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- People of Africa - 2/7 -

which cover the whole body from the neck to the feet. All except the very poor wear shoes.

In the towns there are a great many people, some very rich and others very poor. Often a city looks very beautiful, because the houses are built of white or light-coloured stone or brick. But they are close together, and the streets are very narrow and dirty, and so the poor people are often ill. The houses are built in "storeys," one room on the top of another, with steps leading to the upper rooms. Often there is a courtyard in the middle of the house, so that all the rooms can have windows and light. One part of the house is separated from the rest for the women to use. This is called the "hareem," and no man, except the master of the house, is allowed to go into it. All rich Mohammedans have a separate part of their house for the women. A poor woman in all countries has plenty of work to do, but a rich lady in Egypt has many servants, or slaves, to do the work, and, as she is kept shut up in the "hareem" from the time she is ten or eleven years old, she can learn very little, except how to do beautiful needlework. She cannot help her husband and her sons to be wise and good, because she does not know enough about life and work outside the "hareem." So the Egyptian ladies have little to do and little to think about all the day while their husbands are away, and they are often very dull. But the town-people love their children very much, and Egyptian children are taught always to love, honour, and obey their father and mother. An Egyptian man may have four wives, but generally he has only one.

Until a few years ago, all Egyptians who had enough money used to buy slaves to do their work. Slaves could be bought or sold, or married or given away, as if they were things instead of people. Masters could illtreat or even kill their slaves and not be punished, because it was only as if they had broken their water-jar in a temper, and that was no one else's business. Often slaves were happy if they had good masters, but it is a bad custom to take away a person's freedom and treat him as if he had no soul. During the last few years many Europeans have been helping the Egyptians to improve their country, and one of the changes has been to do away gradually with slavery. No one is now allowed to buy a slave, and anyone born in slavery can become free if he wishes to do so. Instead of slaves, people now have servants who receive wages for their work. These are free to leave their master if he does not treat them well. Although slavery is dying out of Egypt, there are other parts of North Africa where the old bad customs still exist, though the great European nations try to prevent the public markets for slaves being held. People are happiest in countries where there are no slaves and everyone is free to do the work for which he is best fitted.

In Egyptian households where there is more than one wife there is often quarrelling. The wives of one man all live in one "hareem," and cannot help being jealous if they see their husband likes one better than another. Then there is quarrelling and ill-will among them. As the children grow up there is a further cause for jealousy, because the mothers of boys are more important than those who have only girl-children. Children cannot respect their mothers if they often see them quarrelling and jealous. Again, there is always a possibility that a husband may divorce his wife. He is not likely to do so if she has a boy-baby, but until she has, her position as a wife is not very secure. These bad marriage customs lead to much unhappiness, and prevent the women of Egypt from doing so much good as the women of some other lands are able to do. We must not, of course, think that all Egyptian homes are unhappy; probably many poor women are quite glad when their husband brings another wife to help with the work. But where servants do the work, there are only the pleasures of the home to be shared, and then jealousy will be likely to come.

4. The Big Towns

If we went for a walk in the narrow streets of an Egyptian city or big town, we should see on either side open shops, each with its owner ready to sell his goods. Many of the people of the towns have shops or trades. They sell jewellery, furniture, cloth, and everything that is wanted in the house for cooking. In the streets there are some men carrying drinking-water for sale, because it is hot walking about and people get thirsty. Others will be selling sweet-stuff made of sugar, which everyone likes. Others wait about ready to write letters for people who cannot write for themselves, and there are always many beggars. Great steamers from other countries--England, France, India, Japan--bring merchandise to Alexandria and Port Said, the seaports of Egypt, and so people from these countries have shops and offices in those towns. Then the goods are taken by boats or trains to the capital, Cairo, where the Sultan lives, and to other large towns. In all these towns there are hundreds of people, so that a man can only know those who live near him or work with him. Most of them are unknown to one another and are like strangers, although they all live in one town and can all speak Arabic.

5. Life in the Villages

The country-people of Egypt are very poor, and have to work very hard all the year round in their fields. Their houses are built of bricks dried in the sun, plastered together with mud, and the roof is made of plaited palm leaf. Inside there is only one room, which has a big oven made of mud with a flat top on which the father and mother sleep. The work in the fields is very hard, as the ground has to be made fertile by digging canals and ditches all over it to bring the water from the Nile, because, you remember, there is no rain in Egypt. When the Nile begins to fall, the water has to be raised in baskets fastened to a wheel or pole, and thrown on the ground. In order to get enough money, the people plant another kind of seed as soon as one harvest is gathered; first, perhaps, planting wheat, then millet, or cotton, then maize. So the country-people in Egypt are always working hard from sunrise to sunset all the year in their fields, and their little children have to learn to mind sheep, goats, or cattle, and to help in other ways as soon as they can walk alone.

