Thursday, April 4, 2024

What Happened to the Tints of Qidar

A Problem with the Tints of Kedar

 Dana Reynolds-Marniche


Color symbolism restricts use of the term aswad ‘black’ which is taboo in several parts of the Arab world; among Bedouin, in particular, the root swd is generally associated with the honor ethic and is studiously avoided in speech often through the use of euphemistic substitutes.” Alexander Borg[1]

Vintage photo Abu Dhabi (eastern Arabia)



            A major stumbling block for people interested in the origins of the ancient Old Testament peoples is the lack of awareness of the demographic changes that have taken place in the Near East over the centuries, and even since the colonial period. As late as 200 years ago the town of Medina is described by an observer as being inhabited predominantly by people who were nearly black in complexion. 

      In 1861, the Turko-Egyptian photographer named Muhammed Sadiq Bey mentioned the inhabitants of Medina as “of a dark, almost black complexion”, although some were “light-skinned, almost white.”[2]  Judging from the appearance of most inhabitants of Medina today, those demographics appear to have been drastically modified by immigration since that time.[3] 

       The Bolognese traveler, Ludovico di Varthema, accompanied Syrian pilgrims to Mecca and Madina in 1503 and wrote informatively about his travels. He spoke of the inhabitants of Khaibar being as “closer to black than any other color” and rather small in stature (5 spannes), with voices like women (or, at least like those that European observers had considered effeminate). Certainly, the population there weren't some kind of African brought into the region, as the peoples of the town had been called Yehud or “Jews” since pre-Islamic times.[4]

       Similar changes or modification in phenotype had occurred in the Yemen in relatively recent times or since the writings of colonial administrators,[5] as it had occurred in the early Islamic period with the amalgamation of the confederation of Hamdan with Central Asians/Persians. An example of this is seen with documentation of the inhabitants of the very ancient town of Yarim in southwestern Yemen, once the core of the Himyarite state with its one time capital Dhufar or Zofar being about 10 kilometers away.  Sometime in the 19th century a Baron von Maltzan visited Yarim and in his Geography of Southern Arabia wrote - "The inhabitants of this part of Arabia nearly all belong to the race of Himyar.  Their complexion is almost as black as the Abyssinians..."  Similarly Ludovigo di Vartema (d. 1517)   in his travels to what was thought to be Yarim wrote _  commented on what is thought to have been the same town in the 16th century:


When I had rambled about the above-mentioned city, on parting thence I went to another place, distant from this one day's journey, which is called Reame, and is for the most part inhabited by black people, who are very great merchants. This country is extremely fertile, excepting in firewood, and the city contains about two thousand families. On one side of this city there is a mountain, upon which stands a very strong castle.     


            Today this region like much of the Yemen is no longer peopled by individuals resembling black Africans or nearly like the Abyssinians in complexion.  Although many African slaves have been brought into the Arabian Peninsula since the Ottoman period, there has been another obvious yet historically ignored factor involved in the demographic shifts that have taken place in the region even since the colonial period.

        The above observations and the commentaries of the medieval era make it clear that fair-skin in Hijaz and in fact the Tihama in general was a rarity. Biological change has not been in the direction of an Africanization of these regions, but in fact the opposite. This has also been the case of the central part of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, southern Syria, and the Gulf.  As late as the 18th century the young Swiss Orientalist Johann Burckhardt found the bedouin of Eastern Arabia indistinguishable from Sudanese Arabs. Says one Encylopedia Britannica, J. L. Burckhardt says the true Jā’alin from the eastern desert is exactly like the Bedouin of eastern Arabia”.[6]

        Most areas of the peninsula have obviously seen waves of conquerors and foreign immigrants of non-Arabian and non-African extraction into what were once lands of a people closely affiliated and likely originated from the Afroasiatic-speakers of Northeast Africa. By the 19th century, in fact, the demographics of several major cities of the Hijaz had already been modified greatly.  An 1844 gazetteer mentions that the inhabitants “of Mecca, with the exception of a few Hedjaz Bedouin, are foreigners, either foreigners or the offspring of foreigners…”[7]  At the same time African slaves were probably the most common slave in the peninsula in the 19th century, if we are to believe colonialist writings, and the black African traits most characteristic of early Arabians had apparently fallen into disrepute by that time – and that’s putting it mildly.[8]

Ja'alin man of Sudan

            In fact, not only the Hijaz, but the harra which stretched into Syria are no longer occupied by predominately black skinned populations or people with the color of lava that Jahiz had mentioned.  Nor can the terms “khudr” and “sumr” be applied to them, although a lot of the livestock in parts of the harras are still described as blackish in the colonial period.

        The tribes of harra and the Hijaz extended to the Nejd.  Although al-Masudi and al-Dimashqi refer to the Nejd as part of the 3rd zone of moderate climate, the latter describes the complexion of the peoples of Central Arabian Nejd as sumra[9] which in classical Arabic describes a near black, dark brown, and which the bedouin of Sinai and north Arabia still consider just “short of black”[10]

       The peoples dwelling from a very early period in Central Arabia and described as dark brown and/or bordering on black, or else, near to the Abyssinians in complexion, include the descendants of Qays Arabs of northern Nejd that settled in Iraq and Iran for centuries and were  related to the Rabi’a, Wa’il and Hawazin,. The 19th century Orientalist and Oxford Professor  George Rawlinson stated that the Ka’b and Al-Muntafiq were nearly black  and comparable to the Abyssinians in complexion. One statement reads, “The Cha’ab Arabs who are the present possessors of the more southern parts of Babylonia, are nearly black; and the ‘black Syrians’ of whom Strabo speaks seem to represent the Babylonians.” [11] 

            Not too long ago the Arab Press Service in Iraq determined the Muntafiq bin Ka’b from the Beni Amir b. Szasza branch of the Hawazin  to make up 2/3rds of Iraq’s black population, and have come to the reasonable conclusion that their complexion has in some cases been changed due to intermarriage with others. [12] Thus, it would appear that the lesser modified descendants of the Qays or northern Arabs i.e. Hawazin b. Mansur, Muharib of Ghatafan and Khasafa, (all from Mudar)  are in fact the peoples that in large part make up the “black” populations of the Middle East - Africans of slave descent being a minority.

