Gazetteer of Arabian Tribes

ISBN: (13) 978-1-85207-700-6   Extent: 18 volumes, 12,000 pages, including 6 tribal maps
Editor: R. Trench   Published: 1996
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

The Gazetteer, after years of research, provides a magnificent collection of historical descriptions of Arabian tribes from British archival sources in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some 745 tribes are included, representing most of the major clans and families in the Arabian peninsula. From Iraq and Syria the geographic coverage includes Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to Oman, the Hadhramaut and Yemen. The records show territories and nomadic routes, tribal relations and allegiance, military strength, personalities and modern influence.
These 12000 pages, supported by 6 tribal maps, provide the broadest array ever assembled of English language historical references concerning approximately 745 tribes, tribal confederations and clans in the Arabian peninsula. It is likely to remain the definitive research work for tribal history. From the eyewitness accounts of the Hijaz tribes riding into battle in 1917 to a social and political breakdown of the Jaburi tribe of Iraq, this gazetteer adds an important resource to the study of Arab history.


From the Editor’s Introduction
For thousands of years the tribe has been the dominant form of identity for the people of Arabia. In the face of drought, famine, raids, invasions and religious strife, the tribe has given to the people of the Arabian peninsula a sense of loyalty, a mutual insurance policy and a welfare system.
The twelve thousand pages of documents contained in the Gazetteer of Arabian Tribes tell the story of Arabia´s tribes from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, a time of political turmoil and increasingly rapid transition. When these records begin the tribe was comparable to the nation state in areas beyond Ottoman and British rule, and a unit of direct administration in Ottoman areas, and indirect administration in British areas. By the time these records come to an end Arabists and anthropologists were pronouncing the tribe dead, with all the confidence of bearers of conventional wisdom.
As usual, conventional wisdom was wrong. Looking back from the late-twentieth century we can see that the ancient Arabian tribes did not die. They transformed themselves.
In north Yemen we see the tribe extend its role from self-defence unit into an informal welfare organisation for Yemeni immigrants in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. In Iraq it has become a political unit, calling up deep loyalties and bonds particularly amongst those tribes opposed to Saddam Hussein. In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States the tribe has become an economic unit, almost a limited company, providing finance and employment for members of the tribe. As Arabia´s population becomes increasingly urban, the tribe finds new roles, providing urban immigrants with community and continuity in otherwise alienating and unfriendly places. In cities like Baghdad and Riyadh, newcomers find employment, housing and friendships through tribal networks.
To the European travellers and officials of the 1920s and 1930s the tribes today would be unrecognisable, but to the grandsons of those tribespeople the tribe is still a main focus of identity: after the family but before the state.
A word of caution, however. Few tribespeople could read or write before the 1950s. Most of the written records come from European travellers, British administrators and oil company employees - outsiders. These outsiders were not always told the truth. ´Front men´ were appointed by tribes to deal with these new power claimants, while real power remained inviolate and hidden. In 1906 the British Secretary of State for India was shocked that ´treaties were concluded with representatives of the Upper Yaffai, who are now discovered to be persons of no real authority´ (India Office Records: R/20/A/1102). For the tribespeople of Upper Yaffa it was an obvious way of not yielding control to foreigners.
To compound the problem, European officials, with their preconceived cultural attitudes and over-respect for hierarchies tended to assume that tribal structures were permanent. In reality structures changed all the time, depending on the ever-changing relationship between shaikhs and tribespeople. Sections turned into independent tribes at times of weak centralised authority, and confederations turned into single units at times of strong leadership. Thus at times the reader of this Gazetteer may feel burdened by cross-references. Tribal structures in Arabia are full of such cross-references.
Most of the Europeans in Arabia were unable to penetrate into the true tribal society: either because, like the travellers and explorers, they were more interested in places than people; or because, like the policeman and the administrator, they constantly sought to impose their concept (and convenient hierarchy) on the tribe. Other Europeans saw the tribes in romantic terms, like the Scottish clans of the Highlands, or native American tribes of the Great Plains.
The few Europeans who did break through and understand the nature of the tribes - and love the tribespeople for what they were - stand out in these volumes: Major F.M. Hunter, who saw in the Wahidi of the Hadhramaut a model for all societies; Alois Musil, the Austro-Hungarian secret agent, who sought to ´raise the tribes´ against Britain as T.E. Lawrence was supposed to have raised the tribes against the Turks, and who almost became a Ruwalla; Harold Ingrams, architect of the 1937 Hadramaut Peace, whose fascination with the tribes stemmed from his fascination with people; and Captain (later General) John Glubb, who can be found complaining, tongue-in-cheek, of the number of Bedouin who appointed him godfather to their children, and how expensive it was getting, yet provided funds from his own personal income to assist the Huwaitat during the depression of the 1930s.
Such men were rarely admired by their colleagues at the time (admiration came with hindsight), and were frequently accused of ´going native´. There is an archetypal story of a conference after a military operation against a particular tribe. The British military commander pronounces that the tribe were defeated with 30 casualties and the troops withdrawn. At that point the British political officer responsible for the tribe bangs his fist on the table and shouts: ´What do you mean? We suffered far fewer casualties, and, what is more, it was we who won the battle and you who retreated.´ If it is not true it deserves to be true.
The definition of a tribe or a tribal ´unit´ is fraught with problems and I have not imposed a definition. The records of 100 years speak for themselves in illustrating the range of tribal forms and activities. In editing and selecting from a vast array of historical materials, I have been obliged to make certain decisions to include or exclude, either on a geographical or a cultural basis. Accordingly for example, the Baluchis of Oman, who have lived there for centuries, are included. The defunct tribes of Palestine and Lebanon west of the Jordan, the tribes of Sinai (geographically, but not culturally, part of Arabia), the Arab tribes of south-west Iran and the Kurds are not. The blacksmiths and Sulubba, who some claim are not tribes at all, are included; the Druze, who though a tribe have their own distinct non-Arab culture, are not. Not everyone will agree with these limitations but this publication could not be accomplished without at least some arbitrary criteria.

