Iraq's Marsh Arabs in the Garden of Eden

By Edward L. Ochsenschlager | Go to book overview

8
MATS, BASKETS, AND OTHER OBJECTS
MADE FROM REEDS AND RUSHES

The marshes of southern Iraq provide an ideal environment for reeds (gramineae), rushes (juncaceae), sedges (cyperaceae), and other grasses. It is difficult for a botanist to describe or identify the many species of the plants that exist here because of their extraordinary variety and the similarities of their basic structures.

During the excavations I became quite interested in the ways reeds and rushes were used by people in the surrounding villages. Reeds are called qasab, rushes are known as bardy, and sedge is kaulan. Although the inhabitants clearly know what kind of growth each plant will produce, the difference between the words qasab and bardy in common usage seems to be based largely on function rather than scientific botany. Small, young reeds can be referred to as bardy when harvested, as can certain sedges. The term qasab is usually confined to the growth of the larger, thicker plants even if in reality they are a variety of rush or sedge. This identification according to function is further borne out. The Mi’dan spend most of the day foraging for fodder to feed their water buffalo at night. During the rainy season when the marshes are too deep for the water buffalo to graze, their owners (often the entire family) must provide the animals with sufficient fodder for both day and night. They harvest grasses, sedges, and the young shoots of reeds and rushes. All of these are referred to as hashish, a word usually translated as “grass.”

One should note that people eat certain reeds and rushes. The tender young shoots of reed are chewed like sugar cane to which their taste bears a distant resemblance. Young shoots of certain rushes have a kind of licorice taste, and a hard yellow cake is made from rush pollen in the springtime. The pith from yet another rush is eaten raw and is also cooked in a sweet pudding.

-129-

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Iraq's Marsh Arabs in the Garden of Eden
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface and Acknowledgments vii
  • 1 - In the Garden of Eden 1
  • 2 - The People of Al-Hiba 13
  • 3 - Ways and Means 34
  • 4 - Mud Household Utensils and Storage Containers 45
  • 5 - Mud Musical Instruments, Toys, Jewelry, and Ammunition 74
  • 6 - Mud Architecture and Ancillary Structures 95
  • 7 - Baked Pottery 111
  • 8 - Mats, Baskets, and Other Objects Made from Reeds and Rushes 129
  • 9 - Reed Architecture 145
  • 10 - Wood, Boats, and Bitumen 170
  • 11 - Bovine Husbandry 190
  • 12 - Sheep 203
  • 13 - Village Weavers 216
  • 14 - The Photographs of John Henry Haynes 251
  • 15 - Death under Glass 270
  • Index 281
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