By Edouard Aldahdah
Posted on March 12th, 2010 in General
This is an excerpt from Christa Salamandra’s book “A New Old Damascus: Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria”, which I am about to finish reading. It has nothing to do with horses nor with Bedouins, but I thought you’d find her characterization of ‘asala’, authenticity, (from which ‘asil’, “he who is authentic”) interesting:
“In Syria, as elsewhere in the Middle East, modernist notions of authenticity operate alongside and sometimes merge with indegenous understandings. The concept of authenticity, asala, has long been an important component of notions of the self and society in Arabic-speaking regions. Derived from the Arabic root, A-S-L, asala, “authenticity”, is related to asl, which translates as “origin”, “source”, “root”, and “descent”. Asl refers to a person’s social, genealogical, or geographic origins, or to the place from which his or her roots extend.”
Then follows a discussion of the Western roots of this notion of asala and asil, which the authors traces to Romanticism in Europe, and the longing for everything pristine and unspoilt, and that’s when things becomes extrememly interesting, if applied to Arabian horses. It might (just might, because this is a complex issue, which needs more research) mean that Bedouins did not primarily refer to their horses as “asil”, at least not when interacting with each other.
What is sure, in any case, is that the notion of asil as identified above is a cultural one, and not a zoological one.