on the bus to Haifa. The route from Jerusalem to Haifa goes first towards
the coast, Tel-Aviv, then heads north, along the Mediterranean. All the
sea side towns which, when I lived in Israel in the 1960s and 70s were
small communities, now form the silicon valley of Israel, so I have been
told. There certainly was tremendous development and the drive was
beautiful. The greens and blues and golds were those of the
impressionist's palette. As the sun was setting, the bus arrived in Haifa;
at about eight o'clock, after a mere three hour ride, I knocked on Igal
Sella's apartment door. I really had no idea what to expect, though we had
been in contact since 1976. As the door opened, there I was, at last, face
to face with Igal Sella, and he with me!
After greetings, arrangements for another youth hostel
night, and calls to my next contact, who I had not been able to get a hold
of but who, it turned out, was an old friend of Igal's, we sat down, at
last, to talk about Saluqis. I was living another dream, meeting the
breeder of Dar and Div, and finally learning how he got their parents and
how he came to know Salim Ibn Jahzi. I could hear about the background of
my own Saluqis, and the experiences of the man who had bred them for me so
long ago. As fate and a case of "nerves" would have it, Igal Sella being
my first "formal" interview, I couldn't figure out how to work the tape
recorder! After hitting it a couple of times, fiddling with the batteries,
I gave up and resorted to my notebook.
I will share with you the recollections of Igal Sella
as he shared them with me. First we looked through his slide collection,
all that remains from his many trips into Sinai. Then, after dinner, we
sat down again and I asked him some questions and tried to record in my
notes as much as possible. The next day, with his grandson, we drove to
the town of Nazareth, where we met both Arab and Israeli contacts. During
the drive I finally got my tape recorder to work, so, I have transcribed
parts of our conversation. Many of Igal Sella's slides illustrate this
Also from the period of the 1940s through the 1970s are
photographs that were shared with me by Dr. Zafra Sirik, director of the
Sighthound Section of the Israel Kennel Club. The photographs from the
1940s are from unknown sources. The photographs of Tarabin Bedouin in
Sinai in 1970 were taken by Israeli photographer, Eli Chen.
Before I start to share the material I collected from
Israeli and Arab people who were either involved with the breed in the
past, or who were and remain involved with Saluqis today, a moments
reflection on the history of Salukis in the West, particularly England and
the United States, will be useful. Though my story is very much about the
Saluki roots of my own hounds, it is also very much about the roots of the
breed in general. According to John Boutflower, writing in the early 1990s
(1) , there were 187 Salukis imported from the Middle East that were
registered with the Kennel Club of England. Of those, only 45 have living
descendants in England. Catherine Kuhl and Carlene Kuhl wrote that going
through the documentation available on the American Saluki, "a group of 28
'original imports' can be identified" (2).
The specific countries that these English and
American Salukis were imported from, as well as extensive anecdotal,
historical, and pedigree information about these hounds is authoritatively
covered in The Saluqi: Coursing Hound of the East by the writers already
mentioned, and June Appleby-Burt. The imports came from Egypt (which
before the construction of the Suez Canal, was an unbroken landmass with
the Sinai Peninsula), Palestine (now Israel and Palestine), Syria, Jordan,
and Iraq. There are Salukis with names indicating that they came from
Bahrain, others were supposedly gifts from Persian/ Iranian notables. The
Turks ruled the region for several hundred years, so certainly Salukis
went from Turkey everywhere and from everywhere to Turkey. Sinai Salukis
in the recent past, and probably for centuries, were interbred with
Salukis traveling from Saudi Arabia with the caravans, some remaining in
Sinai, some being bred to the Salukis of the Sinai Bedouin then continuing
on with their own tribes into Egypt.
Helen Baker's Saluki Quarterly interview (Spring 1989,
pp. 34-46) reminded me of the particular importance of the region I
visited when she was discussing the origins of the Knightellington
bloodline, an English kennel which now spans three "human" generations:
the founder of the line, in the early 1930s, Lady Gardner, her daughter,
Helen Baker, and her daughter, Rosemary Lewis. The Knightellingtons played
an important role in the development of several influential American
kennels. When asked about their "original stock", Helen Baker replied that
the person they got their original ones from was a matron in a hospital.
"She was out in Nabloos where the Palestinians were having problems. …She
had brought some back and my mother liked hers, so we started with these
and have carried on ever since."