          The “blacks” or khudr and sumra of Central Arabia included the Azd tribes that had numerous branches that had settled in the ʿAsīr and Hijaz aside from moving into the Nejd and eastward towards Oman.  The latter included many of the ansar people, such as Ghafiq, Khazraj and Aus, who were from the Banu Azd called Shenuah.[13]  (The latter are also found in places like southern Yemen as at Bayt al-Faqih among the predominantly dark-skinned Zaraniq still jumping or vaulting over camels as their African ancestors have done over cattle since time immemorial.)

            The 9th century Sahih Muslim commentary citing Ibn Abbas notes -He (Ibn Abbas) said that the prophet (pbuh) mentioned the time he was ascended to the Heavens and he said that Musa (Moses) was black-skinned and tall as if he was from the tribe of Shanuaa.”[14] Interestingly one source identifies the Azd Sanuah as the Dawsar or Dowasir, who themselves are described in the colonial period by Burchkardt and others as black–skinned giants[15]  Notably, a British Victorian woman pointed out in the 1800s - “it is perhaps not so generally known that a tribe of Bedaweens, called the Dowaser Arabs found in the land of Omar, are also black. Their gigantic forms and sable features distinguish them from their Shemite neighbors and point them out as most likely the Sabeans, men of stature…”[16].

            In fact, it was undoubtedly the phenotype of the Azd tribes, such as Ghafiq, that were the cause of so many descriptions of Saracens as black and giants - as with the  "Song of Roland"[17] where they are said to be 50,000 strong and “blacker than ink”, with large noses.[18]

            The Song of Roland recalls the battle of Saracens against Charlemagne of France. A man named Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi (“of the Ghafiq”), born in the Tihama, is the historical Saracen that led his Azd people into battle against Charles Martel, his grandfather. Such commentaries may not prove what “Moses” or “Musa” and the “Israelites” looked like, but they most certainly describe what the Banu Azd and many other tribes of Hijaz and Arabia looked like a thousand years ago, especially those that had occupied the ʿAsīr region and Tihamah in the land of the Kananah/Kinaniyya  tribes.   

            Ibn Mundir (or Manzur) in his book Lisaan al-Arab, IV:209 also makes clear that the people that were called Arabs in his time were mainly very dark (or “al-udma”) in complexion and their hair was kinky, while the hair of non-Arabs was characterized as “lank”.[19] Ibn Rabbih wrote that a 7th century Qadi or judge from the An-Nakha clan of the Yemenite Maddhij said that an Arab with fair-skin is “inconceivable”, or an impossibility.[20]

            Today it is safe to say the view of what constitutes a genuine Arab and the demographics of the peninsular Arabia have been drastically modified since the medieval period, and people possessing the very dark skin and features and cultural traits of the earliest Arabs in such regions as Hijaz, the Ghor or Jordan Valley and Nejd (central Arabia), in particular, are not only looked down upon in the Middle East, but frequently not viewed as Arab at all, particularly by Westerners. By the time the British and other European Orientalists began their explorations of the Arabian peninsula this was certainly the case, and it is a view that influences studies of the early and medieval Near East until the present day.[21] 




Origins of the Beja: Baliyy’un and the Blemmyes


      In this book, the people surmised to be direct descendants of the populations mentioned in Genesis and the Old Testament are those that were predominant in the peninsula of Arabia up until a few hundred years ago, and an extension of the populations of northeast Africa, both biologically and culturally. Such people according to texts of the peninsula have been spoken of as “genuine Arabs” descendants of Qahtan and “Adnanites” traditionally said to be related to “Ishmaelites” in North Arabia.

            As has been already stated, it appears that up until now some of the most thorough ethnohistorians since the medieval period have been influenced greatly by the early religious allegory of Ham, Shem and Japhet, as well as the anthropological tropes in the West related to so-called hamitic and semitic categories. Certain of these notions persist and have helped inform the conception of the Near East.

            A prime example of how the theory influenced colonial observers is expressed in the statements of the British colonial administrator Harold MacMichael who noted of certain tribes of Hijaz:  


The Kuda'a group, particularly the Guhayna and Beli, settled in the northern half of the Hegaz having all but extirpated the ancient tribes of Thamud and Ad, who had previously lived there and who are likely to have been cognate to the Hamitic tribes inhabiting the opposite African coast.”.[22]


            But it is clear that the former were people occupying the African coast. The Baliy (Baliyyun, Beli or Bila), like the Guhayna or Juheina, were both well-known tribes of Qudā'a, in fact mining in the eastern deserts of Egypt and of Nubia at the same time they were mining in Hijaz and Sinai (Powers, Timothy, 2012).[23] Al-Idrisi in the 12th c. (born in Cueta Spain) calls the Baliy living between the Beja and Abyssinians black cavaliers”, employing the word Sūdān for them as well as for the Zaghawa, Nubians, Kanem, and Habasha. Al-Yaqubi in the 9th century mentions the Baliy at a mine in the east of Aswan in the Nubian area (today’s southern Egypt) at Rahm with the Juhayna.[24]  Ibn Khaldun (15th. C.) in fact maintained that these Beli in Africa had originated in Sinai and Yathrib in Hijaz.[25] Those in Nubia were noted Jacobite Christians, although Ibn Sa’id calls them both Christian and Muslim. They had made their way to the region from Arabia after the Muslim conquest of North Africa.  But even earlier Banu Farān or Ferain clan of the Baliyy (the ‘Pharanitai’ of classical authors) were settled in Sinai in the Byzantine period.

