National Geographic : 1934 Jun
AN UNBELIEVER JOINS THE HADJ On the Age-Old Pilgrimage to Mecca, Babies Are Born, Elders Die, and Families May Halt a Year to Earn Funds in Distant Lands BY OWEN TWEEDY With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author N INFALLIBLE method to insure original and unorthodox travel is to imagine the world a plate and one self a tiny globule of mercury on it. Then let the plate tilt itself, and the oddest and the jolliest things do happen! I had just arrived in Khartoum and my host, a prosperous Arab cultivator on the vast cotton fields of the Gezira, was enter taining me in his mud and wattle abode, which at first sight, with its tall, pointed, straw-thatched roof, reminded me of a mammoth candle-extinguisher of my Vic torian youth. He was keenly interested in my travels. "And where are you going next?" he asked. I had no fixed plans and told him so; then he tilted the plate and I, the tiny globule of mercury, was off. "Why not join the pilgrims?" he said. "You are on the Pilgrimage Road, the Darb el-Hadj (Haj), across Africa and over the Red Sea to the Holy Cities. Join them. They are travelers like you-good travel ers; and from them you will learn much." "But I am an Unbeliever." He smiled. "Maybe," he said; "so of course you will not reach their goal. But you can share their spirit of the road; for, although for us Moslems the Hadj, or Pil grimage, is a supreme religious duty, it is also, and in fact primarily, a memorable his torical pageant, which is annually staged to keep alive in the minds of the True Be lievers the memories of the important events of the past. "Your companions of the road will tell you all about it. How, after the expulsion from Eden, Adam again met Eve at 'Arafat, outside Mecca. How, later, Abraham came there with Hagar and Ishmael, and even tually rebuilt the Kaaba which covers the great Black Stone, which is the center of the town. How Hagar, when Ishmael was dying of thirst, discovered the miraculous well of Zamzam (Zemzem). And how, later, near by at Mina, Abraham was spared the horror of the sacrifice of his son by the timely discovery of the ram caught by his horns in the thicket. "All that is as much history for you as it is for us Moslems. The pity is that, though you will take the Pilgrims' Way, you cannot tour these holy sites with them and enjoy their full delight. That pleasure is ours alone." He sighed and was silent for a while. Then, "A real pity," he ruminated, "for you would make a good Moslem." EBONY PILGRIMS PAUSE TO PICK COTTON Later I went out with him into his cultiva tion. The day's cotton had been picked and was being packed by a team of coal-black Negroes for dispatch in huge jute sacks hung high on a gallowslike frame (p. 764). "You see these packers," he said. "They are also pilgrims working their way east to the Holy Cities. Some are from Senegal, others from Nigeria, others from Lake Chad and the Congo. They and their families have been, maybe, three years on the road, and it will be perhaps three more years before they attain their goal. Thousands yearly stop here a while for the harvest, to replenish their purses for the road ahead. And then one day they are gone-gone into the east to Mecca, and next season others will drift in out of the west to take their place. The lure of pilgrimage is very real and very strong." Ten days later I, too, had faded away into the east. The lure of pilgrimage had been too strong for me, the tiny globule of mercury. My road lay to Kassala, on the Sudan border, east of Khartoum, and from there I purposed to work through the mountains of Eritrea, which lead up to the highlands of Ethiopia, and thence down to the old Arab seaport of Massaua, on the Red Sea.