1902 Encyclopedia > Fezzan

Fezzan




FEZZAN (the ancient Phazania, or country of the Gara-mantes), a country of the Sahara region of North Africa, forming a " kaimakamlik " of the Ottoman vilayet of Tri-poli, extends 390 miles N. to S. from the town of Bonjem, lat. 30° 40' N., to Bir Omah, on the route from Murzuk to Bornu, in lat. 24° 10' N. ; and 420 miles E. to W. from the Akakus Mountains near Ghat in long. 10° 30' W. to the village of Wau-Squair in long. 18° 20' W. Its ill-defined limits run from Bonjem, within 50 miles of the Mediterranean on the north, south-westward by the Bir-el-Hassi to the Akakus range east of Ghat, thence east-ward to the Bir Omah south of the village of Tejerri, from that to Wau-Squair or Wau-Namus at its south-eastern corner, and thence northward past Zella to Bonjem, em-bracing an area of about 156,000 English square miles, or nearly three times the extent of England.

The general form of the country is determined by the ranges of hills called the Jebel-es-S6da or Black Mountain, and the Haruj-el-Aswad or Black Haruj, which cross it along the parallel of 28° N., forming the northern edge of a broad desert plateau and the water-parting of the Mediterranean drainage slope, and shutting off the northern region from the depressions in which lie the oases of Fezzan proper in the south.

The Jebel-es-S6da is described by M. Duveyrier as an isolated volcanic mass in the midst of a hammada or bare desert plateau of white limestone. Its length E. to W. is about 170 miles. At a point near the pass by which M. Duveyrier crossed it, a summit reaches a height of 2415 feet; where Rohlfs (Quer durch Afrika, Leipsic, 1874) passed over it between Tripoli and Murzuk he found its height to be 2982 feet. The volcanic mass of the Haruj continues the line of the Soda in a S.E. direction for about 150 miles, and is crossed obliquely by the caravan routes from Fezzan to Egypt. Where Von Beurmann crossed the Haruj on the route from Zella to Murzuk he estimates its height at 1660 feet. The plateau of which these ranges mark the northern edge appears to be a continua-tion of the great desert plateau of Tripoli called the Ham-mada-el-Homra, and to have a general width of about 70 miles ; where it is crossed on the western route over the Soda it is described as shingly broken table-land, scattered over with large sandstone blocks; in the neigh-bourhood of the Haruj on the east it presents a series of ridges running in different directions 8 to 12 feet above the intermediate land. The wadis or periodically filled rain-channels which drain northward from these heights are for the most part tributaries of the Wadi-Um-el-Cheil, which is called Wadi Bel where it opens on the coast of the greater Syrtis, and of the Wadi Tamet east of the former.

The southern edge of the plateau behind the Soda descends to the Wadi-e-Shati running east and west; then follows a latitudinal belt of about 70 miles in average width, occupied by the sand dunes of Edeyen1 which run across the frontier from the north of the Tuareg plateau in the west, and in the east by Serir, the name applied to districts which differ from the hammada or true plateaus, in being less elevated and everywhere covered with coarse gravel or rounded water-worn stones, in contrast to the sharply broken blocks scattered on the higher table-lands. To this follows south-ward the narrower belt called the Hammada of Murzuk, of inconsiderable elevation, marked out on the north side by the Amsak ridge which falls to the Wadi-el-Gharbi and its continuation the Wadi-e-Sherki at its base, and which descends on the south to the line of Ilofra, or slight depressions in which lie the oasis groups of Murzuk, Zuila, and Wau. Along the northern side of the Wadi-e-Sherki and Wadi-el-Gharbi, about 60 miles N.W. of Murzuk, lie the celebrated Trona lakes of Fezzan, which were first described by Dr Vogel. They are situated in a desert of drift sand in which the camels sink up to their bellies ; one of them, the Bahr-el-Daud (Dauda = " worm "), contains the remarkable shrimp noticed below. In general the surface of Fez-zan does not vary greatly in elevation ; its numerous wadis do not lie'much below the level of the Serir; the height of Murzuk, for example, is estimated by Rohlfs at 1804 feet, or little below the general level of the hammada in the north.

