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

This led to the old tobacco and marissa abuse


new posts of sheikh el hara were unpaid, and as the holders had to live, they were forced to make money by unfair means. This led to the old tobacco and marissa abuse, so that matters soon drifted back into much the same condition as before.

The caravan roads into the interior are fairly safe, but merchants always prefer to travel in parties of twenty to thirty; though, as a matter of fact, the Baggara garrisons at the various posts are a much greater source of danger to the merchants than are the thieves and brigands. These Baggara wring money out of the merchants, and steal their goods; but if the caravan is large, they are afraid to do anything which may lead to reprisals. The Khalifa has, however, done much to improve public security in the provinces, and punishes severely when cases are brought to his notice.

The state of public morality in the Sudan is very bad, and in Omdurman it could not well be worse. Before the Mahdi appeared, matters were bad enough. Almost all the large towns, such as Khartum, Messalamieh, Metemmeh, and El Obeid--especially the latter--were hotbeds of immorality of the very worst description.

The Mahdi was utterly opposed to all these evil habits, and during his life matters greatly improved; but this was due rather to the fact that the whole country was under arms, and that the towns were practically deserted. Besides, punishment for such crimes

was ungrudgingly given, and the stoppage of marissa-drinking also tended to lessen the evils. Marriage ceremonies were simplified and made less expensive, and a distinct advance in public morality was apparent.

But when the principal fighting was over, and the victorious emirs gave themselves over to a life of luxury and debauchery, when idle town life took the place of religious campaigns, when houses were built of mud and bricks instead of rough straw huts, and when the Mahdi died, then immorality broke forth with the redoubled violence of long compression, and the state of affairs became infinitely worse than it had ever been in the old Government days. I refer especially to Omdurman. Constant warfare had greatly diminished the male population. Omdurman was full of women who had neither husbands nor male relations; and this is the real cause of the evil state of affairs.

Matters reached such a pitch in 1888 that the Khalifa issued an order that every unmarried woman must be provided with a husband within three days, or she would be handed over to a Baggara as a slave or concubine. In consequence of this order, for the space of three days the whole town was continuously occupied in marriage ceremonies. Men seized this opportunity of taking women whom they would never, under other circumstances, have been allowed to marry; and of course these forced marriages could not be of long duration--in a month or two most of the couples were separated.

Another cause which tended towards immorality was the fact that numbers of men had been sent off to far-distant parts of the country on expeditions, unaccompanied by their wives, most of whom were left in Omdurman for years; and it is hardly to be wondered at if in time they began to forget their husbands and to form unlawful connections, in which the Khalifa had frequently to interfere.

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