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E.S. Drower: Peacock Angel, Part 2.

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[70] NOTES:


"The old wife has spoken her oracles." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XV.

The midwife, the old Hajjia, now became a test of our politeness, for she arrived at all times and seasons, and though we felt constrained to brew tea for her and to have sweets ready for her grandchildren, I did not feel bound to lend her my whole attention, but wrote letters when I wished, or typed out notes on my small machine. This she viewed with interest. It was not so much talk that she needed as contemplation of my various activities.

"A lady from Mosul came here to Baashika once, and she and I were much together, just as you and I are. Wallah, I brought my bed and slept in her room."

I looked at her with apprehension. Her presence was always a little malodorous, and her conversation exclusively obstetrical in theme. I shuddered to think of those wrinkled and grimy hands at their work.

On the morning of April the thirteenth she arrived betimes, fully determined to be my "other sister" all day. I was busy turning out things from my suitcase, and she sat in my bedroom watching closely with her old eyes, and would have examined everything piece by piece had she dared. When Rashid arrived to take me, as he had offered, to Tell Billa, her eyes goggled when I said to him that I had a parcel for his wife. We started off all three together, and on the way she possessed herself of the parcel and opened it to see what it contained.

[71] Rashid's young wife was delighted with the length of silk I had brought as a present for the feast, and smoothed the material with appreciative fingers. Then we set off to the mound, Rashid, Sairey and I — the old woman more than ever determined not to let me out of her sight. We went by way of Shaikh Muhammad, and encountered there the guardian, a kochek, a gentle old man with a white beard, dressed in spotless white. He inquired whether I would care to visit the tomb, but I thanked him and said we would return another day.

We continued our way through the fields, picking flowers as usual by the wayside. Here the small, smiling blue pimpernel,1 so common that one often forgets it is there, grew in quantities by the lighter blue of the woodruff. Tall columns of hollyhock rose above the corn. Rashid told me that in the Sinjar its stem is considered an aid to the growth of hair. Women dry the stalks, pound them, mix the powder with water, and apply the paste to their scalps when taking a bath, with the result that their hair becomes long and thick.

1. Anagallis cœrulea.
Talking of snakes, Rashid said, "There is a man, an Arab, who lives half an hour from here who can cure snake-bite and has done so many times, without fee. He has a kherza, an amulet, in the shape of a snake's head, yes, one can see the shape of the eyes and something like a snake's mouth, but on the whole it is like the balls that they put into soda-bottles. It is transparent and it fell from Heaven. Yes, he says that it fell from Heaven, and, wallah, it cures snake-bite. When one is bitten, he comes and scrapes the wound a little with his knife and puts the kherza on it, and it sticks there of itself. And soon all the poison and yellow matter comes to the place and drips down, and when the flesh is clean it falls away. When the Americans were digging at the tell, a woman and her husband [72] were sleeping in a room and there fell from the roof, which was of ispindar (poplar) wood, a large serpent, that thick" — he made a circle with his fingers — "and it bit the woman. We went to the rais of the Americans and we asked for their car and he said, 'Yes, we will let you have it, take her quickly to the hospital,' for her arm and leg and body were swollen. We said, 'No, we shall take her to the man that cures snake-bite with the kherza!' We took her, and he put the kherza on her, the poison came away, and she was cured.

"There was a man who made himself out to be a shaikh. He was not a shaikh, but he made himself out to be one. He came and he sat by the bridge by Shaikh Muhammad, and he called, and a snake came out towards him. It came to him and it bit him. He boasted, "I am a shaikh; it cannot harm me! From my granddad I inherit this gift — snakes cannot poison me.' But he began to swell and presently he fell down senseless. We took him to the Arab, who placed his kherza on the bite. Presently the man came to, and cried, 'What is this? What have you done?' They tried to persuade him to keep the kherza on him, but he refused and threw it from him and began to walk away. He had not gone far before he turned yellow and fell down. Yes! He, this Arab, is a good man and asks no fee, but people send him a sheep, or some such gift, as kheirât (bounty). He has a house and a garden."

Arrived at the mounds of Tell Billa, we climbed up and he showed me excavations of houses and the exploratory trenches, explained the plan of the dwellings, and pointed out the drain-holes from the houses into the narrow streets. Rashid is so unusually intelligent that I can well understand why the Americans gradually advanced him to the position of foreman and left all in his charge when they went away. We sat on a carpet of wild flowers to rest, and the old crone,

[73] who had followed silent for the most part, pointed to the fortress on the hill which we had failed to reach.

"There is the qal'a," she said. "A ruined place like this. Treasure is buried there. One night two men of Baashika went forth with mattocks and basket to dig for it. But the Reshé Shivvé came out of the qal'a and leapt on them and hurled them out of the hole they had been digging, and they were half dead with fright. They never dared to return."

At lunchtime, back in our little house, I heard sounds of arrival, and, going out, found A. in the courtyard, surrounded by her luggage. Had I not had her letter, she asked, written three days before? I had not, but I had half-expected that she might turn up for the feast and was glad to see her, for A. is of a rare kind, indeed amongst all the women in ‘Iraq I knew none that I would have asked to Baashika with less fear. I knew that she might be depended upon not to utter a tactless word or display tiresome inhibitions, nor would our picnic mode of life dismay her.

Sairey's talk about the qal'a made me determine to reach it. Its local name is Qal'at Asfar. Jiddan suggested that this time we should take a guide lest we miss the path again, so when A. had unpacked and set up her camp bed, we procured a dark, shaggy-looking lad as guide and making our way up the hills, clambered up the steep side of the ruined fortress. The rough masonry of blocks was fitted into the rock, so that at times it was difficult to tell the work of Nature and that of man apart; the whole had formed at some remote time a stronghold, and in the plateau above there was a deep well lined with masonry. Other openings on this flat surface, which looked like a terrace, were curved like the walls of a jar and looked as if they were air holes to a chamber long blocked by earth and debris. One opening was small and square. As we wandered about, [74] the shaggy-haired boy repeated the story about buried treasure and the spirits that guard it.

"We should fear," he said, "to come here at night." We returned by an easier route, and followed a rutted path in the rock which led us back by way of the shrine of Azrael to the aqueducts and the cistern above the olive-groves. Here our young guide, with another boy who had joined us on the way, left us unceremoniously, and shedding their clothes, they leapt into the water. The Pan-like creature did not even ask for a guide's fee. At the fair, some days later, he gave me a shy smile, and going to him I put some money into his hand, telling him to choose some sweetmeats.

"What shall I choose?" said he, looking at the stalls.

"Anything you like," I replied, and left him.

A little afterwards he was at my side, holding towards me a packet of Rahat Lukûm (Turkish Delight). He had hunted for me in the crowd. "But it is for you, not for me!" He was amazed, and went off with it wordless.

When we returned, the inevitable Sairey had arrived. I had already warned A. and apologized for our constant visitor. This afternoon, however, she was not alone: she had brought two daughters, one a married woman, and the other a bride. We prepared tea for them and ourselves.

This afternoon Sairey had all excuse, one of her daughters was a tattooist and she knew I was interested in the art. But that was not all: she wheedled a little, she had seen the silk that I had given to Rashid's wife, and surely I had a roll for her — was not the feast approaching? Now Sairey had at various times received money, and I had already earmarked my limited store of gifts, some of which were reserved for the visit to Shaikh ‘Adi. Regretfully, I refused, but A. immediately lightened the situation; she had brought with [75] her some charms in Hebron glass against the Evil Eye, a whole string of them in blue, black, white, and yellow, each bead representing an Eye. These proved an immediate salve, and never failed to give delight whenever and wherever she bestowed them.

We talked of tattooing. The women never admit that tattooing has a magic purpose, and tell you that they submit to the process for zîna (decoration) or hilwa (beauty). Here and there, however, marks have been tattooed to keep off pain, and the floriated cross and cross with a dot in each arm, both common designs, are undoubtedly magical and health-preserving signs. The married daughter explained how she worked. The ingredients were sheep's gall, lamp-black (from an olive-oil lamp only) and milk fresh drawn from the breast of the mother of a girl-child. If the baby is a boy, she said, the punctures would fester. The consistency of this mixture must be that of dough. A pattern is traced on the skin with this paste and then pricked in with a needle or two needles tied together with thread. These must draw blood. At first the surface swells up, but later settles down and the design appears in a deep blue. Yazidi women rarely tattoo the entire body as do the women of southern ‘Iraq, but content themselves with adorning the back of the hand, the wrist, forearm, chest, ankle, and lower leg. The favourite designs are these:

(1) The misht, or "comb". By the way, there is no hesitation in pronouncing this word, although I had always heard that it is one of the words which Yazidis will not utter because it contains the consonants sh and t, and suggests the forbidden name Shaitan (Satan). The "comb" is often joined to a circle called the qamr (full moon), or finished by a cross, sometimes plain.

(2) The cross.

(3) The gazelle. This is a conventionalized representation of the animal and is a favourite design. Those [76] that I saw had above the back of the animal a spot, called daqqayeh.

(4) The rijl al-qatai, "sand-grouse foot". This resembles the print left by a bird's foot in the sand.

(5) The moon, either full or crescent.

(6) The lâ'ibi, or "doll", a primitive outline of a human figure with extended arms and legs apart.

(7) The dulab katân, or kiûkiûukh: the spool or spindle.

(8) The rés daqqa, an inverted "V".

(9) The dimlich, a figure which looks like a bag suspended by two strings.



The "gazelle" (ghazâl)

The "rijl al-qatai" ("sand-grouse foot")

the Darek

rés daqqa

the sâsi

the Moon

the lâ'ibi ("doll")

the Sun

the "spindle, or spool"
(dulab katân)

the salib ("cross")

the misht ("comb")

the dimlich

Refreshment had been twice dispensed, and we reached the point when we wished that our visitors would go. But they sat on. I basely forsook A. and went to my room, and when I came back, still they sat.

A. spoke in English and said to me, "They are dying to see your typewriter and have said to me, 'Do you think the khatûn would work it for us?' "

So the typewriter was produced and the young women gazed at it with awe. I typed the name of each on a piece of paper, and gave the scraps to them: and they folded them carefully. One does not see one's name printed with a machine every day in Baashika. But they still gazed.

"Does it sew also?" they asked, innocently.

As soon as they had left, I took A. up to Ras al-`Ain, for I wanted to show her the cavern, the bas-reliefs and the spring. I was a little disappointed when we reached the pool to find a procession of schoolboys marching up the path, all wearing the khaki uniform of the Government schools, and singing patriotic songs, every verse of which ended watani-" my fatherland." Very praiseworthy, no doubt, but a modern intrusion into the pagan sanctuary.

When we reached the rock, the schoolboys were perched all about it, and some had plunged into the [78] pool, but their politeness in moving away from the rock steps to let us pass and their friendly faces made me regret that I had wished them away.

After all, when we had reached the sacred cavern, it was empty. It was growing too dusk to see the panels clearly, but a smell of incense clung about the place, and when we crossed to the other side of the cave, stepping over the deep channel cut by the spring, we saw an olive-oil lamp, of the ancient shape, sending its thread of yellow flame upwards to illumine the gloom and add to the perfume of sanctity.

A schoolmaster followed us in and volunteered information about his own village, which he hoped that we would visit, offering to show us much there that would interest us. We thanked him, said good night to him and to the boys outside, and went out and down the valley in the twilight. Kids were skipping on the road, and in the village we passed women sitting at the thresholds of their courtyards, resting after the day's work, while their children played and sang.

"This is a lovely place," said A. She had fallen in love with it, just as I had.



"Always give altar-rites to the Gods...." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XVI.

