Bisha’h is a ritual practiced by Bedouin tribes of Ayaidah, in north-eastern Egypt for the purpose of lie detection. The ritual involves heating a metal spoon, or rod and making suspects in a crime lick it in the presence of tribal representatives.
“Bisha’h,” or trial by ordeal, is believed to date back to ancient Mesopotamia although several historical accounts assert it is originally Egyptian. It is used as a means of determining whether a suspect in a crime is innocent or guilty.
The ritual involves heating a metal spoon, ladle, or rod and making the suspect lick it in the presence of tribal representatives. If the suspect’s tongue blisters, he is guilty and the suitable verdict is issued and if it is left unscathed, he is innocent and set free.
Considered by many to be the world’s oldest lie detection system, this trial by ordeal is believed to date back to ancient Mesopotamia, Bisha’h was used by most Bedouin tribes throughout the centuries, but all except the Ayaidah, (a Bedouin tribe in north-eastern Egypt) eventually abandoned it.
Bisha’h was mostly used in situations where a crime was committed, but there were no witnesses. Suspects had to lick a heated spoon to prove their innocence, and regardless of the result, the verdict could not be contested.
The Bisha’a is usually performed only to resolve the gravest of civil or criminal offences, and is a voluntary ritual in the sense that consent on the part of the ritual undergoer is required. Typically, Bisha’a is only performed for those cases where there are no witnesses regarding the disputed issue. Societal peer and hierarchy pressures may, however, force consent. In the case of the defendant agreeing to a Bisha’a ceremony, and subsequently declining to perform the ritual or running away, the defendant is considered guilty.
Bisha’h is used for a wide range of offences such as theft, vandalism, murder, and illicit sexual relations and at times witchcraft and proof of parentage. The tribe particularly resorts to “bisha’h” when evidence is lacking and neither the defendant nor the plaintiff can provide witnesses. The ritual is always conducted by a tribe dignitary labelled the “mubasha’” or the “executor of the bisha’h.”
The principle behind Bisha’h is that a lying person is nervous and has a dry mouth, so their tongue will be burned by the hot metal. If they are innocent, they are relaxed, so the saliva on the tongue will protect it against the red-hot metal. However, opponents of the ritual have claimed that that is not always the case, and that the ritual not only causes physical harm to suspects, but also often leads to their condemnation, even though they are in fact innocent.
Today, the Bisha’h is used as a last resort, when parties cannot come to an agreement, or when there is no other proof or witnesses available. It’s also used as a way of scaring suspects into confessing their crimes, and bringing unsolved disputes to a close.
Bisha’h is usually a very public affair, with both parties arriving with great fanfare, accompanied by witness. The ritual itself is conducted by a tribe official known as a Mubesha. If a suspect chooses not to show up for Bisha’h, or refuses to lick the hot metl spoon, he is automatically considered guilty.