Dham al-Jarba, Wati al-Ghishm and the ‘Ubayyan story from Mustafa al-Jabri

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on July 18th, 2010 in Arabia, Syria

Mustafa al-Jabri is a longtime Syrian breeder of desert Arabian horses from Aleppo, Syria, and a beloved family friend.  Mustafa’s stud near Aleppo, which has up to 100 mares and two dozen stallions, is one of the most highly regarded studs in Syria.

Over the past decades, Mustafa spent extensive amounts of time with Bedouins and those familiar with them, and collected a large compendium of stories, some in verse, some in prose about Arabian horse strains, Bedouin feats and deeds, and the relationship of Bedouins with their horses.

Mustafa’s family is now working on putting these stories in writing in Arabic, for education and awareness raising purposes. Below is one of these story from Mustafa, which I translated from the original Arabic, and which Mustafa and his family graciously agreed to share:

One day Dham al-Hadi al-Jarba the Shaykh of the Shammar tribe went hunting with one of the men from his tribe, a Bedouin known as Wati al-Ghishm (as an aside: Wati means lowly and vile, and it was a Bedouin habit to give their children rough or negatively connotated first names to draw the evil eye away from them ; they would keep positively connotated first names to their slaves, for example Mas’ud or Marzuq). Wati was riding a pretty mare of the Kuhaylan strain; Dham liked the mare so much that he asked for her; when Wati politely turned his request down, Dham was so irritated that he resolved to acquire the mare at any cost, even if he had to resort to  force.

When Wati felt that Dham was up to something, he rode his Kuhaylah mare, and went off to the Sba’ah tribe, seeking protection with them ; but Dham wanted to show Wati that he could reach him and the mare wherever they went, so he sent two men to the Sba’ah encampments to steal the mare. Wati woke up one morning and saw that the mare was missing, so he went to the Shaykh of the Sba’ah and told him : « I left my tribe and my people and came all the way to you so you protect the mare, and look what happened »; the Shaykh of the Sba’ah told him : «Hope for the best ; lets perform the morning prayer first, and then we’ll examine the situation» ; upon hearing these words, Wati realized that the mare was lost and gave up on ever getting her back.

When the morning prayer was over, the five sons of the Sba’ah Shaykh came to check on their father; the latter stood before his chidlren and looked at each one for a long time, then he asked the eldest son to follow him. The Shaykh of the Sba’ah owned four mares and a stallion, all of them of the ‘Ubayyan Sharrak strain ; he went to his horses, sat in front of them, and started mumbling as he counted the beads in his hand ; then he asked his eldest son to jump on the stallion’s back, follow the thieves, and come back with the Kuhaylah mare.

And so it was. By the time of the evening prayer, the son was back with the Kuhaylah. Wati could not hide his amazement ; after thanking the Shaykh, he asked him for the reason why he stared at his children for such a long time before selecting the eldest for the mission of retrieving the mare. The Shaykh’s answer was : « all my sons are strong, but the maternal uncles of the eldest are from my kin »; by this the Shaykh meant that he was aware of his eldest son’s origins from his mother’s side, and hence he was certain of his performance. Wati then asked him about his mumbling as he was playing with the string of beads, and the Shaykh replied : « I was counting the paternal ancestors of the horses, and I found out that the fifth paternal ancestor of the stallion (that is, the sire of the stallion’s maternal great-great-great-granddam) was better than those of the mares, and that’s why I selected him».

When Dham learned the details of what had happened, he came to Wati to seek peace with him and asked him to return to the tribe, telling him he had no interest in the Kuhaylah mare anymore. Dham added : « Kuhaylat al-Wati may be strong, but the ‘Ubayyan Sharrak is much stronger, therefore the Kuhaylah does not deserve to be taken by force».

The mare in the photo above, Nawal, was owned by Mustafa al-Jabri, and is a ‘Ubayyah Sharrakiyah tracing to the marbat of Ibn Duwayhiss of the Sba’ah tribe. The story above was probably related to Mustafa in the context of his purchasing Nawal in the mid 1980s and researching her origins. I wrote about Nawal some time ago, here.

6 Responses to “Dham al-Jarba, Wati al-Ghishm and the ‘Ubayyan story from Mustafa al-Jabri”

  1. It always amazes me that, for so many years of my life with Arabian horses, we are told that all the “good” ones are here and that they are not much bred in their homeland. What a tale that was! It makes my heart sing to hear historic recollections such as this… with modern day horses in the flesh… and know that her original people still take as much great care and pride in their Arabian horses as they did hundreds of years ago. This blog is a blessing, and I share it with all that I can. Thank You!

  2. Reminds me of the mares I once saw of the Muhaira line. Same body type, I certainly liked the mares. Am sure
    this mare is as wonderful.

    Seeing through the eyes of Edouard and his history with the horses of his home land. Fun for I to!

    Thanks for making the horses come back alive, forgotten memories, now reminded.

    On a role, indeed you have been for awhile, Al Khamsa
    is lucky that you found a home here in the USA to work out of!

    I always look forward to the next entry.

  3. Jackson you are very generous with your words and thoughts. I am the lucky one here, to be living around noble people like you.

  4. Robin has a good statement there: it is a blessing to see these horses and know that they are still treasured!

  5. Another Dham el Jarba story

    Dham el Jarba was the Shammars supreme sheikh in Iraq, after a misunderstanding with the British who occupied Iraq after WW1 ,he fled to Syria with part of his tribe. The British nominated his cousin Sfouk al Yawer as Supreme Sheik ,position still hold by the Al Yawers until today.
    Once visiting Hmeidi Al Dham (Dham eldest son and Sheikh of the “Frontier Shammars” as the French mandate officers called them in Syria) he told me the following story:
    Once Dham bought a famous Seklawi Jedrania mare from the vicinity of Palmyra .
    .On his way back ,he met ,between Deir el Zor and Al Hasakah, with a “Aaraf”( a Aaraf was a man who knew about horses :or pedigree wise or with bad and good signs in a horse, don’t forget that the Bedouin is very superstitious) After having examined the Seklawia mare the Aaraf said:She is ok ,no bad signs ,but examining her hoofs I saw something a little bit annoying: Don’t let her near your Hadba’s mares they may give birth to twins.

    Arriving at his home at Tell Koshar (Joe Feriss knows the place and Sheikh Hmeidi) Dham,remembering the “Aaraf” gave the Saklawia to one of his kinsman.
    A few month later ,Dham being on a trip the kinsman had some words with Sheikh Hmeidi and became very angry ,he returned the mare and the rifle given to him by Dham,the servants ignoring the “Aaraf “ prediction let the mare together with Sheikh Dham mares.
    The result was,that some month later one of the Hadba’s gave birth to twins
    Believe it or not
    For the good and the bad signs in a horse please read Carlo Guarmani book

  6. Nice story Joe!

    I am preparing a narrative analysis of the ‘Ubayyan Sharrak story above..


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