, however, did not explain. She only said, as if to herself, "The girl was sweet, and there was Talk. I had but the one, and she was seventeen, no older."
"What happened to him?" I asked. She replied that he had been tried for his life, but that as it was a question of family honour, he had been cast into prison. His wife, mother of a child, was even now in her house together with his elder brother's two wives and children. The thing had happened a short four months ago, and she had nothing to say against the judgement for, said she, he must pay for taking his sister's life.
"But my elder son," she said, "his brother, is unjustly in prison, and, khatûn, it is for him that I trouble, and work to get him out—" We were back at the old sad question.
By this time we had reached the upper washing-pool at Ras al-‘Ain, where the women knelt on the stones with their fat cakes of home-made soap beside them, thumping and wringing and rinsing. I followed her to the spot where the stream disappears behind the rocks.
Women at the washing-pool, Ras al-‘Ain.
"Come!" she said, and began to climb up the smooth rock, putting her foot into crevices here and there. I followed half unwillingly, for I thought of returning. She persisted, "Come, come!"
Round the corner were worn steps cut in the rock. Over the boulder a sharp turn to the right brought us into a cavern, the birthplace of the spring, for here it issued from the rock.
Ras al-‘Ain: behind the rock in the foreground is the sacred cavern containing the rock sculptures.
I give the word as she pronounced it, although a schoolmaster pointed out later that the word is kahaf, meaning simply, "cavern". I am certain, however, that to Sitt Gulé, whose native language is Kurdish, Kaf is the name of the genius of the place. She pointed out his image to me. Within the cave, where the water has worn a deep channel bisecting the floor, a chamber is formed in the natural rock and the hand of man has been at work. Here are niches, blackened by the smoke of votive lamps, shelves for offerings and lights. Three panels are carved within the chamber. One is completely defaced. A second contains a single seated figure facing the worshipper, almost Buddha-like in its dignity and repose, though it is not cross-legged. The figure wears a conical cap, and is seated in a conventional concave frame, shaped like a lotus or flower-bud. The third panel is chipped and defaced, but a seated and bearded personage also wearing a conical cap is plainly visible, also a procession advancing towards him on a wave of movement and worship. A lifted arm holds a dish aloft, but most of the detail has been destroyed. On the floor of the chamber is traced an oblong with twelve small round depressions, placed six a side, possibly a gaming-board. Crossing the stream to the other part of the chamber, one can see on the rock above the spring the damaged full-face low-relief of a head, bearded and wearing a headgear similar to that of the other two figures. A niche containing a lamp of antique pattern is cut into the rock beside it. On my return to Baghdad, I reported these carvings to the Department of Antiquities, which had no record of the place.
Two girls followed us into the cave. One said that the figure was Kaf, the other, that it was just the name of the shrine. The water, they said, was always cold, and in summer if they bathed here, it was "like ice".
 One of the girls, a Moslem but wearing the Kurdish dress worn here irrespective of faith, accompanied us as far as the mill. She was tall, with eyes grey-green like clear sea-water, with black lashes, and an oval face. I remarked upon her beauty when she had left us, with a protective "Mashallah", for one must not praise without invoking the name of God.
The next morning Sitt Gulé was to show me more of the shrines. Jiddan and I called for her. She was ready for us and took us first to the largest and most important shrine of Baashika, that of the Shaikh Muhammad al-Huneyfi. It stands at the edge of the village, hard by the modest Jacobite church, which, again, is a bare stone's throw from the ambitious Latin building. It is at Shaikh Muhammad's shrine that the religious ceremonies of the spring feast take place, and the grassy open space before it is used both as fairground and dancing floor.
We could not get in: the gate to the courtyard and garden was locked, so we took instead the road to Bahzané. There are two paths to that village, and just where they fork the shaikha paused by a mazâr roughly enclosed by a low wall. There was no tomb or cone, the object of veneration being merely a large stone set in the semicircular enclosure. On either side of the stone were a number of broken pitchers and with them a rusty tin can or so, also a wooden spoon carved from a single piece of wood.
