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three pairs of lovers with space



Eugene Schuyler (1840-90), was an American explorer and diplomat, who, while serving as secretary of the American legation in St. Petersburg, set off in March 1873  for eight months travel in the newly-conquered Russian territories of Central Asia.

In 1876, he published an account of his travels entitled Turkistan. Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khokand, Bukhara, and Kuldja, by Eugene Schuyler, Phil. Dr., Member of the American Geographical Society and of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.  While this had nothing overt to say about the pederasty then ubiquitous in this part of the world, he had much to say about dancing-boys and slave-boys, both of which were closely associated with it, and this is what is presented here from the 6th edition of his book (2 volumes, London, 1877).

Chapter III Tashkent

Describing exiles living there, Schuyler mentioned “other deposed Beks, the petty rulers of the small districts of Kshtut and Farab, high up in the mountains near Samarkand” (I 87), of whom one was Seid Khan, the 35-year-old nephew of the Amir of Bukhara:

He is nominally in the Russian service, and receives a pension of 2,400 rubles a year, but dreams his time away and wastes his money on dancing-boys and riotous living, so that he is always in debt. (I 88)


Chapter IV Mussulman Life in Tashkent

Tashkent was the capital of the newly-conquered Russian General-Government of Turkistan.

                  Dr. Eugene Schuyler

In Central Asia Mohammedan prudery prohibits the public dancing of women; but as the desire of being amused and of witnessing a graceful spectacle is the same the world over, here boys and youths specially trained take the place of the dancing-girls of other countries. The moral tone of the society of Central Asia is scarcely improved by the change.

These batchas, or dancing-boys, are a recognised institution throughout the whole of the settled portions of Central Asia, though they are most in vogue in Bokhara and the neighbouring Samarkand. In the khanate of Khokand public dances have for some years been forbidden - the formerly licentious Khan having of late put on a semblance of morality and severity, and during my month’s stay in that country I saw no amusements of any kind among the natives.  In Tashkent batchas flourished until 1872, when a severe epidemic of cholera influenced the Mullahs to declare that dancing was against the precepts of the Koran, and at the request of the leaders of the native population, the Russian authorities forbade public dances during that summer, on account of the vast crowds which they always drew together. It was impossible, however, for the pleasure-loving Sarts to hold out in their abstinence for more than one year, and the mere rumour that there would be a bazem, or dance, was sufficient to draw great crowds to the garden where it was expected to take place. In Khodjent and Samarkand no restrictions have ever been placed on public dancing, and it is not an uncommon spectacle. These batchas are as much respected as the greatest singers and artistes are with us. Every movement they make is followed and applauded, and I have never seen such breathless interest as they excite, for the whole crowd seems to devour them with their eyes, while their hands beat time to every step. If a batcha condescends to offer a man a bowl of tea, the recipient rises to take it with a profound obeisance, and returns the empty bowl in the same way, addressing him only as Taxir, 'your Majesty', or Kulluk 'I am your slave'. Even when a batcha passes through the bazaar all who know him rise to salute him with hands upon their hearts, and the exclamation of Kulluk! and should he deign to stop and rest in any shop, it is thought a great honour.

  Tashkent by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1870

In all large towns batchas are very numerous, for it is as much the custom for a Bokhariot gentleman to keep one as it was in the Middle Ages for each knight to have his squire. In fact no establishment of a man of rank or position would be complete without one ; and men of small means club together to keep one among them, to amuse them in their hours of rest and recreation. They usually set him up in a tea-shop, and if the boy is pretty his stall will be full of customers all day long. Those batchas however, who dance in public are fewer in number, and are now to some extent under police restrictions. In Kitab there were only about a dozen, in other towns even less, and the same dancers sometimes go from place to place. They live either with their parents or with the entrepreneur who takes care of them and always accompanies them. He dresses them for the different dances, wraps them up when they have finished, and looks after them as well as any duenna.

