1902 Encyclopedia > Caravan


CARAVAN, or to write it more correctly, KARA WAN, is a Persian word, adopted into the later Arabic vocabulary, but rarely employed in speech and never in writing within the limits of Arabia proper, where other designations of strictly Arabic origin such as " Rikb" (assembled riders) or " Kafileh" (wayfaring band) are in ordinary use.
In common acceptance, then, throughout Syria, Meso-potamia, and Asiatic Turkey generally, besides Persia, a caravan denotes a body of peaceable citizens, merchants, salesmen, and the like, travelling together on business for some considerable distance. The principal reasons which in the Asiatic region induce people of this class thus to unite for their journeys, and that in as large numbers as practicable, are, firstly, the greater security thus insured, or at least expected, against robbers, and in particular against marauding parties of Bedouins, Kurds, Tartars, and the like, whose grazing-grounds the proposed route may traverse; and, secondly, mutual assistance in the matter of provisions, water, and so forth. Bad government, or not rarely the absence of any government whatever, necessitates the first precaution; want of inns, baiting-places, and perhaps of habitations altogether, the second. It should also be remembered that no roads, in the European sense of the word, but merely tracks, and those difficult and often interrupted, exist throughout Asiatic Turkey and Persia generally,—a fact that speaks badly for the " Public Works Department" in both empires. These conditions having existed more or less from time imme-morial in the major part of Western Asia, and still existing, caravans always have been in that part of the world, and still are the principal means for conveying merchandize from one commercial centre to another.
In these companies camels are most generally employed for the transport of heavy goods, especially where the track, like that between Damascus and Baghdad, for example, lies across level, sandy, and arid districts. The camels are harnessed in strings of fifty and more at a time, a hair-rope connecting the rear of one beast with the head of another; the leader is gaily decorated with party-coloured trappings, tassels, and bells; an unladen ass precedes the file, for luck, say some, for guidance, say others—a not inappropriate allusion to human affairs in general. Where the route is rocky and steep, as that between Damascus and Aleppo, mules, or even asses, are used for burdens. The wealthier individuals of the party accompany it, where possible, on horseback. Every man carries arms ; but these are in truth more for show than for use, and are commonly flung away in the presence of any serious robber-attack; of wild beasts there is little danger, none of formidable size or disposition existing in the Levantine East. Should greater peril than ordinary be anticipated from Bedouins or the like, the protection of a company of soldiers is habitually pre-engaged,—an expen-sive, and ordinarily a useless adjunct. A leader or director, called " Karawan-Bashi" (headman), or, out of com-pliment, " Karawan-Seraskier" (general), both terms of Perso-Turkish composition, but most often simply desig-nated as " Re'is" (chief), is before starting appointed by common consent. His duties are those of general manager, spokesman, arbitrator, and so forth; his remuneration indefinite. But in the matter of sales or purchases, either on the way or at destination, each member of the caravan manages as best he can for himself.
The number of camels or mules in a single caravan varies from forty or so up to six hundred and more; sometimes, as on the reopening of a long-closed route, it reaches a thousand. The movements of caravans are chiefly regulated by the seasons,—the summer and early autumn, when the heat is at its fiercest and water scarce, being, when possible, avoided, as also, though for opposite reasons, the brief but severe cold of a Levantine winter. Hence the ordinary caravan-seasons are the months of spring, early summer, and later autumn. Friday, in ac-cordance with a recommendation made in the Koran itself, is the favourite day for setting out, the most auspicious hour being that immediately following noonday prayer. The first day's march never does more than just clear the starting-point by a couple of miles, or thereabouts. Sub-sequently each day's route is divided into two stages,—the first being from 3 or 4 A.M. to about 10 in the forenoon; a halt follows, then travelling is resumed between 2 and 3 P.M. and continued till 6, or even 8 in the evening. Thus the time passed daily on the road averages from ten to twelve hours, and, as the ordinary pace of a laden camel does not exceed 2 miles an hour, that of a mule being 2|, it follows that a distance varying from 23 to 28 miles is gone over every marching day. But prolonged halts of two, three, four, and even more days are often interpolated, as business, fatigue, or fear of danger may suggest.
The hours of halt, start, and movement, the precise lines of route, and the selection or avoidance of particular localities are determined by common consent and the necessity of acting in concert, influences to which the "Reis" himself, apart from his personal recommendations, is indebted for whatever authority he may possess. But if, as sometimes happens, the services of a professional guide, or those of a military officer have been engaged, their will has to be deferred to in such matters. Indeed many a caravan has been plundered, or even totally destroyed, through the treachery of a hired guide. Part-nership may unite interests in the East, but paid hire more certainly disunites them,—a hint worth a traveller's re membrance. While the caravan is on its way, the five stated daily prayers are, within certain limits, anticipated, deferred, or even curtailed, so as the better to coincide with the regular and necessary halts,—a practice authorized by the most orthodox Mahometan custom and tradition.
Two caravans, the one of Ishmeelites, probably " Must"

