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The Bedouin of Jordan

Franco Zecchin

The "Badia" is the region where the Bedouin or Badu (sing. Badawi) live. The Bedouin is a pastoralist inhabiting parts of the steppe and the desert areas, who used to derive his subsistence primarily from herding domesticated animals, namely camels, sheep and goats. Basically herdsmen whose occupation is animal husbandry, the Bedouin in a effort to adapt to the environment, adopted a life-style best characterized as mobile or nomadic. The Bedouin way of life is associated with a complex socio-economic system capable of providing a livelihood in a poorly endowed physical habitat. Natural resources, mainly pasture and water, are utilized by herding animals using the minimum in equipment and tools. Roaming the land for pasture and water is a dominant feature of this culture. It is a way of life in its own right: a culture and a system of social organization that evolved around feeding habits of the animals, and the harsh terrain. Now, the Bedouin of Jordan are not on the move constantly. On the contrary, most of them have settled down and many practice some kind of farming. For many who still cling to their herds and their traditional mode of living, a seminomadic style of life has emerged. These people have followed a migratory pattern whereby they are settled at only certain times of the year. At spring and winter time they are still herd their flocks in others areas in pursuit of water and pasture. The Badia is by a large an arid and semi-arid land starved of water. The topsoil is thin, fine and moistureless. Only small parts of the Badia area are cultivated - at best a very precarious and uncertain endeavor. Rainfall is erratic and averages about 200 mm in the steppe bordering the sown area in the north, diminishing to the east and south to less than 50 mm in some places. In the extreme east of the country annual rainfall may be nil and hardly anyone lives there. Dry seasons of more than one years duration are not uncommon. Rain, more often than not, is in the form of cloudbursts falling in limited areas, causing flash floods in some of the wadis. Basically the Badia is devoid of any perennial water. It is, however, dotted with shallow wells supplying the Bedouin with water for part of the year. During the winter, rain water is found in rock pools, Ghadir, and mud ponds most of which are exhausted in the year. The Bedouin of Jordan were basically camel, sheep and goat herders. Camels have declined recently both in number and importance. Those who still maintain camel herds mostly live deep in the desert. To adapt to their harsh environment they followed a fairly consistent pattern of migration reinforced by tribal custom and desert economy. In the spring grasses cover the earth and the Bedouin take their flocks eastward where winter rain is available in rock pools and cisterns. In the summer, when grass dries out, they move back to the sown areas in the west and graze their animals on the stubble of the recently harvested crops; in mid summer and winter they trek back to their permanent settlements, and protect their animals in caves and tents. The animals are feed hay and grain while waiting for the grass to grow again and the life cycle to begin once more. The size and composition of the herd has recently undergone considerable changes. First, the size of the herd has decreased substantially due to severe livestock losses and liquidation. Successive drought years decreased the carrying capacity of the pastures, and stock maintenance required procurements of feed, grain, and water from the market for a good part of the year. Hence, overgrazing was endemic and the Bedouin liquidated a portion of his flock through sales to secure the necessary cash to feed what remained of the herd. Another factor which contributed to reducing flock size is the fact that many Bedouin have taken to settled life in order to profit from the services provided in their habitat, the adequacy or inadequacy of those services notwithstanding. Sedentarization automatically curtailed movement and animals are confined to grazing areas not too far from settlements unable to support large herds. Finally, manpower shortages in the region resulting from adult out-migration to urban centers for employment has forced herd owners to reduce the number of animals for lack of shepherds to tend large herds. Herd composition too, has witnessed dramatic change. While Bedouin of the past lay great stock in the status symbol, that is, the camel, contemporary Bedouin have shifted in favor of sheep and goats. Therefore, the typical current herd consistes mainly of sheep and goats, with the balance tilted considerably towards sheep, and very few or even sometimes no camels at all. It appears that camel numbers preponderant among nomads correlate negatively to sedentarization. The camel has apparently lost his value as an efficient means of transportation to settled Bedouin. The tendency toward sheep ownership should be viewed as an adaptation to changing circumstances in the region. Sedentarization on the border of the sown, curtailed migration, the advent of mechanical transportation and other modern means of communication have all robbed the camel of its importance and relegated it to a minor role, no more than a relic of the past. For the pragmatic Bedouin, sheep and goats have become a preferred form of wealth through which he somewhat maintains his traditional way of life hence achieving much needed psychological and social satisfaction. Moreover, this form of capital is more suited to the short span of movement the sown and the desert. Sheep and goats require frequent watering in the summer and less in winter. Therefore, the span of their movement is always circumscribed by the availability of water. Pastoralists who keep sheep and goats herds cannot embark upon long migration treks unless water supplies are to be found along their route. On the contrary, however, the camel can survive for more than two weeks without water, a characteristic which make it a convenient vehicle for mobility. Though there are fewer nomads than there used to be, however, there are more sheep, at any rate in springtime. Tribespeople no longer come in large tribal groups to subsist on their animals, but if the spring grazing is good, flocks are brought from the transitional zone and elsewhere to take advantage of it and the whole Badia is alive with sheep for a brief season. The flocks are cared for by shepherd families and small groups of workers, relying on their vehicles for water and other supplies. Some flocks are owned by capitalists - city-dwelling merchants or prosperous peasants - who hire shepherds to look after them. A few of the shepherds still work in partnership with the flock owners, their remuneration coming from a share in the product and natural increase of the sheep, which give them a chance of building up their own flock. In these days of motorized, commercial herding, however, most owners hire shepherds, drivers and others helpers on a short-term basis and pay wages in cash. Few of the families who live permanently in the Badia, or who spend part of the year there, support themselves entirely on their flocks; most of them make use of all their assets and options to extend their economic base. The most prosperous ones usually have not only the biggest flocks but also the most extensive resources outside the Badia. Their commercial interest are likely to include the transportation, fattening and marketing of sheep; one of the son is probably in the army or in a government department, another in business and younger boys in secondary school or university. To summarize, the tribal people of the Badia do everything they can to supplement what they get from their sheep and few depend solely on them for their livelihood, but only those who have ample farmland in the transitional zone would consider giving them up altogether. Nearly all of them regard their flocks as their basic asset, to be nurtured and increased. For the poorer ones amongst them, the family flocks are insurance policies against loss of jobs or other troubles. Better-off families recognize that though they have successfully diversified, their flocks were and are the basis of their prosperity. They know their own abilities and proclivities and believe it would be foolish to abandon a way of life which has stood them in good stead. They believe that the Badia will continue to provide a living to those who know it best, despite over-grazing, rising costs and other difficulties. Today's Bedouin participates in the society at large and in a variety of ways. Having left their original habitat looking for job opportunities in urban and industrial areas; some are employed by the government and occupy prominent positions in the army or bureaucracy; while others have adopted new styles of life. Unfortunately, very few Bedouin return to their original areas after receiving an education or after having served in army or the bureaucracy. The human resources drain continues to be the most important factor in the underdevelopment of the Badia. Though their influence, prestige and way of life have deteriorated, the Bedouin image has persisted to such a degree that many people in the middle east and abroad still hold a romantic image of a predominantly Bedouin Jordan. Nevertheless many of the Bedouin traditions and values have filtered into the fabric of Jordan's society and life.
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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251900

