About Bedouin (Nomads) : Bedouins of Jordan

The desert dweller    

Bedu, the Arabic word from which the name Bedouin is derived, is a simple, straightforward tag. It means "inhabitant of the desert," and refers generally to the desert-dwelling nomads of Arabia, the Hisma- the sandy desert of Wadi Rum, where David Lean Epic – Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, the name of the tribe is Hweitat. The north Harra (Black Basalt Desert), Alsrhan Tribe, near to the border with Iraqis. We have got two Bedouin types in Jordan, three months, and five years, Nomadic for five years always near a greeny area and water spring, but both types share the same traditions, HOSPITALITY AND PROTECTION THE GUEST IS THE CODE AND THEME OF THE BEDOUIN LIFE. You may spend the guest duration in the house of the hair in Arabic (Beit Sha’er) which is three days and third, roughly 80 hours unless if you need urgent help of the owner of the Bedouin tent. How to tell the owner you need his help or protection? A lot of signs for that the first sign take the band which always the Bedouins wear it above the head address and put it around his nick, second sign is to tide the tussles of the head address, the third sign to keep holding the WASET: the wooden column in the middle of the house of the hair. During the guest duration they  will serve  you all meals basically at lunch time is MANSAF which is lamb cooked with goat yogurt  served on big plate of rice add pine nuts pistachio nuts and parsley, add the sauce on the rice. Normally they eat it by hands.

However, the word "Bedouin" conjures up a much richer and more evocative image--of lyrical, shifting sands, flowing robes, and the long, loping strides of camels.

For several centuries, such images were not far from the truth. In the vast, arid expanses the deserts of Arabia, the many tribes of the Bedouin journeyed by camel from oasis to oasis, following a traditional way of life and maintaining a pastoral culture of exceptional grace, honor, and beauty.

Most of the Bedouin tribes of Jordan are descended from peoples who migrated from the Arabian Peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries, making the Bedouin themselves relatively recent arrivals in this ancient land. Today, many of the Bedouin of Jordan have traded their traditional existence for the pursuits and the conventions of the modern world, as startling changes over the last two decades have irrevocably altered the nature of life for the Bedouin and for the land they inhabit. Nonetheless, Bedouin culture still survives in Jordan, where there is a growing appreciation of its value and its fragility.

Few places in the desert are capable of supporting the life of even a small community for an extended period of time, and so the Bedouin of Jordan , like those of Arabia, would stay on the move. With herds of sheep and goats as well as camels, the Jordan Bedouin migrated from one meagerly fertile area to another--each offered sustenance and shelter for time, while the others were naturally replenished.

In such an unforgiving environment, any violation of territorial rights was viewed with severe disfavor. It is a hallmark of Bedouin culture that such trespasses were neither easily forgiven nor quickly forgotten. At the same time, a shared respect for the dangers and hardships of the desert imbued Bedouin culture with a profound and justly celebrated sense of hospitality. In the vast silence and brooding solitude of the Sinai, simply encountering another person was--and in some regions still is--a rather unusual and noteworthy event. A new face was cause for great interest, for happy generosity and careful etiquette, and for common civility, all values celebrated in Bedouin poetry, sayings, and songs

Bedouin customs:

The Bedouin of Jordan the Thoab, a long, hooded robe that is a standard form of clothing both in the teeming metropolis of Jordan
The most easily recognized aspect of a Bedouin’s attire is his headgear--which consists of the Shmagh-cloth and 'agal-rope that constitute proper attire for a Bedouin man. The headrope in particular carries great significance, for it is indicative of the wearer's ability to uphold the obligations and responsibilities of manhood. Bedouin women, too, signal their status with their headgear--while all women are required to keep their hair covered, married women in particular wrap about their forehead a black cloth known as 'asaba

Bedouins mark their graves with exceptional simplicity, placing one ordinary stone at the head of the grave and one at its foot. Moreover, it is traditional to leave the clothes of the deceased atop the grave, to be adopted by whatever needy travelers may pass by.

A Bedouin tent is customarily divided into two sections by a women curtain known as a ma'nad. One section, reserved for the men and for the reception of most guests, is called the mag'ad, or 'sitting place.' The other, in which the women cook and receive female guests, is called the maharama, or 'place of the women.'
Having been welcomed into a Bedouin tent, guests are honored, respected, and nourished, frequently with copious amounts of fresh, cardamom-spiced coffee.

Visitors are also cause for some festivity, including music, poetry, and on special occasions even dance. The traditional instruments of Bedouin musicians are the shabbaba, a length of metal pipe fashioned into a sort of flute, the rababa, a versatile, one-string violin, and of course the voice. The primary singers among the Bedouin are the women, who sit in rows facing each other to engage in a sort of sung dialogue, composed of verses and exchanges that commemorate and comment upon special events and occasions.