     The British colonial George Murray asserted the Juheina and Billi, were said to be


… true Arabs, of the elder Qahtanid stock nominally descended from Qahtan through Qudha'a.  Most of them settled in the Nile Valley, but some in the desert, where they soon began to quarrel. Eventually the Billi had to be content with the barren Eastern Desert of Egypt, while the Juheina pushed south into the richer territories” (Murray, George, 2013, p. 24).[26]  


            In addition, some of Beli or Bali clans called Balawneh in the Ghor, were considered part of the “Alaawna” (Alawiyyin or Alawin), a branch of the Huwaytat  b. Najd of Jordan (Murray, p. 24).  The people of the Ghor/Ghawr in Transjordan - the Ghawrana – are for the most part notably African in appearance and biology and their name has the connotation of “valley blacks.[27]   They are in many cases phenotypically similar to the inhabitants of northern Sudan and southern parts of the Maghreb – and there have been discovered genetic links to the latter.[28]

      The Beli or Baliyy  lived in Palestine including the Balqa up until the colonial period - an area identified with the name of Baliq (the biblical “Baalaq”) and said to have among them the Mo’abite clans – “children of Lot”.  Richard Burton described the Baliyy as - “This Himyaritic tribe, claiming the whole of the Harrah country with the port-town of Wijh,…” and mentions their clan of Bani Lut along with others.[29]

            Further information on the Balaw in the Sudan is given by the author of Embodying Honor: Fertility, Foreignness and Regeneration in Eastern Sudan (2007) who identifies them as the Beja group today called Hadareb and Hadharme: 


The Bellou also known as Himyarites or Hadareb, which refers to Hadramaut (the Bellou's original homeland in Yemen) asserted superiority over the Bedja and enslaved some of them...the power of the Bellou or Hadareb declined after the exhaustion of the gold and emerald mines and the abandonment of the port of Aidhab on the Red Sea in the mid- fourteenth century" [30]


            Previous to al-Idrisi, the 10th century, Ibn Hawkul in Kitab Surat al-Ard, made it clear that the complexion and features of Arabs was generally comparable to that of the Abyssinians and the former had features like those of the Bedja or Bega.[31] Harold MacMichael noted the Yemenite origins of the Hadareb Beja themselves in his discussion of the Arabs of Sudan, stating:   


"The ancestors of the Hadarma or Hadareb had similarly reached Suakin by way of the Red Sea half a century earlier and settled on the coast—so at least say the nisbas; but colonies from Hadramaut had undoubtedly established themselves on the African shore at a much earlier date... ".[32]


            Yaqut said that Sawakin was occupied by blacks of the Beja /Buja who were Christian, a possible reference to the Beliyyin/Bellou. Hadarem is considered the name of an indigenous tribe of Sabaeans in Hadramaut known as “Adramitae”[33] in the classical sources. But Sabaeans were according to Strabo the inhabitants of east Africa and places like Meroe - an early home of the Beja - and of the Blue Nile (Astaboras or Astapus) in his time. [34]

          The 9th century Al-Ya’qubi and 10th century Ibn Hawqul appear to include the Nilo-Saharan-speaking tribes of Nubia such as the Baria, Kunama or Bazin under the term Beja and says they were much darker than the Abyssinians, “who resemble the Arabs” in skin color. Others, like Ibn Butlan described Beja women as “golden-colored”[35] likely referring to the tribes of Cushitic-speakers among the Beja such as Haddendoa, Ababdeh, Arteiga, Bisharin and Hadarib/Hadharme, etc.  Nevertheless, Ibn Hawkul writes.


“They [Ḥadārib] speak a language common to all the Buja; they are all illiterate (ʿajamiyya); some of them have an idiom of their own. Their country borders on the Nūba and the Ḥabasha, who are Christians. The complexion of the Ḥabasha is similar to that of the Arabs,” [36]


      Although the Beli/Baliyy and Juhayna mining in the deserts of Egypt and Nubia mentioned by Arabic authors were those who descended from the Muslim or Islamic waves into Africa, it doesn’t appear that this was the first time the Beli or Beliyyun had pushed their way into Africa. In fact rabbinic texts referred to the people called Blemmyes as “Belo’am”.  The latter had colonized parts of the lands later called Beja region as early as the 6th or 7th century BC.  Beli is today one of the clan names of the Nilo-Saharan speaking Zaghawa stretching between Sudan, Libya and Chad.

        The apparent linking of the Blemmyes or Blemys “chief of the Eritraean Indians” with chief Orontes of Syria by Nonnus in his 4th century Dionysiaca and the early categorization of the former as Saracens by other observers of the same period implies the Blemmyes were perceived to be an extension of, or akin to the Arabian nomads.  They very possibly connected to the Beli or Balawi tribe of Quda’a who had already settled in the Levant (the Ghawr) in the pre-Islamic era. There is a high likelihood that the name of the early “Blemmyes” in Nubia was in fact connected with that of pre-Islamic movement of Beli or Balaw from Hadramaut, as the former are connected in rabbinic texts as Belo'am[37], a play on the name of the biblical Balaam of Edom who served the Mo’abite Baalak[38].


         Tone Depth: Ignoring the Semantics of Blackness and Whiteness in Classical Arabic  


“The Arabs don’t say a man is white due to a white complexion. Rather, whiteness with them means an external appearance that is free from blemish when they mean a white complexion they say ‘red’ … when the Arabs say, ‘so-and-so is white, they mean a noble character, not skin color. It is when they say ‘so-and-so is red’ that they mean white skin. And the Arabs attribute white skin to the slaves.”   Ibn Manzur  Lisān al-ʿArab  IV: 209, 210 (13th c.)


            Subtleties and nuances in the usage of color terminology by early or genuine Arabs, or the predominantly dark brown and black populations of Arabia, were pointed out by Arabic grammarians and other authors of the medieval period. Al-Jahiz in the 9th c. had made the Zanj say that all of the tribes of the volcanic harra were as “black” as the lava of their environment.[39]  His text also reads, “Arabs take pride in black skin.  This might seem surprising given that their compliments typically include epithets like 'fair', bright', 'spotless' and lily-white'. However, it is not the whiteness of a man's skin to which these refer, but his integrity”. [40]

            As numerous texts suggest, contrary to today a fair complexion (one described as humra or ashqar) was usually associated with slavery. Al-Dhahabi, a 14th century Syrian historian, said in his Siyyar al Nubala'a, that the presence of fair-complexioned people in the Hijaz was rare and when it was seen it was assumed to be the result of descendancy from captured Christian slaves of  Syria, Persia and the Byzantines.[41] The 15th century Chinese manuscript of the Ming dynasty from the ship of the admiral Zheng He confirms Dhahabi’s depiction of the Hijaz population. He wrote of the people of “the Heavenly Square” between Mecca and Jidda being of a “very dark purple” skin color.[42] Linguist Ibn Manzur in Lisan al-Arab IV: 210  also claimed that the Arabs attributed a “red” or “fair complexion” to the slaves.  As well, Ibn Hadid in Sharḥ Nahj al-balāghah V:54 maintained “Arabs call non-Arabs ‘red’ due to the predominantly fair complexions”.  The earliest Arabs were not fond of fair skin because it was associated with their slaves. Speaking of what are now called fair-skinned populations the grammarian Al-Mubarrad (d. 898) wrote “They are red-skinned (al-amrāʿ)…” al-amrāʿ means the Persians and Romans…And the Arabs attribute white skin to the slaves.”[43]

      It is a fact that the early Arabs used variations of the words shadeed al-udma, khudr (literally green), sumra, abyad (literally white) and even words literally meaning yellow for the most part for complexions of blackness. That is why words like samar or sumra, biyad or abyad, khudr or akhdar were used for Abyssinians or Ethiopians and Somalis. Abyad or bayad (“white”) can be described as a kind of hyponym for blackness in certain Arabic dialects even today. 

