On hujaj as bona fide documents

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on January 2nd, 2012 in General

The thread below contains very interesting and valuable observation by Joe Ferriss on Western need for a systematic classification of Bedouin strains, and by Lisa on the value of written versus oral information in Bedouin culture.

Let me add the following general principles: The Bedouins’ culture was an oral one; information was transmitted orally between people of the same generation and from generation to generation. They did not need anything in written when dealing with each other. The truthfulness and probity (‘adl in Arabic, a value depending on honor) of the man ensured the trustworthiness of the information, and it was confirmed by other men who acted as witnesses.

When dealing with outsiders, whether non-Bedouin Arabs like the town people or Aleppo, the Cairo-based missaries of Abbas Pasha, as well as Westerners, there arose the need to have this information put in writing, for two reasons :first, the system of values that bound Bedouins to each other did not apply to outsiders. Conversely, the outsiders did not trust information that was not put in writing.

So, as far as Arabian horses were concerned, the hujjah was the transcription in writing of information that was originally shared and transmitted orally. I am not sure it was designed for Westerners first. Rather I think the Cairo based Mameluk Sultans and the Istanbul based Ottoman Sultans were likely the first to request written hujaj for the horses they bought. The Abbas Pasha Manuscript is essentially a compendium of hujaj.

Of course, when trade in horses reached a larger scale, and foreigners who did not speak Arabic became involved as clients, a whole industry of agents, intermediaries, translators, guides and businessmen arose, who made sure that if a foreigner employing them wanted a piece of paper with Saqlawi Jadran written on it, well, they would create one for him. The Bedouin who was made to sign on the piece of paper, either did not know what he was putting his seal on, because he was illiterate (oral culture again), or he did not feel concerned, because the transaction involved non-Bedouins, and hence fell outside his value system.

2 Responses to “On hujaj as bona fide documents”

  1. Thank you Edouard for pointing out these important nuances and explanations of the purpose of Hujaj. I failed to make the distinction that you made which is most important, Bedu versus, non-Bedu. Hence Ottomans, other non-Bedu Arabs or residents of the middle east also would take comfort in written documents such as hujaj as would westerners.

  2. Thanks Edouard your comments accord with what I felt must be the case.
    It all comes down to the fact that once the horse is one step away from the Bedouin; sold to a non Bedouin,Egyptian or Western, in a town, with an agent or in India (!), the honour, ‘adl which safeguards the certainty of purity of blood has melted away.
    This has several implications, one being that it reinforces the value of horses such as the Tawahis who have not left Bedouin hands.

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