Myth #1: “Hab El Reah” and “Bint El Sheik” in the pedigree of El Samraa (INS) are horses. No they are not.

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on February 13th, 2013 in General

Some time ago, I announced on this blog a series of blog posts on “ten myths about Straight Egyptian pedigrees”, which I contended were harder to dispel than misconceptions about other groups of Arabian horses (see here, and the ensuing discussion). I did not plan to start with this one, but a recent side discussion about El Samraa (INS) on this blog prompted me to do it.

So here’s the first “myth” in this series:

The 1924 Inshass Stud foundation mare “El Samraa”, entry is #13 in the “Inshass Original Herd Book“, is listed as sired by a stallion named “Hab El Reah” and out of a mare named “Bint El Sheik”. I always thought these were unusual names for horses but did not second guess the information until recently.

It turns out these are not horse names at all, and the explanation is fascinating. Here’s why:

In a number of hujaj (original Arabian horse certificates in the Arabic language) dating from the early to the late twentieth century, references are made to individual horses being “from Habt El Reah and Nabt (not Bint) El Sheeh”, in Arabic “min habbat al-reeh wa nabata al-sheeh”, a phrase which rhymes in Arabic.

Below is one example from the 1939 hujjah of a mare imported to Egypt from the desert by the  Tahawi clan. The hujjah is courtesy of Mohammad Mohammad Uthman Abdallah Saoud al-Tahawi (translation mine, Arabic speakers check against the original scanned here, the reference is on the fifth line and click on the hujjah to enlarge it):

To the honorable and dearest brother Muhammad Bey Abu Sa’ud, may God protect him, 

Greetings, missing you, and asking about you. I start by saying that I reached Hamah in the best of conditions, thank God, and I went to see our brother Ibrahim Agha al-Na’san al-Barazi, and saw the Ma’naqi stallion, the brother of Bakhshish, and he comes from the Arabs, from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh, and his age is four years, light bay, with a star in his face, and a thin blaze, with white on his left frontleg and his left hindleg, and his dam is al-Ma’naqiyah al-Sbayliyah, the dam of Bakhshish, and his sire is Kuhaylan al-‘Ajuz who is famous among the Arabs; I liked his looks and conformation, he is Arabian, and could be bred from, and his origin is garanteed, and can be used either for racing or for breeding, so I spoke about him on your behalf, and I bought him for you, and I offered for him the price that he [Barazi] bought him for, which he estimated at 50 Egyptian guineas, and he — Ibrahim Agha, that is — wants to present him to you as a gift, without any thing in return, so please send me your response with the cost of his board as soon as possible, by way of a check from al-Ahli Bank, in the name of Ihsan Effendi al-Rifai, and the amount [of the board] is about twenty Egyptian guineas. Our greetings, and the greetings of the brother Ibrahim Agha to your honored selves, and to your respected sons. And this is a service for the sake of our brother Shaykh Hamad Abu Muhammad. This is the needful and May God protect you, sir. 

Your brother, Husayn Abu Hilal. 

I dedicate my greeting to the honorable uncle Abdallah Bey, and our brother Haj Faysal, and our brother Haj Uthman, and our father Haj Malek, and Haj Talab, and all the brothers. May God protect you. Waiting for your answer. The photo of the aforementioned horse is attached. 

February 20th, 1939.

Your son, 
Abu Hilal


Here is an example of a desert-bred horse with an identified Kuhaylan al-‘Ajuz sire and a Ma’naqiyah Sbayliyah dam, who is otherwise being referred to as “from the Arabs, from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh“. This reference occurs in a part of the hujjah that is different from the part about his sire and dam. So “from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh” clearly does not refer to the sire and dam of the horse, because: (1) these are already mentioned elsewhere in the hujjah; (2) the way information is normally presented about sires and dam in hujaj is not “from horse X and mare Y” but rather “His/her sire (abuhu) is stallion X and his/her dam (ummuhu) is mare Y; (3) reeh (wind in Arabic) is feminine and as such does not make sense for a stallion’s name.

In context, the phrase “from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh” in hujaj like the one above reads like it is one of these Arabic proverbs and expressions which Arabs, Bedouins and townsfolk alike, used as a flowery, poetic way of saying that the horse is desert bred. Similar Bedouin lyrical expressions such as “purer than milk”, and “can be mated in the darkest of nights” often found in other hujaj, and similar romantic Western expressions like “a true son of the desert” and “born under a Bedouin tent” come to mind.

Those of you who read Arabic and are readers of Daughters of the Wind and are able to read the hujjah above in the original Arabic will recognize the meaning of the phrase immediately. For those who don’t, it roughly means “from the wind that blows and the desert plant that grows” (funny it even rhymes in English). Al-sheeh is a common desert plant from the Artemisia genus (photo below).

To make sure this was a recognized colloquial expression (I had not come across it before, to be honest) and that my reading of the hujjah was accurate, I  Googled the entire phrase “min habbat al-reeh wa nabata al-sheeh” in Arabic, and I found many references to it including this one (in Arabic, sorry) and this one.

[Arabic orthography footnote: This way I was sure that the word “nabat” (to spring, to grow from the ground) was indeed the word written there, as it only slightly differs from the word “bint”, the only difference being about were the dots are placed: a dot above the first letter and below the second, and it’s NBT (nabat), a dot below the first letter and above the second and it’s BNT (bint). Also Googling the phrase is a way of making sure that that no dot was present above the last letter in “sheeh”, because a dot above the letter is really the only difference between the H of “sheeh” and the KH of “sheykh”. I will try to upload an audio record of myself pronouncing the letters, and the words, so you could see the difference.]

In the context of horses and hujaj, the phrase “from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh” would be a reference to the desert-bred origin of the horse in question, to the desert itself, from where “the wind blows and the desert plant grows”, a beautiful and poetic metaphor, from a culture and a language where poetry is the highest form of expression.

The anonymous Egyptian record-keeper at Inshass Stud who transcribed the now lost Arabia hujjah of El Samraa into the Inshass Original Herd Bookis unlikely to have been familiar with this Syrian Arabic colloquial metaphor. What is more, this clerk seemed to have misread it, turning “nabt al-sheeh” into “bint al-sheekh”, an error easy to make when the dots that distinguish the Arabic letter N from letter B, and the letter H from letter KH, are too close to each other.

Instead, he took the phrase “from habt al-Rih and nabt al-sheeh”  to mean a reference to El Samraa’s sire and dam, and recorded the sire as “Hab El Reah” and the dam as “Bint El Sheik”, adding spelling mistakes to his vocabulary mistakes. And generations of Egyptian and Western administrative clerks, stud managers, horse breeders and owners, and researchers, followed suit, and never questioned what these names meant, taking them for names of horses.

Now it might seem unsettling that El Samraa could have lost her virtual sire and dam, but I personally find more comfort in knowing that she is a North Arabian desert bred mare “from habt al-Reeh and nabt al-sheeh”.

I found the same reference to “from habt al-reeh and nabt al-sheeh” in a hujjah from the mid-1980s for a Syrian mare registered in Syrian Studbook Volume I. Still working on translating the hujjah and will share it with you soon in a revised version of this article.


18 Responses to “Myth #1: “Hab El Reah” and “Bint El Sheik” in the pedigree of El Samraa (INS) are horses. No they are not.”

  1. Good job!

  2. Very interesting. Thank you for the post…and “Touche’.”

  3. Très intéressant Edouard, merci encore pour ton travail…

  4. Fascinating post Edouard. Really really appreciate the time you take to educate us.

  5. Great work Edouard. This is a classic example of how information on ancestors is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. In the Arab culture there is certainly variability as to how lineages are described in written form. It is possible that someone at Inshass knew more about El Samraa. Perhaps it was told to King Fouad and he knew and accepted her lineage, but being a busy monarchy, when the details are left to, or orally told to, some clerk in charge of maintaining a herdbook and they insert some general information satisfactory to distinguish her identity, it does not mean the horse was a mystery to them. I look back over some of my own notes from 30 years ago and wonder why I did not write more at the time, because I know more than was written down. But if I die those details will evaporate.

