Bedouins (Arabic Badawi, "dwellers in the desert"), nomadic Arabs inhabiting the deserts of the Middle East and northern Africa. In ancient times their territory included only the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Later they entered Mesopotamia and Chaldea. The Muslim conquest of northern Africa in the 7th century opened vaster tracts to the Bedouins. Although they form only a small part of the population of these areas, they use a great deal of territory.
Beginning about 1045 and continuing at a decreasing rate for several centuries, Bedouin nomads from central Arabia invaded northern Africa. These invaders took over all suitable grazing land and upset the balanced agricultural and urban civilization that the resident Berbers had achieved. The Bedouin flocks destroyed most of the natural ground cover; by overgrazing, the flocks turned pastureland into semi desert. Some of this balance has been restored, however, and today many Middle Eastern and North African states have tried to curtail the movement of Bedouin groups from one country to another.
Culture and Customs:
Some Bedouins have retained their nomadic and pastoral way of life. They subsist primarily on meat, milk, and dairy products provided by their herds. However, with the rise of oil production in the 1960s and 1970s, many Bedouins have taken jobs in the oil industry. Government programs throughout the Middle East have encouraged the Bedouins to become more settled and urban. Currently, only 5 to 10 percent of Bedouins engage in a fully nomadic lifestyle, but many more are seasonal nomads.
Virtually all Bedouins are Muslims. They manufacture their own woolen clothing. Members of many tribes shave their heads, but beards are worn by all men.
The typical Bedouin tent is made from strips of cloth woven from goat or camel hair and vegetable fibers, sewn together and dyed black. In the instances in which Bedouins become sedentary and erect permanent dwellings, they build rectangular houses several stories in height, with stone or adobe walls.
Political and Social Systems:
The political system of the Bedouins is based on an extended patriarchal family unit. Each unit, from a minor family to an entire tribe, is led by a sheikh. The title descends from father to eldest son. The actual political authority of each sheikh depends, not upon the size of the unit he rules, but upon his wealth and the force of his personality.
The social system of the Bedouins has four classifications, loosely based on ancestry and mobile wealth. For example, the camel breeders, the highest on the social scale, usually intermarry and consider other Bedouin groups inferior.
Playing: Sawwah Midi