A Story: Origin of the Camel

Long ago . . .

The one true God, mighty Allah, wished to test his favorite servant. So He sent a peresh (spirit) down from heaven, and when this spirit set foot upon earth it was changed into a divaneh or dervish--a penniless wandering holy man--and sent to the Patriarch, Father Abraham. When the dervish came before Abraham, he bowed and said, "Hazrett Ibraham! I am only a beggar. Give me, in God's praise, some poor alms from your wealth which is without limit."

For twenty days Abraham gave alms to the dervish, and he gave with a liberal hand. A thousand fine beasts a day, he gave. The first day, sheep; the second day, goats. Upon the third day, he sent yaks, next horses and then camels and so forth. At last God spoke to the peresh, asking if Abraham was generous--and the peresh, who must always speak truth, answered that Abraham had given him so much, all the Patriarch's herds and flocks were now given quite away. So God was pleased, and said, "Give my faithful servant back everything that was his, and with a load of gold on every camel's back."

Thus the dervish returned to Hazrett Ibraham's yurt, angels striding behind and before him, and every angel led a horse; sheep by the hundreds ran beneath the hooves of the horses, followed by goats without number or flaw. Every ewe wore a shagreen collar, every goat a rope of bells, every yak a new pack-saddle; every horse was harnessed with the finest leather and hung with tassels of many-colored wool. As for the camels, each one carried a box of gold, as much as it could bear . . . and of all God's beasts of burden, it is the camel which can carry the heaviest load: nine hundred pounds at a time, the camel can tote. But Abraham in his great generosity hesitated to take the beasts back, for he said, "Once I have given charity, how shall I close my fist again?" Then the dervish, saddened, carried this answer to God; and God commanded that all these animals be set free to wander the earth without a home, so that the hungry men of the world might kill and eat them at need.

Thus the sheep became arkharis, the wild rams of the mountains; the goats became tereks, kiyik, and blue maral with their long wagging beards; the yaks fled and became wild yaks, the horses were changed to antelopes and wild asses. When you go out to hunt them, be sure to say a word of thanks to Hazrett Ibrahim's charity! But the camels were pursued by every man, because of the gold upon their backs; they had no time to change shape. They fled headlong into the most desolate quarters of the desert, and every time a camel leaped a river, the gold upon its back spilled out into the river-bed and the camel was affrighted anew and fled onward; thus were made the gold-bearing rivers of the Gobi. And every time a camel rushed up a mountainside, it slipped and fell and lost some of its gold, because camels do not climb well and besides they dislike heights; thus were made the mines of the mountains.

So they did not stop till they were in the deepest part of the desert, on the flat land they love, far from any rivers or greedy men, and there they remain till this day.

A legend of the Gobi desert shepherds, circa 1900 AD
Original source: Sven Hedin, Through Asia volume 2, written in 1898.


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