Nature jerks the bearing-rein occasionally to remind the body that an active habit should not outrun lessened strength, and I paid in a sleepless night for too energetic a day. I lay awake and heard the wind banging to and fro the door which led to the roof, and when I crossed the courtyard to fasten it, was aware of a night-sky thick with clouds. Then heavy rain fell, the rain for which the fields were thirsting.

After breakfast A. and I determined to attend Mass at the Jacobite church, and putting on mackintoshes and taking umbrellas in hand, we picked our way along the muddy road, passing the Latin church, where we fancied those passing in gazed at us reproachfully, and then through the little graveyard, where the dead sleep under long flat slabs, into the humbler Orthodox building.

As we went through the open doorway, which was of grey Mosul marble carven by local craftsmen, a puff of incense met us, for the service was well on its way. The church was full. In front, the men sat cross-legged on the brightly-coloured mats and grass matting which covered the floor. Their heads were turbaned, their sheepskin cloaks turned inside out. Their shoes had been left on the uncovered stone paving. The women in their peasant dress squatted behind. One of them rose and, coming towards us, led us to the north side of the church, and we picked our way [80] through pairs of muddy shoes and closely packed women towards a bench, the only one, and evidently a seat of honour. Two women wearing the black, enveloping head-veil of the towns, got up politely and offered us their places upon it.

The bright Kurdish dresses, the dimness of the sanctuary, partially hidden by a marble screen and faintly illumined by candles, the grey marble columns, the swallows flying hither and thither, and keeping up their pagan twitter as they went backwards and forwards to nests somewhere in the roof of the church, the devout faces of the congregation who hung on every word of the eloquent sermon, all this formed a picture which made me feel like an intruder from another century.

The preacher, who stood at the door of the sanctuary, was none other than our friend the mutrân of Deir Matti. He held a silver cross before him as he preached, as if he were exorcising, by its magic as well as by his words, all evil from the hearts and lives of his simple congregation. He held the cross with a kerchief of magenta embroidered with silver, and his grey head was covered with the cowl embroidered with silver crosses which all monks wear. When, later on, he resumed his large bulbous black turban, this cowl hung down behind. Beneath his black robe appeared his episcopal cross, and the rose and violet of undervestments. The parish priest, elderly and bearded, wore plain black and, like his superior, the monkish cowl.

Although I could not follow all of it, the sermon was plain and homely, and, with his presence, his fine features and silvery beard, the mutrân looked more than ever the minor prophet. Whenever the audience was stirred, a murmur of assent or approval arose. At the end of the sermon the parish priest came to the chancel steps and, addressing the congregation, announced that the mutrân would pay a visit to every house and that each householder was to make him a gift [81] of olive-oil, soap, or grain. Money was not mentioned, nor was there any begging or exhortation. It was an order.

Then there was chanting and prayers. The people do not kneel to pray, but turn the palms of the hands upwards, extending the arms slightly, and when they finish, stroke their faces downwards like Moslems at the conclusion of the Fâtiha.1 All chanting was in the major key, and at times it was loud, male and exultant.

1. The first chapter of the Qur'an.
When the mutrân advanced with the chalice and paten, both veiled, and placed the latter upon the former, all the men removed their headgear, but no member of the congregation communicated. Finally, Mass being ended, many went out, kissing the silver cover of the New Testament on the lectern before leaving, and laying an offering on its ledge.

The remainder stayed for the dukhrâna, that is, prayers for the benefit of the dead. These were read by the parish priest. Only a few men remained, presumably relatives of the deceased, and during the reading one man wiped his eyes repeatedly, whilst the many women who stopped at the back of the church wept and sobbed audibly, beating their knees as they squatted on the floor. Children had seated themselves on the ground by the first chancel step like a row of sparrows, and one, behaving badly, was pulled back by his father and held closely, while his companion in mischief grinned back at him.

At the conclusion of the dukhrâna all went out, including the mutrân, priest, deacons, and acolytes, and all saluted the mutrân as he passed out. A. and I entered the presbytery to pay our respects to him, A., as wife of a dignitary of the Anglican church, receiving especial honour. We were assigned seats beside the great man, who regretted that A. had not accompanied me when I visited his monastery, and expatiated on the [82] traditional hospitality of the deir extended to pilgrims of all races and faiths alike. Amongst his hearers was the young schoolmaster we had met at the cave the evening before, seated at the mutrân's right hand and beaming at the honour paid to himself and to us.

When we arrived at our house we found a great crowd gathered in the doorway. In its centre were a couple of swarthy gypsies with a pair of dancing bears and two baboons. These poor creatures performed their tricks amidst the laughter and delighted exclamations of the onlookers, amongst whom I saw the snub-nosed qawwâl, his eyes moist with merriment.

Gypsies, Baashika.

Later, I saw the black gypsy tents by Bahzané, for, in true Romany fashion, they had come for the feast and fair. Here in the Middle East, gypsies gain their living by showman-trades, by dancing, peddling, stealing, and fortune-telling, but they are needier, filthier and darker than European gypsies and are despised by tribesmen and villagers alike. Here too they have their own language, but when I took down lists of words from a kowli (gypsies are known as Kowliyah), I found few which corresponded to the Romany spoken in England. The wandering tribes think it shame either to kill them or intermarry with them, though some of the gypsy girls are handsome. The kowlis own no nationality, speak the languages of the countries through which they travel, and are expert smugglers. In the desert they neither raid nor are raided, but are often given food in return for the dancing of the women and the music or antics of the men.

Sairey, who was rapidly becoming our cross, sat long with us that Sunday, and learning that A. was childless, she came very close to me, and touching my body familiarly with her dirty hands and speaking in my ear, gave me to understand that by her manipulations she had turned many a childless wife into a rejoicing mother. Finally she went purely eldritch, invoking all the saints [83] in turn to bestow children upon A., pointing to heaven as she did so; Shaikh ‘Adi, Sitt ‘Adra (who she was I never discovered), Mar Matti, Khatuna Fakhra, and particularly, since we were Christian, "Sitt Mariam, mother of seven children." This Mariam was the martyred queen whose apparition is seen at Karakosh.

We offered her tea and gave her biscuits, which she pouched for her grandchildren, and when at long last she departed, we held council. She was fast becoming unbearable. We hated to think what those grimy hands could do to wishful and barren wives, for infection and microbes are to Sairey as devoid of meaning as the English which, to her aggravation, we talked when her presence was indefinitely prolonged. She was so unsavoury, so obstetrical, so ghoulish, so witch-like, that we both agreed that a little of her at close quarters went a long, long way. It was decided that she must be discouraged a little, as gently as possible, for we did not wish to hurt her feelings, and Jiddan, called in and the problem put before him, promised to head her off as tactfully as he could.

In the evening, A. went with Jiddan to Shaikh Mand, and returning, told me she had encountered a group of women and girls returning with skins full of milk slung from their shoulders and small black kids in their arms. With their chequered red and orange meyzars, she said, they were as brilliant as a bed of zinnias. Talking with her, they had said that in springtime their husbands and brothers stayed with the flocks on the hills day and night, and that they went up several times a day to take their men food and to get milk. They bore with them the kids and lambs, and these younglings are allowed to suck a little to start the flow before the milker presses the teats. Then they are taken back to the village, where they gambol about the house and courtyard and are as much part of the family as the children themselves.

[84] The next day the roads were still wet, for during the night there had been thunder and rain. Hearing of the poor old shaikha's fruitless visit, I thought out and wrote a better letter for her, and went to get the first from her that I might substitute the other.

We found Sitt Gulé lying outside, or rather, in the room without a third wall, like a stage, which was above the stone stairway from the courtyard, for she wanted air and peace and the living-room below was full of her sons' wives and their children. She was desperately ill. Journeying to Mosul with her fever still on her, she had become chilled, and the failure of her mission had robbed her of resistance. A quilt was spread over her restless thin body, but she was turbaned as usual, and lightly dressed in her white. She struggled up, but we persuaded her to lie and be covered. A., feeling her pulse, said that it beat fast and that her skin was dry and hot. She complained of pain between the shoulder-blades, and A., who has some experience of nursing, told me in an undertone that she feared pneumonia.

Sitt Gulé was pleased that I had written another letter, and spoke of her son upon whom her anxious mind ran unceasingly. A., practical as well as sympathetic, said that she would make her a pneumonia jacket, while I promised to try to get some quinine to combat the malaria in her blood. We were neither of us equipped with medical knowledge and there was no doctor, so we did what we could. There was a Government dispenser, we were told, in the village, but when we went to the dispensary, we found that the good man was out, visiting another village; neighbours promised, however, that they would find a lad who had charge of the key and might find the drug we required.

We then went to the sûq, the small market-place, where a few shops displayed cotton goods and groceries [85] and long paper-covered cones of cane-sugar were suspended. Here A. bought some unbleached calico of Japanese manufacture, as were most of the other materials. The next requirement was thread for sewing and cotton for the padding. The first was easily bought, but as for the cotton, it was like the vegetables, everyone grew and carded their own, or else purchased it wholesale by the sack, and the retailer had none. Jiddan suggested that the mukhtâr was sure to have some, so to the mukhtâr's house we bent our way. On the road we passed the bishop, going in state with a train of followers on his house-to-house collection spoken of in the church the day before. He looked imposing with his pastoral staff and bulbous headdress.

The mukhtâr had gone to Mosul to buy goods and fairings for the feast, but his women and children were at home, and bade us up to the reception-room, hooshing away the unkempt dog that leapt at us in the yard, barking and menacing. Up the steep, unprotected stairway we went, and our party upstairs was joined later after an immense mountaineering effort by a baby toddler about whose safety no one seemed anxious. A group of young black kids with long silky ears were playing hopscotch on the terrace.

In the guest-room mattresses were spread on the floor for us and a girl was despatched to bring some cotton. In a corner of the room stood the mukhtâr's staff, a heavy crooked stick of fragrant mahlab [mahaleb] wood which, said Jiddan, is considered sacred by Yazidis and forbidden as firewood. The seeds of the mahlab are used as spice, when pounded up, for cakes, bread, and other foods. I asked to see some, and the housemistress, lifting a bundle hung on the wall, took out packets of various spices, such as cinnamon (Arabic darsîn, Kurdish darchîn), and a large, fronded grey lichen called shahbat-al-'ajûz, which, she said, had a pleasant flavour when crushed and put into all foods. [86] Amongst the spices were mahlab seeds, and these, when I tasted them, reminded me of cloves.

The cotton was brought in a large flat basket, and our hostess, sitting on the floor, began to beat and toss it with a stick until A. said that for her purpose it would do as it was. On the way down, I noticed human hair stuffed between the stones of the walls. I asked if this were done to protect the owner from witchcraft. "Nakhair;" they replied. "Nay! That is only necessary on the first night of a bride. But it is our custom to treat hair so, lest, if it be cast out, it be trodden underfoot."



"Always about his tomb the children gather in their companies, at the coming-in of the spring, and contend for the prize of kissing." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XII.

Aisha, the pretty daughter-in-law of the Shaikha Gulé, had spoken to me several times of a shrine in the hills called Usivl Kaneri. She was the young wife of the man who had stabbed his sister, and mother of a baby son some twelve months old. To her little son she was passionately devoted, and her healthy rosy face and the baby's round one were never far apart.

The sun shone out after Sunday's rain, and we sent for Aisha, who had offered to guide us. The young woman appeared with her baby on her arm, its weight half-supported by her meyzar.

"If we are going into the hills," we said, “will not your arm ache?"

