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other domesticated animals

„I was to dine that night in Fellah ul ´Isa´s tent, and when the last bar of red light still lay across the west Gablan came to fetch me. The little encampment was already alive with all the combination of noises that animates the desert after dark, the grunting and groaning camels, the bleating of sheep and goats and the uninterrupted barking of dogs. There was no light in the sheikh´s tent save that of the fire, my host sitting opposite me was hidden in a column of pungent smoke and sometimes illuminated by a leaping flame. When a person of consideration comes as guest, a sheep must be killed in honour of the occasion, and accordingly we eat with our fingers a bountiful meal of mutton and curds and flaps of bread.”                                                                                                                                                                                       Gertrude Bell 1907

The Donkey

The donkey is claimed to have been known to the nomads of Arabia before the camel. So before the use of the camel the Bedouins had to rely on the donkey in the first stages of nomadic existence. Later donkeys were mostly raised by the arab as-shawaya Bedouins, that is, those who owned sheep and goats and did not venture far into the desert. Also the tribe of Slayb (al-Slaba), called nomads of the nomads by Jabbur, possessed donkeys. It was the weakest tribe in strength, the lowest in status and the most inferior in terms of ancestry, without a dira (territory), but found all over the Arab Peninsula. They bred two types of donkeys, an ordinary, called haqri/ pl. haqara, and a thoroughbred, called shari/ pl. shahara. The Slayb were hunters and repaired the containers and utensils of the Bedouins and served as informants (Jabbur). 

The guard dog

The guard dogs were known as kalb ra´y (watchdog). Two or three of them were found with each flock and they had to guard the animals of the shepherds or goatherds from wolves. Also Bedouins had dogs to guard their homes, the black tents. Thus they were the night watch for the camps. But they were outcasts that were not allowed into the tents and had to be content with that was left over from the food (Jabbur). Still, as the author experienced with the Bedouin guard dogs of the Negev in 1985, they were dogs of a man-loving and pleasant character.

The Saluki

Photo Carl Raswan

The Bedouin used the Saluki/Saluqi for hunting gazelles and rabbits and also oryx since the times of the Umayyads. They claimed that they originally came from the town of Saliq or Saluqia in Yemen. There are many poems on the hunting dogs and they were even compared to the thoroughbred horse. That reached the point that the Bedouins began to trace their pedigrees as they did with horses. Mukallibin were the instructors of the hunt or trainers of dogs. Salukis are thin, graceful, beautiful animals, and can outrun the gazelle (Jabbur).

sheep, goat and cattle

Sheep and goats were mostly herded by the half-nomads or those tribes living near the fringes of the desert or by settled folk of the oases or villages. The sheep of the Arabian peninsula are distinguished by their large fat-tail and the softness of their wool. They had an impact on economy through clarified butter (samn) extracted from their milk, and the meat of their lambs. In 1953 the number of sheep in Syria alone was estimated as about 2,800,000 ewes. Goats were estimated at about 1,200,000. Their hair was spun into the thread woven into the black tent cloth used by the Bedouins for their tents - buyut al-sha´r (houses of hair). Goats are mountain livestock and only some goat-herders frequented the desert fringes.


True Bedouins did not know cattle, but semi-sedentaries who had begun to settle in villages and farms in certain seasons of the year did raise cattle. They were known as al-arab al baqqara, cattle raising Bedouins. In Syria they numbered about 400,000 in 1953 (Jabbur).


Falcons were (and are) used for hunting. In gazelle hunting the falcon was turned loose if the dogs could not overtake the gazelle. The falcon would divert it from its course and make it easier for the dogs to catch it. Hunting had been a very widespread form of recreation for the Bedouin since remote times and Bedouin society the hunters ranked high among the renowned marksmen (comparable to their oldest ancestor Ishmael) and horsemen. Thus we read of vagabond poets (the sa´alik) living on hunting and plundering, or of chieftains, like Imru´al-Qays, priding themselves on hunting. The Bedouins passed the tradition of this pastime down from father to son, and some of them even made of it a means of earning a living. The main animals Bedouins hunted were gazelles, oryx, onagers, bustards, ibex, and rabbits. Among the birds were ostrichs, bustards, cranes, partridges, pigeons, francolins, and sand grouse. They used birds of prey to hunt most of these birds, and salukis, panthers, horses, camel, and Slaybi donkeys to hunt the land animals. The only significant change that happened over the centuries was that bow and arrow fell into disuse when gunpowder was introduced, and men instead relied on firearms. Today most people resort to pursuing game with automobiles and airplanes instead of horses and camel (Jabbur). 


For the chapter on the horse click here to continue!

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