Ibn Butlan

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[pp. 237-240]

IBN BUṬLĀN

(born about 1005 A.D.) about 1050 A.D.

Al-Mukhtār b. 'Abdūn Yuhannā Ibn al-Buṭlān. A physician and theologian, probably a cleric of the Nestorian Church from Baghdad. About 1050 A.D. he emigrated to Cairo and worked there.

Risāla fī shirā' ar-raqīq wa-taqlīb al-'abīd (about slaves from different nations).

[p. 238] Ed.: Abdel Salam Harun, Nawādir al-makhṭūṭāt, ser. 5, n. 15, Cairo 1954.

T.: Cairo 1954 A:0


The fourth [chapter][1] deals with the southern countries, the inhabitants of which live in the southern hemisphere and are Ḥabasha. The living conditions (aḥwāl) among them are the opposite of those of the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. Their complexion is black, their waters are brackish and dirty; [therefore] they suffer from stomach troubles and have difficult digestion. They have a hot temper and a short life. [The discharges of] their bowels (butūn) are soft because of their bad digestion. (p. 372).

The Zanj Women (az-zanjīyyāt)

They nave several bad qualities. The blacker they are, the worse their smell is, the sharper their teeth, the less profitable and more dangerous they become. Most of them have an obstinate character and try to run away. They have no knowledge of science or crafts (ghamm). Dancing and beating time are natural to them. On account of their outlandish pronunciation (ʿujūmat alfāz) [of Arabic], they are more suitable for playing the flute (zamr) and dancing [than for singing]. Some one said: 'Were a Zanj dropped down from Heaven to Earth, he would go on dancing all the way down!' They (masc., hum) have the cleanest gums of all men, with abundant saliva because of their bad digestion. They [fem.] are hard workers. If a Zanj (zanjī) is subjected to any kind of suffering, he does not complain provided [p. 239] that his stomach is filled. They [fem.] are ill-suited for the temporary marriage (mut'ah) because of their unpleasant smell and the coarseness of their bodies.

The Ethiopian Women (al-ḥabashīyyāt)

Most of them have a smooth, soft body, but are weak and often suffer from consumption. They are ill-suited for song and dance and feel unhappy when they are taken away from their own country. On the other hand, they are good-natured and gentle, self-restrained and reliable. They have a strong character in a weak, feeble body, unlike the Nūba (an-nūba) who have a strong, well-shaped body, but a weak character and have a short life because of their poor digestion.

The Zaghāwā Women (az-zaghāwīyyāt) have bad tempers and use to snarl (damdamah); they easily get angry, are ill-natured to the extreme, worse than the Zanj or any other race of the Blacks (Sūdān). Their women are ill-suited for temporary marriage and their men do not make useful workers. (p. 375).

The Beja Women (al-bujāwīyyāt)

Their country is situated south-west of the land lying between the Ḥabasha and the Nūba. They have a tanned (mudhahhab) [golden] complexion, beautiful faces, delicate bodies and smooth skins; they make pleasant bedfellows (jawārī mut'ah) if they are taken out of their country while they are still young and whole. In their own country they are subjected to the excision [of the clitoris], performed with a razor (musā) down to the bone; after this [operation] they are held in high respect. Men cut the tips of their breasts and remove the rotula of their knees, because they say, this [operation] [p. 240] prevents them from getting tired while running. Daring and theft are second nature in them; for this reason they should not be trusted with any valuables; as house managers, they are unreliable. (pp. 375-376).

The Nubian Women (an-nūbīyyāt)

Of all the Sūdānese, the Nubian women are the most agreeable, tender and polite. Their bodies are slim with a smooth skin, steady and well-proportioned. They can live in Egypt, as the Nile water is the same in both countries; outside of Egypt they are subject to blood diseases (ʿilal damawīyyah) and serious illnesses (amrād hāddah) and any slight injury spoils their bodies. Their character is honest (ṭāhir) and their countenance agreeable. They have religious feelings (dīn), goodness, chastity (ʿiffah) and self-respect (tasāwwun); they respect their master, as if they were created to serve. (p. 376).

Nurses (ḥawāḍin) and Midwives (dāyāt)

The Nubian woman is preferable as a nurse because she is kind and tender to the child and does not have a sharp tongue. ... Some physicians choose the Zanj woman for suckling because the warmth of their breasts makes the milk properly cooked. (p. 387).

  1. The previous chapters deal with the physiological and psychological characteristics of the slaves, which differ from country to country.