At the hour appointed for the bazem, the boys begin to come in twos and threes, accompanied by their guardians, and after giving their hands to their host take their places on one edge of the carpet, sitting in the Asiatic respectful way upon the soles of their feet. Bowls of tea and trays of fruit and sweets are set before them. The musicians meanwhile tune their tambourines, or rather increase their resonance, by holding them over a pan of glowing coals. When the boys have devoured enough grapes and melons the dancing begins. This is very difficult to describe. With flowing robe of bright-coloured variegated silk, loose trousers, and bare feet, and two long tresses of hair streaming from under his embroidered scull-cap, the batcha begins to throw himself into graceful attitudes, merely keeping time with his feet and hands to the beating of the tambourines and the weird monotonous song of the leader. Soon his movements become wilder, and the spectators all clap their hands in measure; he circles madly about, throwing out his arms, and after turning several summersaults kneels facing the musicians. After a moment's pause he begins to sing in reply to the leader, playing his arms in graceful movements over his head. Soon he rises, and, with body trembling all over, slowly waltzes about the edge of the carpet, and with still wilder and wilder motions again kneels and bows to us. A thrill and murmur of delight runs through the audience, an extra robe is thrown over him, and a bowl of tea handed to him as he takes his seat. This first dance is called katta-uin (the great play), in contradistinction to the special dances. The natives seem most pleased with those dances where the batcha is dressed as a girl, with long braids of false hair and tinkling anklets and bracelets. Usually but one or two in a troop can dance the women's dance, and the female attire once donned is retained for the remainder of the feast, and the batcha is much besought to sit here and there among the spectators to receive their caresses. Each dance has its special name — Afghani, Shirazi, Kashgari — according to the characteristics of the country where it is national or of the story it is supposed to represent ; but all are much alike, differing in rapidity, or in the amount of posture and gesture. The younger boys usually perform those dances which have more of a gymnastic character, with many summersaults and hand-springs; while the elder and taller ones devote themselves more to posturing, slow movements, and amatory and lascivious gestures. The dance which pleased me most, and which I saw for the first time in Karshi, was the Kabuli, a sort of gymnastic game, where two boys armed each with two wands strike them constantly in alternate cadence, while performing complicated figures, twists, and summersaults. In general but one boy dances at a time, and rarely more than two together, these being usually independent of each other.

The Batcha and his Admirers, by Vasily Vereshchagin (illustration accompanying the original text)

The dances, so far as I was able to judge, were by no means indecent, though they were often very lascivious. One of the most frequent gestures was that of seizing the breast in the hand and then pretending to throw it to the spectators, similar to our way of throwing kisses. In some dances the batcha goes about with a bowl of tea, and choosing one of the spectators, offers the tea to him with entreating gestures, sinks to the floor, singing constantly a stanza of praise and compliment. The favoured man hands back the bowl with thanks, but the boy slips from his proffered embrace, or shyly submits to be kissed, and is off to another. If the spectator is generous he will drop some silver coins into the empty bowl, and if he is a great lover of this amusement he will take a golden tilla in his lips, and the batcha will put up his lips to receive it, when a kiss may perhaps be snatched.

The songs sung during the dances are always about love, and are frequently responsive between the batcha and the musicians. These will serve as specimens: —

‘Tchuyandy, my soul! what has become of thee? Why didst thou not come ?’ ‘An ill-natured father kept me ; but I was in love with thee, and could not endure separation.'

A Boy of Tashkent (illustration accompanying the original text)

‘Tchuyandy, my soul! why didst thou delay, if thou wert sad?’ ‘Nightingale! I am sad! As passionately as thou lovest the rose so loudly sing, that my loved one may awake. Let me die in the embrace of my dear one, for I envy no one. I know that thou hast many lovers; but what affair of mine is that? The rose would not wither if the nightingale did not win it; and man would not perish did not death come.'

The batchas practise their profession from a very early age until sometimes so late as twenty or twenty-five, or at all events until it is impossible to conceal their beards. The life which they have led hardly fits them for independent existence thereafter. So long as they are young and pretty they have their own way in everything; every command is obeyed by their adorers, every purse is at their disposition, and they fall into a life of caprice, extravagance, and dissipation. Rarely do they lay up any money, and more rarely still are they able to profit by it afterwards. Frequently a batcha is set up as a keeper of a tea-house by his admirers, where he will always have a good clientèle, and sometimes he is started as a small merchant. Occasionally one succeeds, and becomes a prosperous man, though the remembrance of his past life will frequently place the then odious affix, batcha to his name. I have known one or two men, now rich and respected citizens, who began life in this way. In the old days it was much easier, for a handsome dancer might easily become Kushbegi or Grand Vizier. More often a batcha takes to smoking opium or drinking kukhnar and soon dies of dissipation. (I 132-6)

Chapter VII The Zarafshan Valley

Describing his stay at Urgut in the Zarafshan valley, which lay in the far south of Russian Turkistan, Schuyler wrote:

Portrait of a Batcha by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1867-8

We were still at tea when the Aksakals of the city came to pay us their respects, and to ask if there was anything that we desired. We told them that we were anxious to see the town, and at once ordered our horses.  … It was bazaar day, and the bazaar was crowded, not only with the inhabitants of Urgut, which is a town of 10,000 people, but with men who had come there from the mountain Bekships, and even perhaps from Hissar and Karategin. The shopkeepers sitting in their stalls looked cool and comfortable in their robes of pink Bussian calico with roses and sprigs of mint stuck under their skull caps over their ears, while the crowd of purchasers on horseback seemed sweltering in their heavy robes and sheepskins. They made way for us with their good-natured smile of curiosity, as the Aksakals touched them with their whips, but the dust and the heat were so great that we soon left the bazaar, and asked for some place where we might rest. Going a little distance further along a small stream we were shown into a large garden, with a square pond in the middle, where there were a number of tea booths, and there in the shade of some tall elm and plane trees a carpet was spread for us at the side of the pond and a bright looking boy in a silk robe was quickly handing us bowls of green tea.  We soon entered into conversation with some friends of the Aksakal who joined us, and we then found that the boy was a dancer as well as a tea-seller, and on hinting that we should have no objection to a little amusement, another boy was produced, and soon three or four musicians appeared with their clumsy tambourines, at the first sound of which the garden began to fill, for every Asiatic is only too glad to find an excuse for pleasure. Shops were shut up, the bazaar became empty, and in a short time our garden was filled with eager spectators, who seated themselves in long rows all about the pond and covered even the tops of the walls and the roofs of the surrounding buildings. The sight was certainly very picturesque. One dance succeeded another; occasionally beggars came for alms; and the crowd, perhaps to show their gratitude to us for the unwonted spectacle in the daytime in such a crowded place, pelted us with roses. The hated heat of the sunny street, combined with the attractions of the spectacle, made us the more willing to linger, and two or three hours elapsed before we were inclined to rise from our cushions under the elm trees, remount our horses, and go back to our grove. (I 271-2)  


Chapter X Bukhara

Bokhara was a still fully independent emirate, which had been defeated by Russia and accepted becoming a Russian protectorate in September 1873, only a month after Schuyler’s stay.  He was hospitably received in every town he visited there.

      Dancing-boy in Turkistan, 1860s

Having arrived at Kitab  and been feasted:

When I was beginning to get cool and comfortable the Kurbashi asked me if I would permit them to show me a dance. As I was perfectly willing to be amused I at once consented, and in a few minutes a dozen boys of different sizes came trooping in, and, after a low obeisance, squatted on the carpet facing me. The musicians tuned up, and the dancing began, and continued without intermission for about two hours, when I graciously — for I had already fallen into the habits of a prince — gave my  consent that the entertainment should cease. Had I not done so, I believe the dance-mad natives would have kept it up till the next morning. (II 65)

That evening, he paid a formal visit to the Bek (the governor appointed by the Amir) of Kitab in the evening in the citadel:

After dinner, the dancing-boys were once more introduced, but as I did not care to see them dance again, they merely sat and talked with my host. (II 66)

Moving on to Shaar, en route for Bukhara, the capital:

I had inflicted on me another dance by ten boys, of whom several had performed the night before at Kitab. As the nephews of the Bek came to spend the evening with me I had to allow the ballet to continue to a late hour. (II 69)

                Dancing-boys and musicians in Turkistan, late 1860s

Thence Schuyler moved on to Tchiraktchi, where Salim, the Bek,

“was very desirous that I should remain overnight, since he had dancing-boys brought up from Shaar, there being none in Tchiraktchi. As it was evident that he expected to amuse himself in entertaining me, I yielded to his request. My supposition was correct, for in the evening the Bek and the Reis both arrived, and could hardly wait to finish their tea and melons before they asked if it were not time for the dances to begin. Lamps were lighted and set around a raised platform, and apparently the whole population of the town came down to see the show, until I was forced to tell the Bek that I was very tired as a hint for him to retire and let me put an end to the festivity. (II 76)

