Saturday, November 1, 2008

The settled Bedouins

I have recently started a research project aiming to understand how the Bedouins are coping with the changes that have shaken the Arab World since the end of WW2. One of my co-researchers is a young Bedouin woman. When we started to work together, I asked her to write for me a small text reflecting on Bedouin identity in Lebanon. She wrote the most concise and astute analysis of the Bedouins I have ever read. She titled it: The Settled Bedouins (I post with her permission):

"There is, in Lebanon, a social group present in all parts of the country. Its members carry the Lebanese citizenship, but this citizenship does not mean much to them, because of their inherent belief that the whole Arab World is their nation. These people are the Bedouins.

They are nomads who came from the Arabic Peninsula looking for pastures for their camels and their herds. They liked Lebanon's climate with its generous water and greenery. They started spending the summers in Lebanon and traveling back to the Badia (the Arabian Desert) during winter. But after the separation of Syria and Lebanon, Syria closed its borders and those who were in Lebanon stayed there.

In the past, the Bedouins used to be considered as a "well off" class, because they were self sufficient. In the second world war, when food became scarce and people went hungry in Lebanon, the Lebanese villagers sought their help. But after modernity and urbanization and rampant drought took hold of the country, they became impoverished. They turned from a self sufficient people who had its own livelihood, customs and Bedouin traditions into a different community. The Bedouins today are torn between the past and the present. In the past, they see their glorious history, as it was them who made the Great Arab Revolt and fought the colonialist over centuries, and provided the revolutionaries with weapons wherever they were present. In the present, they only see marginalization and dependency.

This situation has created a dichotomous cultural identity. One side of this identity is proud and exalted and sacred. It is located in their minds, where it is linked with their glorious past, rich in Arabism. The other side is reflected in their daily practice, and rich in imported values."


Leila said...

I am very glad you are doing this work. It seems a little shocking that such work has not been done before. what about all the anthropologists at AUB? What are they doing? And Lila Abu-Lughod studied Bedouin women in North Africa thirty years ago... is anybody furthering her work?

Ms Levantine said...

Do the Lebanese bedouins belong to a particular tribe or sub-tribe?

Are they confined to Lebanon's borders or do they still roam the area?


D said...


Wondering: is this cultural group different fron the "Doumaris" or "Nawar"? if yes, is there some kind of relationship (contacts, conflicts,...) between these two groups ?

Rami Zurayk said...

MM: They seem to belong to various clans, not joined within a tribal superstructure as the "Hashed" and "Baqeel" tribes of Yemen. There seems to be a class structure within them: the people I work with in the Bekaa referred to the semi nomads from Laqlouk as "not true Bedouins" and appeared to despise them, while they acknowledged the Wadi Khaled tribes as "true Arabs" although they did not know them.

They are now fully confined to the Lebanese borders

Rami Zurayk said...

d.: The two groups, Arab or Baduw and Nawar are often confused. But they are completely different. The Nawar are Roma people, and they say they originate from India. They have a completely separate cultural identity and way of life: they do not work in livestock rearing or in farming, for instance, and do not practice pastoral nomadism or semi-nomadism. They also do not share the same poetry or music. Their Arabic is also different. Note that dialect or accent is very unifying: Bedouins of Lebanon speak Arabic in the same way as those of Yemen and Iraq, and very differently from the Lebanese villagers.

d said...