Identification. The term "Bedouin" is the anglicization of the Arabic "bedu." The term is used to differentiate between those populations whose livelihood is based on the raising of livestock by mainly natural graze and browse and those populations who have an agricultural or urban base ( hadar ). Given that the opposition of bedu to hadar is a specifically Arab cultural tradition, it is arguable whether non-Arab-speaking pastoralists in the region should be termed "Bedouin." Most of these societies prefer expressions such as "ʿArab ar-Rashaayida" (the Rashaayda Arabs), or "qabiilat Fedʿaan" (the Fed'aan tribe), rather than the term "Bedouin." Among sedentary Arabs, another common term is "Aʿraab" which, since the beginning of Islam, has been synonymous with "nomad."
Location. Bedouin societies are found in the arid steppe regions of Arabia and North Africa and along the margins of rain-fed cultivation. In some areas rainfall is very unpredictable and measures less than 5 centimeters per year. Bedouin living in such areas tend to move camp irregularly, as dictated by the availability of green pasture and seasonal occult precipitation (heavy morning dew). Often they have access to small date gardens for short periods of the year. In areas where winter rainfall is less unpredictable (in the Arabian Badia and the Nejd and in parts of Sudan, Egypt, southern Tunisia, and Libya), Bedouin groups move their animals to areas where pasture is regularly found. Often these societies plant grain along their migration routes, which they harvest on their return to their winter camping areas. In areas where winter rain falls predictably on mountain plateaus (Morocco), the Bedouin practice transhumance, planting their crops near their permanent homes in the valleys at the onset of the rains and then moving their livestock to the highland pastures.
Linguistic Affiliation. Like other Arabs, Bedouin speak various dialects of Arabic, which belongs to the Semitic Language Group. Other living languages of this group are Modern Hebrew, Amharic and other spoken languages of Ethiopia (Harari, Tigre), Aramaic dialects (current in parts of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq), and Maltese.
Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: