SOCIETY

"You could arguably say that the Bedouin is a born democrat

who meets its 'Shaykh' with respect but on an equal basis."

Until today the clan organization is the basis of the Bedouin society:

 

Every Bayt (tent or house) represents a family and the connected families form an Aela (clan). All members of the same Aela consider each other as of one blood (Dam) and within the Aela unconditional loyalty rules.

 

A number of kindred Aela form the Qabilah (the tribe) with its own land and this is the major family unit.

The Bayt and the Aela are the basic social and economic unit of the Bedouin society. It is a kinship structure of several generations that encompasses a wide network of blood relations descended through the male line.

 

The leaders of these units generally form a council of elders, choosen by its members to represent the Aela. These choosen elders are powerful and get little contradiction but have no absolute authority. In major affairs they must consult with the tribal leader.

The Shaykh is de leader of the tribe and in most tribes they are picked for their wisdom and judgment. In others, such as the Aleygat and the smaller Hamayda tribe, leadership passes from father to eldest son.

 

In the past, the Qabilah provided its members with economic security and protection (land, labour and water are tribal property), but today with the loss of the Bedouin’s traditional livelihoods, the Qabilah is less able to fulfil all these functions but it still serves as a major source of identity, psycho-social support and social status.

The Bayt, the smallest family unit of parents and children, and the Qabilah are closely bound by extensive mutual commitments and obligations such as the bringing of gifts (Hamula). This social network is underpinned and maintained by a deeply ingrained system of values and expectations that govern the behavior and the relationships of the members.

 

In practice, age, religious piety, and personal characteristics such as generosity and hospitality, set some men above others in the organization of the group.

The Shaykh traditionally exercises authority over the allocation of pasture and the arbitration of disputes. His position is usually derived from his own astute reading of the majority opinion. He generally has no power to enforce a decision and therefore has to rely on his moral authority and the authority and the concurrence of the community with his point of view. In a sense, the Bedouin form a number of 'nations'. That is, groups of families are united by common ancestry and by shared territorial allegiance. The exploitation of their common territorial area is effected through a universally accepted system of leadership.

For centuries, these "nations" of Bedouin tribes and their leaders operated in the ecologically and politically shifting landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa. Only since the 20th century their traditional flexibility and mobility are checked.

Borders, papers and politics are experienced as strange and it damaged the foundations of their society. They are forced to adopt a new basis for identification with their 'nations' and their leaders

Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures - D. Chatty; BEDAWI - M.I.M. Sabbah

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