their ancestor (see Arabs). The deserts of North Arabia seem to have been their earliest home, but even in ancient times they had migrated to the lowlands of Egypt and Syria. The Arab conquest of northern Africa in the 7th century a.d. caused a wide dispersion, so that to-day the Arab element is strongly represented in the Nile Valley, Saharan, and Nubian peoples. Among the Hamitic-Negroid races the Bedouins have largely lost their nomadic character; but in the deserts of the Nile lands they remain much what their ancestors were. Thus the name has suffered much ethnic confusion, and is often incorrectly reserved to describe such pastoral peoples as the Bisharin, the Hadendoa and the Abābda. This article treats solely of the Arabian Bedouin, as affording the purest type of the people. They are shepherds and herdsmen, reduced to an open-air, roving life, partly by the nature of their occupations, partly by the special characteristics of the countries in which they dwell. For, while land, unsuited to all purposes except pasture, forms an unusually large proportion of the surface in the Arabian territory, the prolonged droughts of summer render considerable portions of it unfit even for that, and thus continually oblige the herdsmen to migrate from one spot to another in search of sufficient herbage and water for their beasts. The same causes also involve the Bedouins in frequent quarrels with each other regarding the use of some particular well or pasture-ground, besides reducing them not unfrequently to extreme want, and thus making them plunderers of others in self-support. Professionally, the Bedouins are shepherds and herdsmen; their raids on each other or their robbery of travellers and caravans are but occasional exceptions to the common routine. Their intertribal wars (they very rarely venture on a conflict with the better-armed and better-organized sedentary population) are rarely bloody; cattle-lifting being the usual object. Private feuds exist, but are usually limited to two or three individuals at most, one of whom has perhaps been ridiculed in satirical verse, to which they are very sensitive, or had a relation killed in some previous fray. But bloodshed is expensive, as it must be paid for either by more bloodshed or by blood-money—the diya, which varies, according to the importance of the person killed, from ten to fifty camels, or even more. Previous to Mahomet’s time it was optional for the injured tribe either to accept this compensation or to insist on blood for blood; but the Prophet, though by his own account despairing of ever reducing the nomad portion of his countrymen to law and order, succeeded in establishing among them the rule, that a fair diya if offered must be accepted. Instances are, however, not wanting in Arab history of fiercer and more general Bedouin conflicts, in which the destruction, or at least the complete subjugation, of one tribe has been aimed at by another, and when great slaughter has taken place. Such were the wars of Pekr and Thagleb in the 6th century, of Kelb and Howazin in the 8th, of Harb and Ateba in the 18th.
The Bedouins regard the plundering of caravans or travellers as in lieu of the custom dues exacted elsewhere. The land is theirs, they argue, and trespassers on it must pay the forfeit. Hence whoever can show anything equivalent to a permission of entrance into their territory has, in the regular course of things, nothing to fear. This permission is obtained by securing the protection of the nearest Bedouin sheik, who, for a politely-worded request and a small sum of money, will readily grant the pass, in the shape of one or two or more men of his tribe, who accompany the wayfarers as far as the next encampment on their road, where they hand their charge over to fresh guides, equally bound to afford the desired safeguard. In the interior of Arabia the passport is given in writing by one of the town governors, and is respected by the Bedouins of the district; for, however impudent and unamenable to law these nomads may be on the frontiers of the impotent Ottoman government in Syria or the Hejaz, they are submissive enough in other and Arab-governed regions. But the traveller who ventures on the desert strip without such precautions will be robbed and perhaps killed.
Ignorant of writing and unacquainted with books, the Bedouins trust to their memory for everything; where memory fails, they readily eke it out with imagination. Hence their own assertions regarding the antiquity, numbers, strength, &c., of their clans are of little worth; even their genealogies, in which they pretend to be eminently versed, are not to be much depended on; the more so that their own family names hardly ever exceed the limits of a patronymic, whilst the constantly renewed subdivisions of a tribe, and the temporary increase of one branch and decrease of another, tend to efface the original name of the clan. Few tribes now preserve their ancient, or at least their historical titles; and the mass of the Bedouin multitude resembles in this respect a troubled sea, of which the substance is indeed always the same, but the surface is continually shifting and changing. As, however, no social basis or ties are acknowledged among them except those of blood and race, certain broad divisions are tolerably accurately kept up, the wider and more important of which may here be noted. First, the Aneza clan, who extend from Syria southward to the limits of Jebel Shammar. It is numerous, and, for a Bedouin tribe, well armed. Two-thirds of the Arab horse trade, besides a large traffic in sheep, camels, wool, and similar articles, are in their hands. Their principal subdivisions are the Sebaá on the north, the Walid Ali on the west, and the Ruála on the south; these are generally on bad terms with each other. If united, they could muster, it is supposed, about 30,000 lances. They claim descent from Rabi’a. Second, the Shammar Bedouins, whose pasturages lie conterminous to those of the Aneza on the east. Their numbers are about the same. Thirdly, in the northern desert, the Huwetat and Sherarat, comparatively small and savage tribes. There is also the Solibi clan, which, however, is disowned by the Arabs, and seems to be of gipsy origin. Next follow, in the western desert, the Beni-Harb, a powerful tribe, supposed to muster about 20,000 fighting men. They are often troublesome to the Meccan pilgrims. In the eastern desert are the Muter, the Beni-Khalid, and the Ajmans, all numerous clans, often at war with each other. To the south, in Nejd itself or on its frontiers, are the Hodeil, Ateba, and others. These all belong to the “Mustareb,” or northern Arabs.
The Bedouins of southern or “pure Arab” origin are comparatively few in number, and are, with few exceptions, even poorer and more savage than their northern brethren. Al-Morrah, on the confines of Oman, Al-Yam and Kahtan, near Yemen, and Beni-Yas, between Harik and the Persian Gulf, are the best known. The total number of the Bedouin or pastoral population throughout Arabia, including men, women, and children, appears not to exceed a million and a half, or about one fifth of the total population. The only tribal authority is the “elder,” or “sheik,” a title not necessarily implying advanced age, but given to any one who, on account of birth, courage, wealth, liberality or some other quality, has been chosen to the leadership. Descent has something to do with rank, but not much, as every individual of the tribe considers himself equal to the others; nor are the distinctions of relative riches and poverty greatly taken into account. To the “sheik” all disputes are referred; he is consulted, though not necessarily obeyed, on every question which regards the general affairs of the tribe, whether in peace or war; there is no other magistrate, and no law except what he and the other chief men may consider proper. But in fact, for most personal and private affairs, every man does pretty much what is right in his own eyes.
All the Bedouins, with the exception of certain tribes in Syria, are nominally Mahommedans, but most pay but slight attention to the ceremonial precepts of the Koran; the five daily prayers and the annual fast of Ramadan are not much in favour among them; and however near a tribe may be to Mecca, few of them visit it as pilgrims. The militant Wahhabi have, however, from time to time enforced some degree of Islamitic observance among the Bedouins of Nejd and the adjoining districts: elsewhere Mahommedanism is practically confined to the profession of the Divine Unity; among the remoter and wilder tribes sun-worship, tree-worship, and no worship at all, are not uncommon. Some clans even omit the rite of circumcision altogether; others,