Sitt Gulé bent to kiss the wall in several places, and a woman, passing and seeing her devotion, paused by us to say that one day when walking by the shrine she had omitted to "visit", that is, to kiss it. "And from that moment," said she, " my eye swelled up and became painful." So saying, she too bent and kissed the stone and walls before reshouldering her bundle and going her way.
"This," said Sitt Gulé, sitting on the low wall, "is  the mazâr of Shaikh Mus-as-Sor (Mus-the-Red)", and she explained the broken pottery. Those who suffer from itch or any skin affection, visit the shrine bearing water in a vessel. When they have saluted the place, they pour the water on the ground, scrape up some moistened dust, and apply it to the part affected, after which they either break the pitcher, or cast down the vessel, leaving it behind them. "You English," said she, half-smiling, "buy bottles of dâwa (medicine) from a doctor, but we go to our shrines."
Sitt Gulé at the shrine of Mus-as-Sor.
Jiddan added to this by saying that some shaikhs kept by them boxes of dust from various shrines, each good for some complaint such as sore eyes, aching limbs, constipation, or diarrhoea. Drunk in water for internal complaints or applied outwardly for external, these were effectual cures if taken after seven days' fasting and prayer.
We followed the left or lower road, and came on another shrine. This time it was a low grave of the common type, rough stones marking head and foot, and without inscription. Like Shaikh Mus it was surrounded by mounds of potsherds, rusty cans, and glass bottles. The headstone had disappeared under a skein of white woollen threads, these being twisted round so as to envelop completely the stone beneath. The name of the patron is Pir Mamé, and the shrine is famed for curing heart- or headache. It is not enough to pour water and apply the sacred clay, but a fair white woollen thread, home-spun and washed by a mother and a daughter, must be brought and twined round the headstone.
Skirting the olive-groves below Bahzané the erect old woman held out her bare arm. "Feel!" said she.
"Doesn't your head ache?"
She declared that it did not, and that in any case she intended to go to Mosul at dawn the next day to see the Mutesarrif.
Finding her resolved to proceed, we followed her to the mazâr of Shaikh Mas'ud. This consists of a small building surmounted by the usual fluted cone, and to the east, of a small courtyard surrounded by a wall low enough to step over. A smaller rounded cone with a hole in it for offerings is placed at the northwest corner of the shrine. Here Sitt Gulé prayed long and fervently in Kurdish, kissing the corner stone many times — "for my son", she said, looking at me and always hoping that I might be an answer to her prayers.
Near by, close to Bahzané, is another shrine, similar to that of Shaikh Mas'ud, built above a grave. A woman passing cried out angrily when she saw me writing down its name, Shaikh 'Abd-ul-‘Aziz, in my note-book, "Do not let her take its likeness!"
The shaikha, with the authority of superior caste, rebuked her intolerance.
We all called in at the house of the shaikh in Bahzané
to inquire again after the health of the injured child
and were cordially received. The little girl was not
only alive, but up and about, though with a very swollen
and blackened eye. The shaikh said that he would
come to see me, and my hope was high that he would
do so and would talk, but, in spite of his obvious friendliness,
he never kept his word. It is probable that the people of Bahzané,
more fanatical than those of Baashika,
dissuaded him from his purpose, for he sent me an odd
message, "that he was afraid to come".
We returned by the upper road, passing by the shrine
of Shaikh Sajaddin, white and shining upon its green
hill-top. Sitt Gulé pointed it out as that of her ancestor.
Then, negligently, she mentioned a still more illustrious
relative — the Archangel Gabriel.4
||4. Yazidi legend considers the companions of Shaikh ‘Adi too holy to have married and had children in the ordinary way, indeed, it is claimed that they were incarnations of angels, or descended from such incarnations. Hence Sitt Gulé was merely voicing the family tradition.|
"Jibrail," she said," is also of our family. He who
cuts off the head of the dead."