She kissed the child and assured us that since she carried him always she never felt him heavy, so we started, Aisha, A., Jiddan, the baby and its small cousin, and myself. We took the road to Ras al-'Ain, bearing to the left of the winding stream and following a mule-track cut in the rock. In the valley sounded the carefree notes of a reed-pipe: a shepherd-lad sat piping by the wayside and smiled as we paused to listen to the bird-like fluting. His pipe he had cut himself on the hills as he herded his flock. As we set up the hill the baby crowed and chuckled, and the small girl cousin gave him flowers which he crushed in his hot little fist. All the way, despite the rockiness, it was flowers, [88] flowers, flowers. Below, long strips of calico had been spread to whiten. "It comes from Yapan," said Aisha, "and is bleached by washing at the spring. While it is wet, we spread horse-manure over it for the space of a night. The next day we wash and dry it, re-washing and re-drying it in the sun many times, until it becomes as white as snow."

We went past a rock tomb, and a little farther the mule-track branched left — "the road to Shaikh ‘Adi", said Aisha. It was by this road that most pilgrims went before the days of cars to Shaikhan. Travelling by mule, a pilgrim might hope to arrive at the shrine in two days and a bit, unless stopped by brigands.

I was reminded of Acradina in Sicily at every step: by the tomb, the smell of herbs, the wild flowers, and the ancient rocky road; and Aisha herself was like a comely Syacusan maid, though her dress was far more exotic than any seen in Sicily. She was crowned by no headdress of silver coins, but wore a white turban instead. When I asked if she had one, she said with the trace of a sigh that she had sold hers for a dinâr, and I imagined that it had gone to help her husband and his family in their trouble.

At one point in the path the cone of Melké Miran below is framed by the rocks of the gorge; it stands milky fair against the far range of blue valleys, painted, as it were, in ever fainter washes until lost against the horizon. An hour's steady mounting brought us to the head of the gorge. On one side rose the spire of the mazâr we had come to see; on the hill opposite across the gorge were ruined stone buildings. Aisha told us that they were very ancient — "perhaps two thousand years old. People (awâdim) called Gowrastan lived there. But when Muhammad came there was a battle and they were all killed and their houses cast down. They say that their blood is still to be seen upon the stones."

[89] She referred, I supposed, to the rusty-red lichen that grows on the rocks hereabout. She and I and Jiddan sat on a rock overhanging the gorge; A., full of energy and accustomed to mountain-climbing in Switzerland, strode on upwards, anxious to reach the highest point. Jiddan looked after her admiringly.

"Like a gazelle!" he murmured.

When the baby beat his mother on the chest, she readily gave him her breast, and he rested on her broad lap in perfect content, half-dreaming, half-smiling, too content to make more than a pretence of sucking. When we moved on he fell asleep, his small dimpled hand falling limp over his mother's shoulder. Wild thyme grew all about us, also a kind of sage with a balm-like fragrance, and another herb that gave out a pungent perfume like incense in the hot sun.

A. rejoined us, having had a far view from the watershed at the top, and Jiddan complimented her on her swiftness amongst the rocks. She told him that these hills were nothing compared to the Alps, to which even the snow mountains in high Kurdistan which she had seen from the top of the rock were younger sisters.

The mazâr was of the usual pattern and, as far as I could see, contained no tomb. We climbed down to the olive-garden just below us. By the spring was a cavern, maidenhair fern growing thickly in its grateful dampness, and, just as I had expected, the sacred tree by the sacred spring, this time a fig-tree, adorned with votive rags. As we had none to add to them, we tied grasses to a bough instead. Stone gutters conducted the water down to a cistern. The olives looked neglected, but it was a little paradise of green, and flowering willow grew with the figs and other trees. The rocks in this narrow apex of the gorge look like masonry, and it was difficult to persuade oneself that they had not been hewn by man. [90] On the return journey, A. borrowed Aisha's baby, who was surprised but not displeased by the change of portress, but we could not persuade them to come in to drink tea with us. Mikhail had hardly brought it in when a guest arrived, the Assyrian Presbyterian missionary, a masculine figure in plus-fours. As he drank tea, he talked well, and informed us that not only had he made a study of the Yazidi people, but had written about them in American papers.

He told us that though the villages of Baashika and Bahzané were, in a manner of speaking, a mere stone's throw from each other, the former was more progressive than the latter, thanks to the school, and that in Bahzané ancient customs were preserved which had been discontinued in Baashika.

"Your visit causes much speculation," he said smiling. "I was told that you had asked to take the photograph of a woman having a baby as you had not seen such things in your country, English babies being taken from their mothers by operation and not in the natural way."

He was chatting thus, sipping his tea and looking very Western indeed, when a second visitor arrived, this time Qawwal Sivu, the chief qawwâl. He drank tea with us, and general subjects were being discussed when the qawwâl asked what A. was sewing. When he heard that it was a bed-jacket for Sitt Gulé, he smiled and commended the deed of charity.

Thereupon, our other friend remembered, perhaps, that he was a missionary. For the qawwâl's benefit, he enlarged upon the way in which Christian charity embraced peoples of all religions and kinds, such being the command of Christ, our prophet, making A. the slightly embarrassed text of his discourse. The qawwâl, always mild and polite, received it with equanimity, although we felt a little out of countenance — which was foolish, for of course a missionary must improve the [91] shining hour like the busy bee wherever he perceives pagan honey that might be gathered into the hive of Protestant certainty.

He left us anon, the qawwâl remaining alone. We had a liking for his gentle face and diffident manner and ventured to put some questions to him. His constant reply was "How should we know? We are men, and these things are in the hand of God." It may have veiled his reluctance to answer an outsider, but it was a very pleasant veil. I asked him about their traditions concerning creation. In By Tigris and Euphrates (London, Hurst & Blackett Ltd., 1923) I related, third-hand, the story about the Pearl, the creation of Adam and the Bird, a childish fable which Siouffi relates as a Yazidi legend. He gave no such story, but answered simply that it was God who created the world, and not his angels. First there were light and darkness, then the earth, sky and stars, then the earth and its living creatures came into being, and lastly Adam and Hawa. He repeated the tale of the two jars. According to this, Hawa (Eve) claimed that children were her production and that Adam had no part in them. Adam suggested a test. He placed some of his spittle and Eve some of hers in two separate jars and kept these sealed for nine months. At the end of that period Adam opened his jar and found within a beautiful little boy and girl, whereas Eve's jar contained nothing but corruption.

He denied that Yazidis had a different descent from the rest of mankind. Asked about the fate of the soul after death, he said that the souls of the wicked go into the bodies of beasts or reptiles, that is their hell, but that for the obstinately wicked there is a hell of fire from which there is no emergence, "except," he added, "that none know what the mercy of Allah may do." The good reincarnate in human bodies after a sojourn in Paradise, but in the end of all things, if they are completely purified, they unite [92] with the supreme God, remain in bliss and return no more.

I asked why they paid such especial reverence to the Peacock Angel.

He answered, "We do not believe — like Islam," he interjected tactfully, "that He is the Lord of Evil (Sharr). He is the chief of the seven angels, and is one with Gabriel who removes the soul from the human body when Azrael comes for it. The evil in men's hearts is not from him, but from themselves."

I asked him about the reverence paid to springs and trees. He answered that they were maskûn (inhabited). We believe, he said, that there are beings, neither men nor jann [jinn]. People say that they are seen occasionally, and they call them rajul al-gheyb (or ghâib). "But," he added quickly, "who sees them? One in a thousand! Why do you ask such things? You are English, and the English know better than we do!"

As for prayer, he told me that five prayers daily are ordered for the pious Yazidi, one at dawn, one at sunrise, one at noon, one in the afternoon and one at sunset. Each time the worshipper must face the sun. Before praying, hands and face should be washed; indeed, before all worship the Yazidi should wash himself, and before any feast the body should be cleansed completely in either hot or cold water and white garments should be put on. Prayer is necessary before eating. Before and at the festivals, he said, there are especial prayers.

The missionary had already told me that Yazidi prayers are rhymed, and a mixture of Kurdish and Persian. Prayers are learnt parrot-wise, and few, if any, understand them. He did not think that they would allow me to take down any of them, as they are regarded as extremely sacred. He also had warned me that on the Thursday night of the coming feast, when the Yazidis assembled in the courtyard of Shaikh [93] Muhammad, no Christian or Moslem is permitted to be present. What they did during that night of vigil, "no one knew."

I fancied I knew what he was reluctant to hint, for the insinuation has been made against every secret sect in turn. The Sabaeans, Christians, and Jews have all been variously accused in ignorance that on a certain night of vigil they assemble in the dark, men and women, and that shameful connection takes place in the name of religion, none knowing who is with him in the darkness. It is as hoary a lie as that other about the Jews, that they eat the flesh of Christian children at Passover.

* * * * *
April the sixteenth was the eve of the feast. While we were at breakfast, a visitor was announced. He was a monk of the Jacobites, accompanied by a lay henchman, and was a sober-looking man with a suspicious eye. He told me that he knew very much about the Yazidis, and I think that his visit may have been prompted by a vague resentment, and partly by curiosity as to my real purpose in coming here, and my personal beliefs.

He began by talking of the Latin Catholics. Had I seen their grand new church? Had I visited it, attended a service, seen its pictures and images? The Pope had paid for it all. "As for images, we Orthodox have none!" The henchman, more loquacious than the monk, who spoke in short sentences, inserted here, "We live by the piety of our own people: all that we have is the free gift of our own people." He went on, "The great point of difference between the Latin church and our own is Purgatory." He asked me, "Where did the Bible mention Purgatory? A good man goes to Heaven and an evil to everlasting fire, and there is an end of the matter."

[94] "But what," I asked, "of the majority, who are neither good nor bad?"

The henchman waved the irrelevant question aside, and related at length the story of Abraham's bosom and Lazarus, while the monk inquired furtively of A. if I were a Moslem?

Addressing me then, the monk informed me that he had written down many of the rhymed prayers of the Yazidis.

I praised his enterprise and said that I should be interested to see them, but he was unwilling to show them and I turned from the subject.

"You may find Yazidi priests who will answer your questions," he said, somewhat sourly, "but for money. They are not what they were formerly. There are schools and they are losing their people. Times are changed. But they are poor and will not give information for nothing."

I told him that the real purpose of my visit was merely to see the spring festival and that any other information I might gather was merely by the way.

"Humph!" said he. "Well, you will see nothing of what takes place within the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad on Thursday night. They will allow no Christian near them then. No one has seen what goes on."

He rose to go, not having eaten or drunk with us, for it was still their Lent.

After breakfast we went to Sitt Gulé's house and found her groaning in bed and still in the same comfortless spot. She was pleased with A.'s gift of the jacket, which was tied on with the help of her daughters-in-law, but the quinine, she said, had done her little good. She complained that they neglected her, and a neighbour whispered to me that there was little love lost between her and her sons' wives.

"Perhaps she will die," remarked Aisha philosophically, when we had gone below. I had been attracted [95] on a former visit by the industry of the shaikha's handmaiden, who span in a room adjoining the place where her mistress lay ill. Now they brought down the spinning-wheel and set it and the spinster in the sun, so that I might take a photograph. I gave Aisha a length of orange silk for the children's festival dresses, and this was extended to its length, and blessings called down on my head. On the previous day I had taken a similar gift to the mukhtâr's wife, as a recognition of her kindness in furnishing cotton for the bedjacket.

Sitt Gulé's handmaiden at her spinning-wheel.

A. went off with her sketching materials, and I followed her soon afterwards as far as the washing-pool at Ras al-`Ain, seating myself beside some Christian women who spread a garment for me on the grass beside them. One had her lap full of the daisy-head flowers of the camomile plant. She was picking off the stems and leaves and I helped her as we talked. An infusion of these heads, she said, is good for fever and constipation. The older woman beside her took up a handful and added, "When the flowers are dried, we put this much in a teapot and add hot water till it is as thick as honey. Then we drink it. We call this kind beybûn al-leban."

