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Ra´i al-bel

The daily routine of the herds and their herdsmen according to Alois Musil:


While the ra´i al-bel got a warm breakfast, the herd grazed near by, watched by the host himself, or by his son(s) or daughter(s). Having breakfasted, the herdsman stuck a piece of bread or a handful  of boiled  wheat into  his  clothing, threw a  pouch filled with water over his shoulder, took a heavy staff, madrub, mounts  the  leading she-camel, ka´ada, and begins to praise the pasture in short sentences, which he intoned in a drawling manner. On hearing his voice, the animals ceased grazing and followed his lead. Having thus all the animals of his herd before him, the herdsman drove them to the pasture, jesrah (or jefalli) bel-ba´rin jamm al-mafla`. The animals usually formed a single line (mgowdalat), keeping the path trodden by camels for centuries. Only very seldom in a level plain with grass in fresh, they moved side by side (mufarsat). On the pasture grounds the she-camels grazed together. The herdsman sat down in some higher places the better to overlook his herd. He sings, carves something, or seeks edible plants and bulbs. About noon, when the heat is at its highest, the camels left off grazing and knelt down to chew their cuds till two or three o´clock. Then they rose again to graze until supper time. The herdsman turned them in the direction of the camp and drives them back, reaching the tent at sunset. At that time all  the youths  and slaves  rode  out from the camp, on horseback  and  in  small groups, zerfat, to protect the returning herds from a possible attack.

The satiated she-camels moved very slowly, stopping every little while. The herdsman mounted the leading camel, ka´ada, and rode at the head of his herd, urging it to greater speed with a short drawling song, jesaje`. The ditty sung to keep the returning herd together was called mesja. Every herdsman had a song of his own, which differed from others in the words as well as in the cadences and the length of the syllables. Were it not for this singing, the camels of the same herd would not keep together, but would have been lost among the thousands of animals returning  home after sunset. On arriving  at the  tent, the herdsman remained sitting on his she she-camel, which he halted and  kept  on  singing  the  mesja while he waited for  the whole herd  to come in. Then  he dismounted and fettered the animals by binding the left front leg above the knee. After eating his supper, he laid down among his herd, so as to watch it at night also. Next morning, before sunrise, he untied the cords of the camels, counted them and gave them back to his host. The milking of  the she-camels was  done  by the owner  and  his family , or a slave or a servant. After the milking they were driven a short distance from the tent, where they grazed till the dew had evaporated and the herdsman would take them out again.

The watering of the camels depended on several factors of the pasturing ground and plants and also on the season of the year. When grazing on the salt hamz plants  exclusively they had to be  given water after four or five days. If their food consisted of dry plants, tenn, they could endure from six to fifteen days. In the time of rabi, when they ate nothing but fresh, juicy grasses, they would not touch water for even as long as thirty days. In the hot season, al-kez, when the Bedouins  encamped in  the settled territories, the  herds were driven to the watering places every day (Musil). The watering was done either at the wells or at rain pools. Watering could cause the herdsmen much labor, as some wells were very deep or had to be cleaned from mud and sand or even dug anew. As the camels generally drop their excrements while drinking, the places of watering or the rain pools itself became soon defiled beyond measure. Musil records a wealth of little songs that were sung when watering the camels.

Many camels got lost. Musil tells us, that those did not find their way back, as they were only accustomed to follow the leading she-camel. Often the lost camel joined another herd, followed it back to the camp, moaned when it did not hear the familiar voice of the herdsman and moved towards him as soon as his ditty caught its ear. Lost camels were hunted by the owner and his friends on horseback the same evening. If it was not found, they returned the next day before noon and saddled their camels to search again. A stray or lost camel was called daheba, the man who lost her, medheb. Young camels were constantly in danger from many beasts of prey, mainly wolves.
The camel was ridden by the Bedouins on lengthy marches. Indeed such marches were always made on camels, never on horses.

Jesus, al-masih, the Messiah speaks of himself as the good shepherd in John 10: 11. Notice that he came from a hadar society and therefore did not know the herding of camels. Still the picture of a herder applies to him in a much greater sense as only as a herder of sheep.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the  sheep.

(A Psalm of David. No. 23)

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

A very special eye-whitness account by Glubb Pasha reveals the close relation between the ra ´i al-bel and the leading mare of a camel herd, on the day the southern Shammar crossed the Euphrates in flight from Ibn Saud´s army. 

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