Bedouins

The Bedouin (/ˈbɛdʉ.ɪn/; from the Arabic badawiyyīn, plural of badawī بَدَوِي, (other pl. forms badw بَدْو or badawiyyūn بَدَوِيُّون) are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes, or clans, known in Arabic as ʿašāʾir (عَشَائِر).

The Beduins are proud people with long  tradition and capable to live there life in difficult environment, where little rain falls and in which few plants or animals are able to exist.

Photos Johnny Leo Johansen(c) in Jordan

Johnny Leo Johansen(c)

Beduin playing on the spike-fiddle rebab, which usually consists of a small, usually rounded body, the front of which is covered in a membrane such as parchment or sheepskin and has a long neck attached. There is a long thin neck with a pegbox at the end and there are one, two or three strings. There is no fingerboard. The instrument is held upright, either resting on the lap or on the floor. The bow is usually more curved than that of the violin.

Historically, the Bedouin engaged mostly in nomadic herding. They also earned income by transporting goods and people across the desert. Scarcity of water and of permanent pastoral land required them to move constantly.

Most of the Bedouins tribes in Jordan migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to what is Jordan today between the 14th and 18th centuries. Today Bedouins make up from 33% to 40% of the population of Jordan. Often they are referred to as a backbone of the Kingdom, since Bedouin clans traditionally support the monarchy.

Most of Jordan’s Bedouin live in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. The eastern Bedouin are camel breeders and herders, while the western Bedouin herd sheep and goats. Some Bedouin in Jordan are seminomads, they adopt a nomadic existence during part of the year but return to their lands and homes in time to practice agriculture.

The largest nomadic groups of Jordan are the Banū (Banī) Ṣakhr and Banū al-Ḥuwayṭāt (they reside in Wadi Rum). There are numerous lesser groups, such as the al-Sirḥān (they live near the Iraqi border on the north of Jordan), Banū Ḥasan, Banū Khālid, Hawazim, ʿAṭiyyah, and Sharafāt. These traditionally paid protection money to larger groups. The Ruwālah (Rwala) tribe, which is not indigenous, passes through Jordan in its yearly wandering from Syria to Saudi Arabia.

Bedouins have always been considered very hospitable, which is embedded in their way of life and traditions. A desert wandering can always count on to get shelter and food, but the Bedouin tradition limits this obligation to a maximum of 3 days.

Johnny Leo Johansen(c)

A Beduin girl in Petra.

The Jordanian government provides the Bedouin with different services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins give it up and prefer their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

In the recent years there is a growing discontent of the Bedouin with the ruling monarch, but the king manages to deal with it. In August 2007, police clashed with some 200 Bedouins who were blocking the main highway between Amman and the port of Aqaba. Livestock herders, they were protesting the government’s lack of support in the face of the steeply rising cost of animal feed, and expressed resentment about government assistance to refugees.

Arab Spring events in 2011 led to demonstrations in Jordan, and Bedouins took part in them. But it is unlikely that the Hashemites are to expect a revolt similar to turbulence in other Arab states. The main reasons for that are the high respect to the monarch, and contradictory interests of different groups of the Jordanian society. The King Abdullah II maintains his distance from the complaints by allowing blame to fall on government ministers, whom he replaces at will.

During World War I, the Negev Bedouin fought with the Turks against the British, but later withdrew from the conflict. Hamad Pasha al-Sufi (died 1923), Sheikh of the Nijmat sub-tribe of the Tarabin, led a force of 1,500 men which joined the Turkish offensive against the Suez Canal.

In Orientalist historiography, the Negev Bedouin have been described as remaining largely unaffected by changes in the outside world until recently. Their society was often considered a “world without time.” Recent scholars have challenged the notion of the Bedouin as ‘fossilized,’ or ‘stagnant’ reflections of an unchanging desert culture. Emanuel Marx has shown that Bedouin were engaged in a constantly dynamic reciprocal relation with urban centers. Bedouin scholar Michael Meeker explains that “the city was to be found in their midst.”

Bedouin 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 BedouinBedouin systems of justice.

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