Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates

Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (part II)

by Lady Anne Blunt orig pub in 1879











Of diseases there are few among the Bedouin horses. I have never heard of an instance of roaring, and only once of broken wind. An accident known as “twisted gut,” is, however, rather common, and some other diseases of an inflammatory nature which prove suddenly fatal. Horses, mares, colts, and all alike are starved during great part of the year, no corn being ever given, and only camel’s milk when other food fails. they are often without water for several days together, and in the most piercing nights of winter they stand uncovered, and with no more shelter than can be got on the lee side of the tents. Their coats become long and shaggy, and they are left uncombed and unbrushed till the new coat comes in spring. At these times they are ragged-looking scarecrows, half-starved, and as rough as ponies. In the summer, however, their coats are as fine as satin, and they show all the appearance of breeding one has a right to expect of their blood.

The Bedouin never uses a bit or bridle of any sort, but instead, a halter with a fine chain passing round the nose. With this he controls his mare easily and effectually. He rides on a pad of cotton, fastened on the mare’s back by a surcingle, and uses no stirrups. This pad is the most uncomfortable and insecure seat imaginable, but fortunately the animals are nearly always gentle and without vice. I have never seen either violent plunging, rearing, or indeed any serious attempt made to throw the rider. Whether the Bedouin would be able to sit a bare-backed unbroken four-year old colt, as the gauchos of South America do, is exceedingly doubtful.

The Bedouin has none of the arts of the horse-dealer. He knows little of showing off a horse, or even of making him stand to advantage, but, however anxious he may be to sell him, brings him just as he is, dirty and ragged, tired, and perhaps broken-kneed. He has a supreme contempt himself for everything except blood in his beast, and he expects everybody else to have the same. He knows nothing of the simple art of telling a horse’s age by the teeth, and still less of any dealer’s trick in the way of false marking. this comes from the fact that in the tribe, each colt’s age is a matter of public notoriety. We avoided, as much as possible, having direct commercial dealings with our friends in the desert, but, from all we heard and the little we saw of such transactions, it is evidently very difficult to strike a satisfactory bargain. As soon as one price is fixed, another is substituted; and, unless the intending purchaser rides resolutely away, there is no chance of the bargain being really concluded. Once done, however, and the money counted and re-counted by half a dozen disinterested friends, the horse or mare may be led away. I do not think the Bedouins have in general much personal love for their mares, only a great deal of pride in them, and a full sense of their value.

As I have already said, they will not tell a falsehood in respect of the breeding of their animals, a habit partly due to the honour in which all things connected with horseflesh are held, partly, too, not doubt, to the public notoriety of the breed or breeds in each family, which would at once expose the falsehood; and public opinion is severe on this head.

Having premised thus much of the general characteristics of the thoroughbred Arabian, I will now explain what I have been able to discover of his pedigree.


Tradition states that the first horse-tamer was Ismail-ibn-Ibrahim, or Ishmael, who, after he was turned out of his father’s tents, captured a mare from among a herd which he found running wild, “mittl wahash” (like the wild ass). The Emir Abd-el-Kader, in confirming this story, told me that the children of Ishmael had a mare from this principal stock which grew up crooked, for she had been foaled on a journey and, being unable to travel, had been sewn into a khourj(ital), or goat’s-hair sack, and placed upon a camel. From her descended a special strain of blood, known as the Benat-el-Ahwaj, or “daughters of the crooked,” and this was the first distinction made by the Bedouins among their horses.

The Benat-el-Ahwaj, or Ahwaj, as it is more commonly called, may therefore be considered the oldest breed known. I have never heard of it in the Arabian deserts, but the Emir assures me that it exists under that name in the Sahara; and that the breeds now recognised in Arabia are but ramifications of this original stock.

It is difficult to give more than a guess as to the antiquity of the names now in use. The five breeds known as the Khamsa are not possessed by the tribes of Northern Africa; and it is therefore probable, that at the time of the first Arabian conquests (in the 7th and 8th centuries of our era), they had not yet become distinguished from the general stock. The Emir, however, does not doubt of their extreme antiquity, and I think it is certain that the Kehilans must have been contemporary with Mahomet; for a breed called Koklani exists in Persia, and we may fairly suppose it to have been brought there by the early Arabian invaders. It has not, however, been kept pure in Persia.

