A cluster of 28 Bedouin groups in 12 countries.
Most people picture the Bedouin as nomads clothed in long flowing robes, riding across the desert on their camels. In reality, however, their identity is much more complex. Today, many Bedouin live as semi-nomads, both migrating with their herds and engaging in some form of settled agriculture. Most Bedouin are organized into tribes, virtually all of which speak Arabic and claim Arab descent.
The Arab conquests of the seventh century brought about a rapid expansion of the Bedouin. At that time, thousands of Bedouin left the Middle East and began spreading across North Africa. They have adapted well to the nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life in the desert. Apart from tribal affiliations, there is little to distinguish one group of Bedouin from another.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Because food is scarce in the desert regions, most Bedouin suffer from hunger at some time in their lives. Dairy products are their main food source. Milk from camels and goats is made into yogurt and a type of butter called ghee. The women also bake round loaves of unleavened bread that are made from coarse, stone-ground wheat. Dates and other fruits found in desert oases are also eaten when available. Meat is only served on special occasions such as marriage feasts, ceremonial events, or when guests are present. During such times a young goat, camel, or lamb is slaughtered and roasted.
To endure the extreme heat of the desert, the Bedouin wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. It is very loose-fitting, allowing for the circulation of air and freedom of movement, yet providing protection from the sun and windblown sand. Their garments are designed to cover the entire body except for the face, hands, and feet. The main garment for men is the cotton thawb, which is a long straight-cut white, brown, or gray robe. Over the robe, the men wear long silk or cotton jackets called kibrs. The jackets are open in the front and secured with leather belts.
Most of the Bedouin live in low, rectangular tents woven from camel or goat hair. A line of poles supports the center of the tent. The wealthier a Bedouin is, the longer his tent will be. The sides of the tents may be rolled up to let the breezes in, or closed up tightly during rain or sandstorms. The tents are divided by decorative partitions called gatas. Half of the tent is for the men. It contains a fireplace and is used for entertaining guests. The other half is for the women, children, and stored items. It also has a fireplace that is used for cooking.
The women do most of the work, while the men socialize and make plans for the group. Bedouin children stay with their mothers in the women's section of the tent until they are about seven years old. Older boys often help with the herds and tend to the needs of guests. The women's responsibilities include tending to the children; preparing meals; sewing; collecting and weaving the animal hair; pitching, striking, and loading the tents; gathering fuel for cooking; and nurturing the elderly. Marriage ideally occurs within the extended family. Generally, the father's cousins have the first preference.
Bedouin society is organized according to a series of overlapping kin groups. The family is the smallest unit, followed by the clan, then the tribe. In the past, it was shameful for a Bedouin to accept a wage-paying job. Today, however, many have been forced by economic circumstances into full- or part-time employment.
What Are Their Beliefs?
A few of the tribes have been influenced by the mystic tradition in Islam known as Sufism. A Sufi is someone who believes that he has acquired a special inner knowledge direct from Allah.
What Are Their Needs?
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.