    One can only imagine what it must have been like for Lady Anne Blunt to sort it all out for her purposes. I think it is fair and typical of human nature, that despite all her brilliance and knowledge, her interpretations and preferences could well have caused her to pass over some horses that otherwise might have been added to the foundation of her stud. What she avoided or discarded due to not knowing enough does not mean that all horses of her first attempt were impure or suspect. It would just mean to me that they could not be fit into the framework of her requirements. Today we do not have the same luxury, so reasonable assumptions must be applied and El Samraa fits well into that situation.

  6. Someone must be sitting on these original Inshass documents, or they must be lying in some archive. Has anyone been to Inshass recently?

    Philippe Paraskevas also reminds me of the disclaimers I should have put atop the post: “1) in the absence of real and verifiable information, all we can do is speculate. 2) No matter what, there are no grounds to infer that any mare whose ancestry is unknown to us may be anything less than trustworthy.”

    I guess the second disclaimer goes back to Joe’s reasonable assumption story.

  7. O.K., this is a theory with some good points behind. And it is already the second one on El Samraa. Other had other theories starting with those names. Theories going away from a direct bedouin origin of El Samraa, but from possible imports from Italy or Turkey.

    But we need facts to fill up those missing informations in our root horses.
    And in this theory we have some questions unsolved: Has there ever been a hujjah? Are we allowed to judge on the writers of the Inshass herdbook, only because they were Egyptians? One thing has always puzzled me with Inshass information: the date of birth is always given in a form that shows Day, Month and Year of birth. Impossible to know for anyone in those days, but there is a simple solution. The day and month of purchase or gifting and the day and month of birth are always in accordance, so it seems very likely that they just counted back the years of age of the particular horse. So either those doing the writing were really fools or they were over-correct, like bureaucrats sometimes tend to be.

  8. For clarification, my comments were not meant to be taken as criticism of individual record keepers for the king whatever their nationality may have been, but rather the whole process world wide of the process of making record of things that are known. As one who has experienced the challenge of finding information from records that were never created to any one standard in any one country, there is no reason to doubt these horses. But the process of written record keeping in all countries is inevitably highly variable and should not be taken as the full or final word and if there are mistakes the individual who made the mistake is not the one being judged. My comments are framed to explain what I believe to be the process, the perpetual challenging process of making written records of what is known by someone or several, not to mention how the information will be interpreted in the future. There are no fools here.

    Another important consideration regarding the records of Inshass can be inferred by reading (former President of Egypt) Anwarr Sadat’s autobiography called In Search of Identity. This is an impressive insight into the anatomy of the 1952 revolution in Egypt which caused the abdication of the monarchy and the end of Inshass. The state of mind of many in Egypt after the 1952 revolution must be taken into account, and the last thing on the mind of many of those was to preserve records of a monarchy that they had come to despise.

    If anything is is a small wonder that we have anything from the Inshass Original Herdbook. For a long time I have viewed the current published Inshass Herdbook as far from a complete description of the Arabian breeding program, but nonetheless something to help me appreciate what came out of that stud.

    From that memorable summer of 1975 when I first saw Ibn Hafiza in person, I had become intrigued with the Inshass stud and have long felt that the stud was subject to unnecessary prejudice by some. In learning about it over time, I realize that the Inshass stud, to some extent, is but another example of a piece of Arabian horse history, fragmented by political events around it, an unfortunate process that seems to have no end.

