A Perspective on Carl Raswan From His Writings (Part II)

compiled by Joe Ferriss from materials provided by Richard Pritzlaff
used by permission of Joe Ferriss Copyright 1989
From the Khamsat Vol 6 Num 1 Jan ’89

We are grateful to Richard Pritzlaff for providing the following Carl Raswan materials as his gesture in tribute to Carl Raswan. Richard Pritzlaff was unable to attend the 1988 Al Khamsa convention in San Francisco so he sent a wealth of materials to the KHAMSAT to help gain a better understanding and appreciation for Carl Raswan and his work. Many people may not be aware that Carl Raswan spent part of his last years at Richard Pritzlaff’s Rancho San Ignacio often working diligently to publish his writings. This is the second of several installments on Carl Raswan from Richard Pritzlaff’s collection. The following are random excerpts from materials in Carl Raswan’s footlockers or “boxes” referred to in his correspondence featured in the October 1988 issue of the KHAMSAT.

Raswan on Bedouin:

“Mares in foal are used by the Bedouin until shortly before foaling, even though they may be 20 years old.

Many mares foal in the pasture, chase or war parties.

During the nursing period, the mare is prohibited from any strenuous work, but only for three or four weeks, and in instances for two or three months.

AlmohadaBedouins look to the mare for faultless build, lasting quality, which are the most necessary advantages in warfare.

The horse of a fallen rider (riderless mare) is allowed to return to the tribe.

The Bedouin judge the horse outwardly first of all by the antelope or gazelle form of the head.

Mares have long croups and therefore even longer haunches. Stallions have shorter, higher and more rounded croups. Rounded, somewhat raised (above all in stallions) because they give the strong powerful reinforcement and drive by means of the hind part.

Small Arabian mares always show more typical Arabian points than large ones, thereby the small ones have usually more form, endurance, health, character, etc.

The Bedouin chooses less for beauty but rather for a build entirely free from faults.

As in the choosing of mares, the first glance of the Bedouin is directed toward the head of the stallion as he undertakes a thorough examination.”

Raswan on the Bedouin:

“The reason that I was allowed to live with them (Bedouin) on the most intimate terms and was implicitly trusted by them, may perhaps be explained by the simple fact that I refrained from mingling in their politics, except when invited to give my opinion in internal tribal affairs. Further, I was careful to adhere to all their cherished customs and prejudices, particularly those relating to their women. These are strict, and no European can hope to gain the complete confidence of a Bedouin without studied observance of them.

Like the desert itself, the Bedouins, looked upon from the outside, have a forbidding appearance; but the closer one lives to them, the better one comes to know them and so much the more is one astonished at their placid unconcern.

The most astounding thing, which will ever command my admiration, is the equanimity with which the Bedouin leads his family and his herds from the oasis and cultivated lands into the wilderness and across the desert areas which appear to be absolutely barren. The first cloud proclaiming the advent of rain lures him irresistibly to the highlands of the Hamad and the flint desert or into the sand-dunes of the Nafud. After the first rains the bold camel-plunderers also leave their tents with their war-mares tied up to their racing camels.”

Raswan on Agheyls:

[Editor’s Note: Agheyls as listed in the glossary of AL KHAMSA ARABIANS are camel and horse traders, leaders of caravans, and guides. The agheyls were a neutral “society” of Arabs, not a tribe, and were joined by bedouins of various tribal backgrounds, both Sharif and non-Sharif. The agheyl society had its headquarters in Baghdad (Iraq) with offices in other major cities such as Damascus (Syria), Cairo (Egypt), and Bureyda (Saudi Arabia). Individual agheyls were usually from Nejd and travelled freely among the tribes and to desert oases and villages. they performed an important function of buying and trading camels and horses from among the bedouins and reselling them to buyers in cities and countries outside the desert.]

“I roamed around with my companion (Marzuki) while he bought camels from the Rualas, had the animals branded and returned them to their flocks. These camels were to remain in the desert until the next spring when they would be delivered near Damascus or any other place the Bassams might designate for delivery. Loss of any purchased camels in the meantime would be made up by the former owner.

Marzuki always paid in gold or in provisions. He did all his business among the Ruala with Nuri’s Katib (secretary). Contracts were never necessary; only Nuri’s scribe wrote down the name of the owner and the number of camels sold, since Nuri was to receive one gold pound in commission for every six camels.

The owner of the camels then stated before Marzuki and two witnesses what he desired in return for the sale of his camels — gold, barley, dates, coffee, cotton, household goods, or ammunition. He was sure of payment though not until Marzuki’s return next spring. If there should be a dispute later, the two witnesses would be called upon.

The Agheyl or brotherhood of camel traders, of which Marzuki was a member, came from Qasim (inner Arabia). To travel with an Agheyl assured security in the desert. Their parties might be raided, like any other, but the Agheyls always surrendered voluntarily or went free with all their goods and their pack and riding animals. although the Agheyl were armed, they used their weapons only against free booters — outlaws of the border districts or outcasts from the regular tribes.

In each clan could be found a member of the Agheyl brotherhood, who after a raid went to his own people to claim for his Agheyl brother any camel or horse bearing the brand.”

[Editor’s Note: according to Raswan, the Agheyl Marzuki secured the Al Khamsa Foundation horses Aiglon and Leila from the Ruala. Also according to Raswan, Marzuki imported the Al Khamsa Foundation horse Eid into Egypt.]

Raswan on Desert Life:

“Scattered across the desert, rose seven thousand tents and thousands of camels, tens of thousands were cropping the miniature plants. Never could I have imagined such a sight as these big congregations of camels spreading out towards the rising land. Their moans were answered by the bellow of yearlings now weaned from their mothers. All day long near the tent I heard the nickerings of horses, the growls of big sheep dogs, the yelping of pampered grey hounds. Herdsmen, protected by armed guards, led the camels to the shallow pools. Women and children gathered dry camel dung for fuel, carrying it in bundles to their tents, while huntsmen with falcons returned from the gazelle chase.

A miracle this was, numberless animals existing thus on almost invisible herbage. The camels and mares were now in splendid condition, their coats sleek and shining. Forgotten was the hunger of the previous weeks for showers had filled the depressions with rain water and pasture. As quickly as the earth had recovered from the onslaught of summer’s hot breath so had all her children recuperated — the slim, graceful gazelle as well as the high-legged beast of burden, the camel. The sod of rain lakes was strewn with precious miniature flowers, but slippery hoofs of horses and clumsy pads of camels would soon destroy the beauty of the fragrant valleys. In the mud and mire, mixed with droppings of the animals, the undigested grains from other pastures would spring up next year into a new crop and another cycle of life begin.”