Black rulers of Hejaz, an early Muslim town


NOT long ago Sir Richard Francis Burton in his travels to Arabia met men from the Harb tribe, who were the ruling clan of the Hejaz. 

He describes them in the personal narrative of his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina as having attenuated limbs, a “chocolate brown” colour and “bushy hair” with “screaming voices.” 

He called them the ruling clan of the Hejaz area which is the area of Mecca, the early Muslim town. 

The Harb, who dwelt in the Northen Hejaz when visited by explorer Burton, are by tradition the descendants of Ghassan or Assanite Saracens described by Roman writers like Ammianus Marcellinus. 

The Hamida, the largest clan of the Harb, are mentioned in ancient South Arabic inscriptions. 

Hamida are also found in modern Sudan. 

The Beni Harb, according to Arab genealogy, were also related to those Arabs that invaded North Africa in the 11th Century called Qays, Ailan, Suleim and Hilal. 

Thus it was that a few centuries after Ammianus Marcellinus wrote, men of this sort proclaiming themselves followers of Mohammed left the Arabian peninsula, area of the Hejaz and Yemen, lands which they inhabited for some 

4 000 years. 

They invaded the countries to the North and North East of them, turning the speech of those lands to the speech that is called Arab, and the culture of those lands in part to the Afro-Semitic culture. 

Ever since then most Muslims who speak the language of the ‘hadhara’ Mohammedans have been referred to as Arab.

In the 500s, Jews called Anaiza lived in the hills of Khaibar (ancient capital of Judaism in Arabia). 

They are now found in both North and South Arabia and were described by an Italian explorer as “black, though some are blacker than othjers”, with voices like women. They “flayed alive” any Muslim who came within their midst. 

They are by tradition descendant of those who fled Judea at the time of Bukht al-Nasur or Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldaeo-Babylonian king who invaded their land.

The early desert populations of Arabia and Africa were for the most part derived from Africans who seem to have undergone a specialised physical development having evolved in hot, dry regions in the late stone age. Many of the Eritrean-looking men of Arabia and those in Africa, inappropriately named ‘hamites’ by European academia, are often found in areas where temperatures soar above 120 degrees Celsius. 

They tend to be very slender with gracile bones and attenuated limbs. 

The skin, though dark-brown or black-brown, tends to heavy a strong reddish hue, which is thought, also, to be due to the ecological pressures of the environment in which they evolved. 

Long and narrow pentaganoid-shaped faces are common. Narrow noses and little or no prognathism are typical are associated with the modified aspect of their facial and cranial morphology. 

These characteristics, once presumed to be a legacy of a non-Negroid or Caucasoid intermixture, are now attributed, by some population biologists and geneticists, to the ancient adaptation of Africoids to certain specific, ecological factors including the change to a neolithic diet in combination with dwelling in exceedingly hot, dry habitats.

Thus the indigenous or ‘black’ tribes of Arabia were those who in ancient times emigrated from Africa during the neolithic era, approximately four to five thousand BC and were the earliest purveyors and dispersers of the semitic dialects especially of the early semitic which prevailed in the area of Syria and Mesopotamia as well. 

This is to say, the ‘Saracens’ that Ammianus Marcellinus saw were dwelling in Arabia for at least three to four thousand years before he encountered them. 

They were not only familiar with the desert but had been involved in the creation of some of the earliest so-called ‘semitic’ civilisations. 

Some like the Thamudenioi or Temaii are mentioned as desert dwellers in Assyrian texts of the 7th Century BC They are mentioned along with a tribe called Sabaai, who were in fact the Sabaeans of southern Arabia  and Macae who were perhaps the Macae Saracens of Mesopotamia mentioned by the Romans of centuries later. Their cattle and camels were ‘without number’.

The Agareni or Hagar whom Ammianus, St. Jerome and others spoke of, were probably the same tribe mentioned thousands of years earlier in an inscription of the Persian Gulf area on an island called Dilmum. 

There were those of the Saracens who had emigrated North from the Southern parts of Arabia after some ecological catastrophe had caused the breaking of the dam in the Sabaean civilisation. 

Such people were the Assanites or the ‘hadhara’ Ghassanids and Lihyanites of early texts. 

Others like the Nabataeans of Petra were in fact known as Amorites until a late period.  

By Arabic historical tradition they were descendants of Nimrod and Kush who were said to have come to Jordan after having left the Chatt el Arab area of present day Iraq or what was then known as Babylon.

It must be said here that early Greeks and Romans did not usually distinguish ethnically between the people called Saracens and the inhabitants of southern Arabia (the Yemen) which was called India Minor or Little India in those days, nor southern Arabians from the inhabitants of the Horn of Africa.

What differences there were between them were more cultural and environmental than anything else. 