Commenting further on the early history of the breed in
England, Helen Baker reflected on the dogs brought in by army people and
how these were bred to Salukis brought in by others, and this is how the
breed took hold, with the eventual formation of the Saluki Club in 1923.
She commented that General Lance brought
in a lot of dogs, "his were
bigger and came from Syria, not from Palestine, and then there was the
honorable Florence Amherst...she was sort of keen on the Middle East as it
was then and spent an awful lot of time in Saudi Arabia and Arabia and
probably Iraq as well. She brought some back and bred over here quite a
bit". The original Amherstia Salukis were reported to have come from
Egypt, and Sinai was part of Egypt and is again.
Though more than a century has passed since the first
recorded Saluki imports into the West, the Sinai Bedouin informants I met
were in their 80s and the younger people remembered well what their
fathers had taught them. All of the people who shared stories with me were
immersed in the region and culture where the Saluqi evolved. Some were
horsemen; all spoke Arabic. I found everyone interesting, some information
fascinating, some memories so beautiful that I was deeply touched. I will
now try to share a bit of what I heard and saw.
Conversations with Igal Sella, August 1-2, 1999
While looking through the slide collection before dinner…..
The slides were taken in the southern Sinai, during
trips made from 1968 through 1975. Igal Sella traveled in the region from
the monastery of Santa Caterina, in the interior, to the coast, from Sharm
El Sheikh at the bottom of the Peninsula, to Taba, just south of Eilat. He
remembered seven or eight main Tribes or family groups, the Tarabin,
Muzeina, Jabaliyah being some of the major groups. These people were camel
people and smugglers.
When he was in Sinai in 1956, Bedouin life was for the most part
"traditional". They still used camels as their major transportation and
caravans were still common. Before WW I game was plentiful. By 1967 cars
and jeeps were beginning to replace the camel and he felt that what they
were seeing was the transition from the traditional way of life, which
included hunting with Saluqis, to a more modern life, where the use of
long distance rifles was accelerating the disappearance of game. By 1967,
Sella felt that hunting was no longer an everyday activity for sustenance.
He felt that he was privileged to have witnessed the tradition of hunting
with Saluqis before it gave way entirely to the modern life. The Bedouin
hunted hare, gazelle, and ibex with Saluqis.
When asked about the origins of the Sinai Saluqi, he reflected and
offered these comments:
The Saluqis of Sinai came from many sources---Sinai is
only a spot, a needle between North Africa and the Indian deserts. In any
area with a commercial connection with the Middle East, with trade, the
dogs have spread, from as long ago as 6000 years before Christ. In Turkey,
the dogs are related very much to the modern dogs. All dogs are from the
same origins, as far as I understand, and all through history man has
brought them from place to place. Ibn Jahzi told me that Ruah Tarabin, for
example, was the daughter of a bitch that came with a camel caravan from
In Sinai the dogs are not a homogeneous group due to
the movement from east to west and from west to east. Even the Tarabin are
just barely "local", only three or four hundred years in Sinai; four
hundred years is not actually a long time in the Middle East. The Saluqis
in Sinai are ten times more ancient than the current human residents…..we
know it from carvings.
Most of Sinai is a tough desert and without the help of
man, dogs cannot live there. Once the Sinai Bedouin had to depend on the
small number of local wells and water sources, but after 1967, Israeli
technology enabled them to drill for water everywhere, which caused a
revolution in the amount of agriculture. Today there are more and more
palms, for example, which depend on pumped water. It is believed that
there is an enormous underground water source in Wadi Firan, but it’s very
The goat's meat and milk were very important, and the Saluqi
was used, maybe once a week, to hunt gazelle, which provided a nice
addition to the family diet. Today, due to hunting with rifles, there is
little game, and hunting for the pot is too much effort. With the
disappearance of game, the Saluqi has no use.
After dinner, then during the drive the following day
from Haifa to the city of Nazareth, our conversation continued, with Igal
Sella reflecting on his early memories of Salukis and other topics:
The first Saluqi I saw was in Hulda, a kibbutz near
Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, in 1945…..not in Sinai. The Sheikhs came to
Hulda because there was an excellent horse there….the Arabs had Arabians,
but they wanted to use the English thoroughbred for speed. One of the
Sheikhs came with a completely black Saluqi, a smooth bitch…..from Sidoon,
not from Hulda…..Sidoon was a small village near Ramleh that does not
This Saluqi made no particular impression on me….I was a fifteen year old
boy….but I do remember thinking that she was something completely
different from all of the other dogs and that she was used for hunting.
