“Howeitat hospitality was unlimited,” wrote Lawrence of their stay at Isawiya. “We feasted on the first day once, on the second twice, on the third twice”.
Starting each morning between eight and ten, Lawrence, Nasir,
Nesib and Zeki were ceremonially led on horseback to the tent of their host for the meal.
“… at last, two men came staggering through the thrilled crowd,
carrying the rice and meat on a tinned copper tray or shallow bath, five feet across …
“The first dip, for me, at least, was always cautious, since the liquid fat was so hot that my unaccustomed fingers could seldom bear it: and so I would toy with an exposed and cooling lump of meat till others’ excavations had drained my rice-segment. We would knead between the fingers (not soiling the palm), neat balls of rice and fat and liver and meat
cemented by gentle pressure, and project them by leverage of the thumb from the crooked fore-finger into the mouth. With the right trick and the right construction the little lump held together and came clean off the hand; but when surplus butter and odd fragments clung, cooling, to the fingers, they had to be licked carefully to make the next effort slip easier away …
“Our host stood by the circle, encouraging the appetite with pious ejaculations. At top speed we twisted, tore, cut and stuffed: never speaking, since conversation would insult a meal’s quality …
“At length some of us were nearly filled, and began to play and pick … When all had stopped, Nasir meaningly cleared his throat, and we rose up together in haste with an explosive ‘God requite it you, O host’, to group ourselves outside among the tent-ropes while the next twenty guests
inherited our leaving.”
Moving north to Abu Tarfeiyat, the feasting continued. Soon, Howeitat hospitality was taking its toll.
“… Nesib broke down, and on plea of illness took refuge inside Nasir’s tent, and ate dry bread thankfully. Zeki had been ailing on the road, and his first effort at the Howeitat sodden meat and greasy rice had prostrated him … Nasir’s stomach had had long experience of tribal ways and stood the test grandly. It was incumbent on him, for the honour of our guesting, to answer every call; and for greater honour, he constrained me always to go with him. So we two leaders represented the camp each day, with a
decent proportion of the hungering Ageyl.
“… These people were achieving in our cause the height of nomadic ambition, a continued orgy of seethed mutton. My heaven might have been a lonely, soft arm-chair, a book-rest, and the complete poets, set in Caslon, printed on tough paper: but I had been for twenty-eight years well-fed, and if Arab imagination ran on food-bowls, so much the more attainable their joy.”
Events of 27-31 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).