By: Yasser Ghanim
The modern multi-generation pedigree was developed in the West based on the availability of detailed records either on paper or in computer databases. A pedigree of five generations includes 65 different horse names. Adding the other information such as color, date of birth, breeder...etc, information explodes and becomes impossible to maintain without comprehensive records. So, how did the Bedouins in the desert keep the pedigrees of their horses?
We know how purity mattered to the Bedouins and how sacred it meant to them from cultural and religious perspectives. They must have developed their methods of tracking linages and maintaining the Asil credentials of their horses. They were definitely not less keen on this than modern studbooks. But how did this work?
The Bedouins had more compact and easy to memorize form of pedigrees that did not require more than ten to fifteen pieces of information at most and still provide sufficient details to establish a horse identity and credentials! There is no magic but it is rather a kind of abstraction where few classes of information were considered more significant than many irrelevant details, and were deemed sufficient for identity verification within a surrounding network of “registrars” or pedigree keepers! It reminds me as an IT professional with the BlockChain technology used in the famous crypto-currency known as BitCoin! Funny enough the concept is pretty much the same. It is a network of registrars who maintain the credibility of every new block (horse) added to the chain (pedigree)!
Let us take a real Bedouin example. The following statement appears on a Bedouin certificate (Hujja) belonging to my Tahawi Tribe in Egypt for a stallion they imported from Arabia:
"A five year, bay, stallion, Saqlawi Jadraini of Ibn Zubaini, bred by Ujail Ibn Jadban, sired by a Kuheilan Khadli of Meqhem Ibn Mehid".
How can such short pedigree fully establish the credential of a horse and how can it be interpreted to the fullest? Before we show how this works we need to understand a couple of basic concepts upon which it was possible to maintain such compact
and efficient but yet sufficient pedigree:
Strain is the main horse identity: A strain or “Rasan” in Arabic tells a lot by itself.
The word strain is not a direct translation, and originally means different things in English and Arabic. In biology, a strain is a low-level taxonomic rank used within a species. In Arabic “Rasan” simply means robe and is used in the context of Arabian horse families only. In the Bedouin breeding traditions horses are tied (by robes) around the tent. As each tied mare often represented a different family the robe of each mare was used as a symbolic notion for the mare background. Hence the word Rasan developed as the equivalent of Strain.
Although most of the Bedouin horses carried proper names but names were not necessary in pedigree keeping, and strain name was the key identifier. Strain is always inherited from the dam side. So the mother is what defines the family not the father. The strain is considered sufficient to indicate the full line of an Arabian horse (tail female line). Examples for strains include Kuheilan, Dahman, Saqlawi, Hadban… etc. It is a big discussion how and when did strains start to develop, which was discussed by Edouard al Dahadah, Yahia Al Kandari and Yasser Ghanim in different studies. Another study by Joe Ferriss is titled “Arabian Horse Strains” with examples and real stories is published on the Pyramids Society web site. The study clears the Western myth that certain phenotypes are attached to specific Arabian horse strains.
Marbat is the physical location where horses are kept. The area where all mares of a Bedouin breeder are tied is called the tying area, or “Marbat” in Arabic, which is equivalent to stud or horse farm in English. The Marbat is nothing but a set of Rasans (set of robes or tied mares.) It is significant how robes and tying (or hobbling) are very evident in this terminology. Hobbling is viewed negatively in the Western
perceptions but was a necessity in the desert and did not seem to inhibit the Arabian Horse qualities of mind and character.
The use of strains in the daily practice of the Bedouins was usually attached with the name of Marbat. A strain is rarely mentioned without mentioning which Marbat
it comes from, which formed the notion of sub-strain. The two words now become like
a bigger identifier that consists of two parts; Strain (Rasan) and Sub-Strain (Marbat). But how did Marbat develop into being a substrain? Strains are more generic and universal than their breeders, if two breeders acquire two mares of the same strain they need to by distinguished by which Marabat each of the two came from. So the Marbat becomes like a section of the strain. But not every owner’s stud turns into a sub-strain, only those who receive recognition by the “network”. The strain always remain as the first identifier of a horse no matter how many times it switched hands, and the Marbat is the added security key to denote the trusted source of an individual of that strain!
The Marbat is usually named after a person or a family who had their own branch of
the strain and this branch was famed of its quality and authenticity so it was sought after by the other breeders. Examples of this composite identifier of Rasan-Marbat include: Dahman Shahwan, Saqlawi Jadran, Meanqi Sbeli, Kuheilan Ajuz, Obyyan Geriss …etc. "Dahman" is the Rasan and "Shawan" is a person who had his own Marbat (stud) of Dahaman horses that was trusted enough by the breeding community. This Rasan-Marbat pair gives a compressed and encrypted version of a large set of information!
