By Dr. Matthias Oster
The following pages attempt to give a survey of the horse-breeding Bedouin tribes of Arabia. We will find a great number of different Bedouin tribes. This should show us breeders in the West that our horses are influenced from many different sources and this fact will be obvious to any breeder in his daily work. Accordingly, it should not be our aim to breed a standard Arabian of one particular type. Such a standard type has never existed. Let us take the excursion into the past as an incentive for the present and the future of our Arabian horses, in that we handle the heritage entrusted to us with responsibility.
Anaza – the great Nomad people of Northern Arabia
The Anaza were the largest tribal group in Arabia. They are among the oldest of the tribes and belong to the Northern Arabs and were the largest tribe in Nejd. Around 1700 the most important event in the newer history of the Bedouin took place. The Anaza penetrated into the richer grazing grounds beyond the great sand desert Nafud, into the “promised land” of the Bedouin. The entire migration took about one hundred years, and another wave followed after 1790 with the Wahhabites. The Anaza became the great nomad people of the north. The Anaza are divided into two large and opposing groups (ashab), Dana Bishr and Dana Muslem, which in turn are divided into three large tribes (qabila) each:
Anaza: Dhana Bishr: Fed´an - Sba´ah - Amarat
Dhana Muslem: Hsana - Weld Ali - Rwala
The Anaza were major nomads and camel breeders. During the summer they were found in the cultivated areas of Syria and Mesopotamia, where their animals grazed on the harvested fields. In winter, following the first rains, they crossed through the steppes and desert towards their ancient homeland. Their main source of income, besides livestock, was the extorsion of protection fees from Syrian shepherd families and semi settlers, and the toil money from caravans passing through their territories. Shammar and Anaza were hereditary enemies.
The Weld Ali from Dana Muslem were among the first tribes to come north. In the mid 19th century they were beaten by the Rwala, which resulted in a partial abandoning of camel breeding during the 1870s and the beginning of agriculture in the 1890s. Also they began to march behind the Rwala during migration in search of pasturage. But still they owned many camels and superb broodmares. Today the Weld Ali are split between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Many of their horses were exported to Babolna, but also to Russia. Famous Kuhailan Zaid, bred by the Rwala, was purchased from the Weld Ali for Babolna in 1931.
The tribe of Hsana was an important tribe originally. Among the first to move to Syria, they ruled the steppe and desert around Palmyra, at the beginning of the 19th century. Sheikh Mehanna Abu Nasser became known through Lady Hester Stanhope and Emir Rzewuski, who reports of their excellent horses. The Hsana were the first Anaza tribe to become semi-nomads.
The tribe of the Rwala was the biggest and wealthiest Bedouin tribe in Arabia, judged on the numbers of people and livestock. At the same time it was the most warlike tribe. The Rwala originally came from the Khaybar, later their main base of operation was the northern edge of the Nafud, including Wadi Sirhan and the Southern Syrian Desert. Because of the Wahhabite wars they continued to travel north. Since the best pastures there were already taken, a war broke out between Rwala and Weld Ali. Until 1921 there were additional bloody conflicts in the South with the Shammar kingdom of the Ibn Rasheeds and after that, with the Ibn Sauds. Their annual migrations were very slow and took a long time, due to the immense number of men and animals. The Rwala owned 150,000 camels and each year sold up to 35,000 camels in the markets. Burckhardt mentions that there were more horses in Rwala possession than among other tribes of Anaza. But by the end of the 19th century they had only few mares left – many had gone to Abbas Pasha, and second because the Rwala were the first tribe to abandon lances in favor of firearms, which made war mares superfluous. The ruling sheikh family was al-Sha´lan.
The Rwala were an important source of Arabian horses, including the stallion Saklawi I, through Nazeer founder of the most significant sire line in the world, and the mare Rodania of Crabbet Park. The stallion Kuhailan Haifi was the most important contribution of the imports of Raswan/Zietarski for Poland.
A larger part of the Bishr-Anaza Bedouin, the Sba´ah, bred excellent camels and horses, but had no political influence. Among the Arabs they are known as Humul al-Khayl – “people of horses”, as their horses were known as the best in the Syrian Desert. Until the middle of the 20th century they owned about 20,000 camels and about 30,000 sheep and many horses. Most of the Sba´ah Bedouin left Syria in the 1960s because of political reasons and came to the north-eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Thus, in the Syrian studbook nearly no horses bred by the Sba´ahs can be found today.