arebs," or semi-Syro-Arabs of early times, to whom also Joseph was sold, the other of Midianites, or natives of the Hawran district, are mentioned in Genesis ch. xxxvii.; the route on which they were passing seems to have coin-cided with that nowadays travelled by Syrian caravans on their way to Egypt. Other allusions to caravans may be found in the Hebrew records, e.g., in the book of Job, in Isaiah, and in the Psalms. Eastern literature is, of course, full of mention of them.
The yearly pilgrim-bands, bound from various quarters of the Mahometan world to their common destination Mecca, are sometimes, but inaccurately, styled by European writers caravans; their proper designation is " Hajj," a collective word for pilgrimages and pilgrims. Some description of them may however not unsuitably find a place here.
The two principal pilgrim-caravans, or " Hajj," start yearly, the one from Damascus, or, to speak more exactly, from Mozareeb, a village station three days' journey to the south of the Syrian capital, the other from Cairo in Egypt. This latter is joined on its route, near Akabah of the Red Sea, by the Moghrebee, or North African " Hajj," collected from Tripoli, Marocco, and Tunis; the former gathers up bands from Anatolia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Besides these a third, but smaller " Hajj" of Persians, chiefly sets out from Sook-esh-Sheyoukh, in the neighbour-hood of Meshed Alee, on the lower Euphrates ; a fourth of Negroes, Nubians, Darfurees, &c, unites at Yembo on the Hejaz coast, whither they have crossed from Koseyr in Upper Egypt; a fifth of Indians and Malays, centres at Jiddah; a sixth and seventh, of southern or eastern Arabs arrive, the former from Yemen, the latter from Nejd.
The Syrian " Hajj " is headed by the Pasha of Damascus, either in person or by a vicarious official of high rank, and is further accompanied by the " Sorrah Ameer," or " Guardian of the Purse," a Turkish officer from Constanti-nople, charged with the imperial contribution to the expense of the route, but chiefly with presents, or, to put it more truly, black mail, for the benefit of the independent Arab tribes, through whose lands the wayfarers must pass. The Egyptian company is commanded by an "Ameer," or ruler, appointed by the Cairene Government, and is accompanied by the famous " Mahmal," or sacred pavilion. The other bands above mentioned have each their own " Ameer," besides their " Mekowwams " or agents, whose business it is to see after provisions, water, and the like, and are not seldom encumbered with a numerous retinue of servants and other attendants. Lastly, a considerable force of soldiery, one, two, or more regiments strong, accompanies both the Syrian and the Egyptian "Hajj."
No guides properly so called attend these pilgrim-caravans, the routes followed being invariably the same, and well known. But Bedouin bands generally offer themselves by way of escort, and not seldom designedly lead their clients into the identical dangers from which they bargained to keep them safe. This they are the readier to do that, in addition to the personal luxuries with which many of the pilgrims provide themselves for the journey, a large amount of wealth, both in merchandize and coins, is habitually to be found among the travellers, who, in accordance with Mahometan tradition, consider it not merely lawful but praiseworthy to unite mercantile speculation with religious duty. Nor has any one, the Pasha himself or the Ameer and the military, when present, excepted, any acknowledged authority or general control in the pilgrim-caravans; nor is there any orderly subdivision of management of service. The pilgrims do, indeed, often coalesce in companies among themselves for mutual help, but necessity, circumstance, or caprice governs all details, and thus it happens that numbers, sometimes as many as a third of the entire
"Hajj," yearly perish by their own negligence or by misfortune,—dying, some of thirst, others of fatigue and sick-ness, others by robbers on the way. In fact the principal routes are in many places lined for miles together with the bones of camels and men.
The numbers which compose these pilgrim-caravans are much exaggerated by popular rumour; yet it is certain that the Syrian and Egyptian sometimes amount to 5000 each, with twenty-five or thirty thousand camels in train. Large supplies of food and water have to be carried, the more so at times that the pilgrim season, following as it does the Mahometan calendar, which is lunar, falls for years together in the very hottest season, though, indeed, the Hejaz portion of the route is always hot enough even in winter. Hence, too, the journey is usually accomplished by night marches, the hours being from 3 to 4 P.M. to 6 or 7 A.M. of the following day. Torches are lighted on the road; the pace is slower than that of an ordinary caravan, and does not exceed two miles an hour.
For the ceremonial and religious peculiarities of these
pilgrim-caravans, or " Hajj," see Burckhardt's Travels in
Arabia, and Lane's Modem Egyptians, cc. xxiv. and xxv.
In other respects the " Hajj" does not differ materially
from an ordinary caravan, and it is from this point of view
that it finds place in the present notice. (W. G. P.)

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