‘Arar ibn Shahwan and his Dahman stallion, from Lady Anne’s visit to the Tarabin Bedouins

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on December 12th, 2014 in Arabia

During her February 1881 visit to the Tarabin Bedouins of the Sinai and Negev/Naqab deserts on the North Western fringes of Arabia, on her way from Cairo to Jerusalem, Lady Anne Blunt reported this very interesting Bedouin tale:

” Story of the horse that came out of the sea. Its son from a Dahmeh Kehileh mare Meshur belonged to Arar and from him 5 mares, the originals of the strains of (1) Kebeyshan, (2) Seglawi, (3) Makludi [?], (4) Jaythani (Jeytani) (5) Tueyfi. Dahman Shahwan is better than Em Amr of Ranat el Awaj he spoke as of awaj el araqib (crooked hooks) whence ‘Om Argub’ — he never heard of Doheymeh Nejib. […] Maneqy and Jilfan are by themselves.”

The account is partial and confused, either because Lady Anne did not understand all what she was being told, or because she did not write down the entire story in her Journals. It is also possible these are only excerpts of a longer journal entry that was not published in full. Be it what it may, it is possible, with some effort, to disentangle the various elements of that story from each other, and try to make sense of each one. There are three interwoven elements within this account: the first is about the origin of some strains; the second is about the Dahman strain and its branches; the third is about two Bedouin legends, that of the horse from the sea and that of Banat al-Awaj. It is probable that Lady Anne’s Bedouin interlocutor mixed a number of stories together in a single account, or more possibly, that the conversation was moving seamlessly from one topic to another, as many Bedouin oral accounts usually do. [There is also one at least one typo in this entry: instead of “Ranat el awaj” read “Banat el awaj” — the daughters of Awaj.]


The Arar in Lady Anne’s account is Prince ‘Arar son of Shahwan al-Dayghami al-Qahtani, the leader of the Dayaghim clan of the ‘Abidah tribe of Qahtan. The semi-legendary, semi-factual story of the eventful migration of the Dayaghim under the leadership of ‘Arar from their original home in Wadi Tathlith in South West Saudi Arabia to the highlands of Najd is the subject of a famous epic tale known and recited by Bedouins in gatherings around camp fires.

This folk tale (generically known as “Sirat al-Dayaghim” or the Epic of the Dayaghim) includes a beautiful and emotional poem by ‘Arar (in Arabic only unfortunately) lamenting the loss of his entire clan in a flash flood that destroyed their camp while they were asleep at night; the story goes that one night, ‘Arar felt that his horse Meshur (yes! see Lady Anne’s account above) was stomping the ground and neighing in signs of stress; sensing something unusual, ‘Arar mounted him and ran upstream of the wadi (a dry riverbed); there he saw a torrent of water racing towards him at great speed; he turned back to alert his sleeping clan, but the flood waters were faster and overran them and drowned them all; he was the sole survivor, thanks to his stallion’s alertness and sixth sense, and he composed that famous poem in lament.

The folk tale hence confirms the part of Lady Anne’s account that “Meshur … belonged to ‘Arar“. The part that has Meshur being the son of the horse that came out of the sea is obviously a legend (more on this legend later); the part that has Meshur being the son of a Dahmeh Kehileh is more plausible. Here’s why:

The father of this ‘Arar is none else than the Shahwan after whom the strain of Dahman Shahwan is named. His full name is Shahwan ibn Mansur ibn Daygham al-Qahtani, the leader of the ‘Abidah tribe of Qahtan when they were in Wadi Tathlith. This Shahwan is a well attested historical figure (more on this later too). So if Shahwan was the owner of the original Dahmah (known as Dahmah Shahwaniyah after him), then it is likely that his son ‘Arar’s stallion, this Meshur, is from the female line of that Dahmah.

I would be very curious to learn whether the relationship between Meshur (‘Arar ibn Shahwan’s stallion) and the Dahmeh Kehileh (a mare from the original horses of Shahwan, ‘Arar’s father) is a Tarabin interpretation of the Epic of the Dayahghim or whether it occurs as such in the accounts of the Epic itself. Perhaps there are published accounts of the Epic of the Dayaghim and if so I would like to get my hands on of these. If so, that would be earlier account of the Dahman Shahwan strain.

That the Tarabin Bedouins should know the story of ‘Arar and that they should be able to make the link between ‘Arar’s stallion and the Dahman Shahwan horses is not surprising. These Tarabin, even if now living in the Sinai and the Negev deserts, originally came from Wadi Turabah (east of Hijaz and west of Najd, indeed right at the border of the two provinces), which is near Wadi Tathlith, the home of the Dayaghim. The Tarabin (prounounced Trabin) take their name after Wadi Turabah (pronounced Trabah), and as such were originally a Central Arabian tribe, perhaps a branch of the al-Buqum Bedouins, the current dwellers of Wadi Turabah.

More later, as I get further information from primary sources, the brief and garbled account of Lady Anne being a secondary source at best, albeit one with extremely interesting and promising pointers.


2 Responses to “‘Arar ibn Shahwan and his Dahman stallion, from Lady Anne’s visit to the Tarabin Bedouins”

  1. Thank you, Edouard!

  2. Bedouin oral Tradition as so different to western ways of keeping track with history but always worth while, as it gives us insight and knowledge on their history. Thank you Edouard!

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