Some of the women washing clothes called out to inform me that A., "a tall woman", was farther up the valley. One said to me, "Why do you go about alone? Are you not afraid?"

"Why should I be afraid? You people of Baashika are good people."

They smiled approvingly at my answer and cried out, "Stay with us always!"

One woman was using, as well as her cake of home-made soap, the saponaceous herb called shnân.1 For use it had been pounded to a powder, and she gave me a little so that I might wash my hands at the spring.

1. shnân is the name given to various halophytic plants of the chenopodiaceae family.
[96] There was an air of expectancy about the village. At Rashid's house his wife was busy stitching festival clothes, stretching the silk over a cushion as she sat on the matting to sew. His father, whose face was as open and intelligent as his son's, had returned from his visit to the Jebel Sinjar and brought with him Rashid's eldest boy, a pupil in his uncle's school, to spend the feast with his grandparents and parents. They made and gave me coffee, and then insisted that I should wait to drink tea with them, setting before me a plate of dried figs from their garden in the Sinjar. The old man spoke with pride of his schoolmaster son, who is regarded as an oracle in the village where he teaches. "People come to him in every kind of difficulty," he said. "Education is a fine thing: it opens up the world before a man! I cannot read or write myself, but my grandsons, please God, shall be able to read all books."

I could only reply with a platitude. "Books are not everything and no doubt your honour's experience and wisdom are as valuable to those about you as books to younger men."

Then I consulted him about making a gift to the Yazidi poor on the occasion of the feast. To which of the men of religion should it be handed?

A humorous smile lit up his eyes and he consulted Rashid. Perhaps, both hinted, the money would have as much chance of reaching the poor if it were entrusted to a responsible layman. I suggested that Rashid should accompany me when I made the modest offering, as a witness would ensure the distribution of the money. So eventually it was done, and the good Qawwal Sivu to whom I handed the money there and then divided it into smaller sums and despatched one of his children to some of his poorer neighbours.



"Cease, Cytherea, from thy lamentations, today refrain from thy dirges. Thou must again bewail him, again must weep for him another year." -BION, Idyll I.
Jiddan and I were moving down the path between the green hills when the wavering notes of a pipe reached us and the hollow thud of a drum, and we perceived several groups wandering amongst the graves. On the air of the late afternoon the spicy fragrance of incense was borne towards us, mingling with the perfume of the herbs we trod underfoot. We made our way towards the conical shrine of Melke Miran and, mounting the grassy slope, found a group of women standing round a grave, weeping noisily and beating their breasts or slapping their faces with flat palms to the measure of a plaintive lament played on a wooden pipe1 by one of the qawwâls, whilst his partner beat a large circular tambour,2 the rim of which was set with jingles. After a few minutes the music ceased, the qawwâls moved off, and the women sank down around the grave to continue their weeping and utter half-chanted lamentations broken by sobbing. At another grave the same melancholy little melody was being played over and over to the beating of the tambour and the simultaneous thud-thud of the women's hands on their breasts. At each grave that they visited the qawwâls played for about ten minutes, and when they had done, one of the weeping women slipped money [98] into their hands. Here were no bright festival garments or shining headdresses. These were matrons, or old women, and all wore the white head-veil wound over the turban and clothes of sober hue. All about us were groups of mourning women sitting by the graves of their dead: only the women for whom the qawwâls were playing stood. At the head of one grave near us, a woman was chanting a dirge. On most of the graves bundles had been laid and opened and we saw that these contained crushed wheat (burghul) and eggs dyed bright orange. One of the mourning women put her hand into the bundle and handed an egg to a boy whom curiosity had drawn thither, and Jiddan told me that the food must be distributed to any that pass by, that they may eat and bless the soul of the dead. A pan of incense had been set by many of the graves, and thin spirals of smoke rose into the windless air. On the opposite hills we could see similar groups of mourners and qawwâls moving from grave to grave: the sad plaint of the pipe and throb of the tambour crossed the valley. The tune had a clinging intimacy: A. and I were haunted by it for hours.

1. Shebâb.

2. Daff.

Lamenting women at the tombs, Baashika.

On the way home we passed the lower washing-pool and saw women washing, not clothes, but freshly slaughtered meat, for each Yazidi household should sacrifice a lamb or a kid on the eve of the feast. If too poor, a fowl may be substituted, but few go meatless as the better-off distribute to their poorer neighbours.

The village washing pool, Baashika.

Sairey awaited us at the house, and A. had come back from her sketching. The old woman was accompanied by a small girl and had brought us a gift for the feast, five coloured eggs, which she presented reproachfully. Had I no piece of silk for her, not even an old gown? or had I not "something for this my grandchild?" I explained once more that we had with us nothing save enough for our travelling needs, but, remembering a bright brooch on my pincushion, I [99] fetched it and pinned it to the child's dirty dress. The smile of pure joy which lit up the small face was a reward which the trinket hardly deserved. A. gave her a bead against the Eye of Envy, and I supplemented that gift by writing out for Sairey a brief charm on a piece of paper in Mandaic characters, which she folded up carefully and placed in her dress. Not to be out-done in magic, she mumbled incantations in a hoarse voice over A., beseeching Mariam, Mother of Seven Children, to bestow upon her seventeen babes. Perhaps Jiddan had warned her not to prolong her stay, for soon after, when a second visitor arrived, she and her granddaughter departed.

It was the very qawwâl whom I had seen a little before playing by the tombs, Qawwal Reshu, the snub-nosed man who had taken me to the house of the missionary. He now made acquaintance with A. and drank tea with us. He had seen me take his photograph when he was beating his tambour and came to ask me whether I would send him the result. A cheerful and friendly person, he told us that as a younger man he had served in the Levies, a force officered by Englishmen and now disbanded, and he evidently considered this a bond between us. "When I went," he said, "they took me before an officer who asked my name and what I was and said to me, 'Reshu, you must cut off your beard, a soldier cannot wear a beard.' But I told him that I could not because our religion forbids us qawwâls to cut our hair and beard. So he took me to another Englishman, who asked me many questions about our people, and he allowed me to keep my beard."

"We qawwâls travel," he continued, "and meet people of all races and religions. We used to take the sanjak (bronze image of the sacred peacock) as far as Russia and India as well as about Turkey, Palestine, and Syria. But those days are no more because all [100] these places now will not let one enter, and passports have become very difficult because of the war."

I said that I had not known that there were Yazidis in India. He replied that there were, and also people whose customs were very much like their own. I spoke of the sacred girdle of the Parsis which is tied at prayer with ablutions, and told him that when a Parsi soldier was in ‘Iraq during the last war and had lost his girdle, he went to a Mandaean priest to weave him another in its place. "You Yazidis, too, have a girdle."

He replied that the Yazidis when making their prayer washed their hands and faces and fastened their girdles so that in this they resembled the Parsis. "But," he added, "our position in prayer is facing the sun, standing with our hands open and making one prostration to the ground."

Evening had come, the feast began on the morrow. The qawwâls and mourners had returned to their homes. A. and I wandered up the village street and met our player of the reed pipe, who greeted us roguishly. With his hazel eyes, clear as pools in a peat-bog, and his Puckish smile, he might have been Dorian Daphnis "that pipes on his fair flute", or, as A. suggested, the perfect Peter Pan. The sound of shepherd's pipes, his or another's, was constantly heard on the uplands. Close behind him walked a girl with a bunch of scarlet ranunculus in her hair, and a group of women returning, goat skins paunchy with fresh milk slung over their shoulders, and young kids tucked under their arms. They let us stroke the long-legged, soft-coated creatures, with their blunt noses and long silky ears.

Thus we came to the water-mill and, entering, talked to the miller. The grain was placed in a hopper, ground between two large stones turned by the stream which flowed down from Ras al-'Ain, and the flour [101] collected from the floor by the miller's wife, who scooped it up, with her hands and placed it in a nearly-filled sack. We also yielded to the importunities of our neighbours, the police, who took us over their police station, showing with pride the well-kept stables and saddle-room, and photographs of local criminals and wanted men. Examining these carefully, A. and I decided that a number of these looked like apostles. It was probably the effect of the beard and headdress. I remember being horrified when I saw Dr. Henry Field's anthropological photographs of men who had looked saintly and patriarchal in their keffiyehs (head-kerchiefs) and agals (fillets of twisted rope). Without the flattering headdress a Moses was suddenly transformed into a criminal lunatic, a St. John the Baptist into a Bowery crook.

Night had fallen, and when we had dined we strolled out to look with fresh interest at the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad and wondered what really went on there during the second night of the feast, regretting that we should never know, since all the wiseacres of the place had declared that it was impossible for any but Yazidis to be present.

And so, almost as expectant of the morrow as the Yazidis themselves, we returned to bed.



"Everywhere is spring, and pastures everywhere, and everywhere the cows' udders are swollen with milk, and the younglings are fostered." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll VIII.

It was April the seventeenth, the fourth of Nisan. Early as we rose, the Yazidi girls had been out on the hills before us to gather bunches of scarlet ranunculus, for no other flower is used for the feast. Above every Yazidi house-door in the village, three bunches of these vivid flowers had been plastered on with wet mud, heads downwards, one above the entrance and one on each doorpost. Into the clay which held the blossoms in position, fragments of coloured eggshell had been pressed, and some householders had besmeared the lintel and doorposts with blood from the sheep or lamb slaughtered on the previous evening.

Everyone was making and receiving gifts of hard-boiled coloured eggs. The favourite colour was orange, the bright vegetable dye which the women use for their hand-woven meyzârs, but we saw also purple, green, and a madder colour produced by binding onion skins round the eggs when boiling them. None was blue, for blue is a forbidden colour to Yazidis as it is to Mandaeans, and no Yazidi woman will wear a blue garment although she may wear a blue bead or button against the Evil Eye.

We went to Sitt Gulé's house and found her in bed and very weak, though the fever had lessened. The quinine had made her deaf, and even the feast had [103] not roused her. In spite of the sadness that hung over the family, the entrance to their courtyard was decorated like the rest, and bunches of red had been fixed above the door of every living-room. The bees had not been forgotten, a few of the scarlet flowers had been plastered above the apertures through which the bees busily came and went. Their hive was a wonderful affair. It was simply a long reed basket, daubed over with clay and built into the wall of the living-room, the wide mouth, clayed over, being flush with the outer wall. In the living-room a sack had been thrown over it, lest some of the mud break away and the bees swarm into the room. Doors to the hive were pierced in the exterior of the wall, and it was above these that flowers had been placed.

Aisha pressed eggs upon us, as did almost everyone we met. In the square at the entrance to the village, where men and boys lounged, a game was in progress. One player held his egg in his fist with one end showing, and his opponent did the same. When the two eggs were knocked lightly together, the loser was he whose egg cracked first. There was a knack in it, and some players had acquired a number of eggs.

Rashid sought us out, with more eggs, and we went to call upon the chief qawwâl at his house, after which we returned to the village square. There a man with a peepshow was doing good business. It was a contraption like a hurdy-gurdy. Customers, two at a time, sat on a low bench and glued their eyes to eyeholes. A light inside illuminated gaudily coloured pictures, which unrolled jerkily as the showman turned a handle. He called out the subject of each as he turned. "Adam and Eve!" "Sitt Mariam and Eissa" (Lady Mary and Jesus), and so on. The pictures were like the sticky results obtained with a penny sheet of transfers in one's youth, just as crude, just as bright. There were views made in Germany, a Turkish battle scene [104] in which fezes were routing the infidels, the German Kaiser when a young man with his family, a St. Mary Magdalene ("the beautiful Laila"), St. George and the Dragon, a scene with a suspension bridge ("Stamboul!"), Nicholas II and the Czarina, a child with a kitten, "Londra!" (a scene in the Alps), and others. It was well worth a farthing. We rose, put down the fee for two small boys who eagerly took our places, and walked on to Bahzané to offer congratulations to our friends there.

