The Bedouin are scattered across the huge desert area of the Arabian Peninsula and are known for their nomadic, tent dwelling lifestyles. Although able to survive the hostile environment of the desert interior, most occupy the less fierce coastal plains. They have learned to cope with extreme temperatures. Bedouins move either constantly or seasonally, earning a living as stockbreeders, transporters or tradesmen.
The Bedouin Tent
The tent, an important part of the Bedouins survival, has been a dwelling-place for man since the dawn of history. Varying geographical features and differences in culture of its dwellers may have altered its design, but it’s essential qualities are unchanging: a tent needs to be flexible and it must be lightweight. The size of the tent depends on the importance of its owner, or the size of his family.
The Bedouin of the Arabian Desert uses a black tent known as the beit al-sha’r, or “house of hair”. They are woven from the hair of domesticated sheep and goats. The natural colour of the animal is retained, mainly black goat’s hair, with occasional addition of sheep’s wool, which gives the tent a streaked, brown/black appearance. The tent cloth is woven loosely to allow heat dispersal, Although the black colour absorbs the heat, it is still between 10 and 15 cooler inside the tent than outside. During rainstorms, the yarn swells up, thus closing the holes in the weave and preventing leaks.
A brightly decorated curtain hangs inside across the middle of the tent to divide it into a men and women’s section. The women’s section is the larger of the two; it contains food stores, cooking utensils, and is never seen by any man except the owner of the tent.
Change among the Bedouin
The history of the Bedouin began 2,000 years before Christ with the taming of the wild camels. The Bedouin rely on the camel in every aspect of life and a man’s wealth depends on the size of his camel herd. Camel caravans established the trade routes from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean. They prospered until the 14th century when the Romans opened sea routes to the east for trade.
As a result of surviving in the harshness of the desert, the Bedouin lifestyle has become symbolic of many basic Arab values. Bedouin Arabs are generous and hospitable, yet can be aggressive against outsiders or when honour is threatened.
Bedouins still roam the desert interior but their way of life is rapidly dying out with urbanisation. With the establishing of modern nation states, the Bedouin lifestyle is under threat, as governments cannot allow autonomous nomads to cross international boundaries following traditional trade routes and avoiding taxes. Gulf nations encourage settlement, by providing schools, health care and jobs.
Economically it is increasingly difficult as herds of livestock have little value in the industrial age and pick up trucks are replacing camels for transport.
Prayer Guide for the Bedouin
* The Bedouins of the inner desert are respected as the most noble of Arabs. Pray that the Holy Spirit will blow as a wind among them in revealing Jesus as Redeemer (I Corinthians 2:10).
* There is an estimated five million Arab Bedouins. Pray for strategies and the resources to reach these nomadic people. (Genesis 33:18-20)
* Pray for Christian radio programs, particularly as literacy is very poor.
* Pray for those who are under pressure to leave the tradition and security of the nomadic life they have known for generations, pray that they would search for truth and spiritual security. (Psalm 71:3)