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These excerpts are from _The Economic History of the Middle East,
1800-1914_, edited by Charles Issawi, University of Chicago Press, c. 1966,
from the chapter titled "The Nomad Economy." It is made up
of comments from Issawi and several other scholars.
(The "skinny" on all this is that it was the camel that was the very basis
of Bedouin life. The horse was a relatively rare, highly-prized
luxury item. I also remember from a different source that I
can't find that most horses were actually owned by the *town*
sheiks, not by bedouin, because they had the forage and
wealth to afford them--and needed them for war to maintain their
positions of power much more so than the bedouin. But camels
were also used for war and heavy cavalry charges; they just
weren't as fast or as nimble as a horse.)
Burckhardts' "Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys" (1831):
"The Arab's property consists almost wholly in his horses and
camels. The profits arising from his butter enable him to procure
the necessary provisions of wheat and barley, and occasionally
a new suit of clothes for his wife and daughters. His mare
every spring produces a valuable colt, and by her means he may
expect to enrich himself with booty. No Arab family can exist
without one camel at least; a man who has but ten is
reckoned poor.. (goes on to talk about how many camels
makes a rich man)...
This may be supplemented by a family budget for 'an Arab
in easy circumstances...He said that in ordinary years he
Four camel-loads of wheat: 200 Piastres
BARLEY FOR HIS MARE: 100 PIASTRES
Clothing for his women and children: 200 Piastres
Luxuries such as coffee, tobacco, 1/2 dozen lambs: 200 Piastres
Total: 700 Piastres'
<So, having one horse consumed 1/7th of a nomad's annual
expenditures. What is 1/7th of *your* annual expenditures?
Comes out about right, doesn't it!>
Pershits' "The Economic Life of the Nomads of Saudi Arabia"
(translated from the Russian), 1957:
Saudi Arabia, extending over the entire northern and central
desert of the Arabian peninsula, was known only twenty years
ago as one of the classic regions of nomadic livestock raising,
and to a lesser extent, for oasis farming. In the 1930's,
Saudi Arabia also became known as an oil country...
In the late 19th and twentieth centuries, up to the First World
War, no less than two-thirds of the population of what is now
Saudi Arabia was engaged in nomadic animal husbandry.
Camel drivers predominated among the nomads and,
unlike the semi-settled sheep herders of Iraq, Syria, and
Palestine, were named beduins in Arabia (i.e., "dwellers
of the desert." The Arabian dromedary, which was at the
very basis of the beduin economy, was used for food,
hair for outer clothing and sacks, hide for footwear and
reins, dung for fuel, and even urine was used for washing
and medicinal purposes. The annual sale of camel offspring
made it possible for the beduins to buy grain, dates, and
handicraft wares from the towns. But many beduins lived
almost exclusively on camel's milk, fresh or sour.
At the same time, until the First World War, the camel was the
sole means of transport not only for the beduins, but also
for numerous trade caravans and those of the pilgrims. This
allowed the beduins to hire themselves out as guides and
lease their animals and, most important, created an extensive
market for camels. The purchase of camels was handled
by the 'Uqail, an ancient, widespread corporation of camel
traders centered in Baghdad, with representatives in nearly
every large tribe.
The place held by camels in beduin life is illustrated by the
fact that their classification into age and sex and quality
includes more than 100 terms and by the fact that the words
"camel" and "beauty" originate from the same root...
<several more paragraphs on camels including a mention of
the Howeitat (remember Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia?:-)>
Beduin livestock raising is bound up with seasonal migrations
in search of pastures. Almost all beduin tribes had three
quarters: winter, spring, and summer. In winter, during the
rainy season, the desert waste of the Arabian peninsula
grows verdant, especially with khadda, a reddish bush with pulpy
green leaves, rising 1.5 meters above the ground. This is
the camels' favorite forage, and during the heavy rain season
the often overfeed and become sick, so that the herders have
to muzzle them. The damp, green fodder permits the camel
to go without water for as long as three or four weeks. People
use camel's milk to make up for this lack of water, as a result of which
beduin tribes are not dependent upon springs for their water supply
during the winter season. In spring (April-May), the green pastures
are scortched by the sun. The camel needs to be led to a water
hole approximately every fourth day, and the tribe moves to its
spring quarters in the proximity of temporary pools or to an
artificial reservoir...When these water supplies are finally exhausted,
the tribe moves on to its summer quarters where a permanent supply
of water is available in the farm zone. The beduins remain here
during the two dryest months, July and August. The camels
graze on the outskirts of the steppe regions and, according
to ancient custom, on the peasants' harvested fields.
