Click the link below to read our latest article in Egypt Today:
Winter Showers, May Flowers
“Desert guru Eid al Atrash provides an oral history of the spring pasturing traditions of the Bedouin of Sinai”
By Krista Masonis and Eid al Atrash
Photography by Eid Al Atrash
Heavy rains fell on the parched high mountain plateaus of South Sinai this winter, leaving a bountiful crop in their wake. As small green sprouts push through the cracked earth offering promise of nourishment and health, this spring the Bedouin nomads…”
Small, domed tombs, like the one of Sheikh Haboss pictured above, can be found throughout the Sinai peninsula. When Bedouin need guidance, a blessing, or help with a problem – for example if a relative is ill, a wife is pregnant, or good crops desired – many will visit and pray at a holy sheikh’s (like a saint’s) tomb to ask for an intervention of their behalf from Allah. When this takes place on a sheikh’s birthday, it is called a “mulid”. Otherwise, this practice is known as a “zuara” and, depending on tribal traditions and the tomb visited, happens only on certain days. Mondays and Fridays are reportedly the busiest days for a zuara at the tomb of Sheikh Haboos, although it is not uncommon for one to happen on other days as well. Typically a zuara involves the sacrifice of a lamb, a shared meal, and – during a mulid celebration – much music and dancing. Nearby to most tombs you will find small stone buildings, “maq’ad”, used as shelters for praying, meeting, eating, and – of course – tea drinking!
On a recent safari to the area near Sheikh Haboos’s tomb, we were invited to join a zuara by a group of Bedouin from the El-Heywaat tribe who were visiting from the Taba region. That’s an invitation that is hard to refuse! So we turned the truck around and backtracked to the tomb. Our guide, Freyj, happily helped set up carpets inside the maq’ad. As the man who would slaughter the sheep cleaned and readied for the sacrifice, the others prayed, started the fires, and began the preparations for the meal. Dried palm fronds that had been collected along the way and a large palm trunk found next to the maq’ad were used for the fire that would cook the meat. Smaller dried plants were lit for the fire built inside for tea.
Chunks of meat were thrown in the pot of boiling water with several handfuls of mountain salt. Livers and other innards were chopped and placed in a separate pan with oil and water. It would take several hours for the meal to cook so the men sat inside, sheltered from the chilly wind, as they drank tea, smoked, and chatted about a variety of topics. Eventually, the liver was served on a large round metal tray that we all sat around using pieces of thin fresh bread to scoop up bites of liver. After about another hour and a half, the meat was ready. Although we did not stay to share in this meal, the men would not let us leave empty-handed, being sure we had plenty of meat, both raw and cooked, to take back to camp with us.
Mulids are celebrated throughout Egypt, by both Muslims and Christians, and the Bedouin of Sinai have their own unique traditions for these rituals, traditions that have changed over the years to these more simple, quiet affairs. You can read more about mulids in Egypt here.
The Bedouin Tribes of the Sinai: Lecture Book by Larry Roeder (2005)
On the day before the elections, Northern Sinai seemed ready for a tumultuous – if predictable – election.
Northern Sinai is divided into three electoral districts: Arish, Rafah, Shiekh Zowayed, and Bir al-Abd. A total of 34 candidates are competing to win eight seats.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is expected to sweep all three districts, however. In the second and third districts, weak opposition guarantees NDP victory in spite of multiple NDP candidates. The one exception to the NDP’s dominance is a seat of the women’s quota, where the most prominent tribal leaders pledged to vote for the Wafd candidate.
I cannot embed the videos so click on over to the group’s webpage to view these two short films. The first, the documentary, is a brief overview and chat with an elder Bedouin tribesmen about their life in the Sinai desert. The second, the short film, is sure to provide a good giggle, despite its scary title! Many thanks to the creators for making these available online. 🙂
The Bedouin of Sinai originally arrived in the peninsula from the Saudi Arabian peninsula and Yemen and they are predominantly Muslim. They are generally divided into 22 distinct tribes and speak 15 different dialects between them. Each tribe has a geographic locale associated with them although there is some distribution.
For example, here in Dahab most Bedouin are of the Muzzeina tribe and in Nuweiba you will meet both Muzzeina and Tarrabeen tribesmen. In the area of St. Katherine’s, the Jabaleyya is the primary tribe.
Bedouins are known for their exclusive knowledge of local herbs and their medicinal and other uses. The Bedouin use drying techniques to preserve their food against drought and the harsh environment and for travel. Bedouins are also known for their folk music and poetry.
The Bedouin of Sinai have a well-developed system of law (urfi) and self-government. When it comes to the environment, they employ traditional conservation methods. For example, they will never cut down a living tree.
Although traditionally semi-nomadic herdsmen, for many reasons the Bedouin have begun to settle and adopt new ways of life. Their current employment includes quarrying of granite and marble, fishing, and growing olives. The men also work in the tourism trade as safari guides, drivers, and shopkeepers. Women and girls often make woven rugs, beaded necklaces, and bracelets that they sell to the tourists. Trade and agriculture dominate the lives of those living in north Sinai as there is no tourism there.