The Sba´ahs are divided into several subgroups, including several clans known for their horses: Gomoussa, Ibn Shutaywi, Resalin, El Deree, Ibn Huded, and Ibn Muwayni. The following strains were and are bred: Ma´naghi Sbayli, Kuhaylan al-Kharas, Kuhaylan al-Nawwaq, Kuhaylan Abu Junnub, Ubayyan Sharrak, Saqlawi Jedran of Ibn ad-Derri, Saqlawi Jedran of Ibn Sudan, Kuhaylan al-Mimrah. Many of the Blunt´s original horses came from the Sba´ah: Queen of Sheba, Azrek, Pharaoh, Basilisk, Dajania, Meshura, and Hagar, also Major Upton´s Haidee, Kesia I and Yataghan. Babolna imported many horses, and some horses left for France and for Davenport. In Lebanon and later Turkey Krush Halba/Baba Kurus became influential.
The Fed´an were the political most significant Bishr-Anaza Bedouin. Lady Blunt called them the most warlike tribe in the desert, although possessing only a small number of broodmares but of good quality. The Fed´an were the sworn enemies of the Rwala, which whom they were at war from 1877 to 1900. Today the Fed´an can be found in Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The highest family of sheikhs of the Wlada-Fed´an was Ibn Muhayd. The Sbeyni family of the Muhayd was famous for their Saqlawis. The stallion Zobeyni (grandfather of Messaoud) at the stud of Abbas Pasha was named, as it was often the case, after his breeder. The marbat of Ibn Subayni/Zobeyni exists in Syria until today. Also the strain of Saqlawi Sheifi originated with the Fed´an. Among the Davenport imports some horses came from this tribe, too.
The Amarat is the only Anaza tribe that belonged to the Iraqi Desert after they had come from the south. A major part of them has remained in their home country, the Qassim. Today the Amarat are found in Saudi Arabia and Syria. The sheikh family is Ibn Haddal. The Amarat had many horses. From the Hadraj clan the strain Ma´naghi Hadraji originates.
The House of al-Khalifah on the Island of Bahrain
Bahrain is ruled by the house of al-Khalifah since 1783, a clan from the Salqa section of al-Amarat. The al-Khalifah family has maintained many old strains of Arabia and has also acquired horses from the Ibn Jalawi and Ibn Saud families. Abbas Pasha obtained some of his horses from Bahrain. The rasan of Kuhaylan Jellabi has been famous for a long time in Bahrain, as well as the Dahman strain. Bint El Bahreyn has founded a large dam-line in Egyptian breeding. Koheilan Afas in Poland and Nuhra in the UK became influential as well.
The Shammar, the second largest Bedouin group of Arabia, are Southern Arabs (Tai) with roots in Yemen. They were first mentioned in the 14th century. Their home was the Jebel Shammar in northern Saudi Arabia for a long time. Like the Anaza, a large part of the Shammar migrated towards the North in the 17th century under the leadership of al-Jerba. Their sheik Fares could win influence with the Ottoman Wali in Baghdad and became their Bab Al Arab. At the same time he beat the ruling tribe of the Jezireh, the Obed, and forced them to retreat and fall into oblivion. With a new Wali, the mighty Muntafiq tribe was preferred by the government after 1813. Thus the Shammar became feared opponents of the Turks. Later they became allies of the Ottoman again and could soon be found as far north as Mossul. The Northern Shammar ruled the Jezireh, the land between Euphrates and Tigris, during most of the 19th century, and were divided between East-Shammar around Ferhan and West-Shammar around Faris. After the Ottoman era, the newly established frontiers led to a further division of the Shammar in an Iraqi (Shammar Khorsa) and a Syrian part (Shammar az-Zor).
From the Shammar that remained in the South, the Emirate of Ibn Rasheed at Hail emerged (1838-1921). Today Shammar people can be found in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. In the 18th century the nearest markets were in Iraq or on the Arabian Gulf (for export to India), because the Anaza blocked the way to Syria. This may explain why not many Shammar-bred horses are found among the ancestors of our horses in the West, although the Shammar were renowned horse breeders. Guarmani reports of 500 mares grazing in the pastures at Jebel Shammar near Hail in 1863. Only two foundation horses in Egyptian breeding came directly from the Shammar, one of them influential Venus who founded the Hadban Enzahi line which produced Nazeer. Six of the horses imported to America for Davenport came from the Shammar.
