Thursday, December 11, 2008


Historical and Cultural Values
It’s thought camels were domesticated and put to use by the frankincense traders of what is now called Yemen and Oman in around 3,000 BC. By the time Old Testament was being writen camels appear to be important part of life and are mentioned twice within in the first chapter:

1 - “He [the Pharaoh] treated Abraham well because of her, and Abram came to posses sheep and cattle and asses, male and female slaves, she-asses and camels.” (Genesis, 12:16)

and also,
2 - when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, “The servant took ten camels from his masters’ herds ….” (Genesis, 24:10)

Camels are also mentioned in the Koran at least twice, firstly in the classic statement,
1 - “Nor shall they enter paradise until a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle” (Al A’Raf, [The Heights], 7:39)

and secondly when their uses to humankind are described,
2 - “We have made the camels a part of God’s rites. They are of much use to you. Pronounce over them the name of God as you draw them up in line and slaughter them; and when they have fallen to the ground eat of their flesh and feed the uncomplaining beggar and the demanding suppliant. Thus we subjected them to your service, so that you may give thanks.” (Al Hajj, [The Pilgrimage], 22:34 )

Unsurprisingly the cultural value of camels to nomadic tribes is large: some tribes will give thier newborn baby boys a female camel calf and his umbilical cord will be placed in a sac and tied around the neck of the camel. Whilst in others the camel is used for trading, to attract potential wives or to pay off ‘criminal’ offences. Occasionally camels won't be slaughtered because they have become an integral part of the tribe.

Urban Legend
Many years ago when my parents first came out to the Middle East we went hunting for antiques in the suq. At one particularly dark and dingy shop where everything was covered in dust, and the shop keeper wasn’t particularly keen on selling anything, he asked my father, “How many camels for your daughter?” I always thought it was done for the sheer pleasure of seeing the look on the faces on the passing tourists, but it was quite amusing at the time.

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