        In contemporary dialects such as Shami Arabic of the modern Levant i.e. Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, such words as asmar or samra’a and sawad can often be seen translated as “tan” and “dark” when used for complexion. But this was not the case for classical Arabic usage of ‘samr’ or ‘asmar’. Among the Arabian bedouin in the Negev and even in places like the Persian influenced islands of the Persian Gulf, the word samar is still used for very black things and especially for a complexion “just short of black”[44] as is common with black Africans.

      This is how one can find such phrases as “In truth as-sumra is a whiteness tending toward blackness” (فإن السمرة بياض يميل الى سواديميل الى سواد)  in al-Qurtubi’s text Al Mufhim (Chapter 6), or Arabic poets writing of Abyssinians (Ethiopians) with ‘white’ faces and ‘black’ faces wearing their hair in peppers.[45] It is well known that ‘biyad’ or ‘abyad’ in the Arabic dialects could be used for the shine of coal and was hence often used for a a very dark or black complexion.[46] ‘Khudr’ meant literally green and abyad or bayad literally meant white, asfar, literally yellow but these terms were frequently used by the genuine Arabs as euphemisms or synonyms for a black complexion. Abyadh or baiyadh similarlywas blackness ‘free from blemish” or with a hint of gold that was the color of ‘black buckwheat” as found among many of the Beja and Abyssinians. It could also be used for a shining or luminous black complexion.[47]   

            Thus, the perception of the Arab bedouin of several hundred years ago by outsiders was quite different than what today is stereotypically taken to be “Arab”. Arab-speakers no longer refer themselves as “the blacks”- nor do people perceive “Arabs” necessarily as “black”, although the term Arapi is even now used for black Africans or black man in certain places.  Nevertheless, several hundred years ago and since the beginning of historical writing, for the most part, peninsular Arabia was seen as an extension of the East Africa demographically speaking or vice versa, and thus as mentioned previously everything east of the Nile was considered Arabia by early classical Greeks.

            Traditionally, “Ishmaelite” peoples are also known as Qidar or “Kedarites”[48] .  The term was related to the word khidr or khudr, which in genealogy and poetry came to signify one of “pure” or “genuine Arab race”.[49] To be specific, the term had come to signify the “nobles” among the Arabs of the early medieval era.  Jaroslav Stetkevych in explaining the etymology and use of the term stated the following:


From the Arabic side within this etymological expansion of Qedar/khidr, we shall, for the sake of further illustration, attend especially to the Arabic root kh-d-r, as in akhdar (‘of a dark, ashy, [dar] dusty color’ as well as ‘of a blackish hue inclining to green’ and ‘black, black –complexioned’,  for these meanings of akhdar shall guide us back most directly to the phrasing of the topos in Song of Songs 1:5."[50]


            However, as these groups of Arabians north of the peninsula came to subjugate and mix with other peoples, this early meaning of the word came to fall into obscurity and in fact, the word “khudar” as used for people and its variants in the Near East seems to have developed a derogatory connotation in contrast with its early medieval one.[51]

       For that matter it can actually be said that the descendants of the genuine Arab or khudr or khudayr where still extant are not recognized as Arab for the most part, but in fact labeled and classified by names like ‘abid’, akhdam, muhamashin or ‘African’, along with the actual African descended population. ‘Khudr’ can be used for people like Baluchis as well as any non-Arab of dark-skin.  In other words such words as khudr or khudayr as a denomination for Arab nobles in the medieval period has fallen into serious disrepute, to say the least.

      In Arabia the term was still used mostly in an ethnic sense for certain groups in the Central Arabian area. Speaking of the Banu Khudayr in Najd, Fu’ad Hamza noted this name labels a great number of tribes belonging in the northern Nejd who could not trace their descent readily to other tribes in the area.


In Najd, this name labels a great number of tribes belonging to the Mawali Arabs who cannot trace their descent to well-known Arab tribes. They are spread in the various provinces of Najd from Wadi Al-Dawasir to Shamr mountain. You seldom find a Najdi province without people belonging to Banu Khudayr.[52]


            Jahiz mentioned that the Sulaym who stretched to Nejd  and noted that all of the other peoples living in the harra were “black as the lava” there, but although modified by relations with their Byzantine concubines their original complexion was back within three generations (some interpretations say “after three children”).[53] 

            According to Ibn Abd Rabbih[54] the name Khudar was said to be the collective name of the sons of Malik b. Muharib (a clan of the Qays Ailan), because they were considered from purest (or noblest) Arabs of the Khasafa tribe.  Colville’s translation of al-Jahiz, reads – “members of the Muharib tribe were proud of being black. Indeed, the Arabs call blacks swarts'”[55].  And the 13th century Ibn Manzur (b. 1233) also writes in the first volume of his Lisaan al Arab, “When one speaks of ‘green (khudar) Ghassān’ …” or ‘khudar Muharib’, “one is speaking of the blackness of their complexion.”[56]

     The Muharib are listed by Hamza as one of the tribes of the Khudayr in the northern Nejd along with tribes that seemingly still bearing the names of the ancient “Kedarites” or Ishmaelites” Among them were Hadhud, Muzay’il and Nafisah perhaps corresponding to “Hadad”, “Massa” and “Naphish” of Genesis 17:10.