Bedouins of Jordan:

One of the best known groups from Jordan’s population is the Bedouin. As they are known in Arabic, the Bedu, or “desert dwellers,” endure the desert and have learned to survive its unforgiving climate. It is difficult to count Bedouins, but it is generally known that the majority of Jordan’s population is of Bedouin origin.

Most of Jordan’s Bedouin live in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. All throughout the south and east of the country, their communities are marked by characteristic black goat-hair tents. These are known as beit al-sha’ar, or “house of hair.”

Bedouins are often stereotyped as constantly wandering the desert in search of water and food for their flocks. This is only partly true. Only a small portion of Bedouin can still be regarded as true nomads, while many have settled down to cultivate crops rather than drive their animals across the desert. Most Bedouin have combined the two lifestyles to some degree. Those Bedouins who still practice pastoralism will camp in one spot for a few months at a time, grazing their herds of goats, sheep or camels until the fodder found in the area is exhausted. It is then time to move on. Often the only concession they make to the modern world is the acquisition of a pick-up truck (to move their animals long distances), plastic water containers and perhaps a kerosene stove.

It can be said that many of the characteristics of the Jordanian and Arab society are found in their strongest form in Bedouin culture. For instance, Bedouins are most famous for their hospitality, and it is part of their creed—rooted in the harshness of desert life—that no traveller is turned away. The tribal structure of Arab society is also most visible among the Bedouins, where the clan is at the center of social life. Each Bedouin family has its own tent, a collection (hayy) of which constitutes a clan (qawm). A number of these clans make up a tribe, or qabila.

As the Bedouins have long been, and still remain to a limited degree, outside the governing authority of the state, they have used a number of social mechanisms—including exile from the tribe, and the exaction of “blood money” or vengeance to right a crime—to maintain order in the society. The values of Bedouin society are vested in an ancient code of honor, calling for total loyalty to the clan and tribe in order to uphold the survival of the group.

The Jordanian government, which in the past promoted the settling of the Bedouin, recognizes the unique value of their contribution to Jordan’s culture and heritage. Indeed, it has been said that they are the backbone of the Kingdom. The government continues to provide services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins pass these up in favor of the lifestyle which has served them so well over the centuries.

Some Bedouin traditions and customs:

John Bagot (Jack) Glubb was the commander of the Transjordan Army, known as the Arab Legion, from 1939 until 1956 and before that served as its deputy commander. (See the short biographical note at the foot of the page.) It was he who brought the Bedouin into the army and he who was the founder of the Desert Patrol. He knew the Bedouin and their customs very well, and his book "The Story of the Arab Legion" published in 1948 shows his knowledge and the affection in which he held them. I have based this page on anecdotes recounted in this book. My comments are given in italics.

He first met the Bedouin in Iraq where he was posted by the British from 1920 to 1930 and it was here that he taught himself Arabic and gained the trust of the Bedouin. This was to serve him well in Jordan: there are no secrets in the desert and the Bedouin in Jordan knew all about "Abu Hunaik". He gives a magnificent description of one of the last of the great Bedouin migrations when he was in charge of a pontoon bridge over the Euphrates :

... An almost unending procession of tanned men's faces, framed by long ringlets, like those worn by the young ladies of the Victorian age. Horses stepped daintily on to the bridge with fine muzzles, arching necks and tails carried high - the breed from which in the past were drawn the ancestors of the thoroughbreds of the world. On their backs sat riders in dirty cloaks frayed at the edges, their bare feet swinging by the horses' flanks. They looked unkempt and ragged to English eyes but they managed their horses with unconscious ease, riding only on a pad without stirrups and using a rope or a head-collar in place of bit and reins. Some carried long lances decorated with ostrich feathers, but the majority had rifles slung on their backs. At other times came great camel litters, wooden crescent-shaped frameworks hung all over with carpets, tassels, white shells and blue beads. They seemed to lurch uncomfortably from side to side. Now and then the face of a smiling girl would peer out from behind the curtains.

The whole pageant was dominated by camels. One by one the great herds would pace slowly up to the bridge-head. There is no shade in the desert for hundreds of miles, and the slow heavy camels would pause or shy ponderously at the unaccustomed shadows of the date palms.... For five days the pageant continued. The lumbering flocks, the cantering horsemen, the swaying litters, the deep voices, the veiled faces of which only the eyes were visible. Then the last flock was over, the last of the swaying litters and lean horsemen disappeared once more into the shimmering mirage of the desert to the east of the river.