The Kehilans, then, we may presume, were an early sub-breed of the Ahwaj, receiving their name from the black marks certain Arabian horses have round their eyes; marks which give them the appearance of being painted with kohl, after the fashion of the Arab women. Or, indeed, “Kehilan” may be merely a new name for the Ahwaj, used first as an epithet, but afterwards superseding the older name in Arabia. This supposition is favoured by Niebuhr, who evidently treats the Kochlani, as he calls them, as the generic name of the pure Bedouin race, as contrasted with the Kadishes or town horses of the peninsula.

The Kochlani,” he says, “are reserved for riding solely. They are said to derive their origin from King Solomon’s studs. However this may be, they are fit to bear the greatest fatigues * * *. The Kochlani are neither large nor handsome” —

(It must be remembered that Niebuhr was a Dane, and took his ideas of beauty in all probability from the great Flanders’ horses ridden by our ancestors. The Eastern breed in his day, more than a hundred years ago, was hardly yet quite established even in England), —

but amazingly swift; it is not for their figure, but for their velocity and other good qualities that the Arabians esteem them. These Kochlani are chiefly bred by the Bedouins settled between Basra Merdin and Syria, in which countries the nobility never choose to ride horses of any other race. The whole race is divided into several families, each of which has its proper name; that of Dsjulfa seems to be the most numerous. Some of these families have a higher reputation than others, on account of their more ancient and uncontaminated nobility. Although it is known by experience, that the Kochlani are often inferior to the Kadischi, yet the mares at least, of the former, are always preferred, in the hopes of a fine progeny.

The Arabians have indeed no tables of genealogy to prove the descent of their Kochlani; yet they are sure of the legitimacy of the progeny; for a mare of this race is never covered unless in the presence of witnesses, who must be Arabians. This people do not indeed always stickle at perjury; but in a case of such serious importance, they are careful to deal conscientiously. There is no instance of false testimony given in respect to the descent of a horse. Every Arabian is persuaded that himself and his whole family would be ruined, if he should prevaricate in giving his oath in an affair of such consequence.

The Arabians make no scruple of selling their Kochlani stallions like other horses; but they are unwilling to part with their mares for money. When not in a condition to support them, they dispose of them to others, on the terms of having a share in the foals, or of being at liberty to recover them after a certain time.

These Kochlani are much like the old Arabian nobility, the dignity of whose birth is held in no estimation unless in their own country. These horses are little valued by the Turks. Their country being more fertile, better watered, and less level, swift horses are less necessary to them than to the Arabians. They prefer large horses, who have a stately appearance when sumptuously harnessed.

It should seem that there are also Kochlani in Hedjas and in the country of Dsjof; but I doubt if they be in estimation in the domains of the Imam, where the horses of men of rank appeared to me too handsome to be Kochlani. The English, however, sometimes purchase these horses at the price of 800 or 1000 crowns each. An English merchant was offered at Bengal twice the purchase-money for one of these horses; but he sent him to England, where he hoped that he would draw four times the original price.”

I have given this extract almost in extenso, as it is interesting in spite of some blunders, which are easily explained by the fact that Niebuhr never visited the great horse-breeding tribes. It shows, at any rate, that the names of the breeds were at that time as clearly established as now, and that these are in no wise a mere modern invention, as some assert, got up by horse-dealers for the benefit of Englishmen in India. The notion of such an imposture is not to be entertained by anyone who has conversed, even for half an hour, on horseflesh with a Bedouin. The fanatics about breeding are not the English but the Bedouins themselves; and it is inconceivable these can have been converted by any conspiracy of horse-dealers. An equally absurd idea, also current in India, is that the Anazeh breed has within the last sixty or seventy years received an infusion of English blood. Some talk of English thoroughbred horses, left by the French under Napoleon in Egypt, others of horses introduced into Syria forty years ago, but nobody who knows anything of the Anazeh can for an instant conceive that the existence of any number of English thoroughbreds at Damascus or Cairo, would have the slightest influence on their own breeding stock. By the Anazeh the finest horse that ever ran at Newmarket would be accounted a mere kadish, and would not even be looked at for stud purposes.*

*Some thoroughbreds brought by Mr. Skene to Aleppo eighteen or twenty years ago were laughed at by the Arabs even of the towns, and no one dreamed of sending his mares to them. Prejudice was too strong. We took great pains, while travelling with the Anezeh, to ascertain what they knew of our English thoroughbred stock, but with the exception of Mr. Skene’s they had never heard of any, and laughed heartily at the idea of any mixture with them or other kadishes having been permitted.

