Ken's Ancestry - the Gassanaids

The Sams family story begins with a myth – the great flood in which Noah took his family and all the creatures of the area onto a boat and floated to safety as the old world washed away.

Shem map

Shem map

Noah’s son Shem was the father of Arpachshad, who is the common ancestor of all the Arabic and Jewish people, who are known as ‘Semites’ after their ancestor Shem. Arpachshad’s son Eber was the ancestor of the Eberu (or Hebrew) tribe who are the ancestors of the Jews. Arpachshad’s son Joktan was the ancestor of the Arabs. Joktan’s son Saba (or Sheba) was founder of the Kingdom of Saba in what is now Yemen, in Southern Arabia. Abd Shams (Abd= servant, Shams = Sun) Saba was the great king of Saba. He was a sunworshipper, but his name also embodied the number 7 (in Arabic:Saba) as it represented the Sun, the Moon and the 5 planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn)

The Sabaean alphabet had no vowels and was written from right to left or sometimes from right to left and then the next line from left to right.

The name Saba would be written bs or, if read from left to right: sb

With no vowels, the ‘a’ was understood, even in modern Arabic there is no use of vowels, though sometimes a little mark between consonants shows where a vowel sound would be.

Sabean stone tablet

Sabean stone tablet


Saba was one of the richest kingdoms in history due to its location; richly-laden caravans passed through it on their way to and from India, the Persian Gulf, and Egypt, even from as far away as Indonesia and down the African coast to Tanzania. The sea routes around the area were infested with pirates. Caravans arriving in Ma'rib, the capital of Saba, continued on their way to Mecca, Petra, Gaza, Damascus and other places. It was also agriculturally rich: the dam of Ma'rib guaranteed abundant water. Built in 750 B.C it retained the winter rains and its complex system of irrigation channels was fed by the waters all through the year to enable abundant crops to feed the cities. The cities of Saba had 6-storey buildings more than 2000 years ago

. In addition the Sabaeans harvested frankincense and this commanded high prices from Egyptian and Babylonian priests for its spiritual cleansing value. Incense, trade and abundant food created a wealthy paradise in a benign climate.

The ‘Kingdom of Saba’ had 60 queens in succession, it was a matriarchal state and the sun and the moon were the focus of the religion.

The 60th queen, Bilquis, The Queen of Sheba, famously visited Solomon, the King of Israel and she and her retinue brought him great presents and stayed for several years, conceiving the children who became known as Salama, the children of Solomon. Solomon had 900 wives and thousands of concubines, so the surname Salama, Salamis, Solomons is widespread among Jews and Arabs.


However, in about 250 AD there was so much rain in the area that the Marib dam was carried away by an ensuing flood, causing a great catastrophe.

Without its water supply the population faced drought and starvation. Its inhabitants became scattered far and wide. The proverb, found in the Koran and in Jewish sources: "They were scattered like the people of Saba" refers specifically to that exodus in history. Some went to Ethiopia, where they became the founders of the dynasty of which Haile Selassie was the final king. Some went further south in Africa, where the Luo tribe claim descent from Saba (Obama’s tribe in Kenya). Many of the Gulf sheikhdoms, including Abu Dhabi, originated from Saba.

King A'mre, son of A'mer, king of Saba and leader of the Azdi tribe, emigrated north with his family and retinue and many of his faithful followers and settled in Hauran, the fertile wheat-growing plain about 20 miles south of Damascus.  A'mre was nicknamed "Mazzikieh", which means one who tears his clothes. He was given this name because he used to tear his gold-embroidered garments twice a day in order to give them to the needy. This story is told to demonstrates his tribe’s generosity.

The Ghassanids were named after the Ghassan spring near which they first settled when they came to Hauran.   ‘Banu Ghassan’ means ‘the children of Ghassan’  The Ghassanids were progressive and open to new ideas.

As soon as they had settled in Hauran, the Ghassanids were attacked by the Dajghamites, a Bedouin tribe supported by Rome. The Dajghamites demanded tribute from the Ghassanids. However, the Ghassanids refused to pay these taxes and war broke out. One day A’mre’s son Juzu attacked the Dajghamite king and killed him. That was it. The Ghassanid tribe then had no choice but to fight to the death.

Halima, the daughter of El-Harith, another Ghassanid king, encouraged other girls of the tribe to help her anoint the warriors with fragrant oils and dressed them in white linen shrouds, so they’d be ready for burial if they were killed. They then accompanied the warriors on the battlefield where their cheering and singing motivated them to fight hard. They bared their breasts and warned the men that if they failed in battle the victors would take them as their own. Spurred by this incitement, the Ghassanids triumphed and that day of victory is known as “the Day of Halima”.

