Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

submerge land which would otherwise be available for cultivation; and thus, so far from being a benefit to the country, it becomes an injury to it, besides which, whenever water is allowed to stagnate in Egypt, it infiltrates for some distance beyond its margin, and the effect is to cause the saline qualities in the soil to rise to the surface. Owing to this double process of submergence and infiltration, it is calculated that about 10,000 acres which would otherwise have been available for sugar, belonging to the Daira Sanieh alone, are practically lost. There can be no doubt that an immense tract of land could be reclaimed from the lake without very much difficulty, which would in the first instance be available for rice, and by degrees become fit for cane. More cane-land is much wanted; for as it is, the sugar-factory can scarcely be made to pay its expenses, owing to the want of a sufficient quantity of cane, and in some years it works at a loss. At Masserah Edouddah, about three hours from Aboukser, there is a large sugar-factory which is permanently closed owing to this cause. Altogether, there are 76,000 acres of land in the Fayoum belonging to the Daira Sanieh, which might be largely improved by a more careful rotation of crops, and increased by reclaiming land from the lake, and which no doubt is capable of being made a magnificent and profitable property. Besides the sugar-mill already alluded to at Masserah, there is a fine cotton-oil mill and gin at Edsa, not far from Medinet el Fayoum, which has not worked for two years; and also one at Tamyeh, on the north-eastern margin of the province, which is also standing idle. No doubt, under the improved system which is being introduced by the Commission that now administers the Daira Sanieh, the productive capacity of the property in the Fayoum will be largely increased. There are also 46,000 acres belonging to the department of the Domaines; so that altogether there are I 22,000 acres of Government land in this province alone, the revenues of which are hypothecated to foreign creditors. About half a mile from the factory, towards the lake, is a grove of date-trees overshadowing a house of unusual pretensions for this part of the country. I was introduced to the proprietor of it, and found to my surprise that he was the head sheikh of all the Bedouin Arabs an both sides of the lake. The idea of a Bedouin sheikh living like a civilised being in a large whitewashed two-storeyed house was entirely new to me. He had fortunately not yet adopted a white waistcoat and lavender-coloured gloves, but retained his native garb in all its picturesqueness, which, however, was composed of the most costly material. His handsome Arab horse was gorgeously caparisoned, the bridle mounted with solid silver; and his groom carried an old-fashioned rifle richly inlaid. Though a man evidently mindful of the effect of external show, and somewhat of a “buck” in his personal attire, he retained under all circumstances an attitude of the most calm and dignified politeness; and it was impossible to judge from the imperturbable repose of his handsome features what was passing in his mind. He was a man about fifty years old, exercised a controlling influence over the Arab tribes for many miles round, and was possessed of great wealth, not merely in flocks and herds, but in land. The object of his visit to the factory on the occasion when I saw him was to be present at a dispute between some Arabs and some sellahin, the nature of which also helps to illustrate how rapidly the introduction of the appliances of civilisation tends to change the habits of the wild sons of the desert. The whole party came up and argued their case in the presence of the Moufettish, whose guest I had become, for the governor had returned to Medinet. On the one side were a group of fella/in, the bloody shirt of one suggesting that he had got the worst of a recent scuffle ; on the other, in marked contrast to these, with their haughty and defiant demeanour, stood four minor Arab sheikhs, all strikingly handsome men, with flowing affeis, and creamy-white herames. Between these angry disputants was seated the Moufettish, and at his side the chief sheikh, whose rich apparel and impassive demeanour I have already described. The villagers, it appeared, had contracted with the Moufettish to cut a certain amount of sugar-cane in a given time, and had engaged a number of Bedouins to supply camels, and otherwise assist in carrying out the operation, —making, in fact, a sub-contract with them, to which it was complained that they had not

adhered, and had even beaten those who
ventured to expostulate. The quarrel turned
upon the amount and nature of the work
which practically had been divided between
them, and I failed to follow its intricacies
sufficiently to know who were in the right
—probably the fella/min, but certainly, when
Bedouin Arabs enter into contracts for har-
vesting cane for a steam sugar-factory, a
change is coming over the spirit of their
dream. To watch the eager and almost
ferocious expression of their countenances as
they argued their case with “beastly bellow-
ings” and wild gesticulations, it was evident
that it would take a long course of peaceful
avocations before the change went beyond
the spirit of the dream to the spirit of the
man. I afterwards visited one of their en-
campments, where the usual tents were sup-
plemented with huts and enclosures made of
straw and cane - leaves; but they retained,
nevertheless, their general gipsy and nomadic
aspect.
On my return journey to Medinet the fol-
lowing day, I had the divaned waggon all to
myself, and we reversed the operation of our

[ocr errors][graphic][graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »