1902 Encyclopedia > Africa > Political Divisions of Africa. States of Northern Africa.

(Part 29)


(a) States of Northern Africa

In describing the political divisions of Africa, we shall proceed from north to south.

The country included under the general name of Barbary extends from the borders of Egypt on the east to the Atlantic on the west, and is bounded by the Mediterranean on the north, and by the Sahara on the south. It comprises the states of Marocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripoli.

Marocco, the most westerly state of Barbary, is thus named by the Europeans, but by the Arabs themselves Mogr'-eb-el-Aksa, or "the extreme west." The eastern boundary was determined in the treaty with the French of 18th March 1845, by a line which, in the south, commences east of the oasis Figueg, intersecting the desert of Angad, and reaching the Mediterranean at a point about 30 miles west of the French port Nemours. In the south Marocco embraces the oasis of Tuat and the Wady Dra. The power of the government of Marocco, which is despots and cruel, as well as the population of the country, appear to have diminished greatly. Two-thirds of the country are independent of the Sultan's authority, and are held by mountain chiefs who defy his power. The trade of the coast is maintained by European merchants.

Algeria extends from Marocco in the west, to Tunis in the east, and closely answers in its limits to the ancient kingdom of Numidia. The southern boundaries are not very definite, falling, as they do, within the boundless plains of the desert.

Tunis is the smallest of the Barbary states. The configuration of the surface is similar to that of Algeria, in three divisions, the "Tell", or fertile coast slopes, the steppes on the high lands, and the low-lying Sahara beyond. The highest peaks range between 4000 and 5000 feet. The southern plains comprise the land of dates (Belad-ek-Jerid), and several extensive slat lakes. Tunis posseses but few rivers and streams, and springs are plentiful only in the mountainous regions.

The climate is, upon the whole, salubrious, and is not of the same excessive character as that of Algeria; regular sea-breezes exercise an ameliorating influence both in summer and winter; frost is almost unknown, and snow never falls. During summer occasional winds from the south render the atmosphere exceedingly dry and hot.

The natural productions of the country are somewhat similar to those of the other Barbary states, but dates of the finest quality are more largely produced. The horses and dromedaries are excellent breed, and the former are eagerly sought for the French army in Algeria. Bees are reared in great quantity, and coral fisheries are carried on. Of minerals lead, salt, and saltpetre are the most noticeable.

The population consists chiefly of Mohammedan Moors and Arabs; the number of Jews is estimated at 45,000 and of Roman Catholics 25,000. the former have attained a higher degree of industry and civilization than their brethren elsewhere; those of the latter who inhabit the central mountainous regions are nearly independent.

The government is vested in a hereditary bey, and has been conducted in peace and security for a number of years. From the year 1575 onwards, Tunis has been under the rule of Turkey; but by a firman of October 1871 the Sultan renounced the ancient tribute. The bey, who is styled "Possessor of the kingdom of Tunis," is confirmed in his position at Constantinople, and may neither enter into a war, nor conclude a treaty of peace, nor cede any part of his territory without the sanction of the Sultan. The Tunisian coinage bears the name of the Sultan, and the troops (3900 infantry and artillery, and 100 cavalry, form the regular army) are at the disposal of the Sublime Porte in time of war. In the interior of the country the bey has absolute power. The slave trade was abolished in 1942.

The commerce of Tunis is considerable, but agriculture is in a backward state. The exports consist chiefly of wool, olive-oil, wax, honey, hides, dates, grain, coral, &c.

The principal town is Tunis, situated on a shallow lake on the north coast. It is the most important commercial place on the southern shores of the Mediterranean after Alexandria, and has a population of about 125,000. the site of the ancient Carthage is 13 miles from Tunis in the direction of Cape Bon.

Tripoli, a regency of the Turkish empire, extends from Tunis along the shores of the Mediterranean to the table-land of Barca, which forms a separate province. Politically, it includes the pashalic of Fezzan, a country which, in a physical point of view, belongs to the Sahara.

