Apr 18, 2014

Bedouin: Nomadic Warriors

According to the Wikipedia, Bedouin is:
...derived from the Arabic badawî, a generic name for a desert-dweller, is a term generally applied to Arab nomadic pastoralist groups, who are found throughout most of the desert belt extending from the Atlantic coast of the Sahara via the Western Desert, Sinai, and Negev to the Arabian Desert. It is occasionally used to refer to non-Arab groups was well, notably the Beja of the African coast of the Red Sea.

But there is more about a Bedouin than this simple definition. True, they are a desert and mountain wilderness people who live with nature in tents or in caves as they have for centuries. They are pastoral and raise goats, sheep, donkeys, horses and camels, obtaining milk, hides and meats from goats and wool for clothing and carpeting from sheep. They are excellent riders, horses and camels being used as transportation and a means of their nomadic nature. They are proficient at the knowledge and use of herbs as food, drink and medicine. They can navigate through the desert and mountains they call home as they wander from area to area. Their life is simple and they are famous for their hospitality and generosity.
While I was in Saudi Arabia in what is known as Operation Desert Shield, which later changed to Operation Desert Storm in the liberation of Kuwait under the cruel thumb of Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard, and ended in Operation Desert Calm, the reconstruction of Kuwait and the return of American troops to their home unit locations– I had the fortune to meet Bedouin tribesmen in Saudi Arabia (Al-Duwasir tribe) who camped for a time near our military camp in preparation for the liberation of Kuwait
The Bedouin there had the traditional tent and small herd of goats that provided them with milk, meat and skins, instead of camels and horses they had a Toyota pickup truck to use for their transportation. Some parts of their lives have changed during the course of history, but they remain a wonderful proud people who are friendly, but fierce when it comes to dealing with enemies. In Saudi Arabia they were employed as a security force, mercenaries of a sort and are known as the Al-Ajman tribe. I sat one early evening, upon invitation, as the desert sun slowly began to sink on the horizon, drinking tea, engaged in general discussion with one particular Bedouin who understood and spoke English better than his fellow tribesmen. Near the tent was a campfire with the traditional three-legged tripod from which a pot was hung for cooking. A goat skin was stretched and thronged to dry in the hot desert sun in the process to make goat skin. Sitting there on a hand-woven carpet in front of their tent was a Lawrence of Arabia moment.
While some people find the desert barren and a wasteland, the Bedouins find beauty. They are a poetic people in the traditional sense.
1873, location unknown
Bedouins are noted to be great warriors in history and they were proud of their firearms, swords, and daggers, personalizing them as the following photos show:
As I said, some of their lives are changing, trading camels for pickup trucks, but their love of horses remain. Some have even stopped being nomadic and have settled, since the 1950s/1960s to a more “civilized” way of life. Today, even if they are nomadic, they are better educated and provide services in the areas of education, health care and law enforcement.
The Bedouin culture, according to Wikipedia:

The Bedouins were traditionally divided into related tribes. These tribes were organized on several levels – a widely-quoted Bedouin saying is “I against my brothers, I and my brothers against my cousins, I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” The saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on closeness of kinship that runs from the nuclear family through the lineage, the tribe, and even, in principle at least, to an entire ethnic or linguistic group (which is believed to have a kinship basis). Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this organizational framework, according to an ethic of self-help and collective responsibility.
… The largest scale of tribal interactions is of course the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh. The tribe often claims descent from one common ancestor – as mentioned above, this appears patrilineal but in reality new groups could have genealogies invented to tie them to this ancestor. Bedouins traditionally had strong honor codes and traditional systems of justice dispensation in Bedouin society typically revolved around such codes. The bisha’a, or ordeal by fire, is a well-known Bedouin practice of lie detection. See also:Honor codes of the Bedouin, Bedouin systems of justice. Bedouins are well known for practicing folk music, folk dance and folk poetry
. See also:
Bedouin music, Ghinnawa.

There are a number of Bedouin tribes, but the total population is often difficult to determine, especially as many Bedouin have ceased to lead nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles … and joined the general population. Some of the tribes and their historical population:
Al-massaed tribe found in Jordan.
Abbadi tribe found in Jordan.
Al-Murrah in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Ajman, eastern Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
Alataway tribe (also; known as beny ateyah), live in northwestern part of Saudi Arabia; Tabuk province.
Al-Duwasir, south of Riyadh, and Kuwait.
Aniza, Some Anizes are of Bedouin tribes that lives in southern Saudi Arabia, western Iraq, the Gulf States, and the Syrian steppe. Descendents include the A-Sabbah, the Al-Saud and the Al Khalifa royal families.
Bani Hajer (AlHajri) large tribe in Saudi Arabia and the eastern Gulf States.
Banu Khalid in Iraq, eastern and western Saudi Arabia (the Saudi Arabian air force base near Riyad is named after this tribe – Khalid).
Banu Yam centered in Najran Province, Saudi Arabia.
Beni Sakhr in Syria and Jordan.
Al-Da’ajah Bedouin of Balqawi Amman in Jordan.
Ghamid, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia.
Harb, a large tribe, centered around Medina, but also extending northwards towards Tabuk and eastwards towards Qassim and Hail in northern Najd.
Howeitat in Wadi Araba, and Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Juhayna, a large tribe, many of its warriors were recruited as mercenaries during World War I by Prince Faisal. It surrounds the area of Mecca, and extends to Southern Medina.
Khawalid in Jordan, Israel, Palestinian territories, and Syria.
Mutair, estimated at about 1,200,000 members, they live in the Nejd plateau, also, many small families from the Mutair tribe live in the Gulf States.
Muzziena in Dahab and South Sinai.
Rwala, a large clan from the Anza tribe, live in Saudi Arabia, but extend through Jordan into Syria and Iraq, in the 1970s, according to Lancaster, there were 250,000-500,000 Rwala.
Subai’a, central Nejd, and Kuwait.
Sudair, southern Nejd, around the Sudair region of Saudi Arabia.
Utaybah, large tribe in western and central Saudi Arabia.
Zahran, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia.

Operation Desert Shield: Visit with Bedouin family, 1990 [notice that the children received packages of candy, compliments of US Army personnel]
Most of the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai are descended from peoples who migrated from the Arabian Peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries, making the Bedouin recent newcomers in the ancient land of Arabia. The Bedouins of Sinai, overall, may up about 10% of the entire population of the central Middle East. Bedouin speak their own form of Arabic and are predominately Muslims, while small groups are Christian who live in Palestine and Syria. The Bedouins sell and barter products, such as their handicraft. The Bedouin tent is normally black in color, but there are variations according to the material they are made of, and sometimes temporary homes are built made from mud and stone when they settle in an area of any length of time.
From Camel to Truck. The Bedouin in the Modern World by Dawn Chatty;
New York, Vantage Press. 1986.
Arabia Sands by Wilfred Thesiger; Penguin paperback (1950), ISBN 0-14-00951404 – a British adventurer who lived with and as the Bedu of the Empty Quarter for five years.
Bedouin Culture & Folklore
The Bedouin of Arabia
Sinai Bedouin Women
Collection of Historic Images of Bedouins from 1890-1920 from the American Colony Photography Department
Bedouin Culture in Dahab, Sinai

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