Nejd - Encyclopedia

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NEJD, a central province of Arabia, bounded N. by the Nafud desert, E. by El Hasa, S. by the Dahna desert and W. by Asir and Hejaz. It lies between 20° and 28° N. and 41° and 48° E., extends nearly 550 m. from north to south, 450 from east to west, and covers approximately 180,000 sq. m. The name Nejd implies an upland, and this is the distinctive character of the province as compared with the adjoining coastal districts of Hejaz and El Hasa. Its general elevation varies from 5000 ft. on its western border to 2500 in Kasim in the north-east, and somewhat less in Yemama in the south-east. In the north the double range of Jebel Shammar, and in the east the ranges of J. Tuwek and J. `Arid rise about i 50o ft. above the general level, but on the whole it may be described as an open steppe, sloping very gradually from S.W. to N.E. of which the western and southern portion is desert, or at best pasture land only capable of supporting a nomad population; while in the north and east, owing to greater abundance of water, numerous fertile oases are found with a large settled population. The principal physical features are described in the article Arabia.

The main divisions of Nejd are the following: Jebel Shammar, Kasim, Suder, Wushm, `Arid, Aflaj, Harik, Yemama and Wadi Dawasir. J. Shammar is the most northerly: its principal settlements are situated in the valley some 70 m. long, between the two ranges of J. Aja and J. Selma, though a few lie on their outer flanks. Jauf, Tema and Khaibar, though dependencies of the Shammar principality, lie beyond the limits of Nejd. The capital, Hail, has been visited by several Europeans, by W. G. Palgrave in 1862, when Talal was emir, and by Mr Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt, Charles Doughty, C. Huber, T. Euting and Baron E. Nolde during the reign of Mahommed b. Rashid, who from 1892 till his death in 1897 was emir of all Nejd. Its well ordered and thriving appearance is commented on by all these travellers. The town is surrounded by a wall and dominated by the emir's palace, a stately, if somewhat gloomy building, the walls of which are quite 75 ft. high, with six towers, the whole giving the idea of an old French or Spanish donjon.

Hail lies at the northern end of the valley, 2 m. S.E. of J. Aja, at an altitude of about 3000 ft. The highest point of J. Aja, the western and higher of the twin ranges, is according to Huber 4600 ft. above sea-level. The valley is about 20 m. in width and is intersected with dry ravines and dotted with low ridges generally of volcanic origin. Wells and springs are the only source of water supply, both for drinking and for irrigation. The principal crops are dates, wheat and barley and garden produce; forage and firewood are very scarce. The population was estimated by Nolde in 1893 at io,000 to 12,000.

Among the other settlements of J. Shammar are Jafefa and Mukak at the northern foot of J. Aja, Kasr and Kafar at its southern foot, Rauda, Mustajidda and Fed at the foot of J. Selma, all large villages of 3000 to 5000 inhabitants. `Akda is a small valley in the heart of J. Aja, an hour's ride from Hail; it was the oldest possession of the Ibn Rashid, since 1835 the ruling family of J. Shammar, and is a place of great natural strength. Kasim lies E. of J. Shammar in the valley of the W. Rumma the great wadi of northern Nejd; the chief towns Bureda and `Aneza are situated about io m. apart, on the north and south sides of the wadi respectively. Doughty described 'Aneza in 1879 as clean and well built with walls of sun-dried brick, with well supplied shops. Many inhabitants live in distant houses in gardens outside the town walls. `Aneza and Bureda each contain some io,000 inhabitants. The dry bed of the Wadi Rumma in lower Kasim is about 2 m. across, fringed in places with palm plantations; water is found at 6 or 8 ft. in the dry season and in winter the wells overflow. The staple of cultivation is the date-palm, the fruit ripening in August or September. Fruit trees and fields of wheat, maize or millet surround the villages, but the extent of cultivation is limited by the necessity of artificial irrigation. Kahafa, Kuseba and Kuwara are the principal villages of upper Kasim; and `Aneza and Bureda, Madnab, Ayun and Ras of lower Kasim.

Doughty's and Huber's explorations did not extend east of Kasim, and for all details regarding eastern and southern Nejd Palgrave is the only authority. According to him, a long desert march leads from Madnab to Zulf a the first settlement in Suder, where the land rises steadily to the high calcareous tableland of J. Tuwek. The entire plateau is intersected by a maze of valleys, generally with steep banks, as if artificially cut out of the limestone. In these countless hollows is concentrated the fertility and population of Nejd; gardens and houses, cultivation and villages lie hidden from view among the depths while one journeys over the dry flats, till one comes suddenly on a mass of emerald green beneath.