The next time I saw Saluqis was from a distance, in
Sinai, in 1956 but I didn't have time to stay and watch. Only in 1968,
when I started learning in Sinai as a guide did I have time to pay
attention to the dogs. In Sinai, for example, I saw no completely black
Saluqis and only a few that were partly black. Most, ninety-five percent,
were very pale, white or reddish or gray; very few were partly black. The
first quality that struck me was their unique shape and their movement.
What do you mean?
For example, most Saluqis, at medium speed, walking or trotting, most move
with the head not higher than the body and many times lower compared with
the back. I didn't pay attention to other dogs but this is the way the
desert Saluqi moves. Also, there is something different about how the
Saluqi raises and puts the legs compared to the Canaani or others….the
actual movement of the leg is very light.
The closest animal to the Saluqi for movement is the
cheetah, but the cheetah's body cooling system does not allow for long
distance running. Otherwise, I think the Saluqi is cheetah-like. I didn't
actually see Saluqis hunting in Sinai; I was only told about how they
The Bedouin divided Saluqis into two main
groups: heavy ones for ibex, lighter ones for gazelle and hare. The slide
of the gray and white one, this one could get an ibex alone. It may not
look like a perfect Saluqi but it was an extremely valuable one.
The Sinai Bedouin have their own ideas about
"purebred". You can identify the Saluqis apart from other dogs, but they
didn't mate only Saluqi to Saluqi. Another dog may have mated with a
Saluqi bitch; the pups may be good looking, good hunters, and to them, a
Saluqi but to us, not a "pure" Saluqi. By "other dogs" I mean all levels
of mixtures, all varieties of Saluqis and all varieties of Canaani or camp
Why didn't they all become camp dogs? Well, at some
point they must have watched what they were doing. [For specific
information on how matings were monitored and unwanted breedings prevented
refer to C. Bailey's chapter, Bedouin Saluqi-Lore in Sinai, pp.247-255,
and Ali Miguel's section, Saluqis in Morocco, pp.308-317 in The Saluqi:
Coursing Hound of the East.] The first concern will always be for how the
dog can survive, how the dog can hunt….looks did not matter.
did you get Ruah Tarabin?
After I established personal relations with Salim Ibn
Jahzi, I dared to ask him to arrange for me to have a Saluqi. He said,
"You can take this one." This was Ruah; she was very old, maybe eight. By
that time she had already had a few litters. The poor conditions, the lack
of food, it is not every year that the bitch has a litter, like the women,
not every year.
Later on I brought one of the new puppies to him and
asked him for another bitch. My direction was to have more than one blood
source. I asked him for a pure white-feathered Saluqi that belonged to
some of his neighbors. He sent someone with me to the neighbor and I got
the bitch. I had her only a short time when I decided that she was
familiar enough with our home and I left her loose; until this day she was
on a leash all the time. I asked my wife, Ester, to release the dog after
I had been gone for an hour or so. I was riding my bicycle to Rosh HaNikra,
about forty kilometers from our home. As soon as Ester released her, she
disappeared. Six months later we found her dead half way between Rosh
HaNikra and our home; she had been struck by a car going after me. I'm
sure of it.
Ruah died from complications from her last litter; only
one pup survived, a dark one. Talking about the Saluqi's ability to follow
scent reminds me of something that bitch did. She was crazy….I don't know
why. All of our dogs were trained to stay in the jeep. They were not
allowed to leave the jeep, off lead…..they just stayed there. One time I
went to visit a friend in the hospital and I left her in the jeep in the
parking place. Well, after a short while she left the jeep and came
looking for me into the huge hospital. I was sitting beside my friend in
his room, and here she came and sat down beside me! It was amazing because
it shows their ability to scent and get the right person's smell among
hundreds of people and medical odors.
How did you meet Salim Ibn Jahzi?
Occasionally we met….we were traveling along Wadi Watir
and Ayn Furtaga was a good place for a break.
On one occasion, he came to me, as the leader of the
group, and asked me for medicine for his daughter…..she was so weak, she
was terribly ill with an enormous abscess on her chest. Something that
made it more serious was that they had put a hot iron on the wound and
brought more damage.
doctor with us said that if she would not be treated properly, she could
die from this. I don't know the exact process, but the doctor cleaned her
wound and gave her antibiotics.
When we came the next time, Salim ran to meet us and he
told me that the child was absolutely well. That was the beginning. I met
him on many occasions during my travels.
