The History, Culture, and Lifestyle of the Bedouin in Jordan.
The Bedouins – or, in Arabic, the Bedu – provide one of the most iconic images of Jordan. And, with their tents and their camels, their distinctive way of life has turned them into something of an attraction among us settled westerners.
In Jordan, you’ll see them around Petra. And you may even be welcomed by them, eat with them, and stay with them in the protected area of Wadi Rum. This may well be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip.
Yet, the Bedouins are a community and a people. As such, we feel, they deserve a bit of respect. Before spending time in their homes and enjoying their famous hospitality, we recommend learning a little bit about them.
So, let’s take a look at that question, who are the Bedouin? Besides being an important reminder of the Middle East’s nomadic past, the Bedu remain one of the most important communities in Jordan.
1. Who are the Bedouin?
The Bedouins today live across the Middle East. They are traditionally nomadic, living in tents and working with livestock, they’ve historically built their communities and culture beneath the stars of the sky.
In Jordan, there are thought to be close to four hundred thousand Bedouins – out of a total population of roughly four million across the region.
With their black, goat-hair tents, they live in the remote, rural areas to the east and south of the kingdom. This is why you’ll bump into them on your trip to Wadi Rum.
2. Are the Bedouin Still Nomadic?
People lived in the Middle East long before the European powers drew borders throughout the region. Many of them travelled far and wide, across the areas we now know as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, and, of course, Jordan.
In some sense, the nomadic Bedu are the original Arab people. Not only is theirs the source of the Arabic language, but it is thought that the very word ‘Arab’ itself comes from a word for ‘to traverse’ or ‘to move around’. Or to be, essentially, nomadic.
However, these days, most of the Bedouin community now live a sedentary lifestyle. National borders made their journeys more difficult. Meanwhile, successive governments encouraged their permanent settlement. Nowadays, in Jordan, a third of the urban population trace their lineage to the Bedouins.
Only a very small minority of the original Bedouins continue to live a nomadic lifestyle. And those that do usually spend their year in a semi-nomadic way – sedentary for the agricultural season and nomadic at other times. However, when they are driving their flocks across the desert, they are continuing a practice that goes back potentially thousands of years.
3. Politics and Power.
The monarchy of Jordan is said to be very fond of the Bedouins and proud of their own Bedouin ancestry. In turn, the Bedouins are said to be a pillar of support for the King.
Yet, with hundreds of different Bedouin tribes, things aren’t that straightforward. The Bedouin are not a homogeneous group. Rather, all of the tribes have their own distinct traditions, politics, and identities.
In the area around Petra, you’ll find the B’doul, who claim descent from the ancient Nabataeans. Meanwhile, in Wadi Rum, you’ll probably stay with the Zalabia tribe.
The tribes themselves are patriarchal, and the men often have multiple wives. The power and status of Bedouin males within their respective tribe is often linked to their individual hospitality and generosity – along with their age and religious strength. In the harshness of the desert, hospitality matters. You don’t turn away a traveller in need.
4. Staying with the Bedouin in Jordan.
On this note, one of the most popular things to do in Jordan is to stay in a Bedouin camp.
Sleeping in the desert, eating the famous zarb – the traditional Bedouin barbecue, cooked in a whole in the ground – and participating in the Bedouin way of life will make a unique, and unforgettable, part of your trip.
Fancy Experiencing Bedouin Hospitality For Yourself?
We think the best way to find out about the Bedouin is by actually meeting them for yourself. Our two-day Wadi Rum and Petra Tour is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Experience this legendary hospitality for yourself by booking with us now!