At Qawwal Salman's house we were greeted by his little son, Khidhr, whose face was bright with joy, and coffee was served in the upper room. Upon the walls of this A. admired a decoration very fashionable in the villages, a large rosette of gold-tinsel fashioned like a flower: the girls had made it of the foil in which cigarettes are wrapped. All the young women were resplendent in festival clothing, but we were not to see the full glory of their feast-clothes until the third day. Every girl had a nosegay of red ranunculus in her turban, and they insisted merrily that A. should put a few in her hat.

A Yazidi girl in her festival clothes.

Rain had fallen overnight, and had left the world clean and fresh, and today the spirit of spring was upon us all. Everywhere, very young creatures were about us. Newly born donkeys — and what attractive creatures they can be with their blunt noses and hides as softly fluffy as powder-puffs! — kept close to staid grazing mothers. There were half a dozen of them on the grassy slopes below the qawwâl's house. Kids, lambs, calves, foolish and innocent, hens fussing over broods of yellow chicks, everywhere there was new life. "It is the time for it!" said Jiddan, indulgent when we lured a foal a little nearer.

And yet the qawwâl had excused himself and left us to his son, hurrying off with his tambour to the tombs near Bahzané, where we saw him with another [105] qawwâl. We paused beside them on our way back to listen to the sad little tune they were playing over the dead. Some women who had been beating their breasts and faces the moment before came forward to us with food from the offerings on the graves. "Eat, eat!" they invited us, holding out crushed wheat and bread and meat.

Some gypsies sat in a dark group amongst the mourners, cadging grave-offerings, some fragments of which they tossed to their bear that rolled and lolled amongst the tombs. Indignant, the mourning women refused them more, and so, in revenge, some of the gypsy women, one or two of them handsome wenches though swarthy and dirty, their tangled hair hanging over their eyes, began to mock them, beating their faces and laughing, whereat the Yazidi women came at them angrily and they moved off, the bear shambling after them at the end of a length of chain.

The dead, too, had their feast. Not only had the food been set on the graves, but scarlet flowers had been plastered on the headstones. The women kissed these, and wept: some clawed at their hair and sobbed, whilst others chanted. All were elderly or old, for girls are not expected to come to the tombs. A boy pointed out several graves of murdered men. "Outlaws," he said, pointing to one, "killed this man. They met him in the hills and dragged him from his horse and stabbed him."

At Rashid's house we halted to return the visit of Sadiq, his father, but the old man, tired after the journey, was still sleeping. A visitor from Baghdad, however, came forward to greet us in the garden: it was the Mira Wansa's brother, on his way to the Sinjar. His sister, he said, was weary of the south and would soon return to her people.

When we reached our little house, we found Qawwal Reshu there talking to Jiddan. As I served tea, I told [106] them that Wansa was said to be returning to the mountains, "but," I added, "I fear she will be in danger there!"

I was surprised at their reply. "Let her die!" both said callously. "We do not accept that a Yazidi woman should go to Baghdad, Aleppo, and other cities and see foreigners. Let her die: it would be a good thing!"

I reasoned with them and asked what crime she had committed that she should die. "You yourself told me," I said to one of them, "that Said Beg, her husband, threatened her life, and that they were not happy together; do you then blame her for leaving him?"

"She should not have left him," the qawwâl answered quickly. "She was his wife, she had a room of her own, and clothes and all that she wanted."

Jiddan said, "He is our mîr," and that settled it as far as he was concerned.

The qawwâl told me how Said Beg had killed another wife. "They came and told lrim that his wife Mariam loved a ghulâm" (a white slave). "He did nothing. They waited. One day, she and the ghulâm sat talking together in the long grass and bushes. They saw them: they went and told Said Beg, 'Mariam is even now with the ghulâm in the long grass.' He, our mîr, took his revolver, he came, he shot her three times in the belly and the man escaped. She was bleeding, her hands were torn, and they dragged her to the castle, and she was still living. Then they finished her with a dagger. After that, Said Beg went after the man, found him, and shot him also."

As we were eating lunch, Aisha and her baby arrived, bringing us burghul and meat from the shaikha's house. She mentioned her mother-in-law. "She hates me," she sighed. "She has said to me, 'I do not wish to see your face! Your husband killed my daughter!' "

[107] Then she bewailed her loneliness in that tragic house. "I am an orphan," she told A., "and not of this village: my home is far away and of my own people there is none near but a sister married in Bahzané. My husband is in prison and I have no one left but this one —" and so saying, she caught him up and kissed him. They both sat on the floor while we finished our meal, the baby chuckling and crowing and dirtying the floor, and at times demanding his mother's never-refused breast.

I was tired and left A. with her. A. delighted her by letting her see her room, her dressing-gown, nightgown, and toilet-things. "You have this," said Aisha, picking up the comb; "why then do you need that?" touching the brush.

We were invited to tea by Qawwal Reshu, who had given us instructions how to find his house. When we arrived, however, he was still out with his tambour making the tour of the graves: but his wife set mattresses and cushions for us on the well-swept floor. It was a two-roomed house, and in the living-room where he, his wife and babies and a fat puppy lived and slept, there was a fireplace. The other room, reached through a doorless entrance, was given over to cocks and hens. Before long he returned and set about his duties as host in a very cheerful manner, chatting the while of his travels and his experiences with the English. He heated the water for tea on a Primus stove, burnished till it shone like the sun, and his kettle was no less brightly polished. "I use Brasso," he explained with pardonable pride. "We used to polish with it when I was in the Levies."

More visitors awaited us when we got back. Rashid and his father were there with an offering of multi-coloured eggs, some kleycha (festival mince pies) and a large plateful of dried figs from their estate in the Sinjar. We told Rashid how charmed we had been [108] that morning to see the beehive decorated, and I mentioned that in England we too once used skips or baskets for our bees, but that now we used wooden hives in sections. His eyes lit up at once, as they always did when he heard of anything of practical good. "Khatûn," he said to me one day, "you ask us many questions: what do we do for this and that. And we want to ask you many questions: what do you do in your country for this and that — we want to learn." And now he wanted to know all about this modern way of housing the dabbâs, as the bee is called here — the word means "the honey-maker." How was this hive made? How were the sections fitted together and how removed? When we got back, could we send him a picture and tell him exactly how it was shaped, so that he could begin this better way of bee-keeping here in Baashika. We kept our promise as far as we could. A. sent him a book on bee-keeping in the belief that his brother would be able to read and translate it for him: I spoke to the Education authorities in Baghdad and communicated with the Ministry of Agriculture, asking them to send a sample hive. I left Baghdad before I heard that they had done so, but a high authority in education assured me that he would press the matter. I can only hope that he did.

They left us, and I was just settling to letters when three Christian schoolmasters arrived to pay us a call, and fresh tea was brought. They took their calling seriously and talked with enthusiasm, although they were without original ideas on the subject and poured out the platitudes they had been taught: a Government schoolmaster is not required to think independently. However, they were, I feel sure, doing good work.

When they left us, and that was late, A. and I ate our supper and then escaped to the roof and drank in the pure, fresh air, all aromatic with herbs. The moon was misty, but Venus sailed large in the sky. And so, [109] our minds washed free of educational theories by the lovely moon-drenched expanse of silent hills, we went to bed, knowing that in every Yazidi house that night water was being heated. For, after the Great Sacrifice of lambs and kids, comes the Big Wash, which is none other than the familiar purification of the spring feast. Throughout, the feast ran true to the immemorial type. Therefore, in every house, Yazidis cleansed their bodies from head to foot in preparation for the morrow. Mourning, sacrifice, symbols of resurrection, purification by water — all the ancient threads were present in a pattern I knew well.



"Choose with me to go shepherding, with me to milk the flocks, and to pour the sharp rennet in, and to fix the cheeses." -THEOCRITUS, Idyll XI.

During the night there were thunderstorms and heavy rain, and when we rose we found the hill-tops veiled by clouds and the sky grey and sunless. As we sat at breakfast a woman arrived with a dish of curded milk — good sheep's-milk laban. We did not see her, but Mikhail said that she had brought it from "the deacon's house" (beit ash-shammâs). There are two Jacobite deacons, so a little later we sought the advice of our neighbours as to which shammâs it could be. "It would not be Deacon Ayub," they said, considering, "as he has no sheep. It must be Deacon Hanna."

Accordingly we sought out Deacon Hanna's house. We were warmly welcomed at the door to the courtyard, and within, a bench was placed for us on the raised platform upon which sat the mistress of the house, some of her daughters-in-law and their children. The house-mistress was engaged in sewing bright green silk and fitting it on to the ends of tightly stuffed pillows. These, hard and solid, are used either as head-pillows in bed, or as supports when sitting on the floor during the day. The silk covers the ends; the centre part is fitted with a white calico slip which can be removed and washed.

It was a large house and the several families of married sons lived in the compound. Not only was it [111] a patriarchal dwelling, but, as A. remarked, it was a village in itself, for the various activities of milling, soap-boiling, olive-pressing, baking, and so on, took place in various chambers either above or below ground. The sheep, goats and donkeys had their quarters beneath the ground level, and underground, too, were the tall earthenware bins, oblong in shape, with a decoration of clay ribbon round the tops. In these were stored wheat, lentils, beans, chopped straw, and grains of all kinds. Sharing the same subterranean chamber was a mill for grinding sesame, previously crushed in the open courtyard above by the daqqâqa, a heavy stone roller attached to a centre pin on a raised round platform. A long rod from the centre connected with a mule or donkey who trod round and round till the seed was ready. The sesame-mill below was simply two round, pitted black millstones that looked as if they were made of lava. The mill is variously called râha, madâr or jeghârah. The sesame is then roasted a little and becomes thick and oily. Mixed with honey or fruit syrup it is used like jam, scooped up on the thin bread.

If sesame oil is required, they pour water upon the crushed seed to separate the heavy elements from the oil which floats to the surface. The residue (tilf) is sold, or used in a variety of dishes; for instance, it may be prepared with raisins as a sweetmeat.

In the upper rooms were stores: home-made cheeses, jars of amphora shape filled with dried fruits, dates, nuts, lentils, and other good things; petroleum tins containing olive-oil and piles of maturing olive-oil soap. The soap was of two kinds, one for toilet use and for clothes, the other for rougher purposes. Vine-leaves, dried and threaded on string, were festooned on the walls: these are used for dolma.1 Wheat is crushed [112] by the mill in the yard to make the burghul,2 eaten like rice with meat, or mixed into a kind of porridge. Opposite the living-rooms was the bakehouse, and we went thither to watch women making and baking the kleycha for the feast. These look and taste like mince pies. The filling is of dates, raisins, nuts, sugar, pepper, kebâba, cinnamon and cooking-butter.3 The pastry, which is heavy, is folded about this mixture, and the women dip their bare hands into a basin of egg set before them, and then rub the yolk on the pies to make the crust yellow: the egg also serves to glue the cakes to the hot wall of the oven. This is a large, concave earthen affair previously heated by burning straw mixed with dung. We looked into it and saw the half-baked kleycha adhering to the wall.

