The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Among The Hill Tribes
Travelling over the mountains of Judea, in order to visit the Arab tribes scattered about there, occupied two years of my life in the Holy Land. A native woman, a donkey boy, who acted as conductor and general manager, and I composed the party. Our habits during these trips were nomadic, for we travelled from one Arab encampment to another, spending only a few days in each; slept under a camel-hair tent, surrounded by flocks and herds, to say nothing of chickens, then packed up our few-belongings, and silently moved away.
The object of our travels was to inquire into the everyday life of these tribes, find out their needs, and try to do them good in any way possible, both morally and physically. As a result, we were enabled to make a most interesting study of their habits and customs, so different from those of Desert Arabs, or any others. The Bible allusion to the habits of the Ishmaelites applies to these tribes wonderfully. The men tended the flicks and herds, often traversing miles of barren mountain sides in search of green herbs for them. Like David's Shepherd, of Ps. 23 they knew where to find the "green pastures and still waters". Their women tended the home, and were the "hewers of wood" and "drawers of water". They prepared the food, and made the cheese and butter for sale in the town. It is wonderful how little the Arabs themselves required to live on— their staple food was coarse, black barley or corn bread.
There are no vegetables to be had out on the wilds of the Judean Mountains, as water is very scarce. Huge cisterns have been built at intervals fur collecting the rain water that rushes in torrents down the mountain sides in Winter. A tribe camps round a cistern for a time; as soon as that has been emptied, they move on to another. In the Summer, they camp near the mountain tops; but in the Winter they nestle down in the valleys, for warmth and protection from the fierceness of the storms. The story of Elijah and the sons of the prophets seated round a great pot of seething pottage of wild herbs, at Gilgal (2 Kings. 4-38), is brought vividly to mind when, at sunset, every tent has its group of Beoawin gathered round a similar pot of herbs, collected from the mountain side. The leaves of the marsh mallow, wild thyme, and sour herbs of many kinds, are thrown into the pot, and boiled all together in water. A little oil is often added when the herbs are almost cooked. Olives and olive oil these people could not do without, for a little oil is put into almost every seethirg pot. Eggs curdled milk, and rennet are luxuries; although there is a good supply of each, they are meant for sale in the neighbouring towns. The hill Arab's only beverage is coffee, which also is the only luxury they indulge in at all
Sometimes the women have to carry the cooking and drinking water for miles, in high jars. Being trained to steady heavy weights on their heads gives the women a most majestic and graceful carriage. They glide past looking-like Queens of Sheba, so stately are their movements; and as they get nearer the camp, what a perfect background is provided for the picture: wild rocky scenery, bushes, and flowers of every hue, the mountain side gashed by dry fissures made by the winter torrents, and clinging close to the rough slope, a large ring of seventy or eighty flat, low, black goat-hair tents. The centre of the ring is always the fold into which the flocks and herds are driven at night. Faithful shepherds these Bedawin! No wild beast can touch their sheep except the shepherd's life were given first: for, to this day, an occasional wolf prowls threateningly round the fold at night, but is at once detected by the dogs, and shared away by the shepherd.
From Bethlehem to that part of the country where the camps were scattered, we rode by way of Tekoah, where Amos the prophet was a herdsman. Nothing remains of the city, save a few ruins. The wonderful Cave of Adullam is the next "Inn" or stopping place, and there we often had our lunch. Until one has traversed this country, it is impossible to realise the depth of meaning in the metaphor, "The shadow of a great rock in a weary land;" for nowhere is there any tree or vine to mitigate the relentless, wilting strength of the sun. Just below the entrance to the cave, a spring of cool water trickles down through maidenhair fern on to the rocks below. Here the dropping water has worn for itself a little shallow basin out of which the traveller can get a refreshing drink. The pathway to the cave entrance is very steep. Inside, one huge room opens into another, low narrow tunnels (through which we had to creep) connecting them. It is said that one could go underground all the way to Hebron by following these rooms. Small wonder that David could house about 600 men in there. Once, a city of Adullam stood near here—that is, about two miles ride from Bethlehem. Only a few ruins on the surface mark the site; and a mine of wealth to the excavator must exist underneath The "Ta Ameri" tribe of Arabs, about 8000 strong, inhabits the vicinity. They live just like wild animals, knowing nothing and caring for nothing, except what their instincts dictate. There was only one man out of the whole tribe who could read or write Arabic. They have no religion in particular, beyond being Mohammedans nominally. One day we saw a crowd gathered inside the Sheikh's tent. Upon inquiring the cause, we discovered that a travelling holy dervish had come, ostensibly to teach them how to pray, but in reality to get all he could out of them in the way of food, as payment for his mythical services.
These Arabs practically illustrated Kipling's words in "Mandalay", "Where there ain't no ten Commandments", for they actually do not know any law beyond the dictates of animal instinct. It was not merely animal instinct, however, that made them show so much pleasure wherever our little cavalcade put in an appearance. Each encampment greeted us as though we were long absent members of its inhabitants, and accordingly, we were loyally treated. Their kindness and hospitality to "The Lady Doctor", as T was termed, was often quite touching. They would rush out to meet us. catch hold of our donkeys' reins and lead the animals, calling out that "The sun had now begun to shine", or "The world had become green", now that they saw our faces, "all the barrenness had disappeared"; and similar metaphorical phrases.