Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah
|Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah
رحمة بن جابر بن عذبي الجلهمي أو الجلاهمة
A sketch of Rahmah ibn Jabir drawn by Charles Ellms in his 1837 book "The Pirates Own Book"
Grane (present-day Kuwait)
|Allegiance||Al Jalahma clan|
|Years active||19th century|
|Base of operations||Persian Gulf|
Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah (Arabic: رحمة بن جابر بن عذبي الجلهمي أو الجلاهمة; c. 1760–1826) was an Arab ruler in the Persian Gulf and was described by his contemporary, the English traveller and author, James Silk Buckingham, as ‘the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infested any sea.’
As a pirate his reputation was for being ruthless and fearless, and he wore an eye-patch after he lost an eye in battle. He is the earliest documented pirate to have worn an eye-patch. He is described by the former British adviser and historian, Charles Belgrave, as 'one of the most vivid characters the Persian Gulf has produced, a daring freebooter without fear or mercy' (perhaps paradoxically his first name means 'mercy' in Arabic).
He began life as a horse dealer and he used the money he saved to buy his first ship and with ten companions began a career of buccaneering. So successful was he that he soon acquired a new craft: a 300-ton boat, manned by 350 men. He would later have as many as 2000 followers, many of them black slaves. At one point his flagship was the 'Al-Manowar' (derived from English).
Rahmah was described by James Silk Buckingham as such:
Rahmah ben-Jaber's figure presented a meagre trunk, with four lank members, all of them cut and hacked, and pierced with wounds of sabres, spears, and bullets, in every part, to the number perhaps of more than twenty different wounds. He had, besides, a face naturally ferocious and ugly, and now rendered still more so by several scars there, and by the loss of one eye.
When asked by one of the English gentlemen present, with a tone of encouragement and familiarity, whether he could not still dispatch an enemy with his boneless arm, he drew a crooked dagger, or yambeah, from the girdle round his shirt, and placing his left hand, which was sound, to support the elbow of the right, which was the one that was wounded, he grasped the dagger firmly with his clenched fist, and drew it backward and forward, twirling it at the same time, and saying, that he desired nothing better than to have the cutting of as many throats as he could effectually open with this lame hand! Instead of being shocked at the utterance of such a brutal wish, and such a savage triumph at still possessing the power to murder unoffending victims, I know not how to describe my feeling of shame and sorrow, when a loud burst of laughter, instead of execration, escaped from nearly the whole assembly, when I ventured to express my dissent from the general feeling of admiration for such a man.
He was born in Grane (present-day Kuwait) around 1760. Rahmah's father, Jabir bin Utub, led their tribe from Kuwait to Zubarah in Qatar around 1766. After his tribe migrated alongside the Al Khalifa, the two had a subsequent falling out after the Al Khalifa refused to share the economic gain made from trade ventures. Rahmah's tribe nonetheless agreed to fight alongside the Al Khalifa in their battle against the Persians in Bahrain in 1783. After Bahrain was annexed by the Al Khalifa, Rahmah's tribe, feeling dissatisfied with their share of the rewards, moved first to Bushehr and eventually to Khor Hassan in northwest Qatar. Over a short course of time, Rahmah overtook his eldest brother Abdullah in a struggle for leadership of the tribe; consequently, the tribe adopted piracy as a livelihood.
His base in Khor Hassan, which would serve as his base of operation against the Al Khalifa, was surrounded by a protected bay which contributed to the area's defensive capabilities. He resided in a fort with mud walls and there were only a few huts in the vicinity. As a result of no centralized authority existing in Qatar from the 18th to 19th centuries, Rahmah was able to establish dominion over much of the peninsula for a period after the Al Khalifa relocated to Bahrain.
Alliance with the Saudis
Rahmah's alliances with regional powers tended to be on the basis of shared opposition to the Al Khalifa: he formed an alliance with the first Saudi dynasty when it conquered Bahrain, and he founded and relocated to the fort of Dammam in 1809. Though some of his exploits were deemed piratical by the British, J. G. Lorimer, a British historian, remarks on Rahmah's scrupulously correct conduct and his compliance with the laws of warfare. He generally avoided encounters with British cruisers so that he would not incur their anger. In 1809, after the British expedition of the Pirate Coast, many Qasimi refugees fled to Khor Hassan. Rahmah, the leader of Khor Hassan, reached a compromise with the British in which he agreed not to harbor any fugitivites in return for the sparing of the town. The British also sent a warning to the Saudi amir demanding that he prevent Rahmah from launching any attacks on the British.
He influenced the Saudis to launch an invasion of Bahrain in 1809. This greatly strengthened his position in Qatar, rendering him the most powerful tribal leader in the peninsula. Within a short duration, Rahmah had captured eighteen Utub vessels. However, in 1811, the combined forces of Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Muscat and Oman and the Al Khalifa successfully drove out the Wahhabi from Qatar and Bahrain. Rahmah then transferred his headquarters from Khor Hassan to his fort in Dammam.
