1878 - Anne Blunt
A day with Mrs. Digby
We have been spending the day with Mrs. Digby and her husband, Mijuel of the Mizrab, a very well bred and agreeable man, who has given us a great deal of valuable advice about our' journey. They possess a charming house outside the town, surrounded by trees and gardens, and standing in its own garden with narrow streams of running water and paths with borders full of old fashioned English flowers - wall-flowers especially. There are birds and beasts too; pigeons and turtle doves flutter about among the trees, and a pelican sits by the fountain in the middle of the courtyard guarded by a fierce watch-dog. A handsome mare stands in the stable, but only one, for more are not required in town.
The main body of the house is quite simple in its bare Arab furnishing, but a separate building in the garden is fitted up like an English drawing-room with chairs, sofas, books, and pictures. Among many interesting and beautiful sketches kept in a portfolio, I saw some really fine water-colour views of Palmyra done by Mrs. Digby many years ago when that town was less known than it is at present.
The Sheykh, as he is commonly called, though incorrectly, for his elder brother Mohammed is reigning Sheykh of the Mizrab, came in while we were talking, and our conversation then turned naturally upon desert matters, which evidently occupy most of his thoughts, and are of course to us of all-important interest at this moment. He gave us among other pieces of information an account of his own tribe, the Mizrab, to which in our published enumeration of tribes we scarcely did justice.
But before repeating some of the particulars we learned from him, I cannot forbear saying a few words about Mijuel himself, which will justify the value we attach to information received from him as from a person entitled by birth and position to speak with authority. In appearance he shows all the characteristics of good Bedouin blood. He is short and slight in stature, with exceedingly small hands and feet, a dark olive complexion, beard originally black, but now turning grey, and dark eyes and eyebrows. It is a mistake to suppose that true Arabs are ever fair or red-haired. Men may occasionally be seen in the desert of comparatively fair complexion, but these always (as far as my experience goes) have features of a correspondingly foreign type, showing a mixture of race. No-Bedouin of true blood was ever seen with hair or eyes not black, nor perhaps with a nose not aquiline.
Mijuel's father, a rare exception among the Anazeh, could both read and write, and gave his sons, when they were boys, a learned man to teach them their letters. But out of nine brothers, Mijuel alone took any pains to learn. The strange aeccident of his marriage with an English lady has withdrawn him for months at a time, but not estranged him, from the desert; and ho has adopted little of the townsman in his dress, and nothing of the European. He goes, it is true, to the neighbouring mosque, and recites the Mussulman prayers daily; but with this exception, he is undistinguishable from the Ibn Shaalans and Ibn Mershids of the Hamad. It is also easy to see that his heart remains in the desert, his love for which is fully shared by the lady be has married; so that when ho succeds to the Sheykhat, as he probably will, for his brother appears to be considerably his senior, I think they will hardly care to spend much of their time at Damascus. They will, however, no doubt, be influenced by the course of tribal politics, with which I understand Mijuel is so much disgusted, that he might resign in favour of his son Afet; in that case, they might continue, as now, living partly at Damascus, partly at Homs, partly in tents, and always a providence to their tribe, whom they supply with all the necessaries of Bedouin life, and guns, revolvers, and ammunition besides. The Mizrab, therefore, although numbering barely a hundred tents, arc always well mounted and better armed than any of their fellows, and can hold their own in all the warlike adventures of the Sebaa.
A Pilgrimage to Nejd
Vol. I, London 1881