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Aref Bedouin sheiks, photo Matson Collection, 1932

In Arabic the term qabila /gabila / kabilet is used by many groups of the Middle East (and also in North Africa) to describe themselves and others. It is most often translated as tribe. “The term qabila/kabila is accepted by many anthropologists as an indigenious notion referring to identity, unity, and cohesion among individuals who claim to have common blood relations. Not only camel herding people like the Shammar, the al-Murrah of the Empty Quarter, the Anazah/Anizah, the Rwala and so on were known as qabail (plural), but also sheep- and goat-herding qabail such as the Hawazim and the Shararat and of course sedentary people. The qabila was constituted of an amalgamation of smaller units: ashira/pl. ashair (tribal sections), fakhd/fakhdh (thight) pl. fukhud, hamula, beit/bayt/bait/pl. biut. For example the southern Shammar were divided into four ashair: Aslam (1,200 tents), Sinjara (1,000 tents), Abde (1,500 tents), and Tuman (300 tents). Those sections claimed descent from one apical ancestor and shared a defined territory whose resources, pasture, water and oases, were divided among them. Each ashira consisted of a number of maximal lineages (fukhud), which numbered 100-150 tents each and shared a common wasm (brand) for their cattle and wells. The hamula was a patrilineal corporate group which consisted of grandfather and grandmother(s), ego, his wife(ves), his sons, his brothers, their wives and their sons. In other words their lineage consisted of a group of actual ibn amm (patrilineal parallel cousins). Members of the hamula encamped in close proximity to each other, and herded their animals as one unit. The beit was the residential unit, the tent, and consisted of ego, his wife(ves) and children and tended to be formed upon marriage” (Rasheed).


According to Lancaster the Rwala used the term ashira for a larger unit, i.e. the tribe, instead of kabila. Musil, however, gives the term kabile for tribe, but also bedide or asire, as having the same meaning. “The Arab Bedouin is Semitic in origin, from the Caucasian race of mankind. According to the traditional view of Arab historians the Bedouin traces his descent from southern and northern Arabia, hence the practice of genealogists generally to trace descent back to two origins, northern and southern, or Adnani and Qahtani “ (Jabbur). The information given here on Bedouin tribes is based mainly on the book "The Bedouins, Volumes 1 to 3" by Baron von Oppenheim, maybe the most extensive work on the subject. For many years this German lived and worked in the Orient, as an archeologist, a member of the German Foreign Office and as an ethnologist. His books are the most detailed account in German language on the Bedouins in general but they also contain many interesting details on Bedouin horse breeding. Lady Anne Blunt, who together with her husband Wilfried, watched the decline of Bedouin horse breeding towards the end of the 19th century and as a result founded the world famous Crabbet Stud, also left a wealth of important information on the origins of the Arabian horse in her travel accounts. She, too, will be quoted in this context, and also many more British eye-witnesses, like T. E. Lawrence, J. B. Glubb, G. Bell, or C. Doughty, and others, also from other nationalities, like Rzewuski or Raswan, and not to forget the Syrian ethnologist J. S. Jabbur and M. Al-Rasheed of Shammar descent. Since the spelling of Arabian names often varies, the most commonly found spellings are used here, with the spellings used by Oppenheim added. This pages attempt to give a survey of the horse breeding Bedouin tribes, mainly of the last two hundred years, placing the foundation horses of the Arabian breed, especially of the Egyptians, and their breeders into the great cultural and political context of the Bedouin way of life. We will find a great number of different Bedouin tribes. This should show us breeders in the West, that our horses are influenced from many different sources and this fact will be obvious to any breeder in his daily work. Accordingly, it should not be our aim to breed a standard Arabian of one particular type. Such a standard type has never existed. Let us take the excursion into the past as an incentive for the present and the future of our Arabian horses, in that we handle the heritage entrusted to us with responsibility.


The plain was covered with the flocks and the black tents of the Sukhur, and as we rode through them three horsemen paced out to intercept us, black-browed, armed to the teeth, menacing of aspect. They threw us the salute from afar, but when they saw the soldier they turned and rode slowly back. The Circassian laughed. “That was Sheikh Faiz,” he said, “the son of Talal. Like sheep, wallah! Like sheep they are when they meet one of us.” I do not know the Anazeh, for their usual seat in winter is near the Euphrates, but with all deference to the Sukur I fancy that their rivals are the true aristocracy of the desert. Their ruling house, the Beni Sha´alan, bear the proudest name, and their mares are the best in all Arabia, so that even the Shammar, Ibn er Rashid´s people, seek after them to improve their own breed.”

