IN the days of Mohammed and the Roman colonisation of Palestine, North Arabia and Africa, the term Arab was much more than a nationality.
It specifically referred to peoples whose appearance, customs and language were the same as the nomadic peoples on the African Side of the Red Sea.
In fact, the term included the populations of the Red Sea in Africa.
Some now think that the word Arab is a word literally meaning nomad, although the word has never been used to refer exclusively to nomads.
(According to ancient southern Arabian inscriptions the word Arhab or Arribi was a name of one of the Himyarite tribes of the Yemen in the Bab el Mandeb area.) before the spread of Islam, that lived in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, Northern Syria, Iraq and Hadramaut, nomad were nearly as ‘Black’ as the Moors they later conquered and converted to Islam. Because the word Mauri had come to signify a man of black or nearly black complexion, the Arabian who invaded Northern Africa came also to be referred as the ‘Moorish’.
These lesser modified occupants of Arabia were and and are described in the Arabic as ‘hadhara’ or ‘black’.
This word originally signified that which is like the colour of a type of iron which was greenish black.
Thus such things that are black or very dark like iron, or like the night, are often described in early Arab writings as ‘hadhara’ which literally means ‘green’ but signifies something black. The peoples of Chad, until the Europeans colonised the area, sang of Tunis, the ‘hadhara’ in memory of the presence of the dark complexioned Arabs who once ruled there.
According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman general of the 4th Century AD, the Bedouin populations of southern Syria and the Arabian peninsula, whom the Romans called the Saracens (derived from the Sarah or Sahra meaning desert nomads), were peoples “whose primary origin was derived from the cataracts of the Nile on the borders of the Blemmeys.” The Blemmeys or the Bedja are a people located then and now in the deserts east of the Nile in Sudan.
They rode on camels and like the Moors were particularly notorious for their hit and run raid from the desert fringes.
They were lightly clad, dressed in tunics only to the waist, and were experts at pillaging for which reason Ammianus claimed they were ‘not good to have as friend or foe’.
The evidence of linguistics, archaeology, physical remains and ethnohistory support the observations and descriptions we find in the histories of the Greeks and Romans and in later Iranian documents about the nomadic Arabians of that early era.
The Arabs were the direct progeny and kinsmen of the dark-brown, gracile and kinky haired ‘Ethiopic’ peoples that first spread over the desert areas of Nubia and Egypt.
Before the middle of the second millennium they were located along the Mediterranean coast in Turkey, Europe and the Arabian peninsula.
In their least modified form they may be found now settled in the Horn of Africa, the southern Sahara and remote parts of Arabia.
These people spoke languages belonging to a group that linguist now call Erythraean or Afro-Asiatic(formerly called ‘hamito-semitic’).
The dialects are spoken predominantly in the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Middle East.
They include the dialects called Cushitic, Omotic, Ethiopic or Ethio-semitic.
The latter group grouping is is descended from ancient dialects of Arabia which in turn have their roots in Africa.
In North Africa the dialects include the Berber and Arabic (which is a late comer to Africa and the last evolved of the African-Asiatic dialects).
They also include the ancient Semitic dialects of Syria and Mesopotamia as well as the language of ancient Egypt which some scholars considered to be ‘proto-semitic’.
The early Semitic dialects include those called Akkadian, Amorite, Aramaean, Canaanite, Hebrew and South Arabic.
The language of the original Semitic speakers, however, was also adopted by other North Syrian peoples indigenous to Asia.
These latter seem to have been predominantly fair-skinned, broad-headed, prominent-nosed people who came to predominate in Northern Syria, Northern Armenia and Mesopotamia, especially those populations of the areas anciently called Assyria and Ebla.
They were in custom and origin much different from the people of the desert, who could claim an African origin when the Romans fought them in Syria and Arabia centuries after Christ.
Some of the prominent linguist today have suggested that the Semitic languages and culture originated in Ethiopia and spread from there to South West Asia.
It was long ago pointed out that Egyptian seemed to be a proto-Semitic dialect and that the Cushitic languages of the area of Sudan and Ethiopia possessed the seeds of the Semitic dialects.
And although modern Ethio-semitic dialects seem to be descended from those of the Abyssinian, Sabaen and Himyaritic immigrants who colonised parts of Ethiopia and Somalia about 500 BC recent studies show that Semitic languages have been spoken in Ethiopia for at least four thousand years.
Rock art and the stone or lithic industry of the Rub-al Khali or Empty Quater (Central desert in Saudi Arabia) seem to point also to Somalia and the Horn of Africa as the area from which a wave of sheepherding people emigrated to Arabia during the period between 5 000 and 4 000 BC.
The people portrayed in this art have been described by Emmanuel Anati, an archaeological specialist (who has written on the drawing) as ‘Negroid’.
The art also shows some elements of similarity with rock art of the Chalcolithic period in the south Syrian desert and the Gerzian paintings in Southern Egypt.
One early specialist in Egyptian rock art and glyphs suggested they were essentially the same as the art of people dwelling in the hills and deserts East of the nile.
Similar depictions of dark-skinned men and other elements reminiscent of the early predynastic Egyptian culture appear in the Jebel Kara area where several of the tribes still resemble the peoples of the Nubian desert called Beja as well as other Cushitic and Ethiopic-speaking peoples in Ethiopia, Sudan and Erithrea.
The Shahara or Sheheri whose name was made famous through the story of Sheherezade still live in Jebel Kara and the hills of Dthufar in Oman.
These Afro-semitic people, according to Sir Richard Burton the famous ‘Orientalist’ explorer, are a people with low brows and black skins, with frail and slender frames.
According to Bertram Thomas these people, who speak some of the oldest living Arab dialects, resemble the Cushites called Bedja, now living in the deserts east of the Nile in Sudan and Ethiopia.
Such people appear in isolation further to the North of the peninsula as well as in Iran where they apparently called themselves Lam.
The men in the Arabian rock art wore small beards like those in Sahara rock art. They also wore headdresses and used throwing sticks.
The ostrich, the shield, the stuff and the phallus are often portrayed.
These were apparently sacred symbols which often have totemic significance today among pastoral people in Africa especially in the Sahel and Cushitic areas.
They carried on ceremonies, associated with the ox and the phallus.
They practiced mock battle similar to that of the Cushitic and the Nilo-saharan peoples of east Africa.
The men portrayed in the art of the Arabian desert, in fact, bear great resemblance to the slender and lightly bearded nomads which appeared in the same epoch in the Sahara.
G. Elliot Smith, who early recognised the ancient prevalence of the ‘Erithraean’ or ‘Abyssinian’ type of man in the Near and Middle East which he named the ‘brown race’ was a specialist in physical anthropology and had studied the osteological remains of the Middle East and Africa.
Smith asserted that there was good reason to believe that the early inhabitants of Arabia and southern Syria were essentially the same, osteologically speaking, as the A-group population of Nubia.