Bedouin Culture

One of the best known groups from Jordan's population is the Bedouin. As they are known in Arabic, the Bedu, or "desert dwellers," endure the desert and have learned to survive its unforgiving climate. It is difficult to count Bedouins, but it is generally known that the majority of Jordan's population is of Bedouin origin.

Most of Jordan's Bedouin live in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. All throughout the south and east of the country, their communities are marked by characteristic black goat-hair tents. These are known as beit al-sha'ar, or "house of hair."

Bedouins are often stereotyped as constantly wandering the desert in search of water and food for their flocks. This state of constamt wondering is called "Terhaal" This is only partly true. Only a small portion of Bedouin can still be regarded as true nomads, while many have settled down to cultivate crops rather than drive their animals across the desert. Most Bedouin have combined the two lifestyles to some degree. Those Bedouins who still practice pastoralism will camp in one spot for a few months at a time, grazing their herds of goats, sheep or camels until the fodder found in the area is exhausted. It is then time to move on. Often the only concession they make to the modern world is the acquisition of a pick-up truck (to move their animals long distances), plastic water containers and perhaps a kerosene stove.

It can be said that many of the characteristics of the Jordanian and Arab society are found in their strongest form in Bedouin culture. For instance, Bedouins are most famous for their hospitality, and it is part of their creed-rooted in the harshness of desert life-that no traveller is turned away. The tribal structure of Arab society is also most visible among the Bedouins, where the clan is at the center of social life. Each Bedouin family has its own tent, a collection (hayy) of which constitutes a clan (qawm). A number of these clans make up a tribe, or qabila.

As the Bedouins have long been, and still remain to a limited degree, outside the governing authority of the state, they have used a number of social mechanisms-including exile from the tribe, and the exaction of "blood money" or vengeance to right a crime-to maintain order in the society. The values of Bedouin society are vested in an ancient code of honor, calling for total loyalty to the clan and tribe in order to uphold the survival of the group.

The Jordanian government, which in the past promoted the settling of the Bedouin, recognizes the unique value of their contribution to Jordan's culture and heritage. Indeed, it has been said that they are the backbone of the Kingdom. The government continues to provide services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins pass these up in favor of the lifestyle which has served them so well over the centuries.

One of the biggest concentrations of authentic Bedouins in the country is probably Wadi Rum Jordan. Although Bedouins in Wadi Rum are working more and more in tourism they still maintain their authentic life style and understand that this is what tourists are coming to see.

Jordan vacations are only complete when a Bedouin experience is integrated within. In your Jordan Travel Program you can choose to include a multi day Bedouin experience or part of the day. Wadi Rum is an ideal setting for such an authentic Jordan experience.

When traveling Jordan, it is worth noting that Petra Jordan is under an hour and a half away from Wadi Rum.