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

Are much addicted to marissa drinking


The Mahdi, having thus made away with his enemies, was able to breathe more freely, and, as if to excuse himself for his horrible cruelty, he published a vision, in which he said that he had been told that Said Pasha did not go to hell, but as he (the Mahdi) had earnestly begged it, he was permitted to go to paradise.

During the siege there was much friction between the Mahdi and Fiki Minneh, whose capacity for drinking marissa and stealing booty came to the Mahdi's ears. As long as Minneh was useful to the Mahdi he forbore with him; but when El Obeid fell, he sent for him and forcibly made him divide his booty. Fiki Minneh therefore returned in a sulky mood to Tayara, and from that time became the Mahdi's enemy. He openly collected a quantity of dokhn, and brought together his fighting force. The Mahdi therefore despatched Abu Anga, the Commander-in-chief of his forces, Abderrahman en Nejumi and Abdullah Wad en Nur, with a large number of men. Making a forced march, they appeared suddenly at Tayara, and the Gowameh followers of Minneh fled on the first volley. Minneh's brother, uncle, and two sons were captured and beheaded on the same spot where Minneh himself had slain the soldiers and their wives and children the previous year; their heads were hung up in the market-place at El Obeid as a warning to others.

The Mahdi and his emirs now began to live a life of ease; the latter occupied the various buildings around the Mudirieh and made themselves comfortable: they placed no restrictions on themselves in the way of food and drink; there was money in abundance and supplies were plentiful, consequently sensuality and luxurious living were substituted for the abstemious life which the Mahdi doctrine had at first inculcated. The principal emirs delighted in extensive harems and a show of splendour. Jibbehs were still worn, but their ragged condition, which was essential in the early days, gave way to as much embellishment as such a garment would admit of. The emirs vied with one another in their wealth of slaves, cattle, horses and donkeys; their sword-hilts were now embellished with silver. In place of lying on the dirty ground, their clothes full of vermin, they assumed the luxurious and comfortable mode of life of the Turks and Egyptians. So shocked, indeed, was the Mahdi's uncle, Sherif Mahmud, when he arrived from Gedir to see the drunken and debauched lives led by the emirs, more especially by Wad en Nejumi, that he induced the Mahdi to order the latter to reduce his harem by twenty wives, who were subsequently sold in the beit el mal as slaves. At the same time the Mahdi issued the strictest orders against luxurious living, and insisted that no gold and silver ornaments should be worn. He further ordained that in future the dress should consist of a takia (or skull cap) made of the leaves of the dwarf-palm, round which a turban should be worn with end hanging down; the jibbeh (or coat); a pair of drawers; and a girdle made of straw. This made rather a becoming uniform to these swarthy warriors.

The rules regarding smoking and drinking were reiterated with greater severity. It was next to impossible to induce the Sudanese to give up smoking and chewing tobacco: a man would willingly give all the money he had to secure even a small quantity. Then the blacks, and especially the emirs, are much addicted to marissa drinking, which it was found still more difficult to stop; if men or women were caught in the act of smoking or drinking, they were obliged to walk through the market with the drinking bowl or tobacco on their heads, followed by an insulting and hooting crowd. It was sometimes the custom to break the bowl on the marissa drinker's head and drench him with its contents; this was the signal for all the children to throw mud and dust at the culprit until he became almost unrecognisable; he was then dragged before the kadi (or judge) in the market-place, where he received eighty unusually heavy blows, the first of which generally drew blood. The place was full of spies, who were always on the look-out to report smokers and drinkers to the Mahdi. Sometimes they forced their way into the houses, and finding nothing, would surreptitiously throw some tobacco on the floor, which they would then suddenly discover, and declare it to be the property of the owner of the house, who would be forthwith dragged off and thrashed unmercifully although perfectly innocent.


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