Next he moved on to Karshi, where

the evening closed with the usual entertainment. (II 77)

and then to Karaul, where he finally met the Amir, whose

hands tremble constantly throughout the interview, as I have been told, from a too frequent use of aphrodisiacs. (II 84)

From there Schuyler went on to the capital Bukhara.  The rest of his narrative presented here concerns his protracted endeavour to buy a slave-boy there:

A celebration of victory over an enemy: the Emir of Bukhara and the notables of the city watch how the heads of Russian soldiers are impaled on poles, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1872

By the Bukharan politicians I was looked upon as a spy; and no one was willing to believe the truth of my statements as to who I actually was; but the authorities made every inquiry of all my servants, and even tried to bribe my interpreter to tell them the exact truth. I have no doubt that my conduct, in some respects, helped on this belief, for I had two disputes with the authorities which, as they show the methods of Bukhariot diplomacy, I will recount with some detail.  

In visiting Bukhara I was especially anxious to learn something about the slave trade, and if possible to see for myself what was going on. The Russian authorities had expressed their desire that the slave trade should cease, and had been of course informed by the Bukharians that it had long since come to an end. Nearly all the Russian officials who had been in Bukhara had been deceived in this respect, and an official report had been made to General Kaufmann that the slave trade no longer existed there. Merchants, however, told me that they had frequently seen public sales of slaves in the bazaar, and my interpreter said that, on two visits to Bukhara during the preceding year, he had seen the slave market filled with Persians who were dying of cholera and hunger, for, in the panic caused by the epidemic, they had not been fed ; and the Agent of the Ministry of Finance had been able, in the spring of 1872, to see slaves publicly exposed for sale. He had made a report of this, but the matter had been passed over without notice by the Russian authorities. I knew very well that if I said to the Taksaba, or to any of the Mirzas with me, that I was going to the slave market, measures would be taken to shut it up, and I should be assured that nothing of the kind existed there. I therefore said to the Tartar Muruk, one day when I was at tea in the Aim-sarai, that I should like to see the slave market, and he offered to take me at once, as it was in the immediate vicinity. We started out, without telling where we were going, and although the Mirzas followed after, they were not in time to prevent us. Entering into a large sarai, we went upstairs into a gallery, and found several rooms, some of which were locked, and a number of slaves — two little girls of about four years old, two or three boys of different ages, and a number of old men — all Persians. There were no women, either young or old, such being bought up immediately on arrival. The slaves were shown to me by an old Turkoman, who acted as broker, and who told me that the market was rather dull just then, but that a large caravan would probably arrive in the course of a few days. Without the slightest idea of purchasing, but out of curiosity to see how a sale was conducted, I asked the price of one of the boys, a lively looking lad of fifteen, who had been stolen only five months before from near Astrabad. I was immediately asked to take a seat on a mat, and the room soon filled with people, all of whom seemed to take much more interest in the sale than did the boy himself, who did not understand what was being said, the conversation being in Turki. The first price asked was more than 1,000 tengas (30l.), which I gradually reduced to 850 tengas (25l.); the seller constantly dilating on the good points of the boy, what an excellent jigit he would make, and so on, the bystanders joining in on one side or the other. Meanwhile, I asked one of the men how he dared sell a Mohammedan as a slave, when he, as a Mullah, knew that it was strictly prohibited by the Shariat. To this he indignantly replied, 'He is not a Mussulman, he is only a Persian, a Kaffir. All Persians are Kaffirs and unbelievers.'  

It seems that some Mullah, in order to legalise the sale, had declared that the Persian Shiites were not heretics, as they are regarded by the Turks and other Mussulmans, but were absolutely infidels.  

   Sale of a Child Slave by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1872

I thought that 850 tengas was too much to pay for the lad, especially as I had no desire to buy him; at the same time, the wistful looks of the boy, who seemed very anxious to be bought, smote my conscience a little, and I asked for the refusal of him at that price, which was given. We then looked about in the other rooms to find some more slaves, but were unsuccessful. On my return to the Aim-sarai, I thought the matter over, and finally concluded to purchase the boy, take him with me to Russia, and, if an opportunity offered, send him back to his friends at Astrabad. I, therefore, sent one of the Mirzas after the boy, saying that I had concluded to take him. He returned bringing him, and with him came another broker, a swarthy, thick-set fellow, from Kara-kul, a well-known slave dealer. But now a difference arose ; the broker said that some one else had agreed to pay 900 tengas (27l.), and to give in addition two gowns, and besides this, that the real owner was not there, and that the other broker had no right to sell him to me. Finally, after a long argument I persuaded the broker to give me the boy, to take a portion of the price as hand-money, and to refer the dispute to the Taksaba, who, as chief overseer of the bazaar, had the settlement of all such matters. As I afterwards found to my cost, it was very stupid in me not to retain possession of the boy, for I sent him by the Mirza, together with the broker, to the Taksaba.  