1. Small rissoles; vine-leaves, egg-plant, or gherkins stuffed with savoury rice, meat, and spices.

2. Or 'aisha.

3. Dihn.
I asked how they made bread.

"It is of wheaten flour," they said, "and unleavened. We add some salt and a little sesame flour." The dough is mixed and rolled out on a smooth round stone table, the fursha, standing upon three stone feet (karâsi). This stone table is about a foot and a half across. The wooden roller, not unlike our own domestic rolling-pin, is called the shôbak. When the dough has been rolled out thin, a long, thickish rod called the neshâbi completes the shaping. The dough is lifted carefully, for it is as thin as paper, and placed on a leather cushion, and with this it is dexterously slapped against the oven-wall. The result is the local khubz or kâk; the Kurdish word is nân. It is white, wholesome to the taste, and can be easily folded. People wrap their meat in it to save their fingers from grease, and use it like a spoon or scoop as well.

While thus prying into household secrets we had consumed numerous glasses of sweet tea, eaten some bread dipped into sesame, and smoked cigarettes with our hostess, also bestowed Evil Eye beads and chocolates [113] on the children. Now we went on our way, followed by cordial leave-takings and smiles.

I sat awhile on our roof, which overlooked a neighbour's houseyard. Five or six children in stages up from a baby that crawled on all fours over dirt, manure, and mess, shared the yard with cocks and hens, a grimy and partially hairless white donkey, and several large shaggy dogs eternally scratching at ticks and fleas. The yard included a half-built room, a heap of stones and a pit. Two or three living-rooms opened out of it, and a stone stair led on to the roof and the reception-room.

Presently another donkey arrived, with wet pitchers of water slung two a side on its back, led by a barefoot maiden. She wore a blue cotton skirt, a loose faded red coat and the usual headdress of turban, kerchiefs, and coins. Her pigtails, prolonged by black wool, were fastened by silver pendants, and she wore a large necklace of amber beads.

The mother once wiped the baby clean with its own soiled garment, turning its clothes above its head to do so, and later poured a little water from one of the jars over the said garment, rubbed it a little, and put it with other drying clothes on the heap of stones. The dirty water fell to the ground, which was the baby's playpen, but that did not trouble her, nor the cloud of flies. Bedding was spread on the terrace roof, and a sleeping dog lay with it in the fitful sun. Sometimes black kids appeared from nowhere, and skipped up the stairs or gambolled in the yard. Behind were the green hills, aromatic with a thousand herbs, and in the noonday silence the inconsequent music of a Pan-pipe was heard.

By the afternoon the sun had conquered, and we were invited to the house of the Kurdish sergeant of police, near the entrance to the village and the square where gambling for coloured eggs was still in progress. [114] His wife, a matron wearing a purple velvet jacket, came out with words of welcome to receive us, a smile of welcome on her comely face, and took us into their reception-room, spotlessly clean and well kept. Upon the walls were ornaments made of folded cigarette tinsel in various colours — I referred to this form of domestic decoration above — as well as framed pictures. There was the usual coloured picture of the Kaaba, for our host was a Moslem, and there were spirited delineations of the warrior Antar and the wise king Solomon. Antar, a black warrior, was cleaving the head of an enemy horseman from whose skull large drops of blood spurted, the sword having cleft the head as far as the mouth. The victim wore a dolorous expression but still bestrode his steed. Behind the swordsman a damsel, perhaps Abla, sat in a howdah on her camel, extending a branch, perhaps laurels of victory, towards her hero. The other picture appeared to be by the same artist. It showed Solomon on his throne, his courtiers about him and a group of animals standing before him: perhaps, as he is said to have understood their language, he was listening to what they said. A hoopoe hovered near his head, and to the left of the group stood a tall jinni looking with his horns, hoof and tail for all the world like the personage whose name the Yazidis will not utter. Photographs of the sergeant and his children were also about the room, but not one of his handsome wife. I offered to take her picture, but he refused politely: it was not the custom of the Kurds, he said.

Melancholy lay on the household in spite of our hostess's smiles, for the sergeant had only held temporary rank and had that day, through no fault, been deprived of a stripe. It was, it seemed, a question of pay. An order had come from Baghdad that the numbers of those holding temporary rank were to be [115] reduced, and the sergeant was not alone in his disappointment.

* * * * *

In the square they were still gambling for eggs. Towards evening we wandered out towards the forbidden ground, the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad. The door stood open and the green courtyard and shrine behind it looked inviting. We lingered by the threshold and looked in. Men were ranged round the square courtyard, sitting with their backs to the wall, and seeing us at the door, they cried to us hospitably, "Enter, enter!" The aged kochek in his white robes came forward to greet us with the utmost courtesy, smiling benignly. He moved as the host about the place. Part of the courtyard was in shade, but evening sunshine bathed the part that adjoined the low wall separating the flags and lawn from the shrine garden, with its olive- and fig-trees in young leaf.

The scene at Shaikh Muhammad on the eve of the vigil.
kôchek is the standing figure in white.)

We were bidden sit, and took a place on a felt mat beside the mukhtâr, who with other Yazidi elders and notables, had gathered here for the night's vigil. One of the qawwâls brought us coffee, the usual bitter mouthful at the bottom of a handleless cup. In serving, the practice is to hold the cups packed one into the other in one hand and to hold the brass coffee-pot (della) in the other.

So here we sat, in the forbidden place, at the forbidden hour, and no one had said us nay! I took note of our surroundings. The charm and peace of the scene passed description. On the green grass in the centre of the courtyard stood an earthenware jar in a wooden stand, two amphorae beside it and a bowl for dipping out the cooled water. Also, there was an iron standard supporting an iron lamp, which stood on the grass upon the farther side of the paved path which led direct from the entrance to the door of the shrine. [116] This lamp was of the pattern of the lamps in the temple of Shaikh ‘Adi, that is, it was a square shallow dish with four lips in each of which a long wick is laid. I asked Rashid if this peculiar shape had not a meaning, and, after a little hesitation, he admitted that it had. It represents, he said, "the four corners of the earth, the north, south, east, and west, and the road of the sun."

His answer interested me, for the Parsis when making the sign of the cross of their sacred foods, make the same explanation, and the Nestorian priest, making the sign of the cross over the sacramental wafers, murmurs, "From east to west, from north to south." In fact, it was yet another small piece of evidence that the cross in ritual is purely a sun-symbol.

Grass grew on either side of the central path, as in a college quadrangle, but a paving ran round the courtyard, and it was upon this that mats had been spread for the men who sat round the walls. These wore red turbans and multi-coloured belts, the dresses were mostly white and wholly Oriental, indeed, Jiddan and ourselves, he in his uniform and we in our western dress, were the only intrusions from modern ‘Iraq and the twentieth century.

We entered the ante-chamber of the tomb, removing our shoes to do so, and there laid an offering, but did not attempt to enter the inner chamber lest it might grate upon their feelings, although they showed not the slightest sign of objection. It had been easy, however, to glance inside, and the sarcophagus tomb within resembled that of any Moslem saint. It was covered with green and red silk drapings. In the ante-chamber lamps for the sacred olive-oil lay about the floor, one or two of them silvered over and fluted for wicks, the others all of the Yazidi four-wick shape. The entrance to the shrine was constructed of carved grey Mosul marble, and bore an inscription in Arabic which said [117] that Sadiq ibn Rashid, that is Rashid's father, he having been named after his grandfather, had rebuilt the shrine in piety. We were careful on entering and leaving not to touch with our feet the threshold stone, high and broad as in all Yazidi shrines, for this would have been a pollution.

We resumed our seats beside the mukhtâr, and beside us a chamber was attached to the courtyard where women sat and later busied themselves with the preparation of food. The kochek, presiding over all, wore a tranquil and happy expression: it was the old man's day of days in the year, for the tomb is permanently in his charge and all were his guests.

Yazidis arrived constantly, and at their entrance looked neither to right nor left, but walked straight up the paved way to the shrine. About halfway they touched the breast with both hands, swept both hands upwards with a brushing movement, and then brought them down strokingly on either side of the face and beard. At the entrance to the shrine they stooped, bent or knelt, kissed the threshold stone and both door-posts, also the stones by and inside the doorway, then went in. On emerging, they kissed the wall to the right of the shrine, in a niche of which a lamp was burning.

Presently there was a slight stir by the outer doorway and a little procession entered and moved silently forward, while every one present rose to their feet. It was headed by the kochek, looking like the prophet Eli, a qawwâl with a large tambour and another with a flute, and consisted of a man and two women, one of whom bore a child in her arms. At least this is what the mysterious object veiled with green silk proved to be when they all emerged from the shrine, where the green silk had been left on the tomb. The mukhtâr explained that the child had been sick and had vowed the green silk to Shaikh Muhammad if he recovered. [118] We had just seen the fulfilment of the vow, and on the morrow a man would climb up the white fluted spire and fasten the green silk to the golden ball at the top so that all the world might know the saint's clemency. As soon as the procession had issued, we all sat down again. From time to time others arrived with votive gifts for the shrine, and whenever this happened, there was the same ceremonious entrance and general rising. Once it was an old man hugging a cone of sugar wrapped in its commercial blue wrapper. This would sweeten tea dispensed in hospitality at the holy place.

From time to time coffee was brought round to those sitting round the walls, ourselves included. After a while there was another stir: large objects wrapped in brown cloth were brought in and given to the qawwâls who sat in the southern corner of the courtyard, and again every one rose to honour the sacred objects. The braziers by the qawwâls were lit, and then they drew from the brown bags the large tambours of their calling, and warmed these by the braziers to tighten the skins. There were three qawwâls with tambours, and two younger qawwâls with pipes.

Again we resumed our seats and the qawwâls then began to chant to the tambours and pipes. The melody was very different from that we had heard at the tombs. It was less folk-like, and difficult to follow both as regards rhythm and motif. The beating of the tambours was led by the senior qawwâl. They were not always held still, but at an unseen sign from the leader were swept upwards, or thrust outwards and sideways, as if by a single impulse, like a wheeling flight of birds, always precisely together.

The chanting was low and in a major key. All present listened with reverent attentive faces and in the prayer in Kurdish which followed the chant we heard the name "Shaikh ‘Adi." During the prayer the men in the courtyard did not rise, but sat with [119] open hands laid on their knees, palm upwards, finishing by stroking down their faces, like Moslems when reciting the Fâtiha. When the prayer was ended, all rose to their feet a second and then sat again.

A second chant followed, louder than the first and more vigorous in measure. I transcribe A.'s note about it:

"The rhythm of the Kurdish drums in the second chant was in eight time, slightly syncopated. One phrase was repeated sixteen or twenty times: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6 and 7 and 8 tied together (one note to four beats), i.e. . It then changed to a chorus four times repeated of with the accent on the first beat, the whole slightly faster than the first phrase and quickening steadily to a final crash. This appeared to be one verse. There were four or five verses, after which the rhythm changed abruptly to 'and-1, and-2, and-1, and-2', i.e. then suddenly reverted quickly to four times repeated and getting quicker and louder until it ended in the biggest crash of all. This was accompanied by a flageolet descant played on two pipes like flageolets but larger, and by low chanting from the qawwâls in Kurdish."

Adding to her description, the movement of the tambours was carried out vehemently and dramatically, first the swing upwards and then the thrust forwards accompanied by intensified drumming of the fingers, which must be very strong to produce so loud a note. The simultaneous crashing of the surrounding jingles, inserted round the rim as in a tambourine, added a passion and excitement to the music which it is difficult to convey by any imagery.

The sun was setting, the swallows circled backwards and forwards catching evening flies; moreover, we could hear the agitated twitter of the bee-eaters, sure tokens that spring was with us — we had seen none of these lovely birds until that very morning. In the [120] dusk the old kochek, a venerable figure in his white vestments, arose, and poured olive-oil into the standard lamp on the grass, then lit it with a piece of flaming wood, first arranging the four wicks carefully into their grooves. His actions were hieratic and grave; it was a priestly office.

Rashid, who now came to sit by us, told us that the oil had been pressed from the olives within the precincts, and he indicated the shrine garden beyond the courtyard, the whole being enclosed by a high outer wall.