     In addition the other Beni Khudayr named by Hamza whose lineages were supposedly not well-defined are those named Rabi’a, Jada’a, and Atiq, well-documented northern Nejdi tribes of medieval sources. The Jada’a mentioned by Hamza with the Rabi’a were likely Ja’da a tribe of Ka’b (Chab, Tsiab) belonging to Beni Amer b. Zsazsa of the Rabi’a group and the latter have probably been in the region literally since the time of Ishmael, if he ever lived. George Rawlinson described them as nearly black in color, possessing a complexion comparable to the Abyssinians, but tall and muscular.[57]

      Thus, Arabians before 500 years ago had a lot more in common with peoples of the Horn of Africa phenotypically than they do now.  Aside from the Beli or Qudā'a' and peoples of Qays Ailan, such as Sulaym and Hawazin in the harra regions, there were peoples of the Tayyi or Maddhij from South Arabia and those of the Nabatu or Nabayt who appear to have been linked with the Aws and Khazraj tribes - who along with the Ghafik and Atiq belonged to the Azd. The descriptions of all of these tribes is the same and the word Nabit even coming to mean ‘black”.[58]

            The author of Muktasar al-Aja'ib,[59] who lived somewhere between the 11th and 13th century AD wrote that “among the children of Canaan are the Nabit, Nabit signifies black[60]. Similarly, the commentary of the Syrians, Al-Dimashqi and al-Masudi, and the comments of Ibn al-Nadim's Fihrist, make it clear that the original Arab clans of the Nabataean kingdom were considered among the “black-skinned” populations of the Near East. [61]

            In addition Al-Dimashqi (d.1327), wrote the Nukhbat al Dahr fi Ajaib al Barr wa’l – Bahr, in which one section has the following heading: “The Fifth Secton [of the Ninth Chapter] Concerning the Sons of Ham, Son of Nuh (peace be upon him!) Namely the Copts, the Nabateans, the Berbers and the Sudan with their Numerous Divisions.” He stated, “It is said that Ham begat three sons Qift, Kan’an, and Kush. Qift is the ancestor of the Copts, Kush of the Sudan and Kan’an of the Berbers…  Most importantly, within this section al-Dimashqi outlines some of the reasons commonly held for what he calls “the cause of the black complexion of the sons of Ham,” that is to say, of the Copts, “Nabataeans”, Kanaan, Berbers and Sudan. [62]       

            The name “Nabataean” or “Nabit” (or Nubayt), in fact, seemed in that period to have referred generally to the inhabitants of northern Arabia, or those otherwise called “Ishmaelites” and “Kedarites” or Khudayr.

            Although there are numerous references and descriptions by individuals from many lands of the populations of Arabia several centuries ago and reference to their blackness”, one that stands out is the comment of an official traveling with admiral Zheng He on the inhabitants of the area between Mecca and Jiddah encompassing 300 square miles. 

            The text called the “Country of the Heavenly Square” (referring to the Kaa’ba) says that the “people of the country are stalwart and fine-looking, and their limbs and faces are of a very dark purple color”.[63]  The exact phrase evidently used for ‘dark purple’ was “zitangse”, meaning a “dark purple chest”.[64] Similarly, the term “zise” or “dark purple” is used in describing the color of the inhabitants of Malabar (Khulam) in Chinese sources.[65] The inhabitants of that region are otherwise called by Benjamin of Tudela in the same era “children of Cush, who worship stars” and described by him as “black in color”.[66]

                                                 Saudi men below



[1] “Linguistic and Ethnographic Observations on the Color Categories of the Negev Bedouin”. In (Eds.) A. Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kressel, The Desert Experience in Israel, Communities Arts, and Sciences in the Negev, 2009. This is a rather curious and enigmatic statement that needs to be better understood, as it may very well be at the heart the problem. 

[2]   See the article “Pioneer Photographer of the Holy Cities” in ARAMCO World, Vol. 50, number 1, Jan./Feb. 1999. written by John de St. Jorre. Retrieved from   Interestingly, Charles Doughty refers to Khaibar as an “African village” in Hijaz whose inhabitants were “negro-like Arabians” and Kheybar was as it were “an African village in the Hijaz” (Doughty, Charles M., 2010, Vol. 2,  p. 77).  

[3]   The early 18th century Orientalist, Johann Burckhardt, mentioned that in his time the Hijaz, including Mecca and Medina was being “flooded” with foreigners from every part of the Muslim world. See p. 26 of The World of Murtada al-Zabidi: Life, Networks and Writings. (2009) by Stephan Reichmuth, Gibb Memorial Trust.

[4]   Khaibar was supposed to be the home of David ha Reubeni, a medieval Jewish adventurer in Europe.  He is said to have had the complexion of a Negro and to have been small in stature in the Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, by Gedeliah ben Yahya b. Joseph, a 16th century Talmudist (published 1962, Jerusalem, p. 112.) 

[5] In Yarim in the Ibb region for example,

[6] Found in the 1911 - Encyclopedia Britannica entry “Ja’alin”

[7] See p. 332 of  the 1844, M’Culloch’s Universal Gazeteer: A dictionary geographical, statistical and historical of the various countries places, and principal natural object of the world. Vol. 2, Part I. NY: Harper & Brothers. As well John Lewis Burckhardt also noted: “with some astonishment that the inhabitants of Jeddah consisted mostly of ‘foreigners or their descendants’, with the exception of a few learned descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. While local Arabs had perished or emigrated, Burckhardt lists Hadramis and Yemenis, Indians, Malays, Egyptians, Syrians, North Africans, as well as people from the European and Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire" “A History of Jeddah: The gate to Mecca in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”

[8]  See p. 135, Charles Montagu Doughty’s, Travels in Arabia Deserta (2010) Volume 2, Cosimo Publishing.

[9]   The word samra for example is used by the nomadic bedouin for the rusty, black basalt berg or hard stone areas they traversed according to Charles Doughty’s, Travels in Arabia Deserta, 2010, New York, pp. 615 - 616. First published in 1888.

[10] Linguistic and Ethnographic Observations on the Color Categories of the Negev Bedouin”. In (Eds.) A. Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kressel, The Desert Experience in Israel, Communities Arts, and Sciences in the Negev, 2009, p. 98.