Suder forms the northern end of the plateau, `Arid the southern, while Wushm appears to lie on its west, and Aflaj and el Harik below it and to the south and south-west respectively. The principal town is Majma the former capital of Suder, a walled town situated on an eminence in a broad shallow valley surrounded by luxuriant gardens and trees. Tuwem, Jalajil and Hula are also described by Palgrave as considerable towns.

`Arid is entered at Sedus, on the W. Hanifa, a broad valley bottom with precipitous sides, here 2 or 3 m. wide, full of trees and brushwood. Along its course lie the villages of Ayana, and Deraiya the former Wahhabi capital, destroyed by Ibrahim Pasha in 1817; and a few miles farther E. the new capital Riad, built by the emir Fesal after his restoration and visited by Palgrave in 1863, and by Pelly two years later. It was then, and still is, a large town of perhaps 20,000 inhabitants with thirty or more mosques, well-stocked bazars, and like the towns of Kasim, surrounded by well-watered gardens and palm groves. To the south the valley opens out into the great plains of Yemama, dotted with groves and villages, among which Manfuha is scarcely inferior in size to Riad itself. Still farther to the southeast lies the district of Harik, with its capital Hauta, the last in that direction of the settled districts of Nejd, and on the borders of the southern desert.

Palgrave visited El Kharf a the chief place of the Aflaj district some 80 m. S.W. of Riad. This district seems to be scantily peopled as compared with Suder or Yemama, and a large proportion of the inhabitants are of mixed negro origin. While there, he made inquiries about the adjoining district of W. Dawasir. Its length was stated to be ten days' journey or 200 m.; scattered villages consisting of palm-leaf huts lie along the way, which leads in a south or south-westerly direction to the highlands of Asir and Yemen.

The Bedouin who occupy the remainder of Nejd consist in the main of the four great tribes of the Shammar, Harb, `Ateba and Muter. The first-named represent that part of the great Shammar tribe which has remained in its ancestral home on the southern edge of the Nafud (the northern branch long ago emigrated to Mesopotamia); many of its members have settled down to town life, but the tribe still retains its Bedouin character, and its late chief, the emir Mahommed Ibn Rashid, the most powerful prince in Nejd, used to live a great part of the year in the desert with his tribesmen. The Harb are probably the largest of the Bedouin tribes in the peninsula; they are divided into a number of sections, several of which have settled in the oases of Hejaz, while others remain nomadic. Their territory is the steppe between Kasim and Medina, and across the pilgrim road between Medina and Mecca, for the protection of which they receive considerable subsidies from the Turks. The `Ateba circuits extend from the Hejaz border near Mecca along the road leading thence to Kasim. The Muter occupy the desert from Kasim northwards towards Kuwet.

Nejd became nominally a dependency of the Turkish empire in 1871 when Midhat Pasha established a small garrison in El Hasa, and created a new civil district under the government of Basra, under the title of Nejd, with headquarters at Hofuf. Its real independence was not, however, affected, and the emirs, Mahommed Ibn Rashid at Hail, and Abdallah Ibn Sa`ud at Riad, ruled in western and eastern Nejd respectively, until 1892, when the former by his victory at `Aneza became emir of all Nejd. His successor, Abdul Aziz Ibn Rashid, was, however, unable to maintain his position, and in spite of Turkish support, sustained a severe defeat in 1905 at the hands of Ibn Saud which for the time, at any rate, restored the supremacy to Riad.

No data exist for an accurate estimate of the population; it probably exceeds 1,000,000, of which two-thirds may be settled, and one-third nomad or Bedouin. Palgrave in 1863, perhaps unduly exaggerating the importance of the town population, placed it at nearly double this figure.

The revenue of the emir Mahommed Ibn Rashid of Hail, who died in 1897, was estimated by Blunt in 1879 at £80,000, and his expenditure at little more than half that amount. Nolde who visited Hail in 1893 after the emir's conquest of the Wahhabi state, believed that his surplus income then amounted to £60,000 a year, and his accumulated treasure to 1,500,000.

Authorities.-W. G. Palgrave, Central and Eastern Arabia (London, 1865); Lady Anne Blunt, Pilgrimage to Nejd (London, 1881); C. M. Doughty, Arabia Deserta (Cambridge, 1885); C. Huber, Journal d'un voyage en Arabie (Paris, 1891); J. Euting, Reise in inner Arabien (Leyden, 1896); E. Nolde, Reise nach inner Arabien (Brunswick, 1895). (R. A. W.)

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