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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, report 24 July 1917

THE HOWEITAT AND THEIR CHIEFS
[Arab Bulletin, 24 July 1917]


The Howeitat used to be all under Ibn Rashid - a family which still exists in the Akaba in the Hisma, but is grown poor and weak. They were then for a little presided over by Ibn Jazi; and from this period dates their sub-division into discordant sections with independent foreign policies.

The Abu Tayi sub-section is the joint work of Auda, the fighting man, and Mohammed el-Dheilan, the thinker. It fell out with Ibn Jazi over the latter's treatment of a Sherari guest of Auda's, and in the fifteen year old feud Annad, Auda's full grown son was killed. This feud is the greatest of the Sherif's difficulties in the operations lately at Maan and has driven Hamed el-Arar, the 'ibn ]azi' of to-day, into the arms of the Turks, while Saheiman Abu Tiyur and the rest of the sub-tribe are at Wejh with Sidi Feisal. Auda has offered them peace and friendship at the request of Feisal; and it was perhaps the hardest thing the old man has ever had to do. The death of Annad killed all his hopes and ambitions for the Abu Tayi in the desert, and has made his life a bitter failure; but it is a fixed principle of the Sherif that his followers have no blood feuds, and no Arab enemies, save the Shammar, who are enemies of the Arab. His success in burying the innumerable hatchets of the Hejaz, is the most pregnant indication of his future government. In all Arab minds the Sherif now stands above tribes, the tribal sheikhs and tribal jealousies. His is the dignity of the peacemaker, and the prestige of independent, superposed authority. He does not take sides or declare in their disputes: he mediates, and ensues a settlement.

The head man of the Abu Tayi is, of course, the inimitable Auda. He must be nearly fifty now (he admits forty) and his black beard is tinged with white, but he is still tall and straight, loosely built, spare and powerful, and as active as a much younger man. His lined and haggard face is pure Bedouin: broad low forehead, high sharp hooked nose, brown-green eyes, slanting outward, large mouth (now unfortunately toothless, for his false teeth were Turkish, and his patriotism made him sacrifice them with a hammer, the day he swore allegiance to Feisal in Wejh), pointed beard and moustache, with the lower jaw shaven clean in the Howeitat style. The Howeitat pride themselves on being altogether Bedu, and Auda is the essence of the Abu Tayi. His hospitality is sweeping (inconvenient, except to very hungry souls), his generosity has reduced him to poverty, and devoured the profits of a hundred successful raids. He has married twenty-eight times, has been wounded thirteen times, and in his battles has seen all his tribesmen hurt, and most of his relations killed. He has only reported his 'kill' since 1900, and they now stand at seventy-five Arabs; Turks are not counted by Auda when they are dead. Under his handling the Toweihah have be­come the finest fighting force in Western Arabia. He raids as often as he can each year ('but a year passes so quickly, Sidi') and has seen Alep­po, Basra, Taif, Wejh and Wadi Dawasir in his armed expeditions.

In his way, Auda is as hard-headed as he is hot-headed. His patience is extreme, and he receives (and ignores) advice, criticism, or abuse with a smile as constant as it is very charming. Nothing on earth would make him change his mind or obey an order or follow a course he disapproved. He sees life as a sage and all events in it are significant and all personages heroic. His mind is packed (and generally overflows) with stories of old raids and epic poems of fights. When he cannot secure a listener he sings to himself in his tremendous voice, which is also deep and musical. In the echoing valleys of Arnousa, our guide in night marches was this wonderful voice of Auda's, conversing far in the van, and being rolled back to us from the broken faces of the cliffs. He speaks of himself in the third person, and he is so sure of his fame that he delights to roar out stories against himself. At times he seems seized with a demon of mis­chief and in large gatherings shouts appalling stories of the private mat­ters of his host or guests: with all this he is modest, simple as a child, direct, honest, kind-hearted, affectionate, and warmly loved even by those to whom he is most trying-his friends.

He is rather like Caesar's tribe, in his faculty for keeping round him a free territory, and then a great ring of enemies. Nuri Shaalan pretends only to love Auda - but in reality he and the Sukhur, and all friendly chiefs also, go about in terror lest they should offend in some way a­gainst Auda's pleasure. He loses no opportunity of adding to his enemies and relishes the new situation most because it is an ideal excuse to take on the Turkish Government. 'To the Mutessarif of Kerak from Auda abu Tayi... greeting. Take notice to quit Arab territory before the end of Ramadan. We want it for ourselves. Should you not go, I de­clare you outlawed and God will decide between us.' Such was Auda's cartel to the Government the day we struck .

After Auda, Mohammed el Dheilan is the chief figure in the tribe. He is taller than Auda, and massively built, a square headed intelligent, thoughtful man of perhaps thirty-five, with a sour humour and a kind heart carefully concealed beneath it. In his youth he was notoriously wild, but reformed himself the night he was condemned to be hanged by Nevris Bey, Sami Pasha's Staff Officer, and has repaid many of the injuries he once wrought. He acted as business manager of the Abu Tayi and their spokesman with the Government. His tastes are rather luscious, and his ploughed land at Tafileh and his little house at Maan introduced him to luxuries which took root among the tribe: hence the mineral waters and parasols of a Howeitat Ghazzu. Mohammed is greedy, richer than Auda, more calculating, deeper - but a fine fighting man too, and one who knows how to appeal to everything in his hearers' natures, and to bend them to his will by words.

Zaal ibn Motlog is Auda's nephew. He is about twenty-five, with petite features, carefully curled moustache, polished teeth, trimmed and pointed beard, like a French professional man. He, too, is greedy (of all Arabs I have met the Howeitat were the most open, most con­stant, most shameless beggars, wearying one day and night with their mean importunities and preposterous demands), sharp as a needle, of no great mental strength, but trained for years by Auda as chief scout to the tribe, and therefore a most capable and dashing commander of a raid.

Auda ibn Zaal is the fourth great man of Abu Tayi. He is silent and more usual in type than Auda, Mohammed, or Zaal, but the Howeitat flock to his side when there is a raid, and say that in action for concen­trated force he is second only to Auda, with something of the skill of Mohammed super-added. Personally I have seen all four chiefs under fire, and saw in them all a headlong unreasoning dash and courage that accounted easily for the scarred and mutilated figures of their tribes­men.

The fighting strength of the Abu Tayi is 535 camelmen and twenty­five horsemen.

T.E.L.

Source: SD 111-114
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 8 July 2006


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