  9. Very interesting, I’ll second Jeannie in appreciating your efforts! Thanks

  10. Straight Inshass Egyptian (SIE), is a Horse who traces in Tail maile Line and in Tail female Line to the Horse’s from Inshass Stud. Today we have:

    Tail Maile line’s:

    El Deree (INS), c1920 grey stallion

    Anter (INS), 1946 chestnut stallion

    Tail Female line’s:

    El Kahila (INS) from Sa’ud, 1921 bay mare

    El Samraa (INS), 1924 grey mare

    El Shahbaa (INS), 1925 grey mare

    Hind (INS) from Sa’ud, 1942 grey mare

    Mabrouka (INS) from Sa’ud, 1930 bay mare

    Nafaa (INS) from Sa’ud, 1941 roan mare

    Saada (INS), 1931, grey mare

    Thouraya (INS), 1932, chestnut mare

    Bint Karima (INS), 1935 roan mare

  11. This is true Teymur, with the exception that the mare Thouraya (1932) has no female descent and we only find her blood through the daughters of her son Besheir (x El Zafir). However, at Inshass, Thouraya (1932) had a related “aunt” named Zahra (Gamil Manial x Negma) who was a full sister in blood to the dam of Thouraya (1932). And Zahra did establish a female line which exists to this day.

    Another interesting point is that there were very few 100% Inshass horses that carried on without the incorporation of EAO breeding. In North America we received two of them, Ibn Hafiza (Sameh x Hafiza) and Serenity Bint Nadia (Sameh x Nadia). If they would have been bred together at least another generation of 100% Inshass would have gone forward. Meanwhile, I believe in Egypt the last 100% Inshass bred horse that produced was the mare Mahasen (Ibn Anter x Saherah) born 1973. She produced for Ahmed Sherif but not in 100% Inshass form. Mahasen was also double tail female El Samraa.

  12. It would be interesting to establish a real conservation club for Inshass lines

  13. Is the Mare El Obeya the dam of Karima? and how is the study about the mtDNA of Karima?

  14. It is very easy to confuse the two phrases “Bint El-Sheikh” and “Nabt El-Sheeh” considering that the difference is only in the dots. Non-Bedouin readers could easily read it as Bint El-Sheikh as the other phrase won’t sound familiar to them.

    Al-Samra must had a certificate very similar to this one, something that Al-Samra’s recorded owner must have obtained from a Bedouin source. I wish I can find a copy of the original Arabic version of Inshas studbook to try to find more about this mare and other Inshas mares such as Al-Shahba.

  15. *H.H. Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha, Vali of Egypt, Nubia, Darfur, Kordofan and Sennar, had further issue:

    **Lieutenant-General H.H. Prince Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha Shishman. b. at Cairo, 3rd March 1833. He d. at Istanbul, Emirgan, 27th June 1861.

    ***Lieutenant-General H.H. Prince Ismail Daud Pasha. b. at Istanbul, 14th December 1848. He d. at Cairo, 14th December 1872.

    ****H.H. Prince Husain Kamil Daud Bey. b. at Cairo, 24th February 1873. He d. at Alexandria, 16th February 1898.

    *****Muhammad ‘Ali Husain. b. at Cairo, 13th November 1891. Deprived of the title of Prince and the style of His Highness 23rd October 1918. He in Turkey 1964, having had issue, two sons and a daughter:
    •(a) Hüseyin
    •(b) Ibrahim
    •(c) Nemzâde (1911 – 2000) My Paternal Grandmother who married than Shaban Bey the son of Prens Lütfullah, Seniha Sultan’s second son and Abdümecid I. Grandson. I love the El Samraa and Karima Strain…

  16. Yasser, I am so glad you understand this similarity between the words intuitively as an Arabic speaker.

  17. Edouard

    Thank you for the time and the dedication of your study. Comforting and enlightning!

  18. Dont Forget the Egypt King Family are not Arabsand doesnt speak Arabic as her Mothertongue, and also the groom was nubians-egyptians not Arabian Bedouins.
    So it is very possible that they give this two names without knowlegde of the meaning.

    Also many Members of the former Ottoman Sultanfamily came on 1924 to Egypt and intermarried with the Egyptian Khedive Family. They also brought there Horses from Istanbul to Cairo.

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