By Edouard Aldahdah
Posted on June 7th, 2010 in General
The word ‘kadish’ (feminine kadishah, plural kudsh) is one you will hear often if you become involved in Arabian horses in their native land, the Middle East. I for one, encountered it very early on in my life. I would be on a visit to a horse farm with my father, and we’d be looking at the mare herd that was roaming freely in large enclosed courtyards or open pastures, and learning about their elaborate origins and pedigrees (‘this one is a Saqlawiyah from this tribe, this one a Hamdaniyah from that clan’, and so on), when a wretched-looking horse typically kept in a separate enclosure would draw my attention, perhaps exactly because he was being left apart: ‘And what about this one?’ I would naively ask our host. “Oh, this one is just a kadish, we use him to pull the cart”, would be the usual answer, often uttered in a dismissive tone, as if discussing the ‘kadish’ further was a distraction from the more interesting conversation about the other horses. The less people talked about these ‘kadish’, the more the curiosity of the ten year old I was back then was aroused.
On the way back from these visits, I would quizz my father about these ‘kudsh’. What were they? Were they Arabians? Where did they come from? Many of them looked exactly like the other horses everyone seemed to be bent on discussing endlessly, and some of them were even prettier. My father would tell me: “They are horses with no origins, common horses, local horses; nobody knows where they come from, and nobody cares to know”. Yet my fascination for outcasts of all kinds — which endures to this day — would prompt me to keep asking and observing.
These kudsh were not donkeys or mules, they were real horses yet people seemed to use them for utilitarian purposes only. They pulled fruit carts in rural areas, and gas tanks in urban areas, sometimes one could see them ploughing the land, too. I don’t recall seeing someone riding a horse, and upon asking him about it, replying that it was a kadish. Clearly there was no pride of ownership of a kadish, as in Arabians. It seemed like these horses had fallen off some Garden of Eden of horses, and that nobody wanted to reminisce about that fall. People did not keep oral or written records about them — same as with the donkeys.
That mystery remained until the mid nineties when Radwan Shabareq, a Syrian breeder of desert-bred Arabians from Aleppo, with whom we used to board a mare or two, gave me the most satisfying answer to date: the word ‘kadish’, he said, is the colloquial term for the Arabic noun ‘qateesh’, which means ‘he who was cut away’ or ‘he who was cut loose’, and comes from the verb ‘qatasha’, which means to severe or to cut. He added that it meant that links that tied these horses to the population of Arabian horses were cut, severed, and eventually lost or forgotten for some reason or other, typically as a result of human negligence or an adverse set of circumstances. What makes an Arabian horse an Arabian horse, in its native Middle East, is its strain (in Arabic rasan). Kadish have no strain, it was severed, cut (qatasha), discarded and forgotten about.
A few years later, another Arabian horse breeder from Aleppo, Mustafa al-Jabri, was to provide me with a specific example to illustrate this notion of lost origins. He was telling me about the asil horses of a famous Shammar Bedouin clan, al-Bashat, actually part of the Jarbah ruling clan of the Shammar of Syria, but with ties to Kurdish tribes through their mothers — Al Asi ibn Farhan al-Jarbah was married to Jarjarah the daughter of a Kurdish chief, and al-Bashat were his descendants. Mustafa was mentioning some of the famous asil strains owned by al-Bashat, who collected them from the ‘Anazah and Shammar Bedouins of Northern Arabia, all the way down to Najd in Central Arabia. Ubayyan Suhayli was a prominent such strain, but there were others I don’t recall now. Mustafa was mentioning that in the 1970s, some of the Bashat had sold their horses to Saudi Arabia, but that they could not export them because of some bureaucratic red tape issues (maybe missing papers, maybe veterinary related issues). The horses were all gathered in one place waiting to be exported, they bred on from some time but their status was in limbo and they were not well cared for. Many of them died. A few years later, the bureaucratic issues were still unresolved, the original Bashat owners had died or left the country and moved to the Gulf states, their heirs and agents in Syria could not identify the remaining individual horses, most of which were then seized by a third party and sold as kadish in the horse market of Idlib in Central Syria.
So here is a case of an asil herd whose pedigrees and origins were lost as a result of a negative set of circumstances, their asil status was lost too as a result, and the horses which could not be individually recognized were downgraded to kadish status and sold as all-purpose horses in the kadish market. Yet they are the same horses which were treasured by their Bedouin owners a few years earlier, and coveted by Saudi buyers. Mustafa’s story shed light on a specific aspect of the notion of kadish which I was not aware of, which is that the same group of horses can loose its asil status, its origins, its strain, and become kadish. Of course, not all kadish were once asil horses who lost their status, but only a tiny fraction. The wide majority of them are native horses who never had known pedigrees, so their parentage and connection to the Arabian horse population, if at all, cannot be ascertained.
An interesting parallel can be drown with the story of the Duke of Veragua horses in Spain, which emphasizes the differences between western and Bedouin notions of purity of Arabian horses. The Duke was the last direct descendent of Christopher Columbus and owned a well known stud of Arabian horses (many of them from Crabbet lines) which was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The Duke was killed and the papers and identities of his horses were lost, yet the Spanish Government decided to recognize the surviving horses as purebred (Skowronek lines notwithstanding, nobody knew yet that he was a ringer) and registered them under the general label of “Veragua Horses”. Their descendants are still very much at the core of Spanish Arabian breeding today. These Veragua horses, in a Bedouin setting, would have automatically lost their purebred status, and would have been considered kadish.