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

The Mahdi wishes to speak to you


"This proclamation is written by the hand of Ali Taleb on the 3rd Moharrem of the second year of the Hejira corresponding with the 1st of August, 622 of the Christian Era. It is signed by the Prophet himself.

"Blessed be he who followeth the contents thereof, and cursed be he who acteth contrary to them."

No doubt the precepts enjoined in the above proclamation weighed with the Mahdi in his decision to hand over the sisters to the Greeks, and thus it was that the danger was for the time tided over. Later on, when Khartum fell and hundreds of the young women who had been in the harems of the principal people of the town fell into the hands of the emirs, the persecution of the sisters was entirely stopped, and in retirement they at length secured some rest and quietude, gaining their daily bread by sewing and other handiwork.

After this digression, let us return to Rahad, where numbers of straw huts were now erected. A market was opened and provisions were cheap. Various Arab tribes--the Dar Homr, Bederieh, Ghodiat, Baggara Howazma, Miserieh, and Dar Nauli--streamed hither with their flocks and herds, and soon the camp extended greatly. Sherif Mahmud, whom the Mahdi had left behind in El Obeid, was instructed to send all the people on from there.

The Mahdi set up his abode between two large trees, and the Khalifas lived around him. The combined movements of this enormous crowd were most impressive. At prayer-time thousands upon thousands of Dervishes ranged themselves in well-ordered lines behind the Mahdi, and the shout of "Allahu Akbar" resounded through the air. Often the singers of the Mahdi's praises would go on till long after midnight, and thus did he continue to inspire his gigantic audience.

[Illustration: FATHER OHRWALDER'S INTERVIEW WITH THE MAHDI AT RAHAD, CONCERNING RELIGION.]

I was also twice summoned by the Mahdi; on one occasion two of his body-guard rushed up to me quite out of breath, just to show how expeditiously they carried out the Mahdi's orders, and brandishing their swords over my head shouted, "Get up, the Mahdi wishes to speak to you." As a matter of fact I had no desire to see him, but I had to get up, and this I did as slowly as I possibly could, and then I was pushed forward in the direction I had to go. At length I reached the two large trees, and sitting down beside them I leaned against the roots. The Mahdi had not arrived. Close to me was a hut roughly built of dokhn reeds, which I was told was the fort, around which a small thorn zariba had been constructed to keep off the crowding Dervishes who were collected in their thousands, most of them seated in long lines on the sand and repeating their "subhan allah." The Mahdi's huts and tents were close by.

It was then the time for noonday prayers, and as the Mahdi approached there was a short buzz and hum followed by a deep silence.

When the Mahdi came to the place where the sheepskin was stretched out on the ground, a slave came up and took off his sandals, after which he conducted prayers. These over, he turned round and greeted me. Then some of his favourites came forward and presented petitions to him, some of which he approved at once by writing a few words on the back of the paper, while the remainder were put aside for consideration.


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