The Gafsa Bedouin of Tunisia
The Bedouin fall into two basic social classes. One class is known as the "true" Bedouin, and they live as nomadic shepherds. The other group has embraced farming and is known as the fellahin. The fellahin lead a more settled life on the edge of the desert. In contrast, the "true" Bedouin have been known for raiding any caravans that cross their paths while journeying across barren deserts. They move into the desert during the rainy winter seasons and back to the desert's edge during the hot, dry summers. It appears that the Gafsa Bedouin are primarily of the fellahin type. They speak Badawi, or as it is more commonly called, Bedouin Arabic.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Dairy products are the main food source for the Bedouin. Milk from camels and goats is made into yogurt and a type of butter called ghee. Most of their meals consist of a bowl of milk, yogurt, or rice covered with ghee. Round loaves of unleavened bread are also served when available. Dates, which can be found in desert oases, are eaten for dessert. Meat is only served on special occasions such as marriage feasts, ceremonial events, or when guests are present.
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. It is designed to cover the entire body except the head, hands, and feet.
Although the Bedouin once considered it degrading to have manual labor jobs, this has changed somewhat in recent years. Due to the need for better health conditions, more money, and better living conditions, some have accepted wage-paying jobs. However, most of them still despise this type of work.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Islam is a religion of works that is centered on five basic teachings or "pillars." (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give alms generously. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
Islam has greatly influenced the lives of the Bedouin. For example, to preserve their people, the Bedouin are only allowed to marry those inside their own group. Also, the society is patrilineal, which means that inheritances are passed down through the males.
What Are Their Needs?
Evangelization efforts among the Bedouin are challenging due to the harsh and unsettled nature of their lifestyle. Currently, there are no missions agencies working among the Gafsa Bedouin, but some Christian broadcasts are being aired in the Badawi language. There is a great need for a strong Christian witness among the Gafsa Bedouin.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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