We began to wonder whether we should stay. We did not wish to impose ourselves, I told Rashid, and as the sun had now set, the ceremonies of the night would begin, therefore we excused ourselves and would leave.

He made a little speech to us, said so that all could hear. The devotions that went on this night, he said, were prayer and chanting, such as that we had just heard, and which no one not a Yazidi had ever been privileged to hear in this holy place. Never before, he went on, had the Yazidis of Baashika admitted anyone to their shrine on this evening, and they would never do so again. They had invited us inside in order to show us especial honour, and to express to us their appreciation of our presence and friendship. This was their return. Had we been men, we could not have been admitted, but as women, and as their friends, we were welcome to stay. They begged us, however, not to tell others that we had been present, lest they claimed a right to enter on precedent.

We replied that we were deeply and truly touched by the honour shown to us, and would never forget it. Neither would we publish abroad the privilege we had received.

It may seem to those who read this, that this very chapter violates our promise, but I think that the promise extracted referred to the people of the [121] neighbourhood, rather than to the world at large, and to these we said nothing. I write this, therefore, in the conviction that no one will ever force themselves uninvited upon these gentle and courteous people, or distress them by importuning them for privileges which they will only yield unasked. I work upon the system of waiting until I am freely invited behind forbidden doors, and find that it is both the wisest and infinitely the surest method of getting information.

Sitting confidentially beside us, Rashid indicated a gravestone in the paving and told me that his eldest brother was buried there, basely murdered by Turkish officials just before their retreat during the last war. He was then in a garden near Tell Billa which belonged to the family. The Turks came at night, and beating at the gate asked for hospitality, which was given them.

"My uncle received them, and then they asked for my brother by name. My uncle took them to where my brother lay asleep, and they emptied their revolvers into his sleeping body. He never knew of their treachery. By God, you have seen my mother, and how old and frail she looks? Her old age dates from that time. For five years we wept and hardly ate. He was the best of all of us, and my father has not been the same man since that day."

There was a hum and stir outside, and we were told that the Baba Shaikh, the religious head of all the Yazidis, had arrived. All rose, the women trilled their shrill helhela, and a train of people entered. The Baba Shaikh is a tall, upright and aged man, and wears his high white turban low over his eyes. He wore pure white, and a black sash round his waist: his woollen cloak was of white home-spun. A pace behind him walked his son, a swarthy and elderly man. My eye caught him for a moment near a lay Yazidi with a shock of blonde hair bushing out beneath his cap and a long fair moustache, recalling a figure in a mediaeval German [122] painting, and I realized how far removed the shaikhly class is in racial type. The Baba Shaikh's son, like many of his caste, was dark, and not unlike an Afghan.

The shaikh advanced with stateliness. The notables greeted him respectfully, standing. He went round the courtyard, kissing the walls in several places, and when he reached the shrine, he saluted the doorposts in the same way. Passing round the assembly, he addressed a few words here and there, offering his hand to each man in turn to be kissed. The hand kissing was thus: the layman kissed the shaikh's hand and lifted it to his forehead, then the shaikh raised the hand the layman had saluted towards his own mouth as if to convey the kiss thither. When he came upon us, in our corner, he checked, and then, passing us over as if we had not existed, he proceeded to our left-hand neighbour. When he returned to his place above us, nearer the shrine, we saw Rashid and his father approach him and make evident explanations. A message was brought us that we might approach him.

The Baba Shaikh and his host, Sadiq ibn Rashid.

Feeling somewhat like wasps in a beehive, we did so, and I said in a low voice some words of welcome, expressed our sense of the honour done to us by the permission to remain, and our hope that his journey had not wearied him. My words were translated, as the shaikh knows no Arabic. He was gracious, and again we retired to our corner.

Presently we saw the women in the serving-chamber busy preparing large bowls of harîsa. In lower ‘Iraq harîsa is pilgrim-diet and I knew it for what it was, a rich broth-porridge, nourishing and palatable, easily heated on or after a journey. A huge wooden spoon stood against the wall; it had been used to ladle the pottage into the bowls. A leather-covered cushion was placed before the shaikh, and upon this were piled many flat thin loaves of Kurdish bread, together with meat and a bowl of harîsa. Bowls of harîsa, in which several [123] wooden spoons were laid, and bowls of hot meat were then put at intervals all round the courtyard so that all might eat, several from each bowl. We ate like the rest, and then more coffee was served round by the coffee-maker. It was growing late.

The shaikh, enthroned on a sheepskin, had finished his meal, and his pipe was produced, of prodigious length, certainly four feet from the small bowl to the magnificent round amber mouthpiece. His son, standing respectfully before him, lit it, but in so doing managed to break the earthenware bowl. Another was quickly produced and fitted, then the lit pipe was handed to his holiness. The shaikh had a large square embroidered tobacco-bag, and from time to time he honoured someone in the courtyard by passing it to him and inviting him to help himself. Jiddan, to whom the shaikh had addressed a few words, was gratified when asked to roll himself a cigarette — he had no qaliûn — from the great man's pouch. A. and I coveted these Kurdish tobacco bags. They were of home-woven cloth, often dipped in some gay dye, and stitched with orange or green, and sometimes, as was this of the Baba Shaikh, they were embroidered.

All told us that the night's vigil would be spent in chanting and prayer, "like the chanting and prayer you have seen", Rashid told us, "and they bring refreshments and coffee from time to time. Khatûn, now you have seen and know what we do here. Stay if you like, but I fear you will become tired needlessly."

I took the hint and rose to go, taking leave of the shaikh and saluting the mukhtâr. We passed out through the forbidden portal, and went back in the silent moonlight.



"Was it nectar like this that beguiled the shepherd to dance and foot it about his folds...?" -THEOCRITUS, Idyll VII.

When we rose, we reminded ourselves that this was the day to which every man, woman and child here had looked forward for a whole year, the lovely, joyful day of days, the day for which every woman for miles round had been sewing and contriving, seeing to it that each child had a new garment, getting out the family heirlooms of jewellery and embroidery, baking festival cakes and sweetmeats, and setting out their men's gala clothes; the day which was the apogee of all the gladness of spring, "the thrice desirable."

We hurried to the roof as soon as we were dressed and there, on the green hills without the village where graves are clustered about the white mazârs, we saw Yazidi women standing by their dead, beating their breasts and faces to the rhythm of the flute and tambour. Adonis, then, still slept. The day of joy had dawned, but the dead were remembered and festival cates laid on the earth which covered them.

The day, as I look back upon it, started on this sober note and mounted in a crescendo; first religious in tone, then more and more irrepressibly gay; the spirit of fair and festivity running higher every hour until all was the maddest of Bacchanals.

We wandered out early and encountered one or two of the men we had seen within the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad on the previous night. The prayers and [125] chanting had been kept up till past midnight and would have continued till dawn, they said, had not a sudden tempestuous wind and heavy spring rain driven the worshippers to shelter. The rooms about the shrine are small, so that it was left to only a few to continue the vigil, including the reverend Baba Shaikh, the qawwâls and the white-robed kochek.

On the broad undulating stretch of sward which lies before the shrine, two shelters of goats'-hair cloth provided with benches had been erected for protection against possible downpour. The rain-clouds, however, had fled, and the sky was as blue and clear as if Shaikh Shems himself had ordered the weather. On the grassy plain, and the roads along the foothills, crowds streamed to the spot. Pedlars squatted in a long double row on the way to the shrine, Before some were heaps of sweets, gaudy of hue and suggesting aniline dye. Others were vendors of nuts and dried fruits. The dried green berry of the gazwân tree (the terebinth),1 called by the Arabs batni, made brave heaps of jade. There were cheap fairings, paper masks, paper animals, toy windmills, and other small toys. There was a large round tray over which a wand like the hand of a clock swung round when lightly pushed. If it came to rest over a compartment wherein was some small cheap object, the investor of a fils or two got away with a prize. Its presiding genius kept up a call of "Nesîb, nesîb!" the equivalent of "Try your luck!"

1. Mr. Evan Guest has given me its botanical name: Pistaccio mutica, The seeds are used for dye.

Villagers streaming in for the feast.

Gypsies, always clannish and working in groups, hovered about the fast-growing crowd. And what a crowd! Foolishly, I took some photographs, only to regret it later, for, as the day wore on, the fair grew fuller and the dresses richer.

We left the hurly-burly and went into the shrine itself. The kochek, a little paler and frailer because of [126] his lack of sleep, was still the gentle host, but today the door was open to all, even to those of another faith. One or two benches had been placed for the effendia, as clerks and officials are called, for such were expected today from the city of Mosul. These seats were ranged along the low wall which skirted the olive-garden, and filled the place which on the previous night had been occupied by the qawwâls with their pipes and tambours.

But what pagan spirit had usurped the shrine of the saint? The night's vigil with its turbanned worshippers, its chants, and its prayers might indeed have passed as the devotions of a Sufi sect, mystical and eclectic indeed, but still Moslem in outward appearance. Today the mask was awry and I seemed to see a laughing face peering from behind it. It was a glad god, an ancient god, a young god, that would dance in before long, naked and unashamed.

We took a seat on one of the benches and watched the visitors who poured into the shrine. Amongst them were Moslems and Christians, and most of them were women. Many of them kissed the walls reverently like the Yazidis, for blessing comes thereby, and a saint is a saint, whatever his labelled religion. The women streamed in and went up the stairway to the flat roof of the shrine. Here they sat so as to have a good view of all subsequent proceedings. The Yazidi women, with their skull-caps of shining coins, turban headdresses, silver belt-clasps, chains, amulets and beads were brilliant enough, but the Kurdish women from the villages outdazzled them. The first that we saw, a veritable Queen of Sheba, took away our breath, bedizened as she was with precious metals, beads, and more colours in her numerous draperies than one could conceive possible. But others, and more and more arrived, and even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. They were all glitter and [127] colour, as they enthroned themselves on the roof, their headdresses flashing in the sun. "How they must have enjoyed themselves," said A., "in heaping colour on colour!" Magenta and purple with scarlet, orange or primrose, with vivid green, yellows, mauves, pinks; all these colours were hurled together with a splendid audacity, with always enough black added to make the rainbow brighter by contrast. They were hung all over with large amber and coloured beads, silver chains, ornaments, and amulets, their heads were weighted with gold and silver and the green and red kerchiefs which composed the turban were secured by large silver pins.

A. and I had hard work to preserve our good manners. We breathed to each other, "Oh look, look!" as each new arrival passed us, for in this kaleidoscope of women each newcomer seemed more gorgeous than her sisters. As usual, many of the village women surprised us by their fairness. I noted one comely little maiden whose blonde plaits had been dyed red with henna. She wore orange garments of every shade, some light, some deep and tawny. These, together with her sun-gilded cheeks, gave her a golden look.

The children were almost as gay as their elders. The Yazidi boys, the ends of their long white sleeves knotted behind their necks, wore embroidered jackets, or, if they were too poor, their mothers had sewn gay fronts to old waistcoats worn above their baggy trousers. Little girls had huge silver buckles to their belts.

We went up to the roof which was getting more crowded every moment. Some Moslem women from Mosul, all in black, like crows among birds of brilliant plumage, were perched there with the rest. I noticed that many of the Kurdish women had secured large square amulet cases to their left arms, and that silver pendants, gold coins and tassels of many vivid colours were worn, not only on their heads, but all over their [128] persons. Their hair was plaited and the plaits were artificially lengthened with black sheep's wool and terminated by filigree balls on chains that reached their ankles. One or two of the prettiest girls had pinned red roses to their turbans. One handsome young creature had attired herself in canary yellow: her meyzâr, or home-spun toga, was dyed a deeper shade, and her other garments had stitchings and pieces of brilliant green. The meyzârs of many of the women — and the favourite colours for these were orange and red — were embroidered with stars and triangles. As one stood above the sitting women, the coin-caps and silver ornaments on the sunny roof shone like helmets and coats of mail.