Tripoli is the least favoured by nature of the Barbary states, possessing a great of sterile surface. Mr Richardson graphically the physiognomy of the country between the towns of Tripoli and Murzuk in eight zones: - 1. The plain along the sea-shore, with the date-palm plantations and the sandhills; 2. The Gharian mountains, with their olive and fig plantations, more favoured with rains than the other regions; 3. The limestone hills and broad valleys between the town of Kalubah and Ghareeah, gradually assuming the aridity of the Sahara as you proceed southward; 4. The Hamadah, an immerse desert plateau, separating Tripoli from Fezzan 5. The sandy valleys and limestone rocks between El-Hessi and Es-Shaty, where herbage and trees are found; 6. The sand between Shiaty and El-Wady, piled in masses or heaps, and extending in undulating plains; 7. The sandy valleys of El-Wady, covered with forests of date-palms; 8. The plateau of Murzuk, consisting of shallow valleys, ridges of low sandstone hills, and naked plains. These zones extend parallel with the Mediterranean shores through the greater portion of the country. A summit of the Jebel-es-Soda, or Black Mountains, midway between Tripoli and Murzuk, almost 2800 feet high, is supposed to be the culminating point of the regency. Rivers exist only periodically, and springs are exceedingly scarce.

The climate is somewhat more subject to extremes than that of Tunis, especially in the interior, where burning heat is followed by excessive cold. As far south as Sokna snow occasionally falls. The climate of Murzuk is very unhealthy, and frequently fatal to Europeans.

The natural products are very much like those of Tunis. Oxen and horses are small, but of good quality; the mules are of excellent breed. Locusts and scorpions are among the most noxious animals. Salt and sulphur are the chief minerals.

The population is very thin. Arabs are the prominent race, besides which are Turks, Berbers, Jews, Tibbus, and Negroes. The country is governed by a pasha, subject to the Ottoman empire. The military force by which the Turks hold possession of this vast but thinly-peopled territory amounts to 4500 men.

The commerce is not inconsiderable, and the inhabitants of Tripoli trade with almost every part of the Sahara, as well as the Soudan. At Murzuk there is a large annual market, which lasts from October to January. The exports of Tripoli are wheat, wax, ivory, ostrich feathers, madder, esparto grass, cattle, salt, and dates.

Tripoli is the capital of the regency, and the largest town; it lies on the Mediterranean, surrounded by a fertile plain; the number of inhabitants is about 30,000. Murzuk, the capital of Fezzan, has a mixed population of about 11,000 souls. The toewn of Ghadamis has about 7000 inhabitants.

In 1869 the maritime plateau of Barca and the depressed region inland from it, which contains the oases of Aujila and Jalo, was formed into a separate government, dependent directly upon Constantinople. This country is the seat of the ancient Greek Pentapolis of Berbicem Arsinoe, Barca, Apollonia, and Cyrene. Bengazi, the only place of importance, occupies the site of the first of these on the Mediterranean, and has from 6000 to 7000 inhabitants.

Egypt occupies the north-eastern corner of Africa, and is remarkable for its ancient and sacred associations, and its wonderful monuments of human art.

Egypt is a vast desert, the fertile portions susceptible of cultivation being confined to the Delta of the Nile and its narrow valley, a region celebrated in the most ancient historic documents for its singular fertility, and still pouring an annual surplus of g rain into the markets of Europe. By the annual inundation of the Nile this region is laid under water, and upon its retirement the grain crops are sown in the layer of mud left behind it. Barren ranges of hills and elevated tracts occupy the land on both sides of the Nile, which is the only river of the country. The amount of its rise is a matter of extreme solicitude to the people, for should it pass its customary bounds a few feet, cattle drowned, houses are swept away, and immense injury ensues; a falling short of the ordinary height, on the other hand, causes dearth and famine, according to its extent. The water of the Nile is renowned for its agreeable taste and wholesome quality. In connection with the Nile is the Birket-elKerun, a salt lake.

The climate is very hot and dry. Rain falls but seldom along the coasts, but the dews are very copious. The hot and oppressive winds, called khamsin and simoons, are a frequent scourge to the country; but the climate is, upon the whole, more salubrious than that of many other tropical countries.

The natural products are not of great variety. The wild plants are but few and scanty, while those cultivated include all the more important kinds adapted to tropical countries; rice, wheat, sugar, cotton, indigo, are cultivated for export; dates, figs, pomegranates, lemons, and olives, are likewise grown. The doum-palm, which appears in Upper Egypt, is characteristic, as also the papyrus. The fauna is characterized by an immense number of waterfowl, flamingoes , pelicans, &c. the hippopotamus and crocodile, the two primeval inhabitants of the Nile, seem to be banished from the delta, the latter being still seen in Upper Egypt. The cattle are of excellent breed. Large beasts of prey are wanting; but the ichneumon of the ancients still exists. Bees, silkworms, and corals are noticeable. Minerals are scarce, natron, salt, and sulphur being the principal.