Climate.—The average temperature of Murzuk was found by Rohlfs to be 70° F., or 6° lower than that of Ghadames on the borders of western Tripoli. This difference he accounts for by the greater winter cold, for the heat of summer is probably greater here than in Tripoli ; and his meteorological tables show such low temperatures as 25° F. at sunrise on the 20th of December, or 23° F. on the 30tb of January, the thermometer having fallen belowthe freezing point 24 times within three months. As in all the rest of the desert, the climate is a very regular one, and is in general healthy, the dryness of the air in summer making the heat more bearable than on the sea coast, where the moisture of the atmosphere hinders evaporation from the skin. Although Fezzan does not lie within the zone of the tropical rains, and scarcely touches the limit of the winter rains supplied by the Mediterranean, it is visited at rare intervals by showers from the south. An almost per-petual blue sky overhangs the desert, and the people of Fezzan are so unaccustomed to and so ill-prepared for wet weather that, as in Tuat and Tidikelt, they pray to be spared from rain. They are not dependent upon it, for water is found almost everywhere at small depths, and little trouble is required to draw it from wells worked by men or camels for the purposes of irrigation; the palm groves, indeed, require no artificial watering, since their roots strike deep enough to reach the water-bearing stratum.

Products.—In the oases and cultivated spots of Fezzan there are generally five grain harvests in the year: in the winter months wheat and barley are sown, and in spring, summer, and autumn the various kinds of durra, especially ksob and gafoli. Ksob, first sown in March, is planted and reaped four times successively, although the last harvest in December does not ripen, so that it is used only as fodder for cattle. From year's end to year's end all kirfds of vegetables could be produced, but only a few sorts, such
; as melons and cucumbers in summer, turnips and tubers in autumn, beans in winter, &c, are grown. Among other cultivated plants are tobacco (small and bad) and cotton,, The latter flourishes, is perennial for six or seven years, and gives large pods of moderate length of staple. Olives, "Edeyen" in Temahagsignifies dunes.—Duveyrier. figs, and almonds are the chief fruits, besides the date, which is the great wealth of the land. The number of sorts of date-palm found in the oases is very large: in that of Murzuk alone more than 30 varieties are counted, the most esteemed being named the Tillis, Tuati, and Auregh. In all Fezzan the date is the staple food, not only for men, but for camels, horses, and dogs. Even the stones of the fruit are softened and given to the cattle. The huts of the poorer classes are entirely made of date-palm leaves, and the more substantial habitations consist chiefly of the same material. The produce of the tree is small, 100 full-grown trees yielding only about 40 cwts. of dates, worth about 30s. at Murzuk, and about four times that sum at Tripoli. They may generally be preserved about two years.

Domestic animals include only the camel (in two varieties, the Tebu or Sudan camel and the Arabian, differing very much in size, form, and capabilities), domestic fowls, and pigeons,—for the few horses, perhaps 50 in all Fezzan, and the miserable cattle, sheep, and goats imported, scarcely deserve mention. There are no large carnivora in Fezzan ; even the hyena and jackal are absent. In the uninhabited oases gazelles and antelopes are occasionally found, but they are by no means abundant. Among birds are sparrows, swallows, ravens, falcons, and vultures ; in summer wild pigeons and ducks are numerous, but in winter they seek a warmer climate. There are no remarkable insects or snakes. A species of Arteinia or brine shrimp, about a quarter of an inch in length, of a colour resembling the bright hue of the gold fish, is fished for with cotton nets in the Bahr-el-Daud before noticed, and, mixed with dates and kneaded into a paste, which has the taste and smell of salt herring, is considered a luxury by the people of Fezzan.





People.—The inhabitants of Fezzan are undoubtedly a mixed people, derived from the surrounding Teda and Bornu on the south, Tuareg of the plateaus on the west, Berbers and Arabs from the north. In colour the people vary from black to pure white, but the prevailing hue of skin is a Malay-like yellow, the features and woolly hair being negro. The chief languages in use in Fezzan are, first, the Kamiri or Bornu language, which is spoken by little children before they learn Arabic, and, secondly, Arabic itself. Many understand Targish, the Teda, and Haussa languages. If among such a mixed people there can be said to be any national language, it is that of Bornu, which is most widely understood and spoken. The people of Sokna, north of the Jebel-es-S6da, have a peculiar Berber dialect which Rohlfs found to be very closely allied to that of Ghadames. The natives of Fezzan are mild and con-ciliatory. As soon as one has passed the frontier of their country there is no more need to fear robbers; and this is the more remarkable since Tebus, who bear a thievish character in their own country, are very numerous. The men wear a haik or barakan like those of Tripoli, and a fez ; short hose, and a large loose shirt called mansaria, with red or yellow slippers, complete their toilet. Yet one often sees the large blue or white lobe of Sudan and Bornu, and the litham or shawl-muffler of the Tuareg, wound round the mouth to keep out the blown sand of the desert. The women, who so long as they are young have very plump forms, and who are generally small, are more simply dressed, as a rule, in the barakan, wound round their bodies ; they seldom wear shoes, but generally have sandals made of palm leaf. Like the Arab women they load arms and legs with heavy metal rings, which are of silver among the more wealthy; a single one of these rings sometimes weighs a French pound. The hair, thickly greased with butter, soon catching the dust, which forms a crust over it, is done up in numberless little plaits round the head, in the same fashion as in Bornu and Haussa. Little children run about naked until they attain the age of puberty, which comes very early, for mothers of ten or twelve years of age are not uncommon. Morality is at a very low stage, and the Fezzanians live a careless and happy life : every even-ing the sounds of music and dancing are heard.

