The Bedouins of Egypt
have always had a life that is completely different from the inhabitants of other regions, cities, and villages in Egypt
. They have continually protected themselves from the negative effects of technology and modernization and they always had the strength to maintain their old habits and customs.
The Bedouins living in Sinai are even more different than any other tribes who live in the Western and Eastern deserts of Egypt. They have come from different origins due to their geographical location being at the meeting point between Asia and Africa. However, they were capable through the years to combine a consolidated community of people who are living together having their own special habits, beliefs, and even their own laws and regulations.
Many Bedouins who live in Sinai have started over the last decades to work in tourism and integrated step by step into the modern life of touristic cities in Sinai like Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, and Taba.
Many Bedouins, on the other hand, have refused to let go of their old habits and beliefs and they are still living the way their ancestors have lived hundreds of years ago.
They believe they will not benefit from the complications of the modern life and they assert that they will be able to live happily the way they do for hundreds of years to come as well.
The habits, characteristics, and customs of the Bedouins of Sinai have been derived from their surrounding environment and from their severe living conditions. Courage and generosity are among the most common features of the Bedouins who live in Sinai.
Due to the nature of the environment they live in which is full of deserts, travelers exert a lot of efforts and lift all their needs of water and food for a very long time in order to go from one destination to another. When travelers are out of food or water they stop at the next tribe on their way and this tribe welcomes the travelers in the best way possible knowing that in other occasions they might be in their shoes.
The generosity of the Bedouins of Sinai
The Bedouins of Sinai, the same as any other desert community in Egypt, are famous for their generosity. These Bedouins are so open-handed to the extent that they compete concerning how generous each of them are to the new guest.
When the Bedouins welcome a guest at their house, the first thing they present to him is cold water, knowing that this guest had to pass through a long desert route to reach their house in the middle of his trip to some other far destination. Afterwards they offer him the famous Arabian coffee and a cup of goat milk. Then it is time for the dinner that they prepare especially for him.
If the guest is spending more than one night in the hospitability of the Bedouin tribe, each house takes turn in preparing the dinner for him. Even if the man or the head of the family is not in the house, the wife cooks dinner and offers it to the guest.
During all his stay, the visitor has to lodge in the tent the tribe has prepared for the guest. At the end of his stay, it is a custom that all the men of the tribe visit him to ask if he needs any more help. The guest in return thanks the men of the tribe for their hospitability and sometimes he offers them some gifts.
The Bedouins have always been famous for tracing. Some of the Sheikhs living in Sinai can easily trace the vestiges of any person or even a camel. They can tell who walked in a certain route and if he was holding something or not. They can even predict if the woman, who was waking in that rout, was pregnant or not.
Some younger men in the Bedouin community can trace the relics of different animals and identify their location precisely. These skills help the Bedouins if they lose a camel or a donkey.
Hunting, other than being a mean of living for a few Bedouin families in Sinai, is one of their favorite hobbies. The men of the tribe sometimes go on hunting trips and spend several days in the middle of the desert.
Most of the Bedouins are clever and skillful in hunting different types of animals like deer, hares, different sorts of birds, and quails which immigrate to Sinai in autumn.
The marriage and divorce in the life of the Bedouins of Sinai
It is always preferable that boys and girls belonging to any Bedouin tribe in Sinai to get married as young as possible as they believe that marriage would preserve the good manners of the members of their community. It is very hard to find an unmarried man or woman in the Bedouin community in Sinai.
Usually just like the Bedouins of the Western and Eastern deserts, the Bedouin man marries a girl from his tribe. However, if a man prefers to marry a girl who is not from the same tribe, he is allowed to do so but only if he can prove to his parents that she is a better wife than the relative they want him to marry.
The marriage customs of the Bedouin of Sinai is similar to any other desert tribes. They only have one particular habit that they have to do when a young man goes and asks to marry a girl from the same tribe. If the father agrees that this man marries his daughter, he holds a green stick in his hand and says: “This is the life of my daughter, I give it to you. You are now responsible for her actions, her good deeds and mistakes. You are responsible in front of god to provide her with food and a place to live, and anything else that she wants and you can afford". The groom takes a stick from the parent hand and says: "I accept taking care of your daughter". Then all the people who are present in this special even gather in a happy celebration.