[11]  The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World: Or, The History, Geography, and Antiquites of Chaldœa, Assyria, Babylon, Media, and Persia, Vol. II  Wesley Muhammad in his partly political commentary, Bilad al-Sudan: Islam, Africa and Afrocentricity, 2016, p. 51 notes “ī locates the lands of the Arabs in the third zone rather than the first and second. He says the peoples of Arabia are described as sumra “brown”, because they are on the edge of the heat which impacts them.” As correctly noted by Muhammad elsewhere, this brown however is not a moderate brown, but something close to black. He cites the article of Alexander Borg, “Linguistic and Ethnographic Observations on the Color Categories of the Negev Bedouin”. In (Eds.) A. Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kressel, The Desert Experience in Israel, Communities Arts, and Sciences in the Negev, 2009, p. 98 “‘In [Negev Arabic] … as in other Arabic vernaculars, asmar is the usual designation for dark skin short of (true) black’.” In the Negev culture “the black category comprises “very dark hues of brown, blue, and green.”

[12]Iraq's Blacks”, APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map (Newsletter), December 15, 2008, Arab Press Service, Volume: 56 Issue: 6; Distributed by Gale, a part of Cengage Learning Volume 56 Issue: 6

[13] The 9th c. Ya’qubi was one of numerous authors who wrote of the ancestry of the ansar and  Ghassan. See The Works of Ibn Wadih al-Yaqubi, Volume 2,  pp. 509-510. Brill  Matthew S. Gordon et al. 2019

[14]   Sahih Bukhari – Hadith of Ibn Abbas 4:608

[15]  Burckhardt  in Travels in Arabia p. 9  wrote – “The Dowaser are said to be very tall men, and almost black. In former times they used to sell at Mekka ostrich feathers to the northern pilgrims…” 

[16] The Christian Lady’s Magazine (1848), Vol. 28, p. 236.

[17]  The Azd tribe of  Ghafiq from Asir led the Muslims against Charles Martel perhaps explaining why the Saracens in that era are often referred to as giants and their complexion described as “black as pitch” and “blacker than ink”  in Frankish texts. “When Roland sees the accursed race blacker than ink with nothing white accept the teeth…” Chanson de Roland, CXLIV lines 1932-34.

[18]   Certain authors have discussed the portrayal of black-skinned Saracen invaders in Europe as being simply a matter of racial “othering”, or that Saracens were depicted as “black because of their infernal religion”, Heng, Geraldine. (2009). “Jews, Saracens, Black Men and Tartars”. In Paul Brown (Ed.) A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture. p. 260).  See also p. 203 of Medieval Identity Machines (2003) “The scene is magnificently illustrated in a manuscript now at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (MS fr. 2813), where uncertain French knights swathed in fleurs-de-lis retreat from black-skinned enemies with excessively racialized visages: huge noses, ears, and mouths; inhuman grins; demonic eyes; bestial horns. Without reference to the surrounding text, a medieval observer of the minutely rendered scene might not guess that the Saracens are wearing masks, for their caricatured corporeality is wholly consonant with other textual and pictorial representations of Muslims as a monstrous, racial other.”  See p. 89 of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Hybrids, Monsters, Borderlands: The Bodies of Gerald of Wales” in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, (2000), Springer.

[19]   The 13th century Lisan III: 122 says “lank hair is predominant among the non-Arabs of the Rum and Persia. Kinky hair is dominant among the Arabs.”

سبوطة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العجم من الروم والفرس. و جُعودة الشعر هي الغالبة علـى شعور العرب

[20]   Ibn Abd Rabbih, Al-Iqd al Farid, Vol. 8, p. 140.  In fact, the Arabs themselves seemed to identify blackness with purity of Arabness. Wesley Muhammad referencing the 13th century Ibn Manẓūr’s, Lisān al-‘Arab ( لسان العرب) and Edward Lane, noted that for the Arabs, “the phrase aswad al-jilda, ‘black-skinned,’ idiomatically meant, khāliṣ al-‘arab, ‘the pure Arabs’”.  Ibn Manzur also cites Ibn Barri as mentioning an Arab that was “akhdar” signified one with a pure genealogy, p. 55, Bilad al-Sudan, Essays on Islam, Africa and Afrocentricity, Wesley Muhammad, published on Lulu. In addition, Imam Hanbal claimed Moses was “very black-skinned” in his Masnad, Hadith 3365, ( َأَمَّا مُوسَى فَرَجُلٌ آدَمُ جَعْدٌ ).  In general the early Hadiths make Moses comparable in complexion to that of the Azd and al-Zutt using the term  آدَمُ (or ādam), connoting blackness.

[21]   Charles Doughty talked of the “black villagers” of Hijaz in Arabia who were by his time not even considered “children of Adam”. Travels in Arabia Deserta vol. 2, 135. (2010), Cosimo Publishing. Al-Fahad, Abdul Aziz, 2004, pp. 39 and 60 n. 23; Van der Steen, Everline, 2014.

[22] Harold R. MacMichael, ( A History of the Arabs of the Sudan, Vol. 1,  1922 and 2011 versions  p. 132.

[23]  Powers writes, it is further possible to trace the movement of the

[24] See p. 150, in Powers, Timothy. (2012). The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500-1000. Oxford University Press. 

[25] See p. 483,  in Gudrun Dahl, and Anders Hjort-Af-Ornas, Anders. (2006) “Precolonial Beja. A Periphery at the Crossroads.” Nordic Journal of African Studies, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 473-498.

[26]   It is further possible to trace the movement of the Baliy out of Arabia at this time.  Al -Bakri (d. 1094) records that 'the Sulaym mine (of the southern Darb Zubayda) was operated by Farān ibn Baliy, of a group of Baliy.’ According to al-Harbi (d. 898), these mines were already being abandoned in the course of the ninth century, apparently because they were increasingly cost inefficient.  It is curious, then, that at roughly this sort of time al-Ya'qubi, writing in Fustat between 872 and 891, attests to this very tribe in the Eastern Desert of Egypt: 'There is a branch of the Baliy tribe living at Rahm; moreover, there are Juhayna and other tribes intermingled, all traders.'  He further places the Baliy, again with the Juhayna, at the Nubian Desert mine of Mirab (Mibrat?) four days south of Wadi al-Allaqi.” pp. 149-150 Timothy Power, 2012, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate. AD 500-1000.

[27]  The term ghawarna (sing., ghawrani) means, literally, valley dwellers, but its every- day connotation is more like valley blacks.”  See p. 136 in Andrew Shyrock’s, National and Genealogical  Imagination: Oral History and Tribal Authority in Tribal Jordan. University of California Press.  

