Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter.
Tripoli of Barbary , February 14, 1873. (Rec’d March 17.)
Sir: In connection with the subject of my dispatches Nos. 27 and 32 I have now the honor to transmit, herewith inclosed, (inclosure No. 1,) the translation of the extract of an article published seventeen months ago in the Revue des Deux Mondes, in regard to the work and regeneration undertaken in Bulgaria by agents of the New York Bible Society. While the energy, tact, and devotion displayed by those agents cannot fail to elicit praise from all who have seen them at work, it is nevertheless to be regretted that so much sterling worth should be wasted, as it were, in the midst of a population which will never repay them for their many self-imposed sacrifices. I will not say that the Bulgarian heart could be properly compared to a wayside or a stony place, but it is, at best, a thorny field where the most sanguine husbandman cannot reasonably hope to see the good seed thrive in proportion to his care.
Either commercially or from a political or religious point of view, the United States can never expect to gather anything from what they may sow in Bulgaria, which is far inland, and may be considered as the core of the Turkish Empire in Europe.
It would not be so on the coast of Africa south of Tripoli. There is the large population of the nomadic Touaregs, who belong to the white race, but are not descendants of the Arabic invaders. They appear to be a fraction of the same Berben race which is supposed to be autochthonic on the northern coast of the continent, and which, retreating before the invading flood of the Saracens, took refuge partly in the fortress of the Algerian Atlas, and partly in the Saharic desert.
Those Touaregs, thanks to their superior physical, intellectual, and moral qualities, have, as it were, monopolized the carrying trade of the whole Soudan; and what that trade amounts to Christian nations have no adequate idea, on account of the many obstacles which their traders have heretofore found on their way from the sea to the interior. As nothing but gold-dust, ivory, gum, and ostrich-feathers was ever imported from that vast, mysterious region, it was erroneously concluded that it does not, and cannot, produce anything else, while the truth is that it could export any kind of grain, as well as cotton, wool, a variety of beautiful or useful woods, minerals, and so forth; but, on account of their bulk, [Page 1146] those articles are never carried across a desert which it takes from forty to sixty days to cross on a camel.
The city of Kouka, capital of the state of Bornou, is the emporium of an immense trade, and the oasis of Ghât, where they hold every fall a most important fair, which lasts from September till November, is situated midway between Tripoli and Bornou. Merchants start from all sections of Africa to attend that fair. One may see gathered at Ghât more than 30,000 camels at a time, come from Egypt, the regency of Tripoli, Morocco, Timbuctoo, and the whole Soudan. The longest road to reach that country is by way of Algiers, and the shortest one by Tripoli, as it has been acknowledged by such competent savans as Dr. Barth, Messrs. Richardson, Overweg, Vogel, De Beurmann, Henry Duveyrier, Gerhard Rohlfs, the French expedition of 1862, and the much-lamented Miss Tinné. There are two ways to reach Soudan from Tripoli. The traveler can go in a straight line hence to Mourzouk in the pashalic of Fezzan, which belongs to this regency, and thus find himself at the threshold of the Soudan region; but that way, dotted with very few oases, is the more fatiguing of the two. It was taken, nevertheless, by Vogel, and much later by Gerhard Rholfs. There is another way by Ghadamès and Ghât, which is much pleasanter, and was for that reason adopted in 1849 by Dr. Barth and his companions. Ghadamès belongs to this regency, and is the center of a very brisk trade with Soudan on one side and Tripoli on the other. At that place there is a branch line leading to Timbuctoo by way of Insalah. It was the road taken by Dr. Barth to reach Timbuctoo. As for that interesting youth in his teens, Henry Duveyrier, he started in 1859 from Algiers, went across the whole of Algeria back of the province of Constantine and Tunisia to. Ghadamès, thence to Ghât and Mourzouk, and he soon afterward reached Tripoli. Two years later a semi-military and semi-scientific expedition, organized under the patronage of the governor-general of Algeria, made Tripoli its starting-point, passed by Ghadamès, hence repaired to the mysterious city of Tougourt, visited Biskra, one of the French outposts in Algeria, and arrived successfully at Algiers after making with the Touaregs a written treaty, by virtue of which the latter took the engagement to convoy and protect the French caravans on their way to and from Soudan.