"Cuts off the head of the dead?” I repeated, slightly aghast.
"Yes," she replied. "Do not the angels Azrael and Gabriel come at the time of death? It is Gabriel who cuts off the head to let the ruh fly out."
I asked a qawwâl later about this belief and he
qualified Sitt Gulé's statement. "He does not cut off
the head," he said, "he cuts the throat so that the
spirit can come forth."
Other white cone-shrines on the hill-tops between
the two villages are those of Shaikh Hasan al-Basri,5
below which was a peasant woman devoutly kissing the
rock, and a group dedicated to Shaikh Zindan, his sister,
Sitt Nefisah and his mother Khadijah. Sitt Gulé told
me that Shaikh Zindan, being imprisoned in Damascus,
sent a message by carrier pigeon to his mother and
sister in the Hakkari mountains. They travelled to
Syria, and pleaded for him so movingly that he was
||5. Either a cenotaph, like many other shrines, or else wrongly named. The tomb of Hasan al-Basri is shown at Shaikh ‘Adi.|
We returned to Baashika, and I wrote a letter for the
shaikha to take with her on the morrow. I did not
venture to write to the Mutesarrif personally, lest it
be said that an Englishwoman was attempting to interfere
with official matters. Addressing those convenient people
"whom it may concern", I told of the old
woman's difficulties and poverty and hoped that if the
sentence could be mitigated in any way without interfering
with the course of justice, her circumstances
might be taken into consideration. The letter was
never delivered. Burning with fever, the old woman
set out for the journey to Mosul the next day, and
when she got there, found that the Mutesarrif had left
Mosul in order to see some locust-fighting operations
in a village miles away.
Chapter VII: THE MONASTERY ON THE ROCK
“By the guidance of some one of the immortals hast thou come hither, stranger...." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XXV.
On the Friday morning, when I looked at storm-clouds gathering, I decided to make that day a long-planned pilgrimage, this time to a Christian and not a Yazidi saint, before heavy rain should make the road impassable.
"Go to the police," I said to Mikhail. "See if they can find us a car to take us to Mar Matti."
I left him to it, for Sairey Gamp had arrived, full of importance, to take me to see a newly-delivered mother. "Not a Yazidi," she said apologetically, "but a Moslem."
I followed her through the narrow alleys of the village until we arrived at a yard full of mess and dung where fowls scratched and a ragged dog barked at us and was shouted quiet. I went down some mud steps into the cellar where the woman who had just been delivered lay on the floor with a cotton quilt spread over her. She greeted me and tried to rise till I restrained her. The baby, a small chrysalis, its head bandaged and bound and its eye-rims blackened with antimony, was sleeping beside her. Eggs and leban and thin Kurdish bread were brought so that the visit might have no evil effect, so I ate, uttered many "Mashallahs" to keep off the Evil Eye, and then began to excuse myself.
"I am going to the deir of Mar Matti, and I will ask a blessing on you and your child." The woman  smiled, for the saint is honoured by Moslems, and when I slipped some silver into the baby's clothing, they thanked Allah for my gift. As r left, Mother Gamp showed me the after-birth put carefully aside in a petroleum tin. She lifted it out, wrapped it in a scrap of white woollen cloth, ran a threaded needle into the folds, and told me that she would bury it later.
"Where?" I asked.
"Outside the village," she replied.1
||1. It was a Moslem birth; it seems that Yazidis prefer the house-precincts.|
When I returned, a rickety Ford stood before our
door, and the driver, a sad-faced man called ‘Aziz,
awaited me. For thirty shillings he would take us there
and back. I had heard that the journey to the monastery
was a bare hour, and as taxis are usually cheap,
I murmured at the price. "But the road is bad,"
the police intervened anxiously, for they had doubtless
arranged matters previously. "Khatûn, ‘Aziz has just
paid sixty pounds for his car!"