[28]  Kheirallah KA, Liswi M, Alazab R, et al. “Hypertension Prevalence, Awareness and Control Levels among Ghawarna: An African-Descendant Ethnic Minority in the Jordan Valley.” Ethnicity and Disease, (2015), 25(3):321–328. Published 2015 Aug 7. doi:10.18865/ed.25.3.321

[29]  See the note p. 123, Richard F. Burton’s, Gold Mines of Midian and the Ruined Midianite Cities. (1878).  London C. Paul Kegan, London.

[30]  See p. 63 of Amal Hassan Fadlalla. (2007). Embodying Honor: Fertility, Foreigness and Regeneration in Eastern Sudan. University of Wisconsin Press.

[31] Cited in Karen Pinto. pp. 159-160, “Capturing Imagination: The Beja and Medieval Mappa Mundi”. In Views from the Edge. Essays in Honor of Richard Bulliet. (1993). Columbia University Press.  Al-Bili, Uthman, 2007, Some Aspects of Islam in Africa. p. 16 states it was the Beja whom Ibn Hawqal said resembled the Arabs.

[32] Dahl ibid. noted these Cushitic-speaking “Hadariba” of Suakin appear to have been the Arteiga, nowadays considered to be a Beja group. At the edge of the Beja country was the port of Zeila.

[33] Classical geographers spoke of people as the “Adramitae” and their capital was said to be Sabbatha (Shabwa).  The Ketubah of the Jews of Hadramaut, (1947). T. Ashkenazi in The Jewish Quarterly Review 38:1, p. 93, fn. 1.   

[34] Josephus said that Meroe was originally called Saba or Seba writing – “at length they retired to Saba, which was a royal city of Ethiopia, which Cambyses afterwards named Meroe”. This may have been due to the presence of the Blemmyae there. He also associates the town with the Queen of Sheba.  According to Strabo’s Geography 17:1 – “When we were describing Arabia, we included in the description the gulfs which compress and make it a peninsula, namely the Gulfs of Arabia and of Persis. We described at the same time some parts of Egypt, and those of Ethiopia, inhabited by the Troglodytæ, and by the people situated next to them, extending to the confines of the Cinnamon country.” In addition  he writes -  The country between the Nile and the Arabian Gulf is Arabia, and at its extremity is situated Pelusium.”  

[35]  The Arabic word ‘mudhahab’ was utilized. When describing the different groups of black women brought from Africa Ibn Butlan said they were “golden” in complexion with beautiful faces although naturally given to theft.  See p. 18 of Timothy Powers. (2012). The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500-1000. Oxford University Press.   

[36]  Taken from the site -

[37]   According to David M. Goldenerg. The text of the “Sifre” “interprets biblical belo'am (and nabal) as referring to the well-known African Blemmyes (and Nobae)” see Rabbinic Knowledge of Black Africa: Sifre (Deut. 320) Retrieved from

Raphael Patai in the Encyclopaedia of Jewish Folklore (2015) says the “name Balaam has been interpreted to mean two semitic deities Bel and Am, or “Am is Lord”, and this was punned in Rabbinical literature and turned it into the word belo'am, ‘ without people’ or bil’lam, ‘one that ruins people’” (p. 63).

[38] The Blemmyes, like the Mazikes, in Roman sources are referred to as Maures. See p. 226 of Philip Mayerson’s “The Pharanitai in Sinai and in Egypt.” The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47 (2010): 225–29.  The etiological myths of Balaam, Jannes and Jambres related to the ancient Maures or original Berbers may have arisen due  to the presence of the Bali and Juhayna in Africa previous to the Islamic and Christian eras. These stories include those found in Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres and later medieval Hebrew and Arabic genealogical accounts that link Berbers to Canaanites through “Djana” or “Jana” and Mazigh (See Chapter on the Berbers as “Canaanites”).

[39] See p. 255 of  Robert Hoyland’s, “ The Islamic Background to Polemon's Treatise.” In Seeing the Face Seeing the Soul: Polemon’s Physiognomy from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam, (2007) Edited by S. Swain and G. Boys-Stones. Oxford University Press.

[40]   Colville, J, 2013, Sobriety and Mirth, p. 40. In his Al-Fakhr al-Sudan ala al Bidaan, Al-Jahiz uses the term “khudr” which connotes near blackness that described various “pure” or “genuine” Arab people.

[41]  The 14th century Al-Dhahabi discussed the complexion of the Arabs in no uncertain terms stating mentioned that there was a saying among the Arabs “fair-skinned ('red') as a slave” in Siyar A'lam Al-Nubala'a (The Lives of Noble Figures). Vol. 2  and “Red, in the speech of the people from Hejaz means fair-complexioned, and this color is rare amongst the Arabs. This is the meaning of the saying ... a red man as if he is one of the slaves." From Seyar A'laam al-Nubala’a, vol. 2 p.168  Beirut: Muassisa El-Risaala 1992 publication.

     The tribes of the Hijaz and the Central Arabian Nejd bore the same clan names and were of the same stocks descended from either Qays Ailan (Muḍar) or else from the Qaḥṭān - the Yemenites. Among these were people who belonged to the north Arabian tribes of Mansur, part of the larger confederation called Qays or Kays Ailan# who are classified as people of Muḍar (or Muzir). 

[42] See p.174  in Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores’ [1433] J.V. G. Mills  (1970) Cambridge University Press. This was a manuscript written by a Ma Huan a translator and documenter for Zheng He’s expeditions.  Their “limbs and faces were of a dark purple colour” and they spoke “the Alapi language”

[43] Apud Ibn Abi al-Hadid  Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, V:56

[44] Linguistic anthropologist Alexander Borg.writes, “‘In [Negev Arabic] … as in other Arabic vernaculars, asmar is the usual designation for dark skin short of (true) black’.” Linguistic and Ethnographic Observations on the Color Categories of the Negev Bedouin”. In (Eds.) A. Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kressel, The Desert Experience in Israel, Communities Arts, and Sciences in the Negev, 2009, p. 98.