The Ghassanids then became allies with Rome against Persia. The Emperors of Rome appointed them leaders of all Arab tribes in Syria – they were known as “Kings of the Arabs”.

The city of Damascus came under their rule and their kingdom extended as far as the Red Sea to the South and the Euphrates to the North.


The Ghassanids were not only conquerors, but also promoters of education and the arts. Ruins of palaces, churches, castles, public baths, aqueducts and amphitheatres in Hauran, in particular the city of Bosra, reflect the high level their civilization had reached.

It was at Bosra that a Christian monk called Bohira, educated Mohammed in the religious knowledge that inspired him to write the Koran, the bible of Islam.

Bohira identifies Mohammed as a holy man, when his camel caravan passed through Bosra

Bohira identifies Mohammed as a holy man, when his camel caravan passed through Bosra

A son of one of the Ghassanid kings, Marcus Feyrus Philippus, became a Roman Emperor (245 – 249 AD) and was known as Philip, the Arab. He was the first emperor to promote Christianity in the Roman Empire. “Feyrus” probably came from Faris, a Ghassanid name.

The Ghassanid lands formed the buffer zone and Eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire, keeping the Persians at bay in the east, but also a barrier to their fellow Arab tribes from south, some of whom were allied with Persia against the Roman Empire

When the Arabs bringing Islam from the Arabian south came to Yarmuk, in Ghassanid country, a great battle was fought. 12000 Ghassanid troops who were fighting on the side of Christian Byzantium changed sides on the eve of battle – they faced fighting for fellow Christians who were Greek against their Arab cousins who were Muslims.  Blood proved thicker than religion and the Muslim Arabs won this decisive battle and went on to conquer Damascus. Some Ghassanids converted to Islam, but many remained as Christians of the Orthodox church.

The Salama clan of the Ghassanids did not convert to Islam. They lived in the heart of the Hauran in the town of Sheikh Miskin, south of Damascus, on the road to Jerusalem. The name ‘Saba’ or ‘Abu Saba’ was kept in remembrance of their Sabaean ancestry. They had fertile wheat land and prospered throughout the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire. Then they got caught up in the conflict in the mid 19th Century between Russia and Egypt on one side and Britain and France on the other, seeking control of Suez and the Middle East. The Salamas sided with the Egyptians and their fellow Orthodox Christians, the Russians. However, when the Egyptian leader Mohammed Ali asked them to supply troops for his armies, the Christians baulked at sending their sons to their deaths. Instead they rode up into the Druze-inhabited Mount Hauran and rounded up young Druze men, who they then delivered to Mohamed Ali’s army. When the British captured and interrogated these men and found out the situation, they secretly took cartloads of guns and ammunition to Mount Hauran and told the Druze: “The next time those Christians come here to take your boys away – give them a surprise.” In 1825 the vengeful Druze, armed to the teeth, swept down on the Christian towns of the Hauran and massacred 10,000 Christians. A further 100,000 gathered together what possessions they had and ran for their lives.

The tribal and family names of the Hauran Ghassanids who were part of this second great scattering of their people were: Rashid, Naifeh, Hamra, Barakat, Hazar, Swaidan, Ayoub, Farha, Theeb, Razzouk, Noffel, Khouri, Bayouth, Deeba, Haddad, Samara, Hamam, Kinaan, Edwan, Eid, Jabara, Gholmia, Abla, Mosallam, Farhood, Sayegh, Andeel, Kotite, Rahhal, Jabbour, Salama, Abou Assi, Wehbe, Shammas, Hourany and Zughyar.

Some went to Gaza, some to Christian villages in Lebanon, some to Damascus, some to Alexandria in Egypt.

The Shady/Sams family ancestor was Sheikh Musa Salama. After the massacre he gathered together his family and headed to a region north of Damascus called “Wadi al Nasari” (“Valley of the Christians”) that lay between the inland city of Homs and the coastal port of Tartous.

Musa Salama’s oldest son Khalil was noticed for the way he walked with a swagger, like a partridge, or ‘hajjal’ in Arabic. As the new head of the clan he adopted the nickname ‘Hajjal’ and this became the name of the branch of the scattered Salama clan that he fathered.

