The Bedouin

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series (STANTS)



The contrast – and the antipathy – between the desert and the town makes one of the ancient themes of the Middle East. What it means in terms of attitudes to life, evolved in both cases in experience and vicissitude, can be seen if we juxtapose two verses, one of them widely known in Arabia, the other equally famous in Persia. The Arabic verse says,

Pour me not out the cup of life in humiliation,

Pour me rather the bitter cup of the Bitter Apple.1

The Persian verse recommends a different philosophy:

Learn to be humble if you would be blessed,

Ground that stands high up is never watered.

The Arabic verse draws its metaphor from the desert; from place to place among the general barrenness, this cucumber-like plant the Bitter Apple spreads out over the sand and produces a fruit of extreme bitterness. Bedouin say it acts as a laxative if merely rubbed on the sole of the foot, but has no other use. The Persian metaphor refers to the ancient system of irrigation by underground channels coming down from the high land into the valleys and plains. These channels are in use at the Buraimi Oasis and in other parts of the Trucial Coast and Oman. In Persia they are called qanāt and in the Trucial Coast falaj or sharí‘a.2 When constructing them, the Persians sink deep wells in the high ground and join them together at the bottom by means of an underground channel.


Primary Section Secondary Section Male Line Common Descent Temporary Protection 
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© Ahmed Al-Shahi 2001

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