National Geographic : 1914 Jan
HERE AND THERE IN NORTHERN AFRICA The nostrils of the mehari are as sensi tive as those of a bull and the least pres sure of the rein insures obedience. The wives of the rich caids and sheiks travel on mehara and are hidden from the gaze of mankind by the curtains of ornate palanquins. The mehara are used entirely by the Arabs when on the war-path, or razzia. Arab friends have told me how caravans in the Sahara have gone many days' journey to reach a certain oasis, to find, on arriving, that the water had all been used by previous caravans and the springs dry. To run short of water half way across the Sahara is a very serious proposition, which the natives overcome by killing a djemel, or ordinary camel, and drinking its blood, after it has cooled and the froth at the top, which the Arabs claim is very poisonous, is skimmed off. The water found in the camel's stomach is also drunk, and, thanks to the blood and the water, the caravan can continue to an oasis further on, where springs of water are found. A TERRIBLE CUSTOMII A terrible custom used to prevail among certain tribes of the Sahara. Be fore starting on a razzia, or war-path, old camels of not much value were kept from drinking as long as possible, and just be fore starting out were allowed to drink their fill; then, according to the Arabs, their tongues were cut or torn out. I think I misunderstood their words. They may have meant that certain nerves or tendons were cut. Without the use of these tendons of the tongue it was im possible for the camels to use the water in their stomachs, but they could live for a long time. When drink and meat were needed, one or two of these camels were slaughtered, the flesh eaten, and the wa ter and blood drunk. When the camels were killed, the horses are said to have pawed the ground in their eagerness to eat some of the fresh meat. I have never witnessed this cruel treatment of the camels, nor the conduct of the horses, however, and can not vouch for the truthfulness of these statements, but some French generals of my acquaintance have ccnfirmed them. Living or dead, a camel is wealth to its master. To the Arabs of the Sahara a camel is like a reindeer to the Lap landers. Living, it carries the tents and provisions. It fears neither hunger, thirst, nor heat; its hair makes their tents (gourbis) and bernouses; the milk of the female nourishes rich and poor, enriches the dates, and fattens the horses. Its skin makes water-bottles (mezad) in which water never becomes cloudy from the action of wind or sun, and shoes and boots with which one can tread without danger on a viper, and protect the feet from the terrible burns made by the sands of the desert when one is bare footed. A mehari on the war-path can save three men. Two ride it and the third takes hold of its tail and is pulled along. The latter changes places with the riders at intervals. When a war-party has lost so many camels that there remains but one camel for every three men, it always retreats. Mehara are usually fawn-colored, with soft, intelligent eyes. They have pointed ears like a gazelle's. Their chests are very well developed, and they have a small girth, almost like that of a grey hound. Their slender legs bulge with muscles as hard as steel. There is not a pound of superfluous flesh on the entire body. When at full speed a mehari has a most remarkable single-foot or pacing step, the motion of which is not at all disagreeable, and it can cover quite easily Ioo miles in a day without undue fatigue. The feet of camels and mehara act on the sand like snowshoes on snow. They spread out and prevent the animal from sinking in too deeply. Camels, and me hara especially, prefer the soft sand to traveling on macadamized roads. The camel is the only animal I know of that eats esparto grass as it grows. Horses, mules, and donkeys are very fond of it when it has been made into hay, but they would die of starvation rather than eat it green. Camels also eat the leaves of the prickly pear, thorns and all.