Q8Sultana's Blog...

Generally I can be found roaming somewhere in the world. I'm originally from Hungary, I grew up in Kuwait, I did my BA in the States, my MA in the UK, and now work in Hungary, but still return to Kuwait regularly :o)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Bedouins

I came accross a wonderful descriptions of bedouins in one of my readings. It describes how they used to live and their values and their image of themselves:

It is simplistic to translate the term ‘badu’ as pastoral nomads because the word involved something more than animal-herding and nomadism. Although nomadism was an essential component of the notion of badu, it was not the determining factor which allowed a group to be so classified. It can be argued that within the context of Arabia, all animal-herders were badu, but not all badu were pastoral nomads. This was true of the nineteenth century and it is still valid in the twentieth century.
Being sedentarized (meaning to have moved to a city/town) does not necessarily mean the loss of badu identity and values.
The term badu referred to a cultural category which included both the pastoral and the sedentarized nomads. Both shared a set of images of themselves with regard to their tribal origin, values, attributes and qualities. The badu often had elaborate genealogies defining their ancestors and lines of descent which they located in a distant past. These genealogies were ideologies of descent invoked to justify their high status arising from their links with ancient Arab tribes. They emphasized their asil (nobility) and the purity of their origin uncontaminated by contacts and marriages with outsiders. In their oral poetry, they had images of themselves as pure Arabs of traceable and unmixed origins, an asset which guaranteed superiority vis-à-vis other groups.
In addition, the badu held a set of values regarding the ideal life-style. They despised occupational specialization and regarded activities other than animal-herding and raids as humiliating and dishonourable. They regarded farmers and artisans as humble, subservient, and weak. The true badu was someone who was able to enhance his ascribed status, i.e. his nobility, by achieving a set of valued attributes. To have asil without these achieved attributes would immediately place individuals and groups outside the badu category.
The badu valued their independence and despised submission to higher authority. Although they recognized the authority of their own sheikhs, they did not perceive it as oppressing, binding, or requiring total submission.
Other aspects of badu values included those relating to hospitality, defending the weak, and eloquence. The badu thought of themselves as generous and capable of providing hospitality – to the extent of sacrificing their only animals to honour a guest. Also, they asserted that a generous badu could be identified by the smoke coming out of his tent as a result of continuous food preparations for his guests. He would always help the poor and provide for them and extend his protection to all those asking for it. The badu believed themselves to be the speakers of pure language which was not contaminated by contact with foreigners and non-Arabs. They believed that eloquence was reflected in their ability to compose qasaid (oral poetry) in which their memories, deeds, and battles were preserved. These were the self-images held by the badu.
Within the category of badu, further internal distinctions can be observed. There were those asil badu (noble), a group consisting of the camel-herders. Their nobility of origin, coupled with the military superiority which their camels guaranteed in raids and tribal battles, granted them the highest position in the statues hierarchy.

The sheep- and goat-herders were also badu, but from a group inferior to the asil badu as they lacked the means to demonstrate their military supremacy in the desert.
The distinction within the badu groups depended little on material wealth and much more on non-material assets and attributes. This was clear in the marriage patterns of the asil badu. It was always more honourable to marry off one’s daughter to a poor, but asil badu, rather than to give a girl in marriage to a wealthy sheep-herder or a prosperous merchant or farmer from the towns and oases. It was also preferable for someone to marry a badu woman of the same group or compatible groups with whom equality of origin and status could be guaranteed.

At the bottom of the badu society were the Sulab – often hunters of gazelles and ostriches and believed to have no known tribal origin. They never participated in raids and tribal wars. Their property and belongings were not considered to be worth plundering by the strong camel-herding tribes as this would not constitute an activity which would honour those who engaged in it. The Sulab were also guides and travel companions. They were known for their gentle manners and their women were reputed to be the prettiest in the whole desert.


Madawi Al-Rasheed: Politics in an Arabian Oasis. Pages 118-121.

2 Comments:

Blogger Antisocial said...

Even though bedu lifestyle seems to have change, there are those who are still hard core, for those who moved to the cities, whether Kuwait city or/and Jahra, they have changed some attributes in there life. They tend not to have as much live stock in there homes, they would have them in there “mo’7ayam”. food today is widely available so generosity is no longer measured by how much food they offer. They still marry from within there families, and always stand together as a tribe. A good example would be when the “Salab” attacked the Al-Rai television station a few weeks ago. I believe that today’s sedentarized bedu would find it hard to go back to the harsh desert environment.
With all that said it is important to recognize that the social influences and norms play a big toll in their live in modern Kuwait. So all Kuwaitis, bedu, shi’its, and others have been a part of the Kuwaiti melting pot.

5:35 AM, November 08, 2005  
Blogger boojam said...

Interesting, especially given the regard, or rather, lack of it, in which the bedouin are held by many.

2:31 PM, November 11, 2005  

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