Traditionally, the Bedouin have always lived in a long, low black tent made from goat or camel hair that was woven by the women of the family. The tent is supported by a line of central poles in the middle, and the back and sides of the tent were supported by lower poles. In Bedouin culture the number of poles used in the back and side areas were a general an indication of wealth and social standing. Although to visitors the Bedouin tent may not look suitable to desert living, it is actually the most versatile way to live in the desert. The tent can be packed away and ready to move within an hour. It is also waterproof, because when the wool gets wet, it expands and becomes water tight for the occupants inside. In windy weather, the tent is wind proof and protects those inside. During the hot midday sun, the sides and backs can be rolled up to allow a cool breeze to make its way through the tent.These tents can also be easily repaired when damaged.
Bedouins of Wadi Rum
Forged from the desert, the Bedouin have adapted to the harsh conditions before them and thrived to become one of the most well known and most respected cultural peoples in the world. They are the force behind so many achievements in the Middle East. They are world renowned for their honour, courage and hospitality, which are very dominant in all Bedouin.
The Bedouin people are bound by a strict code of honour. This is the central focus to their society and dictates all law and custom within the tribes. Honour is gained through heroic deeds. Obviously, the more victories a Bedouin has, the more spoils of war they are able to obtain, therefore increasing the family’s wealth and social position within the larger tribal community. Due to the harshness of the desert, good grazing and watering grounds were strictly protected by those who were able to maintain their hold on the land. This usually meant that different tribes were raided because of this need for resources. However, the Bedouin’s strict code of honour made him bound to protect the women and children, and ensure that they had enough food and transport to survive. It is said that the Western Worlds ideals of chivalry and honour were bought back from the knights of the Crusades, who admired the Bedouin code of honour and adapted it to their own code of ethics.
Women have a very important position in Bedouin society. Not only do they raise the children, herd the sheep, milk the animals, cook, spin yarn and make the clothes, but they also weave the cloth that makes the Bedouin Tent. The Bedouin men generally gather around the fire, sharing stories and sipping coffee. They might discuss falconry, the saluki greyhound and Arabian stallions, all animals the Bedouins are credited with breeding, as well as other matters of importance to the tribe. Traditionally, one of the men recites poetry or sings. Bedouin poetry and song are ways in which their traditions and histories are handed down from generation to generation. Even today as more and more Bedouin become urbanised, these stories are still told to their young to maintain their legacy in the desert. To mark the end of the evening, the host burns incense in a mabkhara (incense burner) passing it to each of his guests to inhale and fan their clothes.
Central to an individual family’s tent is the hearth. This is situated in the main reception area of the Bedouin Tent and is where all the tea, coffee, and food are served for guests. The Bedouin are very hospitable people. They are obliged to protect whoever enters their tent for three days. The Bedouin host is obliged to house, feed and attend to the needs of his guest for these three days, after which, the guest will be able to leave in peace. A Bedouin is even obliged to house and protect an enemy, if they come seeking hospitality. It is customary to have three small cups of tea or coffee before the host will sit down and discuss affairs with their guest. The host will not generally ask about their troubles, but will discuss matters concerning animals, and news from afar.
Poetry has been a central cultural form of expression for the Bedouins throughout their history. In early centuries of Islamic history, Bedouin poetry represented the ideal standard for other literary achievements, as well as for the Arabic language.
The general symbol for manhood is a curved dagger placed on the belt of a male. Although this can be used in combat, it is more a decorative item now, something like a badge of honour stating they have reached maturity. In the medieval times, the Bedouin generally fought with lances, which were seven feet long with a large metal spear end at the tip. This was generally used as a cavalry tactic, but in closer combat situations, swords were generally used. During the Crusades, the Bedouin managed to acquire many European and Arabic weaponry that they retrieved from the battlefield. Up until late in the First World War, they were still using these weapons, as well as antique firearms obtained for the Turkish influence in the region. Once the Bedouin forces had captured Aquaba from Turkish forces, the British Army decided that the Bedouin were a very valuable asset in their desert campaign, and gave the tribesmen all new British rifles. Today, these are still seen in many tribal homes as they became family treasures that were passed down from generation to generation symbolising their great achievements in freeing the Arab world.
Bedouin clothing is adapted for desert life. They wear loose flowing clothing that covers the skin so as to prevent heat stroke and sun burn, but allowing air to still flow around the body so that it can be cooled in the heat. The Keffiyeh is a large square coth folded in half so that it forms a triangle. This is then placed on the head and held in place with a woven cord called an Agal. This is a iconic symbol of the Bedouin, as it helps shade them from the sun, allows air to flow freely around the head, but also shades the face, and can be wrapped around the nose and mouth in case of a dust storm. They are usually coloured red and white, black and white, or just plain white. The Bedouin women generally wear the family’s wealth on them. Unlike other Arabic people, the Bedouin Woman’s veil is very decorative, usually lined with coins and silver. The Bedouin woman also wears a lot of the families’ jewellery. These items are passed on through the generations to different women in the family. Sometimes the silver is melted down over and over again in each generation to create new designs for the new wearer.
The Bedouin are very kind and generous people. They are masters of the desert, and are able to survive in some of the harshest conditions on earth. They have done so for thousands of years, and will hopefully continue to do so, even though they are starting to receive some of the benefits associated with urban life. Their code of honour and ethics is something to be admired and sets a precedent for other countries of the world.