The celebrations of the Bedouins of Sinai
One of the important habits of the Bedouins of Sinai is celebrating special events like marriage ceremonies, the return of an old man from his pilgrimage journey to Mecca, and the birth of a baby.
In these celebrations, all the tribe gather and they all participate in group dances, songs, and poetry. The most interesting and significant among these group dances is when all the men stand in one row and one man stands in front of them improvising poetry while one of the women is dancing with a sword in front of the whole group.
The men start singing specific words and they keep repeating it for a certain period of time, while clapping their hands and shaking their heads. Afterwards, the poet starts improvising some poetry and the men repeat it after him. They start moving towards the dancer who moves backwards. They all then sit on their knees and continue dancing and singing.
Alliance of the tribes
Each Bedouin tribe in Sinai has an alliance with other tribes. This means they protect one another from external attacks. They also have peace treaties between each tribe and the other. Each tribe has a person who is responsible of keeping these alliances and treaties.
When two tribes want to have a peace treaty or an alliance agreement, both responsible persons belonging to the two tribes meet in the house of the person who is responsible for a third tribe. They put their hands together and they both swear to protect each other and assist one another when needed.
Sinai Bedouins are proud of their families and ancestors
The Bedouins living in Sinai, the same as any other Bedouins, who live in Egypt and in other Arab nations, are always proud of their families and ancestors. Some old men in each tribe know the names and stories of the ancestors of every family who lives with them. Bedouins have always respected genealogy and they have considered it an important science since pre-Islamic times.
The Bedouins are always very faithful to their families which consist, like any modern family, of a father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters. Then they have to be faithful to their platoon consisting of a number of families as each Bedouin family has to belong to a group of families who protect and help one another.
The truce between tribes
As any other groups of people, the Bedouins of Sinai sometimes have some conflicts and disagreements among the tribes living there. In that case, one of the tribes, and in many cases both of them, asks for a truce that ranges widely from 3 days to 14 months.
All the leaders of the tribes have to be present in that agreement and both parties have to abide by the truce or all the other tribes would boycott them and refrain from having any commercial activities or social relations with them. This means that the Bedouins of Sinai have strict rules that all the members of the community have to respect.
Partnership between two tribes
If the resources of one tribe, due to a problem or a natural disaster, decrease and they need assistance, they can have a partnership, "Okhowa" or brotherhood as the Bedouins of Sinai call it, with another tribe.
In that case, the Sheikh, or the leader, of the weak tribe meets up with the Sheikh of the other tribe and they agree to live together and to share responsibilities and resources.
The refugees from one tribe to the other
When a group of men have a problem or disagreement with the Sheikh of their tribe, they can resort to the Sheikh of another tribe, set their tents with his people, and ask to live with his people.
Usually the Sheikh of the tribes welcomes them for a couple of days and then he directs them to the Sheikh of their tribe and they reach an agreement together. This habit is spread among the Arabs since the rise of Islam.
Hanging a white or a black flag
One of the most common habits among the Bedouins of Sinai is that they put a white flag on a famous water spring as recognition of a good deed achieved by a person belonging to the tribe.
On the other hand, when someone does an action that is not acceptable, they hang a black flag on a water spring or at the beginning of one of the major routes that the members of the community usually take. This black flag is put down only if the person admits that he committed something wrong and he has to correct his mistake.
In some cases, when disagreements take place between two tribes or more, they resort to an arbitrator who does justice to the righteous side.
The arbitrator has the right to impose a fine on the offenders as well. These fines can sometimes reach thousands of Egyptian Pounds. In that case, all the members of the tribe, excluding women and old people have to contribute to pay the fine.
If the tribe cannot gather the money needed for the payment of the fine, the Sheikhs of the tribe, along with other Sheikhs from other alliance tribes, go to the leader of the tribe who is supposed to receive the payment.
They offer him presents and ask him to waive the fine or at least reduce the amount that they should pay. In most of the cases, the Sheikh of the tribe agrees to waive the whole fine and the two tribes would form an alliance to live happily together and protect one another.
After viewing some of the habits and customs of the Bedouins living in Sinai, now it is clear why they are stick to these traditions, as these traditions regulate every aspect of their lives.
These habits enable them to respect the rights of the poor, present assistance to one another and to coexist happily in a way that most modern societies find it very hard to achieve nowadays.