In Wadi al Nasari, they sought refuge in the hills below the Krak des Chevaliers (Castle of the Knights), the imposing Crusader fortress that had been an impregnable home to the Knights Hospitaller for 200 years. From 1099 to 1271 knights of English and Danish origin had settled and married and raised their families in this region. When the Crusaders went home, their genes remained and there is to this day a profusion of redheads and blondes in this region.

The valley was already inhabited and the only land that the Salama/Hajjal family could find to inhabit was rocky, less fertile land on the higher ground.   They named their settlement ‘Bsoame’ (‘hilltop’) and built simple homes out of the stones of cleared fields. They farmed it carefully, growing cotton, wheat and vegetables and grazing sheep and cows. They sold the cotton, saved their money and traded wisely and were soon able to move to better land on lower, more fertile, ground. They kept the name ‘Bsoame’ for their new settlement even though it was not a hilltop, in memory of this crucial time in the family’s history.

In ‘new’ Bsoame they continued to prosper, raising mulberry trees to feed silkworms to produce cocoons that they would sell to the silk mills in the valleys nearby. They built houses out of black stone, with white lintels over the windows and doors, echoing the distinctive architectural style of the Hauran they had left behind.



A house in Bsoame

Khalil’s family grew – his sons were:

Michael “Mike”

Tanous (Anthony) “Toney”

Hanna (John) “Hanna”




These were the progenitors of the various branches of the Hajjal family that lived and intermarried in the village of Bsoame.

Naddur married and was the father of Assad Naddur Hajjal and Musa Naddur Hajjal. Musa married Marion and their children included Shafiqa, Sara, Hannee and Fadl.


Musa Naddur Hajjal was a religious man, his religious conviction springing from the belief that godliness in a person, the sense of the presence of the holy spirit within, was something that a person attained through prayer and fasting. In a village like Bsoame, where there was limited food and almost no money, concepts like self restraint and abstinence were unusual to say the least. With so little food, and a diet that was limited to what was seasonally available, to fast was a spiritual luxury. Meat and dairy products were the only fresh foods available during the winter months, when snow often covered the ground, and the land was cold and unproductive.

Musa took it a stage further though - not only did prayer and fasting play a central role in his life, and of course of his family, he also had a medieval belief in the importance of pilgrimage to Christian spiritual development. His wife Marion supported him in his virtuous lifestyle.

In practical terms this meant, for Musa:

  1. For forty days before Easter and for forty days before Christmas his diet completely excluded meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Every year he balanced and purified his system with this diet. In practice it meant that he ate a diet of whole grains such as bulgur and wholewheat unleavened bread, vegetables, and pulses. Depending on the date of Easter, the forty days beforehand could be pretty austere. In early Spring the only fresh vegetables were "hashish" (wild herbs from the fields), usually cooked with mint, blackeye peas, and bulgur to make slikh. The forty days before Christmas were better, as the harvest of fruits, almonds, and other autumn foods made for a bit more variety.

  1. Several times in his life he went for the Christian version of the "hajj" - a pilgrimage to the holy places of Palestine, then the southern province of Syria. Starting with a ride of 150 miles to Bethlehem, he would then walk in the footsteps of Jesus, visiting Nazareth, Jerusalem, Calvary and Galilee, before returning home to Bsoame. To actually be at the sites of the holy events of the Bible, at a time when the towns and villages were virtually unchanged since Biblical times, deepened his sense of closeness to God and Christ.

He was buried against the south wall of the church of Bsoame, on a hillside looking out towards the Holy Land.

The abandoned church at Bsoame and Musa’s grave

The abandoned church at Bsoame and Musa’s grave


Musa’s wife Marion was the daughter of Salloum Hajjal, the son of Khalil, was a cousin. Their children then combined and recombined Hajjal family traits from two strands.

His children spread far and wide:

Shahoud, his son, emigrated to Chile with his wife Hannee, where his sons Fadl and Musa and daughters Shafiqa and Marion still reside. They spelled the name Hajjal ‘Allel’ – to keep a closer pronunciation.

Shafiqa and Sara, his two daughters, both emigrated to Bridgeville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

His daughters Adela, Halloun and Hannee stayed behind in Syria.

Abood Saba Hajjal was handsome, dark and strong, with a shock of black hair.   In 1900, when he was 20, he asked the father of Sarah Hajjal if he could marry her. Together they went to the United States, to seek prosperity. They were backed by Philip Hanna, the son of his uncle Hanna, a Syrian merchant in Carnegie who found his cousins accommodation and set them up as itinerant peddlers to mining towns. These company towns offered no shops or other facilities - the closest many miner's wives ever got to the glories of a department store was the contents of the Syrian peddler's bundle.

