Bedouin - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The primary economic activity of the Bedouin is animal husbandry by natural graze and browse of sheep, goats, and camels. This way of life, called pastoral nomadism, has been in existence for at least three millennia. At the core of pastoral nomadism is migration, the pattern of which is determined by a combination of seasonal and areal variability in the location of pasture and water. Because water and grass can be in short supply in a particular area at the same time that it is abundant elsewhere, survival of both herds and herders makes movement from deficit to surplus areas both logical and necessary. Pasture and water are seldom found randomly scattered about in a given region, but generally are distributed in a regular fashion in accordance with a particular seasonal pattern of climate. Since the 1960s, trucks and other motor vehicles have come to replace camels as beasts of burden; today a truck often serves to bring feed and water to the herds in the desert.

Industrial Arts. The pastoral adaptation to the ecological environment presupposes the presence of sedentary communities and access to their products. None of the essentials of metal or cured leather are produced by pastoralists. They are dependent on persons outside their own group for practically all specialized work. In some regions, roving Gypsy tinkers and traders provide specialized services and goods to Bedouin households.

Trade. There are several traditional means utilized by Bedouin to guarantee themselves access to grain and other sedentary produce. A household may, if its tribal land is close enough to rain-fed cultivation, sow and harvest crops. More commonly, rent from oasis or agricultural land owned by the group is collected in kind. At one time, khuwa (tribute) was exacted from sedentary farmers in return for protection from raids by tribes in the region. This tribute/raid relationship was a simple business proposition whereby the pastoralists received a needed product (grain) and the farmer acquired a scarce commodity (security). In principle, it was not very different from the most widespread relationship today whereby animal products are exchanged for dates and grain.

Division of Labor. As with most pastoral societies, the division of labor among Bedouin is determined by the type of animals that are herded. When both large and small domesticated animals are kept, the larger animals—camels and, in a few cases, cattle—are the responsibility of the men. Women are often barred from close contact with these animals. It is generally the responsibility of the women and older girls to herd, feed, and milk the smaller animals (i.e., goats and sheep). When only sheep and goats are kept, men tend to be the herders, and women help with the feeding and milking of the flock.

Land Tenure. Each Bedouin group seeks to control a land area that contains sufficient resources to sustain communal life. Each has a definite zone with well-understood, though often variable, limits and has certain rights of usufruct denied to other Bedouin groups. Only in an emergency does a pastoral unit attempt to graze its herds outside of its traditional area, and this eventuality is often preceded by negotiations at a higher political level. Governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa no longer recognize Bedouin collective territory. These areas are now considered "state-owned" land.

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