The native Egyptians of Arab descent compose the great bulk of the people, the peasant and labouring class, and are termed Fellahs. Next in number, though comparatively few (145,000), are the Copts, descended from the old inhabitants of the country, the ancient Egyptians, but far from being an unmixed race. The Arabic Bedouin tribes, Negroes, European Christians (Greeks, Italians, French, Austrian, English), the Jews, and the dominant Turks, compose the remainder of the population.

Egypt is formally a Turkish pashalic, but the hereditary pasha, by whom the government is conducted, and whose authority is absolute, is practically an independent prince. The government of Nubia and Kordofan is also conducted by the Pasha of Egypt, and recently the whole of the Nile valley, as far south as the equator, has been annexed by the Egyptian government. An army of about 14,000 men is maintained.

The agriculture of Egypt has always been considerable, there being three harvests in the year. The industry is limited: one peculiar branch is the artificial hatching of eggs in ovens heated to the requisite temperature, a process which has been handed down from antiquity, and is now chiefly carried on by the Copts. Floating bee-hives are also peculiar to the Nile. The commerce is extensive and important: the exports to Europe consist chiefly of cotton, flax, indigo, gum-Arabic, ostrich feathers, ivory, senna, and gold. The country forms part of the great highway of traffic between Europe and Southern Asia. Railways, from the ports of Alexandria and Damietta in the Mediterranean, and from Suez on the Red Sea, unite at Cairo; and a railway now extends thence up the bank of the Nile to near the first cataract of the river at Assouan, in lat. 24° N.

The Suez canal, uniting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, was begun in April 1859, and was opened for traffic ten years later, in November 1869. The cutting runs from the artificial harbour of Port Said on the Mediterranean, through the shallow lagoon of Menzaleh, and through two smaller lakes with low sandhills between nearer Suez a depressed area, in which several salt lakes formerly existed, has been filled up by water let in by the canal, and now forms a wide expanse of water. In length the canal is nearly 100 miles, and has a depth throughout of 26 feet, with a general width of 200 to 300 feet at the top of the banks and 72 feet at the bottom. Vessels are able to steam or be towed through the canal in sixteen hours from sea to sea. Extensive harbours and docks have been constructed both on the Mediterranean side and a Suez. The number of vessels which entered Port Said in 1871 was 1215, of 928,000 tons, exclusive of 87 war-ships.

Egypt proper is divided into three sub-pashalics-Bahari or Lower Egypt, Vostani or Middle Egypt, and Said or Upper Egypt. Cairo, on the east bank of the Nile, is the capital of Egypt, and is the largest town of Africa, containing 354,000 inhabitants: it has 400 mosques, and upwards of 130 minarets, some of them of rich and graceful architecture, presenting at a distance an appearance singularly imposing. Alexandria, on the coast, is the emporium of the commerce with Europe, and has 220,000 inhabitants, among whom are 54,000 Europens. Damietta has a population of 37, 110; Rosetta of 18, 300. Suez, on the northern extremity of the Red Sea, is a small, ill-built town, but has assumed importance as a good port since the establishment of the overland route to India and the completion of the maritime canal. It has now nearly 14,000 inhabitants, of whom about 2500 are Europeans. Port Said has 8800 inhabitants, of whom one-half are foreigners.

Nubia extends along the Red Sea, from Egypt to Abyssinia, comprising the middle course of the Nile.

The natural features of the country are varied; the northern portion consisting of a burning sterile wilderness, while the southern, lying within the range of the tropical rains, and watered by the Abyssinian affluents of the Nile, exhibits vegetation in its tropical glory, forests of arborescent grasses, timber-trees, and parasitical plants largely clothing the country. This latter territory, which may be called Upper Nubia, includes the region of ancient Meroe, situated in the peninsula formed by the Nile proper, the Blue River, and the Atbara, and comprises, further south, the recently extinguished modern kingdom of Sennaar.

Nubia forms the link between the plain of Egypt and the high table-lands of Abyssinia; its general physical character is that of a slightly ascending region. The lowest parts in Upper Nubia scarcely an altitude of 1300 feet; Khartum, at the confluence of the Blue and white Rivers, being 1345 feet above the level of the sea. A chain of mountains and elevated land rises abruptly along the shores of the Red Sea, gradually sloping down to the valley of the Nile; the intermediate region being intersected by smaller ranges, groups of hills, and numerous wadys filled with sand. The spurs of the Abyssinian table-land, extending within the southern confines of Nubia, reach a height of 3000 feet. Besides the Nile, the country is watered by two other large rivers, its tributaries, the Bhar-el-Azrek or Blue River, and the Atbara or Takkazze, both being much alike in magnitude, in having their head-streams in the Abyssinian table-land.

