Life of a Bedouin

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Life Of A Bedouin 20190819T102310 20190819T102849:637018073298436538 Heritage & Culture

Bedouins (or Bedawi in Arabic) are the oldest inhabitants of the deserts of Arabia, a semi-nomadic group of desert-dwellers who traversed the sands.

Bedouins (or Bedawi in Arabic) are the oldest inhabitants of the deserts of Arabia, a semi-nomadic group of desert-dwellers who traversed the sands.

Bedouin | بدوي
a nomadic Arab of the desert.

Dubai may be best known for its glittering skyscrapers, but the city also has a fascinating history extending right from the Iron Age through to the times of ancient seafarers. However, it is the Bedouins who ignite the most curiosity in the outside world. These resourceful nomadic desert dwellers have been the subject of endless books and movies, but who were they and how did they survive?

Bedouins (or Bedawi in Arabic) are the oldest inhabitants of the deserts of Arabia, a semi-nomadic group of desert-dwellers who traversed the sands.

These people are known for their resourcefulness and hospitality, having survived the harsh conditions of the weather and environment they found themselves in.

Tribes were always on the move and would journey thousands of kilometres across the sands using just the sun and stars for navigation.

bedouin in al marmoom
They would not use any instruments for direction but sunrises and sunsets would indicate east and west, while stars marked the north. The slant of sand dunes sculpted by prevailing winds offered a further sense of direction.

A Bedouin was also an expert tracker and could distinguish the footsteps of humans and animals in the sand, identifying whether these belonged to man, boy, woman or girl.

Desert Survival

The arid desert, hot, dry weather, and a scarcity of water and natural resources forced the Bedouin to rely on whatever they had access to in order to survive.

Despite this, they led a life of pride and simplicity in the desert and treated their surroundings with respect. Everything around them would be used for daily life - ghaf trees would provide shade and shelter, while wood and desert plants would be used to make homes.

Camels were integral to their survival. These utilitarian beasts, known as the “ships of the desert”, were a mode of transport, a source of nourishment, and a symbol of wealth. Camel hide would be used to make tents, shoes and warm clothing (necessary in the colder winter months), while camel hair would be woven into rugs.

camel in al marmoom
Camel milk, packed with nutrients, would be used to make yoghurt or clarified butter, and at times of celebration such as weddings, camel meat would be served as a delicacy.

Falconry is another tradition steeped in Bedouin history.

Bedouin discovered that the speed, power and dexterity of a falcon was far greater than that of a bullet when it came to hunting. And they sought to make these birds an indispensable hunting tool.

falconry at al marmoom
A meticulous process of taming and training turns a wild falcon into a hunter, catching hare, birds and other prey. The bond between a falconer and his bird is cultivated over weeks, during which the bird becomes dependent on its owner for food and accustomed to his voice.

Culture and traditions

The Bedouin are an extremely proud race, and follow a strong code of honour. They are known for their loyalty, first to their immediate families, then their clans and tribes.

In times gone by, each member of the household would contribute to family life. Men were tasked with hunting, trading and protecting the tribe, while women would manage the household, prepare meals and raise children.

bedouin culture in dubai
They are also known for their hospitality and welcoming nature - a trait seen in modern day Emirati life as well. Guests would be greeted with utmost respect, and likely to be welcomed with food (such as lamb cooked whole and served with rice or bread), dates and coffee.

This tradition carries through today, and it is not uncommon to see hotels and offices offer dates and coffee in reception areas.

Find out what wildlife dwells in the desert, plus follow our guide of things to do in the dunes. If you are interested in the city's history and traditions, head to Al Shindagha Museum where the story of Dubai's past is brought to life.

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English Dubai Corporation of Tourism & Commerce Marketing

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