                                                                                                                                                                             Gertrude Bell 1906


Camp of the Rwala (Carl Raswan photo, left) and Bedouin woman with children (Matson Collection)

Anaza - the great Nomad People of Northern Arabia

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Camels, Matson Collection 

The Anaza/Aneze were the largest tribal group in Arabia. They are among the oldest of the tribes and belong to the Northern Arabs (Rabi´a). They are divided into two large, opposing groups (ashab), DANA BISHR and DANA MUSLEM, which in turn are divided into three large tribes each:



  • Dana Bishr:     Fed´an, Sba´ah and Amarat

  • Dana Muslem: Hsana, Weld Ali and Rwala


The Anaza were major nomads and camel breeders, only the Hsana bred mainly sheep (at the end of the 19th century). During the summer they were found in the cultivated areas of Syria and Mesopotamia, where their animals grazed on the harvested fields of the farmers. In winter, following the first rains, they crossed through the steppes and desert towards their ancient homeland. To acquire winter provisions such as grain and dates, they traded at the markets of nearby towns. Their main source of income, besides livestock, was the extorsion of protection fees from Syrian shepherd families and semi-settlers, and of toll money from caravans passing through their territory (including the pilgrims to Mecca). Shammar and Anaza were hereditary enemies. In the South the Rwala and the Shammar of Nejd fought over the wells and pastures in the Nafud. In the North the Fed´an and the Shammar of Mesopotamia opposed each other.


The territories of the tribes:

● Fed´an: in the West, northern steppes between Aleppo and Euphrates

● Rwala: steppes between Palmyrene and Nefud

● Amarat: in the Eastern Syrian desert (many remained in their old homeland, the Gassim)

● Weld Ali: Hauran plains

● Hsana: between Homs and Palmyra

● Sba´ah: Syrian desert

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Photo Matson Collection

AL Weld Ali


The Weld Ali (Wild Ali, Would Ali) from Dana Muslim were among the first tribes to come north. They had their summer pastures in the plain of Hauran, in winter they crossed through the Syrian desert, and before their former homeland in the Hejaz. In the mid 19th century they were beaten by the Rwala, which resulted in a partial abandoning of camel breeding during the 70´s and the beginning of agriculture in the 80´s of the 19th century. Also they began to march behind the Rwala during migration in search of pasturage. According to Lady Blunt they still owned many camels and mares at that time. At the beginning 19th century, Rzewsuki stated that they had superb and very fine horses. Their sheikh family was Al Tayyar/El Tajar and their tents counted to 7,000. Today the Weld Ali are split between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Many horses of the Weld Ali were exported to Babolna, but also to Russia (Count Stroganoff). The famous stallion Kuhaylan Zaid 1923 was purchased from the Weld Ali in 1931 for Babolna by Raswan and von Zientarski.


Stallion Kuhailan Zaid (left), Sotamm al Tajjar, main Sheikh of Weld Ali (Oppenheim 1899)

AL Hsana


The tribe of the Hsana or Hesene (Hssinah) was originally an important tribe. Among the first to move to Syria, they ruled the Palmyrene, the steppe and desert around Palmyra, at the beginning of the 19th century. Sheikh Mehannah Abu Nasser became known as the one Lady Hester Stanhope payed her visit when traveling to Palmyra. Also Emir Rzewuski was a good friend of him. He reports that the Hsana or Hosneh, as he called them, numbered 3,000 tents and had excellent horses. The Hsana were the first Anaza tribe to become semi-nomads, under the pressure of Weld Ali, Fed´an and Sba´ah. So later they only had 600 tents. In the summer they were found near Homs, in the winter in the Hamad. They have been allied with Rwala and Weld Ali.

Saud El Mazjad, main Sheikh of al Hsana, photo Oppenheim 1899 (left), and: In the Hamad, Gertrude Bell 1913

Al Rwala

The tribe of the Rwala/Ruala/Rowala was the biggest and wealthiest Bedouin tribe in Arabia, judged on their numbers of people and livestock. At the same time it was the most warlike tribe. In 1818 the number of their tents was 18,000 (Rzewuski). Lady Blunt gives us the number of 20,000 tents in 1879. Lancaster estimated for the early 1960´s about 360,000 Rwala or 72,000 tents (both in Syria and Saudi Arabia).

The first breathtaking vision of the Rwala encampment, a sea of 20,000 black tents and 150,00 camels, was described by Lady Anne: "Sunday, April 14.- To-day we have seen the most wonderful spectacle the Desert has to show - the Roála camp. We came upon it quite suddenly, as, crossing a low ridge of rising ground, we looked down over the plain of Saigal and saw it covered, as far as the eye could reach, with a countless multitude of tents and men and mares and camels. In the extreme distance, at least ten miles away, lay the lake of Saigal glittering white in the sun; and the whole space between it and there we stood was at least an equal depth of camp. We have estimated the whole number of tents at twenty thousand, and of camels at a hundred and fifty thousand; and at the sight, I felt an emotion of almost awe, as when one first sees the sea. Nothing that we have seen hitherto in the way of multitude approaches this..." (Lady Anne Blunt in Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates).

Nuri Ibn Sha´lan, main Sheikh of al Rwala and the camels and tents of his tribe (Carl Raswan).

The Rwalas originally came from the Chaibar, later, their main base of operation was the northern edge of the Nafud, including the Wadi Sirhan and the Southern Syrian desert. Because of the Wahhabite wars they continued to travel north. Since the best pastures there were already taken, a war broke out between the Rwala and the Weld Ali for the pasture rights in the Nukra (West Syria). Until 1921 there were additional bloody conflicts in the South with the Shammar kingdom of the Ibn Rasheeds and after that, with the Ibn Sauds. The Rwala are divided into five tribal sections, the Murath (with the Sha´lan family), the Dogman, the Ga´adza´a, the Freje (the largest section) and the Kwatzbe (Lancaster).


Their annual migrations were very slow and took a long time, due to the immense number of men and animals. The summer pastures they shared with the Weld Ali, which were located in what is today Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon, where they sometimes reached as far as the Bekaa plain. The Rwala owned 150,000 camels and each year sold up to 35,000 camels in the markets. Burckhardt mentions that there were more horses in Rwala possession than among other tribes of Anaza. But by the end of the 19th century they had only a few mares left - many had gone to Abbas Pasha, who had been on friendly terms with Sheikh Faisal Ibn Sha´lan and second because the Rwala were the first tribe to abandon lances in favor of firearms, which made war mares superfluous. Also, only when the Rwala joined his campaign against the Turks, did Lawrence of Arabia know, that it will be successful.


The ruling sheikh family was al Sha´lan. After World War I, Sheikh Nuri al-Sha´lan enjoyed such standing among the mandatory powers and among the sheikhs of the other tribes that it practically made him the unrivaled leader among the Bedouin sheikhs (Jabbur). During most of his time in Arabia, Carl Raswan, and also Musil, lived with the Rwala. The Rwala were an important source of Arabian horses. Stock acquired from the Rwala included the stallion Saklawi I, through Nazeer founder of the most significant sire line in the world, and the mare Rodania, whose descendants were sold from Crabbet Park throughout the entire world, including Egypt. Ghazieh, an Abbas Pasha mare that came from the Rwalas, established a female line of importance in Egyptian breeding, mainly influential through significant sires of broodmares of excellence, like Shahloul or Hamdan. The stallion Kuhailan Haifi came to Poland with Bogdan von Zietarski and Carl Raswan to become the most influential sire in between the two world wars.

Musil records that the Rwala “raise for the most part mares of the following breeds: 1. khejle, 2. saklawije zudranijje, 3. dhama, 4. ma´nakijje, 5. gilfe. However the following are also recognized as thoroughbreds: 6. hamdanije, 7. ´obejjet ummu greijs, 8. swetijje, and 9. amm ´arkub.”


Stallion Kuhailan Haifi in Poland (both left photos), and mares before a tent of the Rwala (photo Carl Raswan)


As Sba´ah (Seba´a) - Humul al-Khayl, the people of horses


“We met two thousands of the Sebahs upon their march, descending into the plain where we were reposing, from the Belaz, a mountain pass, with all their fine mares, little colts, little camels, little children, and hideous women, with the most extraordinary head-dresses and extraordinary rings at their noses, and preposterously tattooed in flowers and frightful figures.”                                       Lady Hester Stanhope, 1813


