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Bedouin-Arab Families

Marriage And Divorce, Family Dynamics In Bedouin-arab Society, Interpersonal Dynamics, The Impact Of Societal Change

The word Bedouin is the Western version of the Arabic word badawiyin, which means "inhabitants of the desert," the badia. Technically, the term refers only to the camel-herding tribes of desert dwellers, but it has been applied in English to all nomadic Arabs (Kay 1978). The Bedouin-Arab presence extends to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa (Barakat 1993).

Traditionally, the Bedouin lived by raising camels, sheep, and goats and followed their herds in search of grazing areas. Beginning in the latter third of the twentieth century, pastoral nomadism became increasingly rare because of nation-states with closed borders and the rapid urbanization of the region's populations (Sharabi 1988; Fabietti 1991; Al-Krenawi 2000). As a result, the Bedouin have become increasingly sedentary. Only 5 percent of Bedouin still live as pastoral nomads; the remainder have settled in villages and towns (Al-Khatib 2000).

The Bedouin family, like other Arab families, is anchored in a culture-bound socioeconomic and political network. The largest unit in the Bedouin network is the Qabilah, or nation, consisting of several tribes (ashira, plural ashir) each with its own land and leader. The tribe is a union of extended families, or hamula (plural hamail). The hamula constitutes the major family unit. It is a patrilineal kinship structure of several generations that encompasses a wide network of blood relations descended through the male line. In the past, the hamula provided its members, who lived and wandered together and shared land and labor, with economic security and protection. With the loss of the Bedouin's traditional livelihoods, the hamula is less able to fulfill these functions. It still serves, however, as major source of identity and psychosocial support and social status. The nuclear family of parents and children is the smallest family unit. The nuclear family, hamula, and tribe are closely bound by extensive mutual commitments and obligations.

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. The key values are harmony, kinship solidarity, and hierarchy. The Bedouin emphasize cooperation, adaptation, accommodation, and family cohesion. Individuals are expected to show loyalty and responsibility to the collective, to place its good above their own, and to follow the rules and commands of those above them in the hierarchy (Al-Krenawi 1999).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects