Kuhaylan al-Mimrah: a journey back in time

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on March 31st, 2008 in Arabia

According to the Abbas Pasha Manuscript, Kuhaylan al-Mimrah was one of the favorite strains of Abbas Pasha, the man who ruled Egypt from 1848 to 1854.  The Manuscript contains an interesting account of the history of the strain. Unfortunately, it assumes a good deal of prior knowledge of Arabian medieval history, without which the story’s full significance cannot be grasped.

Here is a summary of the account in the Manuscript: the strain is one of the most ancient Kuhaylan strains.  Its history can be traced back to the time of a certain ‘Ijl ibn Hunaytim, “from the ancient tribe of Aal Mughirah”.  The Kuhaylah of ‘Ijl was lost to the Qahtan tribe during a raid, and a mare tracing to this Kuhaylah was taken from Qahtan by al-Maryum, a Bedouin of the Suwayt ruling clan of the al-Dhafeer tribe. It became known as Kuhaylat al-Maryum after his name.  The strain then went from al-Maryum to al-Mimrah, a Bedouin of the Saba’ah tribe, and there it became known as Kuhaylat al-Mimrah.

This may look like your standard story of Bedouin horses constantly changing hands, and changing strains in the process, but it isn’t. The mention of ‘Ijl ibn Hunaytim (other accounts write Hulaytim with an “l”) is very unusual, and adds a aura of mystery to the story.

‘Ijl ibn Hunaytim is a semi-legendary figure, whose deeds are the subject of folk songs, tales and proverbs across the Arabian peninsula. ‘Ijl’s life is shrouded in mystery, although Arabian chroniclers believe he actually existed, even if they don’t know exactly when  (a date sometime in the XVIIth century is surmised). He is said to have been the last of the kings of the tribe of Aal Mughirah.  Aal Mughirah was initially a branch of the larger tribe of al-Fudul, which was the dominant power in Central Arabia until the XVIIth century, but it grew in size anbd power to the point of breaking away from the main body of al-Fudul.  Aal Mughirah eventually established its domination over a swath of territory in Upper Najd in Central Arabia, around the town of al-Sha’raa, where ‘Ijl had his castle.  This castle is probably why he is referred to as a “king” rather than just a Shaykh (tribal leader). He is also said to have had a unique collection of hundreds of Arabian horses, which was the envy of other rulers. His horses achieved a level of fame not unlike the horses of the Ibn Saud and Ibn Rashid rulers.

‘Ijl’s life and heroic deeds can be subject of later entries. At his death, the power of Aal Mughirah collapsed, and the tribe fell apart. Some clans joined the Khrisah section of the Shammar tribe, of which they are still part, and moved to the Jazirah area (Upper Mesopotamia).  Others joined the Shammar of Najd, in the area of Hail.  Others yet settled in the towns and villages in Najd, Qasim, and as far as Kuwait.

Today, many Arab families trace their lineage to the tribe of Aal Mughirah, but the tribe as a distinct unit has vanished. Still, the memory of ‘Ijl ibn Hunaytim is very much alive, and the mere fact that Kuhaylan al-Mimrah can be traced back to his horses makes this strain one of the oldest and most prestigious of all. 

No wonder Abbas was fond of it…

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