Tuesday, February 09, 2016




Reginald Neale Shutte (1829-92) was a Cambridge-educated Anglican clergyman who spent some time in Morocco, whence so many of north-western Europe's present day young male immigrants derive, contributing his impressions (distinctly unfavourable ) to the local newspaper in Exeter, Devon, where he had spent ten years as rector of St Mary's Church.  His six "Letters from Western Barbary" appeared in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette over half a dozen consecutive issues during 1865.  I happened to stumble across them, and thought the following extracts might interest Elder's readers.

'.... A few years ago a Ramadan was not considered complete unless a Christian, or at least a Jew, was murdered by the frantic population.  I am happy to say that this custom has fallen into disuse.* But though motives of policy restrain the murderous propensities of the Moslems, their tempers suffer a good deal from the fast .... I have seen more fights during this first week of Ramadan than during the whole of my residence in Barbary.... The fast certainly gets into the head of these people, and it is well to carry a thick stick, or give them a wide berth, particularly when they happen to be "saints" ...
They ["saints"] tramp about in rags which are odoriferous beyond all belief, and demand alms pretty much in the fashion of Dick Turpin [a notorious eighteenth-century British highwayman]....

..... "Saints" in Barbary are of two kinds.  The first are those who, by frequent acts of devotion and extraordinary asceticism, have acquired a reputation for special holiness.  These ever may be known for their filth, emaciation, and insolence....  The second class are idiots and madmen, who are supposed to be under the special influence of Heaven.  As there are no lunatic asylums in this country, where madness is very common, protection is in this way ensured to those poor wretches. who would otherwise be treated with great cruelty.

.... Occasionally they strip off all their clothes and run about the streets, assaulting everyone they meet.  A friend of mine saw one of these saints split his own head open with an axe.  Knowing the peculiarities of these people, it is just as well to keep one's eyes upon them when out for a ramble....

.... When a man wants a wife he goes to his mother, or, if he is dead, to the nearest female relative, and declares his intention of marrying ....  Off this good lady goes to all her friends ... and enquires among them for the most eligible lass.  The age selection ranges from 9 to 15.  At 25 a woman is old, and at 30 she is utterly unpresentable.  Long before this age she has usually made way for another and more attractive wife, and quietly subsides into the condition of a servant....

When the happy day has been fixed, an ox is killed before the bridegroom's door, and another before that of the bride ....

This slaughtering of animals on the public streets is a very nasty operation.  The gutters run with blood ... to say nothing of the quivering victim lying all across the [narrow] street... The Moors regard the sight very complacently, and seem to take pleasure in the sufferings of all kinds of animals....

.... The four days of feasting being ended, the man goes to fetch his bride.  She is placed in a box about three feet high by two-and-three-quarters wide  ̶  just large enough, in fact, to allow of her being huddled together all of a heap inside.  The box is covered with gaudy muslin and is surmounted by pieces of coloured silk.  When the bride has been snugly caged, she is placed in her box upon a mule, the nearest male relatives walking on either side and holding her on.... 

She cannot see much, I should fancy, through the muslin ... these poor creatures remain in the box for several hours, and it need hardly be added, are often taken out more dead than alive....

.... Let is suppose the bride not to have been absolutely frightened out of her senses, or to have arrived in safety at the house of her future husband.  The box is taken down from the mule's back, and deposited in one of the rooms... The male relatives retire, and the lady friends take the bride out of her box.  Her husband is not permitted to see her until four days afterwards.... Nothing can exceed the strictness with which the Moors guard their women.  To be seen on the streets without permission of their lord would be followed by instant divorce....

The days of feasting being over, the husband makes his appearance, and sees his wife for the first time, and henceforward she becomes first a plaything and then a household drudge.  The old age of these poor creatures is something tremendous.  It makes one's heart bleed to see the poor rejected wives, no longer veiled, but ragged and dirty, carrying loads of wood from the country, large enough to make a donkey groan.  Such is matrimony in Morocco.'


*'An old Moorish proverb runs "To the hook with the Christian, to the spit with the Jew"  ̶  a principle which has not been put into practice, at any rate not these many years.' 

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 8 September 1908.  

(Note Reuter's Telegram, Aberdeen Journal , Tuesday, 17 November 1903: 'Marnia  [Maghnia](Algeria) Monday.  Moorish Jews from Taza state that the Sultan's troops during their occupation of the town, massacred a large number of Jews, violated women and girls.)


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