Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Bedouin (properly bedawi, plural bedawin, from root badw = steppe, wilderness), a term applied by the Arabs collectively to the unsettled nomad tribes of steppe lands and oases of the desert, as opposed to the settled and more cultured inhabitants of the towns. From the very nature of the environment the Bedouins are necessarily pastoral nomads depending for their existence on the camel, which enables them to cross vast desert tracts in search of fresh pasturage, and which supplies them with their staple food, cheese, butter and milk eaten with dates, and a few other fruits. The flesh is rarely eaten, but the hide, hair, and sinews serve as materials for the tents, harness, cordage, and many other purposes. They also raise a noble breed of horses, which have served to improve the stock in North Africa, Spain, England, and elsewhere. The Bedouins in general represent the Arab type in its purity, though considerable differences have been observed in the physique of the various tribes, and even of the sheikhs (chiefs) compared with the common folk within the tribe itself. They are mostly of small stature (5 feet 2 inches), thin and wiry, with swarthy complexion and regular features. They are divided into a large number of kabeileh (chief tribes), which again ramify into a multitude of fendah (sub-tribes, septs, clans), each group possessing its own camping-ground, and recognising no authority except that of its hereditary chief. The paramount tribes, from whom all the minor groups claim direct or indirect descent, appear to be the Sherarat, Howeitat, Benu Atiyeh, Besher and Anezeh of north and north-west Nejd; the Shomer, Montefik, Mesalikh, Benu Lam, thence east to Mesopotamia; the Ma'az, Harb and Kahtan, west and south-west of Nejd; the Seba'a (with a large offshoot in Syria), Meteiz, Oteibah, Dawasir (A'al Amar) in the central steppe lands; lastly the Ajman, Benu Khaled and Benu Hajar in the extreme east. The Arabs, who since the rise of Islam have spread over the surrounding regions (Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa), belong mainly to the Bedouin class, and many of their chiefs claim descent from the Khoreish, Mohammed's tribe, and even from the prophet himself, in this case taking the title of sharif. A characteristic trait of the Bedouins is their zeal for the purity of the Arabic language, which is consequently spoken with surprising uniformity throughout the whole of the Arab domain, from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. See Palgrave, Journal R. Geographical Society, 1864, vol. xxxiv.; and Wustenfeld, Genealogische Tabellen der Arabischen Stamme, etc., Gottingen, 1852.