Al-Marwazi

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[pp. 250-253]

AL-MARWAZĪ

(d. after 1120 A.D.)

Sharaf az-Zamān Ṭāhir al-Marwazī. A Persian physician at the Court of the Seljuk Sultan Malik-Shah.

Tabā'i' al-hayyawān (The Nature of Animals)

Ed.: partly and English transl.: V. Minorsky, London 1942.

T.: Ar.Ist.II, pp. 203-209

(Minorsky) A:0


The First Climate ... extends across the country of the Ḥabasha<ref>All the African (Negro) peoples are generally called Ḥabasha by al-Marwazī.</ref>, crosses the Nile of Egypt and passes through a country called Jarmā, which is the residence of the king of the Ḥabasha, and through Dunqula, which is the capital of the Nūba ... (Minorsky, p. 1; Ar.Ist.II, p. 204).

The Ḥabashah are a race which includes several kinds (anwāʾ) such as the Nūbah, the Zanj and others ... As their homes are very far from the Temperate [Zone], their features are quite different [from ours], all are black because of the excessive heat in their countries. We have already mentioned that the proportion (i’tidāl) in the aspect (ṣurāh) and the combination of the members is in accordance with the characters (mazāj), and the proportion of the character is in accordance with the ground and the air. If one keeps this in mind, one understands that the most appropriate places where beautiful figures can be found are the countries in the middle of the inhabited [part of the Earth] and the adjoining countries, such as the kingdom of the Persians, the Arabs, ... the Rūm and Adana, the land of the Turks.

[p. 251] As for those who live in the remotest regions of the inhabited world and in the far off Climates, a great difference is noticed in their members, in contrast with the features of those of the Temperate Zone, and also in their colour. Such is the case of the Ḥabasha, of the Zanj and especially [of those who live] in the extreme parts of their countries. In fact, a disgusting complexion and ugly features are found in them, such as the prominent eye, flat nose and large nostrils, hanging lips which can be imagined like the lips of the beasts and camels (an’ām). This is due to their remoteness from the middle [Zone of the Earth] and their vicinity to the burnt [land] and to the exceeding hot air in their country. The heat actually is the most powerful factor of attraction (jadhb): therefore, they are attracted towards the above (fawq); consequently, their statures are very tall. Also because the heat tends to flatten the objects and to open them up, it unfolds their spirits outward: therefore, they always appear happy, playing and laughing, and are, in general, just the opposite of the [character of the] Turks. ... They seldom get angry or sad; they open wide their eyes, their mouths and all the other passages; they digest the food with difficulty and feed their bodies with coarse foodstuffs, because the tender food does not remain in their stomachs until digestion is completed, but quickly dissolves and opens their orifices and their pores; they have little flesh and fat because the heat dissolves it and dries up their bodies. So their stature becomes elongated owing to the attraction (jadhb) exercised by the heat. In the same way as their bodies, also their vegetables and trees grow so tall that one of their trees can offer shadow to 10,000 horsemen.

In the extreme land of the Zanj there is a nation of Zanjis (Zunūj) who live on the coast of the sea: they [p. 252] have no buildings or cultivations, or cattle. As the heat is excessive on them, they have caves which they have dug and deepened; during daytime they hide in their caves and do not come out until about sunset. Their food consists of fish and fruits of the trees; they have grazing land and tangled trees; their faces are deformed, exaggeratedly long because of their loose hanging lips, large ears with wide lobes (simākh) and long nostrils; they eat the flesh of white people, if they seize any in battle. It is their habit, whenever they capture any of the whites, to imprison them on islands of theirs in the river (baḥr) and supply them generously with their food to build up and increase their flesh, then they slaughter them and eat them. This banquet is reserved to their king and to his wife, except when [their prisoners] are many, in such a case they invite other people to partake of the meat. The sexual appetite (shahwat al-bāh) is very strong in them because of the hot temperature. If, sometimes, several whites are brought to the king so that he may choose whom he likes for slaughtering, and the eye of the wife [of the king], is caught by one of them, she protects him and takes him [as if he were] for her dinner, [but] she leads him into her cavern and entices him to sin: if she finds that he has a strong virile power, she saves his life, appreciates his manliness and feeds him with fish (sumūk), which increases his sexual power (quwat al-bāh) and she enjoys him until he becomes weak and languid. When he becomes impotent, she has him slaughtered and eats him; sometimes he may seize an opportunity [to flee] and succeed in escaping.

Cunning merchants visit the places [of those Zanj] to kidnap their children and boys. The merchants go out to the grazing lands [of the Zanj] and hide in swamps covered with trees, carrying with them dry dates which they throw in the playground of the boys, who scramble to pick them [p. 253] up, find them good and ask for more. On the next day, the merchants throw the dates to them in a place farther than the one of the previous day and so continue to go farther. The boys follow, greedy as they are, and when they are [sufficiently] far away from the homes of their fathers, the merchants rush on them, kidnap them and take them to their home countries. (Minorsky, p. 47; Ar.Ist.II, pp. 205 - 206).

On the coast of the Ḥabashah there is a branch of Barbar where the traders go for commerce, but make their transactions from afar, in the presence of watchmen, as they fear them [the traders]. For it is their [traders'] custom to emasculate any stranger whom they seize; after this [operation] they do not do anything else to them, but hang the male organs of their victims in their own houses as a trophy and to excite themselves. (Minorsky, p. 47; Ar.Ist.II, p. 206).

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