As for the commercial, political, and religious interest presented by those populations, I would first state that their consumption of English and French printed goods, French little mirrors, and Venetian glass beads is enormous; but in return they could not heretofore export anything more bulky than elephant-tusks and ostrich-feathers.
From the Mediterranean Sea to the Touareg country all nations submit more or less practically, these to the rule of the Emperor of Morocco, those to that of the governor-general of Algeria; the ones to the Bey of Tunis, and the others to the Bashaw of Tripoli. But further south, say after crossing the twenty-sixth parallel back of Tripoli, and the thirty-second back of the other regencies, I am inclined to think that every tribe has its chief, known by the title of Scheikh or Sheriff. With the exception of the Touaregs and the Kabyles of the French Tell, who, as I already stated, belong to the white Berber race, and are the descendants of the classical Numids, Libyans, or Moors, all those Africans belonging either to the pure Melanesian class or the Negroid population. In regard to the latter they are, thanks to polygamy, scattered in plenty everywhere, and I don’t think that there are among the million of inhabitants to be found in this regency, excluding, of course, the Jews as well as the Franks, one thousand men of pure Arabic [Page 1147] blood. Every variety of complexional dark hues is to be found among those negroid people, the same as is the case in our Southern States, with the exception that none of them, no matter how little negro blood they may have in their veins, have that fair complexion so general among the quadroons and octaroons of New Orleans.
Between the seventh and eleventh centuries the Moors, though greatly superior to the Arabs, could not resist the multitudinous invasion of the latter, and in the straggle they not only lost their autonomy and their language, but their religion too, the Touaregs not excepted, nor the negroes, with whose millions teem the interior of Africa. But the Koran creed, as understood by those ignorant people, is not what its founder meant it to be; for while they bow to Allah, they never fail, on every great occasion, to appeal to the intercession of heathenish evil geniuses. Either black or white the Mohan edans of this country are generally ignorant, indolent, dirty, cowardly, stupid, of a thievish and lying disposition, cringing before their Turkish rulers, and, in presence of Frankish consuls, hiding: under an apparent abjection the deep hatred and ferocious contempt which they nurse at the bottom of their hearts for all Nazarenes.
I must not pass by unnoticed a very interesting portion of the population of the coast. I mean the Jews, who, until quite recently, were more relentlessly persecuted and downtrodden in these regencies than anywhere else in the world. It had come to such a pass that it is only about ten years ago that they were allowed to ride on donkeys, don the Frankish garments, and wear a fez cap without a black turban. There are in the city of Tripoli alone about five thousand children of Israel, who are distinguished among their townsfolks by their industry and peculiar speculative genius. Feeling now that they are powerfully protected by the Rothschilds and other lordly Jews of London, Paris, and Germany, they begin to see that they may soon become a power in the state. They make money, buy land, eschew the Moorish costume and the polygamous customs, learn European languages, send their sons to Europe in order to be entitled to consular protection, and will, in a short time, be the most influential portion of the population.
Among the Franks in Tripoli the Maltese are the most numerous; next to them, but at a great distance in point of numbers, come the Italians. Both Maltese and Italians are priest-ridden, ignorant, superstitious, and have pretty much the same defects of soul and mind as the Mohamedans. The Maltese are nevertheless a hard-working people; and were they better trained, could become the most interesting population in this country. There are in Tripoli five Franciscan monks from Italy, and eight sisters of charity from France; the ones and the others under the protection of the French consul-general, and supported by contributions from the faithful in France, but I never heard that they succeeded in converting one single Jew or Moslem to the Christian faith. The ladies of charity take care of the sick of all creeds, all races; keep a free school, where they give a pretty good kind of intellectual food. As for the monks, save that they say mass to the faithful, they are of no use to the Christians.
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Having thus spoken of the people, I will in my next write as fullyas is possible to do about the city of Tripoli and its port.
I am, &c.,
- They have a fixed salary of 7,000 francs, besides their traveling and all other expenses that they may incur. There is a great difference between that affluence and the penury of the Catholic missionaries.↩