The greater number live in huts of palm leaves, which are set up in the simplest manner; sometimes there is a small outer hut, which is plastered outside with mud, and serves a3 a winter dwelling ; the two are then surrounded by a little palm fence. Towns, like the capital Murzuk, are either built of stone or of lumps of earth, as these may be convenient to the site, but beyond the town wall nothing is to be seen but palm huts.

The houses are generally one-floored, and have one or two rooms ; sometimes there is a little courtyard ; all are windowless, and have only a low doorway. Dates, as has been already noticed, form the staple food, and camels' flesh is only eaten in the towns. In Murzuk, on an average, three camels are slaughtered every day, with one sheep and one goat, which serve for the whole population without and within the walls of about 8000.
With regard to the numbers of the population of Fezzan the estimates of various travellers, in the absence of any trustworthy data, are widely different. Hornemann gives 70,000 to 75,000, Richardson only 26,000, Vogel 54,000. Rohlfs, who visited Fezzan at a prosperous period in 1865, believes the number 200,000 to be a moderate estimate ; but Eachtigal, in 1870, thinks the whole population cannot exceed 40,000.

Government.—Fezzan is governed by a kaimakam or lieu-tenant-governor, under the governor of the vilayet, province, or regency of Tripoli. At the time of Rohlfs's visit, the twelve mudirates or districts into which it had formerly been divided had been reduced to seven, but the Government was on the point of restoring the twelve districts, and of marking out their limits more distinctly. These districts are those of Bonjem, Sokna, Shati, Temenhint, Sebha, Wadi Sherki, Wadi Gharbi, Hofra, Sherguia, Zella, Rhodua, and Gatron. All the mudirs are appointed by the kaimakam of Fezzan, and deposed by him, if he should see fit, with-out reference to the mushir of Tripoli. The government is like that of the other Turkish provinces, practically abso-lute—for the will of the kaimakam or the mudir is law— although in form constitutional, since a mijelis or council, in most cases only imaginary, is supposed to have a voice in the legislature.

Although the inhabited parts of Fezzan are naturally rich and fertile, the Turkish Government shows little skill in taking advantage of its resources. Under the most favourable circumstances the direct revenue of the country amounts to about 800,000 piastres, or about £72,000. Besides this, however, the Government receives a large sum from the sale of dates. Round Murzuk alone the number of palm trees belonging to the Government is reckoned by Rohlfs at a million. The direct receipts serve to salary the officials, including the kaimakam and the troops, who, however, are not very regularly paid. Except it may be a present of slaves or other articles sent by the kaimakam, not a farthing passes to Tripoli or Constantinople. On the contrary, all clothing, arms, even provisions, such as rice, sugar, and coffee for the soldiers, come from Tripoli or Stamboul. At the time of M. Duveyrier's visit the garrison of Murzuk consisted of 250 men of the regular Ottoman army (redif), nearly all natives of Fezzan or negroes. At a later date Rohlfs found a garrison of 500 men.

Trade.—The commerce of Fezzan is unimportant, and has never been great. The country serves as a depot or middle station between Bornu and its surrounding negro states in the south and Tripoli and Egypt in the north, the caravan routes between these countries passing through it and centring at Murzuk. In later times the slave trade seems rather to have increased than diminished: the slaves are partly sent on to be sold in Tripoli and Tunis, partly by Aujila towards Egypt. The whole number that pass northward by the main caravan route from Kuka in Bornu is estimated at 10,000 annually.

Towns.—Murzuk, the present capital, lies in the western corner of the Hofra depression, in lat. 25° 55' N. and long. 14° 10' E. It was founded about 1310. One of the earliest buildings was the kasbah in the west of the town. The Turks have restored it as well as the wall of the town, which forms almost a perfect square. The town is cut in two by a wide street, the dendal, with shops on each side, which open at each end to the chief gates. The popula-tion within its walls is estimated by Rohlfs at 3000, excluding the garrison of 500 men; with its extra-mural huts it may have 8000 inhabitants. In its main streets a busy market is held in which provisions, meat, bread, and vegetables are bought; but it is insignificant in com-parison with some of the other markets of the Sahara, such as that of Abuam in Tafilet. There are two Turkish coffee-houses which are busily frequented. Sokna, about midway between Tripoli and Murzuk, situated on a great gravel plain north of the Soda range, seems to stand next to Murzuk in point of importance. Its population was estimated by Vogel at 2500. The other noteworthy centres of population are—Zuila and Temissa, on the route towards Egypt, E.N.E. of Murzuk; Germa, or Djerma, a walled place in the Wadi Sherki, 70 miles N.W. of Murzuk, near which was the ancient capital of Garama, which gave its name to the nation of the Garamantes; Gatron (1000 inhabitants) and Tejerri on the southern route towards Bornu, the latter being the frontier castle round which a village of low mud huts has grown up; Sebha in its oasis 90 miles N.N.E. of Murzuk; Fughaa on the plateau S.W. of the Haruj-el-Aswad; and Zella at the northern base of that range.