This was the Shammar tribe, whose chief had the misjudgement to side with the Turks during the war and who paid the price when Ibn Saud decided take revenge. Losing the inevitable battle, they were forced to flee to their usual summer grazing grounds in Iraq, and not return to the Nejd in Saudi Arabia. The tribe is still there in Iraq, where they are noted horse breeders.

However glamorous it might appear to outsiders, Glubb had no romantic illusions about the Bedouin way of life.

The Bedouin warrior is primarily an individualist, and often seems to us to be a boaster. He is more interested in himself than in his side. But he also lives very near to the ground, and death is constantly before his eyes. He has none of civilization’s subterfuges to cover up the agony and crudity of life. Most of his children die in his arms, and he carries the little bodies into the desert himself and scoops their graves. The wounds which he received in war turn gangrenous and he dies slowly of evil-smelling hideous sores. His wife coughed to death with consumption in the middle of the family in his tent….

War had no such terrors for the Bedouin as it has for the modern city dweller. To begin with, it was largely controlled by rules. Then also, the Bedouin's wealth was all mobile, so that if he were threatened by too strong an enemy he could strike his camp and slip away to some other country, where he would be beyond the reach of the enemy or the tyrant.

Divided by such marked characteristics from the world of town dwellers, the Bedouin considered themselves as the elite of the human race. They referred to one another as “thoroughbreds” – the same word as they used for their horses. It was this strong feeling that they alone were gentlemen, which caused them to observe so many rules of honour in fighting one another. Most of their code of chivalry was abandoned when they fought against other communities….

The idea of protection of the weak is fundamental to Arab ideas of honour, just as it was in European chivalry. The absence of a settled government to whom the oppressed could appeal may also have given rise the system of knightly protection of the weak.

The most common illustration of this code is the custom of the “dakheel”. This word means originally one who enters in, but in the present connection it means a person appealing for help. Any Arab to whom this appeal is made, even by a complete stranger or a person who has just committed a crime, will throw down whatever he is doing and defend his protégé with his life. Beside the tent of any great tribal chief can always be seen a line of small tents of various dimensions. These are the families who have placed themselves under the sheikh’s protection, and are known as his “neighbours.” [“tanib”] Some of the neighbours may be the victims of a blood feud escaping from the retribution of the relatives of the murdered man. Others may be people who have been unfortunate, having lost all their animals in an enemy raid or by an epidemic, while others again may be poor and destitute widows or orphans. Arab honour prescribes that the warrior must give his poor neighbours precedence before his nearest relatives and must defend their interest with his life…..

Stories are an important part of the Bedouins culture. They are the majority of Jordan's population. Their great hospitality is something you never forget. Over all, I and my guide Ibrahim become invited by local people in tents for tea and resting in the shadow. I enjoyed being with Bedouins to picnics, joining Bedouin Whiskey parties, participating in Bedouin traditional dances, and drinking tea with people in the tents. Especially I become fascinated by all the stories I heard. You shall hear many things before your ears fell off.

For them, living in the Badia or semi-arid desert area covering about 90% of Jordan, has become harsher with each passing year. More than a quarter of the families who live there still travel to find pasture for the greater part of the year.

They have lived in this harsh environment for many centuries, stubbornly clinging to their traditional way of life.

This land is a vast desert area that stretches from Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter through to the Sahara.

Although the Jordanian Bedouin have always herded sheep and goats, factors outside their control have conspired to edge this way of living dangerously close to extinction. War in Iraq and a closed border with Saudi Arabia combined with prolonged periods of drought, have severely reduced the amount of pasture available for grazing.

Social structures
Bedouins organize themselves according to patrilinear corporate groups. The size of these groups depends on social context and can vary from a handful of people close in kin to several thousands making up a tribe. Bedouins define themselves as members of tribes and families. All defined groups are headed by
shaykhs, "elders", a position that is hereditary, going from father to son. People are divided into social classes, depending on ancestry and profession. Passing from one class to another is relatively feasible, but marriage between a man and a woman of different classes is difficult.

Throughout recorded history poetry has been a central cultural form of expression for the Bedouins, and in early centuries of Muslim history, Bedouin poetry represented the ideal standard for other literary achievements, as well as for Arabic language.
Bedouins are predominantly Muslims, while there are small groups of Christians in Palestine and Syria.
Food eaten by Bedouins upholding traditional lifestyles, are dairy products, milk and meat. Bedouins sell and barter products, in order to obtain agricultural foodstuff from sedentary peoples.
Bedouins live in in tents made out of goat or camel hair, as well as fibres from plants. These tents normally have a black colour. As for more temporary settlements, Bedouins construct simple, unadorned houses, built from mud and stone.




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