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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

"Mysteries" Of The East

page 15

"Mysteries" Of The East.

We were camped not far from a provincial village and I was curious to know the reason of the monotonous "tom-tomming" of a drum which emanated from that felid spot on the previous night, so questioned "Chunder" (a walid, who, for a few piastres per week, acted as "batman" to myself and a couple of mates. From him I gathered that the village was in the throes of wedding festivities, and the bridegroom had hired professional "musician-." and "dancers" to entertain his guests. Further, that the "dance" was on the programme again that night —and would I like to see it?— Would I?

Imagination was fanned to white beat at hinted adventure, weird customs and hidden mysteries. It was a decidedly eager "askarry" that set out that night to "lift the veil".

After stumbling over plouged fields, irrigation drains, and running the gauntlet of countless barking and snapping mongrel dogs, my guide ("Chunder") halted before a low, squalid-looking mud hut. No Alladin's Lamp illuminated the interior of this "Hall"; but by the aid of fitful flashes, and through the smoke emitted from a manure-fed fire, I was able to make out a motley collection of Gvppos squatted around the walls. Naturally I hesitated to enter this den, but the initiative was taken out of my hands by one (the prospective bridegroom, I afterwards learned) who. esyping me, came and led me inside, and presented me to the other guests, also his "artists". When I had passed round cigarettes and joined them in a smoke, the performers began to prepare.

The fiend responsible for the parchment-covered tom-tom abomination, tapped it once or twice, took it over to the fire, and there warmed it into the desired brain-numbing "key". The blowers of reed pipes squeaked and squalled in an effort to obtain a similar result (with entire success). While this was in progress the leader of the trio of dancers was preparing also; taking a pair of small cymbals in each hand she "clacked" a signal, and the pantomine began.

The performance requires but little description. Viewed as a dance, to the Western mind it was a positive scream; but as a contortionist stunt done in rhythm it could quite easily be termed artistic—as much, anyway, as some of the displays given by our so-called "dancers". Being a guest, I did not give the backsheesh microbe a thought; but the Leading Lady soon convinced me that one is never immune. Contorting over to where I stood, she bent one bangled arm and extended a be-ringed hand. Thinking it was part of the "dance", I took no notice of it other than mentally to register that this was the finished "classical" pose which modern exponents of Eastern dances strove so hard (and unsuccessfully) to portray. But the hand remained there. Then, through the cymbals' rhythm, I suddenly recognised the old, old refrain, "Gib it backsheesh; gib it backsheesh."—I gave.

And now I know what those Egyptian, figures cut in stone, with arm bent and hand at right angles to wrist, represent. It is the ancient sculptors' immortalisation of the national (and natural) attitude of "Gib it backsheesh".

The smoke and smell soon drove me to seek fresh air, and my camp—a sadly disillusioned "adventurer". When distance dimmed the cymbals' request, the "tom-tom-tomming" of the drum took it up, and beat the "gib it backsheesh" lilt into my brain, and its ghost pursued me even in my sleep.