Bedouins : A Way of Life
Photos by Melitta Tchaicovsky
Isolated in the desert adverse environment since the Arab expansion of the VII century, the Bedouins tribes of the Negev and Sinai desert held on to to their traditional way of life and managed to maintain their culture throughout the centuries. Nowadays, the ever expanding cultural globalization has slowly started to erode their traditions.
These images of the most remote Bedouins of Israel and Egypt are presented as a window to the past in an attempt to document a culture at the verge of extinction. They are a visual record of the way of life of the people that have lived the nomadic life for thousands of years. In my walkabouts in the desert, I have attempted to capture the natural context of their habitat, while recording the beauty of their intimate relationship with the land.
The photos of the series Bedouins : A Way of Life” were taken during 1998/99 when an artisit in residence grant enabled me to spend six months at the Arad Arts project of the WUJS Institute in the Negev desert. (Israel).
The arabic term badawi, from which “Bedouin” derives, means a nomadic inhabitant of the desert (hadiah) who depends for his livehood on herds of camels and sheep. The word evokes pictures of camel-herds moving over the vast expanse of the Arabian desert. The Bedouin habitant of the Negev and of the Sinai desert today do not interely conform to this romantic image, but they do retain much of the traditional way of life of the Bedouin. They are muslims and speak an arabic dialect. Most of the Bedouins from the Sinai and Negev desert have come from the Arabian peninsula, other migrated from the desert of Egypt, Transjordania and Syria.
From the viewpoint of Bedouin history the Negev forms an extension of the Sinai peninsula. For many generations, the Sinai has been the main source
of influx of Bedouins from Saudi Arabia into the Negev; only a few tribes appear to have entered the area directly from their former pastures on the Red Sea litoral. Nowadays, the majority of the Bedouins in the Sinai and in the Negev live in permanent settlements, others are semi-nomadic. Their life is shaped by a complex environment, the ecology, the political impact of the Israeli and Egypcian government, restricting nomadic movement and ownership of land, and the gradually increasing impact of modern economy.
A unique lifestyle and social fabric with values and customs suited to this way of life have evolved over the years in response to the special condition of life in the desert. One of the costumes is that of hospitality, dictated by the reality of desert life. The desert traveller can be sure of getting shelter and food from any Bedouin tent he happens upon. However, Bedouin common law limits this obligation to no more than 3 days.
Bedouin society is comprised of the basic family unit which includes the head of the family, one or more wives and their unmarried children. The clan
is a framework which incorporates several blood related families.They live in tents divided visually by a screen for male and female uses. families are linked to each other by male inherited lineage.Their foods are predominantely bread, and meat and dairy products from their goat, sheep and camelsherds. All parts of animals are used practically providing everything from tools to clothing.By-products from their goat, sheep and camels flocks are sold or battered for necessitites they cannot make themselves. They also make and exchange beautiful weavings, embroidered articles, and elaborately tooled jewelry.
• Bedouin of the Desert. Emanuel Marx, Frederick A.Praeger, Publishers, 1967, 111 Fourth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10003 Library of Congress catalog Card Numbe: 67-19214
• The Arab Mind, by Raphael Patai. Charles Scribner’s Sons 1973• International Tourist Publication. 47 Road 250, Cairo, Egypt