We returned to the courtyard once more, the only women there, and found that a few officials and notables from Mosul had arrived, bringing with them police "to keep order." There were introductions and politenesses. With their sidâras (the modern ‘Iraqi wears a forage-cap of this name) and their smart uniforms the officials looked very impressive as they took their seats on the benches. One, who talked English, sat beside me and aired his proficiency in that tongue. "These people," he said, in a superior manner, "use the Qur'an, but everywhere that the word Shaitan occurs, they have burnt it out of their texts."

The remark was made in no specially low voice. This man, guest of the Yazidis here, must have known that it was the bounden duty of every Yazidi who heard the forbidden word pronounced to slay him.

"Oh, hush!" I entreated him, horrified. "Please do not say that name here!" If any of our hosts heard, they were diplomatically deaf, but I no longer wondered why they excluded strangers from their ceremonies.

The great man called to one or two of the little girls and asked in a benevolent manner what their names were, if they went to school and in what class they were. [129] One pretty Yazidi child, who admitted after immense effort that her name was Hamasi, wore an unusual ornament upon her head, a cup-shaped gold boss as big as an egg-cup, within which were turquoises and a ruby, the outside being decorated with filigree and inset turquoises. It was, no doubt, an heirloom.

Presently there was a prolonged shrill trilling from the women outside, on the roof, and around the building. Something was about to happen. We knew what to expect, for Jiddan had warned us; indeed, while wandering about outside the two masters of today's ceremonies had been pointed out to us as they moved about in the centre of a crowd, and soliciting gratuities from their admirers. These two were laymen, and their instruments were unlike those of the qawwâls. The drummer carried a large drum, the tabal: the piper a wide-mouthed wooden pipe called the zurnaya, or zurna.

The moment for their ceremonious entry had come, and the Yazidi villagers, with their baggy trousers, red turbans and fair, sunburnt faces, ranged themselves in ranks on the farther side of the small forecourt to the shrine, every inch of which was now thronged with onlookers, except the patch of sward and the paved way to the tomb, which bisected it. The cries increased in intensity, and in came the pair.

As soon as they had entered, they fell to their knees dramatically, looking at the tomb-shrine, and silence fell, except for the high-pitched fluttering cry from the women above. The piper raised his pipe to his lips and blew one piercing, continuous trill, the drummer sustained a long roll. As he knelt, his cheeks puffed out like Boreas, the piper swayed his body and pipe this way and that, as if in a supreme incantation. This lasted for a full ten minutes, a stirring, uncannily emotional ten minutes. I was reminded, somehow, of the scene in the ballet Petrouchka in which the magician [130] calls his puppets to life. Like the magicians was the swaying body, the pipe held to the lips and the intent, commanding look. But this was no mumming. What we were witnessing here was an actual religious or magical ceremony. The spirit called up had little to do with Muhammad the Arab, or that other reverend and deceased Shaikh Muhammad, whose dust lay in the tomb. This call was addressed to the very spirit of spring. It sounded an alarum to the dead that slept in their graves, bidding them live. It summoned the land to wake and be fruitful. The rise of sap in the trees, the urge of procreation in beast and man inspired its urgency, its vehemence.

"As soon as they had entered they fell to their knees."

At last the tense moments ended. The piper and drummer ceased, rose to their feet and, going to the shrine, kissed the outer walls, doorposts and threshold-stone before disappearing inside with the kochek.

As they emerged again, a circle of men with linked arms and hands formed in the courtyard. The honour of dancing in this debka, first of all the debkas danced in this month of spring, is auctioned and sold to the highest bidders.

Dancing the debka in the courtyard of Shaikh Muhammad.

Pipe and drum took their stand, and the traditional music, played every year at the spring festival for perhaps centuries, was heard once again.

The debka began. It is, perhaps, the most exciting of all folk-dances, certainly of those which I have seen. Its rhythm of stamping feet and bending bodies is irresistible. It starts staidly, with steps backwards and forwards and stamping here and there, but, as it continues, the leaping and swaying become more and more unrestrained. Up on the roof the women trilled incessantly, craning for ward to see, and thronging the steps. Round and round the men shuffled in the small space.

Beginning of the dance outside the shrine.

At last this first, semi-religious dance was ended, and the people within the shrine area swarmed out [131] pell-mell through the narrow entrance to the sunshine outside, where the crowds had now swelled into a great host of people. Immediately a new circle was formed on the sward before the shrine, the piper and drummer playing their infectious music in its centre. The circle widened continually. New dancers broke the circle and linked themselves on. Groups of girls joined in as well, only the endmost linking arms with the men. They were more restrained in their movements than the men, who flung their long sleeves over their shoulders as they bent and leapt backwards, for in the Syrian debka a kerchief is flourished in the air by one of the dancers; here, long sleeves waved aloft took the place of the fluttering handkerchief.

Meanwhile, pipe and drum never flagged, but kept on, insistent and gay, and reaching some occult nerve in body or soul that vibrated in answer. Here was the magic of the Pied Piper. I feel sure that the Pied Piper must have been followed by his partner with a drum, or the children would not have danced out behind him. The rhythm of the drum was the natural complement to his music. Fife and drum, pipe and tabor, zurna and tabal, these are twins, natural mates, bound together by ancient canon, as inseparable the one from the other as a well-wed pair. The one attunes and excites the spirit, the other impels the feet. Both must be under Taurus. "Taurus," quoth Sir Andrew Aguecheek — "that's legs and thighs!" said Sir Toby. So caper, bend, linked together, and round and round, feet beating the ground to the music of the pipe and drum!

There was a respite at noon. Perhaps some fetched a little sleep after a night spent in vigil, and all ate plentifully of the meat and burghul and mince pies which every good housewife had ready for the feast. In the earlier morning we had encountered the Baba Shaikh, with his beautiful long pipe, accompanied by [132] his son and a number of respectful followers, going to the house of our friend Sadiq to repose. He did not preside at the merrymakings and dancings, called locally the tawwâfi.

We met him again in the afternoon at his host's house, where all the household worked untiringly to entertain a crowd of guests. On the space before the house door there were dancers, round the piper and drummer, who were hard at it again. The door stood hospitably open. On the clay seats within the shadow of the archway, and round the courtyard and its garden, mats and cushions were spread and guests took their ease, while Rashid, a tired but attentive son of the house, saw to it that all who entered were offered sweet tea in glasses or the aromatic bitter coffee, roasted, ground, and made by his own hand. His father, smoking a qaliûn, and the Baba Shaikh sat together on mats a little apart as befitted the chief guest's status, the Baba Shaikh drawing at his prodigious pipe and discussing with his grave host matters affecting the welfare of the Yazidi world. Again the Baba Shaikh wore his large white turban over his bushy eyebrows, but little grey hair showing beneath. I requested the honour of taking the photograph of both old men and consent was graciously given. The Baba Shaikh took the opportunity to ask my advocacy in a matter which concerned the community. I had to tell him that I had no influence in such matters, but that, should it come my way to express an opinion, he would not find me slow to express my partisanship, whereat he made a courtly gesture of comprehension. After all, I was only a woman, it seemed to say. I longed to ask him to let me photograph him with that monumental pipe, but it would not have been diplomatic.

Exterior of the shrine of Shaikh Muhammad on the feast day.

Language, moreover, was an insurmountable barrier between us.

A. and I withdrew after a little conversation with [133] Rashid, a conversation which threw light upon the Yazidis to their spiritual and temporal princes respectively. To repeat it would be a breach of confidence, but it proved to me how strong are the dual loyalties with this honourable and proud people.

We left the dancing and din and the busy hospitality of Sadiq's house, and wandered up the valley of Ras al-'Ain, today emptied for the fair. Here we mounted the hill of Shaikh Melké Miran and sat on the short grass, watching the debka dancers like capering dolls below, and then gazing at the long serenity of the wide valleys, at the green, tomb-sown hills with their white cones towards Bahzané, and at the rocky mountain on our right which hid the sacred cave. A brown-faced boy saw us, and perched himself ever closer and closer, watching, like a park sparrow hopeful for crumbs. He wanted to see us nearto, these women with the strange customs, whose children, it was said, were cut from their bodies by magic surgery, who had machines that wrote and sewed, who were at once so friendly and so remote.

We talked to him: he told us that he was the son of Deacon Ayub and went to school, and about his family and himself.

Our consciences pricked us about Sitt Gulé, so we struck out across the hills to avoid returning by the village, and called at her house. She was still lying where we had left her, sick and helpless, her white turban soiled and awry on her grey head, the flies thick about her and her bedding. As usual, the family gathered on the open mud stairway that led to the platform on which she lay. It was plain that they did not consider that she was long for this world.

One of her daughters-in-law said to me, "If it please the Lord to call her, well! If it does not please Him to call her, well also!"

The old lady was groaning, but roused herself and [134] sat up and fetched out a letter which her son Murad had sent her from his prison. Again I promised I would do what I could to bring his hard case before the authorities. This I did. In Moslu, I talked the matter over with the Mutesarrij, who said the affair had passed out of his hands: in Baghdad, I tried to bring the question before the Ministry of the Interior. I could do no more, for as war-clouds became blacker, I flew quickly to England to catch a glimpse, if possible, of two sons in the British Army. Jiddan implored me to do my best for his shaikha, and I heard later that he had given money from his own slender store to aid his hereditary mistress.

* * * * *

It was our last evening in Baashika. On the morrow A. would return to Kirkuk and I would set out for the Hakkari mountains. After supper we went up to our roof. The moon was bright, a soft scented wind blew from the hills, and a torrent of black goats scuttered up the village street. In a courtyard not far off girls were dancing and shrilling cries of joy, dancing in the mad happy circle of the debka, their silver ornaments shining in the moonlight. They were stepping to the rhythmic clapping of the onlookers, for the piper and drummer were resting in preparation for a renewal of the revels the next day at the village of Bahzané.

At midnight I woke and heard, faint but clear, the sound of distant chanting accompanied by the sacred flute and tambour of the qawwâls. It came from the shrine. The next morning I learnt that at that hour a man had climbed the cone and attached to the golden ball at its summit scraps of votive silk, to flutter there like tongues of gratitude for favours obtained of the saint. Amongst them, doubtless, was that green silk which told of the recovery of a sick child. Prayer, dancing and singing had lasted all night, a somewhat [135] jaded Rashid told us when he came early to bid us farewell and make excuses for his father, who was still sleeping. He himself had not gone to bed for three nights, but he could not let us go without wishing us godspeed.

We were packing. A. was loading her bedding and case on to a car bound for Kirkuk, whilst for me the police had sought out 'Aziz that he might convey us to Shaikhan, where I expected pack-animals to take us on to Shaikh ‘Adi. Aisha and her baby watched us as we packed and strapped, and Sairey appeared to bestow a last incoherent incantation. The qawwâl Reshu bade us good-bye, and other friends including all the police and Mustafa the sergeant, who put in a last word about his stripe.

A. left first; I got under way a little later, leaving the car by the mill, picking my way over the stream beside the washerwomen, and walking up a grassy slope upon which blue pimpernels, wide open, proclaimed another fine day. At the top was the rais's house protected by fine iron gates as beseemed the mayor of the place. Here more good-byes were said and thanks offered for all the kindnesses received during our stay. The valedictory coffee was swallowed; I rejoined the car in which Jiddan, Mikhail and the melancholy 'Aziz awaited me, and away we went.

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