But to resume. The Kehilans, whenever first so called, have been without doubt a recognised breed in Arabia for many centuries, and were in all probability the parent stock which produced the other four great strains of blood, which with the Kehilan make up the Khamsa. These also have existed as distinct breeds in Arabia from “time immemorial,” but whether that means one hundred or five hundred, or a thousand years, it is quite impossible to say. The common belief of their descent from the five mares of Solomon is of course a fable, (2) and is not much talked of in the desert itself.

(2) Abd-el-Kader told me that these five mares were Benat-el-Ahway, purchased by Solomon of the Ishamelites, and that one of them, the most celebrated, was given by him to the Sheykh of the Uzd, in which tribe her descendants are still found. she was called Azd-el-Musefir (food for the traveller) on account of her being fast enough to run down the gazelle.

The names of the Khamsa, or five great strains of blood (originally Ahwaj, and possible all Kehilan,) are as follows: —

1. KEHILAN, fem. Kehileh (or Kehilet before a vowel).

This strain is most numerous, and, taken generally, the most exteemed. It contains a greater proportion, I think, of bays than any other strain. The Kehilans are the fastest, though not perhaps the hardiest horses, and bear a closer resemblance than the rest to English thoroughbreds, to whom indeed they are more nearly related. The Darley Arabian, perhaps the only thoroughbred Anazeh horse in our stud book, was a Kehilan. The Kehilan is not by any means the most beautiful of the strains. Its subdivisions are very numerous, and will be given, in the list at the end of this chapter. The favourite substrains are the Kehilan Ajuz, the Kehilan Nowag, the Kehilan Abu Argub, Abu Jenub, and Ras-el-Fedawi.

2. SEGLAWI, fem. Seglawieh

One strain of this blood, the Seglawi Jedran, is considered the best of all in the desert; and the Seglawis generally are held in high repute. They are, however, comparatively rare, and exist only in a few families of the Anazeh. Among the Shammar there are Seglawis, but no Seglawi Jedrans, the last mares of this breed having been bought up at fabulous prices by Abbas Pasha. The four strains, Jedran, Obeyran, Arjebi and el-Abd are identical in origin, being descended from four Seglawi mares, sisters–but only the first has been kept absolutely pure. Even the Seglawi Jedran is to be found pure in the families of Ibn Nederi and Ibn Sbeni only. The Seglawi Obeyran has been crossed with the Kehilans and other strains, and the El Abd though purer than the Obeyran is yet not absolutely so even in the family of Ibn Shaalan, where it is at its best. The Seglawi Jedran of Ibn Nederi is powerful and fast, but not particularly handsome. Ibn Sbeni’s strain is more perfect in appearance, and of equal purity.

3. ABEYAN, fem. Abeyeh.

The Abeyan is generally the handsomest breed, but is small and has less resemblance to the English thoroughbred than either of the preceding. The Abeyan Sherrak is the substrain most appreciated, and an Abeyan Sherrak we saw at Aleppo, bred by the Gomussa, could not have been surpassed in good looks. He was not however of a racing type. Again an Abeyeh Sherrak mare belonging to Beteyen ibn Mershid was the most perfect mare we saw. But her sire was a Kehilan Ajuz. The pure Abeyan Sherrak strain is only found in the family of Abu Jereys of the Meseka, and in a single family of the Jelaas.

4. HAMDANI, fem. Hamdanieh,

is not a common breed either among the Anazeh or Shammar. Most of the animals of this breed I have seen have been grey, but a very handsome brown horse was shown us by the Gomussa. This was a Hamdani Simri, which is the only substrain recognised as hadud. The very beautiful white mare, Sherifa, which we had with us on the latter part of our journey, was a Hamdanieh Simri. She was bred in Nejd, and had been in the possession of Ibn Saoud. Her head is the most perfect of any I have seen. She stands fourteen hands two inches, and is pure white in colour, with the kohl patches round the eyes and nose very strongly and blackly marked. Her ears are long like a hind’s, and her eyes as full and soft. She was admired all over the desert. In shape, head apart, she is more like an English hunter than a racehorse.