Religious relics, lengths of underwear elastic, buttons, bows, lace, items of clothing, whatever sold, the mix was always changing. Whatever you couldn't get anywhere else, that's what the Syrian peddler sold.   Abood and Sarah made money, and saved. Then Sarah became pregnant. It was a boy, Joseph. And pregnant again. A girl, Sophia.

Then Sarah died.

Abood Saba went back to Syria with his two young kids. He couldn't continue to peddle - he had been thinking of opening a store, but not now, with two kids and no mother. He wrote to Musa Nadur Hajjal, the father of Sarah's cousin Halloun (Helen). It was agreed that he would marry Halloun. He returned to Psoame to claim his bride and rebuild his life. And he brought with him American dollars. When he got there, it was to find that Halloun's heart lay with someone else and she refused to fulfil her father's will. Halloun’s younger sister, Shafiqa, was only 15 at the time, but she knew what she wanted - to marry Abood Saba and go with him to America, to make dollars. With almost indecent haste, she moved in on Abood, who was relieved to have solved his problem, albeit not quite as he had hoped. While he still had dollars, they planned their trip. With Joseph and Sophie in tow, they went to Tarabolous (Tripoli) in Lebanon and took ship to Marseille. They stayed in a house of a Syrian who lived in Marseille. There was one hotel that catered to Syrians in transit, and several Syrians who lived in the port area who offered 'bed & breakfast' to emigrants. From Marseille there were regular sailings to America and they got on a ship going to Providence, Rhode Island. When they disembarked, they headed straight for Carnegie, where Philip “Habib” Hanna, who was Shafiqa's cousin and Abood’s cousin, welcomed them back.

A Syrian Peddler with his case

Syrian Peddler.png

A nice story about Syrian peddlers in Canada

A novel about Syrian peddlers

By now Shafiqa was pregnant, and Adela (Edna) was born.

Arriving in Carnegie Abood Saba with his young wife Shafiqa and two children, Abood immediately set about earning a living. His day began early, with a breakfast of olives, homemade bread, and chunkleesh cheese. The bread was fresh baked and made from white flour, the sort of food that was only eaten on holidays such as Easter back in Syria. American food held little appeal to him, so he carried a few kibbe or a piece of bread and olives for his lunch. Within a few months he had moved to Bridgeville.

At the Bridgeville railway station he would meet other Syrian peddlers, and they would exchange information, ensuring their routes didn't conflict, and keeping tabs on the cost of their supplies to make sure that the suppliers were in line on price.

A mining town was his first stop - the train station was three miles from the town, so there was an hour's walk along a dirt road to reach his destination. Then he set about his business, rapping on the first door of the drab and uniform company houses that served as home to the mining families. Little kids, barefoot and in shabby dresses or torn trousers, followed him through the town, and he usually had a few pieces of candy to keep them happy. The door of the house opened and its occupant smiled at the unexpected sight of this dark but handsome man with his suitcase. "Buy somethin', lady?" he inquired, as he unclipped the buckles on his case. As he opened the lid, a wonderland of longed-for possessions unfolded. Stuck to the lid were framed pictures of holy sites in Jerusalem, and pictures of the crucifixion. "I'm from the Holy Land," Abood announced, "From Syria. These I brought with me from the land of Jesus Christ, our saviour." He then crossed himself devoutly and somehow invested these cheap Brooklyn-manufactured artefacts with all the holy wonder of the mystic East. "Very cheap, only fifty cents."

Her religious feelings assuaged by the purchase of a holy picture to mount above their bed, the eyes of this stout Polish miner's wife wandered towards the main contents of the case. Pieces of lace showed, brightly coloured satins, and sewing threads, ribbons, and bows. Having eased her conscience with the purchase of a holy icon, she felt she could indulge herself with a pretty necessity. Abood removed a red dress trimmed with white lace and held it out to her. She held it up to her front, and basked in the admiration of Abood who praised her beauty while praising the dress. His warm Mediterranean charm and dark good looks helped close the sale.

Eventually Abood set up his own store, on Baldwin Street in Bridgeville and traded in produce from local suppliers, particularly a fellow Syrian, Machoul, who farmed in the nearby countryside near a town called Raccoon. As his debts built up he wondered how he could pay his bills and still feed his wife and growing family. His supplier had the answer, his son, Joe Mike, would marry Sophia, Abood’s young daughter from his first marriage and the debt would be cancelled. She came home from school for lunch, was told that she was to get married, went through the process and then said ‘Can I go back to school now?’ It was not to be. She was put on the wagon and left her home and family to be the wife of Joe Mike. Some years later she was able to conceive a child.