Dam versus Sire
The Bedouin culture builds horse families around the dam. A horse always follows
his dam and carries her strain name. The dam represents the source (Marbat), while the sire can be from any other Marbat. The foals are attributed to the Marbat they were born in and hence to their dam. The Bedouins also believe that dam is responsible for horse performance in a higher ratio than sire. A belief that finds support in the modern genetic studies especially those related to the Mitochondrial DNA. The result of dam importance in authenticating the source is more reliance on the maternal line in building Bedouin pedigrees.
This does not mean less attention to the sire purity. When an asil and authentic
sire is used it is hooked to the chain of the dam line and subsumed into the strain name that follows the dam. It is a smart accumulative process! The strain represents the full history of the dam line to the far history because this is how strains are defined. What about the sire line? How do we know the direct sire is asil? Because the sire also had a strain and an asil direct dam and sire, which in turn had a strain and asil sire, and so on.
A strain is only granted when both parents are asil. Once granted and accepted by the breeding community the long history of sires is no longer necessary. As sire played his role in producing an asil mare, the sire is then included within the strain of this mare. When new foals come to life the sire is very well known. When a filly becomes a mare and produces we know the new sire. These sires information are kept for one or two generations only and then it becomes irrelevant.
This accumulative process is maintained by a big network of Bedouin Sheikhs who witness and verify the breeding process and won’t assign a strain to a suspicious individual (male or female). The result of the above analysis is that we
have two basic rules for generating Bedouin pedigrees. First: strain is the most important identifier of an Asil Arabian. Second: sire information are temporal, while dam line information are persistent and gradually subsumes sires information. Based on these two rules, and adding a couple of pieces of other details like color and age,
Bedouin pedigrees can be as simple as follows:
Horse, color, age, dam, sire, dam's sire, direct breeder.
Note that the Bedouins always start with the dam in contrary to modern pedigrees. Each horse here is expressed in a Rasan-Marbat pair of names. This gives as low as ten pieces of information to assemble a complete pedigree. Saying that a horse is "Kuehilan Kharass" means his dam is "Kuheila" coming from the "Kharass" Marbat of Al-Qamsa clan of the Anazah tribe. Any Bedouin could very well decipher this! Similarly when you say: Obeya Sharrakiya of Ibn Samdan it means an Obeya mare coming from the Marbat of Ibn Samdan (a person) tracing to the Sharrakiya Marbat (named after a person called Sharrak of Bani Khalid tribe.) Ibn Samdan in this case is the owner of a Marbat (stud) that acquired a famous branch of the Sharrak stud. This short expression (Obeya Sharrakiya of Ibn Samdan) actually suggests a branch (sub-strain) and sub-branch (sub- sub-strain) of the Obeya original strain. As Sharrak used to be a very famous breeder of quality Obeya mares to the extent that he is then acknowledged by the desert breeders (the network!) as a special authentic branch of Obeya, Ibn Samdan (who is more recent) became also famous for a branch of Sharrak's line of Obyea and his name was added for further identification. So as you always have one and only one Strain (Rasan) for a single horse, you can have a succession of one or two Marbats one as branch of another who were famed for breeding this Rasan.
So, a complete Bedouin horse certificate can be:
"A five year, bay, stallion, Saqlawi (rasan) Jadraini (marbat) of Ibn Zubaini (another
marbat), bred by Ujail Ibn Jadban (breeder), sired by A Kuheilan (rasan) Khadli (marbat) of Meqhem Ibn Mehid (breeder)".
We have here exactly ten pieces of information in this fully informative and self contained certificate! Now if you don't know who Ibn Zubaini is, or what does Khadli mean you are not a Bedouin or at least you are not a desert breeder. These names are the essential knowledge that the Bedouins exchange to form the frame of reference for interpreting (or deciphering) their pedigrees. While modern pedigrees are extremely detailed and assume no specialized knowledge of their users, Bedouin pedigrees assume a frame of reference, a prior context of the breeding society and networks within Arabia. Every tribe has its own experts who maintain and spread this knowledge, and the tribal Sheikhs are the ultimate authority for this. Using such certificates/pedigrees, a Bedouin could know everything he needed to know.
Bedouin Pedigrees are simple and precise and can easily get memorized and exchanged considering a time there was no records and of course no computer databases!