When the Mirza came to me on reaching home, he informed me that the Taksaba had decided in my favour, and that the price which I had agreed to give was the correct one, that the boy was a nice fellow, and well worth the money, and that he had given orders that he should be delivered to me at six o'clock.  

At six o'clock the boy did not come, so I sent the Mirza after him. He stayed away a long time, and at last came back with a long story, saying that the master of the boy had gone away, he believed out of town, for some circumcision feast, but that it would be all right in the morning.  

In the morning the boy did not make his appearance, but an official did, sent by the Taksaba to ask after my health and to know if there was anything he could do for me. After a long conversation with him on various matters, during which I took occasion to compliment the Taksaba and the Kush-Begi, knowing very well that it would be repeated to them and might render them more obliging, I asked about the boy and insisted upon having him. The Mirza professed to know nothing about the affair, but said that the Taksaba wished him to tell me that he would himself call and see me in the afternoon. As the afternoon, however, passed without his visit, I asked the Mirza if he were not coming; he immediately sent a messenger to him, who returned with the answer that he regretted very much his inability to come, but that he was very ill, the reshta having suddenly declared itself upon one of his legs. As I knew that he had been riding about the bazaar all day, and had seen him myself in excellent health in the street that morning, although he did not notice me, I thought it rather strange that such a lingering and gradual illness, should have become at once so violent, and sent the Mirza back to say that I regretted extremely to hear that he was ill, but hoped that his malady would soon pass, and that, as I was unable to see him upon the subject of the slave boy whom I had bought, and who had not, in compliance with his orders, been delivered to me, I should be obliged to at once go to his father, the Kush-Begi, and demand an explanation.  

I had barely finished my dinner, when the Taksaba appeared, accompanied by a venerable white-bearded man, who, as I found out, understood Russian perfectly, and had come to listen to what I said to my interpreter. The Taksaba limped very much as he came up the stairs, and pretended to be in great agony. After much general conversation, I broached the subject of the boy. 'Yes,' he said, 'they brought the boy to me, and told me about it; he is a very nice boy, but unfortunately he has run away!'  

I expressed my surprise at this, for the boy knew that he was going to be freed, and wished me to buy him.  He said he trusted I did not doubt his word.  

‘Certainly not,' I replied; ‘still, it seems to be very strange.’  

In reply to this remark, he said that people had frightened the boy, by telling him that General Kaufmann had freed all the slaves in Khiva, and that they were, probably, all going to be freed in Bukhara, and that on account of this story he had  run away.  

This was so amusing that I burst out into a laugh, which seemed to discompose him. He said that he knew General Abramof, and General Kaufmann, but that me he did not know; he had only received a letter about me, and he did not think that General Kaufmann would at all approve of my buying a slave here.  

Whereupon I said that I also knew these gentlemen, that his acquaintance with Russian generals was nothing to me, nor did it matter to him who I was, that I had been at the bazaar, and had seen merchandise publicly exposed for sale, and had bought it; and that all I wished to know of him as overseer of the bazaar was whether he allowed his merchants to refuse to fulfil their agreements.  

He then said that the boy's master had become frightened at a foreigner having bought him, and had taken him back to Tchardjui; at which I said that this seemed very strange, because sellers are always glad of a good bargain, and he himself had said that what I had offered was a fair price, especially in the dull season.  

After some more talk of this kind, the Taksaba said that the slave trade was about to stop, and that he was sorry I did this without asking his permission.  

I told him that I had not come there to interfere with their commerce, and that I did not know why I, as well as any one else, had not the right to purchase articles openly exposed for sale at the bazaar, without asking the permission of any one. He again said that the slave trade had stopped, that these were only some few ‘remnants' that were being sold — evidently in fear lest I should be able to prove by means of the boy the actual existence of the trade.  