A larger part of the Bischr-Anaza Bedouins, the Sba´ah bred excellent camels and horses, but had no political influence. They left Nejd only about 1800 to 1805 (Burckhardt). Among the Arabs they are known as humul al-khayl - "people of horses". According to Lady Anne Blunt their horses were known as the best in the Syrian desert. Also Count Rzewuski observed on his trips to the desert in 1817 to 1819 that the Sba´ahs had perfect horses and records that their tents numbered 5,600. Until the middle of the 20th Bedouin tribes century they owned about 20,000 camels and about 30,000 sheep and many horses (Jabbur). During the winter the Sba´ah migrated through the Syrian desert (Wadi el Mijah, Wadi Hauran, Wadi el Ghadaf). In summer they were found in the area around Hamah, where they had their market. Most of the Sba´ah Bedouins left Syria in 1958 and 1963 and the decade that followed because of political reasons and came to the North Eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Thus in the Syrian studbook nearly no horses bred by the Sba´ahs can be found today. The Sba´ah are divided into several subgroups, including several clans known for their horses:

● Gomoussa (Qumusah, El Kemesa)

● Ibn Shutaywi (Ibn Schtewi)

● Resalin (Al Rasalin)

● El Deree (Ad-Derri)

● Ibn Huded (El Ebede)

● Ibn Muwayni (Ibn Muwene)


Ferhan Ibn Huded and son, main Sheikh of the Sba´ah, photo Oppenheim, left, and right: Dahabi 1969, a mare bred by the Sba´ah in Syria. She was ridden to her new home in Czechoslowaki on an adventurous trip. Her story can be read in the book Asil Arabians VI.


The Sba´ah bred the following marabet (strains) (El Dahdah):

● Ma´naghi Sbayli: originally Ma´naghi Hudrujiyah, bred by Ibn Sbayyil of the ´Ajlan clan of the Resalin, Upton´s Haidee was a Ma´naghi Sbayli. From this strain also the marbat Ma´naghiyat Zudghum of Zudghum al-Mijlad of the Ajlan clan of the Resalin and the marbat of Abu Tarbush, a sufi order of the middle Euphrates valley, derive and are known until today.

● Kuhaylan al-Kharas

● Kuhaylan al Nawwaq (Nowak) bred by the al-Gasem clan of the Sba´ah. Kesia I of Upton´s imports into England was of this strain, bred by the Gomoussa.

● Kuhaylan Abu Junnub, today extinct in Northern Arabia, but still existing in Saudi Arabia.

● Ubayyan Sharrak, Abayan Sherrakh, bred by the Gomoussa: Queen of Sheba of the Blunts came from this strain, marabet of Ibn Alyan, Ibn Thamdan, Ibn Durayhiss and Labdah

●Saqlawi Jedran of Ibn Ad Derri (El Deree) of the Resalin: Azrek, Basilisk, Meshura and Pharaoh of the Blunts belonged to this origin. (The famous stallion El Deree c.1920, a Saqlawi Sheifi, came from another tribe, the Baqqara, bred by the family of Al Deri.)

● Saqlawi Jedran Ibn Sudan. Often this marbat is connected with the Rwalas but it originally comes from the Sba´ah tribe, according to the Abbas Pasha Manuscript.


In Egyptian lines the mare Donia, a bay desert bred mare of the Koheilan Mimriyah strain, exported to Egypt c. 1880, bred by Nahar Ibn Muwayni of the Muwayqah clan of the Sba´ah gained influence through her two great-grandsons Mansour 1921 and Ibn Samhan 1919 (both sons of Nafaa El Saghira c.1910). The large Al Muwayni clan was head of the Sba´ ahs at the time of Abbas Pasha. Koheilah Al Mimrah/Mimriyah was one of the favorite strains of Abbas Pasha. A close cousin of Ibn Muwayni, Za´aazin al-Mimrah, owned a famous Kuhaylah Mimriyah from which source the rasan of Koheilan Mimrah originates. Many of the Blunt´s original horses came from the Sba´ah: Queen of Sheba, Azrek, Pharaoh, Basilisk, Dajania, Meshura and Hagar. Some years before the Blunts Major Upton purchased Haidee, Kesia I and Yataghan with the help of Sheikh Sulayman Ibn Mirshid of the Gomussa. Also Babolna imported horses of the Sba´ah tribe, for instance the mare 60-Adjuze, bought by Fadlalla El Hedad. Also some horses left to France. Homer Davenport bought the following horses from stock of the Sba´ah in 1906: Houran, Gomussa, Farha, Werdi and Haleb



Pharao 1967 and Azrek 1881, both Saqlawi Jedran stallions bred by the Sba´ah and imported to Crabbet Park, England and thence to Russia and South Africa respectively. 