5. HADBAN, fem. Hadbbeh,

also uncommon among the Anazeh, the best having formerly been possessed by the Roala. Hadban Enzekhi is the best substrain, and to it belonged a remarkable mare owned by Mohammed Jirro at Deyr. She stood about fourteen hands two and a-half inches, was a bay with black points, carried her tail very high, and was full of fire. She looked like a racehorse, though not an English one. The two other substains, Mshetib and El Furrd, are not so much esteemed as the Enzekhi.

Besides these five great breeds, which are called the Khamsa, there are sixteen other breeds, all more or less esteemed, and most of them with one or more strains of blood, accounted equal to the Khamsa. These are: —

1. MANEGHI, fem. Maneghieh (the long necked).

Said by some (but without sufficient authority) to be an off-shoot of the Kehilan Ajuz. The characteristics of this breed are marked. They are plain and without distinction, have coarse heads, long ewe necks, powerful shoulders, much length and strong but coarse hind quarters. They have also much bone, and are held in high repute for the qualities of endurance and staying power. Niebuhr’s description of the Kochlanis seems to have been written expressly for them. Of the two substains the most esteemed is the Maneghi Hedruj, of which the family of Ibn Sbeyel of the Gomusa possesses the finest mares. These are generally known as Maneghi Ibn Sbeyel, but there is no distinct strain of that name. The other substrain, Maneghi es slaji (greyhound), is described as being “the original” Maneghi breed.

2. SAADAN, fem. Saadeh.

The substrain, Saadan Togan, is in high repute. The handsomest and strongest mare we have is of this breed. She is a chestnut fourteen hands two inches, of perfect beauty and immense power, but she cannot gallop with the Kehilans. She bears a strong resemblance to one of the portraits of Eclipse, that published in the “Book of the Horse.” She was bred by the Towf Anazeh, who never come north of the Hamad. She was known far and wide among the Anezeh tribes as “the Saadeh.”

3. DAKHMAN, fem. Dakhmeh.

The substrain Em Amr. We saw a very beautiful Dakhmeh filly at the Gomussa. All the horses of this breed we saw or heard of were dark bay or brown.

4. SHUEYMAN, fem. Shueymeh.

Of this the only substrain is the Shueyman Sbab. Faris, Sheykh of the Northern Shammar, has a mare of this breed. She is coarse, but of immense strength and courage, and when moving becomes handsome. She is a dark bay of fourteen hands three inches, or thereabouts.

5. JILFAN, fem Jilfeh

Substrain Jilfan Stam el Bulad (sinews of steel). A –, son of Mijuel of the Misrab, rode a fine bay three-year old colt, a Jilfan Stam el Bulad.

6. TOESSAN, fem. Toesseh.

Substrain Toessan Algami. The only horse we saw of this breed was a bay, handsome but very small.

7. SAMHAN, fem. Samheh.

Substrain Samhan el Gomeaa. The tallest and strongest colt we saw among the Gommussa was of this breed. He has already been described in the journal.

8. WADNAN, fem.Wadneh.

Substrain Wadnan Hursan.

9. RISHAN, fem. Risheh.

Substrain Rishan Sherabi.

10. KEBEYSHAN, fem Kebeysheh.

Substrain Kebeyshan el Omeyr.

11. MELEKHAN, fem. Melekha.

12. JEREYBAN, fem. Jereybeh.

13. JEYTANI, fem. Jeytanieh.

14. FEREJAN, fem. Ferejeh.

15. TREYFI, fem. Treyfieh.

16. RABDAN, fem. Rabdeh.

It will be observed that in the foregoing list, all the breeds, except the last six, have at least one substrain, whose name is added to that of the breed, and these substrains only are used in choosing sires. A Kehilan without an affix to his name is not hadud, that is, not “worthy;” and of the disqualified class mares only are used for breeding — their produce, however, inherit their disabilites, and the Arabs do not consider that a stain in the blood can be extinguished by lapse of time. On the other hand, a Rishan, with the affix of Sherabi, or a Samhan, with that of El Gomeaa, are perfectly qualified, although a Kehilan Ajuz or a Seglawi Jedran would be preferred. Of the minor breeds none are kept absolutely pure, except the Maneghi Hedruj of Ibn Sbeyel. In all cases, the breed of the colt is that of his dam, not of his sire.

There is no such distinction in the desert as that made in India, of high caste and low caste, first class and second class. An animal, about whose breeding there is any doubt, is disqualified altogether, and is not bred from.

I add a table, showing the whole of the strains and substains, premising that one and all of them are reputed to have descended from the same original stock.


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