Where the springs are common property, the periodica] distribution of
the water has from time immemorial formed the subject of statutory re¬
gulations. The cultivable land consists of open fields and of gardens,
which are carefully enclosed with earthen walls about 6 ft. high, crowned
with twisted palm-leaves, for the purpose of keeping out intruders, or are
more rarely hedged in with branches of the sunt or other thorny plant.
In the oases, as in the valley of the Nile, a regular rotation of win¬
ter and summer crops is observed (comp. p. 72), although, with their
uniform supply of water, there is not the same necessity for it. The
winter crops are wheat and barley; those of summer are rice, dura
(Sorghum vulgare), and a small proportion of dukhn (Penicillaria spicata),
while in Dakhel and Khargeh indigo is grown in considerable quantities.
Cotton is also cultivated to a small extent, but the yield is hardly ade¬
quate for even the local requirements. By far the most important fruit
yielded by the gardens is that of the date-palm. The delicious dates
are very superior to those of the Nile valley, and they form, particularly
at Dakhel and Siwa, the only important article of export. Olive-trees
also occur in all the oases, especially in Farafra, Bahriyeh, and Siwa,
where they yield a considerable quantity of oil, besides which there are
apricots, oranges, lemons, and melons, but very few other fruit trees.
The ordinary vegetables grown in the valley of the Nile, such as lettuces,
cabbages, and kulkas, are never met with; nor have the recently in¬
troduced sugar-cane and the beautiful lebbek acacia (p. 76) yet found
their way to the oases. The venerable sunt-trees (p. 77) form a very
characteristic feature of the southern oases. ' They generally shade the
wells, or the sites of old wells now filled up owing to neglect, and they
indicate the course of the water-conduits to the still distant traveller.
The most prominent of the indigenous plants of the oases is the 'oshr
(Calotropis procera), which is also common on the banks of the Nile in
Upper Egypt. It is a broad-leaved shrub or small tree, attaining a height
of 6 ft. or more, with a copious milky and very poisonous sap, and round
fruit of the size of a large apple containing woolly seeds, and known on
the banks of the Dead Sea as the 'apple of Sodom'.
The indigenous animals of the oases are much fewer in number than
those of the valley of the Nile. The only large mammal that occurs is
the gazelle, which is also found in the sterile parts of the Libyan desert.
The only beasts of prey are several varieties of jackals (Arab, dib) and
foxes (Arab, ta'leb). Among the latter is the pretty fenek, which is only
half the size of the European fox, yellowish-grey in colour, and with
ears longer than the breadth of the head. Hyenas seem to be unknown,
except in Bahriyeh. The timid ostrich rarely visits the Libyan oases.
The domestic animals kept by the inhabitants of the oases consist of
a few horses, numerous donkeys of a small and weakly type, which will
not bear comparison with their strong and active congeners of Alexandria
and Cairo, and a few oxen, sheep, and goats. Buffaloes are also kept in
Khargeh and a few in Bahriyeh. It is surprising how few camels are to
be found in the oases, but it is said that the bite of a certain fly en¬
dangers their lives in summer. Turkeys and fowls are plentiful.
The population of the oases is not of a uniform character. According
to Brugsch, the original inhabitants were Libyan (or Berber) tribes, but
after the oases were annexed to Egypt many new settlers were introduced
from the valley of the Nile and from Nubia. The Berber nationality of
the inhabitants of the oasis of Ammon, notwithstanding its having been
connected with Egypt for several thousand years and its reception of
immigrants from the west in the middle ages, is still very marked, while
the population of the other oases, like that of the Nile valley, has
adopted the Arabic language. In Bahriyeh (where, besides the natives of
the place, there is a colony of Siwanese who still speak the Berber dia¬
lect) and Farafra the physiognomic type of the Berber race still predom¬
inates ; in Dakhel the features of most of the population are not ma¬
terially different from the fellah type; while in Siwa, through which
the great caravan route from Alexandria and Cairo via Murzuk to the
Sudan leads, and in Khargeh, which lies on the route to Dar-Fiir, the
Baedeker's Egypt I. 2nd Ed. 5