A detailed look at *Urfah’s hujjah

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on May 6th, 2010 in General

[This article, first published on April 16th, 2010, was just updated and expanded, and is being reposted now]

The inquiry on the “Davenport Arabian” hujaj begins with *Urfah, who is present in the pedigree of our “case study” mare Jauhar El-Khala 75 times. My own Wisteria has a 151 crosses to *Urfah, and her newborn daughter Wadhah traces to *Urfah a stunning 219 times (!)

Click here for what the reference book Al Khamsa Arabians III has to say about *Urfah. Most of the information is essentially extracted from the hujjah itself, a translation of which is below (translation mine, adapted from the version I did for Al Khamsa Arabians III in 2005, which was a word-to-word translation):

“I, Dhidan, testify by God that she came from [the clan of ] ‘Abdah from the tribe of Shammar; they [i.e, the clan of ‘Abdah] testified to my father Jar Allah al-‘Awaji, the father of Dhidan al-‘Awaji; they testified to my father that she is the Saqlawiah from the horses of al-‘Abd;

I testify by God on the testimony of my father that she is Saqlawiah from the horses of al-‘Abd; I swear by God, I o Dhidan al-‘Awaji that she is Saqlawiah al-‘Abd; she is to be mated and we have mated her; she is Saqlawiah al-‘Abd, protected, with us for forty years.

Dhidan al-‘Awaji Sheykh of Wuld Sulayman, the owner of the stud [seal],
Mishrif ibn Huraymis Sheykh of al-‘Ajajirah [seal]

I, Malik ibn Fardh (illegible word, maybe al-Buhi), testify on the testimony of Dhidan al-‘Awaji: I testify by God

The witnesses of the situation: Nahar al-Haj Sheikh of Shammar

We testify on the testimony of Dhidan al-Awaji that she is Saqlawiah al-‘Abd and that she is to be mated: Mohammad Aal Hamad and Uthman Aal Hamad from the village of Khirbat Kayar, Uqlah al-Dhul’ubab, Haj Umar ibn Haj Makki [from] Halab, Haj Ahmad Bat-hish from the village of al-Bab, Mohammad ibn Haj Ahmad (illegible word) Halab

That was the front page of the hujjah document; there is more writing on the back of the hujjah:

As for the two stallions, the first is bay, his age two years and the second is chestnut his age is one year and a half, I swear by God that they are the sons of the bay mare referred to on the inside of this [document] and she is Saqlawiah, protected, her strain was not hit [with accusations of impurity] and I testify that the [persons] referred to are just and that their testimony is acceptable.
Ahmad Hafez [seal]

I will use two methods to read this text: first text analysis, and second, context analysis. The first focuses solely on what is written in the document; the second, on how what is written in the document relates to other things we may know from other sources.

From the first sentence we learn that a man by the name of Dhidan al-‘Awaji, who later identifies himself as a Shaykh of the Wuld Sulayman [a Bedouin tribe] and as “owner of the stud” [ra’i al-marbat], swears that the mare who is the subject of hujjah initially came from the tribe of Shammar, from ‘Abdah [a clan of the Shammar Bedouin tribe]. The man who testifies in a hujjah needs to be the horses’s current owner; otherwise, the document is not a hujjah, for one cannot testify about something that is not his. A “good” hujjah, is one where the buyer of the horse can be reasonably sure that the horse is authentic, “asil”.

The hujjah is better when the owner of the horses in question is also his breeder, as the breeder knows the horse’s parents and sometimes its ancestors first hand. That hujjah is even stronger when the breeder is “ra’i al-marbat”, the owner of the desert stud of Arabian horses from which the horse in the hujjah comes from. Being ra’i al-marbat means being recognized all across the Arabian desert as the ‘owner of that particular branch of the strain’; it means the right to claim under trover according to Bedouin custom law (more later on this), and it also means being the owner of the ‘brand’, almost as in a registered trademark. It is an additional guarantee of purity and authenticity. Buying a horse from ra’i al-marbat is like buying a new GM truck from a licensed GM dealer, as opposed to buying a second hand truck from any dealer. *Urfah’s owner and breeder is also a Shaykh (leader) of his tribe, in addition to being ra’i al-marbat. This gives additional credence to the hujjah, because a Shaykh is supposed to embody the values of his tribe, and serve as its spokesperson and ambassador to the rest of the world. There is more peer pressure on him to act honestly and righteously.