Abood Saba’s store still wasn’t doing that well and he went back to peddling, carrying his bag from door to door at an age when he really should have slowed down. But there were 9 kids who needed food and clothing.

Abood Saba was a tired and homesick man. Then he discovered that he had a cancerous growth on his nose. Knowing that the end was coming, he summoned his daughter Adela (Edna) to his side, gave her some money and told her to go and buy him some rat poison. She dutifully did so. He then swallowed the poison and died. Shafiqa went to Philip Hanna for help. Philip set her up to go peddling and Adela was appointed to look after the household, which meant dropping out of school at 8th grade.

The children of Shafiqa were Adela (Edna), Musa (died aged 7, saying “I can see the angels coming to take me”), Giorgios (George “Bootsie”), Tamara (Thelma), Hannee (Annie), Karim (Kenneth), Marion, Na’aman (Norman), Gloria and Karimi.

The kids grew up as a tight family unit, but also were crammed into just 2 bedrooms, so they squabbled over space, clothes and food.

Kenneth served in the US Marines during World War 2 and married Margaret Doxtad and their son Craig was born on her family’s farm in Nebraska shortly after he had fought and been wounded in the Battle of Saipan.   Their son Gregory was born in 1948 and the family moved to England and various other places, eventually all settling in England by the 1970s. Craig and Gregory started a business that was the beginning of the natural and organic food movement and developed leading brands such as Whole Earth Foods, the Vegeburger and Green & Black’s organic chocolate.

Craig married Ann in 1968 and their two children were Rima and Karim. Rima’s son is Mars Abood. Karim’s 2 daughters are Saba and Roxy and his son is Jay Karim. Craig remarried in 1991 to Josephine Fairley.  They live in Hastings.

Excerpt from a commentary on the Koran that tells the ancient story of Saba, (with a bit of moralisation)

The father of the tribe of Saba was Joktan, and their civilisation was based in the area of Joktan on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

Joktan was the son of Shem, the father of all the Semitic peoples. Shem was the son of Noah, whose Ark helped him to survive the great Flood that destroyed much of what is now southern Iraq. Noah was a direct descendant of Adam and his wife Eve. The original Garden of Eden was probably either south of Babylon or, others argue, in what is now Damascus.

(From the Koran)

  1. The people of Saba (and the luxuriant beauty of their valley) had vast lush green gardens stretching both on the right and left sides (thus covering the entire area). This aspect of their habitation was known even in far off places. Their cities had very pleasant and healthy climate. We had told them, "Eat whatever you like out of the abundant resources which nature has provided to you free; but utilize them according to the Divine Laws, expressing gratitude and appreciation. If you do this, you will remain protected from all kinds of destructions."

  2. But they turned away from this and created chaos (with the result that everything turned topsy turvy). Heavy floods came, destroying their dams which retained water; their vast luxuriant gardens were destroyed and in their places emerged wild shrubs yielding bitter fruit, tamarisks and some few wild trees. (Thus their comfortable and luxurious lives turned miserable.)

(Had they kept their economic and social life within Divine Laws and not created chaos, they could have faced such natural diaster with courage and steadfastness.  Thus they would not have had difficulty in re-establishing themselves.  It becomes easy to face natural disasters when one has a just society and properly plans matters in light of the Laws of Nature.

This result was not unique for the people of Saba.  Whoever disobeys our Laws will get the same result.

  1. (Before this doom) There were several flourishing and affluent cities between their country (Yemen) and the lush green areas (of Syria and Palestine). These cities were their markets. The routes between them were well populated with resting places on the way, which made traveling safe and comfortable. Accordingly, the caravans traveled by day and night, without any fear.

  2. Gradually however, their activities resulted in the erosion of their ever busy trade centers; and law and order was ruined. They had thus destroyed themselves by such vicious and wicked activities. (The flood damaged them physically; and their wrong social and economic systems destroyed civil society.) The result was that they were scattered into countless fragments; and thereafter they became only tales of history.

In this episode of the people of Saba, there are lessons for those who stay steadfast and brave against accidents and justly utilize the bounties and resources endowed by the Almighty.  (They tell you that two factors are necessary for nations to exist successfully.  One is that the nation should be watchful of the natural physical systems around them; and secondly that society should be subservient to the Divine Laws so that it may not have undue imbalances.