Excerpted from: Gleanings from the Desert of Arabia: Chapter IV – Visit to the Sabaah

Articles of History:

excerpted from: GLEANINGS FROM THE DESERT OF ARABIA Chapter IV – Visit to the Sabaah Major R.D.Upton, 1881 from The Khamsat Volume Eleven Number Three Aug. ’94


            Towards the close of a long and trying day, we made repeated offers for a bay mare, five years old and unblemished; she was a beautiful creature, just under fifteen hands in height, very bloodlike, but wildly excitable, glared at us like a tigress, and resented our approach even. Crowds gathered round as we frequently repeated our offer. The Shaykh indicated she was not to be taken away, and we thought we were on the eve of obtaining her, but suddenly, among the sound of many voices and loud talking, the mare was taken off by her owner.

            This was just at sundown. I turned over in my mind what was best to be done, for I seemed to be losing time, which, under pressing circumstances, was of great consequence to me, and when dinner was announced, I ordered my tent to be struck, and preparations to be made for our departure that night.

            The Arabs who were about the Shaykh’s tent were much astonished at this movement. While we were quietly eating our dinner, Suleyman ibn Mershid, accompanied by Jadaan ibn Mahaid,c came in to us in haste, and after saluting us, and having been requested to sit and partake of our repast, asked, What meant the preparations they saw around them, and hwy were our tents struck? what had they done.? what had happened? I explained to Suleyman ibn Mirshid that I had come from a very great distance to visit him and his people; that he had expressed his willingness to receive us; that he said we could obtain some mares and horses from his people; but as I found, when I offered to buy, I could not obtain; I could not afford to delay longer, and although I regretted the object of my visit had failed as far as business was concerned, I was still glad to have seen him and his people. Both Suleyman ibn Mirshid and Jadaan ibn Mahaid begged and implored me to remain; they called upon our Effendi to intercede. I replied that I did not complain of the people not parting with their horses or mares if they did not want to part with them, but being told I could buy, and then to find no one would sell,w sa rather like being mocked. I had no desire to beat down his people; I was prepared to give and had offered a fair price; if he thought it was not sufficient, he could let me know.

            Suleyman ibn Mirshid and Jadaan ibn Mahaid, taking my hands in theirs, implored me to stay in a manner so demonstrative, in spite of my endeavors to restrain them, that I felt quite ashamed; and they promised faithfully that the next morning the bay mare should be mine.

            The next morning, things in and around the Sheykh’s tent appeared to us more quiet than usual. The usual scenes at the well near our tent had been performed. Notwithstanding we were anxiously expecting the mare, we kept a calm exterior; but although we looked about us as we strolled in the neighborhood, we could not see the mare, nor indeed any other. At last there was a slight stir in the tent of Suleyman ibn Mirshid; he came up to us, leading the mare, accompanied by Jadaan ibn Mahaid, and followed by the owner of the mare, who appeared rather dejected and reluctant to part with his mare. It was Sulyman ibn Mirshid who put the halter rope in my hands; her price was told out on the table, exactly that which I had offered, and handed over to her former owner, and the mare was picketed at our tent. A very simple certificate of the mare’s breeding and family was written out at my request, in the presence of the two Shaykhs, to which they placed their seals, one as a guarantee, the other as a witness.

            After this we were enabled to get on better, and eventually obtained both horses and manes. There were several for which I made offers. Generally, after an offer was made and we had some talk with the Shaykh on the subject, the animal was tied to his tent, the owner or owners an and many others resorted to the Shaykh’s tent, and after a long consultation, sometimes in tones loudly raised, the Shaykh appeared with the owner and his horse, or the animal was led away. The Badaween who looked on seemed to regard the proceedings with much interest. Talkat, the owner of a fine bay horse I selected, walked behind his horse, which was led by the Shaykh to our tent, looking as if he wee going to be hanged, and just as Suleyman bin Mirshid was handing me the halter, Talkat rushed forward to seize it; but the Shaykh turned upon him, rebuked him, and even threatened him with the end of the halter rope. These consultations sometimes lasted several hours. Another man brought up his mare with a colt at her foot, with a kind of savage determination on his face, as if he had made up his mind to a very disagreeable thing, after a long and apparently rather stormy debate in the Shaykh’s tent, in the presence of a large assembly, she became mine, but he led away the little foal in sullen silence. I could not get the little colt; but the mare was in foal, and dropped in the following spring a bay filly, own sister to the colt.

            Sometimes, when we thought we had almost concluded a bargain, at the last moment the owner could not make up his mind to part with his horse or mare, and disappeared suddenly; at other times, Arabs had to consult with their joint owners, and did not return. There were several animals we might have secured, but until I had obtained what I had specially gone for, I would not buy others. To be successful you must have the money with you, and be ready to pay it down, either in Turkish gold or silver, at the right moment, or the opportunity will very likely be lost. English and French gold the Anazeh would not look at, I think for this reason: in buying grain and other commodities from them the merchants in the towns to which they send, or to intermediate dealers who may visit them, the value of Turkish gold is known, but the Arabs probably think they might not be able to do so well with the other gold, of the value of which there might be some difference of opinion, and they might lose in the exchange. It appeared to us that whenever the Shaykh had made the bargain for us, there was no going back.

            On one occasion we had a large gathering of Badaween Shaykhs in our tent, Anazah as well as some from other tribes, to discuss some points of importance to themselves. It was an interesting spectacle.

            Had not Suleyman ibn Mirshid, Mamoud Bey, Shaykh of the Mowali, who was also there, and others, told us that there was a project on foot among the Anazah to thwart some measures on the part of the Turkish authorities, several incidents which occurred during our stay with the Sabaah would have indicated that some movement was intended, and as we had finished our business, so far at least as circumstances had permitted, we announced our intention to depart. Suleyman ibn Mirshid and others, who but a short time before had been so anxious to prolong our stay, did not now offer any opposition, nor press us to delay our departure. Jadaan ibn Mahaid, Mamoud Bey, the Mowali Shaykh, and several others had departed previously; others had arrived. Several councils had been held in the Shaykh’s tent, at which the leading men had attended, and on these occasions they wore their swords with silver hilts. Messengers ride up, and, after a few words with the Shaykh, disappeared. Mounted men were despatched, and I have reason to believe that a body of some fifty horsemen were sent off on a flying expedition. Suleyman ibn Mirshid’s countenance was graver than usual, and it was evident to us that when he conducted us out of camp and had set us fairly on our way one night, our departure was a relief to him. Events had become ripe. That night the camp was broken up; a fight ensued, and the tribes dispersed.