Strabo, around the 1st century BC, Philostratus and other writers, speak of the area east of the Nile in Africa as ‘Arabia’ and the people are persistently and indiscriminately and sometimes simultaneously referred to as either Arabs, Indians or Ethiopians, just as native Americans in Central and North America are characteristically grouped under a single term as ‘Indians’. 

Strabo even went so far as to say that the peoples called ‘Trogodytes’ the indigenes of the ancient Horn should not be called ‘Ethiopians’ as they were really ‘Arabs’.

Although the ancients were aware of the movement of peoples like the Habeshan (Beshmat) and Sabaeans from the Arabian peninsula to the Horn a few centuries before the Christian era (a movement fairly well-documented by archaeologists), it is clear from the ancient writings on the ‘Arabs’ that the peoples of the Arabian peninsula and the nonimmigrant, indigenous nomads of the Horn were considered ethnically one and the same and though to have originated in areas near the cataracts of the Nile. Trogodytes (Bedja) were said to have lived on both sides of the Red Sea.

Several southern Arab peoples like the Himyarites of Yemen who are sometimes referred to as Ethiopians and the Maddenioi or Madiei of the Hejaz Asir were considered Saracens by Procopius. 

Such people had strong commercial ties with Africa through the Red Sea trade. 

It is hard to imagine that the people on the Arabian coast on the estern side of the Red Sea called in ancient inscriptions Madjai or Madjayu (the Egypologists’ rendering of the name) on the western or African side of the Red Sea. The Medjayu are mentioned before 2 000 BC and appear as late as Roman times in Egyptian texts as truculent desert nomads. 

They are presently considered to be ancestral to modern Bedja or Cushites. The latter (Madjai) carried on a great caravan trade with Egypt as late as the days of the Romans and the former (Madiei) were considered incense traders. 

According to Josephus, Cleodemus and later writers, a Madan gave birth to the founders of the tribes called Afran or Afra, and Abida and Hevila, Iudadas and Raama whose descendants crossed over into Lybia. In fact, these could be none other than the Abida, Afren. Sons of Midian of Genesis fame. 

Josephus makes Madan, the brother of Midian, father of the two tribes.

According to later traditions, Afra also known as Ifrikus or Fariq crossed over the Nile and conquered the indigenes of North Africa, founding many tribes of Berbers and naming Africa.    

Interestingly enough, the tribe of Abida inhabits the south Arabian area and directly across from yemen in the Horn of Africa, a Cushitic tribe called Afar dwells in Djibouti and Erithraea. 

Avalis or Hevila was known as the country of the Trogodytes and is now known as Zeila. It is located in modern Somalia. (More will be said about these traditions and the Trogoduytes and the Bedja later).

The Berbers of the Romans

The word Berber is utilised to describe present day inhabitants of North Africa who speak pre-Islamic North African dialectic.

They represent highly amalgamated peoples varying in appearance and morphology. 

Modern day ‘Berbers’, however modified by racial intermixture, still speak a language related to other indigenous dialects of Northern and Eastern  Africa. 

Their language has been suggested to have some Semitic elements and Indo-European words as well. 

But while many of the modern day tribes denoted by scholars as ‘Berbers’ have a strong ‘Caucasoid’ element biologically-speaking ( especially those in the northern regions of North Africa), the ancient Berbers were evidently more African than they were European and as such, were often spoken of as ‘Ethiopians’.

Words like ‘hamite’ and ‘brown’ or ‘gracile Mediterranean’ have been employed by anthropologists to describe both the indigenes of Ethiopia as well as the very hybrid populations of modern day North Africa. 

Such terms, besides tending to hide the fact that modern Berber-speakers are a product of amalgamation mostly recent, also belie the fact that a modern Berber-speakers are a product of amalgamation mostly recent, also belie the fact that the original Berber and Arab populations in North Africa were biologically and ethnically affiliated with modern day peoples to the south of Egypt especially those who now speak languages of the Ethiopic and Cushitic groupings.

The name Maure as has been said was first used for one of the several dozen ‘black’ tribes that occupied North Africa even before the Christian era. 

The tribe itself included several clans including Mauri Mazazeces, Mauri Baueres, Mauri Bagoda and Mauri Gentiani. It is one of the clans-the Baueres or Bavares-whose name was frequently amended to Barbares or ‘Beber’ in the ancient Roman texts.

Claudian, a prominent Roman of the 4th century AD complained about Gildo, the Moorish ruler in Algeria, claiming that in handing over Roman matrons of Sidon to his fellow Moorish countrymen, he made “hideous Ethiopian hybrids”.

One of the culprits he names in this regard are the Berbers. (Gildo himself was one of the Baueres). 

The use of the term Berber in this paper will thus be for the original indigenes of North Africa known simultaneously as ‘Moors’ and ‘Ethiopians’ who were the “wandering Libyans” spoken of by Herodotus and the descendants of Danaus and the “black Danaaides” of other early Greek writers.


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