So into the Ford we got, Mikhail delighted because he was going on pilgrimage to a celebrated shrine, Jiddan because Mar Matti is invoked by Yazidis as well as Christians, and a Kurdish policeman who begged that he might come too, for he was desirous of the barraka or blessing that results from a visit to a holy place.
The road was but a track through cornfields and flowers which passed over stream and ditch, following the line of the foothills until it reached the Akkra highway. After that, it turned left towards the mountains, and became steadily worse. In places it seemed likely that the Ford might smash a spring or fall on its side, but ‘Aziz managed to keep it going with a melancholy pride in its acrobatic feats. A particularly vicious spot was just below a village called Bir Banek, where lorries laden with marble from the quarries had worn a deep hole in the road.
 There and in other places we preferred to get out and walk rather than endure the violent jolting to our spines. At Bir Banek there is a bîr (well), a round deep pond covered thickly with green scum. In winter the villagers drink from a mountain stream which crosses the road beside it, but in summer they subsist on the apparently unwholesome bîr.
Soon the car descended towards a valley in which two villages, Mergi and Mughara, were to be seen beneath us, each a nest of brown, flat-roofed houses. Both these villages are Christian. Near Mergi we passed a girl dressed in wedding garments, so gay that I regret still not having stopped to take her photograph. The mukhtâr of Mergi addressed us from his house-top in hospitable tones, begging us to enter and refresh ourselves, but, wishing to press on, we thanked him and promised to visit him on our return. Here we left ‘Aziz and his car, and set off on foot towards the monastery set high up against the face of the rock. It was a full hour's climb by the steeply winding mules' path cut in the rock, in places almost a stairway. Twice we paused to rest and regain our breath, once by an oak-tree to which votive rags were tied. We asked of a Kurdish girl stepping lightly down the path what the tree was called, and she replied that it was named "Qatal Lusia", as once a woman named Lusia had been murdered at its foot. A little above the tree a ruined aqueduct chiselled in the living rock had served to bring water from a broken cistern above, and close by was a small olive-grove on a jutting shelf.
As we toiled up the last stretch of rock, a small black-clad figure wearing a monkish cap came smiling down to meet us, bearing a pitcher and a glass, and poured me out a drink of clear cold water. The boy, aged perhaps twelve, was a novice in the monastery school. We passed a ruined gate, for the present monastery occupies a smaller space than the ancient  deir and, according to the mutrân, the resident bishop, twelve thousand monks were once housed on the rock and in the refectory three hundred sat to eat at a time. Allowing for exaggeration, it is evident that it has seen far more spacious times, since today it shelters but twenty-five monks in all, together with a few boy novices. Climbing various steps and stairways, we were taken at once to the mutrân's cell, a falcon's nest of a room, hung as it were in space above the blue champaign beneath.
His Holiness, a handsome old man with a patriarchal white beard, sat upon the floor, looking magnificent in his black robe over a scarlet and purple cassock or under-dress, a large gold cross hanging from his neck. Coffee was served, first the thick sweet Turkish brew, and then the clean-tasting bitter Arab, while the mutrân conversed with us his guests. He asked, how fared the war? He had seen much trouble and persecution, he said, and recalled that during the Armenian massacres monks had been murdered on the mere score of being Christians. He talked of recent earthquakes and floods in Turkey: he considered them, he said sombrely, a delayed judgement of God upon their wickedness. I protested in vain: "The Turks are now our Allies and these poor people who suffered in the earthquake are not the Turks who slew the Armenians, but simple village folk!" But ancient wrongs lay heavy on his soul and he repeated sonorously, "Fire came from heaven and destroyed them: the earth shook and the floods came! The wheels of the Lord's vengeance turn slowly, the children pay for the sins of the fathers!" It was as if one listened to a minor prophet, and I abandoned the dispute.
We were entrusted to a tall young monk with a lively black eye, by name Rahab Daud, that is, Monk David. The lower courtyards, of vast extent, are used for sheep, goats and pack-animals, and a combined  odour of goat and mule hangs about the whole place. We went constantly up and down by steps and roof-terraces: the place is perched on all levels and has an unpremeditated, haphazard effect caused by the fact that it has adapted itself to communities of varying size and epoch, and adjusted itself to vicissitudes of prosperity.