[45] M.J. Kister. (1972) Some Reports Concerning Mecca from Jāhiliyya to Islam. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 15 (1972): 61-93

[46] Similar to the way it was used for medieval Berbers or very dark skinned Maghrebis such as the Tuareg who were said to descend from Canaan, but at the same time are described as biyad/abyad in the medieval period. It was Al-Dhahabi that said ahmar/hamra complexion was rare in the Hijaz and that - When Arabs say, ‘so-and-so is white (abyad), they mean a golden brown complexion that had a blackish cast. Al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-Nubala, II:168 Thus, Ibn Battuta described the women of the Bardama, a Tuareg tribe (“Berbers”) as “pure white”; it was on the basis of classical Arabic semantics, which have little to do with the modern or Western ones. 

[47] J. Allam writes, “And even, today in certain Arab-speaking societies, when ‘referring to skin (‘white’) as a euphemism for [aswad] (‘black’)”  In  J. Allam, 2000, “Sociolinguistic study on the use of color terminology” in Egyptian colloquial and classical Arabic",  p. 78.

[48] Stetkevych, Jaroslav, 2000, Muhammad and the Golden Bough: Reconstructing Arabian Myth. Indiana University Press. p. 76; Eph'al, Israel, 1982, p. 226)

[49] Stetkevych, ibid. p. 73; See, p. 302, Kamal Boullata, “Visual Thinking and the Arab Semantic Memory”.In Tradition Modernity and Post Modernity.  The color name akhdar meaning green, is used to describe a jet-black horse, as well as the color of darkness belonging to a starless night.”

[50]   See p.73, of Muhammad and the Golden Bough, 2000, Stetkevych mentioned the phrase of al-Lahabi al-Fadl ibn Abbas who in his poetry wrote “I am the black one” and “the dark-skinned one [pure of race], of the noble house of the Arabs.” p.73, 2000, Muhammad and the Golden Bough.  Al-Lahabi was of the Qureish and was the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Robert F. Spencer wrote, “It is said that the Quraysh explained their short stature and dark skin by the fact that they always carefully adhered to endogamy  in “The Arabian Matriarchate, An Old Controversy” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 8, 1952, cited in Wesley Muhammed, Black Arabia, and the African Origin of Islam, p. 72 .      

[51]   Al-Fahad, Abdulaziz H. (2004). “The ‘Imama vs. the Iqal” Hadari Bedouin Conflict and the Formation of the Saudi State”. In (Eds.) M. Al-Rasheed, and R. Vitalis, Counter-Narratives: History Comtemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Palgrave MacMillan.

[52] See p. 14, of Fu’ad Hamzah’s  Near East/South Asian Report. No. 2798, 1983.

[53] Hoyland, Robert.ibid  p. 255.  See also Colville, p. 40-41

[54] Boulata, Issa, 2012, Unique Necklace, p. 260.             Garnet Publishing.

[55]  Another translation People of a black color are called khudr.” From Fakhr al-Sudan min al Abyadh. By Al-Jahiz of Basra, Iraq 8th century. 

[56]  Ghassan belonged to the Azd Sanu’a tribe. Banu Muharib of the Nejd being from Khasafa were otherwise said to be from their brethren Banu Ghatafan (غطفا or Ghutayf)  of the Qays Ailan. Montgomery, J.E. (1990).  “A reconsideration of some Jāhilī poetic paradigms”. PhD thesis. University of Glasgow, p. 196, note 64.  Thus, it is said by the 9th century al-Tabari that the Prophet “went on an expedition into Najd directed against the Banu Muharib and Banu Thalabah, part of the Ghatafan.”. In genealogy the Ghatafan is brother to Khasafa. There is a tribe of Muharib named in pre-Islamic Safa’itic inscriptions.

[57] It is probably not farfetched to connect the Rabi’a with the names of the “Rabbean” Amurru of earlier Orientalist’s translations.  Nor is it impossible that the name Khudayr has been retained among these Northwest Arabians mentioned above.

[58] Akhbar al-Zaman -Among the children of Canaan are the NabitNabit signifies black…” p. 352, fn. 23. (2009). The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton University Press.

[59]   Apparently, this text has been normally attributed to al-Ma’sudi, but is thought to have been written by Ibrahim Wasif Shah of the early 11th century. See p. 18 of Bruce B. Lawrence’s Shahrastani on the Indian Religions. 1976, Paris and the Hague: Mouton and Co.

[60] Op.cit. see p. 45, Goldenberg.

[61] Al-Nadim of 10th century Baghdad, citing the words of a Nabataean of his time, wrote about how “the Nabataean people were with black complexion” (Abdulhab, S. D.) 2013. Inscriptional Evidence of Pre-Islamic Classical Arabic: Selected Readings in the Musnad, Nabataeans and Akkadian Inscriptions. Blautopf  Publishing, p. 10.

[62]   Al-Dimashqi in Nukhbat al Dar 724 also described the Ethiopians as “khudr” andsumra” a term still in use for very dark-brown or near black-skinned Arab clans, as well as peoples of African descent living in the Negev and Palestine. See p. 213 of  Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History by J.F.P.Hopkins and Nehemia Levtzion 2000,  Marcus Weiner Publishers.

[63] See Mills, J. V. G., 1970, The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores [1433]. Cambridge University Press.p. 174; Hanbury-Tennison, Robin, 2005, The Oxford Handbook of Exploration. Oxford University Press. p. 25; Waley-Cohen, J., 2000, The Sextants of Beijing,  p. 48).

[64] P. 10, Dikotter, Frank. (2015). The Discourse of Race in Modern China. Oxford University Press. p. 10.

[65] Dikotter,ibid. p. 9. 

[66]   The natives of Malabar in southern India were also referred to as “purple" in the Chinese manuscripts. p. 9 in Dikotter, 2015, The Discourse of Race in Modern China. In the same era that Ma Huan wrote of “very dark purple Arabs of Hijaz, Benjamin of Tudela wrote of the inhabitants of Malabar, noting " the beginning of the country of the sun-worshippers. These are the sons of Cush who read the stars and are all black in color." (See The Itinerary of Benjamin Tudela  translation, by Adler, Marcus Nathan, 1907 pp. 63-64). Khulam is also known as Guilon, (a district of the Dravidian region of Kerala on the Malabar Coast) and is a variant of the name of the people called Kuelun or Kunlun further east. The latter was a designation for the blacks who are mentioned as having a servile status in China.