The Tai tribe in today Syria and Iraq is the remaining population of one of the oldest Arabian people of southern origin from which the Shammar and numerous other tribes, like the Dawasir in Saudi Arabia, but also the Fadl and Muhanna (two important tribes of the Middle Ages in Northern Arabia) descended from. Many of the Tai clans have later merged into other tribes. Only the Mesopotamian Tai retained their original name. At the beginning of the 19th century the Tai were split into two parts by the invading Shammar. One part remained in the area of Sinjar, the other crossed the Tigris and settled near Erbil to live a half nomadic life. Later the Tai were closely connected with the Shammar through marriage between the sheikh families. The Tai are among the horse breeding tribes in modern Syria.
The Jibur belong to the smaller tribes of Mesopotamia. Like a large part of the Bedouin population of Mesopotamia, they were part of the Zubed, who originated from the Southern Arabian Zubed and had come to the North as early as 1200. (Jibur, Dulaym, Janabi, and ´Ubadi federations are other subgroups of the Zubaydi tribe.) The Jibur immigrated during the 14th century and moved even further, until some of them found a new home on the Chabur, a tributary river of the Euphrates, near Deyr az-Zor, and others on the Tigris north of Tikrit. The first group were warlike semi-nomads who moved to the Syrian steppes in winter. They were not subject to the Shammar, whom they had defeated in battle in 1913.
The Aqaydat were a small warlike tribe in Syria and their winter quarters lay west of Deyr az-Zor, where they had come around 1860 after splitting from the Aqaydat of the Euphrates. By the 1930s about two third of them had settled down. The nomadic part accompanied the Mawali on their winter migrations. They owned a few good mares which they had from the Anaza. From this tribe we have an exact account of their livestock as of 1934: 100-150 camels, 4,000 sheep, 30 horses, 100 mules, and 200 donkeys. From the Al Agaydat tribe the stallion Nabras, a Hadban Enzahi comes, a race horse in Egypt used by the RAS.
Tribes that are called Baqqara can be found today in Syria, Iraq, Israel, and also Sudan. But only the Baqqara of Syria near Deyr az-Zor were and are horse breeders. They are the largest tribal group of this area today. The Baqqara lived in harmony with most of their neighbors and even a part of the tribe were connected to the Jibur or Milli tribes. The Anaza on the other hand were enemies and ghazus were performed until the beginning 20th century. They still are breeders of Arabian horses today. The stallion El Deree was a race horse in Lebanon and Egypt before he became one of the leading sires at Inshass.
The Muntafiq were one of the most important tribes in Iraq and lived along the lower Euphrates. They emerged at the beginning 19th century when Bedouin tribes in that area concluded a truce and united under the name of al-Muntafiq. They were very warlike and famous as horse breeders. The leading family was al-Sa´dun. The stallion Saadun of Lady Blunt at Sheikh Obeyd, Egypt, was bred by Sheikh Meshari Ibn Sa´dun. They were close allies of the Turks during Ottoman era and had a bitter rivalry with the Shammar. In the second half of the 19th century most of the tribe settled into sedentary life and took up agriculture. During World War I the Muntafiq fought with the Turks against the British. In the battle of Sche´be in April 1915, almost the entire army, including the horses, was cut down by the British cannons and machine guns. Most of Turkey´s foundation horses came from al-Muntafiq, but also the ruler of Bahrain and al-Saud received gift horses from the Muntafiq sheiks.
The tribe of Bani Sakhr is the largest former camel herding tribe in today Jordan. The tribe lived in the Hedjaz since the beginning Middle Ages. By the second half of the 18th century they finally established themselves in the Jordanian Desert in the regions that used to control the pilgrimage route, coming in conflict with the predominant Sardije tribe, the former masters of the Jordanian Desert. Later the Bani Sakhr fought the Anaza when they emerged from Nejd. In their best times, the Bani Sakhr were said to be able to set out for battle with 3,000 armed warriors. From the beginning 19th century, the Beni Sahkr came close to monopoly in selling camels for the haj. They were allied with the Sirhan, their enemies were the Weld Ali of Anaza and many wars were fought until the Rwala took over and the Anaza prevailed.
The Bani Sakhr had good horses and some were exported, foremost the stallion Shagya who became the name giving for the partbred Shagyas. More horses went to Babolna, Poland, Russia, Spain, Egypt and France, and not to forget Tabeeb, most influential race horse sire in Iraq of the 1940s. Smaller horse breeding tribes in what is today Jordan were the Daaja, the Majali, the Adwan, and the Howeitat.