Here the beduins sell their camel produce and stock up on grain,
dates, and other indispensable goods. With the first autumn
rains (end of August, beginning of September) the tribes return
to the desert and the cycle repeats itself.
The way of life among the nomadic beduin tribes in central
Arabia, about which little is known, appears to be somewhat
different. Here climatic conditions differ: both
subtropical winter and tropical summer rainfalls prevail on
the latitutde of Mecca and further south the latter prevail.
Moving along the traditional, strictly observed route, the larger
beduin tribes in Arabia crossed the vast desert wasteland.
These migrations...covered 1,200 kilometers at the beginning
of this century; the Ruwala...tribe..covered even greater
distances. This type of migration greatly hampered the
beduins in raising other forms of livestock. Sheep and
goats cannot survive long without water, and so the beduins
could not take them into the desert. That is the reason why beduins,
as a rule, did not raise livestock other than camels and were even
obliged to buy material from sheepherders for tents, which
were made from goak, not camel hair. THE NUMBER
OF HORSES WAS ALSO SMALL AMONG NOMADIC
BEDUINS. THE HORSE WAS USED ONLY FOR RIDING
PURPOSES AND WAS CONSIDERED A SYMBOL OF THE
NOT INCONSIDERABLE WEALTH OF ITS OWNER...
The economic life of semi-nomadic tribes [as opposed to
the straight bedouin] combined nomadic livestock raising
with more or less intensive cultivation of the land...sheep
and goats were raised...The number of camels was small...
STOLID ARABIAN DONKEYS AND MULES WERE USED
FOR TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES. THERE WERE
HORSES IN LARGER QUANTITY THAN AMONG THE
BEDUIN, BUT OF POORER STOCK...
<Talks about the collapse of the bedouin livestock economy
in the late 19th and early 20th century, first because of
competition from foreign livestock exporters in Australia,
Argentina, and South Africa, and then the replacement of
the camel routes with roads and lorries after WWI.>
According to El-Aref a good pack camel in the Near East
before the war cost 20-30 pounds sterling, 50-100
pounds during the war, and fell in the 1920's to
3-6 pounds. THE SAME WAS TRUE OF HORSE BREEDING.
THE PRICE OF A THOROUGHBRED HORSE OF AVERAGE
STOCK FELL FROM 100 TO 20 POUNDS.
<Talks about the coming of the Saudi empire in the 1920's
and ibn Saud's policy of trying to settle the bedouin in
Wahabi agricultural communites where they were more
easily taxed and mobilizable for war purposes, subsequent uprisings,
and the general impoverishment of the bedouin trying to
farm land that would not sustain them...>
I bother with all this for general reasons of enlightnment about
Arab society, but also because I've heard that Arabian horses
almost disappeared from Arabia itself, and I've never understood
how or why that happened, nor what of the original cataloged
mare lines survived, and where or how. What happened in
Hashemite Jordan (where the English prevented ibn Saud
from extending his power northward, despite them letting
him take the Hashim's traditional center of power in Mecca and
the Hedjaz) where the Hashims commenced to rule after
WWI would have been different from what happened in the
lower Arabian peninsula. Anybody know?
In many ways, the oil shayks' interest in fine horses--whether
Thoroughbred or Arabian--is just a continuation of their traditional
role as symbols of prestige, wealth, and power in Arab society.
One can understand their strong desire to get Endurance made
into an Olympic sport. It would be pretty nifty for them to get
a gold-silver-bronze sweep: it'd mean a whole lot more to their
society at large than it would mean to ours.
Linda B. Merims
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