History.—The group of oases in the south of the present country of Fezzan represents the ancient Phazania, which has had for its capitals at successive periods Germa or Djerma under the Garamantes, Garama under the Romans, Traghen under the Nesur, Zuila under the conquering Arabs, and Murzuk under the dynasty of Uled Mohammed, under Abd-el-Jelil, and under the Turks. The capital of the Garamantes is found under the name of Djerma-el-Kedima, south of the modern Djerma (N.W. of Murzuk), in a sort of bay formed by the hill edge of Amsak. The capital under the Nesiir is represented still by the ruins of the ancient castle of Trftghen (40 miles E. of Murzuk). Of the Garama of the Romans there remains now only one well-preserved monument, which is depicted in M. Duveyrier's work (Les Touaregs du Nord, Paris, 1864) situated amid ruins to the south of modern Djerma. Zuila, the Arab capital, remains as the chief place of the depression called the Sherguia, east of the Murzuk, through which the most direct Egyptian route leads. Tradition and history are in accord in representing the most ancient in-habitants of the oases to have been the Berauna, a name under which the Arabs group the negroes of Bornu as well as the Tebu. The oldest dynasty of the Berauna was that of the Nesur, originally from the Sudan. Its kings reigned at Traghen, and were long in power before they were conquered and dethroned by an Arab tribe, that of Khorman, who reduced the people of Fezzan to a state of slavery. During this period of bondage, a sherif of Morocco, Sid-el-Monteser-uld-ilohammed by name, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, passed through Fezzan. Yielding to the supplications of the people, on his return from the sacred city, he gathered a force of devotees and set out to liberate the Fezzanians. He defeated and expelled the Khorman Arabs, and, being elected sultan, founded the dynasty of Uled Mohammed. This dynasty, which reigned for about 550 years, advanced the interests of the country, and gradually extended its borders as far as Sokna in the north. The last of these sultans was killed in the vicinity of Traghen in 1811 by El-Mukkeni, one of the lieutenants of Yousef-Pasha, the last sovereign of the independent Karamanli dynasty of Tripoli. El-Mukkeni now made himself sultan of Fezzan, and became notorious by his slaving expeditions into Nigritia, in which he advanced as far as Borgu, the Bahr-el-ghazal, and Bagirmi. In .1831, after the lieutenant of the Karamanli had reigned for 20 years, Abd-el-Jelil, the celebrated chief of the Uled-Sliman Arabs, usurped the sovereign authority, and held it for ten years, during which time he maintained a contest which kept all Fezzan in a ferment. In 1841, Tripoli having meanwhile been erected into a province of the Ottoman empire, Bakir Bey was sent at the head of a column of troops to subjugate Fezzan. A battle took place at El-Bagla, not far from the sea, in which Abd-el-Jelil was slain, and soon after this Fezzan was made a kaimakamlik of the Ottoman empire.

From 1811 onward there is no doubt about the facts above enumerated. Previous to 1811, the documents preserved by the marabouts of Traghen show that the dynasty of Uled-Mohammed occupied the throne of Fez-zan for many centuries; but the date of its establishment, 1261, is perhaps questionable. M. Duveyrier adduces a number of proofs to show that the Berauna above men-tioned were identical with the Garamantes, so that it becomes almost a matter of certainty that at a very ancient date a negro civilization prevailed over the northern Sahara; and that this was very far advanced for its time is shown by the remains of remarkable hydraulic works, by tombs of distinct character, and by rock sculptures which record the chief facts of their history.

The most notable of the European travellers who have visited Fezzan, and to whose works the student is referred for more detailed information regarding it, are, taking them in the order of date, as follows :—Hornemann, 1798; Lyon, 1819 ; Denham, Clapperton, and Oudney, 1822; Richardson, 1845; Barth, 1850-55; Vogel, 1854; Duveyrier, 1859-1861; Von Beurmann, 1862; Rohlfs, 1865; ISTachtigal, 1870. (K. J.)







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