Bedouins are an ethnic group that inhabits the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa, in regions of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. They make up about 10% of the inhabitants of the Middle East.
The term “Bedouin” is derived from the Arabic plural badawī , which means nomad, as well as from the words albedu (inhabitants of the open lands) and albeit (people in the tent). Anyway, it is a word used to designate nomadic inhabitants of the desert since very ancient times.
The origin of the Bedouins goes back to the time of the hydraulic civilizations, with indications of their existence in Ancient Egypt.
It was with the expansion of Islam in the seventh century, and with the ensuing Arab conquests, that the Bedouins settled in African territories.
Despite being considered a society stuck in time, the Bedouins have undergone many changes since the 19th century.
At that time, they changed from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary and semi-nomadic style. This was due to the pressure exerted by the governments of the territories where they used to roam, especially the government of the then Ottoman Empire .
With the wars of the 20th century, this process intensified. Since the 1950s, many Bedouins have settled in cities like Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Tunisia. There they found salaried work (a practice hitherto abhorred by the Bedouins) in oil extraction companies.
In fact, they became citizens in these nations and today their customs survive in the cultural festivals promoted by the Bedouin communities in the cities.
Customs and Way of Life
Bedouin customs are based on codes of honor and the traditional justice system (the Talion Law or “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”).
Its society is grouped into clans and branched out through different tribes, which have different statuses based on the importance of their ancestors.
Indeed, their customs are based on a patriarchal family tradition. Their society is governed by the oldest member of the tribe, the sheik ( šayḫ ), who ascends by patriarchal lineage. Marriage is viewed with optimism by the Bedouins, as it brings new men to the tribe.
Another important factor is the religious aspect . Most Bedouins follow the Islamic religion , in which some very important aspects of the customs of these people are present. The influence of this culture on the religious formation of Muhammad, founder of Islam, is well known.
When Bedouins establish themselves in a specific place, usually an oasis, they pitch their tents with wooden structures, goatskin, fabrics and vegetable fibers. These tents measure over 6 meters in length and 3 meters in height.
As for the division of labor , men are engaged in trade, grazing and war. Women are in charge of artisanal production and domestic care.
Due to the desert climate in which they live, they need to move between the existing oases in the desert to survive. Bedouins take advantage of these trips to practice herding and trade, which are the main activities carried out by Bedouins.
Unsurprisingly, the most common view of this people across deserts is the caravans that cross large expanses in search of water and commerce.
From their herds , composed mainly of goats, sheep and camels, they extract the milk, meat and skin they need to survive. Note that the camel is essential in this cattle, as it is the most used means of transport, due to its resistance to the desert climate.
Once assembled, the tent receives a rug over the sand and is ready for housing. On the other hand, some Bedouins have a more sedentary lifestyle, especially in Africa, where they practice farming and extensive animal husbandry.