The Mutran, Deir of Mar Matti. (The monk Daud on his right.)
Yazidi women: mother and daughter.
We went first into the lower church and were taken directly into a chapel at the north side of the sanctuary where Mar Matti himself is buried. This saint lived in Sasanian times and his life and miracles are described in a booklet which Rahab Daud gave me. The miracles have gone on uninterruptedly till today, according to the monks, and a pilgrimage to the tomb brings benefit and healing. The inscription, in Strangelo on a marble slab, replaced an earlier, destroyed during a sack of the place. I noticed that the cross on the inscription is one that recurs repeatedly in the sacred buildings, each of the three arms being itself a cross with fleur-de-lis extremities. The Jacobites do not depict a figure on the cross, nor have they images or pictures in their churches, such being, they say, idolatry. The cross is for them not so much an image to recall Christ's death, as a symbol of life eternal.
Other tombs are in the same chapel, one being that of Yuhana bar Abri of Malta, who was born in 1226 and died in 1268. In the north-east corner of the church all the mutrâns are buried. When a bishop dies, the face of the stone wall is unsealed, and the dead prelate taken to the rock-chamber below, where he is seated amongst his predecessors, in full canonicals, on a chair or throne. It must be a ghastly session there below of seated skeletons in mouldering pomp. Ordinary monks are laid in another and larger rock-chamber on the north side of the church. Here, Rahab Daud said, the ground is deep with rusty-red dust and crumbling bones, all that is left of dead and gone brethren. There  are other rock-chambers; one leads to a long tunnel which communicated with another monastery, that of Brahom, an hour and a half's distance away. Parts of this tunnel are so narrow that a man must needs wriggle through like a snake, but the passage is no longer used, having become blocked by a fall of rock.
In the chancel is a fine example of the mediaeval silversmith's art in the cover to the Gospels on the lectern. It depicts the Crucifixion and the four Evangelists. Into the sanctuary itself we did not go, for none but a monk or mutrân may set foot in it. Should a married priest venture inside, said Rahab Daud solemnly, he and his wife would die.
The upper church, partly hewn out of the living rock, and called the Kaniseh as-Sayyideh, is said to be yet older. It is dedicated to Mariam, wife of Mar Shimuni, who, together with her husband and her seven children, were martyred by King Antiochus. Rahab Daud described the tortures which this family of saints had endured, and spoke of the miracles they perform even today. Here the Kurdish policeman chimed in, for, although a Moslem, he had witnessed the yearly miracle which takes place at the festival of Mar Shimuni in the church dedicated to him at the village of Karakosh. At the time of the feast, he said, he entered the church which was packed with people anxious to see the wonder, for, at a certain time, on one of the church walls appear the shadows of the martyred king, his wife, Queen Mariam, and their seven children riding on horses. Women who desire children or have any other wish, fling their kerchiefs at the holy shadows, and if their vow is accepted, the kerchiefs stick to the wall. "I saw this with my own eyes," affirmed the policeman.
From this, the conversation passed to the intercession of saints. "Khatûn, you are a Protestant, and the Protestants do not believe in the help of saints," said  Daud, informing the others of my sad condition. "But we say it is like this. Say that I have a case in the courts and I wish for a favourable judgement, what do I do? I know that your honour is the wife of the Adviser to the Ministry of Justice, and I write to you and I say, 'Speak to the judge, speak to your husband, speak to the Adviser, so that I may be helped in the matter.' "
I thought of Sitt Gulé and her belief that it was in my power to have her son instantly released from prison, and I realized once again how hopeless it is to expect the Western view of these matters, which seems so churlish, to be understood of these simple reasoners. No matter to them that such methods may be abused and become the instrument of gross injustice; to these drawbacks they are inured. A kinsman must help his kinsfolk, a friend a friend, and a patron a suppliant, that is all, and finer aspects trouble them not a whit.