What memories do you have of your early Saluqis?
Well, Ruah was extremely smart. When I brought her to
Rita to examine for her registration, I entered Rita’s home and before
even saying shalom, she said, "Where is the dog?" I said, "In the
jeep." "Free with no one?" "Yes, what's the problem?" Rita said, "Saluqis
are not obeying dogs, it can't be, you cannot leave the dog in the jeep
with nobody!" "If so, I have news for you…." It took me only a week or so
to train Ruah not to leave the jeep and all of my Saluqis, sooner or
later, learned this.
It seemed very important to the Sinai Bedouin that the dogs are obedient,
that you can train them because two people who really knew the dogs
commented on this. One said, "Dogs are smart, they're like people, you can
teach them many things and they will remember, but they can't talk." Then,
the other man said that the dhirri is more obedient than the salag and
this was good. Your attitude seems very like the Bedouin.
Well, in a way Saluqis are more dependent on the owner….it is dependent on
what you want to get from the dog…..the training. For me, for example,
being loyal to my orders was very, very important. The first order was
stay in the jeep. Only one dog, the wild one I told you about, it took me
a long time to get this behavior form her. But the others, like Ruah,
maybe Ruah was the leader and it was easier to get results when Ruah was
Ruah had three litters, all sired by Lobo. Lobo was
brought by someone from Jordan, I don't actually know who, someone who
worked for the shabak, the Jewish intelligence. I had told a friend of
mine that I was looking for Saluqis among the Bedouin, and he told me
about this one, and I don't remember the exact connections, how it came,
but one day I was told, the dog is yours and you can get him.
Lobo was not pretty and not good, he was
medium nice, medium good, but he was quite a good hunter. He was an
obedient dog and very sensitive to other animals [had excellent instincts
for hunting]. He was quite tall, about ten centimeters taller than Ruah
and longer bodied; Ruah was small and quite square. He was taller and
longer than her but he was light in body. Ruah was more muscular compared
to him, of course, as a female to a male, but she was definitely more
muscular than Lobo, even though he was a male. He wasn't as deep chested
as Ruah. Ruah was a better Saluqi than Lobo.
Ruah reacted like lightning, not in starting to run,
but she was alert to everything happening in her vicinity….in sight and
hearing, she was immediate. Lobo was more laid back, somewhat slower in
his reactions but he could run very long distances and he was faster than
I don't know if Ruah's age affected her speed. She ran
not fast but far….Blanka [Lobo x Ruah] was much faster than Ruah. I'm not
sure that Ruah was less fast because of the age…I'm not sure. I don't know
if I agree with you that bitches lose their speed before dogs…Blanka, if
to take this as an example, kept up her speed to a very late age at a very
high speed, very good reactions, and not less long distances at high
you say long distances at high speed, what did you try to hunt in Israel?
I tried to cooperate with the Nature Reserve Authority
and keep gazelle out of particular areas in the heights of the Tabor and
the heights of the Golan using Saluqis. Not kill the gazelle, just chase
them out of the area. I had one bitch, she was so impressive, she hunted
for six hours in thirty-three degrees centigrade…..all day she
ran…..sometimes 50 kilometers per hour, sometimes 60, 20, 30….all day she
worked. And, when we decided to leave the area, I told her to get in the
jeep, and I poured water. She drank only a quarter of a liter…she would
have run more.
It wasn’t an actual hunting….the intention was to keep
the gazelle out of the area. I didn’t bring the dogs to a situation of
having a chance to kill….it was not allowed according to the Nature
Reserve and there was no sense to do something against them.
Once, in the Negev, we hunted for six hours with a
Sinai Saluqi…..she was one of the heaviest [substantial], a very deep
chest, very, very deep, the abdomen, tuck-up was very small, very narrow,
the back was wide….the whole structure of this animal was a very heavy
Saluqi, even the skull, the backskull was quite broad.
She was a very small one, not tall, as small as Ruah but much stronger.
The capacity of the muscles was much stronger than Ruah.
Where was she from? You had her?
Well, over the years I became very famous among the
Bedouin because I didn’t only take dogs from them, I from time to time
came to bring dogs from my litters to Salim or to another and I became
famous among them as the one who is truly keeping Saluqis. And later on,
when I came to somebody who has a good dog, and I ask him, generally the
Bedouin will let me take it and I keep my promise to bring them back one.
