07 February, 2009

Bedouin Beauty: Jibbah

What is a Jibbah? Have you heard or read this word and wondered what it means?

Do you think Jibbah means this?

This is J-A-B-B-A the Hutt from Star Wars.
Is this what you think a jibbah looks like? It can't be this. The Jibbah is not ugly, it's pretty.

Let's try again.

Is this the Jibbah?

This Jibbah is the traditional monastic robe of the Maronites.

Okay, so if that robe was not a Jibbah, is the following tunic a Jibbah?

Well, this is a Jibbah, a uniform worn by soldiers of the Dervish Army in EGYPT, around 1885. However, the Jibbah is not something to be worn. And all kidding aside, before someone asks me what I am smoking, as this can also be called a Jibbah, it is time to get to the serious business of the Jibbah.

Jibbah, Jibbah, Jabber...why does it matter?

Touch your forehead. Yes, you, touch it right now. Rub your hands all over your forehead. Remember this feeling, it is important. This is your Jibbah.

The JIBBAH is the Bedouin term for a prominent FOREHEAD.

Only the forehead.

Major R.D Upton, in his book, Gleanings from the Desert of Arabia, stated the following,

"The Jibbah, or forehead, can scarcely be too large or too prominent to please an Arab... The shape of the Jibbah in which the Arab delights, gives a large brain cavity, adds greatly to the beauty of the head, and gives an expression of great nobility."

Not all, but quite a few Arabians are born with a bulging forehead, between the eyes. The bulge can be slight or it can be extraordinary in size. For many foals, the extreme features of the prominent forehead have more to do with babyhood and I have found over the years, that as the foals mature, the Jibbah reduces in size. Over the years, many explanations have been given for the presence of this bulging forehead, however, none of these explanations are based on scientific fact. For example, it was accepted that horses with prominent Jibbahs had a greater sinus capacity, which helped the horse survive in the dry, desert climate of its homeland. Some said that the Jibbah gave the horse greater sensitivity and the ability to locate water in the dry desert. Or the Jibbah was a sign of greater intelligence in the horse, as the bulging forehead indicated a larger brain size, as compared to horses without the prominent forehead. The Bedouins believed that the bulging forehead held holy blessings, gifted by Allah, upon the horse. The more prominent the forehead, the more blessings received from Allah. I am not sure if this belief encouraged the breeding of more horses with a Jibbah, as the Bedouin breeder chased the favor of God and His blessings, in the hope of a closer and deeper relationship with Him. However, the presence of a Jibbah in many of our horses can very easily lead me to make this blessed assumption.

Kees Mol once said,

"For far too long the Arabian horse and its origins have been clouded in romantic myths, many of them embroidered in the West for commercial reasons. Lack of knowledge of the complex history of the Middle East, together with a lack of understanding of its people and their way of life, have made these myths, which still cloud modern thinking, being so lightly accepted in the west.”

So what is fact or fiction? Was the Jibbah a characteristic that was shaped by the environment, enabling the Arabian Horse to not only survive but prosper in a harsh climate? Or was the Jibbah a characteristic that was selectively bred by the Bedouin? Let's use this point of the discussion to clarify that "Jibbah" is not the same as the characteristic we have come to call and accept as "dish". So, "dish" is not "Jibbah" and "Jibbah" is not "dish". However, without the Jibbah, the dish may not be a dish at all. I think it is time for another visual.
Right now, touch your nose.
Yes, you, please touch your nose.
Rub your hands all over your nose, across the front, the sides and a little bit on each cheek, where it meets the nose.
Remember this feeling, it's important that you do, because this is your dish.

So, here is the straight Egyptian mare, Princeton Maarena, to show you an extreme Jibbah:

I have known this mare since she was a weanling and she has had this jibbah since birth. As a matter of fact, when I first met her, I expected that she would grow out of it. She never did. She is 18 years old and she still has this prominent forehead.

