Miss Tully: Letters from Tripoli during the plague epidemic of 1785 – April

April 29th, 1785

The plague reaches Tripoli and the members of the royal family go to the tomb of the local marabut [saint] to pray for his intercession.

In the last few weeks, several couriers have crossed the deserts from Tunis to this city, disseminating the plague on their way; and consequently the country round us is everywhere infected. Even the Moors now allow it; but their precautions are rendered useless by not continuing them; for though from circumstances they are induced at one moment to check an indiscriminate intercourse between the sick and the healthy, they give way to it the next.

Last night, a little before midnight, the wife of the Bey, Lilla Aisha, with the three eldest princesses, Lilla Udacia, Lilla Howisha, and Lilla Fatima, walked through the streets by torch-light, from the castle to a mosque, to make offerings and worship at the shrine of one of their great marabuts. They were completely surrounded by their ladies, who were again encircled by black slaves, round whom proceeded the eunuchs and mameluks of the castle, while the hampers, or Bashaw’s [Pasha] body guards, followed. The princesses were accompanied by their brothers, the two youngest princes, Sidy Hamet and Sidy Useph, with their suite. It was one of those fine calm nights, with a clear brilliant sky, peculiar to the Mediterranean. Not a breath of air disturbed the cloud rising from the aromatic vapour that enveloped this body, as it moved slowly along. Some minutes before it approached, a warning cry was heard from the chaoux (heralds), who carried a decisive denunciation of death to all who might attempt to view this sacred procession. Guards hurried through the streets to clear the way, and the loud cheers or song of Loo, loo, loo [ululating], sung by a great number of their best female voices selected for that purpose, were heard at a great distance. The princes, their suits, and all their male attendants, waited at the gates of the mosque till the princesses had finished their oblations, which lasted about half an hour, when they all returned to the castle in the same order in which they had left it.

The present state of the castle, menacing all its inhabitants in so dreadful a manner, is the cause of this royal nocturnal visit to the shrine of the marabut.

Miss Tully, Letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, 1783-1795, Hardinge Simpole, 2009; p.91

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