#MemberMonday: Hylke Hettema

Hylke

Hylke Hettema
pictured with al Ma3allim Shay (the wise mister tea) a
n Egyptian Baladi horse I have adopted and who is my once in a lifetime horse and my hairstylist from time to time

BA in Arabic Language and Middle East studies, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

MA in Arabic Linguistics, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Dissertation on Arabian horses in the Qur’an and ahadith.

What got you in to history? In to equine history?
     As a child I visited many castles as part of family vacations. I thought they were the most magnificent places on earth and always tried to imagine what it would have been like to live in the times those enormous structures were built. Curious as I am I have always had a passion to search for all the answers to the endless questions I have about times long passed. Obviously my other great passion are horses, “Oriental” horses in particular. I breed, ride, watch and study them. When I decided to start breeding Straight Egyptian Arabians questions started surfacing about the history of the breed and I discovered a lot of things that just don’t seem to make sense. Appalled by the majority of the breed specific literature, websites and ‘experts’ selling the average Arabian horse enthusiast a lot of fairytales and nonsense I decided I wanted to dig deeper but do this the right way: academic research. (My love for castles is still going strong and whenever I travel the first things I seek out are castles and of course horses).

Who is your favorite historical horse?
     I wasn’t sure if I would be able to answer this question, since many of the horses in literature concerning “Arabian” history are unnamed and I like them all not just one, but I can tell you about one of the stories that caused me to start digging deeper. The horse in question does have a name: Abjer (protruding belly). He is the horse of the Pre-Islamic warrior Antar(ah) ibn Shaddad, the main character in one of the most popular stories (poems) throughout Arab history, which is still taught in schools throughout the Middle East today.

   Antars   Antars story has been compared to Arthurian literature in terms of chivalry and courage. He was born a slave and fell in love with his cousin Abla, and to obtain freedom so that he would be allowed to marry her he had to “fight with the warriors and defend his tribe”.  Early on his quest to freedom he obtains the horse Abjer. A stallion ‘darker than ebony’ that he traded for all the spoils of war they had previously taken.  Many versions state that Abjer was “of a race that the Arabs much appreciated”, which made me realise that it is a bit naive to assume Arabs only rode Arabian horses (a good argument for starting serious research). Nevertheless I like what Abjer stands for in the story, a loyal and true friend to his rider, exactly what I have experienced horses to be.

What are you working on right now?
     I am currently working on my PhD as an external researcher for Leiden University, the Netherlands. The main theme of my dissertation is the role the Arabian horse has played in the creation of Arab identity in general. My supervisor dr. P. Webb has shown how Arab identity was created and evolved in the 8-10th centuries, after the birth of Islam. We do not have much evidence of the existence of the Arabian as a breed from before that exact same timeframe and it would seem that the ideas of ‘Arabness’ for both human and horse are interconnected and perhaps triggers for the creation of one another. There are quite a few 8-10th century Arabic manuscripts on horses that I will be analyzing in search of the role the horse may have played in the invention and spread of Arab identity.

    Apart from the PhD and papers for various congresses I also write for both academic and non academic readers about “oriental” horses on my blog rememberingadeserthorse.org

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