Collection Description

Culture Name

Rwala Bedouin

Culture Description

The Rwala are nomadic pastoralists who live mainly in southeastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. They speak Arabic and refer to themselves as "baduw," that is, people of the "desert." All Rwala are believed to be descended from a common but unknown Arab ancestor and “share blood,” whether or not they all raise livestock in desert pastures. Their access to grazing land has been altered by the creation of nation-states in the 20th century and the establishment national boundaries across their customary migration routes. Since 1970 the Rwala have made more money from commerce and wage labor than from pastoralism.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Middle East --Middle East




Saudi Arabia


OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the MD04 Rwala Bedouins collection consists of 3 documents, all of them in English, covering historical and cultural information from about late-1900s to mid-1970s. The first, and oldest, book in the collection was by Alois Musil, a Czech historical geographer who traveled with the Rwala Bedouins between 1908 and 1915 working for the Austro-Hungarian government. In the course of his stay, Musil became a close friend of several Rwala Sheiks and eventually assumed a Rwala identity by the name Sheik Musa ar-Rwejli. The book provides first hand accounts of daily life, ethical codes, social structures and religious practices of the Rwala when they were still living in the desert as nomadic pastoralists.

The second book is by Carl Reinhard Raswan, a German adventurer who spent 22 years off and on among the Rwala Bedouins from 1913-1935, apparently looking for "fine Arab horses". In this book, Raswan recounts his experience while migrating, hunting and raiding with his Rwala friends. He presents an immense amount of detailed information on Rwala code of honor and ethics, drought and patterns of migration, marriage practices and duties of village Sheiks. The last book in the collection is by the anthropologist William Lancaster who, in 1972-1975, conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork among various Rwala groups in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Lancaster's work explores how Rwala families, lineages and Sheiks have changed over the past several decades in response to external forces, notably the division of their traditional homeland among four newly emerged sovereign states (namely, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq) and the booming of oil in the region. This work also deconstructs travelers' reports and European imaginations of the Bedouin which tend to romanticize their desert life and "exotic" lineage systems.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. See also the "Bedouin Collection" (MJ04) and the "Libyan Bedouin Collection" (MT09) in eHRAF World Cultures.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Al- tsebīr - "the big man" - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" and/or "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Amīr - commander - use "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)" with "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

`Ashīra) - tribe or any section of it - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Awlād `amm- descendants of same apical ancestor - use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)" with "LINEAGES (613)" or "FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS (593)"

Baduw, or bādiya, or "desert" nomad - use "CULTURAL IDENTITY AND PRIDE (186)" with "ANNUAL CYCLE (221)"

Bait - tent (dwelling) - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Dīra- grazing territory - use "ANNUAL CYCLE (221)" with "REAL PROPERTY (423)"

Fukhūdh- tribal sections - use "LINEAGES (613)" with "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Farīg- camping unit (often consists of ten tents) - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)" with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)"

Garāwne - villagers (settled farmers) - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" with "TILLAGE (241)"

Gitab - camel litters - use "ANIMAL TRANSPORT (492)"

Goum - genealogically heterogeneous group which also takes the form of ibn amm - use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)" with "LINEAGES (613)" or "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Jihāz - bride gift - use "MODE OF MARRIAGE (583)" with "GIFT GIVING (431)"

Kabila, also called Khamseh) - vengeance unit (consisting of descendents from a common ancestor 5 generations back) - use "LINEAGES (613)" with "TRIBE AND NATION (619)" or "INGROUP ANTAGONISMS (578)"

Kabir il-gwam - the senior man of the group - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)", with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)" or "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Khūwa - payment to opt out of the economy of raid - use "INTER - COMMUNITY RELATIONS (628)"with "INSTIGATION OF WAR or "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)"

Milk Siblingship - ritual/fictive kinship - use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Muharram - sacred place - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Nazal - large dry season camping unit consisting of thirty to three thousand tents - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Ra`iyya - shepherds - use "PASTORAL ACTIVITIES (233)" with "LABOR SUPPLY AND EMPLOYMENT (464)"

Rajul tayyib - good man - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)"

Siyāg - bride price - use "MODE OF MARRIAGE (583)"

Šwāya - small stock herding Bedouins who cannot migrate long distances - use "INTER-COMMUNITY RELATIONS (628)"


This culture summary was written by William Young in June 2007. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in June 2007.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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