I told him that I did not doubt his words, although, at the same time, it appeared very strange to me in this case, that when a caravan of sixty slaves had arrived at Bukhara the night before, at nine o'clock, he himself had given order that it should remain outside the Kara-kul gate, in order that I should not see it.  

The Taksaba was so much confused at my knowing this so soon, that he was only able to stammer, and say that if they found the boy, they would be very glad to send him to me, and that, of course, I should pay nothing for him, for they would make me a present of him; that if I had only told him before about it, he would have given me ten slaves, or if I had even sent the boy to him, he would have arranged the matter, but that as he knew nothing about it until that evening, he of course had been unable to take any steps in the matter.  

I was rather astonished at this denial of what he had previously said, and called on the Mirzas who were present, to corroborate my words ; but they, as was very natural, although it rather surprised me at the time, denied they had spoken to him on the subject, or that I had sent them, or that they had even seen the boy. When I afterwards privately demanded an explanation of the Mirzas, they admitted that they had lied, but said: ‘You know he is our master, and of course we must say what he wishes.'  

At the moment I was very angry, though I endeavoured to keep within moderation, and the Taksaba remarked that it was evident I did not believe him, when he said that he had nothing to do with it, and had given no orders to hide the boy, and added, in a regretful tone, that he had come to be merry with me, and ease his pain, but that he felt insulted by my words.  

I told him I regretted this very much, that it was exceedingly disagreeable for me to speak to him about business, but that I thought that the boy could be found, as I knew very well that a man so high in position as he must know all that passed in Bukhara, that it was very difficult for slaves to escape, as the penalty by law was death, and that I expected he would send me the boy by eight o'clock in the morning, for, if I did not receive him, I might be obliged to take steps which might be disagreeable to him.  

He at last turned the conversation, by asking if I had any curious European things to show him. I was sorry to tell him, that, as I had left St. Petersburg very hurriedly, I had brought almost nothing with me, but finally produced my air-cushion, which I showed to him, and asked him to accept, as it would be good for his leg, he having just described to me the symptoms of his illness; and with that we parted.  

The next morning the Taksaba, as usual, sent a man to talk with me, and find out all that I was doing; and I afterwards went to the bazaar by a round-about way, and sent Andrei in native dress to the slave market. He found there one boy and the two little girls, and his visit was, apparently, unsuspected. I then sent him to the Taksaba, to stir him up on the subject. He offered Andrei a piece of silk as a present, and 150 tengas in money, and told him to persuade me not to be so hard on them, and to endeavour to put me in better humour. As regards the boy, he beat about the bush. I was informed in another way, that he was waiting for an answer from the Amir, to whom he had written on the subject, to know if the boy should be delivered to me. I told Andrei that he should make no difficulty about accepting all the bribes that were offered to him, as it might allay suspicion, but only on condition that he should tell me all that occurred.  

The next day the Taksaba himself came to me, with his Russian interpreter; we had another talk about the boy, in. which he utterly denied having seen him, or having made the statements which he had made to me two days before. This was said in such a way as to make me very angry, and I immediately rose and told him that I could not permit him to lie to my face, that I saw there was no use talking to him any further, and that I desired no further intercourse with him.  

At this he was taken very much aback, and, as I afterwards heard, said that I evidently did not understand the Bukharan mode of doing things. It is, I believe, considered impolite to remember what a man has said five minutes before, if it be  contradicted by anything he says five minutes after.  

That same day, after sending off the Mirzas for something else, I went to the slave market myself, but found that one of the Mirzas had been too quick for me, and was there before me; the whole place was shut up, not a slave was visible, and the Turkoman trader, with whom I had made my first bargain, denied ever having seen me, or ever having had the boy whom I described; but after some pressure, he confessed that the master of the boy had taken him away by order of the authorities. 

Pulat, Schuyler's cart-driver (illustration accompanying the original text)