Other men work on the Nile, carrying people or goods up and down the river in boats from place to place. This, again, is hard work, but the boatmen seem very happy and often sing as they pass along. People in the country villages are ignorant, and very few can read or write. Sometimes when the harvest has been bad and food is dear and scarce, the people get deeply into debt. There is a great deal of illness and disease, but there are very few doctors and nurses to help people to get well. So the life of an Egyptian peasant is a hard one--a great deal of work and very little time to rest, or play, or learn. But everyone has something to make him happy, and, unless there is famine or pestilence, these people have their wives and children and home, just as people have in England and other countries. The only person who need be unhappy is the one who has no one to love.

So we have learnt a little about that part of Africa called Egypt--the land of the Nile--and about the people who live in it. We must remember that all the other people who live on the North Coast of Africa, in Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco, are something like the Egyptians, also speaking Arabic, and different from the dark-skinned people who live farther south where it is very hot.


1. What the Desert is Like

In the last chapter we were reading about Egypt, and we said that on the West of Egypt lay the Great Desert. Now a desert is a place where for some reason no food will grow. In some deserts the soil is too bad; in some the ground is covered with salt; in others, like the Sahara, there are no rivers. In some places in the Sahara there is water coming up through a crack in the rocks. This water is called a "spring," and wherever one is found, trees and grass and food will grow. Such a place is called an "oasis." In the big oases there are villages and towns. But the sun is so hot that before the water from the spring has flowed very far it is dried up, and beyond that nothing will grow. So when we think of the Sahara we have to try and picture to ourselves a very big country, full of hills and valleys, but with no rivers or lakes. It is a journey of many months to cross the Sahara, and day after day there is nothing to see but sand--sand, not flat, but in ridges of hills like great waves of the sea. When people are travelling across this desert, they get very tired of looking at nothing but sand all day. Then, at last, as the sun sets, they reach an oasis where there is water and bananas and date-trees, and perhaps houses and people. Sometimes great winds blow in the desert and bring a sandstorm. Then the sand beats hard against everything. If travellers meet a sandstorm, they have to throw themselves face downwards on the ground to keep the sand out of their eyes and mouth. Very often people who live in the desert have bad eyes, and many are blind because of the sandstorms.

2. How the Desert Came

Long, long ago, the Sahara was not quite so dry as it is now. There were rivers then, which have dried up since. When there was water, food would grow, and people could keep sheep and cattle. In those days there were several large cities there. But when the water began to dry up, the ground became sandy and nothing would grow. Then, whenever the wind blew, the sand was carried along and began to cover up the houses and temples. The people had moved away because their food would not grow, and soon the sand completely covered the old cities. For a long time they were buried, until some Europeans went to see what they could find out about the people who lived there long ago. Then they dug and dug in the sand, and found the old houses and temples. But digging in the desert is very hard work, because it is very hot, and there is very little water and food. Often, too, a great wind arises and brings a sandstorm. Then the sand drifts back again to the places already cleared.

3. The Desert Peoples (_a_) Berbers

It is surprising to find that there are a great many people living in this desert region of North Africa. There are three kinds of people there. Firstly, there are the Berbers, who live always in a little town or village on a big oasis, and grow their own food. Secondly, there are the Bedouin, who live in large wandering tribes. These keep sheep and goats and camels, and stay on a small oasis until their herds have eaten all the grass on it, and then move on to another place. Thirdly, there are the Arab traders, whose business is to go south of the desert to get ivory and gold, and to take these back to Egypt and to the great cities north of the desert to sell. All these people speak Arabic and are Mohammedans.

The Berbers who live in the towns on the great oasis, where there is a large spring of water, are a different race from the Arabs, the Egyptians, or the dark-skinned people of farther south. They are much darker-skinned than the Egyptians and the Bedouin. In the past many different races of South Europe, as well as the Arabs, have conquered them and intermarried with them, but they still remain a distinct race, though their customs are like those of other Moslems. They make their houses of bricks dried in the sun, and build them so close together that people can step from one roof to another across the street. The roofs are flat, so that they can sit or sleep on them at night when it is very hot inside the house. All round the outside of

People of Africa - 2/7

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