The following is a picture of the beautiful straight Egyptian mare, Classic Dahra, to show you an extreme "dish":

While this mare has a slight Jibbah, it is not as extreme as the Jibbah on Princeton Maarena and the slight Jibbah creates the illusion of an exaggerated "dish" or rather a "dish" which appears more exaggerated than how it looks in real life. So, the above examples are made, not to say one mare is better than the other (not) or that one feature is more desireable than the other (not). It is a comparison/contrast of Jibbah and dish, so that you understand the difference. If anything, this is an opportunity to celebrate the variety of head shapes in our breed. Before we speak further on the Jibbah, it is important to make clear once more that "Jibbah" does not equal "dish" and "dish" does not equal "Jibbah".

Dr. Foppe Bono Klynstra studied the brain volume of various horse breeds, including the Arabian Horse. He published his findings in his book, Nobility of the Desert. He found that the Arabian had a very high brain volume, almost as high a volume as the Przewalski Horse, a truly wild, authentic, subspecies of horse (Equus ferus przewalski) from Asia. In Herbert Reese's book, Arabian Horse Breeding, the illustration of the Jibbah, as drawn by Gladys Brown Edwards appears in the book, as well as the following quote,

"The term 'jibbah' is used to denote the fullness between the eyes, a distinctive feature in many Arabian heads."
I spoke recently with Dr. Daniel Wigger, a Veterinarian and Egyptian Arabian Horse breeder in Muenster, Germany, about the the smaller skull size-larger brain concept, and Dr. Wigger shared with me what he remembers from animal brain anatomy, that is,
"...there is also a certain constant relation between body weight, brain volume and size of the eyes, which develop from the brain tissue during embryogenesis. So the key to breeding exotic heads with large eyes seems to be the selection of SMALL heads/skulls rather than trying to produce a certain shape. The shape is more or less accidental and not a very consistent trait but the size of the head has a very high heritability, increasing the chance of getting the favoured head shape."
In understanding the information that I have learned so far in my life, either from reading or observing the jibbah, in relation to the Arabian horse head first-hand, I feel that the Jibbah has more to do with the anatomical construction of the Arabian Horse skull, in order to allow the maximum amount of room, in a small-headed horse, for a larger sized brain. The Arabian Horse head is much smaller in size, as compared to the head size found in other breeds of horses, which I believe is a consequence of living in a desert climate; as a smaller head, has a smaller amount of surface area to be exposed to the effects of a closer, brighter, hotter sun and the damaging effects of intense UV radiation. The facial frontal and parietal bones create the prominent forehead, as these bones bulge outwards to supply the added room for the brain. The eye-sockets are also prominent on the Arabian Horse forehead, with also a wide distance between the location of the eyes. Again, designed to give the brain additional room.

Major R. D. Upton, again, from his book Gleanings from the desert of Arabia, says,
"The frontal and parietal bones, or walls of the skull above, are large, bold, well developed, and often prominent. The brain cavity is capacious, giving an appearance and power almost human. The nasal bones, on the other hand, are fine and subservient to the frontal, and of a delicate and graceful outline. The orbits of the eye are large and prominent; the eye is full, large, and lustrous. It is very beautiful; the beauty is not so much dependent upon the size of the eye visible through the eyelids, as it is derived from its depth and expression."
The horse *Morafic, famous in the 1960's for his extreme head, exhibits this anatomical phenomenon in the head, to accomodate the larger-sized brain in a longer faced horse, with a jibbah, bulging eye sockets and a very pronounced bone structure.

In closing, I would like to share with you, what Dr. Hans Nagel offered about the head, in his famous book, Hanan: The Story of an Arabian Mare and of the Arabian Breed,

"Was the typical shape of the head caused by great privation, as a sign of deterioration or a result of inbreeding (which is known to show especially in the bone structure) or is it a random mutation, developed further by human breeders who liked the shape? Whatever the original cause, the dished proile remained typical, as did the small head."

EnJoy your horses,


Anonymous said...

Excellent explaination of a simple yet complicated description of our breed's head!!!

Thanks Ralph!!

flying hooves :)

Vanesa said...

Dear Ralph,

I hope you enjoy researching and writing as much as we enjoy reading your posts.


Thank you!


"Always following your blog"