"Have you the courage to do a little climbing?” asked Daud, in consideration for my grey hairs. But it was hardly worthy of the name. First steps, then a little shuffling along a narrow ledge on which herbs and wild flowers grew like a rock-garden and we stood at the highest point of the monastery. There was another church in a cavern higher up on the mountainside, but it meant more climbing and more time, and I abandoned the idea of visiting it.
We saw the dairy and a kitchen partly hewn from the rock, where women-cooks and dairymaids were busy, and then we were taken to see a cavern in which ice-cold water dripped perpetually from the roof, and glistened on the smooth sides. Daud also took us to see the library, sadly depleted of its once magnificent store of manuscripts and books, most of which have been either burnt or stolen. He could only show a few parchment manuscripts in the decorative Eastern Syriac character.
 Although the monks were still fasting — and with the Jacobites that means entire abstention from all animal products for fifty days-they had prepared for us a collation of curds, fried eggs, unleavened bread, and cream. Before we left, Daud showed us his own cell, decorated with a few religious pictures and furnished with a few pious books, and begged me not to forget to send him his photograph. " Write down my name, lest you forget."
" I shall not forget. Rahab Daud ibn Suleyman!"
He clapped his hands delighted. " That is right, for I am a David son of Solomon! My father was called Solomon."
So we took our leave and set off downwards. Just as we started, we met the mukhtâr of Mergi's brother and he counselled that we should turn aside to visit a large cavern on the path which leads down to the village of Mughara. we did so, and entered a large cave dripping with water and an artificially contrived rock-chamber in which there was a shower-bath of heavy drops. It was malodorous, and the grassy plateau outside was marred by discarded lettuce leaves, newspaper, and orange-peel, the sorry token that a hundred and fifty girls from a Government school in Mosul had made an excursion to the monastery the day before. No villagers would have made such a mess: moreover, luckily, they seldom have paper to leave behind them.
The way down was quick and easy, but we stopped by the sacred oak to tear up a pattern of a dress-material which was luckily in my bag, so that Jiddan, the Kurdish policeman and I were all able to tie votive rags to its twigs — Mikhail had gone before to bring the car nearer. ‘Aziz was therefore waiting for us at the foot, and drove us in good style to the mukhtâr's house.
Our host was a fine solid man of some sixty years.
His son met us in the doorway and took us up to him,
in the reception chamber where he sat smoking his
qaliûn with village friends. These were sturdy peasants
wearing Kurdish dress, baggy embroidered trousers,
bird's-nest turbans, and huge multi-coloured belts into
which business-like daggers were thrust. They looked
as if a doctor would have made a poor living amongst them.
With unstinting hand the mukhtâr had prepared us
a sumptuous meal, fresh-made bread, sheeps' curds,
green onions, mounds of rice, and bowls of cream with
shenîna2 and glasses of tea to drink. All this was the
more kindly because every man in the village was fasting,
and their mouths must have watered at the meal.
||2. Curded milk beaten with water.|
The room was roofed with branches of poplar, twigs,
leaves, and all, and from the unglazed windows we
gazed over the valley and breathed the herb-pungent
air. A towel was spread on my lap, basin and soap
were brought that I might cleanse my fingers before
eating, and we were urged to fall to. The mukhtâr sat
on his bench, hospitably benign, while his son, a handsome
lad, plied us with food. On the wall hung a
gazelle's head: "my son shot it", said his father.
"He is a good sogman and always brings back plenty
of game from the hills."
He assured me that he constrained all pilgrims who visited the monastery to come and eat with him. "The monastery's guests are mine," he said.
Near his house-door stood the very emblem of his
mountain-hospitality, a large tannûr, an earthenware
bread-oven, and upon its side was a cross, both amulet
and sign of its owner's faith.
|Avesta -- Zoroastrian Archives||Contents||Prev||peacock||Next||Glossary|