The Bedouin, (from the Arabic badawī (بدوي ), pl. badū), are a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group (previously nomadic, presently settled) 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. Non-Arab groups as well, notably the Beja of the African coast of the Red Sea, are sometimes called Bedouin
The Bedouins were divided into related tribes. These tribes were organized on several levels—a widely quoted Bedouin saying is
"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 perceived 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 (Andersen 14). The individual family unit (known as a tent or bayt) typically consisted of three or four adults (a married couple plus siblings or parents) and any number of children.
When resources were plentiful, several tents would travel together as a goum. These groups were sometimes linked by patriarchical lineage but just as likely linked by marriage (new wives were especially likely to have male relatives join them), acquaintance or even no clearly defined relation but a simple shared membership in the tribe.
The next scale of interactions inside tribal groups was the ibn amm ("cousin") or descent group, commonly of three to five generations. These were often linked to "goums", but whereas a "goum" would generally consist of people all with the same herd type, "descent groups" were frequently split up over several economic activities (allowing a degree of risk management: should one group of members of a descent group suffer economically, the other members would be able to support them).
Whilst the phrase "descent group" suggests purely a lineage-based arrangement, in reality these groups were fluid and adapted their genealogies to take in new members.
The largest scale of tribal interactions is of course the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh (Arabic: شيخ , literally, "elder"). 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 in to this ancestor. The tribal level is the level that mediated between the Bedouin and the outside governments and organizations.
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, Ardha, Ghinnawa.
Changing ways of life
Starting in the late 19th century, many Bedouins under British rule began to transition to semi-nomadism. In the 1950s as well as the 1960s, large numbers of Bedouin throughout the Middle East started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of the Middle East, especially as hot ranges have shrunk and population levels have grown. For example, in Syria the Bedouin way of life effectively ended during a severe drought from 1958 to 1961, which forced many Bedouin to give up herding for standard jobs. Similarly, government policies in Egypt and Israel, oil production in Libya and the Persian Gulf, as well as a desire for improved standards of living, effectively led most Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather than stateless nomadic herders.
Government policies pressuring the Bedouin have in some cases been executed in an attempt to provide services (schools, health care, law enforcement and so on—see Chatty 1986 for examples), but in others have been based on the desire to seize land traditionally roved and controlled by the Bedouin.
The Bedouins in recent years have adopted the past-time of raising and breeding white doves. The reason for this has in some respect been attributed to the etymology of the word Bedouin: Be-douim archaic Pheonicio-Arabic for be, "white", and douim, "dove".
Partial list of Bedouin tribes and populations
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 (see above) and joined the general population. Below is a partial list of Bedouin tribes and their historic place of origin (the list does not include tribes of Negev Bedouins (Israeli and the Palestinian Territories):
- Al-Majali a tribe in South Jordan
- Abbadi a tribe found in Jordan.
- al-Ajman from eastern Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States
- alatwy a tribe (also known as Beni Ateyah), live in north-western part of Saudi Arabia, Tabuk province.
- Al Buainain
- Al Bu Romaih
- Al-Matheel also spelt Mathil, a prominent Yemeni tribe based in the Damt region of Yemen, most have spread to the capital Sana'a
- al-Awazem, mostly located in Kuwait, with a small section in north-eastern Saudi Arabia.
- Aniza, some Anizes are of Bedouin tribes that lives in northern Saudi Arabia, western Iraq, the Persian Gulf States, and the Syrian steppe.
- Bani Hajer (Al-Hajri or Al-Hajeri)a large and powerful tribe in Saudi Arabia and the eastern Persian Gulf States.
- Bani Rasheed Rashaida in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Jordan, Persian Gulf States and North Africa.
- Bani Khalid, a large tribe spanning Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other countries, said to be descendants of Mohammed's companion "Khaled ibn Al-Waleed".
- Bani Truf in Ahwaz which is located in southwest of Iran near Iraqi border.
- Banu Yam centered in Najran Province, Saudi Arabia.
- Beni Sakhr in Syria and Jordan.
- al-Da'ajah Bedouin of Balqawi Amman in Jordan
- al-Duwasir, south of Riyadh, and Kuwait
- Ghamid, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia, mostly settled, but with a small Bedouin section known as Badiyat Ghamid.
- Gil, A people group of Morocco; about 41,000 people.
- Harb, a large tribe, centered around Medina, but also extending northwards towards Tabuk and eastwards towards Al-Qassim.
- Hareeb 100 Miles South of Marib in Yemen
- Howeitat in Wadi Araba, and Wadi Rum, Jordan
- Hajaya in al-Qatarneh, and al-Hasa, Jordan
- Al Jalahma
- Juhayna, a large tribe, many of its warriors were recruited as mercenaries during World War I by Prince Faisal, surrounds the area of Mecca, and extends to Southern Medina
- Khawalid in Jordan, Israel, and Syria.
- Tuba-Zangariyye, Israel near Syria
- al-Mawasi, a group living on the central Gaza Strip coast.
- Dulaim, a large tribe in Al Anbar western Iraq.
- al-Massaed tribe found in Jordan.
- al-Murrah in Saudi Arabia
- Murad, a tribe living 150 miles south-east of the capital of Yemen.
- Mutair, estimated at about 1,200,000 members; live in the Nejd plateau, many families from the Mutair tribe live in the Persian Gulf States, especially Kuwait.
- Muzziena in Dahab and South Sinai.
- Al Nuaim Only some are, others came from Bahrain.
- al-Rashaydah, a large international tribe, originally centered around Medina, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait but also extending in Jordan, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and Mali, see also Bani Rasheed
- Rwala, a large clan from the Aniza 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
- Al-Hadid Large Bedouin tribe found in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Now mostly are settled in cities such as Haditha in Iraq, Homs & Hama in Syria, and Amman Jordan. Yet tribal law still exists within their families as their Sheikh still governs the tribe. Sheikh Barjas Al-Hadid now leads the tribe in Jordan and previously Sheikh Raslan Al-Hadid in Syria.
- Shammar in Saudi Arabia, central, and western Iraq.
- Subay', central Nejd, and Kuwait
- Swellat,A Large Bedouin tribe, found in Lebanon and Syria,originally from Palestine(Haifa).
- Ubeidah, 150 miles west of the capital of Yemen
- Ummur tribe of around 1,200 persons near Palmyra, Syria.
- Utaybah large tribe in western and central Saudi Arabia.
- Yahia, a group from Morocco of about 96,000 people.
- Zaab, a small tribe, live with the Al-Ajman, in eastern Saudi Arabia.
- Zahran, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia.
- Riyalat, a strong family now based in Salt, Jordan, possibly originating from the Hejaz (now Saudi Arabia, part of the Eenize (عنزي ) tribe.
- Makki tribes from banu Abdul Qays they live in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.