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Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp 1882-1892

And then give the housebreakers full information


to Moslem law a slave's evidence against his master is considered invalid; but this law, as well as all other laws, is only applied according to the Khalifa's wishes and the circumstances of the case: the same remark applies to the value of evidence given under torture.

Curiously enough, murders are seldom committed, and when the wild nature of the Sudanese is considered, it is contrary to what one would expect. Quarrels and disputes are endless, but in spite of being armed, both parties seem to expend their energy in violent talking and gesticulation. The Khalifa has given the strictest orders regarding "assault and battery;" if a man hits another man, he will be liable to have his hand cut off, and this order is generally unflinchingly carried out, unless the condemned man be well off, and he will then have his property confiscated, as the following case will show:--

A dispute once arose between a merchant named Yusef Kurdi and a certain Mohammed, son of the rich Ben en Naga; both were intoxicated at the time, had drawn their swords and slightly wounded each other. The affair reached the Khalifa's ears; he ordered both of them to be arrested, and threatened to cut off their hands; but, as a matter of fact, he really wanted to secure some of their money. Old Ben en Naga, a man of ninety years of age, threw himself at the Khalifa's feet and begged that his son's punishment might be altered, and after a few days'

confinement and continued threats, the Khalifa was at length graciously pleased to commute the sentence into confiscation of property. Yusef Kurdi paid 6,000 dollars and Ben en Naga's son 5,000 dollars, while both of them were kept in prison for many months to expiate their hasty step. With no less energy did the Khalifa deal with thieves and swindlers.

There are various classes of thieves: there are the pickpockets, whose field of labour lies principally in the markets, the small bazaars, and landing-places. They are principally Khartum people or Egyptians, and their feats of dexterity are marvellous. The removal and cutting out of purses and money-bags is for them a quite simple operation, and is generally performed when people are engaged in a violent dispute. The thief has generally a confederate with whom he works. They will sit in the crowded ferry-boats, and whilst one of them attracts the attention of his fellow-passengers by singing or telling an exciting story, the accomplice is busily engaged in pocket-picking; or sometimes one of them will begin rocking the boat whilst the other takes advantage of the passengers' alarm by robbing them. They hover about all day long in the market, watching their opportunities to steal both from purchasers and vendors. Stolen goods are sold to a particular set of men who are in league with the thieves, and the money obtained is quickly squandered. The art of pocket-picking has become quite a science, and so skilful are they that detection is almost impossible. The stolen goods are passed on so readily from hand to hand that even if the original thief is caught the person robbed will probably never secure what he has lost. Over and over again thieves are apprehended _in flagrante_, but when brought up before the judge, no trace of the stolen article is ever found. Frequently the judge does not fail to get his share of thieves' profits; so that the latter have every inducement to continue their nefarious practices.

But far more dangerous than the pickpockets are the housebreakers. Of the latter there is a regularly organized body, of whom the chief is known as the Sheikh el Haramieh. The band is made up of strong and bold slaves, who are experts at breaking through walls or climbing over them, armed with a long knife, with which they would not fail to stick anyone who attempted to stop them. They employ women and children as spies, who go about begging from house to house, and then give the housebreakers full information, whereupon the thieves, stripped almost naked, and armed with swords and daggers, break into the house. One of them is always told off to stand over the sleeping owner, and to give him his quietus if he should attempt to rise, whilst the others ransack the dwelling, and are off again as quickly as they came, to divide the spoil. Whenever the cry of "El Harami" ("Thieves") is heard at night, all sleep is banished, and a careful watch kept till morning.

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