Mare Queen of Sheba 1875 at Crabbet Park (left) and Haleb1901, "farewell in the desert" prior to his export to America by Homer Davenport.

Al Fed´an Anaza


The Fed´an/Fid´an/Fadaan were the political most significant Bishr-Anaza Bedouins. Lady Anne Blunt called them the most warlike tribe in the desert, although possessing only a small number of broodmares. The Fed´an were the sworn enemies of the Rwala, with whom they were at war from 1877 to 1900. Rzewuski gives the number of tents of the Fed´an with ten thousand and reports of an excellent quality of their horses (1818 and 1819). The famous Darley Arabian, most important foundation sire of the English Thoroughbred came from the Fed´an. Today the Fed´an can be found in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Their two main groups were the al-Wlada/Weld and the al-Krasa/Chrese, both with about 4,000 tents (Jabbur). The number of their camels was estimated with 20,000 and their sheep with 60,000. The Chrese crossed the Euphrates from 1860, the Weld only after 1900.


Their summer pastures were located east of Aleppo and Hamah. Their winter pastures were in the Syrian desert. The highest family of sheikhs of the Weld-Fed´an were the Ibn Muhayd/Ibn Muhed, of the Chrese the Ibn Ku´eshish. The Ibn Sbeyni family of the Muhayd Fed´an were famous for their Saqlawis. The stallion Zobeyni at the stud of Abbas Pasha was named, as was often the case, after his breeder. Through his grandson Messaoud he gained Bedouin tribes worldwide influence. The marbat of Ibn Subayni/Zobeyni exists in Syria until today. Also the strain of Saqlawi Sheifi originated with the Fed´an. A root mare of Egyptian lines was Freiha, a bay Kuhaylah Mimriyah bred by Ibn Huraymis of the Fed´an. This strain was lost in tail female line in Egypt, but still exists in South Africa through the mare Baraka (but not in Straight Egyptian lines). The important stallion Mabrouk Manial and the mare Hadbah go back to Freiha. Among the Davenport imports also horses from the Fed´an can be found: Wadduda 1899, a Saqlawiah el Abd, a great war mare of Ibn Muhayd/Mhayd and Reshan 1896, a Kuhaylah Haifiyah, and Azra 1903, a Saqlawi Ubayri stallion from the Chrese section.


Suleyman Ibn Ku´eshish, Sheikh of the Crese Fed´an (Oppenheim 1913)


Hatschem Ibn Muhed (right) and his nephews Medjem (left) and Muhammed (middle), main Sheikh of the Fed´an (Oppenheim 1913).

Davenport mares from the Fed´an: Wadduda 1899 (left), and Reshan 1896 (right).

al Amarat


The Amarat/Imarat is the only Anaza tribe that belonged to the Iraqi desert, to the the back country of Hit and Kerbela in Iraq. There is little known of them as foreign travelers did not visit them. They had come from the lands east of Jebel Shammar and eastern Nedj (Qassim) and started to move north at the end of the 18th century. As part of the Bishr Anaza they were alliance to the Sba´ah and Fed´an; and they were in conflict with the Rwala and the Shammar of Ibn Rasheed at Hail. In winter their pastures lay on the eastern slopes of the Syrian desert plateau (El Wudjan), and in spring further north at El Ka´ara. In late summer they moved beyond the Euphrates between Felludje and Baghdad. A major part of the Amarat has remained in their home country, the Qassim/Gassim. The sheikh family is Ibn Haddal. Today the Amarat are found in Saudi Arabia and Syria. The house of Khalifah in Bahrain is of Amarat origin. The Amarat had more than 3,500 tents and owned about 20,000 camels and many horses. From Hudruj/Hadraj clan of the Amarat the strain of Ma´naghi Hadraji originates. There are two sub-tribes, al Dahamsha/Dehamesche and Arab al-Jabal/Djebel with Sekur and Selka. According to al-Rawi both subtribes had 4,000 tents each (Jabbur).




Drwaing from the famous manuscript of Count Rzewuski´: Waclaw rzewuski beeing chased by two Bedouin from the hostile tribe of Ibn heddal in the site of Tel el-Seriye, Shammar mountains. The Polish nobleman is mounted on his mare Muftakhara, thanks to her he could escape and make his way to the friendly Rwala tribe.


Ibn Heddal, Sheikh of Amarat, 1914 (left), Sheikh Jedan´s camp, 1914 (middle), Mount Hor and Ayoub, Gertrude Bell´s soldier 1900, all photos Gertrude Bell 

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