I was convinced by my first conversation with the Taksaba, that it would be impossible for me to obtain the boy back, but resolving not to be outwitted by him, I made up my mind to purchase another, if it were possible to do so. I knew very well, and indeed I had been so informed, that the authorities were very fearful that I should show the boy in Samarkand and Tashkent, as visible proof to the Russians, not only of their falsehoods, but of the present existence of the slave trade. I, therefore, sent out Pulat, my arbakesh, or cart-driver, whom I had taken at Samarkand, who knew the city, his family living there, and who seemed to me a very straightforward, faithful man, to find out if a slave could anywhere be purchased. After remaining away all day, he came back in the evening, and said that he had found a boy about seven or eight years old, who could be had for 700 tengas {21l.) and a good gown. I immediately gave him the money, and directed him to purchase the boy and buy him some clothes, for in Bukhara, unless a special bargain be made for the clothes, the slaves are delivered to you in a state of nature; in buying a horse one does not have the saddle and bridle thrown in. The boy whom I thus purchased, turned out to be very small and feeble, although intelligent, a Persian, from near Meimana, who had been stolen from his parents, as he was playing on the steppe with other boys, by the Salor Turkomans, some three years before. His recollections of his parents were very slight, and as he did not seem to know his real name, I took the liberty, which in these countries is always allowed on the purchase of a slave, and named him Hussein. The arbakesh passed him off as his brother, and although I think people in the house suspected the truth, yet no one made any remark.  

Having thus succeeded in outwitting the Bukharan authorities, I resolved to make one last trial with the Kush-Begi for the recovery of my first purchase, and at the last interview I had with him, we talked on the subject for a long time. But he so completely absolved himself from all blame, so smiled and regretted, that there was nothing to be done with him. I attacked his philanthropy, and quoted the sentence from the Shariat, that ‘to free a slave is a work pleasing to God,' and asked to be allowed to complete the good work. He agreed with me in all I said, and promised, if the lad could only be found, to free him, and give him to me, but that he could not think of his guest paying money. Although the Kush-Begi and the Taksaba offered me so many slaves as presents, they were very careful not to give me any.  

         A bazaar in Turkistan, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1870s

I of course carefully concealed my new purchase till the time of my departure. When the Taksaba came to bid me ‘good-bye,' I told him that although I wished to part with him on good terms, I was perfectly aware of all that had been done with reference to the boy; that I had regretted very much that he had retained him, as I had given him my word that I would buy him and free him, and disliked to be false to it; that I understood he feared I would show the boy in Samarkand as a proof of the existence of the slave trade, but that he need not be anxious about that, as I had bought another for that express purpose; and I then produced the little Hussein, at which the Taksaba was in such rage and confusion as to be almost speechless.  

When I reached the shrine of Bohoueddin, about six miles from Bukhara, the former master of Hussein met me, and said that the government had already discovered that it was he who had sold the boy, and that he was anxious to receive him back, being willing to repay the price, for he feared that, if he left him in my hands, he would probably have his head cut off.  

I told him I did not wish for my money, and certainly could not give up the boy ; and that if he had his head cut off, I should have no regrets, but should feel that he had been served perfectly right. On this he went off; but as we were about starting, he returned, and tried to take the boy by force; my jigits soon put him to flight, and I was able to bring the boy safely to Samarkand and St. Petersburg.[1]  

This purchase was the subject of a great deal of comment in Samarkand andTashkent, some few declaring that it was impossible that I could have bought the boy, when the government had official evidence that the slave trade did not exist ; but most people were very much delighted that so decisive a proof of its being carried on could be given, although they expressed a doubt as to whether General Kaufmann — then absent in Khiva — would be very well pleased, as he had just then gained great fame by abolishing slavery in Khiva, while he had allowed it for years to exist within 200 miles of the capital of Russian Asia. I was afterwards pleased to learn that on the return of the army, General Kaufmann concluded a treaty with the Amir, by which the slave trade is for ever abolished in Bukhara. (II 100-109)


[1] The boy Hussein, who displayed remarkable cleverness and intelligence, remained with me for two years at St. Petersburg, going to school, where he learned to read and write Russian and a little of German. He was afterwards apprenticed to the Court clockmaker, a worthy Tartar of the Mussulman faith.


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Ned Hedley   6 January 2022

“These batchas are as much respected as the greatest singers and artistes are with us. Every movement they make is followed and applauded, and I have never seen such breathless interest as they excite, for the whole crowd seems to devour them with their eyes, while their hands beat time to every step.”

I sometimes wonder who exactly we’re protecting by carefully locking our boys away until they’re suitably blockish, agreeably hefty and hirsute. As adults we spend billions each year on trying to look and act young—mainly women, but men also are increasingly nipping, tucking, tautening. The result, these cackling hyenas of the henna rinses, these straining try-hards of the depilated hides and stapled chins—would they last ten seconds in a public square that allowed a single batcha freedom of expression?