Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Bedouin are Arabic-speaking people who earn their living primarily from animal husbandry by natural graze and browse of sheep, goats, and camels. Traditionally, the Bedouin lived in tents, formed scattered camping units that seasonally migrated over a vast area of the Middle East and North Africa influenced by availability of pasture and water. This way of life and social organization has been significantly affected by the creation of nation-states in the 20th century and the establishment national boundaries across customary migration routes. As a consequence, the Bedouin have started to engage in new activities including tourism, commerce and wage labor.


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


Middle East --Middle East








Saudi Arabia





OWC Code


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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 Bedouin collection (MJ04) consists of 5 documents, all of them in English, covering historical and cultural information from about late-1880s to early 2000s. The documents can be categorized into two by time period and the information they cover. The first group consists of two documents dating back to the first quarters of the 20th century when most of the area was ruled by European colonialists. One is a chapter from a "Handbook" compiled by the intelligence division of the British Navy (no. 2, 1920). The other is a very thick book written by H. R. P. Dickson (1951, no. 1), a British political agent who worked in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 1920s-1930s. Dickson's work (1951, no. 1) is very comprehensive, providing first hand account of Bedouin culture and society observed when the author was working and visiting with several Bedouin leaders and families including influential politicians and clan leaders. Topics covered in this book include the physical environment, material culture, seasonal movements, organization of tribes and lineages, cultural norms relating to visiting and hospitality, folklore, religious beliefs and practices, warfare and inter-community relations, etc. The book also devotes special chapters to discussing boat building and pearl diving. It also includes long appendix and notes, documenting genealogies and traditional histories of famous leaders and influential tribal groups including the Mutair, Ajman, Awazim, Rashaida, Shammar and Anizol.

The second group of materials in the collection consists of three articles, all of them by professional anthropologists. Two of these articles discuss indigenous conflict resolution practices with particular emphasis on blood feuds (Khalaf 1990, no. 4) and cattle raiding (Sweet, 1995, no. 5). The remaining article is a review essay, exploring effects of a wide variety of external and internal factors, notably colonialism, commercialization of pastoral production, occupational change and sedentarization, on Bedouin culture and identity.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. This collection is intended to include overviews of Bedouins. For information on specific groups see the "Rwala Bedouin Collection" (MD04) and the "Libyan Bedouin Collection" (MT09) in eHRAF World Cultures.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Abd - slave - use "SLAVERY (567)"

ahl al-ard - literally, "people of the earth", supernatural human beings believed to be walking among ordinary people - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Afkhaadh; sing.fakhadh - literally, "thigh", maximal lineage (larger lineages consisting of several bayuut (minimal lineages) - use "LINEAGES (613)" and/or "CLANS (618)"

Al misama - pack saddle - use "ANIMAL TRANSPORT (492)"

Al shadad - riding camel saddle - use "ANIMAL TRANSPORT (492)"

'Ashiira - leader of a tribal section - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)" with "LINEAGES (613)" or "CLANS (618)"

Bat al shaar - tent - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Bayt) - minimal lineage, or settlement named after its senior male resident - use "LINEAGES (613)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Bedu - literally, "people of the desert" - use "CULTURAL IDENTITY AND PRIDE (186)", with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" or "PASTORAL ACTIVITIES (233)" and "ANNUAL CYCLE (221)"

Bilaad - a designated burial place - use "BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS (764)"

Bint 'amm - female parallel cousin - use "COUSINS (605)" with "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)"

Buyuut; sing. bayt - tents, household members residing in the same tent - use "DWELLINGS (342)" and "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Buyuut hajar - stone houses - use "DWELLINGS (342)" with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)"

Hadar - literally, "people of [settled] villages" - use "CULTURAL IDENTITY AND PRIDE (186)" with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" or "TILLAGE (241)"

Hadh - luck - use "LUCK AND CHANCE (777)"

Hasad - envy - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)" or "INGROUP ANTAGONISMS (578)"

Ibn 'amm - male parallel cousin - use "COUSINS (605)" with "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)"

Ird- honor of the women of a kin group (used only in connection with female chastity) - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)" with "PREMARITAL SEX RELATIONS (836)" or "ETIQUETTE (576)"

Jalaa' - expulsion [actual or threat of] from community membership when committing a grave social offense - use "SOCIAL OFFENSES (689)" or "SANCTIONS (681)"

Khuwa - kind of tribute exacted from less strong tribes in return for protection from raids by tribes - use "INTER - COMMUNITY RELATIONS (628)" with "EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS (437)" or "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

Mu'alid - domestic slave - use "SLAVERY (567)" with "EXTENDED FAMILIES (596)"

Qabaa'il; sing. Qabila - tribe (lineage grouping consisting of several afkhaadh) - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Sharaf - honor - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)" or "ETIQUETTE (576)"

Shima - literally, name, one's reputation - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)" with "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)"

Sufism, Islamic mysticism - use "THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS (779)" or "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)"

Tribal confederations - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)" with "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)" and/or "CONSTITUTION (642)"


This culture summary is based on the article "Bedouin," by Dawn Chatty and William Young, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9, Africa and the Middle East, John Middleton, Amal Rassam, Candice Bradley, and Laurel L. Rose, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall &Co. 1995. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes, updated the bibliography and added a demography section in June 2007.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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