The Bedouin tribe of Shammar are a nomadic people who originally moved with their herds of camels across Northern and Central Saudi Arabia in the area known as Jabbal Shammar. Their roots are deep in Arabic history. I’ve always been fascinated by this world, first introduced to me by the stories in The Arabian Nights. Reading these tales night after night at bedtime set my imagination running wild and free.
Less Genie, More Social Courtesies
As far back as the 15th century, poets told of Scheherazade and the thousand and one nights she bought another day of freedom by relating tales of daring escapes, determined thieves, and clever princes and princesses to the insomniac Sultan. Each tale captured the imagination of wild derring-do, but always laced with a theme of how a ruler should behave toward his or her subjects.
One of these bedtime stories reflected upon the generosity of a Christian Arab named Hatim Al-Ta’i (or Hatim of Tayy) who was widely renowned for his generosity and hospitality. This legendary figure fathered Adiyy ibn Hatim, who become an Islamic convert prior to the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The generosity spoken of in Scheherazade’s recounting of the life of Hatim Al-Ta’i is still evident in the societal norms in the Shammar tribe today.
A Cup of Coffee Between Friends
The Book of The Thousand and One Nights is chock full of societal do’s and don’ts. One theme that stands out distinctly in my memory of these tales is the emphasis on courteous behavior. In a world that seemed to be populated with fantastic beings of every nature, this simple concept applied to all creatures and people without fail.
Being the coffee lover that I am, the rules about the dark bitter drink I adore caught my attention immediately. The first known recorded account of coffee-drinking that we have comes from Yemen. This rich fragrant beverage was once hailed as a miracle-drug, and its usage and function as a form of hospitality is still an important part of Shammar culture.
It is considered rude to refuse a cup of coffee, but over-indulgence is frowned upon, as well. The host who forgets to offer coffee has committed a regrettable act. The Shammar, like most Muslim peoples, consider themselves blessed to share with others, and strive for hospitality at all costs.
Save a Horse, Ride a Camel?
The nomadic peoples of the Jabbal Shammar region of Saudi Arabia are expert camel herders and horse-breeders. Arabian horses are world renowned for their speed, agility, strength and stamina. The lineages of these equines are historically famous, and as such are highly prized around the world by horse-breeders and aficionados.
Camels also are a staple of Bedouin livelihood, and are held in such high regard, there is even a competition for “Most Beautiful Camel”. I think it would be an interesting experience to see a Dromedary Beauty Pageant! I hope to someday visit Jabbal Shammar; hopefully over coffee and listening to tales of grand adventure.