National Geographic : 1958 Feb
remain with me as long as I require them. They are a genial, happy people, welcoming and friendly once they have accepted you. English people often call the marshmen "Marsh Arabs," but I do not like the name; I am convinced that most of them are not pure Arabs but belong to earlier stock. Among the Ma'dan there is probably Sumerian, Baby lonian, and Persian blood. The Ma'dan are buffalo-owning marsh dwellers. In the same tribe, or even in the same family, living on the edge of the marshes, one man may call himself a fellah, or culti vator of the soil, another Ma'di, or marshman. The difference is not one of race but of habitat, and to some extent of occupation. Ma'dan and fellahs both keep buffaloes, grow rice, move about in canoes, and spear fish. Among the Ma'dan the emphasis is on buffaloes. These animals are the most im portant things in their lives, as vital to them 212 as camels are to people of the desert; among the fellahs it is cultivation of the soil that matters most. It is interesting, and I think significant, that while a Bedouin would always boast that he was a Bedouin and many Arabs proudly claim Bedouin origin, the word Ma'di outside the marshes is synonymous with "yokel." Even the marshmen boast of being Ma'dan only when they claim for themselves the tech nical skill proper to a marshman. I have frequently heard a Ma'di say to another marshman who was being clumsy with his canoe: "Are you a Ma'di or an Arab?" Most of the villages are semiaquatic, but sometimes the houses are clustered together on small islands, many of them the sites of ancient villages and towns.* * See "Ancient Mesopotamia: A Light That Did Not Fail," by E. A . Speiser, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, January, 1951.