Wordsmithing and the issue of *Turfa’s strain

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on June 14th, 2010 in Arabia, Saudi, USA

The beautiful chestnut mare Bint Turfara (Sirecho x Turfara by *Fadl), a Kuhaylah, is pictured below.

By the way, and just to set the record straight, the strain of “‘Ubayyan al-Hurmah” , which Carl Raswan ascribes to *Turfa (and her sire) simply does not exist.  There are about four dozens different strains of ‘Ubayyan, which I will list on this blog some day, and none of these is “Ubayyan al-Hurmah” (H-U-R-M-A-H).

There is, however, a ‘Ubayyan strain known as “Ubayyat al-Hamrah” (H-A-M-R-A-H), the ‘red’ or ‘bay’ Ubayyat. This was the strain of *Turfa’s sire, according to her Arab Horse Society Stud Book Vol. 6 (1944) entry. Note the different orders of the letters M and R in the two words (H-U-R-M-A-H) and (H-A-M-R-A-H), and the different vowels A and U. These two words are not the same.

There is also a town in Saudi Arabia by the name of al-Khurmah (K-H-U-R-M-A-H), where one of the studs of the House of Saud was located. *Turfa came from that stud, and her Arab Horse Society Stud Book Vol. 6 (1944) entry mentions her as a  Kuhaylah, from this Saud stud located in al-Khurmah, an oasis between the Hijaz and Najd regions. No “substrain” is assigned to her, and we’ll just have to live with that. She is just referred to as a “Kuhaylah [of] al-Khurmah”.

It is actually possible to reconstruct the mental process which led Raswan to ‘coin’ the strain of ‘Ubayyan al-Hurmah, in an exercise of wordsmithing that reveals his lack of familiarity with the Arabic language.

Raswan, no doubt well-meaning, seems to have been fooled by the apparent similarity of the two words (K-H-U-R-M-A-H) and (H-A-M-R-A-H) to make up a new strain for *Turfah, by ‘merging’ the name of the stud *Turfa came from (al-Khurmah) with the strain of *Turfa’s sire (al-Hamrah, a ‘substrain’ of ‘Ubayyan), and turning these two distinct words, which are pronounced very differently in Arabic, into one single word (H-U-R-M-A-H). He then seems to have declared that this newly minted strain of ‘Ubayyan al-Hurmah was the strain of both *Turfa and her sire, apparently because it fit his theory of elite desert-bred Arabians such as *Turfa being bred pure within the same strain.

To do so, Raswan essentially seems to have taken the letter K out of (K-H-U-R-M-A-H), the stud’s name, which then becomes (H-U-R-M-A-H), and realized that the latter truncated word was now pretty close to *Turfa’s sire’s strain (H-A-M-R-A-H), so much so that the two words could be turned into one.

At best, Raswan’s crude wordsmithing betrays an ignorance of basic Arabic grammar.  How would Americans feel if the non-native English speaker that I am took the letter M out of the word “Morgan”, went back to his native Middle East, and told people there that American have a really good breed of working horses which they call the “Organ”, certainly so named because this breed of horses has well functioning organs?? Well, this is what Raswan did with *Turfa’s strain!

I apologize about the seemingly negative tone of this entry, but in spite of all his enormous contributions to the revival of asil Arabian breeding in America, there are things like this *Turfa strain issue which really irritate me about Raswan’s assertions. Another such issue is *Exochorda’s, and a third is Nafaa al-Saghira, which I will deal with next. Meanwhile, enjoy the photo of Bint Turfara. Whatever their strain is, the discussion takes nothing away from the breathtaking beauty of these noble horses.

By the way, and to end with another picture, here is a photo of Bint Turfara’s beautiful daughter Dlara (Ibn Fadl x Bint Turfara)

20 Responses to “Wordsmithing and the issue of *Turfa’s strain

  1. This photo is absolutely breathtaking, love it, love the mare, love her refinement and dryness…absolutely lovely….Look at her shoulders, her neck set impeccably…mmmh why did I not known those horses?!!!

  2. One of the most beautiful mares I ever saw! The rider is a Searle as well. What a group of horses, and family.

  3. I read the orginal notes that Raswan wrote about Turfa, am always sad that those notes are in error. ( mistaken or otherwise) Strange how facts can change as informed additions can correct.

    Seems all the various programs have benefitted with
    new and more complete information.

    Bint Turfara will never change by written words, she was
    extreme, reguardless of strain.

  4. Clothilde, if you saw these Babson-Turfa horses (and the Babson-Sirecho-Turfa) in real life, you would absolutely love them. I don’t know what heavenly blood runs in the veins of that mare *Turfa, but I can tell you that you can still feel her influence several generations down. A true foundation mare.

