The word ‘Bedouin’ comes from the Arabic word for someone who dwells in the desert and also are known as Nomads. In the time of pre-Islamic Arabia, Nomads were constantly travelling and they never settled in one place.
Some people settled near rivers but Nomads just lived in desserts and moved according to the seasons from place to place in search of food, water and land. Living on the fringes of the desert was a benefit because they could find enough food for their animals there and living in dry places such as deserts meant they could farm crops and search widely to find forage for their animals.
They earned income by trading with the Sedentary/Pastoral tribes and transported goods like Camels and products like hand-made rugs. Bedouins are known as the primary inhabitants of the Holy land and it is believed that Abraham and Jacob were probably Bedouins. They are seen as the ‘’ideal’’ Arabs because of their herding lifestyle and their traditional code of honour.
Wattan (2003) states ‘’Bedouin polytheism was the religion of the majority of the population ’’ This shows that most of Arabia followed the Bedouin religion and culture as it was the orthodox and popular religion at that time. They were animistic and believed in Jinns. As they were polytheistic, they worshipped more than one God and believed that gods lived in the sky. Gods that they worshipped were al’Manat and al’Uzza.
There was no holy literature and hardly any organised worship which shows Bedouin Polytheism had very little religious content. Bedouins believe in ‘Hasset’ which means the evil eye and they take this very seriously. They believe children are very vulnerable and someone might cast an eye of harm to them. Protective amulets were attached to children’s clothing so they are not be targeted. Another Bedouin tradition is that they slaughter animals such as a Goat or a Sheep when a child is born and they call this ritual ‘Foo-ela’.
The Bedouins that are of southern Sinai and who are influenced by Sufism which is an Islamic mysticism they also celebrate the Prophet’s birthday like some other Muslims do. Music was important to Bedouins and the traditional instruments of the musicians were the ‘’Rababa’’ which is a flexible one-string violin and the string was made of horse hair.
A variety of drums were used and a stringed instrument which is called ‘’Sinsemeya.’’ Bedouins are looked up to by many Arabs because of their rich oral poetic tradition. Both men and women take part in oral skills and poetry and memorised by some. Bedouin poems include advice to children and accounts of historical battles. These poems have been traditionally recited at night around campfires.
They believe expressing emotions is a very important aspect in their life so they use poetry to express strong feelings such as sadness, love and anger or to convey emotions that may be difficult in everyday life. Bedouin poetry has been passed down from one generation to the next in a colourful, animated and musical form of poetry. Parents would often send their children to live with Bedouin tribes to cement their tradition and to gain more knowledge.
The society in Bedouin was male dominated and it is still the same in the present. Property is passed from father to son and males were allowed to have more than one wife at a time. Education was based on fathers and grandfathers. Women were hardly educated and their main role was looking after the household.
Typical Bedouin food includes yoghurt and milk from their animals, bread and dates. Dates are seen as the most traditional part of their diet and they are harvested from palm trees. The clothing of Bedouin women is that they wear a ‘Burka’ which is a long cloth that covers their whole body and sometimes a veil on their face which shows only their eyes. Women were involved in some arts and crafts such as simple tattooing of the face and hands.
They weaved sheep’s wool and they weave the cloth that constituted the tents. ‘Bayt’ was another name for the tents and every tent represented a family and clans were formed. All members of the same clan considered each other as their own kin and Bedouins are fiercely loyal to their clan and tribe. The Bedouins are famous for their hospitality. Each tribe had a head leader who was known as the ‘Sheikh’ and he was often the wealthiest member of the tribe and possessed the most camels.