Larger Tribes in Saudi Arabia
The Mutair are today´s largest Bedouin tribe in Saudi Arabia. In the 14th and 15th century the Mutair became a strong tribe in the Hedjaz and started to move to Nejd where they had battles with Anaza, Dhafeer, al-Fodool and Qahtan, so that they became the dominant tribe. In 1818 the Mutair beat the Bani Khalid, the ruling tribe of the eastern part of Arabia, and as a result moved north-east from Nejd. The leading family was al-Duwish (plural al-Dushan). Mutair was famous for their horses and some found their way to Abbas Pasha. Their best strains have been Koheilan Ajuz, Koheilan el-Krush, Abayan Sherrak, Muniqui Haduji and Rabda Keshylan, and Dahman Shahwan, but they did not have any Saqlawis. They have also been famous for their black camels and they had a special habit: they let some of them loose to run ahead of the main troops in battle.
The Utaybah lived in Hedjaz in past times and had been in war with the Harb. So they extended to Nejd, taking over the grazing lands of the Qahtan, pushing them east and south. They are one of the largest Bedouin tribes in Arabia with branches to Northern Africa. In Qassim and at the foot of the Tuwaiq the best pastures of the Arabian Peninsula were located. Therefore they had an abundance of camels, sheep and horses. Guarmani, an Italian traveler, joined the marching Utaybah in 1863. They were at war with Faisal al-Saud and in a raid the Utaybah lost all their herds. With 400 horsemen and 5,000 archers on dromedary they could win over the enemy only by betrayal. In thankfulness Guarmani was presented with a magnificent horse from the spoil and could buy three more stallions, that went to Italy and France. The stallion Hadban, purchased by the Blunts in India, comes from al-Utaybah, as well as some horses of Abbas Pasha.
The Qahtan are today a major tribe in the central part of southern Nejd. They exist since the beginning of the history of the Arabs and are regarded as a very noble tribe. They had their home in the eastern and southern Asir and are not related to the Kahtan of Southern Arabia. They were one of the strongest tribes in middle Arabia. Al-Qahtan is the origin of the Dahman Shahwan strain with Egypt´s foundation mare El Dahmah coming from them. Also the Krush strain originated with them.
The Dhafeer tribe is of Southern Arabian origin and is derived from the Tai. They lived in south-eastern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and also some in Syria. They were a rather heterogenic tribe and were allied with the Shammar and Muntafiq. They are the origin of the strain of Koheilan Mimrah.
The Ajman came from the Asir mountains and later moved to Eastern Arabia. Several Dahman Shahwan horses bred by the Ibn Hithlayn sheiks were influential in Egyptian breeding, for example Talqa/Faras Naqadan.
The Dawasir tribe (singular Dossary) originated in Wadi Dawasir in southern Nejd. From there they spread in various parts of the Middle East including Bahrain and Kuwait. “The Beni Dowasir had been famous for their horses in the most remote antiquity together with the Beni Kahtan” (Burckhardt). Furtha Dhelall was exported to America, a Hamdani.
Harb – the Masters of Hedjaz
The Harb are a large tribe from the Hedjaz. The name Harb means “war”. Only parts of them have been nomads and breeding camels. They have been feared for many centuries because they made attacks on the pilgrim´s caravans. Some of the Harb have moved as far as the extreme north of Syria or Iraq. From the marbat of Muhsin al Farm, sheikh of the Harb, the strain Suwayti al-Firm originates. The foundation stallion of the modern Saudi desert horses was bred by the Harb: Al-Harqan, a gift from al-Fadliyah from his famous Koheilan Harqan marbat. From the same strain the stallion Harqan of Ali Pasha Sherif comes, a son of Zobeyni out of Harka, a mare bred by the Rwala.
Other principle Tribes of Saudi Arabia
Other major tribes of Saudi Arabia are Anaza (from them the house of al-Saud comes), Beni Khalid, Shammar (the southern Shammar with the house of al-Rasheed), and al-Murrah. The latter lived near the Empty Quarter, the Rub al-Khali, where they could retreat and could not be bothered by anybody. Additional 15 minor tribes exist in Saudi Arabia, including the predominantly urban Quraysh, from which the prophet Muhammad comes.
Note: the article is a shortened version by the author from his book "BEDOUIN HERITAGE"