In the second sentence, we learn that the information about the mare originally being from the clan of ‘Abdah of the tribe of Shammar actually comes from the clan of ‘Abdah itself, and that this information was not given to Dhidan, but rather to his father Jar Allah. We also learn that this information reached Dhidan’s father in the form of a testimony, or sworn oath. In the third sentence, we learn that the same people of the ‘Abdat Shammar testified that the strain of the mare was Saqlawiyah al-‘Abd.

In the second paragraph, Dhedan testifies on the same information that was given to his father – essentially, that the mare is Saqlawiyah al-‘Abd by strain, and that she came from the ‘Abdah clan of Shammar. Yet this is not a redundancy. As the owner of the mare, and as its seller to Homer Davenport, it is Dhedan’s individual testimony that matters, not his father’s, nor that of the Shammar from which the mare came from; the buyer is bound by Dhedan’s testimony, not by that of anyone else.

The seond sentence in the second paragraph is redundant however, because Dhidan swears by God one more time that the mare is Saqlawiyah al-‘Abd by strain. This had led earlier readers and translators of the hujjah to surmise that the writer – whoever that was, it needen’t be Dhidan the seller-owner-breeder — actually meant to write that *Urfah’s sire was Saqlawi al-‘Abd, too; especially that the document mentions the masculine form “Saqlawi al-‘Abd” instead of the feminine form Saqlawiyat al-‘Abd. However, the sentence clearly says: “she is [annaha] Saqlawi” and not “he is [annahu] Saqlawi” or “her sire [abuha] is Saqlawi”, and the masculine can be taken here as a mention that the mare is of the Saqlawi strain (which would require a masculine form, since the word strain is masculine in Arabic). It is possible that the writer indeed meant to write about the sire of the mare [abuha] and instead wrote about the mare herself [annaha]. The text is otherwise fraught with typos and grammatical errors, and while the writer is a native speaker of Arabic, he does not seem to have been a very educated person.

The third sentence in the second paragraph specifies that the mare is to be mated; this might first seem confusing, because all fertile mares be mated, in theory; what it actually means is that mare is from a reputable origin that is worthy to be bred from; it can also mean, although perhaps not in this context, that the mare is from a strain that can produce stallions for the tribe. Not all strains can produce stallions for a tribe; only those strains that are ‘yshabbi‘ (Davenport’s ‘chubby’ in his book).

Finally, the last sentence in this paragraph mentions that the mare is ‘protected’, or rather, that her marbat (desert stud) is ‘protected’; this means that special care has been taken not to breed her or her relative (dam, sister, dam’s sister, etc) to uknown, doubtful, or otherwise just mediocre stallions. A ‘protected’ marbat means pride of ownership. The mention ‘she is with us, for fourty years’ is perhaps one of the most illuminating in the hujjah. Fourty years is longer that the lifespan of one mare. This means that “she” does not refer to the *Urfah as an individuial, but rather to the damline family. It means that Dhedan’s family has owned *Urfah’s dam, grand-dam and possibly great-grand-dam before her, as of the 1870s. It also means that the use of the article “she” as an apparent reference to an individual mare should not be interpreted too literally. There are countless  other examples of appearing to refer to a mare as individual when actually meaning to refer to her whole damline family: in Egypt, a mare born in the 1880s would often be referred to as ‘from the stud Abbas Pasha’ which had been dispersed two decades before. What was meant is that the mare’s damline come from the stud of Abbas Pasha.

With that broder use of the article “she” in mind, to mean the mare’s damline as opposed to the individual *Urfah, the information contained in her hujjah can be re-read in a different light: it is not the mare herself who hails from the ‘Abdah Shammar, but one of the mare’s maternal astecedents: her grand-dam, or more likely, her great-granddam.

2 Responses to “A detailed look at *Urfah’s hujjah”

  1. Edouard, Joyce Gregorian told us that forty was a number that could be used in the middle east as meaning “many.” Examples, the forty days and forty nights, Ali Baba and the forty thieves. In this case, could that just mean that the family has had this female line for many years, multiple generations, rather than just forty?

  2. Jeanne, it can be both, there is no way to tell. That said, I would argue for a literal meaning of the fourty years because: a) 40 years is not a long time marbat wise; b)Saqlawi al-Abd is not a Wuld Sulayman marbat, but rather from the Fad’aan and the Sba’ah tribes, so it is likely al-Awaji got it from there.

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