Identification. The term "Bedouin" is the anglicization of the Arabic "bedu." The term is used to differentiate between those populations whose livelihood is based on the raising of livestock by mainly natural graze and browse and those populations who have an agricultural or urban base (hadar ). Given that the opposition of bedu to hadar is a specifically Arab cultural tradition, it is arguable whether non-Arab-speaking pastoralists in the region should be termed "Bedouin." Most of these societies prefer expressions such as "ʿArab ar-Rashaayida" (the Rashaayda Arabs), or "qabiilat Fedʿaan" (the Fed'aan tribe), rather than the term "Bedouin." Among sedentary Arabs, another common term is "Aʿraab" which, since the beginning of Islam, has been synonymous with "nomad." Location. Bedouin societies are found in the arid steppe regions of Arabia and North Africa and along the margins of rain-fed cultivation. In some areas rainfall is very unpredictable and measures less than 5 centimeters per year. Bedouin living in such areas tend to move camp irregularly, as dictated by the availability of green pasture and seasonal occult precipitation (heavy morning dew). Often they have access to small date gardens for short periods of the year. In areas where winter rainfall is less unpredictable (in the Arabian Badia and the Nejd and in parts of Sudan, Egypt, southern Tunisia, and Libya), Bedouin groups move their animals to areas where pasture is regularly found. Often these societies plant grain along their migration routes, which they harvest on their return to their winter camping areas. In areas where winter rain falls predictably on mountain plateaus (Morocco), the Bedouin practice transhumance, planting their crops near their permanent homes in the valleys at the onset of the rains and then moving their livestock to the highland pastures. Linguistic Affiliation. Like other Arabs, Bedouin speak various dialects of Arabic, which belongs to the Semitic Language Group. Other living languages of this group are Modern Hebrew, Amharic and other spoken languages of Ethiopia (Harari, Tigre), Aramaic dialects (current in parts of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq), and Maltese.
History and Cultural Relations
Agriculturists and pastoralists have inhabited the southern edge of the arid Syrian Steppe since 6000 b.c. (Fagan 1986, 234). By about 850 b.c., a complex of oasis settlements and pastoral camps was established by a people known as "Aʿraab." These Semitic speakers were the latest in a succession of farming and stock-breeding societies. They were distinguished from their Assyrian neighbors to the north, however, by their Arabic language and by their use of domesticated camels for trade and warfare. These Aʿraab were the cultural forerunners of the modern-day Arabs. They carried out a caravan trade with their camels between southern Arabia and the large city-states of Syria. By the first century b.c., they had moved westward into Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula and southwestward along the coast of the Red Sea. The creation of a powerful Islamic state in western Arabia in the middle of the seventh century a.d. gave a dramatic impetus to Arab expansion. Thousands of Arab Muslims—many of them Bedouin—left the Arabian Peninsula to settle in the newly conquered lands around it. As a result, the bedu/hadar distinction was reproduced in those Arabized territories where such a regional division of labor was ecologically and geographically practicable. Bedouin societies are always linked to other nonpastoral societies by economic, social, and political relations. In the local context, a "Bedouin" is a regional specialist in livestock breeding whose closest social and political ties are with his pastoral kinsmen. The sedentary Arab, by contrast, places less emphasis on relations with genealogically distant kin. During periods when premodern states were weak and large-scale irrigated agriculture declined, some settled cultivators increased...
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