Bedouins Among Us: 1,000 Years In The Desert
Stories handed down through generations offer a glimpse of the people known as "the Bedouin." The film Lawrence of Arabia tells
about the about the life of a british military officer, T.E. Lawrence who lived among Jordan's Bedouin
tribes during World War I. British Commander Edmund Allenby said of him,
There is no one else I know who could have achieved
what Lawrence did.
Probably because it won 10 Academy Awards, Lawrence of Arabia has formed an understanding for many westerners of the nomadic people living in the desert following their herds of sheep and goats.
Faces burnished by the unforgiving desert sun, men with swords and rifles blazing through a mountain pass on horseback come to mind. They are fixed in our collective memory, these desert warriors with swords in their belts criss-crossing landscapes from north africa and beyond, far to the north and east. These images have captivated the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
Bedouins demonstrate extreme loyalty to kin and the extended tribe. One of the most well known sayings that resonates through the minds of all Bedouin has to do with the order of loyalties:
- I against my brother
- My brothers and I against my cousins
- Then my cousins and I against strangers
Most of us live far removed from the arduous and pristine lifestyle these arab tribesmen lead. When you think of families roaming across wind swept deserts on camels, your thoughts are of the Bedouin.
For centuries, even people living in cities not far from where Bedouins camp have wondered about the mysterious lifestyle of these traditional "wandering people of the desert."
Traveling to the Bedouin Homeland
While Bedouin are dispersed throughout the Middle East and North Africa, classic images of these people are associated with the cultural landscape of Transjordan and southward to the Red Sea. The University of California at San Diego has actively pursued archaeological research in the region under the leadership of Dr. Thomas E. Levy.
Dr. Levy's work has been featured in National Geographic and worldwide media, and his recent discovery of mines controlled by Israel's King Solomon in Jordan was nationally televised to U.S. audiences.
My journeys to the Levant's tribal regions as a field archaeologist for Dr. Levy gave me the rare opportunity to get to know Bedouins in Jordan, Israel and Egypt. These experiences inspired me to share images and stories that go beyond the clinical perspective of an academic pursuit.
Folks wanted some news of my travels among the Bedouin posted to a website or a blog. People wanted more than travel photos pinned to a site but they didn't want heavy Bedouin anthropological theory and cultural geography. Okay, I won't go too much into inter-regional exchange systems as a "trigger" for cultural evolution, but it's a thought-provoking topic if you ever get the impulse to check into it.
Is This a Tourist Guide?
It isn't a hip travelogue or restaurant guide. It is drawn from personal experience living and working alongside Bedouins as an archaeologist. It's through the eyes of a typical westerner trained in anthropology. That means I try always to be honest and objective in reporting observations about cultures other than my own.
I'll put more anthropology topics into web pages on this site. It's a vantage point that allows anyone to appreciate the customs and culture of Arab Bedouins as they adapt to the changing world around them.
When I was first given the opportunity to study and work in the Levantine areas of the Middle East I didn't know much about the cultural geography of the region.
Aside from anthropology texts I had studied, the little I knew about tribal nomads was from National Geographic photo shoots and "frozen moments in time" styled images. What I quickly realized is that traveling to see the Bedouin is not the same as living and working among them.
This became more apparent as my work took me to tribal areas inside Jordan. On the other hand, my travels to visit Bedouin in Egypt were about having fun snorkeling in the Red Sea at Dahab and Sharm-el-Sheikh.
The Bedouin inhabiting narrow stretches along the Red Sea from Sharm-el-Sheikh north to Taba enjoy beautiful ocean beaches while living their traditional lifestyle. Much of the bedouin local economy here has been centered around fishing. Most people don't think of the semi-nomadic bedouin as fishermen. It's a kick to see how surprised people are when they first encounter it.
Sinai coastal areas are dotted with bedouin tents. Seaside villages cater to travelers from around the world who go there to enjoy water sports and bedouin hospitality.
Red Sea coral reefs have some of the world's most diverse oceanic microenvironments. It offers world class diving in a stunning juxtaposition of environments. But that's for another day, or another site if I can ever figure out how to put together a respectable blog.