Thursday, February 28, 2008

Southern Bedouins

In the Sectarian Democratic Republic of Lebanon, if you are not part of one of the big sects (and sects are more than religions, they operate like tribes), you become transparent; you do not show on the radar, you are not part of society and the state has no obligations towards you. This is the case with the Dom people (or Roma) and it is also the case for the relic Bedouin tribes of the country. Al-Akhbar, because it is a leftist daily, runs reportages on the marginalized minorities. I have blogged an article they published about the Dom people, and a smaller one about the Bedouins who have settled near Beirut in the Shweifat area.

Here's an informative, long report on the "Kreydiyeen" or the "Kreydiyeh" tribe also known as "`Arab el Kreydiyyeh". According to the report, they are a `ashira (tribe) of Bedouins (Al `Arab) who live at the Lebanese-Syrian-Palestinian border. I believe it is the same `ashira of "`Arab al Kderiyeh" mentioned in the classic reference book: "Tribus semi-nomades de la Palestine du nord" written by Tovia Ashkenazi and published in 1938. Ashkenazi describes them as a tribe of the region of Tabarayya (Lake Tiberias) and Huleh, but who moved freely to the plains of the Anti-Lebanon in summer. This means that they occupied the same area as the "Kreydiyeh", the triangle between Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and it would have really been confusing if they were not the same. The difference in the phonetics is either due to sloppy reporting by one of the 2 researchers, or to the phenomenon of "istibdal", common in Arabic, in which syllables replace each others in the same word: take for example the word for spoon, which should be pronounced "mal`aqa", but is often called "ma`laka" in spoken Lebanese (Beiruti accent). The difference is in the location of the throaty sound "`", before or after the "l". It is very likely that this is how Kreydiyeh became Kderiyeh or vice-versa.

Ashkenazi also indicates that the Kderiyeh kept goats and sheep, but that before WWI they showed a strong tendency to settle, which may explain why they refer to themselves in the Akhbar article as inhabiting the villages of Romthaniyyeh and Rozniyyeh in the Syrian Golan in 1880-1885. Another interesting piece of information from Ashkenazi is that they did not have a sheikh at the time of the study, and that they were generally among the "dispersed" tribes which would also explain why they dispersed in Lebanon after 1967.

Apparently, they were living in the villages of Ayn Arab, Wazzani, and Abbasiyyeh (all near the border) when the 1967 war caused a first wave of displacement, followed by a second one in 1977 when Israel invaded their lands. This time they left their villages and settled in a number of locations near Marjeyoun and Nabatiyyeh.

The article (in Arabic) describes their plight, which include lack of availability of state services. Services in the South are bad enough but the Kreydiyyeh appear to have suffered even more than their settled compatriots. In all their settlements, there is only one primary school, and they get second priority for places in public schools in the villages in which neighborhoods they have settled. They describe themselves as exemplary citizen, who do not follow any political party and are friendly with all (in other words, they are disempowered and cannot express opinions. This is the fate of the marginal and of those who lack political support). In the larger settlements, many have completed their education and are in self employment, but often in menial jobs below their expectations. In the smaller settlements, goat and sheep herding is still a major occupation.

Interesting piece, contains some basic socio-economic and social info, in addition to a rough census. I doubt there is any book written about the Bedouins of Lebanon. There are tens if not hundreds of books and articles about all the other groups, but I couldn't find anything on the Bedouins. And note that the histories of regions in Lebanon often means the history of the dominant sects in that region. The history of Jabal `Amel (South) for instance does not make much mention of anyone other than the Shi`a.


Ms Levantine said...

Most excellent post Rami. It is high time to look more carefully at the beautiful mosaic Lebanon actually is.

It is difficult to find books on anything other than the classic Libanist approach to the country. So forget about Bedouins, Circassians, Turkmens, Kurds, Alawites...

You cannot find a book on the Hermel clans, and they have played a major role in our history.

I am glad you found the Ashkenazi book.


Leila said...

We took a tour bus to Ba'albek in 2000 (from Beirut) and while our guide was educated, cultivated and knowledgeable, she had absolutely nothing to say about the "Bedouin" we passed on the road. I asked if they could be the same Bedouin I had heard of living in Israel, and do they move around. "I know nothing about Israel," she said with an edge. OK I didn't mean to bring up a hot topic, I just had heard that there were Bedu in Israel, and here are Bedu close by (but I shut up, believe me.)

Now I see that the lack of information is reflected in the literature, not only this guide's personal prejudice or disinterest.

Thank you so much for summarizing the article for us. We need to know more about these people.

m. said...

Indeed, an excellent post. Thanks.