Alliance with the Omanis
In 1816 he allied himself with the rulers of Muscat in their failed invasion of Bahrain, and broke his alliance with the Saudis. The Saudis then destroyed the fort of Dammam in July 1816, and he took refuge in Bushehr, bringing around 500 families with him. Said bin Sultan proposed that he become a subject of Muscat and settle in Oman, but Rahmah refused. He moved back to Dammam in 1818.
In January 1820, he and his crew were in preparation to launch a naval invasion on Bahrain from Qatif's port, but aborted their plans after being warned by the British. The next month, he travelled to Shiraz with three vessels to proffer his assistance to the prince of Shiraz in his planned expedition of Bahrain. His hostilities against Bahrain continued throughout 1821 and 1822; he and his crew went on to capture 7 Bahraini vessels and kill 20 men. He settled in Bushehr from November 1822 until February 1824, whereupon he returned to his residence in Dammam. He went to Muscat at the beginning of 1825 and lent his assistance to Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Shakhbout in his expedition against the Qasimi tribe of Ras al-Khaimah. Near the end of that year, he commenced a series of predatory attacks on Qatif as punishment for the non-payment of the protection tax owed to him. The British decided not to interfere with his actions provided that his attacks remained confined to the people of Qatif.
He soon reshifted his focus to the Al Khalifa, and went to war with them at the beginning of 1826. After a great number of casualties on his side, he fled to Bushehr where he sought material and military assistance from the British political resident. Having failed to convince the British for aid, he set off to Dammam with a reinforcement of 35 Balochis from Bushehr, and continued waging his war against the Al Khalifa.
Death and legacy
He died in his ship Al-Ghatroushah in 1826, in a sea battle against the Al-Khalifa ships. Rahmah lit the gunpowder kegs with his eight-year-old son by his side, killing all of his men and the Al-Khalifa men that were raiding his ship, preferring to die by his own hand than to die by the hands of Al-Khalifa.
Rahmah's legacy lasted long after his death; in the 1960s Charles Belgrave wrote of how old men in the coffee shops throughout the region would still talk of his exploits.
- James Silk Buckingham (1829). Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia. qdl.qa. Oxford University Press. p. 356.
- Lampe, Christine (2010). The Book of Pirates. Gibbs Smith. p. 14.
- Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p. 122
- Charles Belgrave, p122
- Charles Belgrave, p126
- James Silk Buckingham (1829). Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia. qdl.qa. Oxford University Press. p. 357–358. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Heard-Bey, Frauke (2008). From Tribe to State. The Transformation of Political Structure in Five States of the GCC. p. 39. ISBN 978-88-8311-602-5.
- Althani, Mohamed (2013). Jassim the Leader: Founder of Qatar. Profile Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-1781250709.
- Robert Hughes Thomas (1856). "Rahmah bin Jaubir, Chief of Khor Hassan; prepared by Mr Francis Warden, member of council at Bombay". qdl.qa. Bombay: Printed for Government at the Bombay Education Society's Press. p. 1. Retrieved 29 July 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Moorehead, John (1977). In Defiance of The Elements: A Personal View of Qatar. Quartet Books. p. 17. ISBN 9780704321496.
- "The Scourge of the Pirate Coast". Qatar Visitor. Archived from the original on 28 July 2015.
- Crystal, Jill (1995). Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0521466356.
- Casey, Paula; Vine, Peter (1992). The heritage of Qatar. Immel Publishing. p. 36.
- Casey, Paula; Vine, Peter (1992). The heritage of Qatar. Immel Publishing. p. 37.
- Charles Belgrave, p128
- "'Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf. Vol I. Historical. Part IA & IB. J G Lorimer. 1915'  (947/1782)". qdl.qa. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- Robert Hughes Thomas (1856). "Rahmah bin Jaubir, Chief of Khor Hassan; prepared by Mr Francis Warden, member of council at Bombay". qdl.qa. Bombay: Printed for Government at the Bombay Education Society's Press. p. 5. Retrieved 29 July 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Robert Hughes Thomas (1856). "Rahmah bin Jaubir, Chief of Khor Hassan; prepared by Mr Francis Warden, member of council at Bombay". qdl.qa. Bombay: Printed for Government at the Bombay Education Society's Press. p. 6. Retrieved 29 July 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Robert Hughes Thomas (1856). "Rahmah bin Jaubir, Chief of Khor Hassan; prepared by Mr Francis Warden, member of council at Bombay". qdl.qa. Bombay: Printed for Government at the Bombay Education Society's Press. p. 7. Retrieved 29 July 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Robert Hughes Thomas (1856). "Rahmah bin Jaubir, Chief of Khor Hassan; prepared by Mr Francis Warden, member of council at Bombay". qdl.qa. Bombay: Printed for Government at the Bombay Education Society's Press. p. 8. Retrieved 29 July 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.