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

Numbers of marissa drinkers were apprehended


Several

Arabs, who have considerably less knowledge of the world than the Gellabas, have lost all they possessed by these swindles. The Omdurman market is, I suppose, the scene of more swindling and deception than any other place of its size in the world. There is no shame in being a thief or a swindler; it is only when one is found out that some shame attaches.

Several masters keep slaves for the express purpose of getting them to rob and steal, and share the profits with them. Slaves of this description are valuable commodities, as, if they are discovered, it is generally pretty certain that their master can bribe the judges; but this, of course, all depends on the relations which exist between the individual and the local authorities. Thus tobacco-smokers and marissa-drinkers must pay a monthly sum to the sheikh es suk, which enables them to carry out their lawless practices with impunity. If any such individual refuse to pay, his habits are at once reported, and he is severely punished, the confiscated tobacco being then sold by the police.

Complaints against these evil practices, and regarding the absence of public security in Omdurman, grew so continuous and so serious, that at length the Khalifa was obliged to interfere, and the following case brought the matter to a head. A drunken slave had shot one of his fellow slaves. In accordance with the law, the master is permitted to take the offending slave's life;

but he forgave him, because he did not wish to lose two slaves at once.

When the Khalifa heard of the case, he at once ordered the slave to be executed. After this, every one came and told him about the smokers and marissa-drinkers; and then and there he appointed a certain Wad er Reis, also named Hussein Wad ed Dayim, as sheikh of the market.

This man, who had been formerly Mamur of the Berber police, succeeded in making himself feared by the thieves. He openly told the Khalifa that it would never do to treat thieves according to the law, and that only the strongest and most energetic measures would effect the breaking up of the band.

The Khalifa agreed; and at once the new chief of police seized all the well-known thieves and put them in chains. They were then bastinadoed, and forced to confess what they had stolen, to whom the goods had been sold, and their value. And thus they got to know the names of almost all the thieves in the town.

These measures created a great sensation in Omdurman, for it was found that several people in high places were implicated, and they were convicted. The thieves, too, seized this opportunity for extorting hush-money; but Wad er Reis soon re-established public security. To increase the supervision, he divided the market into quarters, over which he appointed sub-sheikhs (known as sheikh el hara), who were responsible, with the assistance of the inhabitants of the quarter, for preserving security at night. Numbers of marissa-drinkers were apprehended, and a large quantity of confiscated tobacco was publicly burnt in the market-place. All the principal thieves were transported to the convict-station at Regaf, a course which the Khalifa thought preferable to mutilation of the hand and foot.

Just about this time an Egyptian convict, who had escaped from Sawakin, arrived in Omdurman. He had been convicted of false coining in Egypt, and had been sentenced to ten years penal servitude at Sawakin. While in the prison there, he and a companion had come to an agreement with the soldier guarding them, and all three had escaped and set off for Berber. The soldier and the other man had died on the journey, and the survivor, having reached Omdurman, begged to be presented to the Khalifa; but Abdullah thought it beneath his dignity to interview an escaped convict. He was therefore transferred at once to the steamer bound for Regaf with all the thieves and other exiles, whilst the Khalifa was heard to remark that anyone who came from Egypt was invariably a criminal or dishonest man.


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