The climate of Nubia is tropical throughout, and the heat in the deserts of its central portions is not exceeded by that of any other part of the globe. The southern half of the country is within the influence of the tropical rains, the northern partakes the character of the almost rainless Sahara; and while the latter is generally very salubrious, the former is a land of dangerous fevers, particularly in the plains subject to inundations. Such is the Kolla, a marshy and swampy region of great extent, situated along the foot of the Abyssinia Mountains, between the Blue River and the Takkazze.

The northern region is poor in natural productions, but in the south the vegetation is most luxuriant; palms form a prominent feature, and the monkey bread-tree attains its most colossal dimensions. The date-tree, dourra, cotton, and indigo are cultivated. The date-palm does not extend beyond the south of Abou-Egli, in lat. 18° 36.'

The elephant occasionally wanders as far as Sennaar; the rhinoceros, lion, giraffe, and buffalo are more common. The waters are inhabited by crocodiles more ferocious than those of Egypt, and by huge hippopotami. The young hippopotamus brought to the Zoological Gardens of London in 1850, was captured in Nubia, in an island of the Nile, about 1800 miles above Cairo: no living specimen had been seen in Europe since the period when they were exhibited by the third Gordian in the Colosseum at Rome. Monkeys and antelopes are found in great numbers. The camel does not extend beyond the twelfth degree of latitude to the south. Ostriches roam over the deserts; and among the reptiles, besides the crocodile, are large serpents of the python species, and tortoises. Of the numerous insects the most remarkable is the scarabaeus of the ancient Egyptians, still found in Sennaar. Of minerals Nubia possesses gold, silver, copper, iron, salt.

In the inhabitants two principal varieties are recognized, the pure originals population, and their descendants, mixed with other nations. The Berberines inhabit the northern part, and the Bisharies the desert regions; the latter are the genuine Nubians, finely moulded and dark complexioned, supposed by some to agree more closely with the ancient Egyptians than the Copts, usually deemed their representatives. In the south-eastern part the true Negro element appears.

Nubia, now a province under the pashalic of Egypt, consisted formerly of a number of small and independent kingdoms. The Turkish conquest lasted from 1813 to 1822 in the latter years it was invaded and mercilessly ravaged by the army of Mahomet Ali, under his second son Ismayl, whose dreadful atrocities entailed a fearful fate upon him self, having been surprised when attending a nocturnal banquet, at some distance from his camp, and burned to death.

The country is favourable for agriculture, which however, is only carried on to a limited extent, by the women. Cattle are abundant, and the camels of the Bishari and Ababde are famous for their enduring powers. Salt is largely exported from the shores of the Red Sea to India, and ivory, with other products of tropical Africa, forms a principal article of trade.

Khartum, the capital of Nubia, the headquarters of the Egyptian government, and the chief seat of commerce, contains a population variously estimated at from 20,000 to 50,000. it is a modern town, having been founded in 1821, and lies in a dry, flat, and unhealthy country, near the confluence of the two main branches of the Nile. It is in telegraphic communication with Cairo.

Kordofan, on the western side of Nubia, lies between the parallels of 12o and 16o, and between the meridians 29° and 32°, containing about 30,000 square miles. It is a flat country, interspersed with a few hills, presenting in the dry season a desert with little appearance of vegetation, and in the rainy season a prairie, covered with luxuriant grass and other plants. The general elevation of the country is 2000 feet, and some of the hills attain a height of 3000. the altitude of El Obeid is 2150 feet. There are no permanent rivers in the country, and the natural products are similar to those of the adjoining regions of Nubia.

The population consists of Negroes. This country was, simultaneously with Nubia, made tributary to Egypt. The commerce consists of gum-arabic, ivory, and gold, and is not inconsiderable. El Obeid, the chief town, is composed of several villages of mud-built houses, thatched with straw, containing about 12,000 inhabitants.
The boundaries of Abyssinia are somewhat uncertain; but confining it to the provinces actually under the government of Christian or Mohammedan princes, it may be described as extending from about 9° to 16° N lat., and from 35° to 40° E. long.