Origins of the Collection
The publishers Archive Editions, well known for high-quality document collections on Arabian Boundary affairs and histories of the Arab states, have received enquiries over the years about family names and Arab family history. It became apparent that the most welcome and substantial piece of research the publishers should undertake would be on the subject of Arabian tribes. This publication, an attempt to bring together all significant or hitherto unpublished historical descriptions of tribes, is the result of 10 years of planning and over 5 years of research. It is the project some said "could never be done". Here, proudly, the publishers offer the Gazetteer of Arabian tribes.
The Editor
The Gazetteer has been compiled by the late Richard Trench, travel writer and expert in archival research with particular reference to the Middle East. Richard Trench also edited the collection Arab Gulf Cities for Archive Editions.


This work provides scholars, diplomats, government administrators, anthropologists and the private individual researching Arab family history with an extensive and important repertoire of primary documents reflecting tribal affairs. The geographical range covers the Arabian peninsula from the Yemeni and Omani coasts northward to the Baghdad region, the southern limits of the Kurdish tribes, which are not themselves included, and eastwards into the Iranian border zone. The chronological range extends from the mid-19th century to beyond the mid point of the 20th century.
The editor has sought to provide substantial descriptive references on the tribes. He has included references to tribal movements where significant and to the irregular skirmishes between neighbouring tribes where they reflect changes within the balance of relations between those tribes. The intention in this work is to establish an historical, social, military and anthropological record of the tribes.
The full extent of the Gazetteer runs to 12000 pages in 18 volumes. The listing comprises approximately 745 major tribes and sub-tribes. The editor´s preface in volume 1 gives a full account of certain questions relating to the definition and inclusion of material. The Gazetteer is organised in alphabetical sequence according to English-language transliteration of tribal names. The final 3 volumes include longer studies covering tribal groups and regions.