Friday, August 25, 2006

A War of Two Women

The AlBasoos War is the longest and most famous of the pre-Islamic, Bedouin tribal wars - of which there were too many to count.

The story varies from one historical reference to the other. All historians agree - however - that the instigator of the war was a woman called AlBasoos - hence the name of the war.

The AlBasoos War is believed to have started in 494 between two of the largest and most powerful of the Bedouin tribes of the time: Bani Bakr(sons of Bakr) and Bani Taghlib(sons of Taghlib). What was even more tragic was that these two tribes were descended from two brothers which made them cousins. They had intermarried so much for so long that virtually everyone who killed anyone during the AlBasoos War was closely related to them from both parents.

Accounts of why and how AlBasoos started this War of the Brothers as some historians called it differ greatly. Some state that AlBasoos came from a third tribe that had been vanquished and virtually wiped out by Bakr and Taghlib. Since her own tribe had no power left to fight them, her only hope for revenge was to make them fight each other. So she travelled in disguise to the land of Bakr - whose leader at the time was named Rabi'ia and asked for the protection of his youngest son - Jasas - for herself, her servants and her camels. Bedouin tradition at the time was that if a traveller asked for your protection, you had to offer them protection and hospitality and you could only ask them questions like who they are, why or how long they plan to stay etc....after 3 days. During those 3 days, an attack on this visitor is an attack on the entire host tribe and it's honor.

AlBasoos - while living in the protection of Bakr - made a point of allowing her cattle to stray and graze on Taghlib's land. The leader of Taghlib was called Kulaib and was Jasas's cousin and brother-in-law several times over. In response to what he considered trespassing on his land, he ordered one of the woman's camels slaughtered. The woman ran crying to Jasas about this attack on her property while she was under his protection and he promised her justice. He went to to see his cousin. A fight ensued which ended with Jasas and his men murdering Kulaib who was alone.

In other accounts, AlBasoos is actually an aunt of Jasas's who disliked Kulaib for what she saw as his rising power and wealth and being childless herself - chose to groom her nephew to challenge his cousin through the camel incident.

In yet other accounts, Kulaib was a singularly unpleasant man who had given his cousins grief for many years and the AlBasoos incident was the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak.

Personally I find the first account the easiest to believe so far because to refuse to accept defeat and pursue revenge as a sacred objective by any means - the way AlBasoos did in the first story - is such an Arab thing to do.

Kulaib had a brother called Salim who - despite being a great warrior who had performed great heroics on the battlefield - had decided to give all that up and spend all his time drinking, writing poetry, partying and womanizing to the point that he came to be called AlZeer Salim (Salim The Womanizer) or simply AlZeer(The Womanizer). On hearing of his brother's death, AlZeer is reported to have gone silent for 3 days - after which he swore revenge by himself and his descendants on Bakr and their descendants until one or both of the two tribes became extinct. The insult of his brother and the leader of the tribe's life being taken in exchange for a mere camel's was such a grievous injury to Taghlib's 'honor' that it was felt that there could never be any question of forgiveness.

Kulaib had many children - including as many as 10 daughters by some accounts - the oldest of whom was a girl called AlYamama - reported to have been 14 years old when her father was killed. After 10 years of war, AlZeer's resolve was beginning to weaken. His poetry began to lament the fact that he had killed and lost so many of his own blood - especially after one of his sisters - a woman called Diba3- who was married to a man from Taghlib - lost her husband and 3 sons in the war. Sensing a softening in AlZeer's stance, Bakr called on other Arab tribes to mediate an end to the war. When this great tribal delegation came to AlZeer, he told them that he would accept if The Orphans(The name which had come to be used to refer to Kulaib's orphaned daughters) did. Only the victim's children had the power to forgive. If they did not, their tribe had to fight for them forever it seems. So AlYamama and her sisters were called and the leader of the delegation asked her - as the oldest - what she would accept as justice for her father's death. Without hesitation, she gave her famous reply:"Oreedu Abi 7ayan" meaning "I want my father alive."

And the war went on for another 10 years. Then a 10 year truce was agreed because both sides had run out of young men of fighting age. So they agreed to wait for 10 years so that little boys could grow up to fight and be killed. I think this was the most bizarre ceasefire agreement in history.

After the ceasefire ended, another tribal delegation attempted to bring a peaceful resolution to the war by extending the ceasefire indefinitely. And again, AlZeer referred the matter to his nieces. And again AlYamama stood before everyone and repeated "Oreed Abi 7ayan."

This time the war went on for 20 years.

Yesterday I watched a history program about the AlBasoos War on one of the Arabic satellite channels. They called it "The War of Two Women" because AlBasoos and AlYamama were so pivotal in the start and continuation of the war. An interesting point I had never considered before. Certainly food for thought for those of us who think that if women ruled the world there would be far less futile violence!



Blogger La Gitana said...

I remember having to learn about this battle when I took an Arabic literature class. I don't remember what significance it had for that class, but I thought it was so interesting that an entire battle started because of a woman.

8/25/2006 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger 2 B || ! 2 B ® said...

Funny huh :) yet if you dig more into human history from Adam & Eve till what is occurring now in the world, you will ironically find that women are playing an effective role in supporting both good and bad sides; but most important the bad part due to our suffering usually engraved deep in our memories…

Remember all the famous quotes: “Wara2 kol ragel 3azeem imra2a” and Ahmed Shawky’s poet “Al 2om madrasa…” and these are facts but work both ways, so rabina yostor min al na7ya al Tanya :) “inn kaydahon 3azeem”

N.B. Loulou, Remember K’s fight with the cab driver, and remember what’s trigger the whole situation! It’s still on small scale but welcome to the club of AlBassos and AlYamama, you’ve earned it *just kidding*:)


8/26/2006 06:28:00 AM  

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