Emily Keene becomes Sherifa of Wazzan

La historia de Emily Keene, la chica que a sus 23 años llegó a Tánger invitada por los Perdicaris y se convirtió por matrimonio con el Gran Sherif de Wazzan en Sherifa de esa poderosa familia, es una de las más fascinante de la saga de mujeres excepcionales que vivieron en Tánger.

Citations from
David Woolman
Stars in the firmament. Tangier characters 1660-1960.
Passegiata Press. 1998

Deciding that Ellen should have a companion, the Perdicarises brought Emily Keene, a 23-year old acquaintance, down from London to live with them in the summer of 1872. Emily not only adored the arrangement but immediately fell completely for Tangier. Thus exhilarated, Emily went riding one day among the crags near Idonia when her horse slipped and she was saved from serious injury by the sudden appearance of a dark, muscular Moor who held her horse's bridle until the animal steadied itself.

Her rescuer was none other than Hadj Abdeslam, Grand Shereef of Wazzan, a small city in the hills some 130 miles south east of Tangier, he himself being of a lineage older and more revered than that of the famous sultan. The Shereef headed the Taibya brotherhood: he was more famous than the sultan throughout northern Morocco, counted followers as far away as Tunisia and even Timbuktu, and owned an estate just outside Tangier. Like all important personalities in northwestern Morocco, Abdeslam became a fixture at the Perdicarises’ many parties, paid special attention to Emily, and proposed to her in the spring of 1873.

She accepted, throwing the whole of Tangier into pandemonium. Europeans were shocked to think that an English lady would marry a Moor, even if he was the Shereef of Wazzan. Muslims were even more upset, first because their lord was marrying a naserani — Nazarene, Christian — and second because Emily refused to become a Muslim. The Perdicarises were miffed too; Emily was ungrateful for all they'd done for her. They even brought her parents to Tangier, hoping to persuade her to abandon this foolishness. But Emily knew what she wanted.

Forty years old Abdeslam divorced his three Muslim wives, bade goodbye to a French girl who felt that she had the inside track, and married Emily in March, celebrating a Moorish wedding first and then a British service at the legation, this one performed by Drummond Hay. The general disapproval was scarcely manifest among the numerous guests attending the reception at the medina's Victoria Hotel, though there were a lot of "I-told-you-so's" a few weeks later when Emily ran into a major problem.

In view of the Shereefs venerated position, his house served as a zawia, a place of refuge and rest for any member of the Taibya sect who cared to make use of it. Thus Emily at once found herself awash with illiterate, impoverished, unwashed, and sometimes criminal Moors who had the right to remain in her house as long as they wished. But she was bright; she was pleasant to three sponges, but fed them less and less, so that in time, very few descended upon them, or stayed long when they did.

However, her servants resented her refusing to accompany the Shereef to the grand mosque on Fridays while prominently attending Christian church services at the British legation on Sundays. And when the sultan heard of all this, he angrily ordered the Shereef either to send Emily back to England or else force her to become a Muslim.

The Sherif of Wazzan becomes a French protege

In the latter case she'd have to spend half a year at the family seat in Wazzan, three months at Fez, and the remaining three months either in Marrakech or Tangier. The sultan emphasized this demand by cutting off the Grand Shereefs subsidies from the sultanate. Emily staunchly refused, thus actually endangering the exalted pair to the point where they were openly cursed on Tangier's streets, and it was deemed safer to leave their Marshan palace and live at the French legation.

In fact the Shereef actually became a French protege in order to enjoy protection, the French looking far ahead to use him as an ally should they ever wish to take over Morocco.

The French took good care of the Shereef, granting him an annual subsidy of $16,000 which, together with the income he derived from his numerous adherents in the hills around Wazzan, continued to keep him a rich man. As usually happens, time favored the Shereef, he and Emily were both pleasant personalities, and not only the Tangier masses, but most of the Europeans gradually accepted them.

Privately, the Shereef could be difficult since he was a very heavy drinker. But as he was a Muslim saint, he had to have a saintly reason for his imbibing, else his cohorts, Koranically forbidden the use of alcohol, might actually kill him for desecrating the gospel. And so the Shereef quietly put it around that Allah had particularly blessed him with miraculous powers, not the least of which was the flair for turning wine into honey, and absinthe into milk. There was nothing at all wrong with getting drunk on this concoction. Why, anybody could see the thick, milky fluid that immediately transpired when absinthe was poured into water. Thus the uneducated but faithful masses were impressed, the Shereef continued his drunken bouts and only Emily was hurt.

The Shereef's drunken behavior grew more offensive, and by the time he died in 1892, society had for years avoided and despised him. The sultan, too, was disgusted, issuing a royal dahir making all Moroccans subservient to him, thus publicly reducing the Grand Shereef to vassal status. This development truly finished the Shereef. He drank ever more heavily, thought that "they" were out to kill him, and actually took as a second wife a mere prostitute from Tangier's streets.

Nobody ever determined who did it, but somebody poisoned Emily's coffee, and as soon as she felt the first torturing cramps, she guessed what had happened. Although the Perdicarises had snubbed her all these years, Emily was sure that they'd receive her under these frightening circumstances, and she managed to stumble down from her Marshan palace to their El Minzah residence. Her former friends took her in at once, nursed her to complete recovery, and forever after remained boon companions.

This dismal affair was more than enough for Emily, she and the Shereef were separated in 1889, and he fled to his palace in Wazzan to the silent applause of everybody — except possibly the Wazzanis. When on his death bed, the brave Emily beside him, the Shereef appointed her as guardian of his various children and the recipient of a handsome income.

In the late 70's before drink ruined the Shereef, he and Emily enjoyed a glorious tour of western Europe. French president Marshal Mac Mahon entertained then regularly in Paris, and Queen Victoria, visiting Scotland at the time, let them use the Royal Carriage in London — to the "ohs and ahs" of Emily's old friends from Elephant and Castle. In Madrid, King Alfonso XII served them a banquet, following this with a lavish pageant...Emily died quietly in 1941 at the age of 92, and following a Christian service conducted in English, she was buried in the privacy of her own garden.

La casa de los Shorfa de Wazzan ha estado abierta de día y de noche para el socorro de los pobres, sin distinción de creencias o nacionalidades. Dar Emma, corno la denominan los indígenas, ha ofrecido siempre albergue y alimento a todo el que lo solicite. La distinguida señora sherifa, de la que en otro lugar nos ocupamos, ha salvado la vida a miles de criaturas, prestándose ella misma a aplicar la vacuna antivariolosa. S. A.. nacida miss Keene, de nacionalidad inglesa, contrajo matrimonio con Sid Hadj Abdeslam, Sherif de Wazzan, conservando ella su religión y costumbres europeas y dirigiendo la educación brillante que han recibido sus hijos.

Tomado de Memorias de un viejo Tangerino
de Isaac Laredo.

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