The Saharan countries extend from the Atlantic in the west, to the Nilotic countries in the east, from the Barbary States in the north, to the basins of the Rivers Senegal and Kawara, and Lake Chad in the south. The area of this large space amounts to at least 2,000,000 square miles, or upwards of one-half of that of the whole of Europe. It is very scantily populated, but from our present defective knowledge of that region, the number of its inhabitants can be but roughly estimated.

The physical configuration of the Sahara has already been indicated. Notwithstanding the proverbial heat, which is almost insupportable by day, there is often great cold at night, owing to the excessive radiation, promoted by the clearness of the sky. Rain is nearly, though not entirely absent, in this desolate region. It appears that when nature has poured her bounty over the adjoining regions in the south, and has little more left to bestow, she sends a few smart showers of rain to the desert, parched by the long prevalence of the perpendicular rays of then sun. The prevailing winds blow during three months from the west, and nine months from the east. When the wind increases into a storm, it frequently raises the loose sand in such quantities that a layer of nearly equal portions of sand and air, and rising about 20 feet above the surface of the ground, divides the purer atmosphere from the solid earth. This sand, when agitated by whirlwinds, sometimes overwhelms caravans with destruction, and even when not fatal, involves them in the greatest confusion and danger.

The natural products correspond with the physical features of the country. Vegetation and animal life exist only sparingly in the oases or valleys where springs occur, and where the soil so not utterly unfit to nourish certain plants. Amongst the few trees the most important is the date-palm, which is peculiarly suited to the dryness of the climate. This useful tree flourishes best in the eastern part of the desert, inhabited by the Tibbus. The doum-palm is likewise a native of the same part, and seems entirely absent in the western Sahara; its northernmost limit is on the southern borders of Fezzan and Tegerry, in lat. 24° N. Acacias are found in the extreme west towards Senegambia, furnishing the so-called gum-Arabic. In many parts of the desert a thorny evergreen plant occurs, about 18 inches high. It is eagerly eaten by the camels, and is almost the only plant which supplies them with food while thus traversing the desert. The cultivation of grains to a small extent is limited to the western oases of Tuat and others, a little barley, rice, and beans, being there grown. In the kingdom of Air there are some fields of maize and other grains; but upon the whole, the population depend for these products on Soudan and other regions. There are but a few specimens of wild animals in these wildernesses; lions and panthers are found only on its borders. Gazelles and antelopes are abundant, hares and foxes but scarce. Ostriches are very numerous, and vultures and ravens are also met with. In approaching Soudan, animal and vegetable life becomes more varied and abundant. Of reptiles, only the smaller kinds are found, mostly harmless lizards and a few species of snakes. Of domestic animals, the most important is the camel, but horses and goats are not wanting, and in the country of the Tuaricks an excellent breed of sheep is found, while in that of the Tibbus a large and fine variety of the ass is valuable to the inhabitants. Of minerals, salt is the chief production, which occurs chiefly near Bilma.

The habitable portions of the Sahara are possessed by three different nations. In the extreme western portion are Moors and Arabs. They live in tents, which they remove from one place to another; and their residences consist of similar encampments, formed of from twenty to a hundred of such tents, where they are governed by a sheik of their own body; each encampment constituting, as it were, a particular tribe. They are a daring set of people, and not restrained by any scruple in plundering, ill-treating, and even killing persons who are not of their own faith; but to such as are, they are hospitable and benevolent. The boldest of these children of the desert are the Tuaricks, who occupy the middle of the wilderness, where it is widest. The form of their bodies, and their language, prove that they belong to the aboriginal inhabitants of Northern Africa, who are known by the name of Berbers. They are a fine race of men, tall, straight, and handsome, with an air of independence which is very imposing. They live chiefly upon the tribute they exact from all caravans traversing their country. They render themselves formidable to all their nieghbours, with whom they are nearly always in a state of enmity, making predatory incursions into the neighbouring countries. The third division of Sahara people are the Tibbus, who inhabit the eastern portion, comprising one of the best parts of the desert. In some of their features they resemble the Negroes. They are an agricultural and pastoral nation, live mostly in fixed abodes, and are in this respect greatly different from their western neighbours. Their country is as yet little explored by Europeans. The Tibbus are in part Pagans, while the other inhabitants of the Sahara are Mohammendans.

The commerce of the Sahara consists chiefly of gold, ostrich feathers, slaves, ivory, iron, and salt, exchanged for manufactured goods, and transported across the desert by great caravans, which follow lines uniting the greater cities and oases of the southern and northern borders.

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