This one I saw somewhere in Ayn Hodra [Sinai], I don’t
remember exactly. She was a dark one, brown-gray. The most impressive
characteristic of this dog was keeping on for high speed for long
distances. I told you, the most impressive experience was the height of
the Sahar, this bitch kept running all day…..not going, running, all
during the day. When we decided to leave the area…..she didn’t have water
all the day, she drank….she didn’t finish the bowl.
She may have been too exhausted.
No, not at all, she was not exhausted. No, I am quite sure if I would let
her run more, she would do it.
Is that the time her legs were all bloody?
No, that was another story, of the plateaus of the Negev which are covered
This conversation ended as we entered the city of
Nazareth and began to look for a public phone so that we could call Nasser
Darawashe who would take us to meet his brother, Rashid, who breeds
Saluqis and Arabian horses and who lives in the nearby village of Iksaal.
Neither Igal Sella’s grandson, Itamar, nor I had ever
visited Nazareth, so, it was a new experience for both of us. Though the
stench from the piles of trash at the bottom of the hill we were standing
on to use the pay phone, just outside the oldest part of the city, was
overwhelming, the city seems to be growing and expanding like all the
other cities in Israel; new construction bursts from all the surrounding
hilltops and down the sides of the hills. The narrow, winding streets of
the old city seem entirely too small for the modern human and vehicle
traffic, which forms unbroken lines encircling the city center. Parking is
permitted in any spot, at any angle one can insert a car….so, the first
available space we found, Igal inserted his car and we made our way
towards the building housing the law practice of Nasser’s father. The
office overlooks the main square, the main church, and Nasser was watching
for us at the window. Even I noted that tourists were like apples in an
orange basket, and sure enough, I heard “Gail?” called from above (fitting
for the holy place) and there was Nasser, waving to us.
I had heard so much about Nasser and his family that it
was exciting to meet him in person. I had been told that he is articulate
and fluent in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, and that he is “old” for his
years. During one of our phone conversations, trying to arrange my visit
before he left for the States for a year or so to work with Arabian
horses, he told me that he had finished his law studies and passed the
Israeli Bar Exam (or whatever the equivalent is called in Israel). But I
couldn’t possibly have anticipated his warmth and charm…..they were very
real, very Arab, and very gracious. It felt more like a reunion than
meeting a stranger.
We climbed an ancient stone stairway into an equally
ancient building, a relic from earlier colonial regimes. All the rooms
were empty, with paint and wallpaper peeling, except for the single office
of Nasser’s father, who had occupied this room for his whole career,
spanning almost fifty years. It was fascinating to listen to and observe
this young man move not only between languages, but between cultures, as
he ordered tea and soda pop,
>and talked about Saluqis and the Arabic
language. The first interchange came up over the sense of smell with
Saluqis, how well they use their noses hunting and the meaning of the word
Igal: The sense of smell in a few Saluqis is excellent,
but not so far like you see with golden retrievers or pointers….not so
good, but it works.
Nasser: I see them, they move around the area a lot,
they look, they use their sense of smell a lot, but, essentially, the
moment they make eye contact, our Saluqis, that is…..
Gail: It’s excellent on the Tarabins. Some of them in a
litter use their noses more than others….Div was excellent, Dar Tarabin
didn’t use his nose.
Nasser: What’s called Div? What does it mean?
Gail: I don’t know….you’ll have to ask Igal. Div or
Nasser: Deeb is a wolf.
Igal: Dib is a bear.
Nasser: Dib is a bear, Deeb is a wolf.
Gail: She was Dib or Deeb? So, what was she?
Igal: Dib, a bear.
Gail: She wasn’t molasses? Dib in Arabic is also
molasses, brown sugar….
Nasser: No, dibbs…..dibbs is brown sugar.
Igal: Dib, a bear….I had to give a name, what does it
Nasser: OK….we must go to see the horses, Itamar can’t
So, we went down the ancient stairway, past the ancient church to the car,
parked precariously, but apparently quite safely, right on the main street
of the old city. We all squeezed in and were off to Kfar Iksaal.
1) John Boutflower, The Effect of Imported Dogs from the Middle East on
Saluki Coursing in Great Britain, in The Saluqi: Coursing Hound of the
East, edited by Gail Goodman, Midbar Inc., Apache Junction, AZ, 1995, pp.
2) Catherine Kuhl and Carlene Kuhl, Eastern Influences on the American
Saluki, in The Saluqi: Coursing Hound of the East, op.cit., pp. 425-554.