Wadi Rum, Jordanie, 1994. Les campements parcourent la badiya, steppe ou déserts, qui s'oppose aux oasis ou aux cités, et qui a donné son nom à la société bédouine.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 00/00/0000


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029897

Au nord de Safawi, Jordanie, 1994. L'hospitalité est une règle fondamentale de la vie nomade bédouine. Elle se traduit par l'offre rituelle de lait, de pain, de sel, ou encore et de plus en plus de café. Le visiteur est dès lors sous la protection sans faille de son hôte, qui engage là son honneur.

Nord de Safawi, Jordanie - 13/12/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251874

Au sud de Safawi. Des jeunes femmes ramassant du bois dans la steppe voisine du campement. La steppe est le milieu qu’occupent par excellence les Bédouins du Proche-Orient, qui trouvent là les pâturages pour leurs troupeaux de dromadaires, de moutons et de chèvres.

Jordanie - 13/12/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251873

Au sud de Safawi. L’élevage constitue le fondement de la spécialisation du mode de vie bédouin dans l’économie régionale. Il fournit les bases de l’alimentation et les moyens d’échange, viande, laine, avec les paysans et les citadins.

Jordanie - 13/12/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029899

Wadi Araba, Jordanie, 1994. Un enfant joue avec des bottes. La pluie vient souvent sous forme d'averses qui tombent dans des zones limitées, causant des inondations rapides dans certains oueds.

Wadi Araba, Jordanie - 13/11/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029898

Au sud de Safawi, Jordanie, 1994. Le petit bétail, chèvres et surtout moutons, représente souvent la principale forme de richesse, fournissant lait et viande, pouvant être aisément vendu en cas de besoin sur les marchés voisins.

sud de Safawi, Jordanie - 13/11/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251910

Wadi Rum, Jordanie, 1994. Une femme de la tribu al-Zalaybe trayant une chèvre. La garde et l'exploitation des troupeaux est l'affaire familiale.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 00/00/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251890

Safawi, Jordanie, 1994. Comme dans la plupart des sociétés nomades, la division sexuelle du travail est au centre de la vie sociale, favorisée en outre ici par les valeurs de l'islam qui associent la femme à la vie domestique.

Safawi, Jordanie - 00/00/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251877

Au sud de Safawi. Elevé sous la tente, l’agneau est le compagnon de l’enfant.

Jordanie - 13/12/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0412293

Wadi Rum. Comme la plupart des femmes Bédouines, les Sa'idiyin ne sont pas étroitement voilées sur le modèle des femmes citadines. Leur univers est la tente.

Jordanie - 17/05/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0661997

Wadi Rum. Le cheikh Salem Abou Choucha, de la tribu Amarine. Les principales ressources naturelles, les pâturages et l'eau, sont utilisées dans l’élevage des animaux en utilisant le minimum des équipements et des outils.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 06/02/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0661996

Wadi Rum. La rude vie nomade, imposée par la rigueur et l’aridité du milieu, est coupée de réunions familiales ou de visites extérieures.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 06/02/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0661995

Wadi Rum. Femme confectionnant les bandes tissées qui serviront à la fabrication de la tente. De l’Atlantique à l’océan Indien, la « tente noire » est le symbole de la vie bédouine.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 06/02/1994


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0661998

Wadi Rum. Un enfant de la tribu Roshaide attend que ses parents déplacent le camp. Le surpâturage était endémique et les Bédouins ont liquidé une partie de son troupeau à travers les ventes pour obtenir l'argent nécessaire pour nourrir ce qui restait du troupeau.

Wadi Rum, Jordanie - 06/02/1994