  5. Clothilde, I have seen and filmed many, and even bred from some of these “Searle bred” horses with lots of Turfa in the pedigree and I agree with Edouard’s statement that there is something truly special about Turfa especially in multiple crosses and in combination with other Saudi desert lines.

    I have some movie film of a stallion being ridden named Famaje (Ibn Fadl x Al Asmaje) 1971 bay, an intensely Turfa bred stallion, and one of the most beautiful stallions I have ever seen of this breeding.

    Famaje’s owner had told me that his other mare Fa-Dlara (Ibn Fadl x Bint Turfara) had beat Gleannloch’s Bint Bint Hanaa (Morafic x Bint Hanaa) in a major show in Texas. Bint Bint Hanaa was later to win a US National Top Ten honor. Fa-Dlara was a truly exquisite light chestnut mare, very refined, very elegant and a superior mover with high flag tail carriage.

    Fa-Dlara (full sister to Dlara pictured by Edouard above) represented the Searle breeding coming into its prime but unfortunately it was at a time when the mainstream of Arabian horse interest in America was focused on “Nationalities” such Polish, Egyptian, Spanish, Russian, etc. Unfortunately it seemed that these fine Turfa horses, usually owned by smaller breeders, were the right horses at the wrong time in our history. They still exist today and many are as impressive as they ever were but still waiting to be discovered.

    The reason why such horses are often not known by many newer people today is that so many are introduced to the “Asil” Arabian horse through the portal of the Egyptian horse and hence some would be surprised that such horses are equally found in other “Asil” lines as well.

  6. Edouard,
    allow me to put an observation into this discussion. The horses from Saudi sources of Inshass mostly also only have one strain name and no substrain, like Turfa. And if I remember right it is also the case in the mare Ghazala imported to Germany from Saudi Arabia. May there be a difference in beduin tradition concerning strain names between northern Arabia and central Arabia?

  7. Mathias, that’s an important and relevant question and I will address it in the next post. Thanks.

  8. Dlara was propably the weakest individual of all Bint Turfara daughters. She and two other daughters were here as well. Also three stallions of simular breeding. I worked closely with Don Hartzell then. (Nancy Searle spent summers here, one of George and Mary’s daughters. As I remember they had nine children.)

    One mare line was not here, tail female of Bint Muhaira, I tried to get Don Hartzell to send one mare, a daughter of Bint Muhaira. That mare was really beautiful in her extreme type. ( also of note *The Searles had most of the Otts horses as well in Arizona.) (Jane and her Mother live at the Searle Ranch.)

    This was all some time ago, and prior to the Krush. Everything changed with their arrivial here in Taos.

    Then illness struck! I point this direction as in all things, the life of these horses, depends on the life of
    their care takers. Lines can be lost, everything can change overy night. Split second

    Critical reveiw is, be grateful for what still is. Accepting always what can be next. I simply refuse to believe Raswan was filled with wrong intendtions. I am sadden he is an example of errors. Correct the errors, misintendtions, and credit his passion for continous
    study and love for the Bedouin and his horse.

    Jackson Hensley Bedouin Arabians Taos

  9. I met one Babson/Turfa/Sirecho mare in my US trip this spring and like her very much. I was first attracted to the babson influence group by the “Maur “horses who were mainly Babson/Turfa, I liked them a lot…

  10. With you, Jackson! Remembering what was and what might have been is a sure downer. We have to do our best with what we have and keep moving forward!

  11. Carl Raswan will always remain to me an inspiration in his writings when I first discovered them in the early 1970s. He taught me to value and understand the horse of the desert and the culture that created it. For any newcomers I suggest that you do not solely judge any of our benefactors by their few posthumous corrections but by the real work of their lives. We will all be corrected after we pass but let us hope we will always inspire the next generations the way that Carl Raswan did in his time and the way that the Bedouin would have wished. Had Carl Raswan not have come along when he did it is quite possible that the horse of the desert we prize today would be but a lamented memory.

  12. I seem to be doing a number of “attaboys.” I agree, Joe. At least in Western life, I think it is likely that there would be few Bedouin-type horses left. Raswan made errors, for sure, but he would be quick to correct them, I’m sure. I have seen some of his letters where he did just that.

  13. Joe, and Jeanne,

    I am afraid I will have to politely disagree with you on more than one count.

    There are far more than a few posthumous corrections in Raswan’s work. The contents of an entire website can be dedicated to correcting Raswan’s hundreds of mistakes and assertions, but that’s not my purpose at all.

    Also, Raswan was wrong on his classification of strains, he was wrong on strain-as-type theory, and he was wrong on his account of how strains emerged, among other ‘big ideas’. The Abbas Pasha Manuscript, which you edited, and which is as close as one can get to Bedouin breeders speaking in their own words, is available in English as a record in which almost every single line seems to contradict Raswan’s theories.

    Besides, I am not sure I agree with Joe that he inspired the next generations “in the way the Bedouin would have wished”. There is actually considerable dismay about Raswan’s strain theories among those Bedouins-descended people who are aware of them, and among Middle Easterners in general. He may be an inspiration to people in the West, but certainly not to Arabs, who generally feel that the way they relate to horses has been mishandled at best, and distorted at worst, in the purest of Orientalist tradition. Here I use “Orientalism” as a theoretical construct with practical applications, to refer to the West’s produding its own knowledge about the East and then mainstreaming it as the Easterners’s own standard knowledge, soemtimes even imposing it on them, thus creating another reality.

    Finally, and despite the diplomatic langauge often used to convey it, I cannot help but feel a disguised hostility whenever someone (in this case, myself) questions Raswan’s theories and assertions, even as proof is supplied. When it comes to Raswan and the ‘cult’ around him, critical reasoning and inquiry just does not seem to be welcome and is often frawned upon.

    I for one feel that it is hight time his work needs to be majorly critically reavaluated in light of emerging evidence, such as that coming from the Abbas Pasha Manuscript, the opinions of modern Arab breeders (just look at the strain panel results in Al Khamsa III) and anthropological literature on the Middle East, e.g., Morgenstern, Lancaster, Jabbur, and others.

  14. Having owned several of the horses of the *Turfa lines, including one elderly mare, (the last of this blood in my horses.) it is heart breaking to see these horses disappear due to the misunderstanding of the actual lineage of the so-called straight egyptian today. *Turfa brought wonderful bone, great movement and a handiness under saddle which we used successfully in working cow horses and as reining horses.

  15. I’m looking for more information about *Ibn Nafa (also known as Ibn Nafaa El Saghira) and hoping this is a suitable place to pose my questions. 🙂

    A few questions – what process was behind settling on his year of birth as 1923 as opposed to 1926? He is listed by the AHRA and AK as born 1923, but according to the RAS History book he was born in 1926.

    I’ve also checked Colin Pearson & Kees Mol’s Arabian Horse Families of Egypt and the birth year is listed as 1926 (Ibn Nafaa El Saghira 23.2.26 to H Hebermann USA ’30). According to this book (The RAS History book is one of it’s sources), Nafaa El Saghira had a filly in 1916, colt 1919 (Ibn Samhan), colt 1921 (Mansour), filly 1922, filly 1923, colt 1926 (Ibn Nafa), filly 1927. All the fillies were named Bint Nafaa El Saghira…?

    Does the 1923 birth date come from his original export document from the RAS/to the USA perhaps?

    I’d also like to know the story behind the two different strains given for him. As I understand it, on his original export document from the RAS to the USA, no strain information was included? Does anyone have this document to check if this is correct?

    Later strain information must have been obtained by the AHRA after communications with Egypt, and he was listed as a Kehilan Nowakia – but on the Al Khamsa database he (and obviously others from this family such as Mansour) are listed as Kehilan Mimreh. AK says the Nowakiah information came from the RAS History Book, and the Mimreh info from Dr Mabrouk’s handwritten herdbook. Can someone please tell me more about this herdbook of Dr Mabrouk’s – when was it written and an overview of horses it included?


  16. All very good questions Demelza. If I were you, I would stick to the Kuhaylan Nowak strain info for Mansour and Ibn Nafa and the others, until more proof surfaces. The sources of the information that says this strain is Mimrah is weak at best.

  17. Those questions will require some time to answer. I’ll get started!

  18. Last question first: What Al Khamsa knows about the Arabic herd book of Dr. Mabrouk is what it references in the entry for Nafa El Saghira: Judith Forbis references it in Authentic Arabian Bloodstock on p83. It was apparently used by the EAO to change the initial entry for the bloodline in the RAS History. Perhaps Joe Ferriss knows more about this?

  19. *Ibn Nafa’s birthdate: I have a copy of the RAS export document, done in English and stamped at the US consulate in Cairo. It gives a birthdate of 2/23/1923. The document is dated 7/18/1930. Dam is Nafa, Arab mare, Mohamed Pacha Nafe’s Stud. No strain is shown for her. Ibn Rabdan’s dam is spelled Bint Gameelia, or Gameella, and no strain is given for her. Ibn Rabdan’s sire is shown simply as Rabdan, and strains are given for his parents: Dahman El Azrak (Dahman Chahouane) and Rabda (Rabda strain).

    The RAS History gives a birthdate of 2/23/1926 for Ibn Nafa El Saghira, and does show a daughter foaled in December of 1923.

    This sort of confusion is not uncommon when moving between languages and cultures. It is one of the main reasons that Al Khamsa tends to list the differing information and its sources, rather than choose.

    I hope this helps.

  20. Thank you so much for going to the effort to look up that information! So for now it looks as though the 1923 birthdate may have come from the export document?

    Hopefully more information will surface regarding the strain. 🙂

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